Chapter One

Signs of Life

Kenshin would celebrate his thirty-third birthday in the coming year.

Though still a young man, the colors of all his clothes and accessories were accurately described as subdued. His long-sleeved haori coat was a plain greenish-brown woven silk. Only his oguchi-hakama-style trousers seemed to be made of a special fabric. His head was always covered by his favorite zukin hood. Surrounded by a group of retainers dressed in fine, new spring clothes, he smiled and quietly surveyed them. From any viewpoint, he appeared to be a solitary young priest of the severe Rinzai school of Buddhism mingling with the group.

"Well, aren't my followers a foolish lot?" Kenshin began to speak to the man seated to his right.

Uesugi Norimasa, his adoptive father and the shogun's deputy in Kanto, nodded and said, "That's true."

Then nodding to the nobleman two seats away on his right, Kenshin said with a smile, "The wealth of courage and the patient strength in Echigo's masses will soon be heard about everywhere. No, it will be the first time they will hear about so many guileless, versatile warriors."

The lone nobleman among them was a court noble from the capital. He held the title of Lord Kumano but was Konoe Sakitsugu, an enemy of a senior regent of the emperor. During the great chaos under heaven in this year of Eiroku 4 (1561), on New Year's, this court noble somehow managed to drink sake while calmly peeking at the seats of only daredevil warriors to his endless delight. He found the men of the dojo who only understood the so-called beauties of nature to be a slightly different sort and imagined the great ambition in these warriors on a quest.

They had gathered in Umayabashi Castle in Joshu. It was located in a corner of the Bando Plain easily imagined as only being wilderness. In the very least, dignitaries of the time had to summon great resolve and purpose to travel to this place.

Spring arrives, a dawn.
An interesting world today,
Like being born together now.
A country stands alone.
A country struggles alone.
The clouds of last night disappear,
A new sun rises and burns.
Now is the age of the gods.
Now warriors live again as ordinary men.
Such is life
Roots of the grasses are eaten.

The annual festive banquet was held on January 7. The young samurai of the Echigo force recited long poems in modern tones mixing in their provincial dialects. Finally, they rose in unison, crowded into the largest room while matching rhythms to form a ring and dance round and round. Today life was as enjoyable as it could be.