Shike – Day 157 of 306

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.

“How much did this Takashi heir mean to her, do you think?” Taitaro asked him.

“I can’t be sure, sensei, but she probably cared for him greatly. When her life must have seemed over to her, he brought her a whole new life. She does not know that it was my arrow that killed Kiyosi. How can I tell her?”

“You must eventually come to it,” said Taitaro.

“Only Yukio, Moko and I know that I killed him,” said Jebu. “Taniko need never know.”

“Quite true,” said Taitaro. “But if she never knows, what is between you and her will be a lie. Remember that both you and she are manifestations of the Self. The joining of male and female in body and mind is one of the most effective ways of breaking through the illusion of separateness. If there are barriers of deception or concealment between mind and mind, the union will fail. Illusion will be kept alive. You will be depriving her, as well as yourself, of the highest joy of which human beings are capable.”

Jebu watched two young men wrestling on the ground in front of a yurt while a crowd cheered them on. “Perhaps it is not necessary to achieve such supreme joy.”

Taitaro stopped walking, turned to Jebu and smiled, his long white beard fluttering in the breeze from the northern steppes. “You have the right to make that decision for yourself. Do you wish to make it for her as well?”

Yukio’s yurt was twice as large as most of those in the encampment. The entrance faced south and was covered over with a canopy. An honour guard of two samurai stood before it, and the White Dragon of Muratomo fluttered above it. He has always been a great commander, Jebu thought. Now he is beginning to assume the trappings of one, as well.

Recognizing Jebu and Taitaro, the guards ushered them in. Jebu stopped inside the door to give his eyes a moment to adjust to the lamplight. Yukio sat on cushions in the host’s quarter of the yurt. A large, hunched figure sat on a bench facing him. Both men turned.

The man with Yukio was Arghun Baghadur.

Arghun rose to his feet and bowed to Jebu and Taitaro. Jebu stood still, speechless with surprise. Yukio broke the silence.

“The Great Khan’s decree has ended the enmity between Arghun and Jebu, and therefore between Arghun and the rest of us.”

“I hope this is true for you as it is for me,” said Arghun, fixing his blue eyes on Jebu.

Jebu’s head spun. How could Arghun dare visit Yukio’s yurt, decree or no decree? How could Yukio bring himself to receive him? He was certain Arghun’s eyes held no friendship. They were, Jebu was convinced, incapable of expressing anything but cold ferocity.

Finally he said to Yukio, “The Great Khan rescinded the order of his Ancestor which obliged Arghun Baghadur to hunt me down and kill me. I do not recall that the Great Khan required me to forgive Arghun for killing my father or for trying again and again to kill me, to trust Arghun or to sit in friendship with him. Not long ago you yourself were saying, Yukio-san, that a man may not live under the same heaven with the slayer of his father. Even if I do not seek vengeance on Arghun, since we’re under the Great Khan’s law, how can I sit in the same yurt with him?”

“What if I ask you to?” said Yukio quietly. His eyes were watchful.

Jebu could not believe what was happening. “Can you forget that this man caused the slaughter of hundreds of our samurai? Can you forget how he treacherously sent ten thousand men against us under the pretence of being on our side?”

“I have not forgotten that the tarkhan Arghun has been a dedicated, tenacious and nearly invincible foe. Nor have I forgotten that it is the duty of a general to listen to all points of view. I ask you and your wise father to listen to what Arghun has to say. Please do me that courtesy.”

“Of course,” said Jebu through tight lips.

“Please sit down.”

Jebu drew over an ebony stool inlaid with mother-of-pearl horses. Taitaro sank to a cross-legged position on the floor.

Arghun said, “Some years ago you and your men found yourselves unable to live as samurai on your islands. You decided to go abroad and offer your services as fighting men to the Emperor of China. You will understand, then, the position I am in. It has become impossible for me to continue as a warrior in the army of the Great Khan. Therefore, I am doing what you did. I offer my services and those of my followers to Lord Yukio.”

Jebu was stunned. “You have the audacity to offer to ally yourself with us after you tried to kill all of us?”

Arghun looked at Jebu gravely. “It happens quite often that leaders in war ally themselves with those they previously were trying to kill.”

“As for audacity, it is a very valuable quality in a military leader,” Yukio said with a smile.

Taitaro said, “It will show a great deal of audacity on your part, Lord Yukio, if you accept this offer.”

“Why would a tarkhan who commanded a whole Banner now stoop to taking orders from the leader of a people he has always despised?” asked Jebu.

Arghun held up a broad hand. “I have always admired your people, shiké Jebu. I greatly enjoyed my stay among them.”

“Yes,” said Taitaro dryly. “During which you served the Takashi.”

Arghun shrugged. “It was necessary for me to serve the Takashi. I was hunting Jebu, who served the Muratomo. Tell me, old monk. Your Order hires out its members to fight for various masters. Does a Zinja always go through life serving on one side of a conflict? Or does he change sides as his Order commands him?”

Taitaro nodded. “He may well change sides many times. But I still do not understand why you wish to change from Kublai Khan to Lord Yukio, when you enjoy rank, wealth and power as it is.”

Arghun’s seamed face darkened. “You do not understand my position. The Great Khan publicly disgraced me. I devoted much of my life to trying to carry out a command of Genghis Khan, and his grandson mocked me for it. I do not wish to go to war against the Sung as an outcast. When I heard that Muratomo no Yukio had received the Great Khan’s permission to take his contingent of foreign troops back to the Sunrise Land, to renew his war against the Takashi, I decided that I wanted to join him. I helped Kublai Khan become Great Khan, but I no longer wish to serve him.” He lowered his voice. “I do not respect him. I would sooner fight in a foreign land and even die there than watch our empire turn into something I loathe.”

“Jebu, if I were to take Arghun into our ranks, could you set aside your enmity towards him?” Yukio said.

“Forgive me, Lord Yukio,” said Jebu, “but you would be mad to accept this man’s service.”

Arghun shrugged his wide shoulders and stood up. “I have said what I came to say. Lord Yukio, I leave my future to you. Consult with your friends and advisers. I will wait to hear from you.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)