Shike – Day 130 of 306

Jebu expected the Tree of Life to spring up before him in all its glory. But he saw only the burning seed in Taitaro’s palm. At last, as the light moved on with the passage of the moon from east to west, the Jewel ceased to glow.

Taitaro spoke, and his voice was calm and pleasant, but Jebu felt that he was hearing the voice, not of his father, but of the Self.

“You will go into the north, where the Wise One contends with the Keeper of the Hearth. You will join the Wise One, who has gathered men from many lands to serve him. You will fight for the Wise One, then you will return to the Sacred Islands. One of you will be betrayed by his own blood. The other will seem to die but live. The jewels created by Izanami and Izanagi shall be protected by the Hurricane of the Kami. Each of you will be worthy of his father.”

Taitaro’s voice died away. The three sat in silent meditation again for a long time.

“Take the Jewel again, Jebu,” Taitaro said. Jebu stood and took the Jewel from Taitaro’s hand. Taitaro rose fluidly to his feet and stretched himself casually, as if he had only been napping.

“Come,” he said, “let’s camp outside for the night.”

Their horses tethered to a pine tree, they sat on the ground a short distance above the entrance to the temple. Fog was beginning to fill the valley below their hill, so that they seemed to be on an island rising out of a pearly sea.

“What happened to you in there?” asked Jebu.

“It was as if I were dreaming,” said Taitaro. “The words I spoke were not mine. They came to me.”

“Who are the Wise One and the Keeper of the Hearth?” Jebu asked.

“Two members of the Mongol ruling family are preparing to claim the title of Great Khan-Kublai Khan and his brother, Arik Buka. Kublai Khan’s grandfather, Genghis Khan, called him Sechen, which means the Wise One. Arik Buka is ruler of the Mongol homeland. His title is Keeper of the Hearth. The first part of the prophecy means that you will serve Kublai Khan. He gives high place to foreigners and has adopted many foreign ways. You will be welcome among his Banners. One wing of his army is moving westwards, south of the Great Wall. You can meet them at Lanchow, directly north of here.”

“How kind of the gods—or whoever it is who prophesies with your tongue, sensei—to arrange things for me,” said Yukio bitterly. “I need only get to Lanchow and there join the army of this Kublai Khan. How simple.”

“What is it, Yukio?” asked Jebu softly.

Yukio shook his head. “Only twice in my life have I felt in control of my own destiny. Once when I escaped from the Rokuhara. The other, when I decided to lead this expedition to China. Whatever mistakes my father made, they were his mistakes. He was no one’s plaything. I did not know what a glorious feeling that could be until the night I went over Sogamori’s wall.”

“And now?” said Taitaro.

“Since we left Kweilin, sensei, I’ve been following your son blindly. And now I am following you. Jebu decided that we must wander through Szechwan. Now you tell me I must go and fight for this Kublai Khan.”

“Not must, Yukio. The path has been suggested to you, nothing more. You will find Kublai Khan a wiser and more generous lord than the Emperor of China.”

“To serve Kublai Khan now is simply the best choice open to me, as you see it?”

“I thought so before,” said Taitaro. “But I could not be entirely sure of it until tonight, when I had the opportunity to read the Jewel of Life and Death in this temple. Now I know. If you choose this path, Lord Yukio, it will ultimately lead you back to the Sacred Islands and to glory.”

Yukio’s large brown eyes seemed to glow in the moonlight. “That is the road I want to travel, sensei. I left the Sunrise Land only with the thought that I might return one day to avenge my family and overthrow our enemies. I may die on that path, but as long as I know I am on the path, I don’t mind. These past months I felt I had lost my way.”

“My vision tonight tells me you are on that path.”

Yukio shook his head. “And yet my father told me that a military commander who pays attention to the flights of birds or the cracks in a tortoiseshell is sure to lose. He used to tap his forehead and say, ‘The only auguries worth listening to are in here.'”

Taitaro nodded. “But you came to China not only to escape the Takashi and make your fortune, but to learn more about the art of warfare. In today’s world the Mongols are the masters of war. Of Kublai Khan, the Mongols say he has the military genius of his grandfather, Genghis Khan. How could you learn more than in the service of Kublai Khan?”

Yukio smiled wryly. “How foolish you make my notion seem, of getting involved in the wars between Nan Chao and Annam.”

Taitaro patted Yukio’s arm. “You are no man’s plaything, Muratomo no Yukio. You’re only twenty-five years old. You’ll be a great general.”

“Forgive me, sensei, for not being more grateful to you for your efforts in my behalf.” Yukio went over to the horse he had tethered near by and said, “I think I want to be alone for a while.” He took his ivory flute out of his saddle case.

They watched him climb to the top of the boulder where he could see the moon sink towards the western horizon. It was the yellow moon of midsummer, not the great lantern moon of autumn. But it was beautiful enough in its way. To Jebu, the sight of Yukio seated on his boulder was reminiscent of a stone on top of a stone. Yukio raised the flute to his lips.

The tune he played was a simple country air, such as one might hear greeting the fishing boats as they sailed into Hakata Bay late in the afternoon. Yukio had not played his flute in a long time. Jebu felt his eyes grow moist. The melody made him think of home. And that reminded him of Nyosan.

“Sensei. Father. There is something I have to ask you.”

Taitaro said, “I hear the note of an impending quarrel in your voice. Couldn’t you at least wait until he’s finished playing?”

They were silent as Yukio’s melody soared over the pines, then dipped its wings like a crane and glided to a landing. Jebu waited a moment more out of respect for the music and Taitaro’s appreciation of it. Then he plunged in.

“Sensei. Many years ago you sent Mother away while you remained at the Waterfowl Temple to pursue your studies in solitude. Later you saw her at the Teak Blossom Temple, then left her again to travel to China. You have abandoned your wife, my mother. I know you to be a good man, if there is any such thing. I don’t see how you could leave her alone and lonely.”

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