(Standard Year 2252)

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Origination: San Francisco Shipyards
          San Francisco, North America,
          Terra, Sol System
          Chief of Engineering, CA II

Terminus: U.S.S Drake
           NCC 541
           Command Office


Good evening, my love,

I have just returned from a brief visit to your homeland. Ensign Ishida Kaeyori, one of my assistants, offered to take me to the Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art. It was a wonderful experience. Your culture has such vivid and beautiful paintings. Ensign Ishida helped me with some research, and with choosing gifts for you. I hope you find them suitable. Think of me when you see them, and I hope they find a place on the walls of your cabin or office.

Celletyea cortayel, my love.


Captain Takeda Sulu blew a kiss to the face on the com screen, then turned excitedly to the shipping tube that had been delivered that morning. He opened it and carefully slid its contents onto his bed, unrolling the fine linen paper it contained. A smile lit up his face. There were three prints, brightly colored. The first was of his most famous ancestor, Takeda Shingen, in battle armor with his infamous war fan.


The second print was of his other famous ancestor, the great lord Oda Nobunaga, one of the Three Unifiers of late 16th century Japan, whose daughter had married one of Shingen’s sons. He, too, was in battle armor, astride his horse – though Sulu suspected the artist had the color scheme wrong. Nobunaga was noted for having black armor.

The final print was not quite as colorful as the first two, done in the woodblock style, and he had to read the text above it to find out exactly who it was an image of. When he translated it, he sat back in surprise: Mori Ranmaru, Nobunaga’s valet, perhaps the only valet in Japanese history to be depicted – or remembered. Ranmaru was said to have been a remarkable young man, able to effortlessly read his lord’s constantly changing moods, and quick enough to always have at hand whatever his lord desired, even before Nobunaga had ordered it. Which was all to the good, for Nobunaga was a man who expected his orders to be acted on yesterday. While the great lord was reputed to have a deeply sarcastic wit and a temper to match, it was said that of all his generals, aides, women, family, and retainers, Ranmaru was the only one with whom Nobunaga never got angry. It was also rumored that the boy, who had first caught Nobunaga’s eye at age 6, had been, once grown, a constant and faithful lover – though there was no proof of that.

Not that it would have been all that unusual, Sulu reflected. Bisexuality was common in Japan, even in modern times, and feudal lords had absolute power over their retainers. But with a man as handsome as Nobunaga was said to have been, he couldn’t imagine Ranmaru would’ve spurned the advances anyway. And Ranmaru himself was reported to have been the most beautiful young man in all of Japan.

He stared at the prints, wondering why Ensign Ishida had chosen them. Shingen and Nobunaga were understandable – they were his ancestors – but why Ranmaru? And was Ensign Ishida descended from the great strategist Mitsunari, who had been the retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who had succeeded Nobunaga and avenged the great lord’s death? Hideyoshi, along with perhaps the greatest shogun who ever lived, Togukawa Ieyasu, were the other two of the Unifiers who had created the greatest empire Japan had ever seen.

Oda, Takeda, Ishida, Toyotomi, Tokugawa…Mori Ranmaru… the names drifted through Sulu’s consciousness as he lost himself in reverie.


“My horse!”

Nobunaga’s voice roared through the courtyard of his home at Gifu. As always, Ranmaru was already leading the animal into the yard from the stables. The great lord spared a barely perceptible smile for his valet.

“Excellent, my boy,” he said, and Ranmaru bowed, hiding his own grin. He held the horse’s bridle as Nobunaga mounted.

“I will be back before the sun has set,” the great lord said. “Tell Kitsumo to be waiting.”

“Yes, my lord,” Ranmaru answered.

The great Nobunaga reached down from his horse to briefly caress the face of his valet. “Excellent,” he repeated in a murmur and this time Ranmaru’s smile was open.


From the shadow of the doorway to the central house, Akechi Mitsuhide stood, his arms folded, glowering. He never received an ‘excellent’ from his lord. He never got any compliments at all, save those from Lady Noh, and those meant nothing in the greater scheme of things. Worse, he was certain that the young valet had stolen his plans for Nobunaga’s great castle at Azuchi, presenting them as his own. The castle was Nobunaga’s architectural dream, and Mitsuhide had worked long and hard on the plans, hoping to make his lord’s vision a perfect reality, and at last gain some favor.

But Ranmaru, that pretty nothing, takes all from me, he thought. How am I to avenge my Lord Saito if I can’t get close to Nobunaga?

