Shike – Day 102 of 306

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.

Chapter Eight

The day after tuman-bashi Torluk’s mission to Kweilin, the drums in the Mongol camp began to beat in the late afternoon. The Chinese prisoners were herded out of their pen and set to pulling the siege machines to the edges of the moat. Dismounted, the Mongol troops marched in rows to the attack. The three white horsetails of their battle standard moved forward. Yukio ordered all available men in the city to the walls. His drummers struck up a rhythm to inspire the defenders.

Shortly before sunset the Mongols’ portable bridges crashed down across the west side of the moat. The hua pao at the base of the Mongols’ wooden wall boomed in unison. Iron balls smashed into the ramparts of Kweilin. Catapults flung explosive balls and huge stones into the streets of the city.

Kweilin’s hua pao replied, blowing holes in the Mongols’ wooden wall. The samurai dropped pots of burning oil on the enemy bridges and set them afire before more than a handful of men could cross the moat.

The Mongols forced their Chinese prisoners to lead the attack as human shields. The prisoners were slaughtered by volleys of arrows from the walls fired by men who pretended not to know whom they were killing.

All that night the Mongols kept coming. Using horses, siege machines, cartloads of earth and human bodies to bridge the moat, they fought to get at Kweilin’s walls. They seemed determined to press the attack unceasingly until they took the city. Such a lust for victory, Jebu’s Zinja training had taught him, often led to failure.

But he was awed by their sheer energy. Growing up on Kyushu, he had been through many of the great storms the Chinese called tai-phun. The Mongols attacked like a tai-phun, threatening to destroy all in its path. Even as he fought them off with arrows, with naginata and with sword, Jebu recognized in himself a contrary pride that these demons in human form were his people.

At last, at dawn, the assault waves stopped. The few troops remaining on the strip of ground just below the walls scrambled back across the moat, chased by samurai and Chinese arrows. The hua pao stopped spitting fire. The Mongol catapults kept hurling stones and fire bombs over, but less frequently. The many fires throughout the city were under control.

There was no sunrise. Thick grey clouds rolled in from the south and, to Yukio’s satisfaction, it began to rain heavily. Rain would protect the city from fire and greatly hamper the besiegers.

Jebu and Yukio sat by the parapet and wiped blood from their swords to keep them from becoming pitted. “We lose so many each time we fight the Mongols that soon there will be none of us left,” Yukio said wearily. “What a poor leader I am, having brought these men this far, for them all to die in a strange land.”

Governor Liu came down from his ivory chair of state and gripped Yukio and Jebu by the arms. “You should be sleeping, not wasting your time talking to this old man.”

Jebu smiled into the governor’s red-rimmed eyes. “I doubt that His Excellency has slept this night.”

Yukio reported that two hundred Chinese troops and over a hundred samurai were dead or badly wounded. But the two white dragons were still flying over Kweilin.

The governor said, “My scouts say the Mongol tarkhan, Arghun Baghadur, is on his way with reinforcements of two more tumans, twenty thousand men, which his master, the Great Khan Mangu, has assigned to him. With a general like Arghun leading them and outnumbering us so greatly, the Mongols will surely take Kweilin. We are entering the season of heavy rains, and that may slow them down, but the end is still inevitable.”

“We have been promised that if we need reinforcements they could be sent here by way of the Kwei Kiang from Canton,” Yukio said.

“It is time to send for them,” said Liu. He beckoned to his son, an officer of high rank among the Chinese troops. The younger Liu’s armour was nicked and battered. He stepped away from the wall of the governor’s audience room and knelt at his feet.

“You will go to Canton, my son. You will sail tonight from the river gate.”

Five of the nomads, men too badly wounded to fight to the death, had been taken prisoner, and Jebu managed to convince the samurai that these men would be more useful to them alive than dead. Each day he spent some time visiting the prisoners in the stone building near the governor’s palace, doctoring their wounds and conversing with them.

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