Early May, 1567

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The intellectually curious Nobunaga knew not the word ‘mercy’.
He roused Shizuko from her slumber before dawn and barraged her with questions during breakfast.
Although there were some breaks in between, she had to continue her story until the day changed.

The content was so diverse; military matters such as tactics and strategy were a given, but also politics, sociology, and even cultural arts.
There were some things that Shizuko couldn’t answer as it was outside her scope, but as long as she knew about it, she would answer.
Nobunaga was particularly interested in Cao Cao, who was called the cunning lord of the turbulent times during the Three Kingdoms period in China, Genghis Khan, who founded the largest Mongol Empire in history, and the Five Good Emperors, who created the heyday of the Roman Empire.
How did they establish such a great nation, how did they continue to maintain it, and how did they protect themselves from foreign enemies? Nobunaga’s interest in the number of soldiers, formation, armament, and chain of command was endless.

As one would expect, it was impossible to orally retell the history of the world.
Shizuko also thought so and prepared a blackboard and chalk.
But that only stimulated Nobunaga’s inquisitiveness.
Sure enough, she soon was barraged with questions such as ‘how it was made’ and ‘is it possible to be mass-produced.’ After an explanation, it took her half a day to explain her world’s history while using the blackboard to illustrate it.

(This feels just like a lesson/class/session at school…)

Sometimes those thoughts swim in her head while telling Nobunaga about the history of other countries.
After talking about history for a while, she suddenly recalled what their topics were up until now.
There, she clearly saw a bias in the category he was interested in.
He asked all about military-related matters such as tactics and strategies regardless of time or place, extreme or moderate, ethical or unethical; he liked the modern era’s politics and society, and conversely, he preferred the ancient era’s culture and arts.
Religion was only at ‘just enough to know,’ and there is no sign of wanting to know about it in detail.
Or rather, he believed that religion was only harmful in any era, exacerbating dislike of religion.

“Before I forget, let’s hear your opinion about this matter.”

A bit after the sun passed overhead, Nobunaga suddenly said such a thing.
As Shizuko tilted her head in confusion, the page brought something on the tray.
After Nobunaga received it, the page bowed once and left the room.

“I tried to improve the Kurosubou you made.
I would like your opinion on it.”

“Y-Yes sir.”

She examined the crossbow that he handed over.
The way the strings were pulled was changed from using a winder to something that looked like a pump-action mechanism.
She tried to pull the forestock towards her, to find out that unless one had a fairly strong force, it couldn’t be pulled.
Considering its size was between medium and large, Shizuko thought that it was a type that sacrificed power to increase the rate of fire.

“I think a spanning structure that utilizes ‘principle of leverage’ would be better as it could span a strong string with a weaker force.
Like this…by moving this rod-shaped thing called lever back and forth, you can pull the–”

“That’s it!”

Nobunaga suddenly shouted out as she was explaining the lever-action mechanism.
Surprised by it, Shizuko involuntarily straightened her back and stiffened, but Nobunaga didn’t pay heed to her and stroked his chin as if in deep thought.

“I have added a hole in the arrow to induce bleeding, but I thought that something was missing.
However, if you use the lever principle, you can span, load, and fire the Kurosubou in short time.”

“Eh, ah, umm… sire?

“If we use the hit-and-run strategy with the gelded horses, it may be possible to prevent the enemies’ charge.”

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Nobunaga was already in his own world.
Shizuko was afraid to disturb him if she called him out, so she had no choice but to wait beside him.
Nobunaga stood in front of the blackboard and used chalk to write something.
Shizuko understood he might be organizing his mind by writing letters and pictures on the blackboard.

(…Ah.
I had a chance to get his autograph.
And I just let it slip.)

Sitting a little away from him, Shizuko thought that she had lost her chance and decided to wait until Nobunaga would turn his attention back to her.
Unfortunately, Nobunaga never returned from his own world until the page came to remind them about the banquet.

