26D. Kosho-Stealth

When Kosho returned to the women’s quarters the women had set out new clothing for her. The robe which she had worn before the attack and the seven dead men had been removed. All of the women had changed their clothes and moved into the alternate women’s chamber as well. Kosho dressed discussing with Ichi what to do next. The two decided that another attack was unlikely and that what was needed was to find if Naniko was alive or dead.

The two wondered if they could overtake Yamana’s men as the men retired to Yamana’s castle.

“Two women on horseback can travel faster than an army with prisoners,” Ichi said, “but, on the other hand, if we approach close enough to see if Naniko is alive Yamano might kill Naniko if she isn’t already dead. We must wait till she is within the castle and guarded by only a few.”

“Right now is our chance to escape here unnoticed,” said Kosho, “Let’s grab our gear and leave immediately. If no one notices when we leave we will be at advantage. Let us leave thru the servants’ quarters. I will arrange that. You talk to Hatakeyama-sama. We can make plans as we travel.”

Ichi went to Hatakeyama to tell him their plan. He saw the wisdom in decoy and consented to acting as if he was going to war with Hosokawa over the kidnapping of Naniko. Meanwhile Kosho packed for both of them. Kosho knew what was needed to assess a castle secretly. She had been taught by Jojo Sensei, who, being an eclectic art teacher, taught many forms of techniques necessary to survive in a country at constant war. The two left on horseback in less than an hour, completely equipped for gaining a clandestine entrance into Yamana’s castle. They chose to leave by walking thru the servant’s gate in peasant’s clothing. Two men left the main gate of the castle riding in a hurry towards Toyama Bay, but exchanged clothes and horses with the women at a prearranged place.

The ride to Yamano castle was without incident. The first night just outside the castle Kosho collected insects and frogs from along the moat. She put them in a wooden box with a gossamer silk cover.

Ichi cautiously observed the watchmen on the wall, noting their movement patterns. Ichi also observed where she believed the prison was, thinking that Naniko might be alive there.

Kosho placed a little water in a bowl in the box and arranged twigs and leaves. She took the box to the point where Ichi told her they planned to cross the moat. She hid the box and camouflaged it with shrubbery. Then she retreated to find Ichi.

The next night the women dressed in brown cloth and put charcoal across their faces and hands. Hey took tekage (climbing spikes for their hands often used as weapons when needed), rope, kunai (steel levers to pry open doors and locks) and kasugai (devices to secure doors locked to prevent pursuers).

The first difficulty was to cross the moat unnoticed while swimming with all their gear. Kosho and Ichi moved quickly and quietly to where the box of crickets and frogs were stored. The animals were merrily chirping along as expected. Ichi and Kosho entered the moat at that point. As they did all the wild insects observing them became quiet, but those in the box, not seeing anything, kept chirping along. Guards, Kosho knew, might suspect something when the wildlife became quiet, especially when the guards were told to suspect intrusion. The two women crossed the moat without incident.

Kosho and Ichi used the tekage to ascend the outer castle wall a part of which was wood. Climbing a wall at night would have been death if the two were not experienced. But both Kosho and Ichi had practiced climbing walls with tekage and had even done it in the dark with the careful guidance of Jojo Sensei. The balance needed by keeping the feet farther apart than the tekage was natural for them. At the lip of the wall they stopped and listened. They heard footsteps coming towards them. They looked down so that only their brown cloth shinobizuken (complete head bandana) could be seen from above. The footsteps passed and disappeared. They listened again. No sound. In a flash they were over the edge moving sequentially but as one unit towards the suspected prison. Another guard passed as they hid in the darkness.

They came to a wall where they suspected the prison was located. They climbed toward a small window about 20 feet above suspecting that this window led into the prison. They squeezed thru and climbed on the inside up to wooden beams holding the roof. The room below was silent and dark. Only one small light came from a door with a window. They were sure they were in the prison now. But which prison and who the prisoners were, as well as the presence or absence of an inside guard, they could not tell. Each understood that patience was necessary. They might have to wait till morning balanced on the high wooden beams before finding who if anyone was in the room below. They secured themselves to the beam above in the case that either fell asleep and lost balance. Then they listened.

