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So, yeah, I'm impressed with the Date kid.

After all, it's not every day a rival warlord strolls into Hideyoshi's camp, drops to his knees, and puts his lips right where Hideyoshi likes them, in front of a couple of dozen people who'd like to skin him just to see what's inside. And getting Hideyoshi to buy it -- okay, the ol' Monkey likes a suck-up, but he's smart, too. He knows what kind of people work for him, usually. We've all got our own reasons for being here, and except for Nene it's not because we love Hideyoshi. And he's okay with that, because, let's face it: Nene's scary. A couple more like her in the army and he wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Heck, I try to stay out of her way. I'd love to fight her on the battlefield, but, man, I'm not stupid enough to let her know I don't brush my teeth but once a day.

Not counting her, Hideyoshi's got command of a wild bunch of warriors, and not one of them really wants to be there. A lot of them would rather be fighting each other, most of them think they could do a better job if they were in charge, and basically they're all staying loyal until they can figure out where to stick a knife in him that'll give them the best leg up on the competition. Except maybe Kanetsugu, and it's gonna be ugly the day he decides Hideyoshi isn't full of enough justice for him.

And then there's me. I just love being here. This army, this land, this time -- there's not a place I'd rather be. Of course, if there was, I'd be there instead.

So knowing all this about his vassals, and knowing what kind of reputation Date's made for himself, Hideyoshi fucks with his head just a little bit and then lets him in, lets his whole army in, and treats him like one of the guys.

Like I said, Date's good.

I figure, if I like the kid so much, I should probably make sure he doesn't get his head cut off before he gets a chance to have fun.

"C'mon, Masamune!" I say, putting an arm around his shoulders. Nearly have to bend over to do it. "I'll show you around."

Lesson One: Yukimura and his spear need "alone time."

Speaking of kids. Can you believe Oda was just gonna shoot this guy? Man, talk about a waste.

"Hey, Yukimura. What's up? Woa -- you look pretty sick. Bad fish for breakfast? Crap, I thought it tasted weird." Am I feeling sick to my stomach? Hope I don't throw up. Gross. I hate throwing up. I even hate thinking about throwing up, though, okay, it was pretty funny that one time I kicked Ieyasu in the stomach and he just started -- ew. Anyway.

"The fish was fine, Keiji," Yukimura says. His face is still pinched up, though, and he's not looking at me: he's looking at Masamune. "Though there's a bad smell in the camp today, like -- dog droppings. Have you noticed?"

I've still got a hand on Masamune, so I feel him start to vibrate like a harp string. It's wild.

"San-a-daaa ..." Oh, hey, he's growling! I do that sometimes.

I'm pretty fast, but they're both faster. Before I can say anything, Yukimura's got his spear at throat, and Masamune's got both pistols out and pointed at Yukimura down either side of the spear, like he's hugging it. Kinda cute.

"I know why you're here, 'One-Eyed Dragon,'" Yukimura says, like it's an insult instead of a nickname. "I know it's not because your honor compels you, and it's not because you believe in the new era of justice Lord Hideyoshi will bring. It's because you know what we'd do to you if you tried to stand against us."

"I didn't know Lord Hideyoshi employed you to read peoples minds, Sanada," Masamune sneers back. "Or maybe you're just afraid that now that I'm here, he won't need you at all."

Yukimura isn't moving at all, and Masamune's still vibrating, but his hands are dead steady. They should probably work this out for themselves, though I'm gonna have to break them up if they don't do it fast. We're not on the practice field, and there's rules against fighting in camp. Makes camp life boring sometimes, but I guess Hideyoshi's got a point about not wanting the tents wrecked. Mitsunari turned red and complained about a headache for days last time that happened.

"You're not going to make me lose my temper, Date. And you're not going to distract me. Lord Hideyoshi is going to transform this land into something better, and no dog's going to find him unguarded. I'll see to that."

Aw, maybe I was wrong about no one but Nene really loving Hideyoshi.

Masamune's smiling. I saw a smile like that on a tiger once. I liked it so much I killed it and kept the hide, so that I can look down every day and grin right along with it. "So who's the lower dog?" he asks. "The one that leads the hunting pack, or the one that lurks and growls beneath the master's table?"

Now Yukimura's smiling, too. I'm glad they're both having fun. I was starting to get worried there for a minute, but I should've trusted them. Heck, Yukimura's even laughing, and as simple as that, he takes a step back and takes the spear off Masamune. "I'll kill you some day, Date. Just not today."

"You'll never have a chance!" Masamune says. He's got his pistols up still, but I'll bet his arms are starting to ache. Yep -- there's just a little tremor in his wrists, and as soon as he sees that happening, he snaps them down and holsters them again.

"I'll see you later, Sanada," he promises.

