Shike – Day 145 of 306

“In sparing my life you have been amply just to me, my Khan,” said Jebu. But Kublai Khan’s words gave him hope that the Khan would listen with favour to his petition. Jebu’s heart beat faster.

“Yukio,” said Kublai Khan. “How many men did you lose before Uriangkatai stopped the fighting between your men and Torluk’s?” Yukio bowed. “Nearly three hundred, my Khan.”

“You will be paid in gold from my treasury for each man. And I shall place six hundred men from Torluk’s tuman under your command. You will train them in your way of fighting.”

Torluk, who had been silent for the most part since he entered the Great Khan’s yurt, spoke up. “My Khan, with all respect to your wishes, Mongols will be unwilling to serve under a foreign officer.”

Kublai turned his depthless black eyes on Torluk. “You will pick the six hundred yourself. Some of your best had better be among them. You will make it clear that any who fail to serve loyally and obediently under the tuman-bashi Yukio will have their left hands cut off and be cast out of the ordu.”

Torluk’s eyes went blank. “Yes, my Khan.”

“Now,” said Kublai. “What of Jebu here? You do me honour to stand before me, but I must not keep you on your feet longer. You have suffered greatly at Arghun’s hands.”

“Arghun was simply obeying the laws of your people, my Khan,” Jebu rasped. “You owe me nothing. You have lifted the condemnation of my family and me, and I am content.” He framed his words carefully, fighting down waves of dizziness and nausea that threatened to hurl him to the floor of the yurt. To make no claim on justice, to appeal only to the Great Khan’s generosity seemed, in its nakedness, most in keeping with the Zinja way. He knew that to want anything as badly as he wanted to be reunited with Taniko was not the Zinja way, and perhaps he was doomed to failure because of that. But whether he succeeded or failed, he had to act.

“What your family has suffered and what you have suffered has been at the command of my Ancestor,” said Kublai. “I may change rulings of his, but I will never suggest that it was wrong of him to rule as he did. Still, you have served me well, and you have been badly hurt. I wish to reward you for your courage and steadfastness.”

Now the Great Khan had formulated the issue himself. With the same certainty with which he wielded his sword in battle, and guided by the Self, Jebu spoke.

“My Khan, there is a great favour you could grant me if you are so disposed.”

Kublai looked surprised, as if he had not expected Jebu to offer any suggestions. Then he smiled and inclined his head.

“If I can, I will grant your request.”

Jebu’s heart was pounding and the blood roared in his ears. “It is a little thing to the Great Khan, but a large matter to me. There is in the Great Khan’s household a woman, not one of the Great Khan’s wives. She serves him, in some small way. She happens to be a countrywoman of mine. She was someone I knew in the Sunrise Land. I ask the Great Khan to give this woman to me.”

There was a moment of surprised silence in the crowded yurt. Kublai stared at Jebu. Then there were whispers around the room and laughter. Kublai glared at those who had laughed, and the silence fell again. Kublai’s face was dark and sour. I’ve failed, thought Jebu. I’ve only brought his wrath down on Taniko and me.

“What is this woman’s name?”

Jebu tried to bow, sending pain blazing through his chest and back. “Her name is Taniko, my Khan. She is of the Shima family of Kamakura.”

There was another long silence, while Kublai contemplated Jebu.

“You dare ask me for one of the women of my household?”

“The Great Khan has many,” Jebu blurted. “I thought he would not miss one.” This time there was laughter in spite of Kublai’s black looks. Even though the brash reply seemed foolhardy, Jebu saw that the Self had guided him right. The Mongol officers now sympathized with him.

“You abuse my generosity,” Kublai rumbled. “How do you know this woman is in my household? Has anything passed between you?”

Jebu shook his head. “No, my Khan. I happened to hear of her presence with you. I do not know if she remembers me at all.”

“You had better not be prowling around my women, monk. Eternal Heaven knows that monks are the most perverted, lecherous, degenerate creatures alive.” Kublai looked pleased as this brought laughter from his generals.

“If the woman means so much to my Great Khan, I will withdraw my request,” said Jebu boldly. Kublai looked thunderstruck.

“Ask him for a horse instead, monk,” an officer behind him guffawed. “With four hundred women he doesn’t have time to ride horses.” The laughter and jests were quite out of control now.

Kublai reddened. “I forbid you to speak any more to me of this woman. Go away now and tend to your wounds.”

Uriangkatai spoke up. “A warrior has a right to ask one great favour of his lord, my Khan.”

Kublai’s dark eyes darted to Uriangkatai. “He has asked,” he said with finality.

Amid laughter and friendly advice, Jebu was carried from the yurt by Taitaro and Yukio. “Pardon me for saying it when you’re so badly hurt,” said Yukio, “but you’re a fool.”

Sinking into exhaustion, Jebu said nothing. It was hopeless. He had tried to win Taniko away from Kublai Khan and only succeeded in infuriating the Mongol ruler. No one knew better than Jebu how vindictive the Mongols could be. Doubtless, he would feel Kublai Khan’s wrath. Probably Taniko would, too.

Perhaps it would have been better if Arghun had managed to kill him.

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