Early May, 1567
Before dawn, there was a person who moved suspiciously at Kimyoumaru’s estate.
(…Alright, after I pass this point, it’s a straight line to the gate.)
That person was the owner of the estate himself, Kimyoumaru.
There was a reason why he was walking with such caution.
On a certain day, Kimyoumaru, who was suffering from the cough illness, told Shizuko his true identity.
It was an act that disregarded Nobunaga’s direction, so he was put under house arrest to cool his head for a few days.
From a modern-day perspective, it may seem strange to be disciplined just for talking about one’s identity and ignoring Nobunaga’s directions, but in the Sengoku period’s patriarchal system, the patriarch’s authority is absolute.
Therefore, whether it was the wife, children, or clan members, it was their duty to faithfully obey the orders of the patriarch.
If they went against it, they might even lose their head to the patriarch’s right of judgment.
Even if their actions were reasonable.
(I know it’s bad to ignore my father’s directions.
But, that was a different matter entirely.)
As a matter of fact, Nobunaga had lifted his house arrest, but even without it, he was in a situation where it was hard to go out.
It was baffling to Kimyoumaru, but his tutor has rekindled his zeal for his education.
Therefore, he was put in a situation where he needed to ‘put an effort’ to study from morning till night.
Nobunaga didn’t consider it a problem, or rather he encouraged the old man by saying that.
‘It will be a good medicine for Kimyoumaru’.
(Now I just need to pass through–)
“Where are you going to, Kimyoumaru-sama?”
Right at the moment when Kimyoumaru thought that the goal was right in front of his eyes and he was about to break into a sprint, a voice came from behind him.
Kimyoumaru straighten his back and slowly turned his neck like a rusted machine.
And there was the old man, flatly looking at him.
“I’m, uh, going to the lavatory…yeah, lavatory.”
“Pardon me, but the lavatory is that way.”
The old man calmly answers him, pointing to the path that Kimyoumaru just passed.
“Ah, is…is that so?”
Kimyoumaru tried to come up with an excuse while sweating a lot on his back.
However, since he already obviously lied from the start, his words had lost their weight to the tutor.
“Then, where are you going?”
“Well…ah, right! I’m thinking of studying at Shizuko’s place today!”
“Didn’t the great lord(read; Nobunaga) say that you don’t have to come to Shizuko-sama’s place for a while? In addition, Shizuko-sama has also said, and I quote, ‘Knowledge is only gained at the end of a process of looking up information from multiple resources, listening to your predecessor teaching, etc.
Only listening to my stories will dangerously bias you, and book smarts will only make you inferior to a fool.’”
“She also added, ‘knowledge becomes wisdom only when it can be utilized.’ Kimyoumaru-sama, today we will have archery and horse riding lessons after breakfast.
Well then, this old man has to start preparing, so I’ll excuse myself.
Please don’t forget, Kimyoumaru-sama.”
Being struck speechless from his sound argument, Kimyoumaru couldn’t do anything but nod to the old man’s words.
Shizuko decided to leave the response to Tadakatsu to Nobunaga.
Rather than writing it herself and have Nobunaga review it, she thought it would be better for Nobunaga to get one of his subordinates to write the reply to avoid any rudeness that may slip.
The letter, in which the content boiled down to declining the invitation as politely as possible, was delivered to Tadakatsu within a few days after Shizuko entrusted it to Nobunaga.
Shizuko thought that this would be the end, but she underestimated the man called Honda Heihachirou Tadakatsu.
On May 8th, Shizuko was called by Niwa and headed for his house.
Shizuko didn’t understand why Niwa, who had the most opportunities to meet her face-to-face, asked her to come to his house instead of going directly to her house.
But there was no use in thinking too hard about it.
There was no choice but to find out by going there.
It took her a while because it was her first time visiting him, but she barely managed to arrive at Niwa’s house by the scheduled time.
Nay, rather than a house, it would be more accurate to describe it as an estate.
It was at least several times larger than Shizuko’s estate, maybe even a dozen times larger.
A handmaid guide addressed Shizuko, who was overwhelmed by the scale of the mansion.
Even though being addressed politely made her back itch, Shizuko quietly followed them.
If only she had paid more attention at that moment, she would have noticed the presence of an unfamiliar group.
But, overwhelmed by the estate as she was, Shizuko had her hands full with reigning in her own emotions.
“Shizuko-sama has arrived.”
“Let her through.”
The handmaid called out to the other side of the sliding door, and a short answer came back.
That might have been the permission for her to enter, as the handmaid quietly slid open the door.
After fully opening the door, the handmaid bowed to their master behind it.
