Shike – Day 152 of 306

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.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

I have known how the Great Khan lives. Now I am finding out how the warriors of the Great Khan live. Jebu has servants who cook and clean for him. Like the Mongols, he drinks mostly milk and eats cheese. The Mongols eat veal and mutton only on special occasions. Jebu says that cattle, goats, sheep and yaks are their wealth, so they prefer to live on the products of these animals, rather than butcher them.

All of us from the Sacred Islands have had to learn to eat meat, may the Buddha forgive us, but we eat a good deal less of it than the Mongols do, and we buy celery, onions, beets, beans and rice from the farms around Khan Baligh, so we can eat somewhat as we are used to.

I do not believe any woman of my country has had a chance to describe so many different places and ways of life as I have. Of course, this pillow book of mine can have no literary value. How could it, when it is written in the language of women?

This is a Mongol camp rich and at peace, located beside the capital of the empire. A very unusual state of affairs. I can see trouble for Kublai unless he embarks on a new war soon. The Mongols do nothing but hunt, gamble, chase women and get drunk. They seem to do more drinking than anything else.

I hear, though, that Kublai intends to make war once again on the Sung. That means that Jebu and Yukio and their samurai comrades will be fighting against those they formerly defended. Since the Sung courtiers betrayed them at Kweilin, I’m sure Yukio and his men have no qualms about aiding the Great Khan. Kublai has proved himself a good master to us all.

-Second Month, second day


Taniko and Jebu spent their first three days alone together. Then he took her riding to the north, where the Great Wall crossed Nankow Pass. Even though it would soon be spring, the wind from Mongolia was bitter. They both wore fur caps, and Jebu protected himself in a heavy sheepskin coat, while Taniko wore the magnificent ermine cloak Kublai Khan had given to her.

For two nights they slept and ate at a small Buddhist temple just south of the wall, where the monks knew Jebu. They spent three days riding or walking along the top of the ancient earth and stone rampart built a thousand years earlier by the First Emperor, Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, to hold back the barbarian horsemen to the north. No soldiers patrolled the wall now. China belonged to the barbarian horsemen.

“It was built to keep the Chinese in as much as to keep the nomads out,” Jebu told her as he helped her over the broken and jumbled stones. “Poor farmers in northern China have a tendency to drift away from the Emperor’s control. They either become nomads themselves or ally themselves with the nomads.”

“Like you and Yukio,” said Taniko.

Each day she felt more at ease with Jebu. They talked with pleasure and interest, but it was obvious to Taniko that Jebu preferred not to talk about what their lives had been like during the many years they were apart. Probably, she thought, he wanted to avoid mentioning Kiyosi and Kublai Khan, to say nothing of Horigawa. A man doesn’t like to think about the men who have been before him with the woman he cares for, men who may have been important to her.

She was just as happy that he kept talking about such matters as the antiquity of Chinese civilization, Buddhism and Taoism, the Great Wall, the Mongol conquests, what the world was like far to the west, what might be happening now in the Sacred Islands. These were things about which they both had thought much, and had much to say. It was too soon to tarnish the joy of their coming together by talking about their own recent past.

As for their feelings about each other, their words and acts when they were alone together said all that was needed.

After they returned from their excursion to the Great Wall, Muratomo no Yukio came to visit them. On being introduced to the young Muratomo, Taniko felt a momentary flash of hatred for this short, pleasant young man, handsome except for his bulging eyes and protruding front teeth. It was during Yukio’s escape from Hakata Bay that Kiyosi had met his death. Even though Yukio doubtless had had nothing directly to do with it, she could not forgive him the death of Kiyosi and the loss of Atsue.

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