Shike – Day 236 of 306

“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.

“Who was that man, Mother?” Sametono asked. “He said you were his wife. Is he really your husband?”

Taniko took a deep breath and let it out to relax herself. “He is no one, my child. No one at all.”

It was evening when Hideyori and the high-ranking samurai of Kamakura gathered in the Great Audience Hall of the Shogun’s castle to meet the Mongol delegation. Ceremonial etiquette required Taniko to observe the gathering from behind a screen on a dais a short distance from where Hideyori would sit. The chamber itself was a huge room, lit by hundreds of oil lamps, with rows of White Dragon banners hanging from the beamed ceiling. Over five hundred vassals of the Muratomo and officers of the Bakufu were seated on cushions. Whatever Hideyori intended, he wanted plenty of witnesses.

When Hideyori entered, stately in his black sokutai robe, the assembled samurai bumped their foreheads on the floor. His face stony, Hideyori seated himself without a word. On the dais to his right an left were his chief councillors, Bokuden, Munetoki, the chieftains of the great clans and the heads of the Bakufu Secretariat, the Samurai Office and the Judiciary. Hideyori nodded peremptorily to the guards at the rear of the audience chamber, and the large doors slid back.

Three envoys came into the room, a portly, bearded Chinese wearing a red and blue robe brocaded with gold dragons, and two tall Mongols in cloth-of-gold coats trimmed with fur. The Mongols wore sabres in jewelled scabbards. Behind the ambassadors walked Prince Horigawa with five other court officials from Heian Kyo, all in silk robes of varying shades of pearl grey and light green, appropriate for spring. There followed a long exchange of diplomatic courtesies, with the Chinese diplomat speaking for the delegation in the language of the Sunrise Land. He introduced himself as Mon Lim, assistant secretary in the Great Khan’s Office of Foreign Affairs. The two men in gold were Prince Gokchu and Prince Belgutei, grandnephews of Genghis Khan, princes of the most exalted blood in the Mongol empire.

“Where did you learn to speak our language?” Hideyori asked gruffly.

“Your eminent Prince Sasaki no Horigawa was kind enough to teach it to me, sir,” the Chinese replied with a smile.

“I have already read your Great Khan’s letter to our Emperor,” said Hideyori. “For the benefit of these honoured warriors, I ask you to read it now.”

Mon Lim drew a scroll from his sleeve, unrolled it and began to read the Great Khan’s letter. Angry mutterings rose around the room at the arrogance of the Great Khan’s claim that his victories in warfare were proof of his “mandate from heaven” but Mon Lim went on without hesitation until he came to the phrase, “offer of union between our great empire and your little country.”

“Enough!” Hideyori shouted suddenly. There was a murmur of approval from the assembled samurai, who also had heard enough.

Mon Lim looked up, surprised. “There is only a little more remaining, sir.”

“I wish to hear no more. This letter insults His Imperial Majesty. How dare you bring such a blasphemous document to our Sacred Islands? Your Great Khan must be an ignorant barbarian. Such a letter deserves no reply at all.”

“Good!” shouted Munetoki from Hideyori’s right, unable to contain himself. He smacked his fist into his palm.

“I do not understand, sir,” said Mon Lim.

“I do not expect you to understand,” said Hideyori. “The Chinese people have surrendered to the Mongols and you yourself have chosen to serve them. We do not intend to submit.”

“A truly civilized people turns to war only as a last resort,” said Mon Lim calmly. “You, sir, are the chief general in this land. My master would be most kindly disposed towards you if you were to help bring peace between our two nations.”

Hideyori bared his teeth in a tigerish smile. “Does the Great Khan reward you well for your services to him? Do you have a fine palace in your own country? A vast estate yielding much rice? A strongroom full of treasure?”

“The Great Khan has deigned to show me such kindnesses, which I little merit,” said Mon Lim with a modest smile.

“I hope for your sake you have enjoyed those possessions thoroughly,” said Hideyori, still grinning, “because you will never see them again.”

The ambassador’s face paled. “Sir, you can’t mean that.”

Hideyori rose to his feet and strode to the edge of the dais, his black robe swirling around him and his hand on the hilt of Higekiri, the Muratomo heirloom sword. “Translate what I say so your two princelings will understand. In coming to this land of the gods with this message, you have descrated our country and insulted the sacred person of our Emperor. Only death can atone for this sacrilege. Only the death of his messengers is a fitting reply to the one who calls himself Great Khan. I sentence you to be taken to the execution ground on the beach north of the city and beheaded. Let this happen tomorrow at sunrise, that Amaterasu Omi Kami may see you pay for your blasphemy against her son.”

Mon Lim had begun to murmur a translation for the Mongol princes, but as he grasped the full import of Hideyori’s words, he fell silent and his mouth hung open. At last, in the tense silence that followed Hideyori’s sentence, he spoke.

“Sir, your Emperor has already agreed to our terms. It is not we who are offending him. It is you who are disobeying him.”

“His Imperial Majesty has agreed to nothing. Illegal agreements were made by rebels and traitors in the Imperial Court.” Hideyori glared meaningfully at Horigawa and the other officials from Heian Kyo, who stood shocked and silent behind the Mongol ambassadors. The Chinese diplomat hastily finished translating Hideyori’s speech for the two Mongol princes. At once, the one called Gokchu reacted. His sabre flashed as he rushed at the dais, knocking Mon Lim aside. Hideyori stood rigid and motionless, like a guardian statue before a temple, the knuckles white on the hand that gripped his sword. Taniko felt her heart stop. Draw your sword, she thought. Draw your sword.

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