Shike – Day 170 of 306

“Taniko, you can spend the rest of your life hating me for Kiyosi’s death, but that will not bring him back. You and I might be happy together, if you were able to forgive. Otherwise, you will lose me as well as Kiyosi.”

She smiled faintly. “I can forgive, Jebu. I have already forgiven you. I know what you say is true—that you meant no evil when you fired that arrow into Kiyosi’s breast. Once, Kublai Khan told me about the Mongols killing all the children of a captured city. He explained that, since the men and women had been killed, the children would only have starved to death had they been left alive. The Mongols believed that killing the children was the right thing to do. You, of course, have never killed a child, but I can’t help thinking how much harm men do when they mean no evil. Even so, these hands, holding mine, were the hands that sent Kiyosi to the bottom of the sea forever, that took away my son’s father, destroyed my protector, left me defenceless when Sogamori took Atsue. None of it was your doing, Jebu. I realize that. I could never hate you. I can forgive you.”

Again, for a moment, Jebu felt hope and relief, but there was something in her tone that warned him against hope. Slowly, gently, she pulled her hands away from him.

“What I cannot do is forget.”

Jebu reached for her again, but she rose to her feet gracefully and drew away from him.

“You could not call back the arrow that killed Kiyosi,” she said. “Nor can you call back what you have told me. I can never forget what I now know.”

“Did Kiyosi mean more to you than I do?”

She shook her head. “That question is not worthy of you, Jebu. Kiyosi was with me almost daily for ten years. He fathered Atsue, who gave me more pleasure than any other human being ever has, including you. But in all those happy years with him I never forgot you. If what happened were reversed, if Kiyosi had killed you, I would feel towards him as I do towards you now.”

Jebu stood before her with his hands dangling helplessly at his sides. If only he could break down this wall between them by holding her, by crushing her in his arms.

“How do you feel towards me now, Taniko?”

A slight frown creased the white-powdered skin of her forehead. “If I say it, I will hurt you, but since you consider the truth so important—I shrink from you.”

Jebu turned away from her so that she could no longer see the tears streaming down his face. Her voice followed him.

“Years ago you killed Kiyosi. Now you have killed Jebu. The Jebu I was happy with just a few moments ago no longer exists. A stranger is there. I recoil from that stranger.”

Jebu sank to the ground, his hands over his face, feeling as if a great rock pressed on his back, crushing him into the ground. The worst of it was the self-hatred mingled with despair. If this went on much longer he knew he would take out his sword and, as the samurai did, destroy himself.

Taniko’s voice went on behind him, musingly, as if she were alone and talking to herself. “I’ve often wondered why so many of our samurai men and women welcome death, and why I do not. Even at this moment, I cling to life. It’s almost vulgar, peasantlike. Perhaps I simply lack the courage to kill myself. I am tempted to suggest that you and I, since we seem to have lost everything, should die together.”

“I am ready to die,” Jebu groaned through his hands.

Her hand settled on his shoulder, as light as a falling leaf. “Stand and look at me, Jebu.”

He saw that the tears she had dried away in her cold revulsion were now flowing freely, tiny rivulets cutting through the powder on her face.

“Death is what brought us to this agony,” she said. “Kiyosi sought death and you gave it to him. I will not add my own death to it, and I forbid you to seek death. If you care for me, if you want to atone for Kiyosi, do as I tell you. Live, Jebu.”

Jebu stared at her, astonished. “Those were the very words my mother spoke to me after my initiation into the Zinja.”

Taniko smiled, though her tears were still falling. “The women who care for you think alike. Even if life seems unbearable, Jebu, I demand of you, as one to whom you owe an obligation—carry that burden. It may be that death will come to you as you serve your Order and Yukio, but do not go looking for death.”

“Why should you care whether I live or die?”

“Because everything you say is wise and true, Jebu. Only, I can’t forget what you’ve done or continue to feel about you as I did. I told you that for years I’ve hated Kiyosi’s killer. I always pictured him as a faceless samurai, a warrior in a steel mask. I never thought I would actually know who he was. The vision of you as the man who killed Kiyosi is too new, too shocking for me to bear. It’s strange. I’ve never wanted to forget any great wrong done to me before this. I’ve never expected to be able to avenge myself on Horigawa or Sogamori, but I’ve never had to forgive such people, either, or forget what they did. I’m not very practised at forgetting. With time we may go back to what we were, or something like it. We might even have some of the happiness we had before today.”

The weight crushing him seemed a tiny bit lighter. “You want to try to go on as before?”

“That is not entirely possible. I assume we will be leaving for Kamakura today?”

“We must leave at once.”

“We will travel together. We will sleep in the same tent. You must not touch me.” She paused and levelled her piercing gaze on him. “Do you agree?”

His shoulders sagged. “I understand. Yes.”

“When we get to Kamakura, I will stay with my family, if they will accept me. After you’ve delivered Yukio’s message to Hideyori, you’ll return to Yukio. You and he will wage war on the Takashi together. When it is over, you will come back to me. Then we will see.”

“I may not come back to you.”

“If you are killed, I will hate the man who kills you as I’ve always hated the man who killed Kiyosi. I will probably never forgive myself for having sent you to war this way. But I cannot do otherwise. I can control my actions and my words, but I cannot control what I know and feel. Will you go on with me, on those terms?”

“I will go on with you on any terms you name. Tell me, though, Taniko. Was I right, do you think, to tell you about Kiyosi?”

She stood silent for a moment, thinking. “You always said the Zinja does not recognize right and wrong. Who can say which would injure us more—to have spent our lives with a lie between us, or to have our happiness smashed by the truth? It is a question I will ask myself many times as I sit alone at Kamakura.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)