Shogun, Age of Chaos
Three centuries ago, the proud Japanese samurais withheld the all-conquering forces of the Mongol Khan Kublai that swept across Asia. The Land of the Rising Sun remained stable and prosperous under the benevolent Ashikagas, but times were changing. As the Ashikaga shoguns grew complacent, eight diamyo (warlord) clans grew restless and vied for supremacy over the land, but it remained a mystery whether the sun-goddess Amaterasu would bestow her favor upon these clans or some other hero…or villains.
The Japanese warrior Suenaga repulses the mighty armies of Kublai
Chapter 1. Murder at the Heisei Monastery
The autumn leaves hung loosely upon a tree as Yanitaka entered the audience of his lord.
“Is this the reward for my years of service?!” taunted Chinkaro from inside the monastery.
Despite the obvious pain of sharing his master’s disappointment, Yanitaka placated him, “You mustn’t view as such, my Lord. The Shogun Yoshitaka only wishes you to rest from your long toil and seek the way of the Zen.”
“Honor? Perhaps, you seem to forget that I have had this honor long before I joined the service of the Ashikaga!”
It was so, for Chinkaro was a man without a family. He was killed Ise Chinkaro after the Hisei monastery where he had been ordained for years. The abbot dismissed him many years ago, “You do not follow the Zen with your heart, Chinkaro. I do not not think you can seek the path to Enlightenment, so you must find your own path.”
The orphan Chinkaro left this self-same Hisei Monastery many years ago and pledged never to turn back but to pursue the Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, to a bitter end.
“Do you not remember how many times I have saved the Shogun, Yanitaka? Tell me that you have forgotten the Battle of Otaku.”
No, Yanitaka thought. He could not forget such things. For without Chinkaro, the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshitaka would have been dead by now. Many years ago, the Shogun was taken in by the beauty of a geisha. Chinkaro warned him that she may have been an agent of the rebel Hojo clan, but Yoshitaka would not hear of it and allowed her into his private chamber.
Moments later, in the privacy of their room, the Shogun saw in a horror as a blade stuck through her neck, whilst her hand was holding a small knife to kill him. Chinkaro hath been standing outside the room eager to protect his master all along.
And Otaku…how could he forget? The Hojo forces arrayed under that villain Hojo Katezumi. Yes, a rebel, but a very charismatic one. Katezumi hath amassed as many as 15,000 samurais and was eager to destroy the much stronger shogunal forces. Outnumbered as he was, the leadership was much better than that of the Shogun’s, and the heavy rains seem to work to his advantage.
That was before Chinkaro took the initiative and defied the lead general Hosokawa Kanematsu though. It was Kajima Yanitaka himself who raised the flag and lured the Hojos into a narrow pass. Suddenly, around the mountainside, flags showing the emblem of Ashikaga sprouted all around the Hojos, and it was Chinkaro at their lead.
“Prepare for your grave, Katezumi. Your days of rebellion have come to an end!” Chinkaro declared.
“Haha!” laughed brave Katezumi, “Why do you serve a dog like Yoshitaka? What kind of Shogun hides himself in the comforts of his palace and leaves the fighting to his generals. I have always had great respect for you, Chinkaro. Join me and be my son, for I have none and together we will rule this land.”
But Chinkaro would not hear of it shouting back only the words, “Die! Hojo dog!” and he charged into the Hojo lines. Many Hojo samurais came to the defence of their lord, but all of them were cut down like wheat under the sickle, for Chinkaro fought like a god, his shining shoulder armour inspiring awe amongst his troops.
Soon, he clashed swords with the Hojo lord himself. Katezumi was over 50 years old at the time, but still he proved very much a fine warrior. Over 30 strokes did they fight, but eventually, Katezumi’s strength gave him away and he was bested by the young warrior.
The Hojo rebellion was now over, and Chinkaro led the plunder of the rebel city of Odawara. It was at the main palace that he found a beautiful lady and raped her before burning several minor castles. After that, he returned to capital city of Kamakura, expecting a hero’s welcome…Katezumi’s head in his head and having renamed his sword the Katezumi in honor of the greatest enemy he bested.
But it was not to be, for the haughty general Kanematsu was still bitter that Chinkaro had overstepped his authority and stolen his moment of glory. And being from the prestigious clan of Hosokawa, he was always favored by the Shogun himself.
As he approached the general’s headquarter, Kanematsu absent-mindedly greeted him without looking up, “Be seated, general Chinkaro. Your wife has come to await you.”
“Wife?! I have not wife. Your Highness must be mistaken,” replied Chinkaro.
