Shike – Day 105 of 306

Jebu positioned himself in front of the governor. “This is too dangerous a place for you, Your Excellency.”

Liu waved away Jebu’s words with a slender hand. “I am the least important person on these walls.” But he allowed Jebu to hurry him to his sedan chair.

The duel of arrows had turned into a general battle of archery and artillery. Across the lake the Mongol formations were moving aside as the auxiliary troops and siege machines, shielded by civilian prisoners, began to advance: The battle for Kweilin had begun in earnest. It would not end, Jebu thought, until the city had fallen.

Chapter Nine

“Until yesterday, I had not seen Arghun again since that night,” Jebu said. “He did not continue to pursue me but left the Sacred Islands.”

“When was that?” asked Governor Liu.

“In the last Year of the Ape, Your Excellency.”

“Eleven years ago,” said Liu. “That was when the Great Khan Kuyuk died. Whenever a Great Khan dies, the Mongols stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and return to their homeland to elect a new Great Khan. Kuyuk was the grandson of Genghis Khan. He was the third of the Great Khans. Mangu is the fourth.”

A Chinese officer entered the governor’s audience chamber. “The Mongol commander has sent another emissary, Your Excellency. He asks for a meeting with the governor and the military commander of the city.”

Liu turned to Jebu. “You have met this man before. Your observations might be valuable. Please come with us.”

“I would be honoured,” said Jebu.

Yukio said, “He has been determined to kill you since you were an infant. If we cross the moat to parley with him, he might very well have you assassinated on the spot.”

“We will not cross the moat,” said Liu. “We will meet with him on the temple island in Lake Shan hu. He will not have his men with him, and he will be covered by our archers on the walls.”

“If I come as an envoy he will not harm me,” said Jebu. “That is the Mongol law.”

On an island in the centre of Lake Shan hu stood a small, exquisite Buddhist temple built centuries before. Neither the Mongols nor the Chinese cared to damage it, and the octagonal stupa with its copper ornament had miraculously escaped accidental harm despite the many rocks and fire missiles that had flown over it. Still, the Buddha taught the Middle Way, neither self-indulgence nor self-destruction, and the monks of the temple were not foolhardy. In accordance with the Middle Way they had long since abandoned the temple. Liu and Arghun now agreed on it as a site for their meeting.

A gold and red boat with a dragon figurehead, brought around through the moat from the river gate, carried Liu, Yukio and Jebu to the island. Two flag bearers, a Chinese carrying the White Dragon of Kweilin and a samurai with the White Dragon of Muratomo, made up the rest of the party. They disembarked and stood before the gateway of the low wall around the little temple.

Arghun and an officer carrying the standard of the three white horsetails were borne from the opposite shore in a sampan. Arghun’s only adornment was the square gold medallion of rank, which he wore on a chain around his neck.

His face had changed little since Jebu had last seen him, eleven years ago. The long wings of his red moustache hung below his beardless chin. His eyes, narrow and icy blue, stared implacably at Jebu. Jebu stared back and heard Yukio draw a breath and move defensively closer to him.

He tried to control his emotions as he had been taught. He admitted to himself that he was afraid. He could not visualize himself defeating Arghun in battle. At the same time, he could not forget the old saying, “A man may not live under the same heaven with the slayer of his father.” Sooner or later, he must kill Arghun.

But that was not a Zinja saying. As a Zinja, he was not the son of Jamuga, he was not the person Arghun wanted to kill, he was not the person who had a blood debt to kill Arghun. He was simply a manifestation of the Self, and the Self was everywhere, in Arghun as well as in Jebu.

Still, he could not resist addressing Arghun in a Mongol speech he had learned and memorized. “Greetings, murderer of my father.”

Arghun stopped walking towards them and stared at Jebu with his cold blue eyes. In Mongol he said, “So you have learned the language of your father. Yet you fight against your father’s people.”

“I fight my father’s murderer.”

“There is no place for you in the world. You will not find your home on earth until you lie in it.”

Liu spoke. “Have you come to exchange threats with this monk or to meet with the rulers of Kweilin?”

Arghun bowed politely to the governor. “This monk is the reason I called this parley,” he said in Chinese. “I have a duty to fulfil. The spirit of Genghis Khan will not rest until this monk is dead.”

“It appears that your Great Khan demands death for all of us,” said Yukio. “That you harbour a particular hunger to take vengeance on our comrade is nothing to us.”

Arghun’s hard mouth curved in a faint smile. “You are wrong. It is important to you. It may save your lives. Were the decision mine, I would kill all of you when the city falls.”

“You insult us,” said Yukio. “You speak as if the outcome were already decided.”

Arghun nodded. “I merely say what is so. I do not think that it will be difficult to take this city. I have conquered fourteen cities since the Great Khan graciously made me one of his tarkhans. Some were larger and better defended than this one. I do not think a handful of men from the Land of the Dwarfs will trouble us for long.”

“You know better than that, Arghun,” said Jebu. “You have been to our land. You have seen samurai fight. You have fought alongside them.”

“Do you, half Mongol and half dwarf, think of it as your land?” Arghun spoke the very thought that sometimes darkened Jebu’s life when he was alone—his feeling of being a stranger everywhere. There were moments when even the Zinja doctrine, even the contemplation of the Jewel of Life and Death, was not enough to drive away the sadness. He reminds me of this now, Jebu thought, because he wants to weaken me by discouraging me, to make me easier to kill. I must remember that I am the Self, and that is all I need to know.

Arghun turned to Yukio and Liu. “The men of the Land of the Dwarfs are fierce fighters, but they are ignorant of siege warfare.”

“We will give them the benefit of our knowledge,” said Liu.

“Even so, I will take your city. When I do, unless you agree to one condition, I will level it to the ground and execute every soul living in it.”

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