They could hear breathing below. A few snores pierced the night also. There were several people below but how many and who they were could not be determined. Soon they heard the splash in the metal night urinal. It was loud and unmuffled as a boy or man produces. A few voices sounded, all deep. This room had men in it, although some women may have been present. It was unlikely that Naniko was there. She was too valuable to Yamano if still alive to be in a common prison with men.

A few hand signals later Kosho and Ichi agreed. They had to search elsewhere. Ichi was the first to move followed closely by Kosho. The two unfastened themselves from the anchors and crept along the beams working themselves to where they were above the hallway. Below was a guard holding a lantern while walking the hallway. It took him shichikyuu (70) count each direction before turning around. Crossing the hallway required that the two go up another 20 feet to more beams or down to the floor and scale the other side. Kosho pulled out a kunai (device to open locks and doors). Ichi motioned they should go upward. Kosho put the kunai away.

Ichi climbed carefully using the tekage. She timed her ascent so that the guard was near the other end of the hallway. She was concerned that the tekage would make enough noise to alert the guard. When she reached the upper beam Ichi anchored a rope to the beam, tested it and proceeded to tie loops in the rope so that Kosho could ascend the rope rather than make noise with tekage. Ichi measured the length of rope with arm-spans so that she would lower it only as far as Kosho twenty feet below her. As Kosho ascended Ichi crossed the mainhall beam. Reaching the high beam Kosho quickly pulled the rope up and stashed it. The guard by this time was immediately below the two intruders. He seemed to sense something was wrong. He held his lantern upwards and peered into the ceiling. Kosho and Ichi, dressed in brown were invisible against the smoke tainted ceiling and multiple crossbeams. The guard looked down again and walked onward. When he was farthest away Kosho crossed the hallway beam.

Ichi and Kosho wanted to enter the next room. Ichi crawled along the beams until she was in a corner. There were two smaller rooms below them. Kosho crossed the beam to the other side of the room. They reanchored and listened. The north room they were sure was empty. The south room had a person or more. About every 100 count and then 40 count the guard and his lantern would pass in the hallway. That made the door to the south room about 30 feet from one end of the hallway and 75 feet from the other end. They didn’t know which end was blind and which end was gated. So ichi watched.

After an hour or so a door at the farthest end opened and a guard stepped in. That end had a door, without a window Ichi surmised. The guard passed thru the hallway and out the other end. There were doors at both ends, probably without windows.

Kosho’s attention was in the south room. By this time she had figured there were only two people in the south room. They slept quietly. No snoring. Were they women? Were they children? Hours passed. Light began to come in the cracks between the boards covering the windows. It was morning and the two knew they must spend an entire day high aloft, quietly with no movement to draw attention. Soon the jail came alive. Numerous guards came in and out the two hallway doors exchanging duties and commands. As the light increased in the rooms Kosho could see from her position that the south room contained a woman and a child. She could not yet tell if it was Naniko. Then a guard opened the door leading to the south room and took the two out. Kosho got a good look at the child; she was Naniko. The guard, the woman and Naniko exited the south exit (the closest). Another guard reclosed the door and bolted it.

Ichi signaled to Kosho to check the boarded window. Kosho crawled over the ceiling beam, slung a rope down to the window, knotted it for reascending and looked over at Ichi for a signal regarding the guard. Ichi waited a moment then signaled. Kosho descended rapidly, pulled her kunai and removed a few boards. She looked outside. She saw no obstructions below all the way to the moat, about 100 feet below. The bars on the windows were old and the wood fairly rotten. Kosho watched Ichi for signals and worked furiously to cut thru one of the bars. Although Kosho and Ichi originally planned only to look for Naniko, Kosho saw a brilliant escape if the child could be hoisted thru the window. Finally her wire saw cut thru. She applied the kunai and bent the bars far enough apart to slide her body thru. She came back into the room. She then replaced the wood and fastened it with light rope so that it looked intact but would take only a few count to remove and no piece of wood could fall. When all was set Kosho ascended into the ceiling again and pulled up her rope. A long wait followed. Ichi slept for a few hours; then Kosho.