“Ah, but this …Lady Nanako, daughter of the rebel Katezumi, claims she is yours. How fitting! An temple orphan and the daughter of a Hojo rebel!” Kanematsu laughed sarcastically, as he pointed at the lady waiting only four steps behind. She was drenched in the rain, and Chinkaro realized she was the same one he hath taken in Odawara. Yet, through the soiled clothing, Chinkaro could still remember the beauty of her face.
Yet, he hardened his stance, “She is not my wife, Lord. And even so, she has nothing to do with our meeting today.”
“I see,” Kanematsu said without looking, his fingers toying some useless bauble as he spoke. “Well, then, hero of Otaku, let us get to business. You have disobeyed by direct orders to stand by and jeopardized our mission. I have submitted a report to the Shogun and you will wait his decision in seven days.”
“Jeopardized!? What nonsense is this?!? You stood by and allowed the Hojos to defy us, and I bought victory to Ashikaga and the head of Katezumi himself!!”
“Enough!!” Kanematsu shouted back, ‘You have defied me for the last time. I command you to stand off duty until the Shogun makes his decision, and from now on, you will remember me as Lord.’
‘Yes, Lord,” Chinkaro replied, his hatred for Kanematsu steaming inside. He picked Nanako up by her arm and returned to his chamber but not before hearing Kanematsu taunt him behind his back, “Lowly peasant.”
“And so, we are back in the full circle, Yanitaka. His Excellency the Shogun rewards me for my long years of service and victory at Otaku by sending me back to the temple from whence I came from,” Chinkaro ended his conversation with a sarcastic laughter.
Yanitaka was lost for words, for his admiration for his Lord was greater than that of even those worshipping soldiers. Chinkaro’s words proved true, as always, but there was no way for him to placate the blunt officer who was responsible for so many Ashikaga victories on the field.
Yanitaka sat in silence as Chinkaro left the entrance and entered the monastery alone.
At the Kamakura Shogunal Palace…
“The Emperor and his ilk…they truly get on my nerves,” said the Shogun Yoshitaka.
His younger brother, the weak-minded Yoshinori, tried to placate him, “My brother, what is there to be disappointed about? His Majesty has appointed your son as heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne.”
“My son?” Yoshitaka questioned. It was a well-talked-of suspicion that Onomatsu was not his son but the result of an adulterous affair between his wife and the foolish but wealthy daimyo Mori Shoda. “I wouldst rather that he appointed you as heir. That way, we have full country over this country. Anyway, there is no point arguing about this. The Emperor has always been a weak-minded follower of his sister.”, referring to his own wife the Princess Yamato Ochiba.
“Anyway,” the Shogun continued, “there are other matters for us to attend to. Let us not miss the coronation of the new Imperial Crown Prince and the ordination of the new monk, that troublemaker Ise Chinkaro. We must go at once, Yoshinori.”
And so the two brothers and an entourage of nobles walked to the Hisei Monastery. There awaited Prince Onomatsu, who after today would be of the Imperial House of Yamato rather than the Shogunal house of Ashikaga, and of course, the famed but headstrong warrior Ise Chinkaro himself.
Before the ceremony could begin, men broke in from all sides. Armed though he was, the Shogun and his bodyguards were hardly a match for Chinkaro’s men.
“Is this a rebellion?” the Shogun questioned Chinkaro, as his brother Yoshinori scampered off through the window.
“No,” Chinkaro replied, “I’m simply taking back what was rightfully mine. How many times have I saved your life, Yoshitaka.”
While Yoshitaka was lost for words, Yanitaka slew the Prince Onomatsu in a single stroke. As he was dying, Onomatsu fell into the arms of the Shogun and smiled as he saw signs of worries on the Shogun’s face, for he hath never seen his father look at him in this manner, and it meant more to him than gaining the Chrysanthemum Throne of the Emperor itself. But soon, the sounds of the living fell deaf upon him, and the Prince was no more.
“How dare you!” Yoshitaka shouted, pointing an accusing finger at both Yanitaka and Chinkaro.
“Perhaps, my courage has not been apparent to your Lordship after all these years of service, but I will show you its full extent today, though it may be the last thing you witness in this life,” Chinkaro replied before plunging the Katezumi Sword into the Shogun.
The die was cast. Now that the Shogun was murdered by his own great general, some men would flock to Chinkaro’s side, whilst others through the land would brand him as a traitor. It was impossible to tell if Chinkaro would triumph over the still formidable Ashikaga forces now led by the new Shogun Yoshinori and his allies, the patrician Hosokawa.
Only one thing was certain…The peace and stability that prevailed in Japan for centuries since the Mongol invasion came to an end on that day.