Shike – Day 254 of 306

At last, when her sobs had died down he said, “Now you have heard the worst, my lady. You cannot suffer any more than you are suffering now.”

She looked into those strange, inquisitive eyes that seemed to be staring everywhere but at her. “You’re right, Moko-san. Now that I’ve heard the worst, things can only get better. And you can help. There is something only you of all the people in the world can do for me.”

Chapter Nine

Even before Muratomo no Hideyori’s death, the Bakufu made no attempt to enforce the decrees forbidding monks to bear arms. Now that Hideyori was gone, his effort to suppress military monks was entirely forgotten. The Zinja Pearl Temple west of Mount Fuji, only a few days’ journey from Kamakura, was thriving. Since there was little fighting to do at the moment, the monks of Pearl Temple spent their time training in the Zinja arts of combat and teaching them to the local samurai families. It was here, after making discreet inquiries, that Moko found Jebu.

They stood together on the parapet of the monastery’s stone wall. The cone-shaped peak of Fuji, gilded by the afternoon sun, towered above ranks of low green hills. It was a year since Moko had seen the shiké. He looked ravaged still, but no longer skeletal. His white hair and beard were long, but seemed cared for.

“I heard you were present at a certain tragic event in Kamakura, shiké,” Moko began tentatively.

The bony, brown face was grim. “I did not want Hideyori to die. I did not go there to kill him.”

“You had every reason to, shiké.”

In the afternoon light Jebu’s eyes were a pale grey, and his gaze was distant. Moko realized that he did not know this man at all. This was a man who had lost everything in life that he valued, had died and been brought back to life, was changed beyond imagining. Moko’s heart sank. How could his words persuade such a man?

“I went to confront Hideyori because the Order sent me,” said Jebu. “Our Council of Abbots realized that it would be useless, with a man like Hideyori, to plead that he reconsider his decree suppressing the Zinja. They decided to apply pressure at his weakest point, superstition. So I appeared before him at the Hachiman shrine.”

“A dangerous game, shiké. If you had been blamed for the Shogun’s death, the samurai would have attacked every Zinja temple in the Sacred Islands.”

“If Hideyori’s decree had remained standing, they would have done the same.”

“Lucky for you and for the Zinja that Lady Taniko put a stop to the talk that a Zinja monk caused the Shogun’s death,” said Moko, thinking that it might help his cause to point out that Jebu owed some gratitude to Taniko.

Jebu shrugged. “She has no reason to wish to harm the Zinja.” He sounded as if he were talking about a stranger.

Moko took a deep breath and plunged in. “Shiké, there are very few people alive in the country today who know anything about the terrible foe we face. It may be that the most tragic thing about Lord Yukio’s death is that we lost the one general who could have led us to a victory over the Mongol invaders. Of all the survivors of Lord Yukio’s expedition to China, you and Lady Taniko could best advise our military leaders. You mustn’t bury yourself in a monastery, shiké. Lady Taniko sent me to tell you that she needs you in Kamakura.”

“The most tragic thing about Yukio’s death is that in the end, only twelve men were willing to fight for him.” Turning away, though not before Moko caught a glimpse of tears in the grey eyes, Jebu looked out over the domain of the Pearl Temple. It was appropriately named, being hidden like a pearl in a secluded valley. The monastery buildings were all long and low with thatched roofs connected by covered galleries. Nearest the gateway were the men’s and women’s quarters and the guesthouse. A little further off were martial arts practice halls and stables, and beyond that the long, narrow lagoon for swimming and the archery ranges and bridle paths. The temple precincts also included rugged, heavily forested hills laced with streams where students trained under field conditions. On the highest hill of all was the temple building, as simple in construction as all the others, with a zigzag flight of steps leading up to it. On the far side of the temple, facing Mount Fuji, was a torii, a symbolic gate consisting of two posts and a lintel with upsweeping ends. Nowhere did Moko see banners or military display, and just now there were not even any training activities. It was a peaceful-seeming place, not at all the sort of setting where anyone would imagine the deadliest arts known to man were practised with ferocious intensity. It frightened Moko precisely because it was so calm, clean and quiet.

“Lady Taniko did everything she could to help you, shiké,” said Moko. “She repeatedly tried to persuade Lord Hideyori that his brother was not his enemy. For a long time she believed that he did not want you and Lord Yukio killed. When she found out that it was he who ordered your deaths, she broke with him at once. He would probably have murdered her if he hadn’t died when he did. She never really turned her back on you and Lord Yukio, shiké, not for a moment.”

Jebu shook his head angrily. “How could anyone believe Hideyori wanted us to live? Whatever else she may be, Taniko is not stupid.”

“She was Hideyori’s prisoner, shiké. He wove a net around her and nothing passed through without his permission. She had not talked to you or had any message from you in years.”

“I sent her a letter after Atsue was killed.”

“Hideyori must have kept it from her. She always cared about you, you know that. It was because of her I went looking for you in Oshu. She sent for me secretly to tell me she had learned you were still alive. She fairly glowed with happiness but she was also terrified at the peril you and Lord Yukio were in.”

Jebu smiled and put his hand on Moko’s shoulder. “Seldom has karma manifested itself so clearly, Moko-san. Over thirty years ago I spared your life, and now you have saved mine.”

“It was Lady Taniko who urged you to spare my life, shiké. We three are bound together by what began under that maple tree on the Tokaido Road. You must not leave her out.”

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