Shike – Day 171 of 306

“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.”

Chapter Five

Kamakura had been growing when Taniko left home to marry Prince Horigawa. It had now spread out into the surrounding hills until it covered almost twice the area she remembered. Most of the new buildings were the homes of wealthy families, surrounded by parks and walls. Even this larger Kamakura seemed a tiny hamlet to her, though, in comparison to the vast cities of China.

She saw at once that the Shima mansion had grown, too. It had swallowed up the estates on either side, so that its newly built earth and stone wall enclosed a park three times as great as the old wooden palisade had. Beyond the high wall was a sight that made Taniko gasp. A three-storey donjon tower dominated the estate, topped by the gilded dolphins to protect it from fire and lightning.

“Clearly my father has prospered,” she said to Jebu.

The flag over the main gateway was no longer the Red Dragon that had defiantly proclaimed Shima loyalty to the Takashi in the Muratomo dominated eastern provinces. Instead, the flag bore the Shima family crest, a small white triangle inverted within a larger orange triangle. My father’s ties to the Takashi must be weakening, Taniko thought. He declares himself a power in his own right.

Another sign of her family’s new position were the guards at the gate. No less than ten samurai stood there, looking relaxed, alert and very competent, all carrying two swords and dressed in handsome suits of full armour, the strips of steel lashed together with bright orange lacings. Their captain’s helmet was decorated with a white horsehair plume.

The party with Taniko included Jebu, Moko and five samurai guards, men who came from the area around Kamakura and who volunteered to accompany Jebu and Taniko so they could visit their homes. All rode horses, and three more horses carried their baggage.

No one would suspect from looking at them, Taniko thought, that each was moderately wealthy with spoils brought back from China, or that they were the harbingers of a powerful army newly landed on the Sacred Islands. They were tired, and their travelling robes were dusty and stained. It had taken them twelve days to get here from Hiraizumi, coming down from the mountains of Oshu by horseback, then hiring a coasting galley to make the long voyage from Sendai. The stunning scenery of the far north helped Taniko, to some extent, to forget her sorrow. The soaring crags and rushing, foaming streams, the huge rocks laced with white ribbons of falling water were wilder than any landscape she had ever seen—even a bit frightening. When their party reached the sea there were countless islands scoured into strange shapes by wind and wave, and covered by precariously clinging pines leaning at odd angles. A Heian Kyo courtier would find such sights barbarous, but having lived among barbarians Taniko could see the beauty in it. As they rode along, she and Jebu were silent most of the time. There was nothing left for them to say to each other now. Time was their best hope. She expressed the thought in a poem she gave him on shipboard, a poem inspired by the scenes through which they had passed.

To carve a hollow in the island rock,
A shelter for the sea birds,
Many winters, many summers.

She handed it to him silently just before their galley docked at Kamakura, and silently he read it, nodded and put it inside his robe.

Now the captain of the Shima estate’s guards was swaggering towards them. Jebu climbed down from his horse and approached him.

“Another monk, by Hachiman,” the captain snarled before Jebu could open his mouth. “Every ragged monk from here to Kyushu has heard that there are rich pickings to be had in Kamakura. Well, not at this house. Lord Shima Bokuden has given strict instructions that monks are to be sent away with their begging bowls empty. Go.” The captain laid a threatening hand on his silver-mounted sword hilt.

A typical samurai of the eastern provinces, Taniko thought, blustering and rude.

Taniko watched as Jebu turned his left side towards the samurai captain, bringing the sword dangling from his belt into view without making a threatening gesture. “Excuse me, captain,” he said politely. “I am escorting Lord Bokuden’s daughter, the Lady Taniko, who has come a long way to visit her father. Would you be kind enough to allow us to enter and to notify Lord Bokuden that his daughter is here?” Jebu did not mention his own message for Hideyori. They must manage to find out Hideyori’s situation without expressing any interest in him.

“Oho, one of those weapon-carrying monks, eh?” the captain growled. “What sort are you, Buddhist, Shinto or Zinja? None of you armed monks is either holy or skilled in the martial arts, so there is no need to fear either your curses or your swords. That woman on horseback claims to be Lord Bokuden’s daughter, does she? Lord Bokuden’s daughter is a great lady who lives at the capital. She would not come riding up here on a horse, like some camp follower.”

“Pay no attention to him, my lady,” said Moko in a low voice. “His mother was a yak.” Taniko wanted none of the men with her to quarrel with her father’s guards. She decided to assert herself and spurred her horse forward. She addressed the captain in a small but sharp-edged voice, like the dagger all samurai women carried.

“The Lady Shima Taniko has not resided in Heian Kyo in seven years, captain, as you should know. As for my riding a horse, I am samurai by birth and upbringing and can perhaps ride as well as you. I advise you to change your tone and let us in at once, or you’ll answer to my father when I report this to him. If, that is, you do work for my father and are not some filthy ronin who happened to be idling by the Shima gate when we rode up.” There were some mild chuckles from Taniko’s party, and even some from the gate guards, at this last jab. The captain blushed.

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