Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 10. The Demon of Owari

Many years had passed, and things would change in Japan as war raged on, for those who valued honor would be few to come by, and a new breed of warrior would come to exit. The Oda clan had been one of the suitors for the hand of Lady Uesungi Sakura. Oda Nobuhiro came back disappointed and married with Lady Asakura Miyami, who bore him a son Nobunaga, and the astrologers prophesied that the child would one day change the fate of a nation.

Oda Nobunaga, the Demon of Owari.

Although the Oda were but a small clan in Sengoku Japan, Nobunaga was never unsure of his great destiny. Was he not the descendant of the mighty Taira Kiyomori, whose dominance over Japan predated even the first shogun? From an early age, he would train the armies of Oda hard with iron discipline. A perfectionist, Oda could sometimes be seen training his troops until dawn. His men became much stronger than the time of Nobuhiro. What little money he could scrape from the budgets and swindle from merchants, he would spend on modern artillery. Soon, the small Oda clan would become a formidable force as it absorbed tiny clans with no masters into its realm.

But it was the Mino clan, vassals of the well established Takedas, that would put him in center stage. Nobunaga realized that the daimyo Mino Deito was old and dying without an heir, so he married Deito’s daughter, giving himself a claim over Mino lands.

When Deito died, he decided to claim lordship over Mino. One of Takeda Shingen’s 24 generals, Akeshi Jinsai, was Regent of Mino, and so Nobunaga offered to meet Jinsai and nail out an agreement. Before the meeting, he told his archers to hide in the room and said, “If I shall open my fan and tap thrice, slay all the Mino nobles.”

The archers nodded and waited for Nobunaga’s command. Jinsai felt that as Regent of Mino, he had as a good a claim to the lands as Nobunaga, but he also saw the fierce determination in Nobunaga’s eyes. The fire that said it would consume all that stood in its path and that no Takeda lord, even if he were as mighty as Shingen, could defend him.

He also spotted the retainers on the balcony. They were well-built and with arms so strong they could only be archers. Finally, Jinsai submitted to Nobunaga, and the fan did not open.

Jinsai was spared, and the Mino clan now fell to Oda. For the first time, the tiny Oda clan was encroaching on Takeda power and not even waging open war yet. Takeda Shingen could now think of crushing Nobunaga, but before anything happened, Nobunaga sent gifts and praises to Shingen, offering friendship and anything short of being a Takeda vassal. Though Shingen’s forces were mighty enough to challenge and perhaps crush Nobunaga at the time, he did not. There were still more important challengers on other fronts, such as Hojo Chinosuke, and the loss of Mino was minor. So he befriended Nobunaga until the opportunity passed.

In the third year of the reign of Emperor Teijo, Takeda Shingen, mighty warlord who revolutionized Japanese warfare with the asurangi, died, and he was mourned by the arch-nemesis Uesungi Kenshin, who said these words in the haiku:

“Mighty Shingen, standards rising high,

Lords of the asurangi, fires passing by.

A worthy enemy as thee, there shall not be nigh,

Honor above greed, with thee these glories die.”

And so Kenshin pledged never to attack Takeda lands in honor of the great Shingen and even offered to become allies with Takeda, but Kenshin was not foolish to not see the dangers that Nobunaga posed to the older daimyo generation. Here was a man of unlimited ambition. Before long, Nobunaga would invade the Maeda clan, who were allies of Uesungi, and the aged Kenshin would meet him in the Battle of Osara. The experienced ‘god of war’ against the rising ‘Demon of Owari’.

Nobunaga could see that his men were visibly nervous. Even his loyal general Harada Takano and the veteran Akechi Jinsai seemed that way, for the commander in front of them was a legend. Nobunaga may have won great victories against minor clans, and the Uesungi clan was not so numerous. But Kenshin had stood out against men such as Takeda Shingen and was far more experienced than Nobunaga. He was not called the ‘Dragon of Echido’ for nothing.

“Have no fear, men of the Oda clan! Remember that you ride with Nobunaga!” he roared with confidence, but it was clear that they were still shaken by the presence of Kenshin. In all of history, only Shingen hath proved victorious against Kenshin.

Kenshin’s formation constantly changed, and they were both well-armed and disciplined to the hilt.

Nobunaga then commanded his men, “Do not fear, men of Oda. The Dragon of Echido is old now. Master your fears, and I shall master the world for you.”

But Akechi Jinsai thought Nobunaga was an overconfident youth to make such a statement against the God of War himself, and Takano, much as I admired Nobunaga, realized that his Lord is only 20 years old.

The lack of confidence got into the Oda army, and despite the well-planned attack, Nobunaga was utterly defeated and forced to retreat.

It was then that Akechi Jinsai reprimanded him, “My Lord, you are young and inexperienced. Let us not overstep the bounds in the future.”

But Nobunaga laughed him off and replied with optimism, “You have served Shingen well, and now you shall serve me, but learn that times have changed, old man. Success is the mother of pride, but failure is the best teacher. I shall rebuild my forces and will not fear old Kenshin.”

Jinsai was disgusted, but Nobunaga continued to keep him in his position as general. At the time, there was no more capable men to replace the veteran, but he was also eager to prove his words right.

Two years later in the spring of the fifth year of the Emperor Teijo, Kenshin passed away. At his deathbed, he told Nagamasa, his only son by Lady Sakura, “My son, do not let me down. They call me the god of war, and I will watch over you, but beware of Oda Nobunaga. Let neither his youth nor the small size of his army make thee complacent. I have defeated him, but once, but such a man will never be cowered.”

Nagamasa held Kenshin’s hand upon his cheek and nodded, “I will never let him threaten Uesungi clan, my father. I heard men call him the Demon of Owari, and he is ruthless force of pure evil. I will fight him till the last days of my life.”

When news arrived of Kenshin’s death, Nobunaga realized the significance of it as once. Both the greatest heroes of the earlier generation, Takeda Shingen and Uesungi Kenshin, were dead.

“Now, the Land shall be mine!”, he exclaimed, and he certainly meant it.

In the few weeks as the Uesungi clan mourned the death of the great Kenshin, Nobunaga led the second invasion of the Maeda clan. Maeda Heito’s forces were outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Eventually, Heito surrendered to Nobunaga and became his vassal. Uesungi Nagamasa’s forces could not arrive to the battlefield in time and was forced to retreat. There was no one to stop Nobunaga’s ambitions now!

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