Shike – Day 243 of 306

“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.”

“My baby was nothing to you, my lady. Please don’t concern yourself.”

“Shizumi, my firstborn child, my daughter, was torn from my arms and drowned. I care about what happens to children.”

Shizumi’s thin shoulders shook with sobs. “I ran away from the Shogun’s castle when I knew my time was coming. I fled to a cave along the beach. I was alone and it was horribly painful, but my son was born alive. A group of samurai came riding up to the cave entrance. They must have heard the baby cry. One came and took the baby from me.” Her weeping choked her for a moment. “He held him by his ankles and swung his head against the cave wall.”

“Oh no, oh no.” Taniko took Shizumi in her arms and cried along with her. “Do you know who did this?”

“I’m sorry, my lady, I don’t want to tell you.”

“I insist that you tell me, Shizumi-san. Whoever he is, I’ll see to it that he is punished. I’m not helpless, Shizumi. I am the wife of the Shogun.”

Shizumi looked at her with haunted eyes. “Forgive me for telling you, my lady. I am under obligation to you, and you have insisted. It was your husband. The Shogun.”

Taniko felt as if she had been struck in the heart with a hammer. “Not Hideyori,” she said weakly. “He doesn’t kill children.”

Shizumi squeezed Taniko’s hand. “Forget what I told you, my lady. It won’t do you any good to brood about it. It would be much better if you didn’t believe me at all.”

Taniko shook her head. In the midst of her shock and pain, she felt fully convinced that Shizumi was telling her the truth. Sogamori had let Hideyori and Yukio live because they were so young, and the two boys had grown up to destroy the Takashi family. Hideyori would not make the same mistake. Taniko wiped away her tears with her sleeve.

“You have been very helpful to me, Shizumi-san. It is never an injury to tell someone the truth.”

She sat talking with the pale young woman until the tolling bell of the Jakko-in signalled sunset. Then she said goodbye to the dancer. She called her attendants and had them carry her back to the capital. Back in her quarters at the Rokuhara she ordered ten robes from her own wardrobe to be sent to the nunnery for Shizumi. Then she turned to the chests containing Horigawa’s documents.

Horigawa’s papers had been brought to Taniko by a priest of the Kofukuji, a temple that had been heavily endowed over the centuries by the Sasaki family. She had not yet told Hideyori that the papers had come into her hands. Having heard Shizumi’s story, she now decided she would tell him nothing. Tonight he was meeting with the military commanders of the Home Provinces to discuss the defence of the capital against another Mongol attack. The meeting would probably last till nearly morning, and it was unlikely that he would send for her. She lit her lamp and told her maid she did not want to be disturbed.

Six red-lacquered cedar chests, decorated with sprays of sagittaria leaves painted in gold, lay in a row before her. She decided to start with the box on the far right. To pick up one of Horigawa’s scrolls felt like touching poisoned food, but the fragrance of cedar helped her overcome her revulsion. She quickly became absorbed in details of Horigawa’s life and work stretching over the past seventy years. Most of the papers were written in Chinese, the literary language of the old nobility. Taniko found memoranda to other government officials, copies of poems, reports from spies, genealogical tables, lists of flowers and roots to be judged in Court contests, trading contracts and inventories of Horigawa’s lands, possessions and wardrobes. There were threatening letters phrased with the utmost courtesy from other nobles to whom Horigawa owed vast quantities of rice and many bales of silk. It became apparent that Horigawa had been deeply in debt before his marriage to Taniko. Crops had failed on lands he owned far from the capital, and the lavish entertaining he had done to advance himself had required heavy borrowing. Shima Bokuden, as she had always suspected, had rescued the prince from debt, receiving in turn the friendship of the Sasaki and the Takashi and a titled husband for his third daughter. Her father’s letters to Horigawa were disgustingly obsequious.

Some of the papers Taniko found would have caused a scandal if their contents had become known. A series of letters revealed that Horigawa and Chia Ssu-tao, the chancellor of the Sung Emperor of China, had been dealing secretly with the Mongols, each betraying his country for his own reasons. The letters showed that when Horigawa had visited Kublai Khan’s camp and abandoned her there, he had been acting as a go-between for the Chinese chancellor, who wanted to surrender the Sung empire to the Mongols. One letter told Chia Ssu-tao that among the gifts Horigawa was presenting to the Mongol leaders there would be “an accomplished and experienced courtesan from our capital, a beautiful young woman. She is also faithless and bad-tempered, but the Mongol officers enjoy taming wild creatures, I am told.” Taniko clenched her fists and restrained herself from tearing the scroll to bits.

It was long after midnight that she struck real treasure. On a scroll dated “Year of the Dragon” she read:

Eighth Month, twenty-fifth day.

The gods have delivered the Muratomo into my hands. After all the heads have fallen, only Domei will be left. Sogamori will be my weapon against Domei.

She unrolled the scroll eagerly, her eyes racing up and down the columns of characters in Horigawa’s precise, rather cramped hand. The diary, a pillow book like her own, but terser in style, was written in the language of the Sunrise Land, in which, no doubt, Horigawa found it easier to express his private thoughts.

She dug through the scrolls, foraging for the ones that looked most recent. At last she came upon what must have been the last scroll Horigawa had written. It began over five years ago, with the prince gloating over Yukio’s impolitic involvement with the Court, his acceptance of the ancient office of Lieutenant of the Palace Guards, and Hideyori’s rage when Horigawa reported it to him. Sadly Taniko traced the downfall of Yukio and the success of Horigawa’s efforts to intensify the enmity between the brothers. Horigawa recounted Yukio’s flight from the capital, his shipwreck and disappearance, and his subsequent emergence in Oshu. Then came an entry for the Year of the Rooster that made Taniko gasp:

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