Shike – Day 210 of 306

“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.”

Taniko gave a cry of scorn. “My lord; no one knows those two better than I do. Horigawa pressed Sogamori day and night to have you killed. I was at Horigawa’s winding water banquet celebrating the Takashi victory over your father, Captain Domei. ‘Nits make lice,’ Horigawa said that evening, meaning you and Yukio. He changed his mind only when he realized that you could be of use to him. As for my father, I am sure he never told you this, but it was I who first put it into his mind to protect you. I wrote him a letter shortly after you went to him, suggesting that you would be more useful to him alive than dead.”

“I never knew that. I thought I had frightened and offended you that day I came to Daidoji seeking Horigawa. Why did you do that? Were you drawn to me even then?”

“To be honest, I was not, my lord.” It was Jebu and only Jebu who filled my heart in those days, she thought. “I was simply meddling in politics. It’s always been a vice of mine.”

“Vice? Hardly. Though you are a woman, you are more sagacious in matters of state than most men are. Perhaps you were an Emperor or a prime minister in a previous life.”

“My incurable urge to involve myself in politics led me to arrange a rendezvous between Sogamori and Lady Akimi, Yukio’s mother,” Taniko said. “As you know, it was she who persuaded him to hold his hand from Yukio and from you as well. Horigawa was so enraged that your lives were spared that he sequestered me in the country. That is the man to whom you consider yourself obligated.”

Hideyori stared at her in surprise. “I never knew you were so instrumental in that affair. It makes me all the more determined that you shall be the principal wife of the Shogun.”

Wife of the Shogun. Taniko’s head spun with excitement. Not even an Empress would enjoy as much power.

“What of Horigawa?”, she asked softly.

“To repay Horigawa for his complicity in the deaths of my grandfather, my father and so many other kinsmen of mine, he shall make a long overdue journey to the underworld. To reward him for his aid to me, which made possible the final victory of the Muratomo, I will see that his bereaved widow, Lady Taniko, is not only cared for fittingly, but exalted.” Hideyori grinned at her. “Does that suit you, Taniko-san?”

Taniko bowed her head. She knew that Eisen would say that desire for revenge was an attachment she must break, but she could not help feeling a thrill at the thought that for her sake, the most powerful man in the realm was prepared to bring about Horigawa’s death.

“It suits me,” she whispered.

“But, still—” Hideyori shook his head, “the great-grandson of Sogamori to succeed me as Shogun? To inherit what I have created? Shall the reward of the thirty-year struggle of the Muratomo to overthrow the Takashi be reaped by a Takashi? It is as if Sogamori had triumphed after all, in the end.”

“Who is the true father of a boy?” Taniko asked, having prepared beforehand to meet this objection. “Is it not he who rears and shapes the child? Sametono never knew a father. He is only four years old. You will be his father, and the great Muratomo chieftains will be his ancestors. It is you, not Sogamori, who will win in the end, because you will have changed the last child of his line into a Muratomo.”

Hideyori gazed at her admiringly. “Your mind slices like a sword into the heart of a problem. It is for this that I would make you my wife.” Then his expression hardened. “But there is one more concession you must make to me. I know that Yukio was your companion in China and that you hold him in high esteem. You have always urged me to trust him. Now I must insist that you renounce your friendship for him out of loyalty to me. I have learned that he intends to destroy everything I have built.”

Taniko sighed. Those years in China seemed so remote. She was a different woman now. She saw Jebu again as he had looked in Kublai Khan’s park at Khan Baligh that day they were reunited. Almost unrecognizable in his Mongol cap and cloak, his face gaunt, his red moustache drooping. It was Jebu who had rescued Sametono from the Rokuhara. Yet there had been no message from him, just Moko arriving with the boy.

“I have no idea what Yukio is doing now, my lord. How do you know he is plotting against you?”

“He has been in Heian Kyo ever since the battle at Shimonoseki Strait. His huge army is camped outside the city. He has begun the rebuilding of the Imperial Palace without my permission. He visits the Retired Emperor daily, and he is the darling of the Imperial Court. He has received numerous titles and honours and estates from Go-Shirakawa, including lieutenant in the Palace Guard.”

“I remember from my days at Court that most such honours bring with them no real power,” said Taniko.

“They are all ancient honours and should have been offered first of all to me, not to one of inferior birth, like Yukio. My father was captain of the Palace Guard. But these displays of Imperial favour are only the outward sign of the disease. I have learned that Yukio conspires with my enemies to take action against me and the Bakufu.”

“How do you know this, my lord?”

“I have received messages from your father.”

“It may be that the real conspirators are my father and Horigawa. Horigawa would like nothing more than to set you and Yukio at each other’s throats. He has not given up his lifelong dream of destroying the samurai by pitting them against each other. He could be using my father. Indeed, Go-Shirakawa may have the same end in view. If the Muratomo quarrel among themselves, the Imperial Court gains power. Perhaps that is why the Retired Emperor shows so much favour to Yukio.”

“Everyone plots,” said Hideyori through clenched teeth. “No one can be trusted. I can rely on men only to betray one another. Your father pretends to be Yukio’s ally while reporting to me his plans and ambitions.”

“I know Yukio and I know my father. It is Yukio I trust.”

“Yukio killed your son.”

Taniko sighed. “I can never be his friend, but I still believe him to be a man of honour.”

Hideyori’s face darkened. “You are a stubborn woman.”

His anger surprised Taniko. She realized that she was in danger, but his sharp words stung her to a quick retort. “My lord, I am simply setting aside my own feelings about Yukio and telling you what I believe to be true. You did say, only a moment ago, that you think highly of my wisdom.”

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