From inside the house, he heard the strains of a samisen. That would be Lady Kitsumo, he knew. Lady Noh disdained such quiet, feminine pursuits. She, like him, was far more interested in bringing down the man who had abandoned her father, the lord Saito Dosun. The fact that Dosun had nearly worshipped the ground Nobunaga walked on had not saved him when his stepson had assassinated him – and Nobunaga had done nothing about it. The Akechi clan had been retainers of the Saito, and Mitsuhide had joined Nobunaga’s retinue in the hopes of avenging his fallen lord. After all, it was the fact that Oda had been beaten by Saito that led to the political marriage in the first place. Lady Noh had never even met Nobunaga at the time of their wedding, and had hated him on sight. The great lord was equally disdainful of her – Mitsuhide sometimes wondered if the marriage had even been consummated, for Noh had no children, while Nobunaga enjoyed three sons and a daughter from his concubines – all but one from his beloved Kitsumo.

Mitsuhide sneered in disdain. The Lady Kitsumo was a widow: her husband, a mere captain in the Ikomo army, had died in a battle with Mitsuhide’s own clan. She returned to her father's house, and there met Nobunaga. They fell in love instantly. And while her father was wealthy, to be sure, his family held no great status. She was pretty enough, but nothing compared to the elegance and beauty that was Lady Noh. It was just one more thing he could never understand about Lord Nobunaga.

He turned and entered the house, heading for the rooms of Lady Noh.


“Where are we off to today, my lord?” Toyotomi Hideyoshi asked amiably as he rode up beside Nobunaga. Hideyoshi was a genial, cheerful young man, one of Nobunaga’s most trusted generals, and definitely his favorite retainer. The man was prone to fanciful and oft times ridiculous antics, and his short stature and limber acrobatics led to Nobunaga’s referring to him in a half-derisive, half-affectionate way as “the monkey.”

“Hawking,” the great lord answered.

“What?” Hideyoshi replied in mock-astonishment. “No battles? No great campaign? My lord, how will you keep the tigers from Komaki?”

Nobunaga snorted at the oblique reference to his greatest enemy, the so-called Tiger of Kai, Takeda Shingen. “I’ve sent offers to Kai, promising my adopted daughter to Katsuyori. I think that will keep the tiger busy with his cub, at least for the day.” Katsuyori was Shingen’s son, and as was usual, when arms would not force a retreat, a political marriage often could.

“Oh ho, that will sour the old man’s wine!” Hideyoshi laughed.

Nobunaga glanced back at the retinue that was following him. “I don’t see Ieyasu,” he remarked.

“There is much to remain cautious about,” the monkey replied in a fair imitation of Tokugawa’s deep, dour voice. “Someone should remain at Gifu.”

The great lord shrugged. “No matter. I couldn’t stand his worrisome manner today.”

“Or any other day,” Hideyoshi murmured under his breath, then gave his lord a wide, apologetic grin when Nobunaga glowered at him.

“Don’t try my patience, monkey,” Nobunaga warned, and Hideyoshi immediately fell silent. He waited, and, as usual, Nobunaga’s ill temper vanished as quickly at it had come.

“And how is my flight?” the lord asked.

Hideyoshi smiled. “They’re all doing very well. The younger birds seem to be as aggressive as they should be, without endangering their handlers. Your favorites, are, of course, in excellent health.”

He signaled behind him, and several young riders came up through the ranks behind, each bearing a hooded and jettied hawk on his arm. One transferred a large, splendid bird to Nobunaga’s arm, and the great lord smiled. Hideyoshi winked at the handler and was rewarded with a grateful nod.

It was going to be a good day.


Ranmaru knelt before the shoji, waiting as the Lady Kitsumo was informed of his presence by her maid. A tray carrying a flask of his lord’s favorite red wine, along with two drinking bowls, rested on his thighs, held steady in young but sure hands. He glanced up as the maid returned, kneeling to one side of the open doorway and gesturing for him to enter. He rose gracefully, the tray perfectly balanced, and stepped into Kitsumo’s rooms.

He set the tray on the small, lacquered table that stood in the center of the room, kneeling to the lovely young woman who smiled up at him from her place next to the table.

“Good evening, Ranmaru,” she said. Her voice was soft and melodic, her hair worn down around her shoulders, as Lord Nobunaga preferred.

“Good evening, Lady Kitsumo,” Ranmaru replied. He bowed, his upper body inclining forward, his fingertips pressed to the tatami mats before him. “My lord Nobunaga will arrive shortly, and wishes your company.”

