Shike – Day 154 of 306

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.

Yukio stood up. “I must leave. I must be alone for a time.” He bowed quickly, turned and hurried out of the yurt, his hand on his sword hilt.

Good, thought Taniko calmly. Suffer a little, Yukio, as I have suffered each day, remembering Kiyosi’s death.

Jebu sat looking after Yukio, then turned to stare at Taniko. There was such anguish on his hard, rawboned face that Taniko reached out and took his hand. His hand lay in hers, cold and lifeless.

“Don’t reproach yourself for Hideyori’s death. Sogamori is the one to blame. He gave the order to execute Hideyori. Nothing you or Yukio did need have caused that.”

A light came into Jebu’s eyes. “Do you really think so?”

There was a knock at the door of the yurt. Jebu was still staring at Taniko. She had been about to answer his question, but the knocking distracted her. It came again and this time Jebu heard it and called the visitor to enter.

It was Moko. Taniko had not seen him in the seventeen years since he fled Daidoji. Her heart leaped at the sight of the crossed eyes under a red Mongol cap with long ear flaps.

Moko threw himself full length to the floor and kissed the carpet in front of her. He was sobbing and wailing loudly. He looked up at her once, shook his head and then fell into a fresh paroxysm of weeping.

“Forgive me, my lady,” he choked out at last.

“I would be weeping, too, Moko,” said Taniko gently, “except that I’ve used up all my tears in the last few days.”

“Oh, my lady, you have suffered so. But now you and the shiké are together at last.”

Taniko took Moko’s hand and guided him to the place Yukio had just vacated. “So you’re still with him, Moko. I wonder how a useful citizen like yourself could find employment wandering about with this monk who is little better than a bandit.”

Moko laughed. “The shiké has made my fortune for me, lady. The Great Khan has been most generous. We are all rich.” His face fell suddenly. “Those of us who are left alive.” He bowed his thanks as Taniko handed him a bowl of ch’ai, then turned to Jebu. “Shiké, I saw the Lord Yukio come out of your yurt a moment ago with a face like the sky before a tai-phun. What’s wrong?”

“Lord Yukio has learned that his elder brother is probably dead,” said Jebu.

“It means he is the last of his line,” said Taniko. “Think of it. Captain Domei had five sons. One would have supposed the future of the Muratomo to be quite secure. Now only Yukio is left. How quickly war can destroy a family.”

How quickly war had destroyed her own family. Odd, that Yukio had said no word of sympathy to her about Kiyosi’s death. He had known Kiyosi at the Rokuhara, and had known that she was Kiyosi’s consort. Perhaps Yukio felt too ashamed to speak to her about it.

“It is difficult for me to feel sorry for Lord Yukio,” Taniko said suddenly. She realized at once she had said more than she wished to. To explain the remark would mean telling Jebu just how much Kiyosi meant to her.

“He has just learned that his last living brother was killed,” said Jebu.

Taniko thought quickly. “Yes, but I once met Muratomo no Hideyori. He made it quite clear to me that he felt no love at all for his younger brother. He was at pains to point out that he and Yukio did not have the same mother, and that Yukio’s mother, my friend Lady Akimi, was not married to Captain Domei. Since Hideyori had so little liking for him, I’m surprised that what happened to Hideyori matters so much to Lord Yukio.”

“However Hideyori may have felt about Yukio, Yukio always looked up to him,” said Jebu. “He admired Hideyori, and always reminded us that Hideyori was the true chieftain of the Muratomo clan.”

“My remark was foolish,” said Taniko. “Forgive me.” But she saw Jebu eyeing her closely. One day, Jebu, I shall tell you how much Kiyosi meant to me, she thought. How, in some ways, the loss of him was more painful than the loss of you. Because for ten years Kiyosi and I were nearly husband and wife. We had a son together, Jebu, a beautiful boy. Then one day an arrow flew and all was lost.

She must change the subject before Jebu asked her any more questions. She turned to Moko, and noticed something she hadn’t seen before.

“Moko. Your teeth.”

Moko smiled broadly. Where there had been dark, empty spaces in his grin, there were now white teeth that gleamed like peeled onions. Proud of his new smile, he held it for Taniko.

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