Shike – Day 153 of 306

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.

Yukio stood in the doorway of Jebu’s yurt and bowed deeply. Taniko placed her hands on the carpet before her and returned the bow with a lower one of her own. He was, she supposed, of better family than she. Again she thought how pleasant it was to return to the formal manners of her people after knowing nothing for so long but the simple ways of the Mongols.

“Lord Yukio, I had the honour of knowing both your mother, Lady Akimi, with whom I served at the Imperial Court, and your distinguished father, Captain Domei. Also, I once had occasion to meet your older brother, Lord Hideyori.”

Yukio’s face lit up in a broad grin. “You are my angel.”

“Excuse me, Lord Yukio? Angel?”

“My mother told me about you. It was you who helped my mother meet Sogamori and persuade him not to kill my brother and me. You are the lady who saved my life.” Yukio dropped to his knees and pressed his forehead against the carpet.

Taniko sat demurely with her eyes cast down and her hands folded in her lap. “I did not save your life, Lord Yukio. Your mother, Lady Akimi, saved your life at the greatest personal sacrifice. She became the consort of a man she detested.”

“I was a child at the time,” Yukio said gravely. “My mother made me swear that I would never fail in my gratitude to the gracious Lady Shima Taniko.”

“Sit down and have a bowl of ch’ai, Yukio-san,” Jebu said. “You have all afternoon to express your gratitude.”

“The rest of my life would not be time enough,” said Yukio as he sat down with them at the black jade table.

Taniko remembered the morning eighteen years ago at Daidoji when she had confronted Yukio’s older brother, Hideyori. She recalled the boyish charm of his wish to see her behind her screen of state and his cold anger when she mentioned this young man, his half-brother, Yukio. How sad that Sogamori had commanded Hideyori’s death.

“I’m sorry, Lord Yukio, but you owe me no gratitude,” Taniko said as she poured boiling water into a cup with the fine ground ch’ai leaves and whisked the green liquid into a foam. “Please forgive me for saying so, but my family has always been an enemy of yours. We are Takashi, after all.” And besides, because of Kiyosi she did not want his gratitude.

“Things aren’t that simple, as you know well, Lady Taniko,” Yukio said with a smile. “Not only did your intervention help my mother to make her painful bargain with the vile Sogamori, but your father, Lord Shima Bokuden, has sheltered my brother on Kamakura ever since my father’s defeat and death.”

“Quite true,” said Jebu. “I took Lord Hideyori to Lord Shima Bokuden myself.”

“Oh,” said Taniko, looking down at her bowl of tea. She was tempted to remain silent, but she reminded herself that Yukio was a friend and ally of Jebu. She knew something of the utmost importance to Yukio, and it was her duty to speak.

“Please forgive me, Lord Yukio, but my father no longer shelters your esteemed brother.”

Yukio narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“When I tell you, it may give you such pain that you will forget all about gratitude and will hate the Shima family.”

“Please,” said Yukio anxiously. “What has happened to my brother?”

“I do not know for certain,” said Taniko. “Prince Horigawa kept me a prisoner before taking me to China. But I heard from a servant that Sogamori had ordered my father to execute your brother.”

Yukio’s eyes, wild with shock and anger, transfixed Taniko. “Why? Why, after he let him live all those years, would he kill my brother?”

Taniko looked down at her hands and said softly, “Excuse me, please, for mentioning it, but Sogamori’s eldest son, Takashi no Kiyosi, was killed in the fighting when you left Hakata Bay, Lord Yukio. Sogamori was quite maddened with rage and sorrow, and I was told he ordered the death of your brother as his only means of avenging himself on your family.”

Slowly Yukio turned his head and gave Jebu a long look. At last he said, “It should have been I. Better if I had died, rather than Hideyori. Now the clan has lost its chieftain.”

“Now you are the chieftain of the Muratomo,” said Jebu.

Yukio looked at Jebu with an agonized wonder in his eyes, like a horse wounded in battle that must be killed to spare it pain. Jebu looked back with almost as much suffering.

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