Shike – Day 238 of 306

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.

“Do not stain your sword, Munetoki-san,” Taniko called from behind her screen. Hideyori motioned to the guards, and Horigawa was led from the hall.

The pale, moon-faced Heian Kyo aristocrats who had come with the embassy cowered as Hideyori’s dark gaze turned next towards them. “As for you officials of the Court,” he said, “you are also guilty of trying to surrender your country to the Mongols, but I will assume that you acted out of ignorance and cowardice, rather than, as Horigawa did, out of deliberate malevolence. Therefore, I merely sentence you to return to the capital.” The powdered faces brightened with relief. After a pause Hideyori added, “On foot.”

A howl of anguish went up from the noblemen and a shout of laughter from the samurai. One fat aristocrat fell to his knees. “My lord, such a journey will kill us.”

“Nonsense,” said Hideyori. “It will make you stronger and wiser. See something of the country you were so eager to give away to Kublai Khan.” Again he paused, while the courtiers stared at him, appalled. “Of course, I shall respectfully point out to His Imperial Majesty that you are not fit to hold the ranks and offices you now enjoy. You and all others at the capital who had a hand in this decision to surrender will be sent into honourable retirement.” Hideyori waved away the stout men in their subtly shaded robes.

Now he addressed his clansmen and allies: “We have already sent out two armies, one to the land of Oshu to punish Yerubutsu for killing my brother Yukio against my wishes. The other pursues the Mongols under the tarkhan, Arghun, now lurking in Echizen province and threatening the capital. All Mongols are our enemies now. We must prepare the nation for war.”

The samurai cheered until they were hoarse, shouting the old battle cry, “Muratomo—o!” over and over again. Tears ran down Taniko’s cheeks. She wept for these samurai and for all the people of the Sunrise Land. They did not know, as she did, the enormity of the disaster that threatened them. Even to Hideyori, this crisis with the Mongols was more an opportunity than a danger. He had used the occasion to assert the supremacy of the Shogun and had put down an attempt by the Court to decide a question of war and peace. Now he would destroy the independent lord of Oshu and Arghun’s army. Then there would be no one in all the Sacred Islands not subject to his will.

Hideyori turned away from the cheering assembly. A moment later he was behind Taniko’s screen, looking down at her with a smile. “Of all who advised me, your advice was the soundest. Together we will face the worst the Great Khan can send. After tomorrow, you will be free to marry me.”

Taniko was unable to speak. Vengeance, she had found, was empty. All victories were hollow. Whether she looked to the past or to the future, all she could see before her or behind her was destruction and death. Only with an enormous effort of the will could she hold down a sob. For some reason she found herself remembering Eisen’s story of the Zen abbot who had died screaming.

Taniko lay awake all that night, thinking of the men somewhere else in the Shogun’s castle, waiting to die. They, too, must be awake, she thought. How could anyone spend the last night of his life sleeping? She did not want to be near by when they—especially Horigawa—were led out to the beach to be executed. Some time during the hour of the ox, with dawn two hours away, she called on her maids to help her dress for a journey into the hills, to see Eisen. Sametono refused to wake up. She had him wrapped in a quilt and carried down to the courtyard where her horses waited. With a maidservant and a samurai guard, who held the sleeping Sametono propped before him on his saddle, she rode up the familiar path into the pine-covered hills north of Kamakura. The sky over the great ocean to the east was already growing noticeably lighter. By the time she had arrived at the monastery, there were great ribbons of crimson unfurling like Takashi banners in the eastern sky.

“Why are you crying?” Eisen wanted to know. “Are you mourning Horigawa and the Mongol envoys?”

“I am crying because I am partly responsible for their deaths through my advice to Hideyori.”

“A samurai should never feel regret at causing death,” said Eisen firmly. “Killing is what a samurai does.”

“There is no end to it,” said Taniko, wiping her face with her sleeve. “What have we human beings done to deserve so much pain, sensei?”

“If a man is shot with a poisoned arrow, he does not bother to ask whether he deserved it. He pulls out the arrow and applies the antidote as quickly as possible.”

“What is the antidote to all this suffering?”

“Show me the face you had before you were born,” said Eisen fiercely.

Her mind a blank, Taniko shrugged helplessly. She still had not solved the kung-an. Their talk turned to her coming marriage to Hideyori. As the wife of the Shogun, she would be the most powerful woman in the land.

“You will be able to accomplish much,” said Eisen.

“Yes, through Hideyori.” She shook her head angrily. “Sensei, I want to do things in my own right, not just because some powerful man like Kiyosi or Kublai Khan or Hideyori has decided he wants to go to bed with me.” Eisen laughed softly.

She and Sametono took their midday meal with the monks. By now, she thought, feeling the tension drain out of her, the condemned men must all be gone. This evening she could return to Kamakura and it would be behind her. The past, said Eisen, did not exist. In the afternoon, at the hour of the sheep, she and Eisen walked in the temple’s garden.

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.)