Shike – Day 208 of 306

“I hope I grow up to be as tall as you.”

Jebu thought, I doubt whether any of us will live to see you grow up, little boy.

Chapter Eighteen

Hideyori pressed his hand against her breast. Taniko allowed it to remain there. A flicker of surprise crossed his stony features. “Are you starting to find me more attractive?”

“I have always found you attractive, my lord. I only wonder what you see in such a pathetic old woman.” Gently, Taniko drew away from him and began to pour ch’ai from a three-hundred-year-old T’ang bowl. “Is my lord aware that I am a grandmother?”

“You have never mentioned it before.” That was not a direct answer. She was sure he knew nearly everything about her. Hideyori seated himself cross-legged, arranging the dark robe over his knees, and sipped the foaming green ch’ai from a delicate, glazed cup that matched the bowl. He kept his bedchamber austere as ever, but the objects he used now were precious and beautiful enough for an Emperor.

“My grandson arrived in Kamakura only yesterday,” said Taniko, folding her hands in her lap and looking sedately down at them. This matter had to be handled with exquisite care. Perhaps it did not matter how it was handled, perhaps Sametono was doomed in any case. Taniko thought she had a proposal that would persuade Hideyori to spare Sametono, though, by appealing to the Shogun’s desire to stabilize the realm. She had talked it over with Eisen the night before, after Sametono arrived. The monk agreed that her idea might work.

“But it means you must sacrifice the rest of your life,” the Zen master pointed out.

“There is no one to make the sacrifice and no future to be sacrificed,” Taniko rejoined.

“Your words stink of Zen,” Eisen shot back. Taniko knew that this was a grudging compliment to her deepening understanding. Eisen hardly ever encouraged her, believing, as he put it, that praise is poison. She did not need him to tell her that she was making progress. She knew now that you could not acquire true understanding from anyone else, and no one could give you enlightenment. All you could do was increase your awareness that you already were a Buddha, an Awakened One. Only you could do that for yourself. As she moved through each day in a state of awareness maintained, enhanced and deepened by sitting in zazen meditation, she found that her decisions were right for each situation, and their consequences more beneficial to all. At the same time, she cared less about results. She did what she felt an enlightened person would do and refused to concern herself about whether things turned out as she wished.

Now, rage threatened to break through her philosophical calm. The wound left by Horigawa’s murder of her baby at Daidoji had never healed. Nothing could rouse her to a more consuming anger than the thought of a child being killed. That children were being drowned and buried alive at Heian Kyo was hateful enough. That Horigawa was supervising the executions—with her own father helping him—tore that old wound open to bleed afresh. That her grandson, Atsue’s son, had nearly been one of the victims left her speechless with fury when Moko told her the tale and presented the wide-eyed, travel-weary child to her.

At first her rage was directed against Hideyori himself. He, after all, had given the command for the slaughter. After a time of meditation she realized that it was useless to hate Hideyori. He had lived with fear and death since his boyhood, and nothing could change him. Now that he had achieved supreme power he felt more vulnerable and more fearful than ever. How different he was from Kublai Khan, who easily assumed that the world was his by right of birth.

“I have heard news that distresses me sorely,” she told Hideyori. “Perhaps it would not move you, since you are a man and a warrior. I know what it is to have the child I bore torn from my arms and murdered. They are killing babies in Heian Kyo.”

For a moment Hideyori’s face was blank. Then it rearranged itself into a mask of shock and sympathy. “Who is killing babies, Taniko-san? By what authority?”

“My father and Prince Horigawa. By your orders, they say.” Taniko did not for a moment believe his air of surprise. These days, nothing went on in the Sunrise Land without his knowledge and permission.

“I have ordered the death penalty for all Takashi who threaten our peace,” said Hideyori. “That is why I signed the warrant of execution for Notaro. I have never intended that children be killed.”

“I am happy to hear that,” said Taniko quickly. “My grandson is a Takashi, but he is only four years old, and I am sure he has no desire to raise a rebellion against you.”

Hideyori looked away from her and was silent for a long time. This is the moment, she thought, that will decide whether Sametono lives or dies. Hideyori knows what I’m going to ask him. He will have to admit that he wants the child killed, or he will have to let the boy live with me. At last Hideyori turned to her, and she saw indecision in the dark eyes. Her hold over him was still strong.

“The blood of Sogamori and Kiyosi flows in his veins.” No more pretence that Hideyori was unaware of the boy’s existence.

“The blood of Amaterasu Omi Kami flows in his veins as well,” said Taniko. “Surely he is to be treasured for that.”

Hideyori shook his head. “That only makes him more dangerous.”

“Besides all those illustrious ancestors, this little boy is the grandson of Shima Taniko,” Taniko said softly, “if that means anything to you.”

“If it did not, he would be dead already.”

“If my lord could find a place in his heart for Sametono, my gratitude would know no bounds.”

Hideyori was silent. Each time she spoke, he weighed and digested her words, carefully calculating his reply. At last he gave a short, barking laugh.

“How ironic. Was this not precisely Sogamori’s undoing? Was it not his lust for my father’s mistress, the Lady Akimi, that persuaded him to spare Yukio’s life—and incidentally mine? Shall I, for your sake, nurture a hatchling of the Red Dragon so that it may grow to devour my clan in turn?”

Now was the time to try him with her proposal. “You have the power to change the hatchling’s colour from red to white, my lord. Adopt him as your own son.” Hideyori looked amazed and angry. He opened his mouth to speak, but she hurried on. “Forgive me for mentioning it, but it has been your karma not to have children of your own. You have no son to inherit the Shogunate, this great title you have created for yourself. If you choose a successor from among your allies, you will make one family too powerful and all the others envious and rebellious. This boy’s close kin are all dead, except for me. Make Sametono your son, and his cause becomes your cause. You never need fear that he will lead a rebellion against you. True, he is descended from Sogamori and Kiyosi, but what better way to heal the wounds of these years of civil war than by uniting the Red Dragon and the White in one family? If you do not have sons of your own blood, which is the worthiest in the land, you can at least choose your heir from the next best lineage—that of the greatest of the Takashi.”

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