Shike – Day 10 of 306

Taniko fell silent, her cheeks burning red. She has gone as far as she dares go in baiting her contemptible father, Jebu thought. Many times further than most daughters would have the courage to go. He liked her. She was brave. She was intelligent. She was witty. Indeed, she was destined to be a dragon, quite a beautiful one.

Servants helped Taniko and her maids to mount their geldings. The women rode side-saddle. Jebu in the lead, the three women next, and the two porters on their baggage-laden old horses last, the party clattered out through the gateway. The Shima gate shut on the weeping mother, the impatient father, the cheering children, the waving servants.

The Tokaido passed north of Kamakura, and they rode out of the city in that direction. From here on, five lives were in Jebu’s hands. He reminded himself that a Zinja acts for the sake of action and does not concern himself with the outcome of what he does. Whether the party got to the capital or was massacred by Mutatomo hirelings within the next mile should be as one to Jebu. Should be, but in fact he was nervous.

The horses’ hooves thudded on the packed dirt street. The smell of fish—fresh fish, cooking fish and rotten fish—pervaded the air of Kamakura. Every so often as they rode out of the city Jebu looked back to see if they were being followed. There was no sign of it. Evidently the third daughter of Lord Shima no Bokuden was not of enough interest in Kanakura to attract even the hint of a threat.

As their road climbed into the hills, Jebu looked back at Kamakura. It was a city dominated by the sea; the heart of the city was clearly the collection of wharves and warehouses at the crescent-shaped water front, and its pulse-beat was the arrival and departure of its big fishing fleet. Ringing the dock area were humble houses of the fisherfolk and those who worked on the wharves. Beyond them were the larger houses of the owners of ships and warehouses and of those who had grown wealthy trafficking in each season’s catch. But at the outermost edge of the city, rising into the hills and far from the docks, were the newly built mansions of the great lords who were moving into Kamakura from the north, great landowners like Lord Bokuden, whose estate, as befitted the first family of Kamakura, was visible from a long distance, the red Takashi banner standing out against the dark green trees growing near it.

Jebu noticed that Taniko was riding beside him. She never glanced back at her childhood home but kept her face resolutely turned forward. Perhaps the long journey ahead frightened her. Jebu turned to her with a smile and said, “Kamakura is as important in this part of the country as Heian Kyo is in the south.”

Taniko’s piercing black eyes glared at him. “Of what interest is the opinion of a ragged monk of an obscure order who has doubtless never poked his long nose out of the monastery before? Keep to yourself and do not speak to me again. I have troubles enough.”

“In my Order we say, he who thinks himself a victim, makes himself a victim. But if you choose to consider yourself a person of many troubles, my lady, I wish you joy in your choice. And I respect your wish to brood over your sorrows in solitude.” He spurred Hollyhock up the path ahead.

He felt not the least bit angry; he still liked the girl. In fact, that had been a rather neat touch, the business about his long nose. She was a keen observer; the nose was one of the things he’d inherited from his foreign father. Jebu felt pleased with himself that his Zinja training enabled him to remain calm and cheerful in the face of hostility from others. He hoped Taniko would not fret constantly about her grievances, though. That would be a heavy burden to carry all the way to Heian Kyo.

That night they stopped at the country home of one of Lord Bokuden’s allies. From her baggage Taniko took the pillow she had slept on ever since she was a little girl. Its paint worn, its corners chipped, the wooden headrest gave Taniko a warm, safe feeling, just as a cherished doll or a favourite sleeping robe might give to another girl. In the pillow was a concealed drawer, its edges made to look like ornamental carving. Taniko opened the drawer and took out a notebook, its carved wood covers bound with decorative red and gold string. Also in the drawer were a brush, an ink stick and an ink stone. Using water she had brought with her to the bedchamber in a soup bowl, Taniko began to rub the stick on the stone to make ink.

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

People who cannot think for themselves are in the habit of saying autumn is the most beautiful season of the year. I think it is too sad to be beautiful. I do not, like so many silly young girls, think sad things are beautiful. I see the lines of ducks flying overhead and think to myself that they are deserting us. They fear the coming of the cold that kills. I hear the murmuring of the insects in the woods and think to myself that soon they will all freeze to death.

And for my life, too, the summer is over. I am to become the wife of a man whom I have never seen, but who, I have heard, is old and cruel. Like winter, he will chill me through and through. But this also means I leave the rustic backwater, of Kamakura to live in the city I have always longed to see, the capital, Heian Kyo. To see and walk among the exalted people who rule this Sunrise Land! It has always been my dream to move among the great ones. If I must suffer a misconceived marriage in order to climb above the clouds, I am willing to pay that price.

My father, it seems, is unwilling to pay much to ensure that I travel safely, judging by the strange youth he has hired to protect me. One hears dark tales about this sinister Order of Zinja, that their warriors are aided by evil spirits and that no one is safe from them. One also hears interesting things about the goings-on between the Zinja monks and their temple women. I wonder if this one has ever been a lover. He is so huge and of such an odd colour. I would be afraid to let him near me. But if he were near me I would be afraid to refuse him whatever he wished. There is something pleasurable in the thought of a man who makes one feel helpless. The Zinja monk’s presence makes this journey far more interesting.

-Seventh Month, twenty-third day

YEAR OF THE DRAGON

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