The two women had rice cakes and a small quantity of water. As afternoon approached the attic got hotter and hotter. The two became thirsty and hungry. They drank their water but neither ate. Their mission, as they now conceived it was to push them to their ultimate limit. After going so far they believed they must succeed or die. If they were to die it would be in battle. Both women realized this, and, according to the most rigid training of the day decided not to eat. Fasting would keep their innards clean so that if they were cut across the stomach no filth would exude. The clean bowels would prove the cleanliness with which they had undertaken so daring a task. Death then would be pure and clean and honor would be retained. The food was saved for Naniko’s triumphant ride home, or, in the event of the death the food would be as a sacrifice to the god of mercy, Kwannon.

As the hours passed each was afraid that Naniko had been moved to another section of the palace. The sun set. Darkness again prevailed. The guard resumed his relentless march. More hours passed. Patiently they waited perched on wood beams far above the floor of the castle.

Finally Naniko, the woman and the guard returned. The woman was given a lantern. In the dim light both Naniko and the woman got ready for bed and retired.

Kosho and Ichi waited for two hours. Then in the opposite end of the room from where the woman and child were sleeping Ichi lowered a thin line rope, carefully measuring that it would reach the ground. Kosho also lowered herself on a thin line rope to the window but then took out the larger rope and tied it to herself on one end and a secure anchor on another. Kosho removed the wood. She then squeezed out between the bars until she was outside. Hanging a metal loop to the upper end of one of the bars she pulled part of the rope thru it and lowered the midsection to the floor of Naniko’s room. (This method was a two-to-one minus friction ascending device).

Meanwhile Ichi lowered herself. Silently she crawled over the floor to where the unknown woman was sleeping. Ichi held in her hand a rag containing a mixture of poisons including delphinium. She held the rag over the woman’s face until the struggling ceased and Ichi was sure the woman was unconscious.

Ichi woke Naniko but covered her mouth at the same time with the same poison. Ichi timed the awakening so that she had the long duration between lights thru the door. As Naniko woke Ichi explained that she was there to rescue her. Naniko consented. If Naniko had not consented she would have gone unconscious and the rescue continued with Naniko unconscious.

Ichi put Naniko in the sling she had already made. Then Ichi put the sling on her back and tied into the rope to Kosho. Kosho and Ichi had practiced such raising techniques with Jojo Sensei, never ever believing they would do this for real. But it was now real. As Ichi climbed the wall with Naniko on her back, Kosho lowered herself on the other side of the wall as a counter-weight thru the makeshift pulley at the window. This took the weight off of Ichi as she carried Naniko and allowed Ichi to climb quickly and near effortlessly.

At the window Ichi and Naniko had some difficulty passing the bars but made it thru safely. Jeopardizing her own life Kosho now untied from the main rope and lowered it as far as it would go. Ichi, still carrying Naniko, lowered herself down the rope till she was on the outside wall near Kosho. Kosho whispered, “The rope is a few feet short. You must climb carefully at the bottom. I have tied a double-knot near the end. Go!”

Within an hour the three were on horseback riding to Etchu Bay. The two women had preselected this route because Yamano’s men would ride towards Hatakeyama Masanaga palace once the escape was discovered. Ichi and Kosho rode directly to Kosho’s father’s house, dismounted and rushed in to tell him of the daring rescue. He was ready to ride within one hour. The four of them on fresh horses rode a circuitous way to Hatakeyama Masanaga’s palace in order to avoid running into Yamana’s men.

When Jojo Sensei heard of the successful rescue of Naniko and the saving of the family pride she was proud of her pupils. Consulting with Kihara Sensei they both decided to change Kosho’s name. Her new name became Seisho (vibrant pine tree), and Ichi, well, Ichi was still Ichi (Number One).