Shike – Day 181 of 306

“Does Lord Hideyori have a wife or woman to attend him?” Taniko asked the maid.

The maid shook her head. “His one wife died in childbirth two years ago.”

“Go to him. Tell him Lady Shima Taniko offers to serve him and see to his comfort, if he wishes it.”

The maid looked shocked, but said nothing and hurried away. I’m not going to lie with him, you idiot, Taniko thought. But after what he’s been through, a man needs dry clothes, food, warm sake and someone pleasant to talk to. Surely the head of the Muratomo clan deserves that much.

Hideyori was shivering. He drained four cups of sake in quick succession, each time holding the empty cup out to her without a word. He stared at the wooden floor, his face impenetrable.

This was the first time she had been in Hideyori’s chambers. The room was utterly bare except for a writing table, a plain wooden pillow and a rolled-up futon. In a tokonoma alcove stood a small black-wood statue of the war god, Hachiman, grim of face, on horseback, armed with bow and arrows. Hachiman hasn’t been much help to Hideyori so far, Taniko thought.

At last he looked up at her. “I do not deserve to live,” he said in a voice faint with fatigue.

He’s trying to find out what I think of him, Taniko thought. “My lord, you have an obligation to live. The whole future of the Muratomo depends on you.”

He shook his head. “I watched my father lead our clan to disaster. I vowed I would never make the same mistakes. Nineteen years later I have my first opportunity to lead a Muratomo army into battle, my first chance to strike back at the Takashi. Another disaster.” He waved his hand vaguely southwards. “I had five thousand men under my command. I lost four thousand.”

Taniko wanted to console him, but she could find nothing to say that was both kind and honest. “I am sure the eastern warriors displayed the courage for which they are famous,” she said at last.

“Courage.” He laughed bitterly. “They ran away in the night. I ran with them. But women aren’t usually interested in talk of war.”

“I do not like war, my lord. Still, I consider it too important to ignore.”

“I have always thought you an unusual woman. I marched out of Kamakura, then, as you saw, at the beginning of this month, with high hopes. Many landowners and their men joined us as we went. By the time we were ready to besiege Takashi Kanetake in his stronghold, we were three thousand. We took Kanetake’s castle and put him and all his people to the sword.”

Taniko felt a hollowness in her stomach just as she had when Kublai talked to her about the Mongol massacres. “You took no prisoners, I suppose.”

“Samurai never take prisoners. My aim, when this war is over, is that there be not one Takashi left alive. At least, that was my aim, until Ishibashiyama.”

“What happened there?”

“After our victory over the Takashi governor we felt invincible. More samurai flocked to us. We were five thousand. Then I received word that Mochihito, Motofusa and their followers had been wiped out by the Takashi. Now there was no reason to march south, I thought. Unless Yukio was continuing to push southwards. He and I might take the capital together. Otherwise it would be better to stay here, to consolidate our hold on the north-eastern provinces and the Kanto plains. Let them stretch their lines coming after us.

“Then new messages arrived. The Takashi were on their way north, coming up the Tokaido. My officers were all of one mind. We must go to meet them. We must not allow the Takashi to invade our home provinces, murdering and pillaging. I would have preferred to retreat, drawing the enemy into our territory until we could ambush them somewhere. But my brave eastern warriors wouldn’t hear of that. They were all for attacking at once. I couldn’t put up much opposition. After all, I’ve never proven myself in war, and if samurai get the notion that their leader is a coward, they’ll never fight for him again. So I let myself be led by my followers.

“We marched south through the Hakone mountains. We crossed the neck of the Izu Peninsula. I stopped to pray for victory at the Mishima Hachiman shrine. At last our scouts brought us word that the Takashi were at Shimizu. They estimated that there were thirty thousand of them. We were outnumbered six to one. Now I insisted that to attack was madness. There were those among the officers who were still convinced we could win. The Takashi aren’t fighters, they said, but effeminate courtiers. Five thousand real samurai could easily beat ten or even twenty times that number of decadent fops.

“Finally, one officer who knew the countryside near by came up with a proposal that satisfied everyone. Near the sea coast, north of Mount Fuji, there is a valley called Ishibashiyama that cuts through the Hakone mountains. It is so narrow that no more than a hundred men can stand abreast at its widest point. At this pass we could make our stand. The Takashi could not go around us, because then we could strike at their rear. They would try to come through the pass, but in that narrow area their numbers would be useless to them. They could come at us only a hundred men at a time. We could inflict such casualties on them that they might eventually give up and retreat. News of a setback to the Takashi like that would bring many more samurai to our side.

“It took nearly two days for us to take up our positions at Ishibashiyama. By then it was the twenty-third day of the month. A Takashi advance guard had pursued us. Before entering the pass we turned and slaughtered them. This gave us even more confidence.”

Atsue could have been riding with that advance guard whose slaughter Hideyori so casually described, thought Taniko. I must not think about that.

“Would the Takashi follow us or had we guessed wrong? Would they try to bypass us instead? It wasn’t till almost nightfall that we heard taiko drums and flutes playing martial music and saw rank after rank of mounted samurai climbing over the foothills.

“Our two armies camped a short distance apart for the night. I thought it might be a good idea to retreat under cover of darkness, but my officers refused to listen.

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