Shike – Day 252 of 306

Except for one other person, she thought, who knows more than I do about how they make war. But how can I find him?

Chapter Eight

“I think you know more than you admit about the late Shogun’s demise,” said Taniko.

Moko looked surprised and anxious. “I had nothing to do with your husband’s death, my lady.”

Taniko observed the heavily brocaded Chinese robe that Moko wore. Many stories of daring raids on the ships and coasts of Mongol-dominated China and Korea had filtered back from the west coast to Kamakura. If Moko hadn’t gone on such raids, he had surely supplied ships to the raiders and been rewarded for it. He also wore the long and the short swords of the samurai. Hideyori had consistently refused to award samurai status and family names to commoners, no matter how worthy. Taniko felt that the samurai class should be opened up to bring in new blood and men of merit. Moko was one of a number of men whose services had been especially valuable to the Bakufu and who had been granted, along with their families, samurai status by Sametono, now that he and Taniko and Munetoki were securely in control of the Bakufu. Moko now wore his hair in a topknot, carried swords which he had no idea how to use and had a family name, Hayama, taken from the town where he had built his main boatyard.

“Everyone agrees that Lord Hideyori’s death was caused by his horse’s shying,” said Taniko. “The poor animal was sent to the slaughterers to satisfy those who felt someone must be punished. But surely you heard that Jebu was seen that day.”

“I heard many tales, my lady.” The crossed eyes were not as amusing as they had been once, Taniko noticed. They were the eyes of a man who had seen much and had done much thinking. The heavy lids were outlined by deep wrinkles. Well, we’re all getting on, she thought. Can I actually be forty-five?

“I saw him, Moko. He looked very aged. Moko-san, besides Yuki and perhaps some of the Zinja, you’re Jebu’s closest friend. I know he is alive. You must know it, too.”

“I am not worthy to be called his friend,” said Moko, looking sadly down at his broad, worn woodworker’s hands. “My lady, you blamed the shiké for Lord Kiyosi’s death and for the killing of your son, Atsue. Now you want to blame him for the Shogun’s death as well.”

“Moko-san, the Shogun was planning to kill me. If he hadn’t died when he did, I wouldn’t be alive now.” She told Moko how she had learned that Hideyori had deceived her, and how she had hated him after that.

“I promised the shiké I would tell you nothing,” he said hesitantly. “Then he is alive!” she exclaimed. “You’ve talked to him. Moko, tell me. Tell me everything, I beg you.”

He sighed. “I can’t break a promise.”

“Yes you can, for the sake of a greater good. Would you have me live out the rest of my life in loneliness and despair?”

For a long time Moko did not speak. Finally he sighed again and said, “Please understand, I don’t mean to make too much of my part in it. It was just luck that I was there. What the priests call karma. You gave me the idea, my lady, if you remember. It was you who told me that Lord Yukio and Shiké Jebu had been discovered in Oshu, that Horigawa and the tarkhan Arghun were going there to arrest them, and that Fujiwara no Yerubutsu had secretly promised to betray Yukio. I never believed that Lord Hideyori wanted Lord Yukio brought back alive. He was not the sort of man who gives his enemies time to defend themselves.”

“I wanted very much to believe that he intended to spare Yukio.”

“It is a woman’s duty to think well of her husband. I don’t know what madness possessed me, but I thought somehow I could help the shiké, warn him if nothing else. I did not tell you because I did not wish to compromise you with the Shogun. I packed various items into travelling boxes and hired a crew for my fastest kobaya, an open ship with twenty rowers. I sailed north along the coast from Kamakura. When my kobaya reached Kesennumo, near the capital of Oshu, I learned that Horigawa and Arghun and the Mongol army had already arrived at Hiraizumi, and that Lord Yerubutsu had given them permission to attack Yukio. I had just time enough to don the Mongol cavalryman’s armour I brought back with me from China ages ago, trade some gold pieces for a horse, and ride off after them. My years among the Mongols helped me to join Arghun’s troops without attracting attention. The greatest risk I ran was that I might be sent into the fight and be killed by one of our own people, or even by Lord Yukio or the shiké. But no Mongol officer recognized me as one of his men, so none gave me orders to attack. And so it was that I saw Lord Yukio’s last stand, my lady.”

“Moko-san, much as it will hurt me, I want to hear what happened. No one has been able to tell me the whole story of that battle.”

“It will be painful for you, my lady, but I’ll try.” He described Arghun’s parley with Yukio and Jebu, Jebu’s attempt to kill Horigawa, how he threw Torluk over the cliff edge, the heroic deaths, one by one, of Yukio’s followers and Jebu’s final charge as the chapel burnt behind him.

