Shike – Day 17 of 306

“It’s a wonder the Koreans didn’t kill him and throw him overboard and take the jewels. It is well known that the Koreans have no honour and would not be above doing such things.”

“They wouldn’t have dared. My father was the sort of warrior who could easily kill a whole ship’s crew. He was a huge man, bigger than I am, but swift as the wind and master of every kind of weapon. It was only his honour that required him to pay for the voyage. For a barbarian he was an unusually good man, so my mother says. Anyway, he landed at Mojigaseki and set out for the countryside near by. There he presented himself to one of the local landowners and bought, with another jewel, an estate with horses. With a third jewel he purchased my mother, and the most beautiful woman in the area, to be his wife.”

“Where did he get the jewels? You said his people were poor.

“They made war on other, richer people and won. The jewels were my father’s share of the loot.”

“It is against the law to sell land to a foreigner. And how could any man sell his daughter to such an outlandish creature as your father must have been?”

“The ink in which the laws are written fades rapidly, the farther one travels from Heian Kyo. And this landowner took the jewel my father gave him for some grazing land too poor to grow rice on, and turned around and bought a huge tract of rice land. That one jewel made him rich. As for my mother’s father, he was a poor farmer, and his daughter, pretty as she was, was only another mouth to feed. Now he’s the richest rice merchant in the province. A few of the wild young men in the area—some who had courted my mother—resented my father’s coming and he had to fight them. He was careful not to kill any of them, which shamed them utterly and forced them to move away from the village. He was a master of the arts of war.”

“But someone killed him.”

“Someone who was a better fighter than he. I wish I knew who it was. And why.”

“You said it was a red-haired foreigner like himself.”

“Yes. There was a Zinja monastery, the Waterfowl Temple, in the neighbourhood. As soon as my father moved into the area, he visited the monastery and became friendly with the abbot, Taitaro. He would go frequently to the monastery and spend many hours drinking sake and talking with Abbot Taitaro. One day he heard that a giant Buddhist monk from across the sea was coming up the road from Mojigaseki, asking about a certain Jamuga the Cunning.”

“The Cunning?”

“Apparently he was called that by his people because he was more intelligent than most. When my father heard that name, he said that an old enemy had come to claim his life. He took my mother and me to the monastery and commended us to the protection of Abbot Taitaro. If he were killed that night, we and his land and the remaining jewels were to belong to the Zinja.

“Then my father went back to the farm he’d worked for the past two years. He saddled his best horse, put on a suit of samurai armour he’d had especially built for himself, and took out a bow and arrows and a sword he had brought with him from his faraway desert country. He waited. After nightfall the monk from across the sea came riding up the road. My father went out on horseback to meet him. The stranger threw off his monk’s robe. Underneath was a huge warrior wearing a red surcoat over his armour. They shouted at each other in a strange tongue none of the peasants, who were watching from hiding places, understood. They fired arrow after arrow at each other, and when their arrows were all used up, they rode towards each other and slashed at each other with swords. Both were men who preferred to fight on horseback. At last the stranger got past my father’s guard and drove his sword into his throat. My father fell, and his enemy cut his head off. He wrapped the head in cloth and put it in his saddlebag.”

Jebu stopped speaking, seeing in his mind, as he had many times before, the scene of his father’s death. It did not make him sad. It puzzled and fascinated him. He wanted to know everything about who his father really was; it was more important to him than being a Zinja. One day, he would learn everything, even if he had to travel to that desert land across the sea.

At last Taniko said, “Your father must have been a brave man and a great fighter. Did the warrior in red ride away and vanish, then?”

“No. He had asked many questions before he encountered my father, and he knew that Jamuga the Cunning had a son, and the son was at the Waterfowl Temple. He climbed the mountain to the temple that same night, stood outside the gate and demanded that I be turned over to him. He said it was his mission to execute Jamuga and all of his lineage.”

“To kill a baby? How cruel!”

“He didn’t know what the Zinja are, and I suspect he must have thought he was dealing with ordinary, harmless monks. Eventually Taitaro got tired of arguing with him and sent three of the brothers out to kill him. He may have been surprised by the attack, but he surprised the Order, too. He killed two of the monks and escaped. Rarely has an ordinary warrior bested a Zinja in combat, and for one warrior to defeat three Zinja is unheard of.”

“My father told me one Zinja is the equal of ten samurai. After seeing what you did to Ikeno, I believe it.”

“Yes, but this red warrior is not a samurai. I believe that somewhere in the world he still lives and still wants to kill me. Some day I will meet him. I will defeat him. That is one reason why I’ve given my life to the Zinja training. To prepare myself for him. Before I kill him, I will force him to tell me why it all happened.”

Taniko looked at him, her red-painted lips parted in awe. “For a monk, you are quite an exciting person, Jebu.” Then she turned pink and wheeled her horse to leave him. Her gelding brushed, seemingly by accident, against Hollyhock, and her small hand, seemingly by accident, stroked the back of Jebu’s hand.

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