Thanks Spider and indeed everyone who's read this; last chapter I'm afraid... maybe a sequel someday.
After making a full account of what had happened. Akiko and Buntaro withdrew to permit Toranaga and Sudara to spend time with Sen, and to meet little Chiyo. Akiko had no doubt but that Toranaga would soon endear himself to the child; he was fond of children and children like animals have an instinct for those who genuinely like them.
Akiko busied herself interviewing the maids from the castle and assigning some to wait upon Sen and others to be found positions in suitable households. Most were grateful to escape from the carnage with their lives and unraped; and Sen's personal maids were delighted to still be able to serve their lady. Akiko took a slow-spoken country girl into her own household; the girl did not need to do much to care for Akiko, and besides she would need kindly treatment. Hana would be kind to the simple girl when they returned home; after she had finished scolding her mistress for going without her that was.
When Akiko and Buntaro were summoned back to the presence of the Shogun and Second Shogun they went with Saruji.
Sen looked curiously upon him; when she had last seen him he had been a stripling still.
Saruji smiled kindly and smiled at Chiyo, now sat in Toranaga's lap. The little girl regarded him curiously. Sen was a beautiful woman who had the light of intelligence in her eyes too; Saruji was much pleased by the match.
"Saruji-san" said Sudara "I am happy for you to marry my daughter and take her adoptive daughter into your household to raise as your own rather than send her to a nunnery; but you must also take into your household Kai-hime, the child's governess; and permit my daughter to spend some time with her mother before the wedding."
"It is only proper that she should do so" he said "I shall be guided by your arrangements, My Lord."
The final formal part of the battle now was to be the viewing of the heads. Buntaro had sent one of his retainers to collect Ochiba's head so that Akiko could present it formally; and told her how to wash it nicely and perfume the hair and mount it on a head board to present to Toranaga and Sudara.
Yaemon's head was also to be displayed to prove he was dead, along with his death poem but Akiko could publicly claim the kill of Ochiba.
"To prove how careful you were being of my wife and child" said Buntaro.
"Why, my lord, I was indeed being as careful as you" said Akiko "For I watched you being most careful when you fought Lord Moritake. I observed you from the battlements, my Lord" she added demurely.
"Hah!" said Buntaro. "I was unable to do anything else; had the sally succeeded he would have been behind us."
"And so you are ready to tell anyone" teased Akiko. "Of course you had no choice, my lord; the lives of a few insignificant women were not to be counted beside peace in the land. I was well aware of that. I had decided on a contingency plan should you fall or hurt your arm too badly to shoot."
"I confess it did concern me" said Buntaro "But you understand duty; and I had every expectation that you would have come up with some other plan. What did you intend?"
"To fasten an end of silk to the beam and fire an arrow myself attached to the other end, for my father would have arranged to bend on the heavier lines to draw up" said Akiko. "I could have found a bow from somewhere and even if it were not so strong a bow as yours, going down it would have sufficed."
"You are efficient Aki-chan; and so clever. You deserve to be hatamoto. Sudara-sama will appreciate it when he has had a chance to reflect."
"You mean when Toranaga-sama has talked him to a standstill" she said.
"What I meant is sometimes better not spoken" said Buntaro. "But yes."
The head viewing ceremony was a macabre and eerie business with all the heads staring at nothing. Blackthorne had managed to volunteer for duties of keeping lookout for any living rebels; he had seen the head-viewing at Sekigahara and did not want to see it again; inured as he had been to hangings and judiciary mutilations and the heads of traitors on the bridge in London the formality of the neatly displayed heads disturbed him for some reason.
"You will pay respects to Yaemon-sama though, won't you chichi-san?" said Akiko "He told me that he had always liked you when he was a little boy; he was glad that I was able to tell him that you regretted that he must die."
"Then I shall make the effort to do so" said Blackthorne. "He was a solemn little boy but interested in how the ship operates. And I do regret what has come to pass."
After the formalities were over, Toranaga sent for Buntaro, Blackthorn and Akiko.
"My hatamoto" he said "Of all my hatamoto I trust you three the most; because you are honest with me even when I will not like it and you tell me what I need to know, not what I want to know."
"It's called serving with honesty" said Blackthorne dryly.
"I can always rely on you to make my mood lighter, Anjin" he said. "My son will need honest advisers; and he has learned from me that honesty is better than the soft words of courtiers. But he is NOT the sharpest arrow in the quiver. He will have need of you."
"My Lord, are you wounded that you speak so?" asked Akiko bluntly.
Toranaga laughed again, ruefully.
