Shike – Day 106 of 306

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.”

“What condition?” said Liu.

Arghun pointed at Jebu. “Let me take the monk back with me when I return to my camp. He will die an honourable death. He is related to our ruling family. According to the law, the Yassa, the blood of such a person may not be spilled. He will be strangled with a bow string. It is a death reserved for those of high birth.”

“Let me defend myself with my sword, and you may attempt to kill me with a bow string,” said Jebu.

“You jest, but you have it in your power to save the lives of these men here, of your samurai comrades and of all the people of the city.”

“We will not consider it,” said Liu quietly.

It is my death we are discussing, Jebu thought. I find this hard to believe.

“Suppose we surrender the entire city here and now,” Liu said.

“Surrender the city and the monk, and you will continue as governor. The dwarfs we will take prisoner, but they will be treated well. The Great Khan Mangu’s younger brother, Kublai Khan, has expressed a desire to see them.”

“But Jebu will die?”

“The monk must die.”

“And if we permit him to escape and then surrender?” Liu persisted.

“The city will be destroyed and its people put to the sword.”

Liu said, “Because you have a yearning to kill this monk, you are willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of your men, who will surely die trying to take this city. And you will throw away the city and the lives of all in it.”

Arghun raised his gauntleted hands in an appeal to heaven. “They have understood nothing.” He shook his head at Liu. “It is the command of Genghis Khan that all those of the blood of Jamuga be slain. Any Mongol would die happily to carry out his command.”

Jebu had a sudden overwhelming conviction of what he must do. He saw it so clearly, he knew it must be what Taitaro called a Zinja insight.

He stepped forward. “Give us your oath that you will spare the city, whether it is surrendered to you or whether you take it by force, and I will go with you now.”

He hoped that none of them would hear the slight tremor he himself detected in his voice. It was absurd that Liu and Yukio should think his life worth the lives of all the people of Kweilin and the warriors who defended them. They might believe it dishonourable to yield a comrade to death at an enemy’s hands. But if so many lives could be saved in that way, it made no sense to protect one life.

“No,” said Yukio. “I forbid it.”

“I also,” said Liu. “You would die for nothing. He would simply find another excuse to destroy the city.”

“I believe that he will abide by his word.”

Liu said, “Let me speak with you.” Taking Jebu by the arm, he led him to the rocky shore of the island. Yukio and Arghun waited in silence.

Jebu said, “I am a Zinja monk, Your Excellency. I do not cling to anything, even life.”

“Here in our land your Order is called Ch’in-cha,” said Liu. “I know something of its teachings. If you did not offer to die to save so many thousands of lives, you would not be a true Ch’in-cha. But for you actually to sacrifice yourself would be foolish. And it would show you lack the Ch’in-cha wisdom.”

Jebu studied the old man’s calm face curiously. Liu’s black eyes seemed to give off a radiance.

“I am prepared to listen,” Jebu said.

“If you accept Arghun’s view of things, he has already imprisoned your mind, and he can kill you whenever he chooses. The future is closed to you. But as a member of the Order, you should know that no single view of anything is true, that the number of gates we face is always infinite. If you choose to go on living, many things might happen. You might be killed anyway, in battle. The Emperor might send reinforcements and drive the Mongols off. Arghun might be killed in battle and his accursed quest for your death would perhaps die with him. A plague might strike and wipe out all of us, besiegers and defenders. Or the Mongols might suddenly decide to lift the siege and go away.”

“That will never happen. The Mongols never give up.”

“You are quite an authority on Mongols, young monk. But I forget you are part Mongol yourself. Withdraw your offer to give yourself up to Arghun. I believe that life has more to teach you, and that this is not your time to die.”

“I see nothing ahead of me.” Jebu had tasted the sweetness of life and now life seemed altogether bitter. He had known Taniko and lost her. He had known victory in battle and then had been driven from his homeland in defeat.

Liu said, “The Ch’in-cha finds his happiness in nothing.”

“You know that?”

Liu smiled. “And the Ch’in-cha believes in nothing. Yet, you believe it is right for you to sacrifice yourself. But you have been taught that there is no right and wrong. The Ch’in-cha do not believe in good or evil.” He paused, and his black eyes held Jebu’s. “The Ch’in-cha are devils.”

Jebu did not think, after all he had seen and done, that he could ever be greatly surprised again. But this moment left him voiceless. He could only stand and stare at Liu in wonder. He did not know if he dared say anything at all.

“Not all of us wear grey robes and live in monasteries,” said Liu. “Have I convinced you not to throw away your life because of Arghun?”

Jebu bowed. “For now, Excellency, you have. I do not know why you have spoken to me as you have. I do not know if there is any reason why I should listen to you. I have no way of knowing if you are truly one of us or simply a person who has learned some of our secrets. But your words convince me, and I must follow my convictions.”

“That is all I hoped for.”

They went back to where Yukio and Arghun were standing, Liu walking first, Jebu a respectful distance behind.

“The young monk has decided that you have no right to demand his life,” Liu said to Arghun. Yukio shot a relieved grin at Jebu.

Arghun’s expression did not change. “He condemns your city to death.”

“If you do conquer the city and kill all who live here,” Liu said, “the guilt will be upon you. Nothing requires that you put so many people to death but your own thirst for blood.”

Arghun turned to his standard-bearer and beckoned. The warrior went back to their sampan and took a large mahogany box from the bow. He carried it back to Arghun and laid it at his feet.

“I have brought this gift for you, Governor Liu Mai-tse,” said Arghun. “You have been expecting reinforcements to help you withstand the siege. Understand now that you are doomed.” Arghun bent down, undid the catch on the box and stepped back.

Yukio looked questioningly at Liu. Jebu held his breath, a terrible suspicion of what the box contained sweeping over him. Governor Liu signalled to Jebu to open the box.

Within it lay the pale, bloodless head of Governor Liu’s son, on a bed of straw.

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