Shike – Day 249 of 306

“He’s gone, Mother.” Tears were trickling down Sametono’s cheeks. Even for such a man as Hideyori, she thought, there was someone to weep.

Chapter Seven

The tall, four-panelled screen was painted on both sides with an identical scene of mountains, waterfalls, pines and temples. On one side the landscape was bathed in sunlight, on the other drowned in moonlight. Fittingly, the night side was turned towards Taniko, hiding her from her father, who was talking to Ryuichi and Munetoki in Ryuichi’s central hall. Only Bokuden, she thought, would be stupid enough to call a secret family meeting without first looking behind all the screens in the room. Not that Bokuden was a trusting soul. Next to Hideyori, he was the most suspicious man she had ever known. It was arrogant carelessness of the sort that would ruin the Sacred Islands if Bokuden were long permitted to govern them. Just now he was gloating over his cleverness in acquiring a shipment of copper coins from China.

“But, honoured Uncle,” Munetoki protested, “it is forbidden to trade with China now that it is mostly in Mongol hands.”

“Since I am the senior member of the Bakufu Council, the Bakufu’s regulations do not bind me,” said Bokuden airily. “The information I gather from the Chinese traders is worth breaking the law for.”

Insufferable as always, Taniko thought. How long would the other samurai clans put up with Bokuden’s enriching himself by violating regulations he himself had helped draw up?

“The traders were anxious to exchange the last of their bulky valuables for smaller and more portable amounts of gold and gems,” said Bokuden. “They told my agents that the Mongols are about to take Linan and capture the Sung Emperor. Once the conquest of China is completed, Kublai Khan will turn his attention to us again. The traders say he has set up an Office for the Chastisement of Ge-pen, headed by one who knows our land well — Arghun Baghadur.”

“We destroyed them before and we will destroy them again,” said Munetoki.

“What is even more distressing,” said Bokuden, ignoring his nephew, “is that the Shogun, the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, is a child.” Now he was getting to the point of this meeting, Taniko thought. He wants Sametono out of the way.

“My honoured cousin the Shogun has you to rule in his behalf, Uncle,” said Munetoki.

“That would be fine if I could truly rule, but I cannot,” said Bokuden. “I am not free to issue orders as I think best, but must have the approval of the Bakufu Council. My position is also untenable because I govern in the name of Sametono, and Sametono is not suitable to be Shogun.”

“Surely there is no one more suitable,” Munetoki bristled.

Munetoki was simply incapable of guile, thought Taniko. He and Ryuichi had agreed before the conference that they would seem to agree with whatever Bokuden said, in order to draw him out. But Munetoki couldn’t stop himself from arguing.

“Lord Hideyori laid down no regulations about how the next Shogun was to be selected,” Bokuden pointed out. “Surely it would be ridiculous to say that Hideyori’s family holds office by decree of the gods, as the Imperial line does. Even if the Shogunate does somehow belong to the Muratomo by divine right, Sametono is really a Takashi, not a Muratomo. Are we to let a direct descendant of Sogamori pluck like ripe fruit the power for which generations of Muratomo fought and died?”

“We Shima ourselves are Takashi,” Munetoki pointed out.

“Yes, Brother,” mused Ryuichi. “I wonder if your zeal for the Muratomo cause is so great because you are only recently converted to it.”

Taniko held her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling.

“Furthermore,” Bokuden went on, “this boy Shogun listens only to my daughter, never to me, his official guardian. She cannot but be a bad influence on him.”

Behind the screen, Taniko smiled to herself.

“Our little Taniko is an intelligent, well-travelled lady of strong will,” said Ryuichi. “What is more, she is very religious.”

“Her will is not strong, it is perverse,” Bokuden snarled. “Ever since she was a child she has been disobedient. She is an adulteress many times over. Well-travelled? Yes, she spent years among the Mongols. The gods alone know what secret links she may yet have to them. As for being religious, she is an adherent of that foreign Zen sect whose doctrines sound like the ravings of madmen. If she is so religious, let her be packed off to a nunnery where she can do no more harm.”

Munetoki’s voice trembled with anger. “I have the honour to be the young Shogun’s teacher in martial arts. No one knows him as well as I do. His character is perfectly pure. There is no sign of any bad influence anywhere about him.”

Ryuichi spoke with uncharacteristic sternness. “Munetoki, be silent. I forbid you to contradict your uncle, who is chieftain of our clan as well as acting head of the Bakufu. You forget yourself. Apologize to Lord Bokuden.”

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