Shike – Day 24 of 306

The prince patted her hand. “Do not be frightened by my impetuosity, my dear,” he whispered and grinned. At first it seemed to her that he was toothless, then she saw that his teeth had been dyed black in the Court manner. His grin faded as, still holding her hand tightly, he stared at her. Starting with her face and hair, his eyes travelled over her jacket and her many layers of skirts and dresses. He pursed his lips as he considered her selection of ornaments and her matching of colours.

“You appear to be as satisfactory as the matchmaker claimed,” he said. He gestured at a jar of sake Taniko’s aunt had left standing over a charcoal warmer, with two cups carefully placed on either side of it. Taniko poured sake, first for him, then for herself. Perhaps sake would help.

His cold fingertips scratched the nape of her neck. She could not help herself. She shuddered.

“The trapped bird trembles,” he murmured. He drew a deep breath and threw himself upon her.

Taniko gave a little shriek as he clawed at her jacket, his face reddening. He seemed almost frantic as he plunged his hands under her skirts, trying to undo his gold-splashed black robe at the same time. Taniko had seen sparrows mating, and this flurried, furious assault reminded her of that.

“Your Highness,” she gasped, out of breath. “This haste is inelegant.” Recalling one of her mother’s bedchamber books she added, “Permit me to unfold the pleasures of my body to you in more leisurely fashion, I beg you. To an inexperienced maiden, the charms of so handsome and distinguished a lord are irresistible, but do not press me so quickly.”

“Your notion of the arts of the bedchamber are countrified,” Horigawa panted. Inexorably he peeled away the layers of her clothing. In the flickering candlelight she caught a glimpse of his aroused body. It sickened her. She squeezed her eyes shut.

She reminded herself that she should not resist him. Custom demanded that she let the prince have his way. Keeping her eyes shut, she tried to relax. She remembered how, during their night together, Jebu had told her many things about the Zinja and the arts they practised. He said they could take their minds out of their bodies and go on long mental journeys, leaving their physical selves behind. She made herself think of the great white mountain, Fuji-san, that she had passed with Jebu at the beginning of their journey from Kamakura. This ugly little prince had doubtless never seen Mount Fuji.

He was hurting her. He had no consideration for her feelings, no tenderness for her virginity. From his grunting and his hard, sharp movements she sensed that he was aware only of his own need for relief.

There was a searing pain. She gritted her teeth, but she could not stop herself from screaming aloud. It felt as though she had been stabbed in the bowels with a samurai dagger.

Horigawa opened his eyes and grinned at her, showing his blackened teeth again. “Your scream gives me pleasure,” he whispered. He threw back his head, the cords in his scrawny neck stood out and his body convulsed momentarily. Then panting heavily, he stopped moving. He pressed his brow, covered with cold sweat, against her cheek, then pulled away from her. She felt wet and soiled. She pulled her skirts down to cover herself. Would she have to spend the rest of the night with this man?

And there was worse. She was expected to spend the rest of her life with him. There would be countless nights like this one. Despair overwhelmed her, and she wanted to cry, but with the little man still lying beside her, duty to her family forbade any show of her real feelings.

“That was very pleasant, my dear,” Horigawa said with a small, false smile. “It has been some time since I have lain with a woman. I have simply been too busy. My work at the Court, in these difficult times, has allowed me no leisure. But it is not healthy for a man to abstain for too long. It puts the forces of yin and yang out of balance in the male body. You have made it possible for me to return to my work with renewed vigour.”

Taniko felt a flicker of curiosity. “I am pleased to have been of help to you, Your Highness. Your work must, indeed, be very demanding.” She added what good manners required her to say. “I cannot imagine that such a vigorous man would wish to abstain for very long.”

“Quite right,” said Horigawa smugly. He began to draw his dark robes together. “And for that reason I came to you tonight, even though, as you say, my work is very demanding. Although it pains me not to spend the night with you, I must leave you now.”

“Will the streets be safe for you tonight, Your Highness? I saw the fighting last night and the burning of houses, and I was frightened.” Actually, she had not been that frightened, but she hoped Horigawa would shed some light on what was happening in the capital.

“I appreciate your concern, my dear, but I am quite safe. My friend Sogamori, the Minister of the Left, has provided me with a samurai guard, both for my house and for my person when I go abroad. These disturbances are the work of rebellious elements who refuse to yield to the will of the Emperor. But they will soon be crushed, and you will have no further need for fear.”

Taniko knew how meaningless was Horigawa’s accusation that his opponents were rebels against the Emperor. All sides in any major political dispute claimed to be doing the will of the Emperor and charged their enemies with treason. Actually the Emperor had no power of his own, and his will was the will of whichever faction controlled him at the moment.

“These rebels, Your Highness, are they the Muratomo?” Taniko asked. “You must forgive my country ignorance, but I do not know.”

“Women are not expected to know anything, my dear,” said Horigawa.

Taniko resisted an urge to throw her candle at him. Instead she said, “But I find you so fascinating, Your Highness, that I cannot help but be interested in the world in which you move.” The fact was that it was only his connection with high places and great political matters that made the thought of marriage to him at all bearable.

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