Shike – Day 242 of 306

“I hope that when the Mongols come back I will be old enough to fight them,” said Sametono eagerly. Taniko’s heart sank, even though she knew that as a samurai mother she should be proud.

Munetoki stood up, towering over the little group of students. He turned suddenly to the instructor.

“They aren’t bad, these boys, all things considered. Keep them at it.” The instructor’s face glowed like a temple mirror. Bowing to Taniko, Munetoki turned and strode out of the dojo.

Chapter Five

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

Can it be seventeen years since I last saw Heian Kyo? The capital has suffered so much in those years—civil war, fires, earthquakes, plagues, famines. Over half the buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt. It is not the fairy-tale city I came to so long ago with Jebu. But the girl who saw it that way no longer exists, either.

The Mongols having been driven off, Hideyori decided to make a state visit to the capital. We travelled down the Tokaido with three thousand mounted samurai and twice that many on foot. I would have preferred to travel on horseback myself, as I did so long ago, but Hideyori insisted a screened palanquin is the only proper conveyance for the wife of the Shogun. He himself rode that nervous white stallion, Plum Blossom, though he is as much at ease on horse as I would be on the back of an elephant. But the people lined the Tokaido to see the Shogun, and Hideyori felt he should show himself, looking like a warrior. Sametono did not come with us. He begged to be left behind, and I did so, knowing too well how he dreads the Rokuhara.

Hideyori’s visit has upset the Imperial Court no end. From the Regent on down, he has removed members of the Fujiwara and Sasaki families from office, replacing them with men of less ancient lineage whom he considers more trustworthy. He has also moved against the warrior monks, persuading the Great Council of State to pass an edict forbidding the Shinto and Buddhist monks to bear arms and ordering the Zinjas to disband altogether. No wonder he chose to travel with an army.

My lord seems more fearful of ghosts, though, than of living warrior monks. Since we’ve married, I’ve spent very few nights in peaceful sleep. Again and again he wakes up screaming and covered with cold sweat. It seems his whole family is pursuing him through his dreams, not just Yukio but his father, Captain Domei, his grandfather, his uncles and various illustrious ancestors. Hideyori believes these are not just dreams, but ghostly apparitions. I find it hard to understand why his family would persecute him when he, of all people, has brought the Muratomo clan more power and glory than they ever had before. After one of these dreams, only the union of our bodies restores his peace of mind. I must add, though I dare confide it only to my pillow book, that all too often he is unable to accomplish his desires with me.

Through my personal network of samurai and servants, I’ve learned that Shizumi, Yukio’s brave mistress, has retired to a convent only half a day’s ride from here. I must find out why she left Kamakura so suddenly.

Also, as Horigawa’s widow, I’ve inherited not only most of his possessions, but his private papers as well. His family placed them in the keeping of the Kofukuji monastery in Nara, and I have sent for them. The thought of reading documents written in Horigawa’s own hand makes my flesh crawl, but there is doubtless much to be learned in those papers, as well as some fascinating and scandalous stories.

-Third Month, twentieth day


The nunnery of Jakko-in was in the Ohara hills, north of Heian Kyo. For appearances’ sake, Taniko allowed herself to be carried there in a sedan chair. The temple itself was an ancient building with a broken tile roof, set beside a pond surrounded by dignified trees. In the hills sheltering the temple, small huts nestled in the shadows of pines and oaks. Taniko felt nervous coming here. Many of the women here who had retired from the world and taken vows were ladies of the Takash family. Such women might resent someone like herself who had benefited conspicuously from the same turn of the wheel of karma that brought them low.

She paid her respects to the large wooden statue of Amida, the Buddha of Boundless Light, in the temple. Then she presented herself to the abbess, inquired after Shizumi, and was directed up a flight of stone steps spiralling to a grassy slope. Before long Shizumi, a basket of mountain azaleas on her arm, appeared.

Taniko followed Shizumi to her hut. It was a single room on bamboo stilts. Pinned to the shoji were coloured papers bearing verses from the sutras which Shizumi had copied out in a calligraphic hand that reflected her dancer’s spirit. Shizumi herself had aged. Her face was gaunt, her hair lank—she had not yet shaved her head—and the edges of her patched robes were threadbare. The one valuable object in her hut was a samisen hanging on the wall.

“Do you play often?” asked Taniko.

“The dampness has ruined it, I’m afraid,” said Shizumi with a rueful smile. “But I keep it because of the love and art that went into making it.”

“Why did you leave Kamakura without a word to me?” Taniko asked. “You could have stayed with me.” Through the mist of time Taniko saw again the fragile, beautiful young woman who had danced in white robes before Hideyori.

“I would have brought ruin to anyone who tried to protect me. I was carrying Yukio’s son.” Fear gripped Taniko’s heart as she asked a question she did not want answered.

“What happened to your baby?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, my lady. Please forgive me.” Taniko seized both the young woman’s hands in a crushing grip. “You must tell me. You must.”

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