Although we have spent so many years apart, you know me. You know that I love the wrinkles on your face and the smoothness of your neck, and I hope you know that I would never betray those features or the mind behind them with deceit. There is a reason that we ride now for Sainenji. A reason that I can only express to you with a story about your husband's secret life. What I had to do to keep us fed now forces us to flee.
It started when our daimyo, Ieyasu Tokugawa, was quite young. He was celebrating a warm summer and an auspicious harvest down by the river next to his castle. My master, Hattori Hanzo, and the daimyo were having a contest to see who could hold the breath in their lungs the longest underwater. Of course my master won, stating after that he could hold breath in his lungs for several days at a time. The daimyo was intrigued, and the contest was immediately set.
To ensure that my master could not cheat the system, the daimyo appointed two close friends to hold his head under the water until he gave a frantic signal to release. Mind you, the river was just strong enough in flow to obstruct the shape of anyone under its surface.
And ninjutsu, the skill that my master has passed to me, is all about the power of suggestion and how to exploit the weaknesses inherent in the human mind.
After the two men traded turns holding my master's head under the water for a day and a half, my master eventually reached up and calmly tapped on the arm of the man holding him. He emerged clutching the daimyo's short sword, forcing the young ruler to check his side sash where the sword had been stowed. The daimyo laughed and clapped his hands, asking how the deed was done.
"I have collaborated with your guards since the first day of my employment with you," my master replied. "When I slipped a moss covered rock into their grasp, they knew not to react or question my movements with any obvious motions. I swam down the river and emerged, slept for a while, and snuck up behind you to steal your sword while you were sleeping."
This, my wife, is essentially what I did for the seven years we were apart. After this event, the daimyo appointed many ninja to serve his purposes. Some leaders have minds that are very like the ninjas they employ. In a sense, Hattori Hanzo was trying to impart this wisdom to the daimyo, who could easily have been killed had he lacked such a loyal servant. It was a lesson well received by the daimyo; however, it was not conveyed to his young son. I was hired to serve this son, Matsudaira Nobuyasa.
I was hired to serve as figure in another ruler's house. Trickery, subterfuge, and careful planning put me in a favorable position in Oda Nobunaga's court. My disguise was as a guard and companion. If I had possessed the presence of mind to guess what I know now, I would have seriously questioned the subtlety on the part of my daimyo's son. How was I employed in such a place? For what purpose had I been installed in the household of a man whose guile and ambition surpassed any who were alive at that point in time? How could I leave my young wife for all those years, forcing her to live past an age where she could give birth before I returned?
There are things that we can never get back, you know. I only hope that we can live peacefully where we are going.
Nobunaga had a serious limp caused by a series of leg infections he received as a child. Often, he would clutch his leg and howl with pain while I gave him a hand to hold on to in the early hours of the morning before a doctor could rush to his side. This condition enabled me to be as close as his own kin when fighting broke out. I alone could shoulder his body away from combat when the spasms occurred. I could swipe away enemy strikes with my long spear, while my poor, false lord eyed my skill and the bodies of those I had slain for him.
We were close, like brothers. I cared for him so much that I sometimes forgot my duty and the dire responsibilities implicit in my duplicitous role.
One night, I received a missive. Kill Oda Nobunaga and escape, it stated. It was decorated with the yellow, hollyhock crest of the Tokugawa clan. I thought it strange and unfortunate that my young lord Nobuyasa would go so far as to attempt to kill the man whose own daughter he had married, but I was a tool. I was a knife that had led itself to believe that it was something more.
The next night, as I escorted Nobunaga to bed in halting, stuttering steps, I waited until we had worked our way past the creaking nightingale floors to his bedroom door before lashing at his weak leg with a kick to the back of his knee. Dagger drawn, I scrambled to plunge the blade into his throat as he fell, silencing his scream of pain and ending his life.
Nobunaga was a shrewd, cunning man. Later, after he had chained me to a wall in his house, he calmly explained that he had faked the weakness in his leg all along. Even the doctors that aided him were part of the diversion. Simple martial training as well as an advanced notice of political motivation from Nobuyasa had been more than enough to crush the chances of murder.
To my luck and ultimately my disgrace, he allowed me to go free. My services to him over several years excused, according to his words, my foolish attempt to take his life. I was sent away, to return to you again. When I returned home, I found that Nobunaga had requested that the leader of Tokugawa force his own son to commit seppuku for plotting against the Oda clan. Hattori Hanzo, my aging master, was now asked to supervise Nobuyasa while the twenty year old man plunged the knife into his own gut.
I was stunned. My failure to act on the request given to me had resulted in the death of one of my daimyo's children. I also believed that I would have to kill myself. My master split my dishonor with me, having taught me the skills that I failed to practice.
That awful time, as you know, was about ten years ago. In the years since then, our daimyo has kept a close eye on me. I wear the blood of his son on my honor, as does my master Hanzo. Oda Nobunaga is dead and gone, while our daimyo is poised to unify all of Japan soon.
We will not be a part of that world. We go to Sainenji to commemorate my master. We go to pay our dues to the young man that I murdered with my inadequacy as a ninja. We go to tend to graves, grow trees, grow flowers, and grow old together. We go to reflect on the tempestuous nature of human life, drinking tea under the shade of the shrine that we build, sipping until the storm takes us.