“He stood there, my lady, like the god of war himself, an enormous figure in black armour. He held out his arms and shouted, ‘Kill me!’ The Mongols tried to kill him, pouring arrows into him. Still he stood, leaning on the broken staff of his naginata, and he did not fall. He had killed so many of them by this time that they were afraid to venture closer to him. At last one officer rode close to him, brandishing a sabre. The shiké seemed to lunge forward, and the Mongols shrieked that he was attacking again. But it was just that the breeze from horse and rider had knocked him over. It had only been his armour and the staff holding him up. He crashed to the ground, then rolled over the cliff edge and tumbled down the steep mountainside into the gorge. There he lay, half-buried in the snow.

“I scrambled down the hillside at once. I didn’t care whether they found me out, whether I lived or died. I had some mad notion of saving the shiké’s body from any further indignity. The Mongols would have to kill me, too, I told myself, before I would let them cut off my beloved Shiké Jebu’s head. I got to the bottom of the gorge. There were soldiers there, but they were busy rescuing wounded comrades and retrieving their dead. I had just found the shiké’s body when the officers above shouted orders to retreat. I dragged the body behind a big rock. It was heavy as a boulder itself—I don’t know where I got the strength. I heard the Mongols calling something about being attacked, that they had been betrayed, then they were gone, with that eerie Mongol way of vanishing instantly. They even left some of their dead behind. I was alone with the shiké, weeping over his body.

“But not for long. I was just beginning to think of gathering wood for a funeral pyre when I heard the footfalls of an approaching horse, muffled by the snow. A figure on horseback came riding up the ravine. To my amazement, it was the Abbot Taitaro.”

“Taitaro!” Taniko exclaimed. “I had no idea he was still alive.”

“He does seem very old, my lady. You have the feeling he was there when the world was created and knows all the secrets of heaven and earth. When he saw the shiké’s body, all he said was, ‘If only you could have outlived me.’ Then he explained to me that the Zinja always know the whereabouts of their own. Now that Shiké Jebu was gone, the old abbot had come to get his body and dispose of it according to Zinja rites. The old man did not weep, nor did I expect him to, knowing that the Zinja do not consider death an evil. He thanked me for saving the body. ‘Now his urn will not be empty,’ he said. He lit a pine torch and sat staring at the shiké’s still face for what seemed an hour.

“Then he gave a little start of surprise and bent forward. He whispered to me that he had seen a little wisp of vapour above the shiké’s nostrils. He began to examine the shiké carefully, touching him here and there, removing his helmet and some parts of his armour that were not pinned to him by the arrows. He made me hold the shiké’s wrist, saying that he feared his emotions might trick him into finding signs of life that weren’t there. But I felt it, too, a faint pulsing under my fingertips. Somewhere in the centre of that great, motionless, armoured form riddled with arrows, something lived. The old man warned me, though, that the shiké would probably be dead within the hour. ‘Even so,’ he said, ‘we ought to do what we can for him.’ I could tell he was trying hard to control his own eagerness.

“‘The Self is not ready to drop the mask that is Jebu,’ the old man whispered into the shiké’s ear. Out of pockets in his robe he began to take vials and folded papers. He blew a pinkish dust into the shiké’s nostrils. He trickled the contents of tiny porcelain tubes between his lips. He kept whispering Zinja incantations to the shiké. Once I thought I heard the word ‘devils.’ We started to remove the arrows, which had been driven through every part of his body. The abbot asked me to cut away the shafts of those that had not penetrated vital areas, leaving the heads embedded. Those that were close to Shiké Jebu’s heart and lungs and stomach would have to be taken out now, lest they stab him to death when we tried to move him. I held the torch high while the old abbot cut into the deep wounds and gently drew out the heads of the arrows. He plastered over the wounds with medicated papers and cotton cloths. He must be three times my age, but his hands were steadier than mine have ever been.

“The night grew darker and colder around us. Abbot Taitaro explained to me that the cold was helpful. It slowed down the life processes in the shiké’s body so that he did not need as much strength to survive, and it would keep his many wounds from becoming diseased. He said that a slowing of heart and breathing and all other bodily activities was taught to all Zinja and was a state into which they could put themselves at need, sheltering their life energy within a seemingly dead body, as a fire may hide itself in the heart of a blackened coal. We wrapped the shiké’s body in robes and made a pallet of spears and quilts to carry him.

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