Shike – Day 235 of 306

“No, sensei.”

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

Chapter Two

Standing on the parapet of the outer wall of the mighty castle Hideyori had built for himself, Taniko watched the approach of the procession bringing the Mongol embassy from the Tokaido Road into Kamakura. A row of samurai stood on the wall a respectful distance behind her. Tears stung her eyes as she remembered how she and Jebu, when she was a young girl, had ridden out of Kamakura to the Tokaido. Beside her, just barely able to see over the stone ramparts, Sametono squeezed her hand excitedly.

“Are those Mongol soldiers, Mother?”

“No, Sametono-chan. Ambassadors do not travel with their own troops. Those are our samurai, sent to escort the emissaries.”

Messengers riding ahead of the diplomatic party had brought disturbing news from Heian Kyo. The Imperial Court Council of State had met with the Mongols. The councillors were deeply grieved by the barbarous, contemptuous, well-nigh sacrilegious letter from Kublai Khan, which had claimed divine right to the title Son of Heaven, but, as Kublai had doubtless foreseen, its threat of annihilation should they fail to submit had thrown them into a panic, and they had decided to yield to the Great Khan’s demands. A letter would be sent by the seven-year-old Emperor Kamayama acknowledging Kublai Khan’s authority over him. The Emperor would send the tribute required. And the Imperial Court would permit a Mongol army to enter the country and set up a garrison near Heian Kyo.

Undoubtedly, Taniko thought, Arghun and his veterans of five years of warfare in the Sacred Islands would form the nucleus of that occupying army. The courtiers neither knew, nor would they have cared, that the samurai and the common people who had got wind of the capitulation were furious. One reason Hideyori had sent five hundred horsemen and two thousand foot soldiers to escort the ambassadors and the Court officials accompanying them was to protect them from the outraged populace. Only Hideyori himself knew what he would do when he met the ambassadors. He had asked Taniko’s advice, but had not confided his plans to her. He might elect to do nothing at all. Officially, this visit by the ambassadors was just a courtesy call on the Supreme Commander of the Emperor’s armed forces. Instead of speaking for the Sunrise Land, as Taniko had hoped he could, Hideyori was expected merely to ratify the decision of Heian Kyo. The Imperial Court had chosen to give in to the Mongols without consulting him.

From the height on which Hideyori’s castle was built, Taniko could see the entire procession winding its way in from the Tokaido. The din of drums, gongs and flutes grew even louder. Now the first foot soldiers, running rhythmically, were crossing the bridge over the wide moat, passing through the heavily fortified main gate of the castle, which was only opened for ceremonial occasions like this. Rows of white Muratomo banners on the walls waved at similar banners strapped to the backs of officers in the escort. Many of the people lining the streets of Kamakura held smaller white flags. They cheered for the samurai as they passed, but watched in sullen silence the heavily curtained, gilded palanquins bobbing along in the midst of the parade.

When the palanquins had passed through the main gate, Taniko and Sametono went down the steps from the walls. Inside the wall there was a succession of lovely gardens meant to resemble those on the grounds of the Imperial Palace at Heian Kyo. These gardens, however, had a second purpose. They were cleverly arranged to form a maze in which any attacker would get lost and could easily be trapped. As Hideyori’s officers led the embassy through this circuitous route, Taniko, Sametono and the samurai escorting her hurried through a secret shortcut to the central hall. Taniko was anxious to see the Mongol ambassadors; she wondered if she would recognize any of them from her days at Kublai Khan’s court.

Through a narrow gate she entered the courtyard before the Shogun’s central hall. She did not expect that the first dignitary she would see descending from a palanquin, stepping on the back of a prostrate servant, would be Prince Sasaki no Horigawa. Surrounded by a ring of samurai in armour, they stared at each other across an expanse of white gravel. The little eyes in the wrinkled face sparkled with malice as Horigawa gave her a mocking bow.

“How many years has it been since I had the pleasure of meeting my esteemed wife? You have aged gracefully, lady.”

A few years ago, had she encountered Horigawa, she might have tried to kill him with the handiest weapon. Now the fire of that hatred only smouldered, like a cooling volcano. Showing that she was unperturbed, she decided, would be the best response to this creature. But she could not resist a word of contempt.

“Long ago you delivered your wife into the hands of barbarians. Now, it seems, you intend to do the same thing to your country.”

Horigawa smiled. “That will be my country’s good fortune, if it is treated as well by those barbarians as you were. Ah, but I nearly forgot to extend my sympathies. The Zinja monk with whom you were so initimate long ago has at last passed into oblivion. I saw him shortly before his well-deserved death. He tried to kill me. My friend Lord Bokuden tells me that he has seen that red head pickled in sake. A fitting end for such a violent fellow.”

Horigawa befouled Jebu’s memory by speaking of him. Now she did want to seize a sword from one of her samurai escorts and run the prince through, to avenge Jebu. Instead she forced herself to smile.

“All of us eventually meet the fate we deserve, Your Highness.”

Horigawa stared at her, puzzled, annoyed by her equanimity. “All of us do meet our proper fate, my lady,” he agreed in his piping voice. “Perhaps I will have a hand in determining yours, once the affairs of this realm are settled.” He turned away and started up the stairs.

“Give me the order and I’ll cut him in two,” a voice growled at her ear. She turned and looked up to see Munetoki standing behind her.

“Thank you, Cousin, but that will not be necessary,” she said. “Such a breach of the peace would be a disservice to the Shogun.” She discovered that she was trembling. Only then did she realize what an effort it had cost her to maintain her self-control.

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