Shike – Day 259 of 306

“My cavalry of the sea,” Kublai Khan rumbled.

Wonderingly, Jebu turned and looked in the Four Directions. The world was no longer a patchwork of countries. Ruled by the Great Khan, the Central Kingdom was now the centre of an empire stretching from ocean to ocean, and the oceans were patrolled by the Great Khan’s ships.

From above Jebu a metallic voice said, “All people everywhere exist to serve and enrich the Golden Family.” Jebu turned and looked again and saw that on the mountain-top with him was a giant statue of gold, dressed in the voluminous, stiff robes of a Chinese Emperor. The eyes and lips and hands moved, but the rest was frozen metal. All the people of the earth were walking to the foot of the mountain. There they knelt in their millions and pressed their foreheads to the ground, worshipping the no-longer-human thing towering above him.

“And now, Jebu, return to us,” said a voice that seemed to come from the golden statue. Then the face became Taitaro’s face, close to his own, the brown eyes, sparkling between wrinkled lids that were almost shut, peering into his. Gently, the thin old fingers drew the Jewel of Life and Death from Jebu’s hand.

“What did you experience?” asked Taitaro.

“A terrible dream. I’ve had such dreams before. I remember having many during the time I was nearly dead with wounds.”

Taitaro smiled. “Dreams tell you what you already know. But in this vision I added my knowledge to yours to help you see what would happen if the Mongols overun the Sacred Islands.”

Taitaro turned and tapped Moko’s hand with bony fingers. “Moko-san, I told you there was a great pattern in the events we have all lived through. The War of the Dragons was necessary. Without the samurai and the Shogunate, who would there be to meet a Mongol invasion? An Emperor who is a holy puppet . . . a venal government knowing nothing of the real world . . . an army made up of untrained courtiers and frightened conscripts. If the Takashi had ruled unchallenged until now, the condition of the country would not be much better. They were rapidly growing soft and corrupt as the Sasaki and the Fujiwara. We Zinja helped prepare the nation for a Mongol attack, first by helping Yukio get to China where he and the other samurai learned th fighting methods of the Mongols, then by helping Yukio and Hideyori win the War of the Dragons.”

“Was Yukio’s death necessary, too?” Jebu asked bitterly.

“Not at all,” said Taitaro calmly. “To unify the Sunrise Land both Yukio and Hideyori were needed. Yukio was a general but no statesman. Hideyori was a statesman but no general. It is unfortunate that Hideyori was the sort of statesman who is afraid of everyone around him and eventually destroys anyone he is afraid of. But that was something we could not control. We could only work with the material available to us.”

“I had no idea my mission was part of some larger plan,” said Jebu.

“And I did not realize your Order had such power,” said Moko.

“We are not so powerful, Moko-san,” said Taitaro, shaking his head. “In sheer numbers we are weak and growing weaker, because we have sacrificed our bodies to affect the course of events, as a man might throw himself into the path of a runaway carriage to turn it aside from others. Our only strength lies in the fact that we go a long way back in time and are spread throughout the world.

“We are called by different names in different lands. Here we are known as the Zinja. In China we were once the Ch’in-cha and are now the secret White Lotus Society, which works against the Mongols. Among the Mongols themselves we were formerly shamans. Indeed, it was shamans of the Order who guided and aided Jamuga the Cunning in his rebellion against Genghis Khan. Now we are represented by Tibetan lamas who have the ear of great Kublai and who will have tamed the Mongols in a few generations. In the far western countries we have such names as Hashishim and Knights Templar, which no doubt sound incomprehensible to you, Moko-san.

“What all branches have in common is the effort of each member of the Order to achieve direct contact between his or her own consciousness and the entire universe, which we call the Self because each of us is the entire universe. Fundamentally we believe in no superior beings, no supernatural or magical powers, not even rules of good and evil. We believe that one day humanity will rise above civilization and live as the earliest people did, without priests or kings or warriors. We believe that ordinary mortals are all that ordinary mortals can rely on.”

“That’s not so different from some of my own ideas, holiness,” said Moko. “Respect the gods, I say, but don’t depend on them. Still, how can we hope to get along without rules and religious teachers and warriors? Surely you’re not suggesting that we stop worshipping our sacred Son of Heaven. And you’re both a religious teacher and a warrior. So is Master Jebu. Frankly, holiness, most people don’t want to learn the martial arts and fight in their own defence. I’ve never wanted to.”

Taitaro’s little bow of acknowledgment was barely visible to Jebu in the dying firelight. “True, Moko. The ordinary man lets the warrior protect him, and soon the warrior has made a slave of the ordinary man. The Order’s answer to this is to produce trained, dedicated military monks who can be trusted not to enslave their fellow human beings.”

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