Shike – Day 175 of 306

“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.

Taniko told Hideyori the acceptable story she had devised to cover her years in China. Bokuden and Hideyori might know that Horigawa had reasons for taking her to China other than a diplomatic mission, but she doubted that either would be rude enough to contradict her.

Hideyori was intensely curious about the personality of Kublai Khan, the strategy and tactics of the Mongols and their ultimate ambitions. He questioned Jebu and Taniko in turn. For Taniko, the evening was reminiscent of her first meeting with Kublai, when he asked her so many questions about the Sunrise Land.

“Do you think the Mongols plan to invade our islands?” Hideyori asked.

Bokuden laughed. “How could they transport a big enough army across the sea?”

“Yukio did it,” said Hideyori quietly.

“Yes, lord, but Lord Yukio’s army landed in friendly territory where provisions could easily be obtained,” said Jebu. “It landed piecemeal over the course of a month. Nor is it large enough to be an invasion force in its own right. It is only meant to be part of a general uprising against the Takashi.”

They had finished eating. Taniko waved away the maid and poured sake for the men herself.

“Very good,” said Hideyori. “It’s best our cups be filled by someone we know and can trust.” He took up Yukio’s letter, drew the scroll out of the bamboo tube and read it slowly and carefully.

“He apologizes for his proclamation. Well he might. He was foolish to issue it so hastily, without even knowing whether I was alive or dead. He has no idea what he has stirred up. I will write to him, and you will carry my letter back to him. It is important that our efforts be planned in such a way that all blows fall upon the Takashi at the same time.”

A look of fear crossed Bokuden’s face. “You’re not thinking of going to war, Lord Hideyori?”

“There’ll never be a better time. Yukio’s army moving down the west coast, an uprising in the capital, and our army marching from the east. Would you have me wait here until Sogamori decides he’s strong enough to come after me?”

“An uprising in the capital?” Taniko echoed.

“Sogamori’s grandson, Antoku, a boy of four, now wears the Imperial necklace,” said Hideyori. “Prince Mochihito, the child’s uncle, was bypassed, though his claim to the throne is much better.” Taniko nodded. All this she knew. “A secret opposition to Sogamori has formed around Mochihito,” Hideyori went on. “It includes Fujiwara no Motofusa, the former Regent, contingents of the palace guard, and the Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa. And Prince Sasaki no Horigawa.” Hideyori looked at Taniko.

Jebu said, “Forgive me for speaking bluntly, my lord. If I ever encounter Prince Horigawa, I will kill him.”

Hideyori frowned. “Why? What grievance do you have against him?”

Jebu’s grey stare was level. “I am not free to say. He has committed unspeakable and unforgivable acts against those I love.”

“I always thought Zinja monks were utterly detached and impartial,” said Hideyori.

Jebu gave him a faint, bitter smile. “I will spend the rest of my life repenting and trying to be detached, after I have killed Horigawa.”

Bokuden was livid. “Prince Sasaki no Horigawa is an ally of this house and always has been. I will not have threats uttered against him in my presence.” He turned to Taniko. “He is your husband.”

Taniko burned with envy of Jebu. It should have been her right, not Jebu’s, to threaten to kill Horigawa. If Jebu did kill him, it would only be in her behalf. Why must women always have men do their killing for them? Her father’s suggestion that she ought to defend Horigawa shocked her. She answered with understatement.

“The prince has treated me badly,” she said quietly.

“It is your duty to be loyal to him,” her father said. “How he has treated you does not matter.”

“Prince Horigawa helped me, even though I once tried to kill him,” Hideyori said. “Long ago, as the Lady Taniko knows, I led a party of Muratomo samurai to his country estate to kill him. He escaped me. Many years later, when Kiyosi was killed by Yukio’s men, Sogamori was so enraged that he ordered Lord Bokuden’s brother, Ryuichi, to have me executed.” Taniko could not help a glance at Jebu. He was gazing calmly at Hideyori, his face attentive, revealing nothing. “Horigawa asked Ryuichi to let him handle my execution. Horigawa then wrote a letter to Lord Bokuden urging him not to kill me, but to protect me. He advised Bokuden on what excuses to make to Sogamori. He helped persuade Sogamori that I was harmless, loyal, and thoroughly disapproved of Yukio’s crimes, and that it would be pointless to kill me. So you see, where my brother very nearly caused my death by killing Kiyosi”— Hideyori’s face grew ugly with long-felt bitterness—“my old enemy Horigawa saved my life.”

“You were the last Moratomo leader in the realm,” Jebu said. “Why would Horigawa want to save you?”

“He sensed the turning of the tide. Whoever put that arrow in Kiyosi’s chest at Hakata Bay doomed the house of Takashi. If Kiyosi had lived to advise Sogamori and eventually succeed him, Takashi rule might have been fastened on the realm forever. Kiyosi was the only one of them who combined a warrior’s prowess with a sense of statecraft. Sogamori is nothing but a blustering tyrant. His other sons are stupid and arrogant. The Takashi are doomed. They have misgoverned too long. They have made too many enemies. Horigawa saw all that and sensed that I am the man who can bring down the Takashi.”

“But why would he want the Takashi brought down?” asked Taniko. “He seems to have devoted his entire life to their advancement.”

“Oh, he has his own reasons,” Hideyori said with a laugh. “He wants to see the samurai destroyed and the old courtier families like the Sasaki and the Fujiwara once again supreme. He hopes the great samurai clans will kill each other off.” Hideyori smiled. “I will give him the war he wants, but not the outcome he desires.”

“Excuse me,” said Jebu. “Lord Hideyori, I sense that you hold Lord Yukio to blame for endangering your life. I was at the battle in which Kiyosi was killed. Lord Yukio had nothing to do with his death. Now Lord Yukio submits himself to your leadership and offers twelve thousand veteran troops, men who have been fighting for the past seven years or more, while the Takashi have been growing soft. Surely you will accept his brotherly obedience?”

Hideyori pursed his lips. “I was nearly beheaded because of him. He came back here thinking I had died and proclaimed himself chieftain of our clan. Now he does not come in person to resolve our differences but sends a henchman with a letter—I mean no disrespect to you, shiké. I will accept his submission, but there is much to be settled between Yukio and me.”

Jebu’s remark about Yukio’s troops having been in combat for years reminded Taniko that Hideyori had been leading an inactive life in Kamakura ever since the age of fifteen. In all that time he had had to suffer the perpetual fear that Sogamori might at last bring about his execution. Bokuden and Horigawa must have seemed utterly untrustworthy protectors. Living with such fear for so long had undoubtedly scarred Hideyori, but in what way?

“I will send my brother a letter,” Hideyori said. “I will tell him I am prepared to raise an army and go into battle immediately. I will command him to strike from the north-west down the Hokurikido Road, and I will come down the Tokaido from the east. At the same moment, Mochihito and his supporters will rise in the capital.”

He raised his sake cup and stared deep into Taniko’s eyes. She felt herself blushing. “By the end of summer we will be in the capital and the Takashi will be as forgotten as last winter’s snow.”

Why, Taniko wondered, did he say that especially to me?

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