The Eleventh of April marks the beginning of the end of the Shimabara Rebellion. Matsudaira Nobutsuna, commanding officer of the Shogun Iemitsu’s massed armies, had planned for his general assault to begin two days earlier, but a driving rain postponed his plans: matchlock guns would be useless in a rainstorm. In the interim, a gaggle of about ten girls descended from Hara Castle, fleeing through the rain for their lives. They astonished their captors as they were dressed in the finest silks, as if they had just alighted from palanquins coming out of the very Imperial Palace rather than having slipped out of a beleaguered and starving rebels’ stronghold in the dark of night. As if they had not spent an interminable winter of constant barrage, bitter cold, and starvation huddled in a makeshift bunker in mysterious service to their liege lord, a trumped-up adolescent messiah.
They were Shiro’s pages, as it turned out—his harem? But among them were a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a two-year-old. His wards, perhaps. Perhaps he had released them in an act of mercy, foreseeing the inevitably-grisly slaughter that was to befall the 37,000 professed Christians whose blood and flesh and bone was to blanket the soil of Hara-no-jo two days thence. Perhaps he hoped to spare that sacred soil a baptism of blood so dear to him. Only God and his angels can say.
In any case, the death-tsunami began at ten o’clock on the morning of 11 April: the troops of the Nabeshima Clan, having spent the ninety days of siege raining musket-fire on the ramparts of Hara Castle’s Demaru—an arc of stonework jutting out from the central part of the fortress’s massive western wall—stole a march on all the other Shogunal troops and stormed the wall, seeing a dearth of defenders atop the ramparts. Matsudaira had ordered that the assault begin at six o’clock the next morning, but on seeing that the Nabeshima men had jumped the gun (a fait accompli prefiguring the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 7 July 1937), he ordered all clan contingents to the attack.
The bloodbath had begun.