Shike – Day 174 of 306

“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.”

Chapter Six

After her talk with Ryuichi, Taniko spent the afternoon in the palatial new women’s house of the Shima estate, enjoying her reunion with her mother and her Aunt Chogao. She bathed and unpacked a set of robes for the night. When the time came for Jebu to deliver Yukio’s message to Hideyori, she emerged from her chamber dressed in her finest silks. The older women objected. It was unthinkable for her to dine with men discussing important affairs. She brushed aside their disapproval and strode out of the women’s house and over the covered bridge to the main hall.

At the doorway of Lord Bokuden’s formal dining room two samurai tried to stop her from going in.

“I am Shima Taniko, Lord Bokuden’s daughter, and my presence is required.” The guards let her pass.

For the first time in twenty-one years, she saw her father. The old rage he had always provoked in her stirred within, but she kept her face composed. He stood up when she came into the room, which had been set for a small dinner. Three low individual dining tables were arranged in a semi-circle. The walls of the room were adorned with landscapes painted in green and gold.

Jebu, wearing his plain monk’s robe, knelt facing Bokuden’s place. He looked up at her, expressionless. She felt a pang of longing for him. The central place was empty. Was Ryuichi to join them?

Bokuden’s smile of greeting faded when he saw Taniko.

“Well, Father, since you seemed too busy to send for me, I thought I would visit you,” said Taniko calmly. “I can help serve your guests.”

Where Ryuichi had put on weight, Bokuden had grown smaller and thinner. His beard and moustache were longer and streaked with white. His small eyes narrowed with annoyance.

“I cannot greet you properly tonight, Taniko. Please go. I will speak to you in the morning when I have time.”

“I haven’t travelled all this way to hide in the women’s house, Father. I was a party to many of the decisions that led to this moment. I know what is happening in Hiraizumi. You may find me useful.”

Bokuden glowered at her. “Yes, you always did imagine that I stand in need of your advice. Look about you. You see we have done rather well in the years you were gone.”

“I understand Hideyori is the key to your prosperity. Who was it who advised you to take him in, in the first place?”

Bokuden flushed. “We are discussing matters of state. It would be unthinkable for a woman to be present. Please go, before Lord Hideyori arrives and you embarrass me in his eyes.” He turned to Jebu. “You have been her escort. Can you not advise her to leave?”

“I have heard correctly, then,” said a strong voice from the doorway. “The Lady Taniko has returned to Kamakura.”

This day has brought me a whole succession of faces from the past, thought Taniko. It was hard for her to remember what Hideyori had looked like the last time she saw him. Atsue today was older than Hideyori had been then.

The Muratomo chieftain was now a handsome, big man who carried himself with the assurance of a leader who knew no superior. Taniko found herself thinking of Kublai, even though Hideyori was neither as tall nor as old. Nor, indeed, anywhere near as powerful. Hideyori had the bulging Muratomo forehead, straight eyebrows, a hawk-like nose and a prominent chin. His moustache was small and neatly trimmed. It was when she looked into his eyes that she remembered him. Those cold, black eyes had not changed.

Taniko dropped gracefully to her knees and bowed low. Her father followed suit, and Jebu gave a short bow, as was the Zinja custom.

Hideyori bowed in turn to Jebu. “The warrior monk who brought me safely from Heian Kyo to Kamakura. I’m pleased to see you alive. A man with an occupation like yours shouldn’t have lasted past his twenty-fifth year.”

“Your younger brother Yukio helped me to survive, my lord,” said Jebu with a smile.

“Yes,” said Hideyori shortly, turning away from Jebu. “Lady Taniko. I have never had occasion to compliment you for your clever deception at Daidoji. Had you not been such a fine actress, Prince Sasaki no Horigawa would now be nineteen years dead.”

“I apologize for deceiving you, my lord. I have had cause to regret it,” Taniko said with a wry smile.

“I do not regret it,” said Hideyori, kneeling behind the table in the place of honour. “The prince has been very useful to me.” In what way? Taniko wondered. Horigawa, the Takashi toady, helping the Muratomo chieftain?

“Well, now that you have paid your respects to Lord Hideyori, you may leave us, Daughter,” Bokuden said. He glared at her, his wispy grey beard trembling.

“Must you go, Lady Taniko?” Hideyori asked.

Laughing inwardly at her father, Taniko said, “I am yours to command, my lord.”

“I understand that you, like the monk Jebu, have just returned from China with my brother and his army of barbarians. Perhaps you can tell me things about Yukio’s adventures that may have escaped his holy friend’s attention.”

The implication was clear; he doesn’t like Yukio, she thought, or trust him. He doesn’t trust Jebu very much, either. Perhaps I could be the link between the brothers. They need someone to draw them together if they’re to have a working alliance.

“I’ll be happy to tell you anything you want to know, my lord,” said Taniko. After all, Yukio had no secrets from Hideyori.

Hideyori turned to Jebu. “Yukio hopes to win me over by sending this charming lady and an old comrade-in-arms as emissaries. But I find it curious that he does not come to me himself.”

Jebu’s clear grey eyes held Hideyori’s. “My lord, he has an army to command, and there is always the threat of a Takashi attack. Please, if you will, read this letter from him. He acknowledges you as chieftain of the Muratomo and is prepared to meet with you whenever it becomes possible.” Jebu drew a sealed bamboo tube from an inner pocket of his robe and offered it to Hideyori, who laid it unopened on the table beside him.

“Yukio feels safer with his army,” Hideyori said curtly. “Let us dine now. You can both tell me about China and the Mongols.”

Hideyori gave Bokuden a slight nod, and Taniko’s father clapped his hands. The shoji panel slid back and servants brought in a succession of dishes and deposited them on their tables. At another glance from Hideyori, Bokuden, barely concealing his exasperation, ordered a table set for Taniko.

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