“…What happened…”

Shizuko asked herself while holding her slightly aching head.
After that, after being reminded of the banquet by the page, she remembered the part where she gradually joined the banquet in earnest.
However, from that point on, she doesn’t remember what she did at the banquet.

“Ermm… I did remember that someone poured me a drink…”

She massaged her temple trying to remember, but no matter how many times she tried, the fog in her memories won’t clear up.
The reason she was trying hard to remember was the attitude of Nobunaga’s aides and warlords.
Those warlords and aides who have left their mark in history behaved strangely as soon as they saw Shizuko.
They didn’t have that attitude until yesterday, if anything they were quite haughty to her.
She tried to ask them what had happened, but they all shut their mouths and ran away.
And that was what spurred her worries.

“Urk…, Ouch, what happened yesterday…”

She screamed desperately, but no one answered her question.

Meanwhile at the hot spring, specifically at the section that can only be used by Nobunaga or a select group of people.
There, Nōhime was immersing herself in the hot spring.
However, she was the only one while her handmaiden was paying attention to the entrance nervously.

“Fuh, never I expected that submerging your body into hot water is this comfortable.
Truly an indescribable luxury.”

After stretching once, Nōhime turned her face to the entrance and said,

“Don’t just stand there, my lord.
Would you also enter and take a dip?”

At that moment, the door was roughly opened.
Just as Nōhime said, the one beyond the entrance was Nobunaga.
The handmaiden nearly screamed, but she swallowed it down just in time.
Without paying heed to her he walked to the hot spring with a big stride.
As soon as he entered the bath, Nōhime dismissed her attendant.

“Have you heard that the etiquette is to enter the hot spring after cleansing your body?”

“Hmm, I don’t know such etiquette.”

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“Is that so? Well then, how about this one?”

As she said that, Nōhime offered Nobunaga a small bowl.
He silently received the bowl and looked down at it.
There was a thick whitish plump thing inside.
To Nobunaga who was puzzled by it, Nōhime answered with a mischievous smile on her face while pointing in a certain direction.

“It’s called an onsen egg, it seems.
The thick texture was interesting and it was quite delicious.
Don’t worry, I have made sure to poison test it for you.”

“You may have said that, but you just want to snatch the first taste in Hinomoto, just like those tempura.”

“What a scandalous thing to say.
You’re my lord, so I’m just making sure to taste it for you.”

It was clear that none of them believed that, but Nōhime said such a thing shamelessly.
Rebuking her would be a foolish thing to do, so Nobunaga tilted the small bowl roughly and poured the onsen egg into his mouth with a wooden spoon.

“…Well, it’s not bad.”

“Hohoho, does milord prefer stronger seasoning?”

“None of your business.”

While saying such a thing, he held out the small bowl to Nōhime.
She received it with a giggle and took another egg from the basket that was submerged in the bath.

“Shizuko is truly an incredible girl.
She does things that the likes of us can’t think of.
And she has a backbone.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Oh my, didn’t you get into an argument with her at the banquet and kick the tray out of anger?”

“Word travels fast.”

“Looking at those close to you, one can grasp the rough gist of it.
But certainly the kicking part must have been an exaggeration.
I would guess that having the usually obedient Shizuko argue back unsettled you enough to stand up and knock over the tray in the process, am I right?”

Nobunaga neither confirmed nor denied that question.
Nobunaga kept still, letting only her eyes wander onto Nobunaga.
His bitter expression and silence were a clear affirmation.
Yet Nōhime didn’t dig deeper and became convinced of it on her own.

(While she herself might not remember it due to the alcohol, the warriors certainly do remember my lord’s rage and shiver in fear.
To be able to remain steadfast with my lord when he is like that… that girl just becomes more and more interesting.)

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“My lord, I have taken a liking to this place.
Would it be alright for me to invite Nene and Matsu here?”

