Shike – Day 173 of 306

“Your captain of guards was about to kill one of my escort,” she said. “This Zinja monk, who is also a member of my party, hung him up there to give him time to calm himself.”

Ryuichi took immediate charge. He sent the guards back out to the gate, and looked reprovingly at the captain who had allowed himself to be disgraced. He ordered Taniko’s party fed and quartered in the estate’s guesthouses.

“Niece, if you will forgive me, I think we ought to talk immediately. After that you can refresh yourself. Please come with me.”

Not looking back at Jebu, Taniko followed Ryuichi into the donjon. They climbed up winding flights of stairs in the dark interior. At last he drew her into a small chamber whose window overlooked the courtyard. They knelt facing each other across a low table.

“My esteemed elder brother will be astonished when he learns his daughter has returned. I am happy to see you.” He looked at her uncertainly. “I hope you are happy to see me.”

“I am, Uncle. Very.”

Unexpectedly, tears began to roll down his whitened cheeks. “I never thought to see you again. I was sure you would die in China, and I blamed myself. You were a daughter to me, but I could not save you. I was tormented. I felt I had two choices: to die or to try to become the sort of man who does not let such things happen. I decided I was not worthy to die. So I have tried to become a better man.”

She smiled. “I noticed a difference about you, Uncle.”

He nodded. “I am no longer afraid. I have learned that there is worse suffering than death. Being unafraid, I can look samurai in the eye and order them about. I dress myself as a man of the Court to further impress the people here in Kamakura. Now, you must tell me everything about yourself. These are dangerous times, and I must know what your circumstances are, so I can advise you how to act. What happened to you in China? What connection is there between you and Horigawa now? That monk who was with you in the courtyard and made a fool of our captain of guards—is he not the same Zinja monk who escorted you to Heian Kyo years ago, when you were to be married to Prince Horigawa? Did you come back from China with Muratomo no Yukio? Do you know anything about this proclamation of his?”

Taniko took out her ivory fan and briskly waved it in front of her face. “So many questions at once, Uncle. I’m tired from travelling. But I’ll do the best I can.” As she had already agreed with Jebu, she said nothing about her relationship with him. It would only disturb her family, and just now there was no need to reveal it. She told Ryuichi that Horigawa had left her with the Mongols, but said she had simply been a lady-in-waiting to Kublai Khan’s Empress. Yukio and Jebu had been fighting for the Great Khan, and they agreed to take her back to the Sacred Islands with them when their service with the Mongols was finished. Ryuichi’s eyes widened as he heard her story. Even with certain intimate parts left out, it was a remarkable tale.

“Now, Uncle. What are you doing here instead of the capital?”

“The most terrible war these islands have ever seen is about to descend on us, Taniko-san. When the clash comes, my family and I will be among those whom Sogamori will either kill or hold as hostages. So we moved back here.”

“Did Father send for you?”

Ryuichi laughed. “No. He was furious. He expected me to stay there, looking after Shima interests to the very end. Though I no longer fear death, I don’t intend to sacrifice myself and my family to my brother’s greed. I told him so.”

A servant brought a tray of food, along with sake and two cups. Glad of the opportunity to serve sake the way she had been taught as a girl, Taniko poured a cup for Ryuichi and held it out to him. She offered him a seaweed cake on chopsticks, but he shook his head.

“You eat. You have travelled far, and you need refreshment. Let me tell you our situation here. As you can see, our family is much wealthier than it was when you left. At first we prospered because of our connection with the Takashi. But now we grow on our own. We have extended our holdings in the Kanto. Wealth and power go hand in hand. Samurai flock to us. We have built up a network of alliances all through the eastern provinces. The Shima are the first family in the north-east because we are hosts to Hideyori.”

“Hosts? No longer guards?”

“Not guards for many years. Twice Sogamori has ordered your father to have Hideyori executed, but we are so far from the capital we could evade the order. Hideyori has grown stronger. He has built friendships and alliances throughout the Kanto. The husbands of your two older sisters, who have large holdings in the north, both wear the White Dragon now. My unworthy son, Munetoki, your cousin, wears our family crest still, since he is heir to the clan chieftainship, but he worships Hideyori as much as Hideyori worships the war god, Hachiman. Meanwhile, Sogamori’s problems have multiplied.”

“What problems does Sogamori have?”

“Most of the nobles who are not Takashi hate him. He has forced hundreds of men out of office and replaced them with his relatives. He has quarrelled with the Retired Emperor, Go-Shirakawa. He is blamed for all the troubles of the realm, the plague, the starvation, the failure of crops, the bandits who roam the land. Many say he is pursued by the angry ghosts of all those who have died at Takashi hands. He has ruled unwisely since Kiyosi’s death. Kiyosi’s younger brother, Notaro, serves Sogamori as a second-in-command. But he utterly lacks Kiyosi’s ability.” Ryuichi paused and looked sadly at her. “Forgive me for bringing up what must be a painful subject.”

Taniko sighed. “I suffer Kiyosi’s death every day anew. What has happened to Atsue?”

Ryuichi shook his head. “I know little. Sogamori is said to dote on him. He lives at the Rokuhara and spends time at other Takashi estates. Those who know him say he is a most charming and accomplished young man. I’ve seen him several times on public occasions. He is quite handsome. He dresses beautifully, like a young prince, as all the Takashi do. He rides well and wears his sword with grace.”

“Perhaps it was best for him that Sogamori took him from me.”

“I will never think so. Tell me, Taniko-chan, now that you’re back with us, what are your plans? Will you stay here?”

“For the time being, Uncle, I have no plans beyond the next few months. As you said, these are dangerous times. Now I would like you to see my father and Lord Hideyori and arrange an audience with them for the Zinja monk, Jebu.”

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.)