Middle Way Tanba
"During the campaigns, we plan to observe the status of young Takechiyo."
"Is it not dangerous?"
"Indeed. He must remain in their confinement."
It was the seventeenth year of the Tenbun Era (1548). In this current generation, Takechiyo was a boy's name adopted by who would famously be called Ieyasu Tokugawa in his days as a man. The Takechiyo of today was in Owari Province instead of Suruga; he was a six years old captive of the Oda family. He was there since last year.
The Heirakuji temple of Iga's Ueno region, a large towering regalia standing on a plateau, looked indifferent. It stood silently with no one ascending the stone steps leading to it, or crossing through the torii gate labeling its name. Below the plateau, on a wide enclosure of zelkova serrata and resident housings, few wandered or waited silently.
Inside Heirakuji, twelve men formed together. They included the Three Grand Iga; in these days, they were the successful heirs of the Hattori, the Momochi, and the Fujibayashi. Their genealogy alone, it is scribed, created the profile of Iga. To stand within their presence, a serious feeling could well up in anyone. Especially with military commander Hanzo Hattori present. However, the nine aside of the Grand Three could stand with the same stature.
What Heirakuji held was a meeting at the behest of the Matsudaira family Lord.
"To tread Owari would betray the reprieve that we were given." Ryo Tsukimori, a vassal of Fujibayashi, had the smooth voice fit for negotiation. Surprisingly he was young; he looked younger, due to his slick back hair, but a man over twenty could be wise beyond that.
"Do you suppose that we do nothing?" The voice of Hanzo Hattori bellowed from a low pit. It was calm and commanding, challenged rationale. Hattori grew analytic from being a commander under the Mikawa Province's daimyo. The council, at least the nine next to the Three Grand Iga, were highly considered for selection. They symmetrically formed to handle the war games that dictated them. Since they initially came together as an ikki, or a rebel force against invaders, it was a suitable reinforcement to use the same minds for government.
"What also is of concern is the Oda network?" Ryo further remonstrated; more importantly, he wanted to raise the concern: How did the Oda caught wind of the Imagawa's involvement? He wanted to avert any rash actions, especially since both rival clans wanted to stretch their grasps towards Mikawa. There was also the Saito of Mino, who allied the Oda through marriage. Since he was in close liege with the current Matsudaira head Hirotada, Hanzo Hattori explained that Hirotada wanted to ally with the Imagawa, but Hirotada had to accept the condition that his heir Takechiyo was sent to Sunpu Castle at Suruga as a hostage. It did not turn out that way.
"Raiders of Owari have their eyes of Iga." The Iga known as the Gate held his chin as he spoke. Konan (小南), the ninja of Kanbe (God's Door), was seen as the glare or the sentry of the finest temples in their nation. Knowing to keep still for many passing breezes, he held his chin as if captivated by thousands of thoughts. He was a wiry man with long dark hair; he possibly grew it out carelessly from being too dedicated at his post.
"For all," Hattori began, "the gap between Suruga and Mikawa could allow some interference."
For all, a few questioned Hattori's words in their minds. Oda, Imagawa and Matsudaira were in contest due to their proximity. Someone brought up the betrayal Lord Hirotada's father-in-law Yasumitsu Toda being the turning point. Even before that, the Mizuno family. Rather, the civil distrust that arose from the youth of Hirotada must have been the critical point. Youth carried an indisputable prejudice of incompetence. It was this reason why there was the Warring States era.
One of the twelve Iga, Kanryu Koki (霧生 金鬼), did not openly express his lack of confidence in Hirotada. He kept both silence, and an image of fealty. He knew that the Matsudaira lord was under pressure for beseeching help from the Imagawa, losing alliances to the Oda, letting Oda advance including the capture of Anjo Castle, and letting his only son get captured by Toda. For much of the Mikawa army, there was a feeling of no way out. No, a sour feeling of desperation. Kanryu's face folded as he frowned. His eyes narrowed underneath his thick headband.
Finally, he contributed. "We should issue a death sentence to the traitors."
The representative of the Otowa Kido family promptly asked that if an infiltration was necessary, how would they go with it?
Doujun Tateoka (楯岡 道順), a senior commander, quickly thought of the Shindo, the family of castle dominators.
"It would be a good task for my son." Lord Shindo took part of the meet as well. He thought of the monk too; at the meeting was also Kobei (光兵) from Shimagahara village, a warrior of the cloisters. Mountains kept their activities elusive.
"Young Shindo and I can go to Owari." The monk said.
Ryo felt weariness in his heart, stifling a sigh. At the behest of Fujibayashi, he was assisting the campaigns of Hirotada with Hattori and other Iga. He had faced the battles personally, clashing with the Oda samurai and proposed sending a squad to observe their quarters. He doesn't like being too hasty. Among the somber ambiance of the council, he felt like he would be branded as a heretic if he contended against his fellow Iga's words. He sensed only a commitment to waging war. Rushing with a castle raid was more of the duty for the main force. Ryo looked to the floor.
"Oh, another thing. Tsukimori?" One of the Grand, Tanba Momochi gazed Ryo. Ryo broke out of his thoughts and looked at the senior Iga.
"I would like to congratulate you on your new child," Momochi said.
There was a long pause. Baffled by the digression, Ryo simply nodded in thanks. As the days of Winter trimmed, and faced the blossom of Spring, it became aware by many that Ryo's true wife was bloating. She also mentioned feeling faint and abdominal pain, having been resting more than usual during Winter. Maids from Koga told Ryo that it was common occurrence, but proposed to watch over his wife while he was absent.
Speaking of which…
"Will such a dragon not bed our vassals' daughters?" Momochi suddenly asked.
There were no words. Ryo was astounded by such a question from Momochi, and quite suddenly at a war council. All eyes were on Tsukimori. Momochi's followers, Nagai and Yamada eyed Tsukimori, smiling along with their Lord. The three were like coats of paint; their smiles were cheeky.
"Now is not the time." Hanzo Hattori intervened. He was too focused on the matter at hand and he demanded that everyone only commit their energy and genius on the next step.
Still, Tanba Momochi's question left an impression. Burdening the Iga council was the thought of compromising Tsukimori's weakness. Tsukimori himself wondered if they found him disgraceful or if they had some kind of anxiety.
"It appears that we're at a deadlock," Hattori said. "There is no acquisition except more fighting. Matsudaira wants to keep the tolerance of the Imagawa. It may be up to them over young Lord Takechiyo's fate."
"I'd say that that we retrieve him and make sure that he makes it to Sunpu."
There were various approaches, but they all seemed useless. A hostage situation was nothing out of the ordinary, but even Hirotada did not stir. His alliance, the moral and strength of his army, was set before the life of his very young son. The Iga questioned the ambition of the Matsudaira. Its survival did depend on the heir, the only son, and it didn't seem that Hirotada would live to make another child. Especially with his broken alliances.
Many thoughts plagued the council's minds: Executing the traitors, negotiating with the Oda or "casting curses" on them, sabotaging Anjo Castle, saving Takechiyo or sending letters to him, attacking the Imagawa, the expectation of Hirotada using the Iga against Oda.
Ryo Tsukimori thought of his unborn child, and what would it be like if his child was in a similar situation.