Shike – Day 114 of 306

He fixed his strangely empty eyes on Jebu. “For you also, son of Jamuga, this is only a respite. Three times now I have tried to carry out the command of Genghis Khan that you die. Each time you have been saved, but never by your own power. A man who must rely on others or on chance events to protect him is a poor creature. Destiny will bring you and me together again, and the next time I will surely kill you.”

Chapter Thirteen

Jebu and Yukio stood on the broken western parapet of Kweilin and watched the Mongols depart, as they had come, in a dust cloud that obscured the sunset.

“You see?” said Yukio. “You may have saved those prisoners from my anger, but they were fated to die. It was their karma.”

Jebu shook his head. “Not karma. Arghun’s ruthlessness.”

Yukio shrugged, “Karma put him there to end the lives of those men.”

“What do you foresee as our karma?” Jebu asked, recognizing that the argument was like a ko situation in go, where players endlessly repeated the same move, taking and losing the same stones again and again.

Yukio laughed. “We have little choice. We’ll simply stay here at Kweilin until we get new orders from the Sung Emperor.”

“If the Mongols have called off their war with China, perhaps Chia Ssu-tao will decide that he doesn’t need us.”

Yukio shook his head. “The chief councillor may not be a very wise man, but he must know that the Mongols will be back once they have a new Great Khan.”

But judging by the news brought back by Governor Liu’s intelligence network, it might be some time before the Mongols returned. Factions were forming behind two of the late Great Khan’s younger brothers, Kublai Khan and Arik Buka. Supporters of Arik Buka declared him a true Mongol, untainted by the Chinese influences that surrounded Kublai Khan. Arghun Baghadur had thrown his weight behind Arik Buka. The opposing party claimed Kublai Khan was far better fitted to rule the vast empire than Arik Buka, whose name in Mongol meant Little Man because he was the youngest of his family. Kublai’s backers frequently quoted the words of Genghis Khan, who said, when his grandson was but eleven years old, “Heed well the words of the boy Kublai. They are full of wisdom.”

If the Mongols chose peaceably between Kublai Khan and Arik Buka, China would feel the weight of a new onslaught in a year or so. But if the divisions were deep enough to lead to war among the Mongols, the Central Kingdom might be safe for generations.

Throughout the city which all summer long had heard nothing but the crash of stone and the roaring of fire and the screams of the dying, the most noticeable sound now was the rapping of hammers. Moko joined in the rebuilding, learning the Chinese methods of carpentry, suggesting economical ways of doing things from his own practice and spending hours down by the docks watching the building of new river-going junks.

Less than six hundred samurai had lived through the siege. Day by day, as it became clearer that the Mongols were really gone, Yukio eased them down from a war footing. Even though they heard nothing from Linan, much less received any payment for their services, the warriors were well fed and comfortable. Governor Liu gave Yukio whatever he asked. Weapons were repaired or replaced. The precious swords of the fallen were distributed among the living. With the governor’s help Yukio obtained three horses for each of his men.

After the samurai had rested for about a month, Yukio reintroduced discipline and training. Each day bands of mounted warriors rode through the beautiful blue hills around Kweilin, practising Mongol-style cavalry. tactics. About a hundred of the Chinese soldiers garrisoned at Kweilin who had come to admire the samurai and their way of fighting asked permission to join them. Since idle troops could be a problem, Governor Liu persuaded the soldiers’ commander to release them to Yukio. Yukio put Jebu to work bringing the new recruits up to samurai standards of fighting skill.

“You’re the best trained among us, Jebu-san, and you’re always practising.”

“That’s because I don’t spend as much time in the Quarter of Ten Thousand Delights as you do.”

“I said you were well trained, Jebu-san. That doesn’t mean you’re as much of a man as I am. Though more than once my arrival in the Quarter has been greeted with mournful looks because I haven’t brought the red-haired giant with me.”

Jebu mulled over his education as a Zinja and his current practises and put together a basic course of exercises that combined physical and mental discipline. He chose the most competent samurai to help him conduct the training. The recruits took up the work eagerly, and after they had studied some days under Jebu, more Chinese soldiers were asking to join the group. After a month some of the samurai themselves were coming to Jebu to ask whether they could take the training as well, “to brush up their skills.”

“Clearly you are a great master,” Yukio said. “Everyone is clamouring to study under you.”

“Clearly I must be doing something wrong,” said Jebu. “If I were teaching as I should, I would be driving them away.”

Two months after the Mongols left, Jebu and Yukio heard that a Chinese army of five thousand was marching towards Kweilin. Their general sent word ahead that he had been dispatched there by the Emperor, to restore order in the regions invaded by the barbarians. Governor Liu had gone forth to greet them.

Jebu was in the great hall of the compound where the samurai were quartered, presenting the Chinese recruits who had survived his training programme with swords, when a samurai entered and called Jebu.

“Forgive my interrupting you, shiké, but Lord Yukio requests that within this stick of time, you have your men ready in full parade armour to honour the Chinese general.”

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