Shike – Day 237 of 306

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.

With a leap and a shout, Munetoki was between the Mongol prince and Hideyori. He seized Gokchu’s upraised sword arm with both hands and twisted it violently, stepping into the Mongol at the same time and throwing him to the floor. Taniko heard the muffled snap of a bone breaking. Straddling the fallen Mongol, Munetoki unsheathed his long sword and lifted it high over his head.

“No,” called Hideyori. “Do not shed blood here. Let him be killed tomorrow at the public execution ground as I have already commanded. But, for drawing his sword against the Shogun, let him be executed, not by beheading, but by being cut to pieces starting with his feet.”

The other Mongol prince spoke rapidly to the pale, trembling Mon Lim, who turned to Hideyori and said, “He warns that if you do this to us, every man, woman and child on these islands will die for it. Every city and village will be levelled. Your country will cease to exist.”

Hideyori spoke in a calm, measured tone. “If the Mongols should conquer us, which I doubt our gods will permit, the people of these islands will die willingly. To us death is always preferable to surrender. But we will not line up to let our throats be slit like the animals that the Mongols herd. We are a warrior race, the children of the gods. Each of us who dies will take many, many Mongols into the Void with him. In any case, you will not see the outcome. Take them away.” Hideyori’s guards marched the three envoys from the room. They would be held in a cellar till dawn.

Munetoki jumped lightly back to the dais and bowed to the Shogun. “Forgive me for drawing my sword in your castle, my lord,” he said politely. As was customary, Hideyori offered no thanks to the young warrior for saving him from assassination. Munetoki had simply been doing a kenin’s duty. Instead, Hideyori addressed the assembly.

“Do any doubt whether our warriors are a match, man for man, for the Mongols? See the ease and skill with which Shima Munetoki disarmed and disabled that barbarian.” Cheers and shouts of approval came from all parts of the room.

“Now,” Hideyori said, seating himself. “Let Prince Sasaki no Horigawa and those officials who accompanied him from Heian Kyo be brought forward.” Taniko realized that Hideyori had rehearsed all this in advance. At his words, guards sprang to the sides of each of the six noblemen. Taniko’s heart beat faster. After all these years of hating Horigawa, she was about to see his downfall.

“Prince Horigawa,” said Hideyori, “even before the overthrow of the Takashi you were making overtures to the Mongols, encouraging them to cast covetous eyes on our Sacred Islands. It was you who invited these ambassadors to Heian Kyo and you who persuaded the Imperial Court to yield to their demands. We could have delayed the ambassadors. We could have kept up negotiations for years, giving us time to prepare for an invasion. I had no wish to kill those men. They are simply serving their master. But because you persuaded the Court to show weakness, you made it necessary for me to take drastic action to demonstrate our resolve. You have served your country and your Emperor so badly that it is plain you are a traitor to both.”

Horigawa’s eyes narrowed. “There was a time, Muratomo no Hideyori, that you wet your sleeves with tears of gratitude because I befriended you. Have you forgotten that you owe your life to me?”

“My life?” Hideyori’s face was as cold as a shark’s. “Yes, I owe you my life, but only because you wanted to use me as a weapon against the Takashi. I also owe you the death of my grandfather, executed at your urging. I owe you the deaths of my father and my elder brothers, driven to rebellion by Sogamori’s excesses, which you encouraged. I owe you the years of oppression and shame suffered by the Muratomo after my father’s uprising was put down. If I am under any obligation to you, Prince Horigawa, it has been washed away by blood.”

Horigawa’s lips drew back, baring teeth that gleamed like tiny black pearls in the lamplight. “Samurai.” He spat the word as if it were a curse. “A servant who steals his master’s place. Apes, pretending to be human beings. I did my best to use your bloody-mindedness to destroy you. I failed because, like lice, you grow fat and multiply on blood. You destroyed the world I loved, and the world you have made holds no delight for me. If you end my life, Muratomo no Hideyori, you could do me no greater service. My only regret is that I will not live to see Kublai Khan sweep you all away like so much chaff before the wind.”

He means it, Taniko thought. Where such a man is concerned, revenge is impossible. He will even turn his own execution into a triumph of sorts.

Hideyori smiled at Horigawa. “Twenty-four years ago my father sent me to kill you. Now at last I can carry out his order. I have searched my mind for a death that would be as long and horrible as your life has been, but no such thing is possible. You are an old man and will go quickly, no matter how careful we are. Yet, beheading is a samurai’s death, and you do not deserve it. So, I have decided that tomorrow you will be taken to the place of public execution and drowned in the sea. Your body will be left there. Your bones will be nibbled by fish and crabs when the tide covers them, and they will bleach in the sun when they lie exposed. It is too merciful by far for you, but I can think of no way to punish you properly.” He laughed without humour. “I am not cruel enough.”

Taniko thought, it is more appropriate than you realize, Hideyori. He will drown, as my little Shikibu did. Why am I not more delighted? Why, instead of joy, do I feel only this sad emptiness? Because his death will not bring my lost loved ones back.

Horigawa thrust his head forward like a striking snake. He spat at Hideyori’s feet. Munetoki roared with rage. Without turning, Hideyori held out his hand in a restraining gesture.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)