Shike – Day 163 of 306

“By scattering copies of this declaration up and down the realm, you put Sogamori and the Takashi on notice that you’re back and are going to fight them. Why throw away the advantage of surprise? They outnumber us twenty to one.”

Yukio smiled. At least he had not yet lost his temper, Jebu thought, as he often had when Jebu’s advice contradicted his wishes.

“We have no advantage of surprise. It has taken us most of a month to collect all our men here. By now Sogamori’s agents have reported our presence. I learned my lesson when we fought our way out of Hakata Bay. If we couldn’t keep the departure of a thousand samurai a secret, how can we expect to hide the arrival of twelve thousand warriors? Since the Takashi know we’re here, it’s best that all who might rally to our side be alerted as well. Also, as you and Taitaro warned me, there will be people who will imagine I’m an invader, because I brought Mongols with me. This proclamation will allay their suspicions.”

“How?”

“It at once makes plain that I belong here and have a just cause. I want everyone to think of me as a loyal subject of the Emperor. Which I am.” He looked challengingly at Jebu, as if expecting disagreement.

“You talk of rescuing the Emperor from the Takashi. When we left here, the Emperor was Sogamori’s son-in-law. What makes you suppose he’ll want to be rescued? Remember how your father tried to rescue Emperor Nijo from the Takashi, and His Imperial Majesty fled to the Rokuhara the first chance he got?”

“It’s worse than that,” said Yukio with a grin. “Fujiwara Hidehira tells me there’s a new Emperor on the throne, Sogamori’s grandson. When I wrote about rescuing the Emperor from the Takashi, I meant rescuing the office, not the man—or in this case the boy.”

Jebu was surprised. “Don’t you believe that the person of the Emperor is sacred?”

“Do you?”

“It’s not a point on which Zinja teaching dwells overmuch. I certainly thought you and all samurai believed in the Emperor’s divinity.”

Yukio looked melancholy. “I gained much by travelling to China, but I lost much, too. I’ve learned that every nation declares its ruler divine or divinely appointed. In every nation it is really the powerful men who decide who the divine ruler will be. If I’m to win this war for my family, I must be a maker of Emperors, just as Sogamori has been.”

Jebu stood up. “At the moment I must be a maker of Zinja. Or near-Zinja.”

“Then Taitaro-sensei has given you permission to instruct some of our men in Zinja arts of fighting?”

“Yes. He says there are so few Zinja left these days that there can be no objection to sharing our knowledge with others.”

“Only our own people, though. No Mongols or other foreigners.”

“I’m glad you’re at least somewhat wary of the Mongols.”

“Of course.” Yukio stretched himself and sighed. “Ah, Jebu-san, it’s good to be home again, isn’t it? To see landscapes that excite the eye, instead of endless, dreary wastes. To eat our good food and get away from the infernal stink of meat. To hold the exquisite women of our islands in our arms again. No more clumsy, smelly foreign women.”

“I didn’t have that much to do with foreign women,” Jebu said.

“You have always belonged, body and soul, to the Lady Taniko. Which reminds me.” Yukio grinned proudly. “I’m getting married to the lady Mirusu. You and Taitaro-sensei and the Lady Taniko and Moko-san are invited to the feast.”

Jebu climbed the hill between the samurai camp and Lord Hidehira’s citadel. Yukio was right. It was a great happiness to be back in the Sacred Islands. Here, near the city of Hiraizumi, the land was hilly and wooded. To the south rose a chain of blue mountains. The hills and rocks, the trees and streams, were a delight to an eye exhausted by the bare brown plains of northern China and the steppes of Mongolia.

Yukio getting married. That was surprising news, but it shouldn’t have been. Yukio always liked women around him, and he always pined for the women of home. Jebu was happy for him. Who was the woman, though, and how had Yukio found her so quickly?

If only he and Taniko could be married. It would give him much pleasure to have Taitaro-sensei bless their union. Long ago his mother had urged him to marry and raise children. It would please her, wherever she was, if Taniko and he did that.

But Horigawa lived. And Kiyosi remained dead by Jebu’s own hand. Could that make a difference to her? Or did she no longer care how Kiyosi had died, now that she had Jebu?

He was afraid it did make a difference.

He reached the top of the hill and was looking down through the pines at a wide valley. The camp of Yukio’s army filled the valley from end to end. The tents of the samurai, the Chinese and other foreign auxiliaries were scattered, seemingly without pattern, near at hand. Beyond them the Mongol yurts stretched in their regular grey rows. Jebu could make out a few horses grazing in the wooded hills. Fortunately there was enough uncultivated land here in the far north to provide their thousands of horses with room to forage. When they began to move towards the capital, peasants would suffer wherever they went.

He sat down on the hilltop with his back to the camp, facing the distant mountains. His students would wait awhile. He was wearing only his simple grey robe. His fingers went without conscious direction to the pocket inside the robe, the secret place grown so familiar over the years. The Jewel sparkled in the mid-morning sun. He composed his mind and held the Jewel up just far enough away from his face to focus on it. His eyes followed the knots and twists of the Tree of Life pattern etched on the crystalline surface, his fingers slowly turning the stone. Soon he was looking through the Jewel at the pattern as it appeared on the other side. The lines swam up to his gaze through the depths of the Jewel, which magnified them and gave them solidity.

He heard the beat of wings descending from the sky above. It was the White Dragon of Muratomo, the beast he had ridden in his initiation vision. He looked up, raised a hand to reach for the dragon. It hovered above him. Its eyes were Yukio’s huge brown eyes. Looking at him sadly, it rose again and at last disappeared into the blue sky. Jebu felt a sad sense of loss.

Slowly, the Jewel reappeared in his gaze. After a time he put it away and stood up, sighing. His foreboding about this expedition was confirmed.

He started down the hill. Today he would teach his students how to kill with any one of thirty-four common objects to be found in any household.

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