Her laughter was light and musical. “Is this a formal request?” she asked.

He sat back on his heels, a wry grin claiming his features. “I doubt he would phrase it so, my lady.”

“Kitsumo!” Kitsumo barked merrily, an affectionate imitation of her lord’s usual speaking style. “Wine!”

Ranmaru hid his chuckle behind his hand.

“And may I enquire about the health of our lord’s Lady-Wife?” Kitsumo continued with all due propriety.

“She is well, though in an ill temper,” Ranmaru returned, equally properly.

Kitsumo leaned forward, cupping her hand to her mouth, speaking in a low whisper. “And when is she not?”

The young valet shrugged. It was as close to insulting the Lady Noh as he ever came.

The lady sat back, sighing. “Such are the trials of an arranged marriage,” she sighed, then reached out, gently patting the young man’s arm. “Don’t ever allow our lord to make such an arrangement for you, Ranmaru.”

Again, Ranmaru said nothing, bowing his head, but his eyes were shining with impish humility. Wordless acknowledgement passed between them; it was highly unlikely that Nobunaga would ever allow Ranmaru to be taken from his side, through marriage or any other contract.

Kitsumo smiled, and inclined her head. “Thank you for announcing our lord’s intentions,” she said.

Ranmaru again bowed forward.

“It is my honor and pleasure, my lady,” he replied, and rose. He knelt again at the shoji, sliding it open, bowed again, and left the room. The maid slid the door closed behind him.


“Lord Nobunaga will seek the favor of his concubine tonight?”

Ranmaru stiffened at the voice of his mistress, the Lady Noh, Lord Nobunaga’s wife. He turned, immediately kneeling to her.

“Those were his instructions, my lady,” he murmured.

Noh stood over him, her arms folded in her elegant, voluminous kimono. Her hair was elaborately styled, with many picks and jewels hanging from its dark sculpture, her face a perfect mask of haughty beauty.

“Poor boy,” she said, her voice dripping false sympathy. “How do you bear such trials?”

“My lady?” Ranmaru asked, his own tone carefully neutral.

“Oh come now, Ranmaru,” she sighed, “we both know you would much rather see another in his favor.”

“It is not my place to…” the valet began.

“Stop it!” Noh snapped impatiently. “I will not conscience such pretense from you!”

“He believes himself your equal, my lady,” came Mitsuhide’s voice from behind him. Ranmaru squeezed his eyes shut. “Huh! At times I think he believes himself my equal.”

“Oh, never that, Lord Mitsuhide,” Noh returned. Her tone was just short of intimate. “After all, he is just a boy.”

“But perhaps our lord prefers…” the handsome retainer began, and Ranmaru heard the playful snapping of Noh’s fan against Mitsuhide’s clothing, though without glancing up, he could not be sure if it were against the young lord’s arm or someplace less teasing.

“Such talk of our lord, Mitsuhide,” Noh chided. “You should be ashamed.”

“But when it is so obvious he doesn’t prefer you my lady…”

Ranmaru held his breath, wondering if even Mitsuhide could get away with such a blatant reminder of the fact that Lady Noh had never conceived a child by her lord. He could feel Noh tensing above him, and Mitsuhide’s sudden awareness of what he’d just implied.

But then, the valet felt the presence of his lord returning from his afternoon’s pleasures. He swiftly touched his head to the floor, murmuring, “Lord Nobunaga approaches, my lady, Lord Mitsuhide.” He quickly rose, moving away from them and out into the courtyard.


Noh scowled. “How does he do that?” she wondered.

Mitsuhide gazed after the boy. Maybe if we spent as much time in Nobunaga’s private chambers, he thought bitterly, we would be able to read the Demon King’s mind too.


Ranmaru took the horse’s reins as Nobunaga dismounted. Beside him, Hideyoshi leapt nimbly off his own horse.

“A good day, my lord!” the monkey enthused. “Too bad you weren’t there to see it, Ranmaru!”

“It would have been a breathtaking sight, I’m sure, my lord Hideyoshi,” the valet returned with a quick smile.

“Ah, but then you always think anything our lord does is breathtaking,” Hideyoshi returned with a wink.

“Wine, Ranmaru,” Nobunaga interrupted, frowning at his general.

Ranmaru signaled, and a servant stepped down the stairs leading into the castle, two large goblets on the tray he carried.

Nobunaga smiled. “You always anticipate my needs, boy,” he said.

Ranmaru bowed his head in acknowledgement as his lord and Hideyoshi drained their cups.

