Shike – Day 220 of 306

Jebu turned to Totomi, who was staring at him apprehensively, and held out his hand. “The scroll, please.”

After a moment’s puzzlement Totomi remembered, took Yukio’s scroll out of his sleeve and handed it to Jebu. Jebu stepped up to the veranda of Shinohata’s headquarters building and positioned himself so no one could get behind him and read the scroll. He opened the scroll and, trying to look as if he were reading, he began to speak in a resonant voice.

“Contribution roll of the Priest Mokongo, who has been charged to travel through the provinces of the Hokurikudo, respectfully begging all, high and low, to give a gift to aid the holy work of reconstructing the Todaiji of Nara: As all know, we live in that time called Mappo, the Latter Days of the Law, when men give themselves up to passion and wine, and the land is afflicted with civil war, fire, earthquake, famine and pestilence. Alas! How pitiable!

“One of the foulest deeds of these dark and gloomy times was the sacrilegious burning of this most magnificent temple, the Todaiji. Four thousand monks and their wives and children perished in the flames. Not all the cries of the sinners amid the fires of the fiercest of the Eight Hot Hells were more pitiful than their screams. Ancient works of art beyond price went up in smoke. Most shameful of all, the great bronze Buddha, the largest statue of the Sakya Sage in our Sacred Islands, was reduced to a shapeless mass of slag.

“For this desecration the Takashi paid dearly. That evil brood who hated mankind and the law of Buddha now suffer the torments of Emma-O, the king of the underworld, and his jailers. Such is the fate of all who harm the servants of the Lord Buddha.” Jebu delivered the last statement in a thunderous voice and swept Shinohata and the circle of samurai with a threatening gaze.

“The Todaiji as it was can never be replaced. We hope, even so, to build another splendid temple on its ruins. The great Buddha will be rebuilt of copper and gold with a sacred jewel in his lofty forehead.

“Even as the Buddha and his disciples went forth daily with their begging bowls, so I, Mokongo, stand before you weeping, asking your contributions. If they who destroyed the Todaiji earned bad karma, surely those who help rebuild it will enjoy good karma in equal amount according to the most true law of cause and effect. They will attain to the further shore of perfect enlightenment. As for those who hinder us, they will be cast into the fire pits, there to gibber for a thousand times a thousand lifetimes.

“A small contribution will be enough to earn the Buddha’s infinite mercy. Who is there who will not give? It is said that even he who gives a little sand to help build a pagoda earns good karma. How much more he who gives something of value?

“Composed by me, Mokongo, for the purpose of obtaining contributions as stated. The Tenth Month of the Year of the Rooster.” Again Jebu gazed sternly about him. His hearers fell back under the look in his blazing eyes. He closed the scroll with a snap and handed it to Totomi, who quickly put it away.

Timidly at first, samurai in the audience began to come forward holding out small gifts—rings and necklaces, Chinese coins, carvings. Grandly, Jebu gestured to Totomi to collect the offerings.

“I did not read my solicitation scroll to obtain gifts here, only to set your mind at rest,” Jebu said to Shinohata. “But since your men seem moved to help us, perhaps you can supply us with travelling boxes to hold what they give us.”

“There is one more precaution I must take,” said Shinohata. “I must inspect your entire party before I let them pass.” He stepped down from the porch, and with a samurai’s swaggering gait led the way to the entrance to the stockade. Reluctantly, Jebu walked beside him, followed by Totomi.

“This is distasteful to me,” said Shinohata, his harsh features softening as he spoke quietly to Jebu. “Of course, the Lord Shogun has every right to do whatever he deems necessary to preserve order in the land. Still, I bitterly regret the turn of events that set the two great Muratomo brothers against each other. I had the honour of serving under Lieutenant Yukio during the War of the Dragons. A most gallant commander.”

Jebu glanced over his shoulder at Totomi, whose eyes bulged in a flushed face. He seemed almost ready to spring upon Shinohata’s back. Forcing a casual tone, Jebu said, “Were you at Shimonoseki Strait, captain?” Perhaps the man had not actually seen Yukio.

“Unfortunately, no. The lord I served withdrew from Yukio’s army after the battle of Ichinotani. We left to help subdue the Takashi forces in the western provinces, where we fought beside the barbarian horsemen who accompanied the lieutenant from China. But forgive me, Priest Mokongo, I’m sure you have no desire to hear this talk of war.”

Jebu smiled. “The Buddha himself was born into a family of warriors.” By this time they had passed through the gates of the fort and were among short, twisted pines, treading the steep path that led down to the place where the barrier pole blocked the road. There were about thirty soldiers following them. Another six were down below, guarding the travellers, who squatted on the ground, patient and quiet as true yamabushi.

“Yes, but the Enlightened One did not stay a warrior,” Shinohata was saying. “Sometimes I feel ready to give up this life myself, to trade it for the serenity that you must enjoy. For now, I must faithfully carry out the order of the Shogun. Believe me, Priest Mokongo, there are those who watch everything I do.” He glanced back at the troops following them down the mountainside. “Much as I might wish to speed you on your way, I must err on the side of severity to be sure of pleasing the Shogun.”

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