"Now that's what I like to hear!" I clap a hand on his shoulder again and give it a little rub to get the kinks out out his muscles. Probably doesn't work with his armor in the way, but it's the thought that counts, right? "I knew you guys would get along good. C'mon, there's more of the camp you need to see. Later, Yukimura! Hope that fish stops bothering you!"

Lesson Two: Nene's coming. RUN.

Masamune's slowing a little, looking back over his shoulder. "I don't see why we should-"

I reach back, grab him with one arm, and yank him forward. "There's nothing on any battlefield I won't face, kid, but some things no warrior can stand against. Now faster."

Lesson Three: Don't touch my horse.

I flop down on the haystack beside Masamune. He's still digging himself out.

I shake my head. "Sorry about that, man. You know ninjas: if they spot you, you're toast. Nene can follow you anywhere, and when she finds you -- she looked like she had work for us to do."

Ugh. Camp chores are the worst. I wish we didn't have to camp at all. Maybe we could just take turns going to each other's castles, fighting outside, and then kicking back inside where it's nice and cozy. Eh, I guess if they made war easy, anybody could do it.

"No -- problem --" Masamune says, spitting out hay between words. I reach over and give him a hand so he can pull himself up now that he's mostly dug out. "But wh-wh-ACHOO." Luckily, he's pointing away from me when he sneezes. It's a wet one.

Sniffing, he shakes his head and looks confused when hay starts falling off it. I reach up and grab a handful that had gotten tangled around his crescent moon helmet, and then he gets the rest. "But why did that monster horse attack me?"

"Attack you? Nah, he didn't want to hurt you. You just startled him, was all." His one eye gets kind of big and he puts a hand over the dent in his breastplate from the kick that sent him flying. "Poor guy's a little skittish around new people."

I whistle and Matsukaze comes trotting over. I wonder if the grooms still haze the new guys by telling them to go tie him out on the picket line. Oh, man, I'd had some good times watching that when we first joined up with the Toyotomi.

I stand up to hug him and give him the handful of hay I'd taken off Masamune's helmet. "Good boy. Who's my good boy? Did the little guy scare you? I'm sorry, baby. You've got to get to know him. He's gonna be a good friend of ours, I think."

I rub his neck while Masamune climbs back over the haystack and down the other side, away from us. I have to finish petting before I can follow him. Matsukaze's such a good boy, you know? Can't let a horse like that think you don't appreciate him.

Lesson Four: Sakon's kind of a jerk when he's drunk.

We walk back into the camp for lunch. We're safe from Nene as long as we're eating. She wouldn't risk us starving, which she's convinced we'll do if we don't get at least four good meals a day. I can't argue with that.

We each grab a couple of bowls and sit down in a free spot. When we're out on campaign like this, Hideyoshi doesn't bother getting formal with meals, though he throws some crazy expensive parties when he's at home. Says it's good for morale, and it makes him happy to make other people happy.

Eating takes up most of my concentration, but out of the corner of my eye I can see Masamune looking around. I don't really pay attention 'til I realize he's stopped looking around and is staring right at Sakon, who's sitting just across from us with two empty sake bottles by his knee and a cup in his hand.

"I can't believe he's getting drunk at mid-day!"

Wow, does he not know Sakon. Which I guess makes sense, 'cause I haven't introduced them yet. Oh well, guess Sakon'll do the honors now. Everybody's gone quiet around us, straining to hear and kind of edging out of the way.

After taking the last sip from his cup, he looks straight at Masamune, with a stare that has Masamune's eyes outnumbered two to one. "Kid, I spent three years so far off the wagon I was laying under it looking at the axles. I know from drunk. This is not getting drunk. This is the precise dose I have to take every two hours to keep from knocking the smug crap right out of every brat that I come across, which would be bad because my fist would get sore before I'd made it to the latrines in the morning. Got it?"

Sakon holds out his hand and a servant puts another sake bottle in it. Come to think of it, I've never seen that servant doing anything else. I think maybe Mitsunari hired the guy just to make sure Sakon's alcohol level never dropped too low. Mitsunari's a real great one for planning that way.

Masamune picks up his rice and carefully puts some in his mouth. He doesn't ask for a drink.

Okay, so maybe Sakon's kind of a jerk when he's sober, too. Heck of a smart guy, though!

Lesson Five: Live a little.

Evening, and we're hanging out in Masamune's tent by lantern-light. I like this place. It's simple. Neat. It's exactly the same size as what any of his soldiers sleep in, though unlike his men, Masamune has the whole tent to himself.

I kinda wish it were bigger, just so I didn't have to duck down so far to get into it. The world ain't made for big guys, you know? I wonder if Tadekatsu hits his head on doors as much as I do.