“There is more in the lady Kitsumo’s rooms,” the valet murmured.

Nobunaga nodded to him. “Excellent,” he said, and strode off into the castle, more servants appearing to pick up the outerwear he discarded along the way.

Hideyoshi watched him, smiling. “I wonder why he tries to hide it,” he said to no one in particular.

“Tries to hide what, my lord?” Ranmaru answered as he handed the reins to the grooms that came running into the courtyard to take the horses back to the stables.

Hideyoshi cocked his head. “You, too, Ranmaru?” he asked. When the valet blinked at him, he grinned widely. “Well, I guess subtlety is a virtue. Sometimes.”

“As you say, my lord,” the boy returned. Then he lifted his head. “The Lady Nene,” he said, and turned, just as Hideyoshi’s wife came into the courtyard.

“A little more warning next time, hmm, boy?” Hideyoshi grumbled, then put on a bright smile. “Nene, my flower!”

Lady Toyotomi Nene was hardly what anyone would call a flower. Tiny, and pretty in a boyish, perky way, she had actually trained in the ancient arts of ninjitsu and was a fast and deadly warrior when the need arose – which seemed to be whenever Hideyoshi was getting too close to any of his concubines. Her sparkling personality was a good fit with Hideyoshi’s own nearly interminable good will: She even dispatched her rivals with a bubbly, winning smile. In keeping with her nature, her dress was nearly always in a state of casual disarray.

“Hideyoshi, how did the hawking go!” she cried, racing up to him and reaching up on her tiptoes to give him an ostentatious kiss on the cheek.

“Good, good,” Hideyoshi answered. “Lord Nobunaga is most pleased with his new birds.”

Nene giggled. “I tried to train them well.” She nodded absently to Ranmaru, then grabbed her husband by the arm. “Come on, I have a hot bath waiting for you and some of your favorite tea. I used your newest tea set, too!”

“Ah, what would I do without you, Nene?” Hideyoshi sighed, but as she dragged him up the stairs, he turned his head and made a face at Ranmaru.

The valet hid his grin and began directing the grooms for the care of Nobunaga’s birds.


“My lord, a word.”

Nobunaga stopped, a frown quickly replacing the anticipation of pleasure on his features. He turned, regarding the shorter man who approached him.

“What is it, Lord Ieyasu?”

Tokugawa Ieyasu was younger than Nobunaga, younger than Hideyoshi, but as his childhood had been spent as hostage to a series of his father’s enemies, he had grown into a wary, patient, serious man, with an uncanny head for details and subterfuge of all kinds. He gave a short but respectful bow to his lord.

“There is word of some trouble in the west. They simply refuse to see reason.”

Nobunaga’s frown deepened. “Tell Terumoto to deal with it,” he said.

“I think, perhaps, it might be wise to send some of your own generals, my lord,” Ieyasu suggested. “Terumoto has been – recalcitrant – of late.”

Nobunaga’s eyebrow arched. “Has he?” He stoked his beard thoughtfully. “Perhaps Hideyoshi should speak with the boy.”

“My thoughts exactly, my lord,” Ieyasu replied with a small, grim smile. “And Lord Mitsuhide’s forces would make a force to be reckoned with.”

The great lord made a barking laugh. “What? You think my great ally’s grandson won’t listen to a monkey?”

Ieyasu gave a perfunctory chuckle. “Swords and spears can often soften the ears for a golden tongue, my lord.”

“So be it, then,” Nobunaga replied. “Now, if there is nothing else?”

Ieyasu bowed. “Nothing, my lord.”

Nobunaga strode off without another word, and Ieyasu hurried to speak to both Hideyoshi and Mitsuhide.


Nobunaga’s voice boomed out “Kitsumo!” before her maid could even finish sliding open the shoji.

“Lord Nobunaga, my lady,” the girl said anyway, and Kitsumo smiled at her before waving her away.

She bent forward, her hands carefully placed, the left atop the right, her forehead not quite touching their backs.

“My lord Nobunaga, I welcome you,” she murmured.

“Wine!” he stated as he threw himself down on a cushion opposite the table at which she knelt, his long legs crossed. Kitsumo straightened, immediately pouring a cup of the wine Ranmaru had brought. She extended it to him with both hands, bowing her head. He took it in one, the other lifting her chin.

“Enough with the formalities, Kitsumo,” he said brusquely.

She smiled secretly to herself, knowing that he would have been just as harsh if she had presumed no formality. A hard man to please was Oda Nobunaga.