Having completed this greeting, the handmaid moved out of the way to let Shizuko pass.
Entering the room timidly, Shizuko saw Niwa sitting to her left.
“Please excuse me for having called you this suddenly.”
And on the right were Honda Tadakatsu and two men she hadn’t seen before.
On Niwa’s instruction, Shizuko sat down next to him.
“I am the vassal of the lord of Mikawa, Tokugawa Jugoige.
My name is Honda Heihachirou.”
“Similarly, Sakakibara Koheita.”
“Similarly, Honda Sanyazaemon.”
After having confirmed that Shizuko had sat down, Tadakatsu introduced himself, and the other two men followed.
(Vassals of the lord of Mikawa, Tokugawa Jugoige… servants of the Tokugawa clan… the trio of Honda Tadakatsu, Sakaibara Yasumasa, and Honda Masashige…)
Honda Tadakatsu and Sakakibara Yasumasa which counted among the Three Outstanding Retainers of Tokugawa.
Honda Masashige, who earned the nickname of the “most valorous man on the sea road”.
All of them would become warriors that left their names in the history books, but at this point in time, they were still at the rank of Yoriki and appointed as the commanders of squads of 50 men.
But the reason why these three had come to visit Niwa’s estate was what Shizuko couldn’t understand.
“I have greatly inconvenienced you previously.
As such, I am grateful that you have agreed to my request.
Let me once again thank you and apologize.”
Along with these words, Tadakatsu lowered his head in a deep bow.
Not having heard what had become of him, Shizuko was unaware of the judgment that had been delivered onto Tadakatsu.
But from his words, she understood that it couldn’t have been too bad and felt relief.
“Both are accepted.”
“I have inconvenienced that woman as well. …might I inquire about your name?”
Despite getting startled by being suddenly made the focus of conversation, Shizuko straightened up before answering.
“Y-Yes, my name is Shizuko.”
She had not named herself as vassal to the lord of Owari, Oda, as she understood that naming herself as a servant of the Oda clan despite being a woman might cause problems.
“Shizuko-dono then, what a beautiful name.”
Upon saying this, Tadakatsu reached behind himself and placed a cloth-wrapped package in front of Shizuko.
With no clue what might be in the quite large package, Shizuko and Niwa were about to inquire about its contents, but before they could do so, Tadakatsu unraveled the cloth.
With a ruffling noise, the content saw the light of day.
Seeing what had been presented before them, Niwa let out a sound of admiration.
It was a single flower.
Overall, it was white in color, but with cream and pink mixed in, bringing out a fantastic kind of beauty.
“This is a flower called cotton that has been introduced in our land of Mikawa recently.
It is a demanding flower, but I somehow managed to obtain a single blooming one.”
(Cotton…? Shouldn’t that be in full bloom in July or August….)
Cotton is usually sown from May to early June and blooms from July to August, or so Shizuko thought.
As such, the already blooming cotton seemed strange to her, as someone must have mistakenly sown it too early, and this plant had, by pure chance, already bloomed.
Regarding cotton produced domestically in Japan, the “Eisho Nenchu-ki” written by Daijoin of the Kofuku-ji had records of an annual tribute of 180 Mon worth of “Mikawa Cotton” in the year 1510 (7th-year Eisho-Era).
It is said that in 1530, the Mikawa merchants were desperately trying to form a trade channel to Kyoto.
But even in Mikawa, only a few merchants understood the value of cotton, so they couldn’t put any large-scale trade routes in place.
The reason for this is that with hemp for the peasants and silk for the nobles, the market was already fully divvied up.
Furthermore, the fact that Mei (China) was also exporting cotton to Japan was another thorn in the side for the Mikawa merchants.
As a result, domestic cotton went unnoticed until the end of the Sengoku period.
(Hmm, this might turn out nicely if I think about it.
Will they be suspicious if I say I like the flower and would like to have some seeds….?)
Despite knowing of its small worth at this point in time, there was a reason Shizuko didn’t try to aggressively get her hands on cotton.
And that reason was exactly that low worth.
When nobody but a small part of Mikawa merchants paid attention to cotton, it was obvious what would happen if Nobunaga, who was not known for being an admirer of flowers, wanted to get it.
It would be seen as suspicious, no matter how you put it.
For this reason, Shizuko thought about how to get her hands on cotton seeds in an as inconspicuous and natural manner as possible.
“I am not well versed with flowers, but if I were to compare you to a flower —-”
As Tadakatsu tried to wring out these words with difficulty, Yasumasa and Masashige next to him could only watch on in exasperation.
However, Shizuko paid this no mind as the gears in her mind were turning.
About how to grow cotton and how to convince Nobunaga.
