Shike – Day 196 of 306

Was Hideyori going to condemn him, as so many others had, for bringing a foreign army into the Sacred Islands? “What must I do, cut my belly open to prove my loyalty?”

“Do not suggest such a thing even lightly, Yukio-san,” said Hideyori. “There’s really a very simple way for you to show you are not an agent of foreigners. Relinquish command of the Mongols.”

Yukio was stunned. “To whom?”

“To me, of course. No one questions my loyalty. I’ve never left the Sunrise Land.”

“You couldn’t command the Mongols.”

“It’s foolish for us to try to talk to each other in total darkness,” said Hideyori, changing the subject in a pleasant tone. “Can you light a candle, Yukio-san?” Yukio took a tinder box and a scrap of candle from a kit at his belt. He lit the candle and set it on the box on a bed of fallen maple leaves between himself and Hideyori.

“Good,” said Hideyori. “Now tell me what you mean about my not being able to command the Mongols.”

“Of course, they would take orders from you,” said Yukio. “Forgive me for speaking frankly, honoured Brother, but I must give you my opinion as a soldier or fail in my duty to you. The question is, how well could you lead them? I don’t think you know enough about the Mongols’ special ways of fighting to make good use of them. You don’t speak their language. They don’t know you. A leader must be known to his men to arouse their fighting spirit.”

In the candlelight Yukio saw a dull red flush spread over his brother’s face. Hideyori started to raise his hand in what appeared to be an angry gesture, then stopped himself. Gradually, the colour faded from his face. He stroked his small moustache thoughtfully.

“As you said, Yukio-san, that is your opinion as a soldier. If I had not realized that, even as you spoke, I myself would have been tempted to distrust you just as others do. If I, your brother, could suspect you, think how much easier it is for those who do not know you to believe the worst of you. You may be right when you say that I do not know how to use the Mongols as effectively as you do. Remember, though, that wars are not won on the battlefield alone. If it becomes widely believed that the Muratomo are not loyal to the Sacred Islands, the supporters we need will turn to the Takashi instead.”

There was much in what Hideyori said, Yukio realized, even though he suspected that Hideyori had other, unspoken reasons for wanting the Mongols under his control. He felt as if he had been asked to give away his sword in the middle of a battle. At this stage of the war, though, the Mongols were not as necessary as they had been when he first landed in the north. Now, just as Hideyori said, their presence might be more of a hindrance than a help in winning the war. In war, just as in go, there were fuseki, chuban and yose—opening, middle and end games—each requiring a different strategy.

“I will have to have samurai to replace the Mongols,” he said at last. Hideyori’s lips stretched in one of his rare, chilly smiles.

“You shall have them, as many as you need, tough fighters from the eastern provinces, the best men in the land. From now on, though, you’ll need ships more than men. We have a new shipbuilder in Kamakura, a man who studied the art in China. I will commission him to build for you. From what I know of the Mongols, they would be little use to you at sea.”

An inexplicable inner reflex of caution kept Yukio from telling Hideyori that the shipbuilder was Moko, an old companion of his. “True,” he said. “The Mongol homeland is far from the sea.” He was already regretting having yielded to Hideyori. He had lost his best weapon, the Mongols, and had agreed to undertake the most difficult, dangerous phase of the war—fighting the Takashi at sea. Still, heavily outnumbered, he had beaten the Takashi in Hakata Bay long ago. The vision of what he could do with plenty of ships and men began to excite him.

“One question, Yukio-san,” said Hideyori. “I believe you have no intention of betraying the Sacred Islands, but what are the intentions of the Mongols themselves?”

Yukio laughed. “I’ve always assumed that they could be spies or the vanguard of an invasion. For now, let us make use of them. When they become a problem, let us deal with them.”

Hideyori clapped Yukio on the shoulder and stood up. “Exactly my thought. We must always remember that today’s ally may be tomorrow’s enemy.” He raised his arms. There was a rustling in the trees that grew throughout the Zinja temple ruins. Yukio stared about him, startled. Shadowy figures—samurai armed with bows and arrows—emerged and formed a circle around himself and Hideyori.

“You said we were to meet alone,” Yukio choked out.

Hideyori smiled. “I told you before, Yukio-san, until now I had no idea what sort of person you are or what you would want. This meeting has gone very well, honoured Younger Brother. I look forward to seeing you in a day or two in the capital.” One of Hideyori’s men brought his grey stallion forward for him to mount. With a wave, Hideyori turned and rode off down the mountain path, his men following on foot.

Yukio stood alone among the broken stones, asking himself what kind of man his brother was. A man who feared treachery, yet deceived others without a flicker of shame. Yukio felt hot anger rise within him at the thought of the archers concealed in the forest while he talked with his brother. That was why Hideyori had asked him to light the candle, to make him an easy target for the archers. What if he had refused to let Hideyori have the Mongols? He’d be lying dead on the ground right now, riddled with arrows. Yukio shivered as a death-like chill travelled up his spine. Calling to his horse, he stepped angrily on the guttering candle and ground it out.

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