Shike – Day 212 of 306

“This boy has more of Zen in him than many an aged monk,” said Eisen with great seriousness. “Learn from him, Lady Taniko, and protect his attainment. Do not let his Buddha-mind become clouded over as he grows older.”

We left Eisen’s temple, my kung-an still unsolved. All the way down from the hills Sametono kept shouting, “Kwatz! Kwatz!”

-Seventh Month, fifteenth day


Chapter Nineteen

The three bodies lay side by side on a dais. The two men and the woman were dressed in their finest robes, only their pallid faces visible amid folds of shining cloth arranged to hide their awful wounds. They had committed seppuku. First Shenzo Saburo had disembowelled himself with his short sword, then his best friend had beheaded him to end his pain. In turn, Saburo’s friend had cut his own belly open and been decapitated by Saburo’s son, Totomi. Meanwhile, Saburo’s wife, in the women’s quarters, had joined her husband in death by severing the main artery in her throat with a small dagger.

Shenzo Saburo had been one of Yukio’s most trusted, respected officers all during the War of the Dragons. Now he lay dead with his wife and his friend in the main hall of his Heian Kyo mansion, and Yukio wept for one of his oldest comrades. Wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his robe, Yukio turned to Shenzo Totomi, who stood respectfully by, his face pale, his eyes huge with the solemnity of the things he had seen and done.

“Why did your father do this?”

“Out of love and loyalty for you, my lord,” said the young man. “When the new commander Lord Hideyori appointed over your troops declared that you are a traitor to the nation and have been plotting against the Shogun, my father felt he must protest in the strongest possible way. My lord, may I present to you my father’s death poem and his final testament?”

Yukio nodded, and with a deep bow the young man drew a scroll from his sleeve. “My father’s last poem is dedicated to you, Lord Yukio.” Yukio read the poem, first silently, then aloud:

On a hilltop in Yamato
Stands a solitary pine
Unaware of the approaching storm.

To Jebu the meaning of the poem was transparent, as it doubtless was to everyone else in the room. Yukio shut his eyes and again used his silk sleeve to wipe away tears from cheeks as pale as those of the dead. Now Saburo’s son offered him another scroll, the testament. Yukio began to read it. Jebu noticed that many more men, samurai and servants, had entered the room to listen. Saburo’s letter began with a recitation of the Shenzo family tree, just as if he were challenging someone on the field of battle.

Then Yukio read, “I have tried to warn the lieutenant that he is permitting a great wrong to be done to himself, his family and his loyal followers. Honour forbids him to hear my warning. Therefore honour requires me to choose this drastic way of reaching his ear. I plead with him not to let my death and the deaths of those close to me go to waste.” Yukio stopped, unable to continue, filled to overflowing with tears. He thrust the scroll at Jebu.

Jebu found the place where Yukio had left off and took up the reading. “My lord, your brother sat safely in Kamakura while you were in the forefront of every battle. He envies your glory and fears your prowess, and he means to destroy you. Your enemies are gathering. Your brother presumes, as did the Takashi, to give orders to the Emperor himself. Shall the Sacred Islands be enslaved by another upstart tyrant? My lord, place yourself at His Imperial Majesty’s disposal before it is too late. Arise. Arm yourself. Attack.”

“Read no more,” said Yukio. “This is treason.”

“It is you who are betrayed, my lord,” said Shenzo Totomi.

Yukio shook his head. “I have never wanted anything but the victory of the Muratomo, and the chieftain of the Muratomo is my brother, Lord Hideyori, the Shogun.”

“Your first loyalty is to the Emperor and to the Sacred Islands, honoured lieutenant,” said Totomi quietly.

Yukio’s large eyes bulged with rage. “Do not call me by that title. I have relinquished it. Do you dare to tell me my duty?” His pale face darkened to a deep red, and Jebu tensed himself, because he had never seen Yukio become this angry without reaching for his sword. Then Yukio smiled and sighed. “I am sorry I spoke harshly to you. I forgive your forwardness. You are the son of an old comrade, and you have just lost your father. Remember this, though. Lord Muratomo no Hideyori is the protector of the Retired Emperor and of the Sacred Islands. His every action is for the good of the Crown and the realm.”

Shenzo Totomi’s eyes fell. “My lord, there was more to the testament. My father asks you to accept me in his place as your vassal.”

Yukio put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “It is a great gift that your honoured father and you offer me, but if I accepted you into my service now I would expose you to mortal danger. I will not do that to the son of an old friend. The day may come when I will be able to receive your oath of fealty. For now, be patient, Totomi-san. I shall see you again at your father’s funeral.”

That night, Jebu and Yukio sat up talking until the hour of the rat. Yukio was melancholy. He seemed unable to make plans or decisions, even though he agreed with Jebu’s assessment of the situation. As Jebu saw it, Hideyori had decided that he no longer needed Yukio, and he feared that Yukio might become a leader for those who opposed the new military government. Yukio had only two choices. He could go into hiding or he could do what Hideyori seemed to be expecting him to do, raise a revolt against the Shogun. If he did try to flee, Hideyori would undoubtedly track him down and try to kill him. Yukio’s only hope was to fight back now, while there were many who still were willing to join him.

Yukio smiled sadly. “Have you forgotten the years of blood and fire and famine? Do you want me to plunge the country into another war, just to save my own life?” Jebu had no answer. He wished Taitaro were there to advise them. His hand stole into his tunic pocket and fingered the Jewel of Life and Death.

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