Shike – Day 115 of 306

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.”

Acknowledging the disruption as a problem set for him by the Self, Jebu finished the sword presentation ceremony quickly and set the recruits to polishing and donning their armour. He had hardly finished giving this order when Yukio sent for him.

Yukio was in a small room on the second floor of the samurai hall, which he used as a headquarters. A White Dragon banner hung on the wall behind him. Yukio sat cross-legged on a flat cushion, his face flushed with anger. A tall, grave-looking mandarin knelt before him.

“What would you say of a chief minister who repaid all the fighting we did for him by ordering us arrested and brought to him in chains?”

Jebu’s chest contracted. “I’d say he was a fool. But a fool such as many rulers have been.”

“If such behaviour is customary for rulers, then fighting men are the fools, to give their lives for them. We are betrayed, Jebu.”

The mandarin had come with a message from Liu. The general said he had orders from the Emperor to disarm and arrest the samurai and bring them back to Linan in chains. Chia Ssu-tao had accused Yukio of coming to China to overthrow the Son of Heaven and make himself Emperor of China. He accused the samurai of ending the siege of Kweilin by making a secret pact with the Mongols.

“Such charges are incredible,” said Jebu. “Why do they really want to destroy us?”

The mandarin shrugged. “Someone has convinced the Emperor’s chief councillor that you are a danger.”

“We may have been fools to fight for the Sung Emperor, but we would be greater fools to surrender,” said Jebu. “We’ll have to fight our way out. Do we try to escape overland, or should we take some junks and sail down the river to Canton?”

“No,” said Yukio. “This gentleman tells me that Governor Liu intends to help. If the governor’s plan works, we’ll leave Kweilin without losing a single man.”

Jebu stood beside Yukio as six men pushed open the iron and wood outer doors of the double gateway. Solemn faces peered in at him. The people of Kweilin had cleared away the causeway built by the Mongols and had constructed a new wooden bridge at the juncture of the two lakes, calling it once again the Green Belt Bridge. There was a line of people along each rail of the bridge, leaving a broad aisle through which the samurai could ride. At the far end Jebu could see Governor Liu in his vermilion robes of state.

Beyond Liu, on the far shore of the lakes, were thousands and thousands of people crowding the land where the Mongols had been camped two months ago. Past the people, Jebu could see the long, gleaming spears of soldiers. The Chinese army.

“Are we sure this isn’t a trap?” said Yukio beside him.

“Nothing is certain,” said Jebu. “But I trust Liu. And I trust our horses, our swords and our bows.”

The sun, low in the south-west, sparkled on the silver dragon on Yukio’s helmet. He and Jebu mounted their horses. Behind them, the samurai followed suit. Yukio raised his arm.


Holding their mounts to a walk, Jebu on Yukio’s left, they stepped out on to the bridge. Jebu wore his black-laced armour with his sword at his side and his bow in a saddle case, the long pole of a naginata held in his right hand and resting on his shoulder, the reins in his left.

The bridge shook as the horses of the samurai stepped on it. As they crossed, the people on either side were speaking softly to them.

“Goodbye. Thank you.”

“The gods be kind to you.”

At the far end of the bridge, Liu held up his arms to them. “If my son were alive, he would be marching with you today.”

Yukio held out his hand in appeal. “Why have the rulers of China turned against us?”

“Perhaps someone has poisoned Chia Ssu-tao’s mind against you,” said Liu. “But perhaps it is simply that the Court is afraid of you. At first it was thought you were ignorant barbarians. Now it is known that you are formidable fighters. Victorious generals have always been a menace to the throne. This Sung dynasty was founded by a successful general who overthrew his Emperor. Many times before and since, generals who fought too well have been imprisoned and executed.”

“I am ashamed to accept the protection of unarmed civilians,” Yukio said. “And you, Honourable Governor, are risking your career and your life for us.”

Liu pointed over the heads of the crowd. “There are five thousand soldiers there, sent to arrest you. You could fight them, of course, and you would kill many of them. But what a waste of lives on both sides.”

“We are grateful to you,” said Yukio.

Liu beckoned to Jebu. “A word with you.” Jebu dismounted from his horse and followed Liu a little way along the shore of Lake Rong hu.

“Head north and west, towards Szechwan and Tibet,” Liu said softly. “The Order has temples in that direction. You will be contacted.”

“Thank you,” said Jebu. He looked into Liu’s eyes and saw a warmth like a distant fire on a cold night. That sense of remoteness, he realized, was the remoteness of the Self, communicating with him from deep within Liu.

They returned to Yukio. “You will have to live off the land,” said Liu. “Which means you will take what you need from the peasants. In your baggage train you will find a cart carrying as much gold as I could spare from the city’s treasury. Pay the peasants as much as you can. They suffer abominably when any army passes through.” He reached into his sleeve and took out a scroll. “Here is a map of some of the lands through which you will pass.” He reached up and took each man’s hand. “I doubt that I will ever see you again, but you are sons to me. You saved the thousands of lives that were in my keeping.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)