Shike – Day 111 of 306

Now she could really feel how Jebu must have felt, living among people to whom he looked strange.

She must not lie to herself. Even if this Mongol general should find her pleasing, what would she have gained? A man she did not care for would enter her body and use her. Like those first years with Horigawa. Disgusting. And she must feign delight. And this, just so she could eat and sleep and be allowed to live. She still did not want to kill herself, but how much shame was she willing to endure just to stay alive?

And sooner or later this great one of the Mongols would tire of her, just as Horigawa said, and would cast her off. What affection could there be between people of nations so different?

Sooner or later she would begin the slow descent through the ranks of the Mongols. It could only end one way. Horigawa would have his revenge.

She sat, looking at her fingertips peeping from beneath her sleeves. The maids were silent, she was silent. The bleak thoughts kept pursuing one another through her mind. She brooded back over the course of her life. She had never been permitted to decide on a course of action for herself and by herself. She had always been subject to the whims of one man or another.

She wanted to weep, but held back her tears. She dared not spoil her make-up, or the great Mongol would not want her. She must take her mind off these thoughts.

She knew only one way to distract herself. In her mind she said, “Homage to Amida Buddha,” over and over again. She did not want to recite the invocation to the Lord of Boundless Light aloud. She did not want to be the object of the maids’ idle curiosity. And besides, she might end up hoarse before Bourkina came for her.

After a time she found it easiest to let the mental recitation fall in with the rhythm of her breathing, and she repeated the invocation each time she breathed out, just as if she were saying it aloud. Whenever she found her mind wandering to her wretchedness, she gently drew it back to the invocation.

She began to see Amida Buddha seated in his paradise. His face was round and golden, like the sun. His expression, bearing the faintest of smiles, was one of infinite peace. Gradually she was able to see all of him, sitting in the clouds, his hands touching together in his lap, surrounded by circling flocks of angels and seated bodhisattvas.

A vast peace filled her. She forgot all her sorrows. She forgot the passage of time.

The face of Buddha was replaced by the deeply tanned face of Bourkina, peering into hers.

“I’m sorry you have had to wait so long. There is always so much happening here.”

Taniko smiled. “It is quite all right.”

Bourkina peered at her. “What has happened to you? Have you been using the Arabian drug?”

Still smiling, Taniko shook her head. “Drug? No. I simply have tried to take your advice. I’m not frightened any more.”

Bourkina nodded; “I sensed you had possibilities. Good. Well, then, let us go.”

In spite of what Taniko said, she did feel a faint twinge of fear as she rose smoothly to her feet. What would happen to her now?

Bourkina looked at her appraisingly. “We have only a short way to go. I hope you won’t be too warm with all those robes you have on. You look very lovely, though strange. I’ve never seen a woman dressed as you are. But that’s all to the good.”

The two Chinese maids sat like statues as Bourkina and Taniko walked out into the warm night. At first Taniko was unable to see. She hesitated, and the big Mongol woman reached down and took her hand.

When Taniko’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see the round tents on all sides. The fear was gone again. She had discovered that she carried the paradise of Amida Buddha within her and could enter it, without having to die, any time she wanted to. No longer could anyone harm her. She could always escape.

They were walking towards the large white pavilion in the centre of the camp where Horigawa had gone the day before. Though it was only a tent, it was as large as the house of a noble in the Sunrise Land. It covered the top of a low hill. Before it stood two standards, one the horns and tails of some great beast, the other a silk banner inscribed with the Chinese word Yuan, “a beginning.”

There was a front entrance facing south, the most auspicious direction, protected by six warriors armed with lances. Bourkina went around to the side of the felt-covered tent, where there was another, smaller entrance guarded by only one huge man with a broad, curving sword in his belt. He bowed to Bourkina.

“Now you must know,” Bourkina said, suddenly turning to Taniko. “I did not want to give you time to be frightened. You must not be afraid now. You are about to enter the presence of one of the greatest among us. If you please him, your future happiness is assured. Prepare now to meet the grandson of Genghis Khan, the brother of the Great Khan Mangu, the overlord of China, the commander of this army and the favoured of Eternal Heaven, Kublai Khan.”

Then Bourkina took Taniko by the hand and led her through the entrance of the tent. Within, all was cloth of gold, and it seemed as if hundreds of hanging lamps were blazing. Taniko was momentarily blinded as she entered the dome-shaped chamber filled with dazzling light.

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