Shike – Day 239 of 306

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.

Their conversation was interrupted by a messenger from Hideyori, a breathless young samurai who bowed to the monk and the lady in the temple garden. “The heads of the Great Khan’s ambassadors are on their way back to him. As for Horigawa, he has survived the morning high tide. When I left the Shogun’s castle he still lived. Lord Hideyori thought you would be pleased to know that he is still suffering.”

“What are they doing to him?” Taniko asked, horrified.

“There is a cliff that drops down to the sea near the execution ground,” said the samurai. “The executioners have hung Prince Horigawa from that cliff by a rope tied around his chest. As the tide goes in and out, they raise and lower him so that his head is always just above the water. The waves dash continuously into his face, the cold is intense, and his body is bloody from being repeatedly thrown against the rocks. At times they allow him to be submerged for a moment and he comes close to drowning.” Taniko fell to the ground and put her face in her hands. The young samurai stared at her, puzzled. Eisen sent him away.

After he was gone Taniko said, “Hideyori thinks it may please me to know that Horigawa is still alive and in pain. In the name of Amida Buddha, what does he think I am?”

“There is a part of you that wants Horigawa to be tormented. That is why you are feeling so much pain.”

In the evening Hideyori’s samurai messenger returned to tell her that Horigawa yet lived. He was raving and babbling now in three languages, the young man said. The exquisitely educated mind was unravelling.

Taniko stayed at the monastery that night. She did not want to go back to Kamakura as long as Horigawa was still being tortured. Long before daylight she rose and put on a hooded cloak and went to the meditation hall to sit in zazen with the monks.

At the hour of the dragon that morning, Hideyori himself arrived at the monastery and sent for her. He was waiting with a small group of horsemen just outside the gate, sitting astride a skittish, pure white stallion that had been a present from Bokuden when he assumed the title of Shogun. A retainer held the horse’s head and stroked its nose to keep it calm. When he saw Taniko, Hideyori dismounted. He took a gleaming black box from a servant. Taniko knew what she was going to see and she wanted to run away, but she forced herself to look as Hideyori opened the box with a self-satisfied smile.

The white stallion screamed and reared at the sight, almost kicking the man holding him. Horigawa’s dead lower lip hung open, showing his blackened teeth. His face was even more wrinkled than it had been in life, and there were bruises on his cheeks and forehead. She felt an enormous relief that it was all over. She turned away and put her hand over her eyes. Hideyori closed the box lid with a bang and handed it back to his servant. In just such a box as that Jebu’s head lay, she thought.

“That man was harder to kill than a centipede,” Hideyori said with a smile. “He survived until just before dawn this morning. He screamed all through the night. I went out to listen to him. I am sorry that you could not bring yourself to be there. I hope his execution pleases you.”

She must give him some reply. “Thank you, my lord, for giving me this satisfaction,” she said quietly.

“You are free of your vow now,” said Hideyori. “When may I come to you?”

Was she to acquire another husband so quickly? She felt frightened, walled in. Well, it was the way she could be most useful to the Sunrise Land and could best protect Sametono.

“You will adopt Sametono, my lord?”

“Yes, yes. He will be my foster son. He will be treated as an Imperial prince is. If he shows himself capable, he may even be Shogun himself some day, as well as chieftain of the Muratomo.”

And as the mother of the Shogun-to-be, she, and not her father, would be the most important member of the Shima clan.

“When may I come, Taniko-san?”

“Please understand, my lord. I am upset by all that has happened.”

“I can be patient a little while longer. But when?”

“Come to me in the Fourth Month on the night of the full moon.”

“Will you have a baby?”

“I’m too old, I think.”

“But isn’t that what happens when people get married?” Sametono, like everyone else in her family, saw Taniko’s new position as the Shogun’s primary wife in the light of his own concerns. He was anxious that he might be supplanted in her heart by a new baby. Bokuden was nervously deferential and not pleased that his daughter would nightly have the ear of the most powerful man in the land. Uncle Ryuichi and Aunt Chogao felt themselves vindicated. Taniko’s first marriage, which they had helped arrange, had been such a disaster that this one, according to their simple view of the law of karma, must be a great success.

“Now you’ve got a real man,” Aunt Chogao had bubbled as they soaked together in a hot tub. “You deserve some good luck, Tanikochan.”

It doesn’t feel at all like good luck, Taniko thought later, as she lay on her futon in her dimly lit room, waiting for Hideyori’s first-night visit. It simply feels like another turn of the wheel of birth and death. Her screen slid back. Hideyori was not even making a pretence of secrecy. Beyond him, in the corridor, she could see two guards tryin to suppress grins. Hideyori shut the screen and turned to her. He wore a plum-coloured kimono, a departure from his usual sombre tones. He looked unhappy and nervous. I’m the one who should be nervous, Taniko thought. It’s been years since I’ve been to bed with a man, while he, from what I hear, has a different courtesan every night.

“Will you have sake, my lord?” She poured a cup for him and held it out. He seated himself awkwardly, drained the tiny cup in one quick sip, and held it out for more. Twice more she filled it and twice more he drank. She hoped he was not going to drink so much that he would be unable to enjoy his visit. That would be embarrassing for both of them. As for herself, she might as well have been discussing the Confucian classics with an old scholar, for all the desire she felt.

He praised the vase of tulips she had set in a corner of the room. Abruptly, he took a rolled-up sheet of rose-tinted paper from his sleeve. “I wrote this in praise of your great beauty.” The scroll was tied with a long blade of grass. Taniko opened it and read the verse.

The bamboo grasses
Bend their backs in the autumn wind,
Dancing in the sun.
But when the wind does not blow,
They point straight to the heavens.

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