Mura, leading a small team of soldiers, made his way into Kyoto from the south gate. The Shogun had notified Mura and his team that the invading Daimyo, Nobuoda, was somewhere in the city. A handful of soldiers were to make their way there, and find a way to eliminate him.
The fast-moving city was a marked change from Himeji, where day-to-day life was more reserved. The labyrinth of roads and side streets in front of him filled Mura with dread. To find one man in this city, however important he was, would be pure luck. The city had almost been physically destroyed by war some two hundred years ago, and even now it was trying to do so through power struggles. The traditional owners of the land fought with religious branches, which fought with ambitious court nobles, who fought with the city’s military. One needed to tread carefully.
He looked back to his team. “You all know what the aim of this excursion is. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open. The piece of information that guides us to what we’re looking for can come from anywhere. Head to your allocated area of the city, and meet me back here at sundown.”
The men nodded, and moved off into the side roads. Mura made his way down the large road that ran through the centre of the city, which lead to the ruins of the Daidairi Palace. It had been the crown jewel of Japan many centuries ago. Over time, it had lost its usefulness and burned down, never to be repaired.
Around the ruins, however, had risen many houses that were controlled by the factions vying for control of the city. Some were meeting points for off-duty warriors, others modest shrines to a particular god, while more still were apartments for the nobles visiting the city from their estates. It made for a melting pot, with everyone looking suspiciously at those they passed. After walking around the houses, he selected a warrior’s rest post that stood next to a small shrine dedicated to the wise man Nichiren.
He went inside, and ordered a small round of sake. The house owner charged highly, promising that the liquor was from the finest source in the south-west of Japan. Taking his drink, Mura stepped outside and sat at one of the small tables set out. Other warriors sat at the other tables, but their talk was of inconsequential things, with a rude word for the nobles or priests who passed by. He sat quietly, doing his best to keep his eyes and ears open.
A pair of priests came out of the shrine, talking excitedly to each other. They ignored the heckling thrown their way by the warriors, heading back into the southern portion of the city. Mura managed to hear one small piece of their conversation, but it proved the piece of advice he gave his men.
“That warrior lord from the East is certainly making a fuss in the Honno-ji. He is lucky our master needs him to ensure his own strength in the city.”
The rest of their conversation was drowned out as they walked away. Mura quickly finished his drink, and began to follow the holy men at a distance. It was a struggle at times to keep them in sight, as the bustle of city life threatened to engulf them. The pair moved into the south-eastern residential area, where the composition of people changed from busy adults to playful children chasing each other. Mura moved back further, having to hide in any convenient shadow to avoid notice when the priests stopped to talk to an adult or briefly play with the children.
When they started to move on, another figure came into view. He was a warrior, and of a high rank from the appearance of his dress. The priests said something to him as they passed him, to which he nodded. Whatever was said, it did not seem to please the man, as his face indicated anger and anxiety. Taking a risk, Mura approached the man.
“Excuse me, friend. Do you know those two men?”
The man looked at him suspiciously. “What if I do?”
“They owe me some money. They knocked over my drink, and laughed off my request that they buy another.”
The slight smile curled the man’s lips. “They are priests, after all. Thinking that praying all day will sort out the city’s problems. A noble aim, but hopeless.”
“Do you know where they reside?”
“I certainly do. They reside at the Honno-ji, in the south-east of the city.” He turned pointed an arm straight back the way he had come. “It is almost a direct line from here, though some of the residences move you off track.”
Mura nodded. “Thank you. I must hurry though. I must reach them before their warrior lord steps in to protect them from my request for money.”
To his surprise, the man burst out in laughter. “Nobuoda protect them? That is the best joke I have heard all week.”
“Did you say Nobuoda? I have heard many stories about him. A ruthless warrior who will let nothing stand in the way of his achieving total dominion.”
The man rolled his eyes. “That may be so, but he has made too many enemies. His time of reckoning will arrive soon.”
Mura gave him a friendly smile. “My friends and I are meeting for some food and drink at the South Gate after dusk. Would you care to join us? We are new to the city, and a fellow warrior who knows their way around would be a great comfort.”
The man gave Mura an appraising look, and then smiled warmly. “Why not? I have some tasks to attend to for the moment, but I will be sure to meet you there. Be sure to have a good supply of liquor.”
As the man moved on, Mura made his way to the South Gate. With the sun lowering in the sky, the others would be returning soon. They would surely be interested in this new development.
– X –