Island of Honshu, Feudal Japan, 1564

The screams of the farmers of Bizen filled the air as bands of warriors loyal to the various daimyos fought for supremacy, plundering what they could as they passed. Unconcerned with the lives of the peasants, the mercenaries and samurai killed without hesitation, brutally murdering civilians before their family's eyes. In the farthest corner of the town, a woman attempted to gather her four young sons as her husband hastily threw together some provisions. The two youngest were identical twin boys, not even past two years of age. They would be the most difficult to manage, as they still could not run very quickly. Slinging a sack over his shoulder, the man cried, "Aki! Hayaku-shiro! They're getting closer!"

Turning to her four children, the woman explained, "Yoshitaka, Mikyo, listen to me very carefully. We're going to have to run from the bad men. Your father and I must carry Nobuhiro and Nobuhiko so I need you two to stay close at all times, understand?" Trembling, the boys nodded.

Grabbing Nobuhiro in his arms, her husband ordered, "We're leaving. Now!" Gathering Nobuhiko, she looked her two older sons in the eye and motioned for them to follow her. The family barely made it out the door when a small group of samurai on horseback caught sight of them. Turning their horses, they headed in their direction and grabbed the twins out of their parents' arms. Desperately trying to wrench back her son, the woman was felled with a single stroke of one of their swords. When her husband and two sons attempted to run to her, they were cut down just as mercilessly. Grinning, the men were about to dispatch the two remaining boys when a harsh voice stopped them.

"Animals! I see you are not above killing infants!" A stern-faced man glared at them with frank disapproval as the lowered their heads.

"Uesugi-donno, sumimaseng!" one bowed apologetically.

Looking at the two boys, Uesugi Kenshin rode closer. "What are your names?" he demanded.

"Nobuhiro and Nobuhiko," they said in unison.

The daimyo couldn't help smiling at their yoked answer. "Which is which, I wonder," he mused aloud. "I will take one of you with me as my ward. The other will be sold as a slave." Looking at the soldiers holding the boys he added, "You two can split the profits."

One of the twins looked at Uesugi defiantly. "Take Hiko as your ward," he shouted gruffly.

Throwing back his head, he laughed at his caring display. "So young, yet so noble! I take it you are Nobuhiro then? Very well, Hiro-kun. Your bravery pleases me. You shall be my ward." Cocking his head to the samurai nearest him, he ordered, "Bring the boy."

"No! Hiko!" Nobuhiro shouted as they separated him from his brother.

"Come, come, Hiro. That won't do," Uesugi chided. "You must learn to be strong on your own in order to be a great warrior." Watching the child struggle to free himself, he smiled. "You need a sturdier name. From now on you are…Heishiro. Mitsurugi Heishiro. Doesn't that sound grand? It means 'calm but deadly man who wields a divine sword'. I like that." Spurring his horse on, he cheerfully said, "Ikkuzo, Heishiro-kun." The boy could only watch helplessly as his twin rode away.

daimyo: warlord in feudal Japan

hayaku-shiro: hurry up!

donno: title of Lord

sumimaseng: please forgive us

-kun: male diminutive of –san

ikkuzo: let's go