(The shirt I wore when I came here… was a cotton T-shirt, wasn’t it? As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so using it should make explaining easy.
But no, I can’t.
Bringing out something woven that complex will only make me look suspicious.
Which means I need to find another way to showcase the good qualities of cotton…)
“…that is to say, umm… S-Shizuko-dono!?”
Being pulled from the whirlpool of her thoughts by the strangely loud voice of Tadakatsu, Shizuko looked at him with a surprised expression.
With a reddish tint on his cheeks, he held out a small pouch and said to her:
Would you be willing to join me and raise these flowers together!?”
Breaking apart these words in the confines of her head, Shizuko answered after careful consideration.
“Yes, I will take you up on that offer.” 1
Tadakatsu’s heart was soaring on cloud nine.
However, next to him Masashige could only smile bitterly while Yasumasa covered his face with his hand.
Why they had such diametrically opposed reactions were simple.
“Something as big as joint cultivation of cotton needs the approval of our lord, but I don’t think it will be hard to convince him.
But, setting up the farming area in either country would be inconvenient.
Niwa-sama, would it be difficult to prepare some land on the border?”
Tadakatsu had meant to ask for her hand in marriage and to raise these flowers together on their own field.
Shizuko on the other hand had taken it as an offer for joint cultivation of cotton between Mikawa and Owari.
And Yasumasa as well as Masashige had immediately understood the way in which Shizuko had understood the offer.
Which was why they could only sigh in exasperation.
Their reaction along with Shizuko’s words, although delayed, made Tadakatsu understand as well.
That his words had been lacking the most important part and his opponent had interpreted them wrongly.
All emotion had drained from Tadakatsu’s face.
As rapidly as his feelings had risen into the heavens, they were now skydiving towards the depths of disappointment.
“So, Honda Heihachirou-sama, would it be fine to give a reply at a later date?”
“If we can manage to set up this joint cultivation, I think both sides will profit greatly from it.”
Having basically burned out, Tadakatsu simply let Shizuko’s words wash over him and simply answered everything with “yes”.
Taking pity on him, Yasumasa poked his side, taking care that Niwa wouldn’t notice.
“That’s why I told you.
That your words are too roundabout makes them hard to understand.
That you should be a little more direct.”
“B-But, you know… it is embarrassing… to um…”
“True, it’s a step forward for you to prepare something like this cotton flower to catch a woman’s eye.
And let me praise you for coming to the conclusion of a flower from my advice that women like beautiful things.
But the final part was no good.
That literally said nothing more than wanting to raise flowers with her!”
“Urgh… but wait.
Depending on how you look at it, this might be a progress as well.
After all, there would be more occasions to meet Shizuko-dono regarding the cotton.
So this might be fine as it is!”
“… if that is enough for you…”
On the other side, Niwa secretly whispered into Shizuko’s ear.
“Shizuko-dono, is the cotton flower really that valuable?”
“Rather than in the flower, the worth lies in its fruit.”
“Hmm… if you don’t mind, could you explain its worth to me?”
“The fiber that can be made from cotton is light, maintains humidity well, and has high breathability.
As it is inexpensive and can be mass-produced, it is loved by the peasants.
(Historically speaking this will only come to pass later… but who cares) When looking at the Namban, cotton cultivation is so fruitful that the British Empire, which controls a country called India, is doing it on a large scale.”
“If that is the case, why isn’t Mikawa already cultivating it?”
“As it is already being imported from Mei, the merchants of Sakai and similar are not paying attention to domestically produced cotton.
Furthermore, I think only a few people living in Mikawa have realized the worth of cotton.
And no matter how many sellers and merchants there are, no business can work without buyers.”
“I see… but if they are not worth much, shouldn’t it have been easy to acquire seeds? Why do you want to take such a roundabout method as joint cultivation?”
“Wouldn’t you find it strange if our rationalist lord were to suddenly want to get his hands on something worthless?”
“… so what you are saying is that it would seem more natural if we obtained seeds during this joint cultivation and introduce it in Owari afterward.”
Shizuko gave a little nod at that.
Introducing it in Owari in a natural manner before starting a large-scale production would be better.
Haste makes waste, as they say.
If they hurriedly introduced cotton only to invite suspicion from the surrounding countries would mean a net loss in the end.
“Honda Heihachirou-dono, I need to pass your matter on to our lord.
As such, I would like you to understand that I can only reply at a later date.”
I am also very sorry for suddenly springing this on you.”
Tadakatsu lowered his head as he said this, which was mirrored by Niwa doing the same.
And, in my opinion, kinda foolish, but it’s Shizuko, so no surprise.
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