Shike – Day 233 of 306

Despite the suddenness of his entry, sliding back the shoji screen with his own hand, he looked unhappy rather than angry. He wore billowing white silk robes of mourning with a taboo tag, signifying that he was bereaved and was to be left alone, dangling from his black cap. No sword hung from his belt.

Taniko pressed her forehead to the floor. “Forgive me, my lord, for being so poorly prepared to receive you.”

He knelt before her, seizing her hand in a powerful grip. A fire seemed to burn in the black depths of his eyes.

“Do you hate me, Taniko-san?”

“I? Hate you?” For a moment the question bewildered her. Then she understood. He was, after all, the man responsible for the deaths of Jebu and Yukio. Why didn’t she hate him? Because, she realized, this grief left her no room for vengefulness. Now she could see how the loss of Kiyosi and later, of Atsue, had embittered her, turning her against the man she had loved most in her life. Now she understood it did not matter who had killed Jebu. It was her karma that the men she loved must die in battle, and it was foolish to hate those who killed them.

Hideyori said, “I realize that it was Yukio who rescued you from the Mongols and brought you back safely to the Sunrise Land. You owed him a great debt of gratitude. I also owe him a debt for doing that. Otherwise I would never have met you again. I spoke violently against him to you. But that was only to use your wisdom to test my fears about Yukio. You were the only one who would argue with me.”

He gestured down at his white robe. “Like you, I mourn him. I swear to you I did not want him killed. Do not blame me for his death, because now I need you more than ever, Taniko-san.”

I suppose I need you, too, Hideyori, Taniko thought. At least, I need your goodwill if Sametono, who is now all I have left in the world, is to live. How amusing that Hideyori expected me to hate him, and I expected him to hate me. But how can he mourn Yukio? How can he say that he did not want him killed? What a horrible world this is. When Sametono reaches manhood, if he lives that long, I will kill myself.

“Do you truly regret your brother’s death, my lord?” she asked.

“By the Three Buddhas, I swear I gave strict orders to Arghun not to harm him, only to arrest him and bring him to me. Yukio was a good soldier who did not understand how the courtiers were using him in their intrigues against me.”

“I’m sure he would have come to you any time you sent for him and promised him safe conduct.”

“He would have come with an army, Taniko-san. How could I have stood against him?” Hideyori’s eyes widened with candour. “You know I’m not half the general he was. He would have overthrown me, taken over the country, and then not known what to do with it. Under his administration, the Sunrise Land would have fallen to pieces. I am building a nation to last forever. But now that he is dead, I can admit that I would not be where I am were it not for him. When they brought his head to Kamakura along with that of his friend, the mighty Zinja, I made an excuse that viewing the heads would defile the rites I was performing for my mother’s memory. Actually, I was too heartbroken to look at my brother’s head, or that of Jebu, the Zinja. He saved my life once, long ago. I was told that even your father, Lord Bokuden, was moved to tears when he opened the black boxes and gazed upon the pitiable contents.”

I will not believe that, Taniko thought.

“Who does not grieve over Yukio’s death?” Hideyori went on. “He was beloved throughout the Sunrise Land, so my reports tell me. Even though his life ended in failure, the people admire him. They think of me as a coldhearted murderer when I was only trying to do good. I must punish Arghun and Yerubutsu, to prove that I did not want Yukio to die. I must avenge him, Taniko-san.” Unease flickered in his eyes. “I fear his angry ghost.”

“His ghost?”

“Yes, his and the monk Jebu’s. Such powerful spirits are not easily put to rest. I must avenge them, to placate them.” He clenched his fist. “Yerubutsu will be dealt with when the time is ripe, but Arghun’s rampaging through this country must be stopped at once. His army puts the whole nation in jeopardy.”

“Because of the Great Khan’s designs?”

Hideyori bowed his head in agreement. “Immediately after the death of Yukio, Arghun and his troops rode in haste out of Oshu. They are now somewhere in the mountains of Echizen province, only a few days’ ride from the capital. Prince Horigawa, your husband”— he made a wry face—”hurried on ahead to Heian Kyo by the Hokurikudo Road. Shortly after his arrival in the capital, the Imperial Court invited the Mongol ambassadors at Dazaifu to come to Heian Kyo and present their Great Khan’s letter to our Emperor. I had expressly ordered that they not be allowed to come to the capital. This would not have happened if Go-Shirakawa were still alive. There are no wise heads in Heian Kyo now.” The wily old Retired Emperor had left the world late last year, in the same month as Lord Hidehira of Oshu.

“What does the Great Khan’s letter say?” Taniko asked.

“I have not seen a copy yet.”

It was good to have something to think about besides her grief. “It must be a demand that we submit to the Great Khan.”

Hideyori eyed her narrowly. “And if it is, how do you think we should reply?”

“That may be the most difficult decision you will ever have to make in your life, my lord. As I have warned you before, those nations who have resisted the Mongols have been destroyed utterly.”

“Then you think we should yield?”

“There is no salvation in that course, either. I have seen what Mongol rule does to nations. If we give in to them without a struggle, they will end by plundering these islands from end to end and taking all our men to fight in their wars. They will impose their laws on us in everything from religion to the way we dress. We who called ourselves the children of the gods will cease to exist as a people.”

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