Shike – Day 168 of 306

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.”

Chapter Four

On the outskirts of Hiraizumi stood the proudest achievement of the Northern Fujiwara, the Chusonji Temple. A complex of forty buildings, the Chusonji was as richly decorated as any of the great temples of Heian Kyo. It boasted two famous statues of the Buddha as well as innumerable other works of art. Its most splendid building, the Konjikido, was coated with black lacquer and plated with gold.

Taniko and Jebu sat on a bed of pine needles on a wooded hill overlooking the Chusonji. Jebu was full of apprehension, far more frightened than he had ever felt going into battle. He had decided that today he must tell Taniko the one secret that lay between them.

“Yukio wants me to go to Kamakura to see his brother Hideyori,” Jebu said. “If necessary, I’m to rescue Hideyori from your father. I’m to bring Hideyori the message that Yukio only claimed the clan chieftainship because he mistakenly thought Hideyori was dead.”

Taniko bowed her head. “It was I who misled Yukio. If there is bad blood between the brothers because of this, it is my responsibility.”

Jebu shook his head. “You gave us the only information you had. I warned him not to be so impulsive about sending out that proclamation.”

Taniko smiled at him. This morning her beauty was as radiant as the golden temple below. Since their return to the Sunrise Land, Taniko’s beauty had acquired a new vividness. She was like a plant that had been kept in a room too long and was fading, but had now been put outdoors and was growing vigorously again.

“I’d hoped all along you would be coming with me,” she said.

“We’ll have to travel quickly. A day’s delay could mean Hideyori’s death. You’ll have to be ready this afternoon.” He wondered if she could hear the tension in his voice as clearly as he could. He had to tell her now. With each day that passed there was more chance that circumstances would intervene to prevent him from telling her that he was Kiyosi’s killer.

Now that he had made up his mind to speak, he was almost paralysed with dread. He reminded himself that, as a Zinja, he should simply speak out and let the consequences be what they would. Whatever her reaction, it would be the reaction the Self wanted, and therefore the right reaction.

“I will be ready when you want me,” Taniko said with a small smile. “The Mongols taught me how to travel quickly. They consider a breakneck speed a dignified pace for a lady. We don’t have to cover the whole distance overland, either. We can go by horseback to Sendai and from there hire a boat to take us down the coast to Kamakura. That would save us half the time.”

“What do you think your father will do to Hideyori?”

She frowned. “Whatever he does will be decided by the situation. I know that after Kiyosi was killed Sogamori ordered my father to send him Hideyori’s head. For some reason my father did not obey. Hideyori is worth much more to my father alive than dead.”

At the mention of Kiyosi’s name, Jebu felt as if he had been stabbed with an icicle. Taniko looked at him curiously, half smiling, half concerned.

“Jebu-san, you didn’t bring me to this beautiful spot just to tell me you’re coming with me to Kamakura.”

“No, there is something I must say. It’s something I would much rather forget, much rather we could both forget, but it cannot stay hidden forever.” How to say it? He cast about frantically in his mind for words that would not hurt her. Finally, he gave up. Just say it as simply and plainly as possible, the Zinja way.

“Taniko, I killed Kiyosi.”

He felt a momentary relief at having at last said what, for so long, he could not say. But the look on her face turned the relief to anguish. It was a look of disbelief, one he had seen hundreds of times, usually on the faces of men he had just killed. He wanted to rush on, now that he had started, to tell her everything that had happened that day on the waters of Hakata. But he checked the impulse. First, he must find out what she wanted, and needed, to know.

When she spoke, it was no help. “What did you say?”

“I killed Kiyosi,” he repeated. He would have to explain. “At Hakata Bay. We were fighting from ships. He was about to shoot Yukio. I used an arrow with an armour-piercing head. He died instantly. Fell overboard. I didn’t know who it was. Moko had to tell me. Yukio was angry with me at first. He had given strict orders—don’t shoot at samurai. But I explained that the man I shot, Kiyosi, had been about to kill him. It was over so quickly. You know how these things happen in battle. One moment a man is alive. The next he’s dead. No, you don’t know what it’s like. You’ve never been in a battle.” He checked himself. This was just what he hadn’t wanted to do. He had wanted to help her, not merely purge himself. He waited for her to speak. Her look was changing from astonishment to pain. Just like a wounded man, he thought.

She said softly, “I’ve seen people killed, Jebu. I once killed a man.”

He waited for her to say more. Her lustrous eyes held his. Her mouth was slightly open. After a moment she said, “Oh, Jebu-san. Poor Jebu.” Now he was surprised. “You feel sorry for me?”

“You’ve been living with this ever since it happened. Especially since we came together again. You’ve been holding this in and suffering all alone.” She rested her hand on his. Her hand was cool and dry. She looked down at the large, brown hand under hers and slowly drew her hand away.

She whispered, “Homage to Amida Buddha. Homage to Amida Buddha.” There was bewilderment on her face.

“I’ve learned to bear the death of Kiyosi,” she said. “I can even bear the loss of my son. I don’t know if I can bear this, that it was you who killed him. I looked at your hand just now and thought, this is the hand that released the arrow. I couldn’t touch you any more. Help me, Amida Buddha.” She was not talking to him now, Jebu realized, but to herself. For a moment, when she spoke of feeling sorry for him, he thought she was going to understand. But now, watching the tears begin to form in her eyes, he knew it was not going to be that easy. He had often found that his worst fears were not realized, so that it sometimes seemed that to fear a thing would ensure its not happening. Once in a while, though, exactly what he feared came to pass, and those were always the worst times of his life. Like this. His fingers strayed to his chest and felt the lump of the Jewel inside his robe. The Jewel gave no comfort, either. It was hard and cold.

She drew her index finger delicately over her eyelids. The tears that had brimmed her eyes were wiped away. She turned and looked at him, and her stare was dark, fathomless.

“Tell me exactly what happened. I didn’t grasp all of it the first time.”

Slowly and carefully, Jebu told her, starting with the first appearance of the Takashi ships at the mouth of Hakata Bay and ending when his galley had fought free and was on its way to China.

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