Chapter One

The Beehive


In the shadow of the drum tower's roof ridge, bees flew in like a soft intake of breath to hide and flew away with a droning hum.

The drum also seemed to have dwelled in this place for ages. One by one its rivets tarnished to a rusty red. The four thick, weathered pillars of the tower exposed a rough wood grain resembling the bones and the sinewy muscles of an old man. No doubt, the tower was erected when Gochaku Castle was built.

"Eyah! Is that a beehive?" asked Kanbei when he awoke. He slapped the scruff of his neck and turned up his red eyes to look at the underside of the eaves. He had not slept since the previous night and had been unable to steal time for a nap. But he managed to escape to this place, rest his back against the lower part of the pillar, and sleep a good sleep.

He could not be seen from the castle keep. The surrounding green foliage lusting for rays from the summer sunlight blocked any view of him. Also, this position was the highest on the castle grounds. A gentle breeze blew in from the ridges of the Chugoku Mountains as he fiddled with his side locks and his breast pocket. This was a splendid place to indulge in a short nap.

"This is no good. I'm being eaten alive.… I can't sleep around bees."

Kanbei smirked while constantly rubbing the nape of his neck and his eyelids.

Thus, the time he slept was brief. As he released a lengthy yawn, fatigue from the previous night washed down from his head through his entire body. He thought he would have to persevere without sleep again tonight.

However, he did not easily wake up. Hugging the knees of his hakama trousers, he leaned on the pillar and blankly looked up at the underside of the roof. The bee world seemed to be at war centered on the beehive. Reconnaissance bees flew off, and attacking bees were driven back. Kanbei didn't tire of watching, but his mind might have been absorbed in an entirely different matter.

Eventually, two vassals climbed up. These two samurai sub-captains were Muroki Saiha and Imadzu Gendayu. When they caught sight of Kanbei, both went to the trouble of announcing their unexpected arrival. One asked, "Chief Retainer, why have you come to this place? They're in an uproar down there. Some think you've returned to Himeji in a fit of rage. Others say, 'No, he's not so foolish as to leave without permission from the lord. He's somewhere around here. Make sure to search outside the castle …'"

Kanbei laughed and said, "Really? A search so vast?"

His expression looked like this was another man's affair. The bigger problem he faced was an eyelid that had been feasted on by a bee. The pads of his fingers never stopped stroking the flesh between his eyebrow and his eye.


A castle anywhere in the country always had a council room. However, examples of important plans actually resembling noteworthy policies rarely emerged from these rooms. Many were formalities, and many were theories. At other times, they merely echoed indifferent decisions, and first announced that the suitable time for adjournment was now.

Monju Bosatsu taught us that wisdom comes from the counsel of three. This occurs if at least one and one come together. A meeting of zero and zero is no more than zero even if one hundred people are gathered. Only eyes unable to see the coming of a new age will be unable to forecast the next age at a place where one thousand people are present. Nevertheless, not one person in attendance at the deliberation will appear to be clueless.

As a result, where conviction was lacking, an exceptional, farsighted philosophy was not held, only self-serving sophistry or a genius at arguments emerged. Consequently, the deliberations were only pretentions, became pointlessly entangled, entered into side streets for no reason, and fled into triviality. No matter how often deliberations were held, in the end, a throng never delivered one truth. Everything descended into a dead end where nothing was resolved.

"Please stop. If we question every last one of your intentions from last evening's deliberations, we will not advance one step from the roadblock of the first words from last night. Wouldn't it be better to invite Kanbei to take this seat again and bluntly ask him for his opinion? For just a moment, this is a critical matter linked to the rise and fall of our Gochaku Castle. For those uncomfortable with Kanbei, it will be a problem if you don't set aside your usual self-interest and combativeness and consult with him."

Kodera Masamoto, the lord of the castle, gave this order in a tone resembling a long sigh to the men seated in a row below him.

For the time being, the opportunistic caution, trite opinions, and fights between egos appeared to have been silenced. Then someone said, "This is no good if it's Lord Kanbei. Where is he now? We are searching for him. It's absurd for the chief retainer to sneak away from his seat during deliberations. His heart doesn't seem to have a fragment of loyalty in his humanity to lament the reversals of fortune of the clan or to worry about the lord's future. His sole job appears to be boasting."

When Sue Yoshichika, who had an important role, disparaged Kanbei, Kuramitsu Masatoshi, Murai Kawachi, and Masuda Magouemon, and other senior retainers seated in the row spoke up in agreement.

"Basically, he is glib and a samurai of slight loyalty. His rudeness should be expected."

"If that is true, it's unreasonable to ask for loyalty from Lord Kanbei. He is different from us. We are hereditary retainers. He is nothing more than a senior official connected to this clan beginning in his father's generation."

"In other words, he began life as the son of a seller of a medicinal eye lotion. Because he is the chief retainer, we are allowed to be hard on the man instead of having respect for him," said one to himself but loud enough to be heard by the lord.

These words displeased the young warriors who sat in the back seats, favored Kanbei, and supported his views. One of them could no longer bear it. A youthful voice rose from those seats.

"Please excuse me for interrupting an elder's words, but these words are also the lord's words. The lord is waiting to see Lord Kanbei and carefully question him in order to hear his opinion. I think it would be good to discuss the pros and cons and listen to his views. I may be out of line, but shouldn't we be careful about too much malicious gossip?"

While conscious of his rank, his courage was revived and he spoke his criticism. The lord of the castle Kodera Masamoto thought, It is as he says, and directed his thankless eyes toward the man in the back seats. As the lord, he did not easily overlook this man. Kodera was not a foolish ruler. He had been educated to become the lord of a powerful, provincial clan but may have lacked the ability to lead an entire clan in this generation. His keen eyes saw dismantling or rebuilding as the actions to take in these times of sweeping change. His firm belief was to act without hesitation in uncertain times. That was nothing to him.

Of course, it was unreasonable to say a farsighted viewpoint like that was desired in the lord of the castle who governed a region of no more than several districts in Harima in a remote corner of the world. The actions on that day in year 3 of the Tensho era (1575) were zealous and excessive.