Playing video games for two and a half decades wil leave you with many stories, opinons and things you simply have to get off your chest. In this blog, I will try to share with you some of them. Read on, for the a little tale I call The Legend of Chosokabe Masayo, the greatest general ever to command my armies on the virtual battlefield.
Warning: Games lightly spoiled in this blog post: Shogun 2: Total War (PC)
O Honored Brother
O Conqueror of Japan
Even as the walls of Kyoto crumble before me, and the screaming, wailing nobles of this once great city throw themselves at my feet, eager to grovel and gain favour with the man who in a few short hours shall be their new Shogun, Battle lord of all Japan, my heart is heavy. Heavy, for my general, my friend, my brother Masayo is not by my side to share with me this moment of truth and destiny for the Chosokabe clan. It is not my name that my Samurai shout as they flood the streets below the castle, cutting down the last brave men still standing beneath the tattered banner of the Ashikaga Shogunate.
It is his.
When I was still an infant, my great father and Daimyo of the Chosokabe clan visited the construction site of the great port being built at the northern tip of Shikoku, the island we at the time shared with two other clans. As he rode the shore with his cadre of bodyguards, he suddenly chanced upon an elderly fisherman being harassed by a rabble of bandits, threatening the man to surrender his catch of the day to them. Though outmanned four to one, the man and his son who was also with him would not be intimated, and refused to give up the fish they had worked the entire day for. Armed with nothing but a paddle, the man's son held the bandits off, shrugging off the beatings and the cuts they managed to inflict on him every time they got near. My father watched from afar, and as the sun started to set, the boy was still holding them off. As the light of day disappeared, and the strength was finally ebbing from his body, my father decided to intervene, and unleashed his Samurai protectors, who made short work of the bandits. He rode up to the young man, who had collapsed to his knees in the mud, and asked him why he would risk his life for a small net full of fish, and not simply surrender it.
The young man Masayo looked at him with steel in his eyes and said: "My father worked for this fish. I would rather die than allow it into the hands of someone who has not earned it."
So impressed was my father by this answer that he took the boy with him back to the capital of Tosa, after swearing to the old fisherman that the boy would be given the best education available to anyone on Shikoku. A boy of such determination, integrity and character was surely destined for greater things than a fisherman’s life. My father had no idea how right he was.
Masayo took to his studies with vigor, but though he did his best, it was clear he was not cut out for scholarly work. It was in his martial training he made a name for himself, and when he came to my father the next year and asked to be given the right to carry arms in his name, he immediately had his wish granted. Not content with that however, my father enrolled him into the officer's program, a grueling ten year education which would see him leave Shikoku for Honshu, Japan's largest island. During his absence, I grew into a man, and my father started grooming me as his successor. By the time he returned a decade later, I had practically forgotten he existed. The scars on his face told me of the hard times he must have been through since I last saw him, but the dignity and grace with which he wore the clan's armour told me more. This man would play a large part in shaping not only Chosokabe's future, but the future of Japan herself. Years passed without major conflict, while Masayo slowly rose in rank. Eventually, he was given the right to use the clan name, and even married my sister. By the time my father decided that Shikoku was no longer big enough to support the presence of three clans, Masayo was one of the highest regarded field commanders in our army.
On the eve of the campaign, our old, sickly general breathed his last breath, and suddenly, Masayo was leading our troops east to conquer the cities of Awa and Sanuki. The results of this lightning fast campaign stunned even a battle-hardened old man like my father. During the course of a year and a half, Masayo, commanding a force of barely half the combined strength of his enemies, had brought both the Myoshi and the Sogo clans to their knees. The both sent representatives to my father, begging to be made his vassals, so their clans could survive in some form, but were flatly rejected. For in Masayo, my father now had a weapon of such intimidating strength, the old need for compromise was gone. The tranquility brought on by a united Shikoku would not last long. Not two years after the conquest of the island, the mighty Ito clan, eager to challenge the faltering Shogunate, went forth from the island of Kyushu in a bid to conquer Kyoto. That night my father called a war-council where he ordered Masayo to come up with a plan to stop the Ito from usurping the Shogunate, as it would interfere with his own long time plans to attain it for himself. A few days later, my father rode with Masayo to the small fishing village where they had met for the first time all those years ago. There, they found Masayo's father, by this time, a weak, sick man with weeks left to live at most. Though the old man could barely lift his head from his pillow, I could see the pride shining from his narrow, sunken eyes at the sight of his son wearing the armour granted only to Chosokabe's general. With a weak grip, he took a hold of Masayo's hand, and all that needed to be said between them was said, without a single word being uttered.
That was the last time Masayo saw either of the two men he had called father. What followed was a twelve year campaign, in which Masayo forged his legend, and put me in the position I am today, about to step into the Kyoto palace, and accept the surrender and ritualistic suicide of the old Shogun.
