Shike – Day 245 of 306

“Horigawa actually betrayed you. What harm did Yukio do you, or any of those children?”

Hideyori took her shoulders in his hands and stared into her eyes. It was like looking into a night sky that had lost all its stars.

“Their mere existence threatened the security of the realm,” he said. “That made them my enemies.” He was mad, Taniko decided. Or, at least, in this belief, which had already driven him to kill hundreds of innocents, there lay the seeds of madness.

“Anyone at all might become a threat to the realm,” she said.

He laughed. “Don’t be absurd. Millions of people make up the nation, but those who threaten it are like a handful of rice out of a whole year’s harvest. Taniko-san, think how many people, from the lowliest peasants to the nobles of the highest rank, lost their lives in the War of the Dragons. If killing a few people will prevent another war like that from breaking out, is not the sacrifice justified?”

She did not answer him. Hideyori’s fingers toyed with the silver-mounted hilt of his long sword. He turned and gazed down into the pebble-lined bottom of the goldfish pool in the centre of the garden. The frightening thing about him, Taniko thought, is that he doesn’t seem at all mad. He is talking calmly and quietly as if he makes perfect sense. And what is even more terrifying is the possibility that if I listen to him long enough it will begin to make sense to me.

“No wonder,” she said at last, “your family haunts your dreams.”

He turned and faced her, his air of cold assurance turning unexpectedly to anguish and fear. “Only you know how I suffer night after night for doing what was necessary to preserve the realm. Only you can comfort me. I thought you, of all people, would understand. You have known many rulers. You understand affairs of state. Why do you look at me like that now?”

Taniko held out her hands in a helpless gesture. “There are many ways to be a ruler.”

“Every time I killed, or ordered someone to be killed, it seemed the only way to me. Surely you can see that.” His expression changed again, his face twisting in anger. “I know what is clouding your mind against me. It is the warrior monk, the Zinja, Jebu. He was your lover, was he not?”

Taniko lowered her head and pressed her sleeve to her face as she felt the tears come. “Yes,” she whispered.

Hideyori looked off into space. “Even among the Zinja no other monk has become a legend as he has. He could have been very valuable to me. But his Order assigned him to Yukio, and he became Yukio’s friend and companion. So, he had to die with Yukio. And now in the night he, too, comes to haunt my sleep.”

“You never told me that,” said Taniko, thinking that it was the least of the things he had never told her.

“For a very good reason. I have always suspected that you still love him. I know what there was between you. Horigawa told me, even about the baby he killed. That’s why you fly into a rage every time a child’s life must be taken, isn’t it? Just as I could not marry you while Horigawa lived, I could not marry you while Jebu lived, knowing what he was to you.”

Because of this man’s suspicion, and jealousy, and madness, Jebu had died. Taniko felt hatred blaze out from the centre of her body and spread to her very toes and fingertips. Now Hideyori came close to her, took her chin in his hand and raised her head so that she was looking into his eyes.

“Come, Taniko-san. At my side you rule over the whole Sunrise Land. Surely you aren’t going to throw that away over an illicit affair with a half-barbarian monk.”

She tried to pull her head away, but he held her chin tighter. He brought his face down to hers until she could feel his breath. Hatred overflowed in her. She brought her foot up and reached down to take off her satin slipper. Before he could stop her she slapped him across the face with it. He sprang away from her and his hand flew to his sword. In a land where cleanliness was part of religion, there was no worse insult than to be struck by a piece of footwear. The sword was already half-way out of its scabbard before he stopped himself, trembling.

“If I killed you now, I would have to answer to your family. I still need the support of the Shima, and even a coward like your father can only be pushed so far. I will consult with him before taking action against you. Consider yourself under arrest. You are forbidden to leave your quarters. When I return to Kamakura I will decide what to do with you. And with that Takashi whelp you persuaded me to adopt.” He slammed the sword back into its scabbard. “If you meant to make an enemy of me, you succeeded. We will no longer live as man and wife. I do not give those who insult me a chance to make amends. I thought you were very wise, Taniko. Now I see that you are stupid. You have lost everything.”

She held herself erect and stared up at him as he rubbed his cheek with the sleeve of his black gown. “You do not know me at all, Hideyori, if you think I could regret anything I’ve said or done. I would rather not live than submit any longer to you.”

His eyes narrowed. “I forbid you to kill yourself. As your lord, I have the authority to say whether you shall live or die.”

She reached into the bosom of her kimono, drew out the small dirk she carried there and held it up. “I could have killed you instead of hitting you with my slipper, but I chose not to. If I do not kill myself, it is also because I choose not to.”

He turned pale for a moment, then smiled. “If you do kill yourself, I will see to it that Sametono dies. Painfully.”

That left her shaken. She warned herself to say no more to him. The satisfaction of besting him in a contest of words might cost greater suffering for those she loved. As it was, she felt no fear, nor did she reproach herself for what she had done. Instead, she felt an amazing joy and freedom. For many months now she had been a puppet, her every word and action controlled by another. Her life was hers again. She recalled that cry of “Kwatz” that Eisen and Sametono were always bandying with each other. She felt now as if she had shouted “Kwatz!” at Hideyori and all the power of his Bakufu and his tens of thousands of samurai. Walking away from him, she felt the fire of her hatred transmuted into a glow of triumph.

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