Shike – Day 199 of 306

Jebu looked into Yukio’s eyes and saw tiny squares of white, reflections of the sails of the fleeing Takashi ships. He tried to recite the Prayer to a Fallen Enemy, but the words slipped like little fishes through the net of his mind. Slowly a darkening sea rose around Jebu, and the pain of his wound and the anguish of his spirit dwindled with the fading of the light.

Chapter Fifteen

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

Hideyori has revealed to me his plan for ruling the Sunrise Land. It is an astonishing departure from our customary ways, but well suited to these Latter Days of the Law. He says that trying to imitate the courtiers at the capital made the Takashi soft, corrupt and effeminate. This notion, that softness and corruption go with femininity, is typical eastern-province boorishness.

Hideyori thinks the country can only be governed well by those with the power to govern—the samurai. To escape the influence of Heian Kyo, this samurai government will have its headquarters here in Kamakura, in the field, as it were. So it will be known as the Bakufu, the Tent Government. Hideyori says he got that idea from my description of the travelling courts of the Mongol khans. He has chosen Kamakura as his headquarters because he believes the eastern provinces, especially the rice-rich Kanto Plain, are now the most important part of the realm.

In olden times, when a single general was given command of all the armed forces to meet some grave threat to the empire, he was called Shogun, Supreme Commander, for as long as the crisis lasted. Hideyori plans to take that title for himself, permanently. As Shogun he will, of course, derive his authority from the Emperor, but since the Shogun will command all the swords in the land, the Emperor will doubtless be quick to obey all his humble subject’s suggestions. I, Hideyori keeps telling me, shall be at his side. If I want to be, I silently add to myself.

Hideyori has already petitioned Go-Shirakawa to make him Shogun, but to his great frustration and annoyance that wily old man replied that, being only a Retired Emperor, he lacks the authority to confer the title. This means Hideyori will have to wait until the war is over and a new Emperor ascends the throne. Meanwhile, he fears that Yukio may have learned of his request and may try to thwart him. Even though Yukio gave in to him in the matter of the Mongols, Hideyori still hates and fears him.

As for the Mongols, Hideyori has taken steps to reduce the threat from them by getting them killed off. Yesterday he told me gleefully that they have lost over a third of their original number in battles he has sent them into. He says that by the time the war is over there will probably be fewer than five thousand of them left. This is the first time I’ve heard of a military leader achieving his aims by being a bad general.

Good or bad, a general will rule us when all this is over, and Heian Kyo will take orders from Kamakura. When I was a girl I left my home to go up to the capital. Now the home I left will be the capital. When I first saw fires in that magical city of Heian Kyo, I didn’t know they signalled the dawn of a new age. A rough, ugly age it promises to be.

-Third Month, twenty-second day

YEAR OF THE SERPENT

One evening early in the Fourth Month, a maidservant came to Taniko and told her Hideyori wished her to attend him in his prayer chamber. The intensely religious Hideyori had set aside a special room for meditation and scripture reading in the top of the main tower of the huge new castle he was building. Two samurai in full armour bowed to Taniko outside the oratory, and slid a pair of heavy wooden doors aside for her. The chamber was unpainted and bare except for the alcove in which Hideyori’s treasured blackwood statue of the great kami Hachiman stood. A single dark red peony in a pale green vase bowed its lion-like head to the war god. Wearing a black robe with circular White Dragon crests on front and back, Hideyori was seated on a cushion, reading a scroll. Beside him was a long wooden sword box.

“What are you reading, my lord?” she asked after they had formally greeted each other and she sat down on the cushion beside him. There was no question of a screen between them. She was lady-in-waiting, in effect, to the future Shogun, and she considered herself privileged, like Imperial ladies-in-waiting, to deal with men face-to-face.

“This is the Lotus sutra,” said Hideyori. “It is my favourite. It gives me great strength.” His dark eyes, when he looked up at her, seemed to search her mind. His voice was softer than usual. “Do you have a special devotion, Taniko-san?”

“Yes, I often recite the invocation ‘Homage to Amida Buddha,’ when I need comfort.”

“Very good. Everyone needs a way of calling upon higher powers in times of great suffering.” As she sat beside him, he gently took her hand. It was a liberty she allowed him, now that he had agreed not to try to take her to bed. “I have news of terrible sorrow for you,” he said. “You must bear it like a samurai.”

Jebu, she thought at once, and her heart turned to ice. Then she remembered that Hideyori did not know what Jebu was to her. Involuntarily she pressed Hideyori’s hand.

“Please tell me, Hideyori-san. I can bear it.”

Hideyori picked up the long, polished cedar box and set it on his knees. He opened it and took out a sword in a gold and silver scabbard.

“You may know this sword. It is the Takashi family treasure Kogarasu.” He passed the sword to her, hilt first. It was so heavy she could hardly imagine how a man could swing it in combat. Kogarasu. Kiyosi’s sword. She had supposed it went to the bottom of the sea with him at Hakata Bay. To take it from Hideyori’s hands, here in Hideyori’s palace, was bewildering. What was Hideyori trying to tell her?

He reached into the box again and took out an ivory flute and handed it to her. She recognized Little Branch at once. At the sight of it she could almost hear Atsue playing on it, as he had done so many times for her before Sogamori’s men took him away.

Understanding flashed through her mind like a lightning bolt, and with it came a torrent of grief. Atsue. She remembered the thin arms torn from around her neck, the last despairing look he gave her. She had always dreamed that one day she would find him again. She had prayed that she might see how he had grown, what sort of man he had become. Now she would never know him. She felt herself falling and leaned against Hideyori, clinging to him for support. A sob forced itself through her throat. Not my Atsue. Not my other baby.

“When a man and a woman put their pillows together, the karma relations that come of it are endless,” Hideyori said. “How could you have known, so many years ago, that your son by Kiyosi would go to war against his mother’s friends?”

“Did he die in battle? He’s just a child. He has not lived.”

Hideyori’s voice was strong in her ear. “The cherry blossom falls from the tree with the first strong breeze, but we do not say that it has never lived. A bloom that lasts only a day is no less beautiful for that.”

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