Instead of sailing west to confront the advancing Ito army on Honshu, Masayo left a small force under my command to defend our lands in case of counter-attack, while he himself took his host south, to invade Kyushu island, effectively putting himself directly in the wake of the aggressive Ito clan's march north. During the next couple of years, the reports started coming in from the front, telling of victory after victory. Slowly but surely, spring after spring, Masayo claimed every province on Kyushu for the Chosokabe clan. His reports were always clinical, to the point, but honest and unflinching; he made no attempt at hiding the horrors of his war behind fancy language. On midsummer's eve in Masayo's 53rd year, the army crossed the small sound between Kyushu and Honshu, and the final confrontation between Chosokabe and Ito finally drew close. Three more years it would take before the two great armies faced each other, for the battle of Tamba fields. The battle that would decide the future of Japan.
My father, the great Daimyo, had passed away a few years before, not having fulfilled his wish of seeing Masayo again before his days were numbered. A few months before the battle, Masayo sent word to me to meet him at his camp once the battle was over, so he could swear loyalty to me as his new Daimyo, and present the road to Kyoto to me himself, as it now lay open to me after years of bloody, unceasing war. The old war-horse never lacked for confidence, but at the same time, he had never given me reason to doubt him. I set out for his camp with my cadre of body-guards, hoping that we would make it in time to help. I arrived a few days too late.
The field was still strewn with bodies when I arrived, the smell was sickening, but the screams my father had told me could be heard from the dying and maimed long after the battle was over seemed to have silenced. We rode for hours before we finally escaped the hellish, ghoulish fields, where the only signs of life were the locals, burning the dead in gigantic pyres. It was late in the evening when we arrived at Masayo's camp. I immediately ran into his two sons, who despite having their armours covered in spots other men's blood, looked exactly like they had when I sent them off to join their father's army three years ago. They took me to the largest tent, where I expected to be led inside to meet Masayo, standing hunched over a table next to a roaring fire, plotting on his large campaign map the route for our triumphant march into Kyoto. Instead, what caught my eye was a small heap of animal furs next to the entrance. When I got close, it stirred, and Masayo's eldest rushed over to it, and took a hold of his father's arm. He had been sitting there, covered up for warmth, waiting for me. What I saw before me, was an old man, scarred and harrowed, who couldn't breathe deeply without breaking into a violent cough. There was no doubt my brother was a death's door, and it seemed only a tremendous force of will had sustained him this long. He got on his feet, and with the aid of his sons, took me for a short walk up the tall hill overlooking the camp. He struggled against shaking legs for an hour, refusing our pleas for him to turn around and go back to his tent. When we arrived at the top he sat down, and we looked to the east, where we could just barely spot the lights from Kyoto in the distance.
"My eyes fail me, my Daimyo," he said weakly. "I cannot see her from here. Tell me; is she beautiful?"
"She is magnificent," I replied, trying to hide the tremendous weight my heart was suddenly carrying. "And you have delivered her to me. Never shall Japan see a finer warrior than you, brother."
"Death came to me last night," he continued. "It is not the first time he and I have met. I have had many an interesting conversation with him as he has come to claim the lives of my Samurai. I have seen such humbling things in my life, my Daimyo. I have seen the raw, non-belligerent, but still merciless power of nature. I have seen ordinary soldiers perform feats of bravery I thought above mortal men. I've seen the bravest and noblest of warriors cry out for their mothers as life bleeds from their bodies, onto the frozen mud beneath them. Death has been my closest friend and my most hated enemy. Countless times he has come for the people I cherish. Last night he came for me. He told me my time had arrived. I bowed my head to him, and I asked if he could grant me one last wish. One more day, so I could see my Daimyo, the man who will be Shogun, and gift to him whatever semblance of wisdom my life has gifted to me."
He took a hold of my shoulder, and pulled me close, his eyes suddenly wild, vivid, alive.
"I have known two fathers in this life, Daimyo. One good man who wanted a simple, honest life with his family. And one good man, who wanted to rule the world. I'd like to think I've helped both of them achieve that. But I won't be here to help you, brother. You will rule as Shogun without me. Be a good man, and by extension a good ruler, Daimyo. There is enough suffering in this world. I know, for I feel I have seen most of it."
"Let us get you back to your tent," I told him. "Let us get you warm again."
"No," he replied, and waved me away. "I will sit here, until my eyes close for the last time. I will sit here, and contemplate the things I have achieved in this life."
"For that, brother, I'm afraid a single night will not be enough."
I started to walk away from him, but stopped before I had taken five steps.
"Is there anything you wish me to tell your wife, my sister?" I asked him. He looked at me, and I think that for the first time since I had arrived, I saw pain in his eyes. I think he wanted me to apologize for not being there with her, but he never said it.
"Tell her 'thank you for my wonderful sons'," he said, and turned from me. We burned his body the next morning, and erected a shrine to his memory, and the memory of the men who died under his command at the site of his final battle. Underneath his name, etched into the stone, you can read his favorite poem.
Sea vast and endless
sky reaches far past our sight
life fleetingly short
(This has been previously released on my stupid web-comic blog, but let's face it, no-one reads that.)