They said he was dead. He had not been seen in a week, and he had even missed an audience with the king. Not that he had ever considered an audience with the king to be of any importance; it was common knowledge that it was he who held most of the power in the court. The only thing stopping him from claiming the kingship as his own was the myth. No one but those descended from the gods could be King of Japan. He was a nobleman, a high-ranking one, at that, but he was not descended from the gods.
He had thought to himself, on more than one occasion, about how having the gods as ancestors only proved that you were inbred, and that the weakness of the current monarchy was probably a consequence of Izanagi marrying his younger sister, Izanami. How in the world could anyone contemplate that? Even the most degenerate of peasants would not marry their own sister, but the gods themselves engaged in incest.
Of course, even for a nobleman of his stature, the public revealing of these views would necessitate all the other powers in the land banding together to destroy him. They just needed an excuse, and this would be a very good one. So he kept these thoughts carefully hidden, revealing them only to himself in his most private moments.
Only last month he had stood up in front of all his vassals and their samurai and declared that he would not contest the power of the Emperor of Japan. The only ones who believed him were the ones without consequence, the ones who only came so that they could return to their small estates and boast about their audience with him. But even they were important. Without the support of the rural peasants, the might of the cities was nothing. He needed them to be on his side, or at the very least not to be on anyone else’s side. It was the rural villagers who suffered the most in every war; it was they he needed as soldiers.
And now he had disappeared. No one knew where he was, not the spies in his household, belonging to all of the great powers in Kyoto, not his most trusted advisors, not the samurai who were honor bound to guard him till their death. Even his wives were caught unawares when they were told he was missing.
He had a reputation as a shrewd calculator, any move he made would have been carefully thought about for many nights, and they were watched and observed as such. But this one baffled everyone. By not being seen, he only weakened his position. By disappearing, he increased the rumours about his death, allowing his enemies to take advantage. And even a momentary advantage could prove decisive in the political battle he was fighting.
Where was he, they wondered. And all the while, he watched, and waited.