Shike – Day 101 of 306

The last of them was through with the woman. He stood, drawing up his leather trousers, while she lay on her back sobbing. With a snarl the Mongol reached down and pulled her to her feet by the hair. He drew the sabre slung over his back, stretched her neck by pulling downwards on her hair, and in one swift motion struck off her head.

Taniko bit down on her fist to stifle her scream. If they heard her, they might come back. “Homage to Amida Buddha,” she whispered. Sickened and grief-stricken, she fell back into a corner of the carriage, turned her face to the wall, and cried in anguish.

Horigawa’s voice came to her from the carriage window. “I regret the loss of a useful servant, but perhaps this spectacle has given you an inkling of what is in store for you.”

Taniko’s pain turned to rage. “If I should die today, I will die happy, knowing I no longer have to walk in the same world with you.”

Horigawa laughed, inclined his head mockingly and turned away.

With the scouts riding in a loose circle around them, the caravan began to move again. Taniko looked back. The raped woman’s body lay partly hidden in the tall grass, her severed head a pale blur beside it. The undulations of the plain were gentle, and Taniko was able to see the body for a long time. Even after she could no longer see it, she continued to tremble.

Why couldn’t he let the poor woman live? Wasn’t it enough to have raped her? She was no more than a used receptacle, to be destroyed as one might smash an empty wine cup. And to Horigawa, Taniko was no more than an unruly slave who must be made to suffer. She thought of the baby Horigawa had murdered. Shikibu, a girl. But her son, Atsue, was so valued that Sogamori had torn him from her side. Her protest, the protest of a woman, was worthless. She had been powerless to stop Sogamori and Horigawa. Always, to be a woman was to be something less than a man.

And now I, too, shall be destroyed. All I can do is meet death with courage.

“Homage to Amida Buddha.”

Now they entered the Mongol camp. It smelled of woodsmoke, horses, and roasting meat. The soldiers sat before their round tents and looked up calmly and somewhat curiously as Horigawa’s procession passed. Beyond the rows of felt tents the besieged Chinese city smouldered in the dusk.

“What city is that?” Taniko asked a maid.


The camp was quiet. She had seen these barbarians rape and murder a woman, but among themselves they seemed orderly enough. She had often heard the Mongols compared to wild beasts, but the men she saw working, cleaning their equipment, currying horses, and repairing tall wooden siege machines had a busy, purposeful air. They were human, even civilized in their own way. That could only make them more dangerous.

Taniko had been carrying with her a box containing a mirror and paints and powders. She set about restoring her make-up.

The carriages came to a stop in the centre of the camp. Before a large white pavilion on the crest of a small hill, Horigawa got out of his carriage. A group of Mongol officers wearing red and blue satin coats, gold medallions and silver-hilted sabres, approached him. Horigawa held up the same object he had shown the scouts. Now Taniko saw that it was a rectangular gold tablet. The Mongol officers inclined their heads courteously.

An aged Chinese official emerged from the large tent. He and Horigawa conferred, then the official gave orders. A group of servants, closely watched by a warrior, began to unload the valuables from Horigawa’s carts.

The old Chinese man came over to Taniko’s carriage. “I am Yao Chow, the khan’s servant,” he said. “You will please come out now.” The two maids hesitated.

“Go on,” said Taniko. “We’re safe in this camp, I think. Unless you annoy them.” That thought impelled the big women to scramble from their carriage.

Taniko had carried a carved ivory fan all the way from Heian Kyo. Now she stood poised in the doorway of the carriage, drew the fan from her sleeve and opened it with an imperious snap. Her outer robe was of orange silk with dazzling gold embroidery. She wore her favourite hair ornament, a mother-of-pearl butterfly. Her lips were scarlet, her face white as a snow-covered field.

