Shike – Day 151 of 306

“He was just as angry when I spoke your name to him and asked him to let you come to me. Like you, I thought it might mean the end of our lives. Like you, I was overwhelmed when I discovered this morning that he was going to reunite us. Kublai Khan was deeply unwilling to let you go. We may never know why he decided to. Do you think he was deceiving himself?”

“What do you mean?”

“He saw something in you that he did not want to lose. You may think I’m just an impoverished monk whose mind is softened by too much meditation and addled by too many battles, but is the Great Khan of the Mongols such a fool? He who has his pick of hundreds of women? Or is it possible that you are a lady to be desired?”

His words perplexed Taniko. Perhaps she was thinking like a petulant child. He was right. She did kindle desire in men. She felt a warm glow within, rising from that thought. But then another explanation for Kublai’s attitude came to her, and the glow died away.

“He didn’t want to let me go. He told me so himself. No matter how unimportant or undesirable a place or a thing is, if he doesn’t have it, he wants it. He’s like his grandfather. He wants the whole world and every person in it.” She looked down at her tea and sipped it. She did not want to look at Jebu.

“There is only one way I can convince you.” A smile was in his voice. He stood and moved around the table. He took her in his arms.

At first she didn’t want him to see or touch her. She felt old. Her body was used, worn.

A coldness filled her. All right, let him have his way with me, she thought. It’s as he said. Everyone belongs to someone. No, that is just how Kublai Khan saw it. I was his toy, his little creature.

Jebu doesn’t want to possess me. He wants to show me that I am desirable, I am wise, I am witty, I am beautiful. That’s what Jebu is trying to tell me with his hands and his body. But no, it can’t be, not after seventeen years. It is not me he is doing this with. He does not see me as I am. There’s a vision that only he can see. He wants to find his Buddha in me. Almost always, these things of the bed are things of the mind.

In spite of herself, she was gliding, like a ship that had slipped its moorings, like a horse given its head, like a falcon unleashed. Past and present swirled together until it seemed that she was with Jebu on the hill overlooking Heian Kyo, with Jebu in the murderous, pitch-black night at Daidoji, with Jebu in the tents of Kublai Khan, all at once. This was really happening. Why it was happening no longer mattered.

Joy filled her body and her mind. She was beyond asking any question. The delight of being with him, the only man in the world, was a happiness that consumed her entire being like fire. It was the boundless light she had so often called upon.

She heard voices, hers and his, mingling together, but could not tell what they were saying, if they were saying anything, or if they were just crying out without words. The light within her was dazzling. The yurt around her was plunged into blackness. Her body dissolved.

They lay side by side on the beautiful carpet, each listening to the other’s breathing. She felt as if they were drifting across the lake on a dragon barge on a golden afternoon. She could not remember ever having known such peace, such completeness.

Then the doubts crept in again. He had proved to her with his body that he wanted her. But still he might have given himself over to illusion. She could never be sure that he wanted her as she really was.

There were scars, not on his face but on his body. He wore strips of cloth wrapped tightly around his chest. A scar, still red, completely encircled his neck. He had a hideous wound in his left arm. The skin was puckered and blackened around it, drawn together with some kind of stitching. Gingerly she touched his arm.

“What was this?”

He shrugged, looking deep into her eyes with his grey ones. Odd, that eyes of such a colour could radiate such warmth.

“One of Arghun’s riders gave it to me during the battle last month.”

“It was Arghun who killed your father. He was the Mongol warrior you told me about on the journey from Kamakura to Heian Kyo.”

“Yes, and not long after I left you at Daidoji, he came back and tried to kill me again.”

“You have so much to tell me, Jebu. So many years have gone by. I have no idea of the adventures you’ve had in the years we’ve been apart. You must tell me everything, from the moment you left Daidoji. Take seventeen years to tell it if you like. We have the time.”

A strangely haunted look came into Jebu’s eyes. “Yes. I will tell you everything. There is so much. It will take awhile.”

“What disturbs you, Jebu-san?” she smiled. “You need not tell me about the women you have known. I’m sure there have been many.” He did not smile back. “I must tell you everything. In time.”

A shadow had fallen. She did not know what it was, but there was something he did not want her to know. She could not imagine the Jebu she had known on the Tokaido Road wanting to conceal anything. Much had happened to him. He had changed. She had changed. Once we find out how much each of us has changed, she thought, whatever was between us before might be severed.

She was a happy woman, possibly happier than she had ever been at any time in her life. Yet even this happiness was shot through with veins of uneasiness, doubt, fear and sadness. She had not known that happiness would be like that. She must write a poem about it.

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