Shike – Day 159 of 306

“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.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Twenty sea-going junks lined the riverfront of the city of Haitsin on the north China coast, two days’ ride from Khan Baligh. Each ship was capable of carrying two hundred soldiers and as many horses. There were not enough ships available on the coast to transport Yukio’s entire force at once, so the warriors had been divided into five groups that would leave different ports on different days. The first ships were to leave Haitsin on the fifth day of the Third Month.

The night before the sailing, Yukio gave a banquet for his officers at the largest and best inn in the city.

“Tell him I’ve gone to burn incense at the temple of Niang niang for a successful voyage,” Taitaro said. “I’ve had quite enough of Mongol feasts.” Niang niang was a local goddess who had originated as a sea-captain’s daughter. The sailors of Haitsin brought models of their ships to her every spring.

The inn was a three-storey building fronting on Haitsin’s largest market-place. Two Mongol officers were fighting on a second-floor balcony as Jebu approached. One pushed the other over the railing and he fell into a crowd of gaping onlookers below. One who may not make it to the ships tomorrow, thought Jebu.

The junior officers were dining and drinking on the lower floors. One of Yukio’s men led Jebu to the top storey, where those of rank of hundred-commander and above were gathered. Jebu stepped through a gilded doorway and nearly choked on the smell of roasting meat. A roar of shouts and songs hammered at his ears.

Yukio’s officers were seated on benches at long tables already awash with wine. Courtesans danced through the crowd, a few of them altogether naked. The warriors reached after them, pawed them and roared with laughter.

Jebu saw Yukio at a table set on a platform at the far end of the room. Yukio was dressed as the Mongols were, in a robe of embroidered Chinese satin. On the wall behind him hung a White Dragon banner. Shameful to display the Muratomo family insignia at a brawl like this, Jebu thought. In the Sunrise Land the room would have been quiet with, perhaps, music in the background. His host would have risen and politely escorted him to a place. Above all, there would be no stink of burnt flesh. Had Yukio forgotten all that? Was this what he wanted to unleash on his people? Jebu pushed his way through the crowd towards Yukio, and Yukio waved to him.

Just as he got to the table, two men sitting near Yukio looked up. One was Arghun Baghadur. The other was the tuman-bashi Torluk. Jebu felt his face grow hot. He expected to see Arghun here, but he hadn’t known that Torluk was also part of Yukio’s Mongol contingent. All he could think of was the memory of Torluk seated on his pony in front of his silent tuman, giving the signal to fire on the samurai.

“Jebu, sit by me,” Yukio called.

It was past bearing. Jebu turned and began to push his way out of the room.

As he crossed the market square, he sensed that he was being followed. Port cities like this were infested with thieves. Also, there were secret societies of Chinese rebels that still harassed the Mongols. Jebu stepped into a side street and a hand seized his sword arm. Thinking he was about to be attacked, Jebu whirled with his hand raised to strike a killing blow.

The man holding his arm was Yukio. His brown eyes were furious. “You embarrass me in public with your rude behaviour,” Yukio growled.

“Is it possible to be rude in a riot like that?”

“You are determined to destroy everything I am doing. Nothing means more to you than your hatred of Arghun.”

“You mean more to me, Yukio,” Jebu said sadly. “I still think you’re making a mistake allying yourself with Arghun.”

Yukio spoke more calmly. “I realize it is worry for me as much as anything that makes you act as you do. If it reassures you, I know Arghun and his Mongols are dangerous. It’s just that there is a certain kind of risk a military man must take, if he wants to win wars.”

They began to walk, side by side, down to the riverfront docks. Only the red and green lanterns on the masts of the junks lit their way. Jebu walked warily, keeping his hand near his sword hilt.

“Perhaps you’re too concerned with winning and losing,” Jebu said.

“That’s one part of the Zinja philosophy I’ve never been able to accept fully,” said Yukio. “What is the point of fighting if you do not try to win?”

“We fight because we choose to fight. We hope to achieve a state of insight which unites us with the Self.”

“Is that better than winning?”

Jebu laughed. “It’s something you can get whether you win or lose. That can be very convenient, sometimes.”

Yukio laughed with him. “You realize, Jebu-san, you’ve made me look like a fool, running after you when I should be with my guests?” Yukio walked over to the river’s edge and sat down, looking out at the water. “You are very important to me. You are so important I seriously considered giving up ten thousand fighting men, just to please you.”

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