Shike – Day 231 of 306

“Kill me!” Jebu roared, and held his arms out wide.

His face hard and immobile, Arghun raised a gauntleted hand and brought it down in a sweeping motion. Bowstrings thrummed in unison, a deep musical note that echoed from the rock walls. Arrows whistled and shrieked across the ravine. His arms still outstretched as if to gather the arrows in, Jebu felt their impact all over his body. There was no pain, only uncountable numbing shocks. He saw Taniko looking at him with her bright eyes, just as he had seen her in the heart of the Jewel earlier today. His last thought was: the Jewel. I should have thrown it away. Now Arghun will get it. Then he lost consciousness as he began the long fall into darkness.

Part Two: The Book Of Taniko

Those who hold rank and power claim that the gods have set them up to rule over the people. In truth, rulers become rulers by tricking the people with just such stories as this, and by using force to make them submit. Whoever says the gods are responsible for the privilege of the few and the oppression of the many, islanders the gods.

The Zinja Manual

Chapter One

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

The wisteria blooms cluster like purple clouds among the pines. The cherry blossoms on the grounds of the Shogun’s castle are a delight. The sweet songs of the bush warbler beguile the ear. In the hills the creeks have become rivers, and the frozen silence of the waterfalls has turned to thunder. The roads to the north-west are open again. Already parties of samurai have set out in the direction of the land of Oshu. All this winter I have buried my dread under a calm exterior, even as the land lay buried under snow.

There has been much to occupy me and help me to keep calm. Continuously, I work on my kung-an. Driven by fear of Eisen’s mockery and scolding, I try to become the face I had before I was born, for I dread going to him without an answer. The chapel Eisen built himself in the woods above Kamakura has become part of the landscape. Pine seedlings grow from the roof tiles, and moss is spreading over the walls. Sametono, who is now officially my foster son, always goes with me to see Eisen. These two have a way of talking to each other that has nothing to do with speech. It is all winks and growls and gestures and strange cries. They greet each other with shouts of “Kwatz!”

My cousin Munetoki has become Sametono’s kenjutsu master. Hideyori’s suspicion is like a drawn bow pointed relentlessly at our hearts, and I fear for Sametono’s life, should he show that he has his father and grandfather’s proficiency with the sword. Still, he must learn the way of the warrior, unless he is to end up as a monk.

Hideyori has said nothing to me at all about Oshu. He busies himself with his two favourite occupations, statecraft and religion. The Bakufu is now as highly organized and has as many officials as the court of Kublai Khan. Whenever weather permits, Hideyori ride to the temple of Hachiman Dai-Bosatsu, where he is building a stupa, a holy tower, dedicated to his mother. I never met the lady, who died in exile after Domei’s insurrection, but Hideyori insists that she was a saint. I am sure his hatred of Yukio must arise, in part, from the rivalry between his mother and Yukio’s mother, my friend Lady Akimi.

Third Month, twentieth day


Visiting Taniko in the women’s hall of the Shogun’s palace, Ryuichi and his burly eldest son, Munetoki, accepted ch’ai from her with courteous compliments. When, she asked herself, had she seen that uneasy expression, a strange mixture of sorrow, shame and apology, on Uncle Ryuichi’s face? Long ago she had seen it, so long that she could not place it, even though the sight of it filled her with terror.

Where was Sametono? She wanted to draw him close to her.

“That is very handsome handwriting,” said Ryuichi politely, gesturing with his cup towards the alcove where Taniko had hung a large sheet of pale green paper. On it, Sametono had written a verse of the Diamond sutra, suggested by Eisen as a calligraphic exercise:

Though we speak of goodness, the Tathagata declares that there is no goodness. Such is merely a name.

Taniko lowered her eyes modestly. “It is the poor work of my unworthy son.”

“Sametono, madame, may grow up to be one of the finest swordsmen the Sunrise Land has ever seen,” said Munetoki fiercely. The epicene Ryuichi could hardly have produced a son more unlike him than Munetoki. Munetoki’s voice was always on the verge of a parade-ground shout. He sounded angry even when he was at his most benevolent. His eyes blazed and his thick moustache bristled. Seated on cushions in Taniko’s chambers, he had the air of a resting tiger. Since Taniko’s father, Bokuden, had no sons of his own, Munetoki was heir apparent to the chieftainship of the Shima clan. Sametono adored him.

“I am happy that my son’s efforts please his sensei,” said Taniko softly. Then she looked up quickly and fixed Munetoki’s piercing brown eyes with her own. “I would prefer that you not praise the boy too highly or too publicly, Munetoki-san. It might prove embarrassing.”

Munetoki glowered at her as if she had said something outrageous. “Madame does not realize that there are samurai in the western provinces who would cheerfully give their lives for her. There are such men all over the Sunrise Land.” Taniko remembered the old samurai in the capital, years earlier, who had died defending her and Atsue from Motofusa’s retainers.

She dropped her eyes. “The first loyalty of all samurai is to the Shogun and the Bakufu. The Shogun in his vigilance against threats to the peace of the realm finds it hard to forget that Sametono is the last of Sogamori’s line, or that we Shima are a branch of the Takashi. I do not wish the Shogun to be unnecessarily vexed.”

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