Shike – Day 240 of 306

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.

A lovely poem, thought Taniko. Of course, it’s two hundred years old, at least. She remembered that Horigawa had offered her an old poem as his own creation, too. She told herself firmly that she would not think about that marriage. The past did not exist.

She praised the poem.

“I copied it from an old book,” said Hideyori glumly. “I am no courtier, Taniko. I do not know how to make love as they do in Heian Kyo.”

“I myself am a simple woman of Kamakura, my lord,” said Taniko. She picked up her samisen and played “When the Silver Moon Sets.” Then she blew out the lamp and raised her outside screens. The evening air was pleasantly warm. She sat beside Hideyori, and they looked at the full moon just rising above the black castle walls. She played two more melodies for him and gave him more sake. She had expected him, after his long wait to make her his wife, to be more ardent.

At last he put his arms around her. He stroked her face and her hands and began plucking at her robes. She moved to help him open her clothing, feeling at last a tingle of anticipation. It had, after all, been a long time, and Hideyori was, in his way, attractive. They fell back together to the quilts which she had already unrolled. Now his hands, the soft hands of a man who did no labour and no fighting, were gently awakening sensations in her body. Sighing, she stroked the ivory column he pressed against her and she opened her thighs.

For a moment Hideyori was above her, blotting out the moonlight. Then he gasped and stiffened as if arrow-shot. He dropped to one side, breathing heavily. Taniko waited for him to take her, but instead he rolled away from her and lay staring out at the moon. Unsure about what to do, she began massaging his back. She ran her hands inside the collar of his kimono and rubbed his neck and shoulders. His muscles were stiff, unresponsive.

“Don’t I please you, my lord?” she said at last.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said gruffly, keeping his back to her. She was stung by his rudeness. What was the matter with the man? “You are too forward,” he said suddenly.

Nettled, she answered, “I can’t believe that a man as experienced with women as my lord is would find anything unusual in my conduct.”

“I seem to have been mistaken in you,” Hideyori said, sitting up. He was going to leave her, she realized. She was not going to be the Shogun’s bride after all, and Sametono would never be Shogun after Hideyori. The whole future of the Sunrise Land was going to be different because of some mysterious thing that had gone wrong in the last few moments. Should she try to placate him, try to persuade him to lie down with her again, or was it too late? She sat up also, and as she did so her fingertips touched a wetness on the quilt that told her everything. How stupid of me, she thought. I should have known at once. But it had never happened to her before. Other women had told her about being with men who reached their peak too soon, but all agreed that it was very rare. Hideyori was, no doubt, ashamed. He probably felt she doubted his manhood. The quarrel he had started was just a pretext to escape further embarrassment. She knew what to do to help Hideyori, from conversations she’d had with women over the years. But would he permit her?

“Forgive me, my lord,” she said softly. “I realize I haven’t been all that you hoped for. But if you leave me now, the whole castle will know it. Let me amuse you with more songs and warm you with more sake. I beg you, at least pretend you find me pleasing for this one night, or you will make me a laughing stock.”

“Very well,” said Hideyori, doubtless realizing that he, too, would be a target for humour if he left her now. He sat down again, and Taniko relit her lamp. She put a jar of sake over the brazier to warm it, and took up her samisen. She played and sang a series of songs. The first was romantic, but they became progressively more comical and salacious. Hideyori actually broke into a grin at the last and most uproarious. The songs and the sake were doing their work. He was much more relaxed. She moved closer to him and began caressing him. His kimono was still open, and she stroked his bare chest first, then his entire body. She gently pressed him back on the quilt while she continued to touch him. Soon she was exclaiming at the magnitude of his arousal while he grinned, pleased with himself. When she judged the moment to be right, she lay back and whispered that she wanted him to enter her. He took much longer to achieve the mountain-top this time, because he was less sensitive than he had been before. In fact, he took so long to satisfy himself that she unexpectedly reached the sublime moment three times before he finished, for which she was very careful to express her humble female gratitude. When at last he lay back with his eyes closed, his face serene and relaxed, she quietly breathed a sigh of relief.

“You are a wise and understanding woman, Taniko-chan,” Hideyori murmured contentedly. He turned his head towards her. “Your face as you look down at me now reminds me of the face of Kwannon I saw in a temple my mother took me to as a child. There was a time when I was very young that I thought the statues of Kwannon were statues of my mother. I feel as if I should worship you, Taniko. Please forgive me for speaking so harshly to you before. Be my Kwannon, be merciful to me.”

“There is nothing to forgive, my lord.” What a strange, strange man this is, she thought.

“I want you to visit the great stupa I built at our family shrine to Hachiman to honour my mother. I am sure it will please you.”

After a time he fell asleep. The moon was now high in the sky. She lay looking at his face in the moonlight. In repose, it seemed just the ordinary face of an ordinary man, not the face of a man who had conquered the Sunrise Land and was now about to embark on another war with an enemy vastly more powerful than any he had yet encountered.

“Let me alone, Yukio,” Hideyori moaned in his sleep. Yukio lived inside him, she thought, as Hideyori shifted his limbs and whimpered. You can never truly kill anyone. She settled herself down to sleep, propping her head on the worn wooden pillow that had been her lifelong companion. Past and future might not exist, but their traces in the present were eternal.

The next morning before he left her, Hideyori made her promise that she would tell her relatives he had kept her awake all night. His morning-after letter arrived at the hour of the serpent. It was simple, but seemed sincere. There was no poem with it. Even so, Ryuichi and Chogao were delighted. Two more night visits and a holy man’s blessing, and the Shima, the Takashi and the Muratomo would be united in the persons of Taniko, Sametono and Hideyori.

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