Illness and circumstance has kept me from recording the exploits of Lord Takeda Ryuji for some time, and it is only now – in the aftermath of battle – that I finally find the peace and quiet to continue the history of Clan Takeda’s rise from the ashes. I am Takeda Yamamoto, adopted into House Takeda as a young man; in old age, I witnessed its destruction. Now, I shall write of its return.
Akiyama Ren has collected various herbs from which a delectable tea can be brewed: Bitter, strong flavor, dark character, strengthening for the lungs, autumn fragrance. Wooden cup. Tea, indeed, plays an important role in the tale that will unfold upon these humble pages. Let me start with the explanation for my illness, and the curative thereof.
The reader will recall, that we were headed for the hot springs in Totomi Province. Dark clouds covered the sky, and as we set out, it began to rain. As an unfortunate result, this humble scholar was suddenly struck by the frailty of his age, and taken by an ill cold. Because of this, I was unable to provide my Lord Takeda Ryuji with advice, as we finally reached the hot springs only to find them abandoned. This humble scholar entered a feverish, uncomfortable sleep, and greatly inconvenienced his master. Lord Takeda Ryuji declared that his entourage must stay at the abandoned temple by the springs, and nurse the burdensome old man back to health.
Now, this temple is very old. The educated reader will know, that when a beloved tool or useful trinket reaches one hundred years of age, its spirit awakens, and it is given life of its own. This had happened to nearly every tool in the old temple, and absent their human masters, they had grown very lonely. For this reason, the rebellious spirits sought to keep Takeda Ryuji and his subjects, unwilling to let them go.
It was the hunter Kazuo who first discovered this, as a lantern lit itself to guide his way. As he is but a simple peasant, he was all but paralyzed with terror at this sight, and most rudely called upon Lady Akiyama, rousing her from rest in the soothing springs. Lady Akiyama pursued a ghostly broom into the temple, and came face to face with a kosode-no-te, a living kimono, which she wrestled into submission. Lord Takeda, meanwhile, became aware of a plot to spook the horses; this had been the work of a chochin-obake, a lantern spirit, who had sought to frighten the creatures with fire. Two of them had escaped, and the okami Satsuko went out into the night to pursue them, whilst Lord Takeda extinguished the flames with rainwater. The chochin-obake escaped unseen.
Suspecting what might lie behind these ghastly apparitions, Lord Takeda ordered his subjects away, and went alone into the hot springs. Unable to resist the opportunity to dote upon a visitor, the chochin-obake came before him, carrying a tray. Lord Takeda sternly spoke to the spirit, warning it not to commit any more mischievous acts, and furthermore vowed to restore this lost temple to its former glory. The spirits of the temple saw his righteousness, and all – from the greatest iron pot to the smallest chopstick – bowed in obedience before my Lord and master.
This humble scholar has few skills and virtues. He is, however, possessed of a nose that is sharper than average. The aromas from the tray informed him that tea was being served, upon which he promptly awoke. The spirits, for all their mischief, were good hosts; the tea was faint in flavor, rich in aroma, healthy for the lungs and cooling for the brain. After a few cups (which were exquisite porcelain), this humble scholar was ready to serve Lord Takeda as eagerly as the spirits themselves, and order was soon restored in the temple. Lord Takeda’s clothes and other items, which had been moved by the tsukomo-gami, were soon returned to him.
We left the temple the following morning. The night did not pass without complications, however. The okami Satsuko had been attacked in the night, whilst retrieving the horses – by what, she would not say. She bore obvious wounds. Lady Akiyama talked to her, but she did not divulge the identity of the attacker to Lord Takeda. This was likely for the best, as he was busy planning the assault on the Three Mountains villages and did not need further distractions. She would tell him some time later.
We were drawing near our goal, the three mountains in Totomi that had been attacked by the bandit Hoshi. It was resolved, that Lady Akiyama should go ahead as a scout, because smoke from a suspicious fire could be seen near a mountain road, and the hunter Kazuo feared there might be bandits lying in ambush. This fear, we would learn, was well founded.
Lady Akiyama came upon a camp of four men and five women. Of these, only one was loyal to Hoshi; the others were peasants, forced into servitude. They had built a crude outpost to supervise the mountain road, and into this outpost the nimble Lady Akiyama moved, as silent as a shadow. There, she waited.
Presently, Lord Takeda and the rest of us reached the fallen cliff marking the beginning of the bandit Hoshi’s territory. Any traveller going beyond this point would surely be spotted by the men in the outpost, and they would light the large signal-fire, alerting the bandits to our presence. At this point, my Lord and master’s plan was put into action.
Lady Akiyama leaped out near the signal-fire, extinguishing the lantern that would be used to light it. Nakajima Abe fired two arrows toward the men in the outpost, but Lady Akiyama caught them with her bare hands, unwilling to waste the blood of Lord Takeda’s peasants. Lord Takeda himself broke into a heroic run, bursting into the camp and cutting down Hoshi’s loyal man – who had shamelessly tried to hide behind a woman.