He drained the cup in one long gulp, then held it out to her again. She again nodded, this time with a more sideways inclination of her head, refilling the cup. After two more repetitions, Nobunaga gave a great, satisfied sigh, and put the cup down. Kitsumo rose, moving behind him to massage his shoulders.

“The hawking went well, my lord?” she asked.

He moved his head under her ministrations, rolling his neck to relieve the tension in his muscles. “Well enough,” he answered. “It passed the time.”

She rested her cheek against the back of his head. “Inactivity does not suit you, Nobunaga,” she whispered.

“Perhaps the Mori will be good enough to alleviate my boredom,” he responded. “Or so Ieyasu says.”

“Does not Mitsuhide have associations there?” Kitsumo asked, her hands still moving expertly over his shoulders.

Nobunaga turned his head. “You think he instigates insurrection from a distance?”

“No, of course not, my lord,” she answered quickly, her shock at such a suggestion genuine. “I would never make such an accusation. I merely suggest that perhaps his associates feel they should be more in your favor with Mitsuhide so high in it.”

Nobunaga snorted. “I could credit that – if Mitsuhide felt himself in such high regard. He does not.”

“Then he is blind,” Kitsumo said decisively. “He lives here at your court, he is a trusted general. What does he wish, that he be named your heir in place of Nobutada?”

“At times, my Kitsumo, I think he wishes he were my valet,” the great lord chuckled, then reached up, stilling her hands. “Or my concubine.”

Kitsumo blushed, and Nobunaga turned, clasping her small body to his.

“Come now, my own,” he murmured. “Find some other way to fill the hours.”

She smiled up at him, seeing in his dark eyes the softness that was only there for her, and she thanked again the gods who had brought this marvel of a man to her, for though he was as fierce a warlord as the country had ever seen, though he had conquered nearly the whole of Japan, though he was set to meet soon with the Emperor himself, she alone was in his heart – she and Mori Ranmaru.


“Hideyoshi, I need a moment of your time,” Ieyasu called out as he saw the Lady Nene dragging her husband through the halls of Komaki castle.

“He needs a bath, Lord Ieyasu,” Nene countered, not letting go her grip.

“I’m sure it will take only a short while, my flower,” Hideyoshi countered. He disengaged her hand from his arm. “A short while, yes?” he repeated to Ieyasu.

“Perhaps a bit longer,” Ieyasu replied on cue. “It concerns our lord’s western holding.”

“My duty, Nene,” Hideyoshi said to his wife with an apologetic shrug.

She frowned, but it was immediately replaced with a happy smile.

“Well, since you are indispensable to our Lord Nobunaga,” she said, and leaned over, kissing Hideyoshi’s cheek. “But come to the bath as soon as you’re finished!”

“Yes, my flower,” Hideyoshi promised.

When she was out of sight, he let out a sigh of relief. “I am ever in your debt, Lord Ieyasu,” he said.

Ieyasu made a dismissive noise. “You chose her, Hideyoshi,” he pointed out.

“I didn’t know at the time that she’d trained as a warrior,” the monkey complained, then brightened. “Well, be that as it may. What’s up?”

“The Mori,” Ieyasu said.

Hideyoshi pursed his lips. “Akechi?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Hideyoshi nodded. If Ieyasu was not aware of it, it was nothing to be concerned about. “Why is it the oldest allies always prove the most troublesome?”

“Because they have the least recently been reminded of our lord’s power,” was Ieyasu’s response.

“Ah, too true, too true,” the monkey agreed thoughtfully.

“Our lord wishes you to go speak with them, and to take Mitsuhide as back-up.”

Hideyoshi made a face. “Akechi won’t like that. He hates it when I’m in command of his forces.”

Ieyasu shrugged. “Lord Mitsuhide takes offense at everything.”

“That he does,” Hideyoshi agreed. “But at least he’s loyal. If Nobunaga commands it, he’ll do it.” He leaned forward. “Though he may have to hear it directly from our lord.”

“Well, he won’t tonight,” the younger man returned. “Lord Nobunaga is with the lady Kitsumo.”

“Now there’s a flower I could enjoy plucking,” Hideyoshi confided with a wink.

“And would lose your hands for it,” Ieyasu warned sternly.

Hideyoshi sighed. “I was joking, Ieyasu.”

“Take care our lord hears no such jests.”

After a beat, both men said together, “Or Ranmaru.”

“Not that the boy carries tales,” Ieyasu added.

