Shike – Day 160 of 306

“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.”

“You didn’t consider it for a moment.”

“Jebu, I’ve known you for fifteen years. The night I escaped from the Rokuhara, I probably wouldn’t have reached the first farmhouse outside Heian Kyo without your help. You swore that night to serve me. You held out your sword to me. Ever since, you’ve kept me alive. You’ve given me strength when I was convinced the Muratomo were finished and was ready to cut open my belly. You sustained me through these years of exile. You’ve taught me your skills, given me good counsel, been my friend. I put all that in one scale and Arghun’s tuman in the other, and you, by yourself, nearly outweigh the ten thousand men.”

Jebu sat silently beside Yukio at the river’s edge. He felt his eyes grow moist. The bright lanterns reflected in the river blurred. Mooring ropes creaked, and Chinese sailors called to one another.

“If you think so highly of me, why won’t you listen to me?”

“Because in the most crucial moments of my life I can listen only to myself.”

“Perhaps that’s your way of achieving union with the Self.”

Yukio turned to Jebu with appeal in his eyes. “You say a man does what he thinks he must do, and the desire to succeed must take second place. That is all I am doing. I may lose this war with Sogamori if I bring in Arghun and his men. But bringing in Arghun and Torluk and their ten thousand warriors is what I must do. It is an opportunity I cannot turn away from. The Mongols may betray me, but not until after we have conquered Sogamori. Then I will be invincible. Jebusan, if you believe I am going into danger, come with me. In the name of all that has happened between us, do not force us to break with each other. I need you now more than ever. I am on the verge of winning. My whole life has been leading up to this moment. Stay with me now.”

Ever since Yukio had announced that Arghun was going with them, Jebu had been thinking about the fact that he was well past thirty years old; in fact, he was closer to forty. Zinja generally retired from the field and often married after the age of thirty. He had found Taniko again. If they could overcome the obstacle of Kiyosi’s death, why couldn’t he and Taniko go to a Zinja temple somewhere and live as Nyosan and Taitaro had? Except that he would never leave Taniko as Taitaro had left Nyosan.

Jebu contemplated his dream. He looked into Yukio’s wide eyes, saw the call for help in his face. He reached out and took Yukio’s hand.

“When I first met you, I swore to serve you and offered you my sword. I will never take back either, the promise or the sword.”

The next morning the samurai were out earliest of all. No one had suggested it, but by some unspoken agreement they all came down to the wharves to watch the sunrise. A fresh, sea-scented breeze blew up the river from the coast, gently rocking the anchored junks.

Yukio stood in the stern turret of the junk nearest the sea, the one that would be first to sail. It was an awesome ship, with seven raked masts. Flat-bottomed so it could navigate both rivers and ocean, it was unpainted and undecorated, as was customary among the northern Chinese.

Jebu stood beside Yukio and looked down at the samurai, less than three hundred of them, who had survived the years of China. Most of them had long since adopted the dress of Chinese or Mongol warriors, but on this day they were all wearing the battle dress of the Sacred Islands. They must have scoured their belongings to find every helmet, every breast plate, every gauntlet and skirt they still had.

Yukio addressed them. Later he would be talking to all the warriors under his command, but he wanted to begin the day with a special word for the samurai. Gripping the railing, he leaned towards them.

“We fled the Sacred Islands five years ago, impoverished and defeated. Since then we have won victory after victory. We stopped a Mongol army at Kweilin. We helped Kublai Khan triumph over Arik Buka. We have learned new ways of fighting and the use of new weapons. We have been handsomely rewarded by the Great Khan of the Mongols, and the wealth we bring back with us will buy us power.

“We leave behind the ashes of many mighty warriors in this foreign land. Sakamoto Michihiko . . . Imai . . . Kiyowara . . . Tajima . . . Jomyo . . . Oba . . . Saito . . . so many others I cannot name them all. All their names are inscribed on the scroll of honour which accompanies us on our return to the Sacred Islands.

“During these years we have fought not just for ourselves but for the house of Muratomo. We now return to the Sacred Islands to overthrow Sogamori and his family, and we will call upon the brave men in all provinces to lend their efforts to the cause. We will rid the realm of Takashi tyranny. We will restore the holy institutions that have been abused or destroyed by the Takashi. We will win even greater glory for ourselves and our ancestors than we already have won by our deeds here in China. Today we sail into history.”

He lifted his arms over his head, and the samurai shouted, “Muratomo!” three times in unison.

While Yukio was speaking, the rest of the warriors were gathering on the docks. Yukio came down from the ship, mounted his horse, and joined Arghun and Torluk in overseeing the assembly of their troops. Seated on the ponies that would sail with them in the holds of the junks, the Mongols formed a great half circle facing the ships. In front of each unit of a thousand men stood an officer bearing a standard on a long pole. The samurai took their position in the circle, the White Dragon banner of the Muratomo fluttering before them. To one side waited the non-combatants who would be sailing with Yukio’s warriors, among them Moko and Taitaro, and, modestly hidden in a sedan chair, Taniko.

Horns sounded. An officer tied a long strip of white cloth to each standard. He brought the other ends of the strips together in the centre of the half circle. Yukio, Arghun and Torluk dismounted and stood on the ends of the cloth strips. A shaman added another ribbon to those under the feet of the leaders. He tied the other end to the thigh bone of an ox and, gesturing with the bone, began a series of incantations in Mongol.

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