Shike – Day 156 of 306

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.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

It was late afternoon. The distant ruins of Yenking and the new parks and palaces of Khan Baligh were enveloped alike in a golden haze. From this height in the Western Hills, Jebu and Taniko could see the entire plain on which three dynasties had built their capital cities.

“Khan Baligh is strange—elaborate and gaudy,” said Jebu. “They don’t have our sense of beauty.”

Taniko smiled up at him and raised an eyebrow. “They, meaning the Mongols? Then you don’t consider yourself a Mongol?”

Jebu shook his head. “By upbringing I am a man of the Sunrise Land.”

“Now that I know something about the Mongols,” said Taniko, “I know that you are a child of the sun goddess, the same as I.” She rested her small hand on his as they leaned together over a low wall around one of the terraces of a half-ruined temple.

A cloud descended on Jebu’s spirits when she mentioned her knowledge of the Mongols. Long before their reunion he had wondered what Kublai Khan meant to her. Now, except for oblique references like this, she had told him no more about the subject. She had voluntarily left Kublai Khan to be with him, of that he was sure. Why wasn’t that enough for him?

Hand in hand they walked away from the wall and into the violet-shadowed inner chamber of the temple. This had been a temple to the Reclining Buddha, the soul of the Buddha sleeping in heaven before beginning his life on earth. Mongols had destroyed it fifty years earlier, when they first swept through the plain of Yenking under Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan was planning to rebuild it, along with all the other ruined temples in the area. At the moment it was still abandoned.

The central chamber of the temple was empty. The bronze statue of the Buddha that had lain there had long since been broken up and melted down. Dust-covered frescoes showing the Enlightened One at various stages in his life were unharmed. The destruction of the temple had been an act of war, not of desecration. The Mongols respected Buddhism, just as they respected all religions.

Jebu spread a blanket he had brought with him on the marble pedestal where the statue had lain. He took Taniko’s hand and drew her down beside him. How beautiful you are, he thought. How beautiful my life is, that it brings you to me.

“You’re not thinking of lying with me here, Jebu-san? This is a holy place.”

“That’s precisely why I chose it. The union of bodies is the height of holiness. I see that I still have not fully explained the teachings of our Order to you.” He reached around her to undo the obi at her waist.

She put her hands inside his robe, caressing his chest. “Explain later.”

When they returned from the Western Hills, a few days later, they found that Taitaro had come back. He was waiting for them in Jebu’s yurt.

“Of all the pleasant sights I’ve seen in my life, I can think of none that brings me more delight than the two of you together.”

Taniko looked down at the intricately patterned carpet of the yurt. Jebu said, “One day we will ask you to bless our wedding.”

“But not yet,” said Taniko. “Unfortunately I have another husband still living.”

“I promise you I will attend to that when we return to the Sunrise Land,” Jebu said.

“A Zinja is not vindictive,” Taitaro warned.

“I know,” said Jebu. “You’re going to tell me to spend more time with the Jewel.”

“What is the Jewel?” Taniko asked.

“One of the thousand all-important things I haven’t yet told you about,” Jebu said. “Have you heard of Yukio’s plan, sensei?”

“Yes, and I’ve come here to take you to Yukio’s yurt. He says he has something important to discuss with us. You’ll recall I was granted the vision of Yukio returning to the Sacred Islands in glory.”

“Then you approve of our going back?”

“We must drink the happiness of each moment, not mixing it with the unhappiness of the future.”

Jebu was about to say that he didn’t understand when Taniko spoke up. “I live in horror of the day Yukio sets foot on the Sacred Islands, Taitaro-sensei. The war he will bring upon our land will make the battles the Takashi and the Muratomo fought before look like children’s games.”

“I agree with you, daughter,” said Taitaro. “For hundreds of years my Order had hoped gradually to put an end to the bloodshed in our land and other parts of the world. Now that I’ve seen the wars of the Mongols—the kind of war Yukio will fight when he goes home—I think that was a vain dream.”

The thousands of hammers at work in Khan Baligh rang incessantly through the warm spring air. The building of the new capital began at dawn and continued until sunset every day, and some of the labourers worked on into the night by torchlight.

Nearer at hand, smoke rose from the centre-hole cooking fires of the long, disciplined lines of grey yurts. Children ran up and down the streets playing games. A band of older boys on ponies galloped down the centre of the street with wild whoops, forcing Jebu and Taitaro to jump to one side. Herds of shaggy steppe ponies, the mounts of the Khan Baligh garrison, grazed without fence or tether in the near-by hills.

All these sights have become so familiar to me, Jebu thought, that the land where I was born will seem strange when I first set foot on it. There are no prairies for grazing there, no warriors in felt tents. How small our islands seem in comparison to the vast spaces of China and Mongolia.

Taitaro broke in on his thoughts. “It pleases me to think I might become a grandfather.”

Jebu sighed. He decided that Taitaro was the one person to whom he might confide his problem. He unfolded what he knew of the story of Taniko and Kiyosi and then told how he had killed Kiyosi in the battle of Hakata Bay.

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