Shike – Day 131 of 306

“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.”

Taitaro was silent for so long that Jebu began to think he was not going to answer. Finally he said, “I have had word from the Sacred Islands. From the Order. Your mother is dead, Jebu.”

“What?” He must have mistaken Taitaro’s words.

“Whatever I should or should not have done for your mother, it is too late. She is gone, my son. The best woman I ever knew.”

“Did she know you thought that?” Jebu asked bitterly. He felt the tears starting to come. There had been a moment when he couldn’t believe what Taitaro was saying, a moment when it seemed the old man must be posing one of his philosophical problems. But he heard the sadness in Taitaro’s voice and he knew it was real. He felt as if the bottom had dropped out of his heart.

“Yes, she knew it,” said Taitaro. “There wasn’t much we didn’t talk about.”

“Except during these last years,” said Jebu. “What did you have against her, that you could leave her like that?” His voice broke as he said the last few words. He put his hands to his face and sobbed.

“She and I were very close after our parting. We believed—I believe—that each of us is a manifestation of the Self. We felt that we could never be separated. I saw her in everything around me, and she, I believe, saw me in the same way.”

“Monk’s talk. She would have called that monk’s talk. She knew the difference between a flesh-and-blood man and a manifestation of the Self.”

Taitaro sighed. “She lives in you, Jebu, as she does in me.”

“Yes, but that’s not her, don’t you see? What did she die of?”

“It is going to hurt you a great deal to hear this.” Taitaro moved closer to him and spoke in a lower voice. Even though Jebu knew Nyosan was dead and nothing could hurt her any more, he felt frightened. Taitaro rested his forehead on his hand.

“Jebu, when Yukio and his army sailed from Hakata Bay it was a terrible defeat for Sogamori. His son, Kiyosi, was killed.”

“I know. Kiyosi was in the bow of the lead ship, aiming an arrow at Yukio. I didn’t know who it was until after I had shot him in the chest and he had fallen overboard. Moko told me.”

“I had no idea it was you who had killed him.”

“I suppose no one except Yukio and Moko and I know.”

“Had Sogamori known it was a Zinja who killed his son, he would have felt even more justified in what he did.”

Jebu’s body went cold. “What did he do?”

“All that summer of the Year of the Horse he was secretly sending infiltrators disguised as monks, merchants, and landless peasants into Kyushu. Then in the Ninth Month he sent a huge armed force across Shimonoseki Strait. Before word could reach the Teak Blossom Temple, his agents had cut off all communications and all escape routes. Ten thousand samurai surrounded the monastery buildings. Those who tried to escape were pushed back into the flames. Of course, the monks fought back, and over two thousand Takashi died, I am told. Weicho, the abbot, went down fighting. A master of the naginata, that one. The women and children took refuge in the temple building itself. They all died in the flames. It’s said their screams could be heard all over Kyushu. When the fire was cold there was no one left. Every person in the temple perished.”

Jebu was unable to speak for a long time after Taitaro finished. He sat there gasping, his thoughts incoherent. He felt as if someone had thrown him to the ground and beaten him with a club.

At last, he said, “My mother was burned to death?” It was both impossible to put the half-formed picture out of his mind and impossible to see it clearly. The packed bodies. The screams of women and children. The towering golden flames.

Taitaro gripped his arm. “Listen, Jebu. This world kills people in all manner of horrible ways. You are not the only person who has lost a parent by violence. You must bear this. You are a Zinja.”

Jebu tried to see into Taitaro’s eyes, but the moon was behind the old man’s head, and his voice was in shadow. “Two parents, sensei. Two.” He started to sob brokenly. He had not cried like this since Moko had told him of the death of his and Taniko’s baby.

“I hate this world,” he said suddenly.

“There is only this world.”

“Then better to be out of it. The samurai are right to pursue death.”

“Neither your father nor your mother sought death. If you turn to death because they died, you’ll be betraying them.”

He remembered Nyosan at the Waterfowl Temple so many years ago saying, “Live, Jebu.” He burst into sobs again.

“Some day I’ll go back there. I’ll leave a flower in the ashes of the temple. And then I’ll go and kill Sogamori.”

“You’ve already killed his son. Perhaps you can feel, a little, how Sogamori must have felt about that.”

Jebu stood up, towering over Taitaro. “Oh, you’re so wise, sensei. Why can’t your wisdom show you how to weep for my mother?”

“I have wept for her, Jebu.”

Jebu wanted to kneel beside the old man and put his arms around him. But he was still angry.

“Can your wisdom tell me why you were on the other side of the world when my mother was killed? And why she had to pine for you for so many years before that?”

Taitaro spoke in a sad, yielding voice. “When you scold me for giving a higher place to monkish wisdom than to human feelings, I can almost hear your mother’s voice. You are so very much like her. One day, Jebu, you will come to understand the separateness of beings. We Zinja teach the openness of all beings. Because we understand that oneness, perhaps we are able to grasp separateness better than most.”

“You did love her. I know you did.”

“I do love her.”

“Then how could you leave her?”

“I feel I have a mission. I have had an insight, if you will. There are certain things I am called to do. The world is entering a new age. The years of solitary meditation were my preparation. My being here in China is part of my task. I know you can understand this, my son, because you have followed the same path yourself.”

Jebu slowly sat down again beside Taitaro. “What do you mean?”

“My son, when last we met at the Waterfowl Temple, I didn’t know everything you had been doing, nor did you have time to tell me. I always wondered if there was a woman who meant as much to you as your mother meant to me. On my brief visit to the Teak Blossom Temple before I left for China, I learned about you and the Lady Shima Taniko.”

“What did you learn?” Jebu’s face felt hot.

“That the very first task I sent you on, so many years ago, is a task you have never completed. That your life and the life of Lady Taniko have been linked together ever since. And yet, my son, both you and she decided long ago to go your separate ways. I suspect she means more to you than any other woman in the world does, and that you mean more to her than any other man. Yet each of you feels a destiny drawing you that makes it impossible for you to be together.”

“That may be true,” said Jebu.

“But she is closer to you than you realize, my son.”

“More of your Zinja wisdom about seeing everybody everywhere, sensei?”

“Not at all, Jebu-san. I mean that the Lady Taniko is here in China. She is in the household of Kublai Khan.”

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