"Like father, like daughter" he said "You see deeply Aki-chan; not a wound but within me, there is something that has been growing for the last year. At first I could ignore it; I can still ignore it but it is there and soon I fancy it will take my life. I will not survive Ochiba and Yaemon by much more than a year I fancy. I will set as much as I may in order; and see our houses joined by Senhime's marriage to Saruji-san. I will hope to live to see your first child, Aki-chan; I am not so close to death that I will not see that. Perhaps a child of Senhime too. But I have accomplished all that I set out to do; to unify Japan, to subdue any elements that could destroy peace. I fancy I must leave stamping out the pernicious influence of Christianity to Sudara who hates them all. It would have been nice to integrate the foreign ways even as Buddhism was made Japanese; but the Portuguese priests are not practical men, save only Tsukku-san. Anjin, if it comes to it, save Tsukku-san's life and enable him to get away."
"I will my lord" said Blackthorne. "And may I say that rather than grieving your sickness we should celebrate the time we may have left with you; and indeed who knows but that we might pass onward before you, for who knows what Karma has in store?"
"Well said" said Toranaga "And while I have you here, will you dance a hornpipe for me?"
"Willingly, my lord" said Blackthorne.
"And I will dance it with him" said Buntaro staunchly "Though I would not do so for anyone but you, my lord."
"Then I appreciate it the more" said Toranaga.
Akiko whistled one of the airs that her father had taught her and Toranaga clapped along and laughed in joy as Blackthorne and Buntaro danced for his entertainment.
The journey home was a little sombre.
"When he goes it will be the end of an era" said Buntaro.
"Yes; excuse me though, by following him we have helped to form the beginning of that end" said Blackthorne "Because the era that is ended is that of war. I do not think there will ever be any such great battles ever again in Japan."
"It seems wrong" Buntaro shook his head. "Samurai are ready to fight."
"Ready, yes" said Akiko "But of course if this is the last war you realise what that means do you not?"
"Tell me, my flower" said Buntaro.
"It means, beloved lord, that we few who have been a part of it will be legendary" said Akiko.
"She's right" said Blackthorne "Toranaga and all who followed him will be immortal because the stories will endure for ever. It's quite a legacy."
Senhime and Saruji were married in Edo before the leaves began to fall; and Senhime looked lovelier than ever for having been relieved of the strain under which she had been living. Sudara had given up pretence of not necessarily being glad that she was safe and was genial towards all at the wedding. Saruji had his own household in one of Buntaro's other holdings and they retired there.
Akiko was brought to bed in the late autumn and gave birth with relatively little fuss to a son, whose hair was a tuft of black that was yet chestnut in certain lights; and Toranaga was delighted that they named him Torajiro, second son tiger.
Torajiro was old enough to travel to visit Edo in the spring to see his patron; and Toranaga bestowed upon him a stipend of fifty koku in his delight.
As Buntaro said privately to Akiko, as it would mostly be coming out of Sudara's exchequer, Toranaga could afford to be more generous than he was generally reputed to be.
Akiko laughed; but she was shocked by how ill Toranaga now looked.
"It will not be long, Buntaro; will we stay to the end?" she said.
"Yes, Aki-chan; because our presence brings him pleasure" said Buntaro. "We owe him everything; it is the least we can do."
Sen presented Saruji with a son the news of whose birth was brought to Edo shortly after this; and Toranaga also bestowed a generous stipend on Chikara as he was to be called. Saruji wrote joyfully to his father that the baby was perfect, with no deformities and that he would need a little bow in a year or two. Buntaro wept with joy as he had over Akiko's safe delivery of their son.
Shortly after that, Toranaga insisted on going out hawking; like swimming daily it was an exercise he considered essential for a man's good health; and for a samurai to use to see the state of the peasants and know if they were in good condition.
He caught a chill after getting wet; and was forced to take to his bed.
The next day he sent for his hatamoto and his family.
"This is the last of me" he said "And I want you to witness me writing my death poem. Sudara, hold the paper for me"
"Of course father" said Sudara. Toranaga, a big man, looked somehow shrunken on the futon.
Toranaga wrote with decisive strokes, almost emulating the energy of his earlier years.
"Whether one passes on or remains is all the same.
That you can take no-one with you is the only difference."
He read it out.
"We are and have been all ready to be taken with you had it been necessary" said Buntaro.
"I know" said Toranaga "You doubted me, Buntaro; but you still followed me. You will be as loyal to my son I know; and he will appreciate your loyalty."
Buntaro bowed forward to touch his forehead to the floor where he knelt, tears in his eyes.
The Shogun was tired and his visitors left him to his consorts.
Two days later the Shogun died.
It was the end of an era.
But Akiko could not help reflecting, in her joy of her son, that for her and her husband it was only the end of the beginning.
A/N Tokugawa Ieyasu, the original of Lord Toranaga, gave Japan 400 years of peace. I have quoted his death poem which is typical of the pragmatism of the man. Sources cite his cause of death as cancer, but I have also read that he took a chill after riding out hawking which I am assuming turned to pneumonia in a body too weakened to fight it off. He was 73 years old.
His son Hidetada [Sudara] purged the Christians viciously. It was an age of religious wars in Europe too and zealots of all flavours committed acts that no rational God or Philosopher would have condoned being done in their names.