“No, of course not,” the monkey agreed. “But I was thinking more along the lines of Ranmaru being another flower one should dare not pluck.”

“Is that all you think of, monkey?” Ieyasu said with a frown.

Hideyoshi grinned. “Why not?”

Ieyasu sighed. “Come, we must present our lord’s wishes to Mitsuhide.”

“Can’t I go have a bath with Nene first?”

“Think of it as the lesser of two evils,” Ieyasu replied with a rare grin of his own.

“Ah, but which is the lesser?” Hideyoshi asked.


“Mitsuhide, Ieyasu and I need to speak with you!”

At Hideyoshi’s ebullient voice, Mitsuhide turned from Noh, glad to be able to escape from her vicious browbeating, even if it was to acknowledge the monkey. He had realized his error as soon as the incautious words had flown from his mouth, but he wasn’t about to back down to a woman, Lady of the house though she be. And so they had argued, her becoming more haughty and him more stubborn, till he knew there would be no chance of her favors that night, despite the fact that Nobunaga would be involved with his concubine. He damned Ranmaru for provoking them both. If it had been anyone but the great lord’s favorite, he could’ve invented some excuse to have the boy beaten. But that, he knew, would have only gained him retribution from Nobunaga, and would have further lessened him in the man’s eyes.

So he kept his loathing to himself, and faced Hideyoshi.

“What do you want, monkey?” he snarled.

“The western Mori are acting up – again,” Hideyoshi replied. “Lord Nobunaga wishes us to go and deal with them.”

Mitsuhide hated the monkey’s bright smile. He hated the casual way he spoke to his betters. He hated the fact that, while a fair warrior at best, Hideyoshi was Nobunaga’s top general.

It should be me! he seethed silently. I am Akechi! Does the monkey even have a proper clan? Nobunaga picked you up off the side of the road! What are you that you should have more favor than I?

“Please excuse me, great lords,” Noh’s voice said from behind him. “Since my lord Nobunaga has retired, I will do the same.”

She bowed, and they all returned it as she swept from the room. Mitsuhide found himself wondering if they knew, as he did, that she would retreat to a place where, though out of sight, she could hear all that was said. It was impossible to tell from Hideyoshi’s idiotic grin, and Ieyasu’s shuttered expression gave nothing away.

“Now what nonsense do you bring me?” Mitsuhide said, returning to the conversation Noh had interrupted.

“It is no nonsense, my lord,” Ieyasu replied. “We have reports that some of the lesser lords and the Honganji have banded together…”

“What of Terumoto?” Mitsuhide broke in.

“There is some indication that he might not be – unfavorable – to the undertaking,” Ieyasu answered, without a moment’s hesitation for the interruption.

“So Lord Nobunaga wants us to speak reasonably to him,” Hideyoshi added, then grinned. “Before taking a few heads.”

“And he expects Terumoto to listen to you,” Mitsuhide disdained.

“Well, no, not at first,” Hideyoshi said. “That’s why your forces will join my command.”

Mitsuhide bristled. “Why not just let me go and speak to my associates there? Surely I would make a better envoy.”

“Perhaps,” Ieyasu temporized, “but Lord Nobunaga wishes your skill in battle to be – encouragement – for Terumoto.”

“Well, it’s certainly true that the monkey’s prowess would hardly cause him to blink,” Mitsuhide replied derisively.

“Hey!” Hideyoshi protested, but Ieyasu held up a hand.

“My lords, such squabbling between two competent retainers is unseemly. Lord Nobunaga would not be pleased by it.”

“I said nothing!” Hideyoshi pointed out.

“You haven’t the wit,” Mitsuhide muttered.

For a moment, Hideyoshi’s dark eyes flashed, then his usual foolish smile reasserted itself. “You’re right, of course, Lord Ieyasu,” he said, and bowed to the man. Mitsuhide made a similar, if much more shallow gesture. “At any rate, Akechi, these are Lord Nobunaga’s orders. Ready yourself and your men.”

“And how much time do I have to prepare for this folly?” Mitsuhide asked.

“A day or two, no more,” Ieyasu replied.

The young lord bowed again, and turned, striding off through the castle.

“Why so long, Ieyasu?” Hideyoshi said when he had gone.

“Let him confirm it with Lord Nobunaga,” Ieyasu returned. “It will make him all the less obstructive.”

Hideyoshi nodded, a light of understanding dawning in his eyes. “Ah, you think of everything, my friend.”

Ieyasu nodded without conceit. “That is my job, Lord Hideyoshi.”


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