Shike – Day 14 of 306

Jebu was pleased, but he kept up the pose of the stern warrior. “An egg is helpless, but it may hatch a deadly serpent.”

“One thing the Zinja taught you well.”


“How to be a windy bore.” She whirled her bay gelding and rode off, calling mockingly over her shoulder, “Shiké!”

Chapter Five

Sliding back down the hillside, Jebu stopped at the body of one of the tsuibushi. He rolled it over and studied the young face, tough and stupid-looking even in death. Yet this commonplace countenance had been in life a marvel of intricately co-ordinated parts. The most skilful artist in the world could not create a statue that could duplicate the delicate and complex movements of that mouth, now slack. And the miracle of beauty that had been this country ne’er-do-well was now ended by a single crude blow from a feathered stick with a metal point. That exquisite structure, its movements ceased, was now already beginning to turn back into slime. Jebu squatted beside the body, his hands hanging limply between his knees. I did this.

In his mind he recited the Prayer to a Fallen Enemy. I am heartily sorry for having killed you. I apologize to you a thousand times and ask your forgiveness a hundred thousand times. I declare to all the kami of this place who witnessed our encounter that I alone am to blame for your death, and I take upon myself all the karma stemming from killing you. May your spirit not be angry with me. May you find happiness in your next life and may we meet again as friends.

He said the same prayer to the other tsuibushi and then to the headless, leather-and-steel-clad body of Nakane Ikeno, the first man he had ever killed.

The safest thing to do with the bodies, Jebu decided, was to dump them into the sea. If the waves cast them up on shore again, it might be days or weeks from now, by which time Taniko and he would be far away from this part of the country. And with luck the bodies would be eaten by fish and never seen again.

As if reading his thoughts, Moko came to stand beside him and said, “I make bold to tell the shiké, this oryoshi stood well with the Muratomo. If it became known who killed Ikeno, the shiké would have powerful enemies.”

“You give me a reason to kill you.”

“You already have reasons, and you have decided not to kill me. My life is in your hands at all times.”

Jebu led Moko and the porter in prayers over each body. Then they rolled the bodies down the hill and dropped them into the white foam.

Ikeno was the last. The porter protested. “This armour is worth a lot.”

“It was worthless to him,” said Jebu, even as he admired the pattern of orange silk lacings that lashed together the leather and steel strips of armour. “And it is easily recognized. If we were found carrying Ikeno’s armour, it might be embarrassing for us.”

“At least keep the sword, shiké,” said Moko. “A sword is a thing of beauty. It has a soul. The art of a master swordsmith has gone into forging it, and the Fox Spirit has presided over its creation. It would be a shame, a blasphemy, to throw it into the sea to rust.”

“You are almost a poet, Moko. Very well, I’ll keep the sword.” Moko unbelted the scabbard and gingerly picked up the shining weapon that lay where Ikeno had dropped it. Jebu took the sword from Moko and examined it.

A shadowy temper line ran along the blade where the hard steel of the edge met the flexible steel of the core. The swordsmith had worked the temper line into a decorative pattern reminiscent of bamboo leaves. There was writing engraved on the blade as well.

“There is nothing between heaven and earth that man need fear who carries at his side this magnificent blade.”

Jebu shook his head. Foolish. Such words taught the samurai to rely on his sword and throw away his life. Far wiser was the Zinja maxim: rely on nothing under heaven. He handed the sword to Moko. He might send it, he thought, to his mother and Taitaro.

“I’ll pack it in the baggage for you and no one will see it till you want it again,” said Moko.

And so Ikeno, his armour, his bow and his head, but not his sword, all went into the sea. Jebu slapped Ikeno’s black roan on the rump and sent it galloping up the Tokaido Road to the north-east, away from Ikeno’s village.

The three men and three women hurried down the coast, riding as rapidly as they could, avoiding houses and villages and hiding in the forest whenever there was a chance of meeting someone on the road. Still not sure whether Moko might betray them, Jebu did not give him a watch to stand, but divided the night between himself and the Shima porter.

The day after the fight with Nakane, they were riding over grassy hills when Taniko drew alongside him.

“The company of those women has become such a trial. They have been my servants all my life, and there is nothing they can say that I have not heard a hundred times before.”

“You have mentioned that I, too, can be boring.”

“At least you say things I haven’t heard before.”

Jebu smiled at her. “I sympathize. I’ve had no one to talk to but myself since we began this journey. And I know myself better than you know your maids. I find myself even more tiresome company.” He and Taniko had warmed towards each other. It was obviously the killing of the samurai that had won her over to him. Well, what of that? Some good must come from every act that harmed someone.

He recalled that moment in the heat of battle when their eyes met. He doubted that he would ever forget it. Today she looked more beautiful than ever, and knowing her better, he now saw that the seeming ruthlessness in her eyes was simply a candid intelligence coupled with a clear certainty about how she felt and what she wanted.

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