After glancing at Nōhime once, Nobunaga sighed deeply before giving her his conditions.

“Just one thing: don’t do anything that will get in my way.”

Shizuko was confused at first why she was avoided by Nobunaga’s subordinates for some unknown reason, but soon she resigned to her fate.
She was still worried as she didn’t know the reason, but it was better to not stir up trouble.
Unless Nobunaga himself said something, she didn’t have to worry about his subordinates.
They’re thinking some horrible stuff about me, is what she told herself while being a little depressed about it.

“Ah~, the sun feels good.”

Thinking cryptic thoughts like ‘Let’s synthesize some Vitamin D’, Shizuko lazed around.

“Would it be fine for me to sit beside you, Ayanokouji-sama?”

Just as Shizuko had been about to daze off in the warm sunlight, a voice called out to her from overhead.
Opening her heavy eyelids, Shizuko saw a slim man with a womanly face looking down at her.
Even though she didn’t know this person, greeting them lying down would be rude, so she slowly got up.

“Yes, I don’t mind it.”

As a reaction to her reply, the gentle-looking man smiled nicely and sat down next to Shizuko.

“Excuse me.
My name is Takenaka Hanbei.
I would like to make your acquaintance.”

He might have felt her suspicion towards him, so the gentle-looking man gave his name before being asked by Shizuko.

“…My name is Ayanokouji Shizuko.
I am pleased to meet you.
Please just call me Shizuko (the sama makes me uncomfortable!)”

Shizuko bowed while tensing slightly.
Takenaka Hanbei is an individual with many military exploits and anecdotes attributed to him, but most of these were fabricated stories added to his story later on, so his true historical achievements are unclear.
But from the stories about him capturing Inabayama castle with only 16 or 17 men in a single day, and the fact that Nobunaga wanted to make him his vassal, Hanbei’s talent can be inferred.

“Shizuko-dono, I have a question for you, would you be willing to answer it for me?”

“That is fine.
I have enough free time to enjoy sunbathing.”

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“Thank you very much.
Then, excuse my frankness… What does the unification of the country mean to you, Shizuko-dono?”

While Takenaka Hanbei’s expression had changed for just a split second when she said sunbathing, it immediately returned to his gentle expression as he threw her a question like a fastball straight down the middle.

“Unification of the country? Well….”

Thinking about it again, no clear vision of it popped up in her head as Shizuko wasn’t aiming for unification.

“I guess ruling over the lands of Hinomoto.”

“In what manner in particular?”

“By creating laws to establish order, by unifying currency, measurement standards, and letters, as well as organizing the land into prefectures under a central ruling authority.
Besides that, the tax system needs to be reformed, a school system established, and the foundations of social life need to be consolidated… I guess.”

“I see, so for you, unification means the establishment of a new order and systems.”

Hanbei nodded several times as if he was impressed.
Since she didn’t know which of those had impressed him, a slightly vague smile made its way onto Shizuko’s face.

(Everyone, even Oda-dono, takes unification to mean that one needs to control Kyo.
I wondered what Shizuko-dono’s vision for it was after expertly arguing against that view… no wonder Oda-dono is so taken with her.)

A vision of the unification of all of Hinomoto, found in neither the Shogun’s nor any of the warlords aiming for it, existed in her head.
And it was no blurry ideal, but a step-by-step path with clear goals and ways to realize them.
Understanding this, Hanbei unconsciously started to smile slightly.

“Thank you very much.
With this, I’ll take my leave.”

Standing up with a lovely smile, Hanbei bowed deeply towards Shizuko.
He then turned his back to the stunned Shizuko and departed.

“…what was that?”

She thought about it, but no answer came forth.
Finally giving up on thinking about it, Shizuko stretched herself and laid down.

“Look who seems to be carefree enough to take a nap at noon.”

Unfortunately, enough free time to take a nap wouldn’t be available to her while Nobunaga was staying at her place.

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