Shike – Day 167 of 306

Yerubutsu said, “I presume by your forces you mean the swarm of barbarians camped on our land. I’m sorry to say it, Lord Yukio, but I’m shocked that the bearer of so illustrious a name as yours would lead foreigners in an invasion of our soil. Even Sogamori would not bring foreign troops to fight against his people.”

It was just as he and Taitaro had warned Yukio, thought Jebu. The Mongols would never be trusted.

Yukio continued to smile, just as if he had not been accused of treason to the realm. “The early Emperors invited Korean artisans and Buddhist missionaries to our shores. The honoured founder of your family, the Great Minister Fujiwara no Kamatari, brought Chinese law to the Sacred Islands, together with Chinese scholars to teach and administer the law. These were not invasions. We simply made use of the talents of foreigners for the greater glory of the Sunrise Land. The Mongols are not craftsmen, missionaries or scholars. But they understand one art better than almost any other people in the world—warfare.”

Jebu spoke. “If the great lords will permit a comment from this humble monk, Sogamori did bring at least one Mongol into the realm to fight against his people. Many years ago the Mongol leader Arghun Baghadur acted as an officer in Sogamori’s service.”

“Formerly he fought for Sogamori,” said Yerubutsu. “Now he fights for you. See how little loyalty these barbarians have.”

Yukio shrugged and said, “The past is the past and the present is the present.” It was the slogan samurai had always used to justify changing sides in the midst of a war.

Yerubutsu took another tack. “I have heard that these Mongols have conquered half the earth. I am sorry if I seem to question you, Lord Yukio, but is it not foolhardy to bring ten thousand of them here?”

There was something to be said for the polite style of discourse cultivated in the Sunrise Land, Jebu thought. At least, Yukio and Yerubutsu were still talking. By now two Mongol chieftains would have exchanged coarse insults and been at each other’s throats.

“I see that you are well informed on our troop strength, Lord Yerubutsu,” said Yukio with a chuckle. “The fighting men of the Sunrise Land outnumber my Mongol contingent a hundred to one. The Mongols are masters of strategy and tactics, but I believe we can learn from them. We will have them under our control at all times.”

“I do not believe my father realized how many troops you would be quartering on our lands when he gave you his permission,” said Yerubutsu. “These savages take whatever they want without paying for it. They turn their horses loose to graze anywhere they choose. Several of our peasants have been injured in quarrels with the barbarians.”

Yukio bowed. “As I have already assured your noble father, we are prepared to pay for everything we requisition. We have gold, silver, copper and an abundance of trade goods.”

“Peasants who have lost all their rice cannot eat copper,” Yerubutsu growled.

“Enough, Yerubutsu,” Hidehira snapped. “I’m far from dead yet. I am still chieftain of this clan.” He straightened his back, and his son and the family retainers on the dais bowed in unison.

“I was well aware that Lord Yukio was landing a huge army in our domain,” Hidehira went on. “I am proud that the struggle to free the Sacred Islands from the Takashi has begun here at Hiraizumi in Oshu. Yerubutsu, you seem to have forgotten the long list of injuries done to us by the Takashi. As for the Mongols, who but a fool would reject an army of ten thousand well-armed, experienced warriors, no matter where they came from? I’d use hairy Ainu to fight the Takashi if they’d do any good. You know perfectly well our peasants won’t starve. Lord Yukio has already reimbursed us generously for quartering his army. Your complaints are nonsense, Yerubutsu. If you don’t have more wisdom that that, at your age, you’ll never have it.” Breathing hard, Hidehira sat back and glared at his grey-haired son.

One time you don’t have to be polite, thought Jebu, is when you are scolding a son. Hidehira’s withered face was as red as Yerubutsu’s.

“I’m sorry, honoured Father,” Yerubutsu muttered. “I’m only trying to protect our clan.”

“By driving a wedge between us and our age-old allies?”

“I don’t know whether Lord Yukio has a right to appeal to that alliance. His claim to the chieftainship of the Muratomo clan is false.”

Yukio leaned forward, ready to spring. “Who says my claim is false?”

“Your brother Hideyori is chieftain of the Muratomo, my lord,” said Yerubutsu with a triumphant smile. “I doubt that he welcomes your attempt to usurp his office.”

Yukio stared at Jebu. “I thought Hideyori was dead. We had heard Sogamori had him executed.” He turned to Yerubutsu with a sudden grin. “This is wonderful news.”

“Your brother may not find your call for an insurrection and your assumption of the chieftainship so wonderful,” Yerubutsu said sourly. “After all, the Shima family still hold him hostage in Kamakura for the Takashi.”

Yukio turned to Jebu. “We must send word to Hideyori at once.”

“There is something else you must do at once,” said Yerubutsu angrily. “We want your army out of here, as far from Hiraizumi as you can march them, before the forces Sogamori sends against you can reach here. For two hundred years the land of Oshu has been virtually our kingdom. I will not allow it to be destroyed by a war not of our making.”

Yukio raised a hand in a placating gesture. “The warriors I have brought with me, especially the Mongols, have little experience in mountain fighting. I would prefer to meet the Takashi somewhere south of here.” He stood up. “If you will forgive me, Lord Hidehira, Lord Yerubutsu.” He bowed. Jebu stood and bowed with him.

Yerubutsu held up a finger. “Before your army leaves here, I will go over the accounts my stewards have kept. You will repay us in full for all food and supplies taken from our people. I will determine the amount you owe. I have been to the Home Provinces, and I know better than any of you what current prices are.”

Yukio bowed again. “I’m sure your assessment will be fair.” Staring at the floor, the ancient Hidehira muttered, “Clearly, the age of noble-spirited samurai is gone.”

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