Shike – Day 209 of 306

“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.”

Hideyori’s frown deepened. “Why should I concern myself with who succeeds as Shogun after I am gone?”

Taniko shrugged. “True, you need not. If you don’t, the samurai will undoubtedly turn to your younger brother, Yukio, who has a son of his own. Perhaps that would please you just as well.”

Hideyori’s eyes glittered with rage, the reaction she had expected. “Neither my half-brother nor any offspring of his shall ever succeed me.” He paused for a moment. “Perhaps you are right. I must select my successor, and this boy may have been sent by the kami for that purpose. If I’m to adopt a son, he’ll need a mother, won’t he? I’ll need a wife. I have desired you ever since I met you.” Hideyori clenched his hands in his lap. She knew that he burnt to reach for her but was restraining himself. “Will you sleep with me and even marry me, when the obstacle of Prince Horigawa is eliminated? What about the vow you told me of?”

“Eisen Roshi assures me that I may set aside my vow for a good enough reason. He says that the past cannot bind the present, because the present is all there is.” Actually, since there had never been any vow, she had never discussed it with Eisen, but the remark about past and present was one he had made to her once.

Hideyori shook his head. “I do not like these teachings of the monk Eisen. I have talked with him, and he seems strange and irreligious to me. I suspect that the views of this Zen sect are not religion but a mockery of religion.”

“I have benefited profoundly from my study of Zen, my lord.”

“Your grandson is alive only because he is your grandson. Eisen has been allowed to settle here and gather disciples around him only because he is your teacher. Otherwise, I would have had him driven out long ago. I mean to bring order and discipline to that vast rabble of unruly monks that infest the Sacred Islands—as soon as I have dealt with other dangerous elements.”

Taniko knew that “dangerous elements” meant Yukio. Ever since she had learned that Yukio had killed Atsue, she had given up pleading his cause to Hideyori. She could not believe that Yukio was as Hideyori believed him to be, a dangerous rival plotting to use his victories as stepping stones to supreme power, but it was also hard to imagine Yukio striking down a helpless, innocent boy. If he had done the one, perhaps he was capable of the other.

“Regardless of what Eisen says, I believe that your vow is binding, and I will not lie with you.” Hideyori smiled faintly. “As you doubtless know, I do not lack for companions to share my bedchamber, even though, as you said, it is my karma to be childless. I want you because you are more beautiful and wiser than any woman I have ever known. When we are properly married, I will lie with you, not just for the pleasure of it, but to possess you utterly.” His pupils seemed to expand until they were huge black pools into which she felt herself falling. She ignored the fear that rippled through her. She was saving Sametono’s life, she reminded herself.

“May Sametono live, and may he remain with me?”

“For the present. For the future, I will consider your suggestion, and I will observe the boy closely. Should his conduct even once give me cause to doubt him, he will be sent immediately into oblivion.” Taniko bowed her head in acceptance, but within she was aglow. She had won. Recognizing that the price of her victory was eventual marriage to Hideyori, she determined to press him for more concessions.

“What of the other children being killed in Heian Kyo in your name? Will you also put a stop to that?”

Hideyori smiled. “The true samurai has compassion for the defenceless. I will order the killing of children stopped for your sake, and also because I want to be remembered in the chronicles as a man of compassion.”

Taniko whisked the green liquid in the ch’ai bowl to a froth and poured Hideyori another cupful. “A handsome gesture, my lord, but it may be lost to the chronicles if all the condemned children are dead by the time your order reaches Heian Kyo. It is my father and Prince Horigawa who spattered blood on your reputation. If you were to punish them, it would show the world that they acted against your wishes.”

Hideyori stared at her, sincerely shocked. “You advise me to punish your own father? Where is your filial piety?”

“The Sage has said that a wife shall forsake her own mother and father and give all her loyalty to her husband and his family. Anticipating our marriage, I make your interests paramount, my lord.”

“How would it be in my interest to turn your father against me? Your clan, the Shima, have always been my chief supporters.”

“That is precisely why you must not allow my father to become too powerful. He believes that he made you Shogun. He thinks himself your master, not you his. Who knows what he and Horigawa and GoShirikawa might be plotting down there in the capital?” The sure way to influence Hideyori was to play upon his suspicions. “My uncle Ryuichi would serve you better as chieftain of the Shima than my father.”

“Are you suggesting that I remove your father from the chieftainship of your clan? I sometimes think your designs are even vaster and bolder than mine. The time may come for such a drastic step. For now, I will let your father and the prince feel my displeasure, but I will not be as severe as you suggest. I am under obligation to them. Time after time when Sogamori’s sword would have fallen on me, they shielded me.”

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