Shike – Day 247 of 306

Four Shinto priests arrived on the run, their white robes flapping. Taniko stood aside to give them room. Two immediately began chanting prayers to Hachiman and other deities while the others examined Hideyori. After a time more priests brought a large wooden panel and placed it beside the Shogun. With infinite care they pushed the panel under him so as not to disturb the position of his body. They lifted the panel from the ground and slid it into Taniko’s palanquin. Waving the bearers aside, the priests themselves shouldered the palanquin and walked slowly down the roadway. They carried Hideyori to a large, thatch-roofed building just off the road, the house of the high priest of the Hachiman shrine. He greeted Taniko himself, showed her the room where they were laying Hideyori and introduced her to the priests who would treat him. Doubtless, she thought, this holy man saw her as a grief-stricken wife threatened with widowhood, and she tried to play that role. No one had any idea that before Hideyori’s fall he had planned to be rid of her. Now she was doing everything she could, little as it was, to keep Hideyori alive.

After the priests had carefully lowered the Shogun to a sleeping dais, General Miura Zumiyoshi arrived, looking stunned. He was a member of one of the great clans that had allied itself with Hideyori early in the War of the Dragons, a tough, eastern-province warrior with a peasant’s manners. As head of the Samurai Office, he was one of the leading figures in the Bakufu. After examining Hideyori he led Taniko into an adjoining room where he politely asked her, as the one closest to the Shogun, what she wished done.

“I would suggest that you post a hundred of your most trustworthy men to seal off the temple grounds,” Taniko said. “Give it out that my lord Hideyori has decided to spend more time in prayer before Hachiman and has postponed his formal entry into Kamakura. Disperse the rest of the troops. The last thing we need right now is large bodies of armed men hanging about in Kamakura. Then assemble the chief officers of the Bakufu here to decide what is to be done next.”

“Very sound suggestions, my lady,” said Zumiyoshi with a bow. “We need time to plan the orderly transfer of power.”

“Transfer of power?”

Zumiyoshi lowered his eyes and spoke with much greater formality than was usual for him. “Lady Taniko, I’m sorry to tell you that in my opinion our honoured Shogun is going to leave us shortly. I’ve seen injuries like this before. There is no healing such a hurt. He can neither move nor be moved. In a few days his lungs will fill up with fluid and he will be taken into Paradise. If he were one of my own men I’d have him mercifully helped on his way. Unfortunately fo him, he is the Shogun and he must pass on without assistance, so it cannot later be said that there was a conspiracy to shorten his life.”

The temple priests agreed with General Miura’s estimate of Hideyori’s condition. Gravely, they told her she must expect the Shogun’s death. She warned the chief priest to be prepared in the next few days for the comings and goings of many officials of high rank. Then she sat beside Hideyori and stared down at the pale, immobile face. Surprisingly, she felt a pang of sorrow for him. A murderer, partly mad and deadly to those close to him, he was also a man whose powers of the mind equalled those of Kublai Khan.

Working with exquisite care, the priest-physicians removed Hideyori’s helmet and armour and bathed his face and body with cool water. Pairs of priests took turns ministering to him and chanting in the room where he lay. The chief priest assured Taniko that the temple was saying its most puissant prayers for the Shogun’s recovery or happy passage into the next world.

Seated beside Hideyori, lulled by the monotony of the priests’ voices, Taniko wondered what had really happened. If any spirit were powerful enough to return to earth after death, that spirit would be Jebu’s. But she had never before seen a ghost, and that made it harder to believe that the apparition that had frightened Hideyori’s horse came from the spirit world. There had been nothing ghostly in the monk’s appearance. It had seemed solid, breathing, fleshly, albeit aged and emaciated. But if it had been a ghost, would it not have taken the form of a younger, healthier Jebu? The more she considered it, the more certain she became that Jebu must be alive. The thought made her head swim. Yet, there was the report of his death in the mountains of Oshu. Her own father, Bokuden, had identified Jebu’s head. What should she believe? What others told her, or what she had seen with her own eyes? But how could Jebu have survived?

One person might know—Moko. He had disappeared after learning that Jebu was in Oshu. When she had made inquiries, his family had said he had gone to supervise the building of warships in Nagato province. He had not come back until long after Jebu was reported dead. Perhaps he was hiding something. She must talk to him as soon as possible. Her mind spun dizzily as it tried to absorb the sudden reversal of her position. Early this morning Hideyori was triumphant, Jebu was dead, and she expected to be killed. Now Hideyori was dying, Jebu might be alive and she was, for the moment, safe. It was as Eisen was always saying; it was foolish to be certain of anything. The evil she had heard about Jebu, after Atsue’s death, had turned out to be a lie. She could love Jebu again. She looked down at the dying Hideyori and apologized to him in her mind for the joy she was beginning, uncertainly, to feel at his deathbed.

More pressing problems demanded her attention. What would Hideyori’s death mean to the future of her family? She realized that she was no longer just a woman who had no control over what happened to herself. She was the widow of the Shogun and foster mother of the Shogun’s heir. She could command attention. Her first and most important consideration must be to make sure of Sametono’s claim to the Shogunate. But the boy was only nine years old. Just as the Emperors in Heian Kyo had Regents who governed in their name, so a Regent would have to be appointed to head the Bakufu in Sametono’s name. She couldn’t hold that position herself. Not for centuries had a woman held any high office in the Sunrise Land. Who then? With sinking heart she realized that the probable choice was Shima Bokuden. The Shima had been Hideyori’s earliest and strongest allies. As Sametono’s senior male relative, Bokuden would be the boy’s official guardian. Bokuden, that crafty, greedy, mean-spirited man whom she had despised ever since she could remember, would be the real ruler of the Sacred Islands. But Bokuden could never hold together the coalition of powerful, wilful warrior chieftains Hideyori had built to overthrow the Takashi and set up the Bakufu. Bokuden was the right sort of man to be Hideyori’s second-in-command, utterly without scruple, but such a man did not command enough respect to lead the nation. His inevitable failure could mean another civil war. And that, with the Mongols gathering their armies just over the horizon, might destroy the Sunrise Land forever. Still, there was no way for her to prevent Bokuden’s appointment as Regent. She would have to accept it and be ready for whatever developments might come afterwards. As today had proved, it was impossible to plan for an ever-changing future.

By afternoon the leading officers of the Bakufu, shocked and solemn, had assembled at the Hachiman shrine. Each went first to offer condolences to Taniko and stare down at the nearly lifeless Hideyori and make a silent estimate of how long he had to live. Then they held a brief meeting. Later, Ryuichi told her what had been decided.

“Forgive me for saying it, but it makes it easier for us that the Shogun is so obviously about to die,” said Ryuichi. “Who would dare propose a successor for Lord Hideyori if there were a possibility of his recovering?”

The Bakufu’s leaders had agreed, as Taniko hoped they would, that Sametono must be the next Shogun. He was the only candidate whom all could accept without dispute. Next they decided, as Taniko had expected, that there must be a Regency until Sametono was old enough to govern, and that Shima Bokuden was the only possible choice for Regent. He would preside over a council of Bakufu officers.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)