For a moment all motion stopped in the centre of the Mongol camp. Out of the corner of her eye Taniko saw, with satisfaction, several barbarian mouths open in wonder. Perhaps it is only that I look strange to them, she thought, but I know I look beautiful. The maids helped her down the carriage’s steep ladder.

Swift as a spider, Horigawa was beside her. “A grand entrance, Taniko-san,” he whispered in their own language. “You could have been a grand lady in our land, had you not been so foolish as to betray me. Now, however, you are among those who can teach you to respect and fear a man.”

Taniko tossed her head. “It seems they respect me well enough.”

“That is because they do not know what you are,” he spat. “I intend to tell them. I will tell them you are no high-born lady, but simply a courtesan sent by my lord Sogamori as a gift to the Mongol warriors. They will use you and throw you away like rubbish, Taniko. Your fate will be the same as that Chinese maid’s, only it will take much, much longer. At first, perhaps, you will be the plaything of the generals. But even now you are no longer as young and attractive as you once were. They will tire of you and you will be cast off to the lesser officers. Eventually, you will be kicked like a football back and forth among the dirty, greasy men in the ranks. At last you will be worn out and old before your time, diseased, toothless. You will end your days among strangers who cannot speak our language, who neither know you nor care about you, far from home, forgotten. Can there be a more miserable end for a gently reared woman of the Sacred Islands than to live out her life in exile as a slave of filthy barbarians?” Grinning, he reached out a long-fingered hand and stroked her cheek softly. She turned away.

I will not give in to despair, she thought. Not in front of him. Later, perhaps, I will weep for all that I have lost and I will fear for my future. Later I will decide whether now, at last, I ought to kill myself. But now I will show him that he cannot hurt me.

She turned back to him with a faint smile. “You forget, Your Highness, that while I lived with you as your wife, my lover was a man of the same blood as these filthy barbarians. Perhaps I shall be quite happy here.”

Horigawa laughed. “Ah, yes, I had almost forgotten your warrior monk. He and the rebel Yukio are at large in this country. Indeed, it was their escape that put an end to the noble Kiyosi and placed you back in my power again. Kiyosi, with whom you publicly dishonoured me before all of Heian Kyo. Dinner for fishes now. Poor Kiyosi.” He stopped and eyed her with a gleeful hatred.

She would show no feeling. “If Lord Sogamori heard you speak that way of his son, you yourself would be dinner for dogs.”

“But through me, Lord Sogamori will be avenged for the death of his son. I come to the Mongols as a secret envoy from His Excellency, Chia Ssu-tao. As a neutral, I have been asked to tell the Mongols that His Excellency recognizes the futility of resistance. He intends to make it easy for them to defeat the Sung, in return for which he asks high office in the empire of the Great Khan. I have already persuaded Chia Ssu-tao that Yukio, the monk and their men are traitors and outlaws in their own land and a potential danger to him. A Mongol army now besieges Kweilin, the city in the south-west which Yukio and his samurai are defending. Now, to rid himself of these undesirables, and to prove his good faith to the Mongols, Chia Ssu-tao intends to let them take Kweilin. The city cannot hold out without reinforcements. None will be sent. Kweilin will be overrun, and the surviving samurai, in accordance with Mongol practice, will be put to death. So your beloved Zinja, my dear, will die. Think of that while the Mongols are using you for their pleasure.”

Taniko raised her head, her long fingernails poised to rake his face. But she held herself back.

“Please strike at me.” Horigawa smiled. “It would give me such pleasure to knock you into the dirt before these barbarians who imagine you to be such a great lady.”

The wrinkled Chinese who served the Mongols called out, “Your Highness. Our lord the khan is prepared to see you now.”

Horigawa nodded. “Goodbye, Taniko. I shall never look upon you again, but I shall always revel in the thought of your utter degradation.”

As Horigawa accompanied the Chinese official into the presence of the Mongol overlord, another Chinese ushered Taniko to a smaller tent, where, with the rest of Horigawa’s retinue, she awaited her fate.

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