Masamune's letting me take a look at his pistols. I've got knives bigger than them. Kinda funny to think you can kill somebody just by pointing at them. "I've never really liked things that go boom, you know? More a things that go thud and crash guy. Or thwack. That one's good." I hold one up and sight over the barrel, trying to imagine an enemy on the other end. Not doing anything for me. "Personally, I think they're a fad. No offense."

"They're the future," Masamune snaps. He snaps out most of what he says. It's a funny quirk, but I'm kind of worried he's gonna take the tip of his own tongue off one day, trying to shove words out too fast.

He shakes his head, which doesn't make a rattling noise without the helmet on. "Sorry, but firearms are really important. Pretty soon, I'll bet we're all going to be using them. Just look at what the Oda managed! Even General Sakon is famous for what he can do with a rifle brigade. Some day, even swords might be entirely obsolete."

"But is a soldier without a sword truly fighting for justice, or simply letting bullets fly where they will?" Masamune gasps, and even I jump a little when Kanetsugu speaks. Neither of us heard him come up. Too many ninjas in this camp, I'm tellin' you. Everyone's picking up bad habits.

Kanetsugu smiles apologetically. "I apologize for interrupting, but we didn't have a chance to meet earlier. Kanetsugu Naoe." He bows.

I wave, just to be polite. Masamune's on his feet so he can bow back, though I gotta say, the kid looks pretty awkward every time I see him do that. It's like he can't figure out how low he should go, and really doesn't want to go any lower than he has to. "Masamune Date."

"I have to say, I'm impressed with what I've heard about your first day with us, Lord Masamune. It's not everyone who can get. Yukimura's temper roused so quickly." Masamune straightens up in a hurry, and I think the only reason he doesn't snap something out is that he's got about a dozen responses all trying to crowd their way up his throat at once, and it's choking him.

Kanetsugu leans against a tent pole and makes a couple of soothing motions with his hands, like I do when Matsukaze gets shy of the saddle. "No, really, I am impressed. Yukimura's a little too tightly-wound sometimes. It's beneficial to everyone if he can let out a little steam every so often."

"Ah -- thank you, General Kanetsugu," Masamune says. "I'm -- happy to help." Aw, he's blushing. Or maybe about to boil like a teapot. Can't really tell the difference with him, but wouldn't it be cool if steam started coming out of his mouth?

Kid's gotta learn how to take a compliment, so I should probably make sure he gets more of them. "Hey, Kanetsugu," I offer, "did you know Masamune's horse sets people on fire? It's awesome." I wonder if Matsukaze'd like to get to know her? He likes his fillies feisty, just like me.

Seriously, I've got such a great horse.

"... fire?" Kanetsugu asks. He looks for a second like he forgot why he came here.

Masamune kinda narrows his eye and squares his shoulders. "She's Persian. They do that." There he goes, biting words again. Man, what'd the Japanese language ever do to him? "Maybe if more of this army looked farther afield for tactics, it wouldn't have taken you so long to conquer the land!"

The cool part is, I think he actually gets taller when he's ranting. He definitely drops back down when he's done, looking kinda past me and Kanetsugu like he's trying to figure out what he just said. His focus goes back to Kanetsugu and he bows again. "No offense, General."

"None taken," Kanetsugu says, in that same horse-calming voice. "I had actually wondered if I might stay and -- discuss tactics with you tonight." Then -- weird -- he looks at me and nods his head toward the tent-flap.

"You did?" Masamune asks, sounding surprised. And a lot more confidently: "Of course. There are all sorts of things I can teach you!"

Kanetsugu looks really pleased. "I'm sure."

Now this sounds promising! They can totally geek out together. Kanetsugu does it with Mitsunari and Sakon all the time. Just listening to them makes me dizzy, not gonna lie. I've never really understood all that tactical stuff. Just going straight for the biggest clump of guys and grinding them up's always worked for me. Tadekatsu and I talk about that sometimes. It's great.

Kanetsugu's looking at me again and leaning his head toward the tent flap. Maybe he's got a neck cramp and wants me to rub it out. I give really good neck-rubs, gotta say. It's all in knowing what to do with your hands. "I'm sincerely interested in exploring your expertise, Lord Masamune," he says.

His eyes go wide, still looking at me, and this time he jerks his head instead of nodding.

Oh. Oooooh. I get it. He wants to 'talk' about 'tactics'! Kanetsugu ain't so big on the fillies, but he likes a little fire in his ride, too. He must've really been interested to hear how many people Masamune got riled up today. Well, good luck to him. While Masamune starts talking about charges and embankments, I make like a ninja and sneak out. Kanetsugu gives me a grateful little smile as I go, before turning his attention back to Masamune.

Hey, the sun's not all the way down yet. Maybe I can find someone who's up for a little post-dinner fight. We've all gotta have some fun before we die, you know?