Shike – Day 234 of 306

“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.”

“But if we do decide to resist, how should we answer this letter from Kublai Khan? Should we be conciliatory and try to gain time?”

“I think not, my lord. That would only create conflict and confusion in our own ranks. If you intend to fight the Mongols, send for their ambassadors. Have them come to Kamakura and present their letter to you. Then have them publicly beheaded. There will be no turning back after that. To the Mongols, the killing of an ambassador is unforgivable. The whole country will have to unite behind you to fight the invaders, because the only alternative will be our total annihilation.”

Hideyori took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “That is very drastic advice, Taniko-san.”

“My lord, we are threatened by the greatest power the world has ever known. The Great Khan has hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of huge ocean-going ships. The whole country must be united as one man, or we are surely doomed.”

“I shall offer up many prayers to Hachiman, asking his help in making this decision,” Hideyori murmured.

“Prince Horigawa is obviously in league with the Mongols, my lord,” Taniko went on. “He always has been. He will intrigue on their behalf with the Imperial Court. You must kill him.”

“And rid you of an ardently undesired husband?” said Hideyori with a small smile. “Well, I do not wish him to remain your husband, either.” His eyes darkened. “I have promised myself and you that you will be my wife. I need you at my side. I must make decisions that will determine the future of the Sunrise Land for all time. You can help me.”

“I only tell you what must be obvious to any person of sense, my lord.”

“This talk has been a great relief to me, Taniko-san.” Hideyori stood up. “I have dreaded seeing you ever since I learned that Yukio and Jebu were dead. I am happy to see that you bear your grief with wisdom and patience.”

After he was gone she shed more tears for Jebu. That was a wound she would carry with her to the grave, one that no one would know about. Yet, how puzzling that Hideyori had not only permitted her to grieve, but had even mourned for Yukio himself. How odd that his need for her seemed to override every other consideration.

She was hungry. She called a maid and asked for food. She was coming back to life. She still had Sametono. She had to see him through to manhood. Then, as she had decided, she would commit seppuku. There was one other thing, the Mongol threat. She would not leave this world of her own volition until she had done what little she could to help defend the Sunrise Land.

Sametono came to her later that day, and she tried to explain to him, in part, the cause of her sorrow.

“Do you mean that the big warrior monk who saved me from the Rokuhara was killed?” Sametono’s small face was stricken. Tears streamed down his round cheeks. “I have often dreamed of him. I want to grow up to be just like him.”

To comfort the child and herself, Taniko went to the cedar chest that held her most precious belongings. Sametono’s eyes widened as she brought out a sword wrapped in silk. She removed the covering and slowly drew the gleaming, ancient blade part-way from its scabbard.

“This sword is called Kogarasu,” Taniko said. She told him its history. “Some day when you are grown you will be able to wear it. For now you may come to me and secretly visit Kogarasu from time to time. But you must never let Lord Hideyori know about this. If he ever sees you carrying Kogarasu, that will be your last day on earth.” She held the hilt out to him and he drew the two-edged sword all the way from its scabbard. Even though it was as long as he was tall, he held it up with the ease he had already acquired through kenjutsu.

Two days later, Taniko was well enough to visit Eisen. For once she went without Sametono. This time she wanted to unburden herself of a private grief. She told the monk of Jebu’s death, and he listened, unsmiling.

When she was finished he asked, “What has this taught you?”

“Taught me? It has left me with a question, sensei. I have been studying with you for years. I expected my work in Zen to make me stronger to bear sorrow. When I heard the news of Jebu’s death I screamed and collapsed. I have made up my mind, once my last duties are fulfilled, to put an end to my miserable life. Why doesn’t Zen help me?”

Eisen smiled. “There was an abbott who saw deeper into realization than any person of his day. He was a living Buddha. One day this holy man was travelling on a pilgrimage and robbers set upon him. His screams as they stabbed him to death could be heard six provinces away.” Eisen looked piercingly at her. “Do you understand?”

“No, sensei.”

“When you understand, my child, you will see the face you had before you were born.”

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