Shike – Day 155 of 306

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.

“Is this some sort of magic?” Taniko laughed.

“When one is part of a conquering army, my lady, rich with the spoils of war, one can purchase anything, even new teeth. These were made of ivory for me by a Chinese sculptor. I thought of having him carve me a set from black jade, but I decided that would be getting above my station.”

Taniko peered more closely at Moko’s mouth. “Ivory. Yes, I see now. They’re a little too perfect to be real. Are they comfortable? Can you eat with them?”

“Better than I could without them. There are various minor problems, but on the whole I am a better man. The ladies who know me think so as well.”

Taniko smiled. “So, Moko, you have followed Jebu to China, just as you once promised. Have you had much chance to exercise your skills as a carpenter?”

Moko nodded happily, pouring himself another cup of ch’ai and whipping it to a froth. “Lady, I now know more about carpentry than any joiner on the Sacred Islands. Everywhere we have travelled I’ve studied buildings and talked to the members of the local carpenters’ guild. I’ve even learned how they build their mud-brick palaces in Mongolia. And I don’t just know about houses, my lady. I’ve studied junks and sampans from one end of China to the other. I believe I could build you anything from a Nan Chao dugout canoe to a Linan sea-going merchant vessel with sixteen masts.”

“Or a warship,” Jebu remarked.

“Of course,” said Moko. He looked uneasily at Taniko. “But I have no desire to build warships. Useless things, except for destruction and killing.”

He’s remembered that Kiyosi died aboard a warship, Taniko thought. A memory came to her. Long ago she had sent Moko to the Rokujoga-hara to see the executions of Domei and his followers. Moko had come back with a tale of having been seen by Kiyosi in a tree above the Emperor’s head and having been spared by him. Yes, Moko, too, has reason to mourn Kiyosi, she thought.

“I’ve also performed many services for our samurai,” Moko went on. “I was in charge of food and supplies. I learned to bargain with Chinese traders and get the most and best for the least money. I also helped the shiké’s father, the holy man Taitaro, to treat our sick and wounded.”

Taniko said, “Your honoured father, Jebu, yes. Why have I not had a chance to pay my respects to him?”

Jebu shook his head. “He’s on another one of his mysterious journeys. He said he was meeting with members of the Chinese and Tibetan branches of the Order.”

“I owe much to the shiké and to you, my lady,” Moko said. “I’m going to do something for you now that will speak my gratitude in a small way.”

“Moko,” said Jebu softly, “you owe us no debt. Your companionship has been treasure enough.”

“Yes, Moko-san,” Taniko agreed. “You have saved my life many times over.”

The little man waved his hands. “No, I’m going to build a house for you. I’ll design it, I’ll provide the materials. I’ll hire the workers. It will be the most beautiful house in Khan Baligh. Not the biggest or the most costly, but I think that with what I know about building it will make the Great Khan himself envious.”

Taniko was torn. She knew how much giving such a gift would mean to Moko. She could not refuse it. But it seemed to her too grand a gift to accept.

“You will shame us with such a gift,” said Jebu.

“You will shame me if you do not take it,” said Moko, his eyes glistening with tears.

“Excuse me, but I don’t think there will be time for this gift. Perhaps, Moko, it would be best for you to plan to build this house in Heian Kyo.” It was Yukio who spoke.

They turned and stared at him. He was standing in the doorway of Jebu’s yurt, a grim smile on his face.

“Forgive me for entering without knocking,” Yukio said. “I have been walking about, thinking, since I left you. I have accepted my karma. I am now clan chieftain of the Muratomo. I am the last of my line. If the Muratomso are to be avenged on Sogamori, it must be through me. These wars in China have prepared me for the task. There are less than three hundred left of our countrymen who followed us here, but we have over two thousand warriors in all, and many of them will follow me for battle and for pay. I will not waste myself fighting the Sung, when I could be fighting my real enemy, Sogamori. When we return home, we’ll find a whole new generation of samurai waiting for us. Those Muratomo who were boys when we left will be men now, and ready to follow the White Dragon. ‘A man may not remain under the same heaven with the slayer of his father.’ It is time to go back and settle accounts.”

“But how do we know this is the right time to launch a war in the Sacred Islands?” Jebu said.

Yukio waved a hand in dismissal. “There are many such questions still to be answered. We will talk long into the night for many nights to come. We will have to get permission from the Great Khan to leave at all. But our course is clear. Muratomo no Yukio and his samurai are returning to the Sunrise Land. From this moment the Takashi are doomed.”

Jebu, Moko and Taniko stared at Yukio, overwhelmed by the announcement that had fallen among them with the impact of a Mongol fire bomb. Sadness and dread swept through Taniko. Must Jebu and I lose each other again as he goes off to another war? Her dread was not only for herself and for Jebu, but for the Sacred Islands. When she thought of the bloodshed and destruction that would follow Yukio’s return, she wanted to weep. In a few months many women would have more cause to weep than she did now.

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