The peasants, of course, surrendered. Despite this, Lord Takeda found himself forced to execute one other; a woman who had made whores of her sisters, currying favor with the honorless Hoshi. For this crime, she was put to the sword. In addition, the okami Satsuko demanded the blood of one man as tribute. Lord Takeda did not deny her this, for the man in question was an honorless dog. Surely Lord Takeda would not have let her devour any man or woman of value and good character!
This humble scholar arrived on the scene long after the others, carried by a horse up the hilly terrain. He interrogated the remaining peasants, ensuring their loyalty to House Takeda, and instructed them in the correct behavior henceforth – to stay hidden from Hoshi and his men, and to take good care of our possessions, some of which we would have to leave securely in their camp. For Lord Takeda had decreed that we must secretly approach through the forests, and in doing so, we would not be able to bring horses or servants. This was a wise choice, since we now knew that the roads were being watched. Lady Akiyama’s servant Kiyo whined like a crippled dog at this decision, and it fell to Lady Asai to properly teach her humility before she shut her mouth. I shall have to make sure she is properly educated, when there is time.
Presently night fell. It was now that the okami Satsuko came before Lord Takeda, and informed him of what had happened in the woods.
The educated reader will know, that the kami do not practice rites of marriage like we mortals do. Though they have no flesh, some of them feel the lusts thereof, and exercise them freely without need of Heaven’s blessings. It was the case that an okami named Kemono controlled these mountains. In the past, Satsuko had belonged to him, but fled to Mikawa Province to escape his cruel lusts. Now that she was back, he had once more done to her as he pleased. Since she resisted, he had wounded her until she chose to submit.
Hearing this enraged Lord Takeda. This humble scholar tried to explain to him, that the ways of the kami are not the ways of men. Certainly Lord Takeda knows this! Certainly my Lord and master is a wise man, and would not normally meddle in the affairs of the kami, were it merely a personal matter. But it was the case that this kami had made a deal with mortals, and had sworn loyalty to Hoshi. For this reason, Lord Takeda reasoned, the spirit must be dealt with, so as to deprive the enemy of an advantage. In thinking so, Lord Takeda was not acting rashly, or on impulse, but in fact following every teaching of the great Sonshi! Knowing this, the educated reader could not possibly criticize him for what next transpired.
Lord Takeda went into the woods, calling out the name of the beast. A white-haired man appeared before him, with bone-white claws and evil red eyes. Lord Takeda explained that he had committed crimes against both Heaven and Earth, and ordered him to submit.
Foolishly, Kemono did not comply. He bared his claws against Lord Takeda, vowing to kill him. My Lord and master put down his sword, and facing the beast bare-handed, brought him to his knees, whereupon he castrated him with the Blade of War. Humiliated, the beastly spirit fled. Lord Takeda let him live, that he might serve as a warning to those who think of straying from the path of righteousness.
The foul okami had not acted alone, however. While Lord Takeda was away, Kemono had sent a pack of wild dogs into the camp, to rip my Lord’s loyal subjects apart in their sleep. Lady Akiyama, however, kept watch. Honorably acting as Lord Takeda’s shield, she threw herself into the midst of the pack, so that she might die and the others live.
Here I must pause my story, and apologize to the reader. Before I can continue, it is relevant to reflect a little upon the state of young Lady Ootori, whom the erudite reader will recall had been Lady Akiyama’s student. A strange Akatsuki ritual had infused her with an alien power, which Lady Akiyama claims to be somehow based upon the natural ki of man. Seeing as this force is both vicious and explosive, this humble scholar doubts this claim can be correct – but I digress. Since the event, young Lady Ootori had been training at swordplay under Lady Akiyama’s tutelage. Lady Akiyama had at first been reluctant to teach her, but eventually agreed, teaching her the only swordsmanship she knew – that of a wandering ronin.
The educated reader will know, that where a samurai is courageous, a ronin is savage. Where a samurai is honorable, a ronin is ruthless. Where a samurai is courteous, a ronin is without scruples. Thus young Lady Ootori possessed both the power and the swordsmanship of a dangerous outlaw.
Seeing her teacher being torn apart by dogs, young Lady Ootori leaped into the fray, cutting left and right. Each cut opened a dog’s belly, spilling blood and guts. Before long they were defeated, and Lady Akiyama could be rescued, despite her grievous wounds.
Young Lady Ootori was shaken by the event. The educated reader will remember, that at the time of this event she had only seen fourteen springs, and was yet a frail young girl. The blood and guts of dogs, being filthy and unclean, shocked her delicate senses so to the point that she fell viciously ill. Yet, the Lady Akiyama had been rescued. Indeed, she even seems strengthened by the incident – though why, I cannot say.
Lord Takeda returned, seeing to his loyal subjects, and explaining what had become of Kemono. He bore vicious claw-marks on his chest, but Satsuko’s saliva had already begun to cure them. The okami soon saw to Lady Akiyama as well, cleaning her wounds and speeding her recovery. Because of this, we did not need to rest for very long.
I will take a pause in my chronicles here; both inkwell and teacup have run dry. I shall prepare another pot, and resume my records of how we won Three Mountains, and with it gained a foothold in Totomi Province – but first, I have tasks to attend to.
I must prepare a funeral for a member of House Takeda.