Shike – Day 158 of 306

“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.”

Jebu was relieved. Perhaps now he and Taitaro could talk some sense into Yukio.

“One last thing,” said Arghun. “Your force consists now of about two thousand fighting men. If you accept me, I will not come to you empty-handed. There are many Mongols who are personally loyal to me. There are many who fought for Arik Buka and who do not want to fight for Kublai Khan. You could return to your homeland with considerably more than two thousand men.”

There was a light in Yukio’s eyes. “How many more?”

“An entire tuman,” said Arghun with a faint smile. He bowed and was gone.

The three men in Yukio’s yurt were silent. Jebu studied Yukio in the flickering lamplight. His eyes burned with dreams of victory and vengeance. He would be impossible to convince, but Jebu had to try. He waited for Yukio to speak first.

“Ten thousand cavalrymen,” Yukio breathed.

“You should have asked,” Jebu said slowly, “whether they will be the same ten thousand who tried to slaughter us at the edge of the Gobi.”

Yukio leaped to his feet and stood over Jebu, his fists clenched. “Would you deprive me of victory? With ten thousand Mongols fighting for me, Sogamori won’t have a chance.”

“What makes you think your samurai will fight alongside the Mongols who only recently tried to kill them?”

“My samurai have fought side by side with Mongols for the last four years.” Yukio sat down beside Jebu on the bench and put his hand on Jebu’s shoulder. “I know how you feel. This goes back to your father. But I didn’t know your father. You yourself never knew him. Look at the gift Arghun brings us. Can’t you put this old enmity away?”

Jebu turned and stared into Yukio’s eyes. “As easily as you could ally yourself with Sogamori.”

Yukio was silent, breathing heavily. At last he stood, paced a bit over the thick Chinese carpets, and said, “Sogamori is the enemy of the realm, not merely my enemy. I fight him, not for my personal revenge, but to save the Sacred Islands from misrule.”

“If you embark with a tuman of Mongols under Arghun, you will be leading a Mongol invasion of our Sacred Islands. Arghun’s men will so outnumber yours that you will have no control over what they do.”

Yukio sat down again. “Jebu, people were wretched under the Takashi when we left. Now they’ve had five more years of misery. The moment I land and raise the White Dragon, samurai will flock to me from every province. Soon Arghun’s tuman will be only a part of my forces. I will use ten thousand to deliver the first blow, a devastating blow from which the Takashi will never recover.” Yukio stood once more, walked to the centre of the yurt and turned to Taitaro.

“Sensei, you have not spoken. I know that to their skill in the arts of combat the Zinja add sagacity. Do you see what I can accomplish with Arghun and his troops? Or do you share your son’s blind hatred of Arghun?”

Taitaro smiled. “As we say in go, I have the advantage of the onlooker and can see things that are not apparent to the contestants. Though I have, on occasion, fought Arghun, I bear him no ill will. Even so, Lord Yukio, I believe you would be mistaken to accept Arghun’s services. He is one of the most dangerous men I have ever seen. I have been the channel for a vision of your triumphant return to the Sacred Islands. But believe that your victory will be marred by sorrow and defeat unless you act with purity.”

Yukio frowned. “Purity? Do you mean I must land on the Sacred Islands without any foreign warriors?”

Taitaro folded his hands in his lap and looked down at them. “You have over two thousand warriors whom you have gathered yourself, trained yourself, led yourself. They are loyal to you. Most of them are foreign, but they are still a fighting force that is purely yours. They have had samurai training and samurai leadership. Arghun’s ten thousand, on the other hand, are a borrowed, foreign power. They are not truly your men, and you will not be able to control them. Unleashing a horde of barbarians on the people of the Sacred Islands can only bring you infamy.”

Yukio shook his head. “You think as your son does.”

“On the contrary.” Taitaro stood, walked over to Jebu, and looked down at him. “Jebu-san, I heard the hatred and vengefulness in your voice when you spoke to Arghun tonight. You have made no progress in your feelings about him in the eighteen years since you fought him at the Waterfowl Temple.”

“Your counsels are impossible, sensei.”

“They would be worth nothing if they were easy.” Taitaro turned back to Yukio. “I know that you, too, find my advice hard to act upon. But if you do not follow it, all will end in ruin for you.”

Yukio shrugged. “I told you years ago that a military commander who puts his stock in omens and visions is likely to lose. I’m sorry, sensei, but nothing you say has changed my mind. I will make the bargain with Arghun, and you two will learn to live with it, if you want to stay with me.”

Jebu’s heart sank. “Yukio, would you choose Arghun over me?” Yukio turned his back. “Yes,” he whispered. “Because he brings me ten thousand warriors.” He whirled on Jebu and Taitaro. “Again and again you two monks have tried to do my thinking for me. It’s time you learned there can be only one commander in an army.”

“When you land on the Sacred Islands with your tuman, be sure that you, and not Arghun, are that one commander,” said Jebu.

“I want to be alone now,” Yukio said hoarsely.

Taitaro and Jebu bowed and said good night.

As they walked under the stars Jebu said, “This is a calamity. I was hoping you could persuade him, sensei.”

“I knew I wouldn’t,” Taitaro said. “My vision at the Ch’in-cha temple in Szechwan already warned me that I would fail. There will be a dark side to Yukio’s triumph, and nothing can prevent it.”

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