Shike – Day 26 of 306

It was as though the riot in my soul that night was reflected in the streets of the city.

There was a full moon, too. That may have had something to do with it.

Moko reports that Domei has been heard to repeat the old Confucian saying, “A warrior may not remain under the same heaven with the slayer of his father.” Since Prince Horigawa appears to be chief among those responsible for the execution of Domei’s father, it is possible that I may find myself a widow soon after I am married.

The grounds of the Imperial palace are kept bare, but in winter certain herbs flourish in concealment under the snow.

-Eighth Month, twenty-first day


Ten days after Taniko’s first night with the prince, her aunt warned her to be ready for his second-night visit.

It was all she could do to restrain herself from laughing as the spidery little man carried out the ritual pretence of slipping into her bedchamber. The blinds knocked his tall hat off his head, leaving it dangling from his neck.

But there was nothing laughable in the way he fell upon her, first blowing out the candle to thwart spying members of the Shima family. This night his lust was tainted with cruelty. Taniko discovered that there is a kind of man who is aroused by inflicting pain on others. None of the small torments to which Horigawa subjected her left any mark, but she was frightened and revolted. He must know, she thought, that my family will insist on my marrying him. Otherwise he wouldn’t treat me this way.

After he had worn himself out on her body, Horigawa ordered her to relight the candle so he could dress himself. Embarrassed by the ugliness to which she had just submitted, Taniko kept her face turned away as the room filled with yellow light and flickering shadow.

Horigawa laughed and said, “‘She lifts the lute, and I can see but half her face.'” He spoke in Chinese.

Recognizing the poem, Taniko replied in the same language. “‘The music stops, but the player will not speak her name.'” The line seemed a subtle way to express the shame she felt at what she had undergone. Like the woman in Po Chu-i’s poem, she felt she had known better days and had now sunk to a low status.

But Horigawa reacted, not to her line of verse, but to the language in which it was uttered. “Do you know Chinese?”

Taniko answered him in that language. “Our family is involved in trade. My father has seen to it that all his children are educated in the skills that are useful in commerce. Knowledge, he says, can be wealth.”

Horigawa pulled his robe around his spindly limbs. “Who would have thought that a child-woman from the provinces would possess such a valuable skill?” He was still speaking Chinese. “Mine is a family of princes and scholars, and Chinese has been our other language for centuries. Do you read and write it as well?”

“Better than I speak it.” Actually, she surprised herself by being able to carry on the conversation.

“Excellent. When you are my wife you will serve me as secretary. The trade with China is a great source of wealth for the Takashi, and with my own knowledge of things Chinese, I humbly endeavour to help them. As Lord Sogamori’s authority continues to grow, we shall see a re-opening of closer relations with China, which our rulers have long neglected, to our cost. The communications I undertake with China are delicate and require secrecy. It is difficult to acquire servants who have the necessary education and are also trustworthy. You will be very useful to me.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Taniko, trying not to grind her teeth.

The thought that Horigawa was already planning her future appalled her. She tried to remind herself that many of the women in the Sunrise Land had husbands as repulsive, or worse. It did no good.

As before, Horigawa excused himself from spending the night with her, citing the pressure of his world in the service of the nation. After he was gone, Taniko sat in the dark, crying softly. To refuse the marriage her family had decreed for her was unthinkable. But the prospect of a lifetime tied to Horigawa filled her with such despair and dread that she was almost ready to kill herself to avoid going through with it.

Almost, but not quite. Even in her anguish she felt a deep certainty that she wanted to go on living. And she was as strong as Horigawa; in time she could put a stop to his horrid little practises. He was more than forty years older than she; he could only grow feebler and easier to manage with the passage of time. And in the fullness of time she would be rid of him. She had only to endure; to do her duty as a samurai, as Aunt Chogao put it.

The prospect of working on Horigawa’s Chinese correspondence was fascinating. The little she knew about China was information over a hundred years old that had been taught to her and her sisters by monks. How wonderful it would be to learn what was happening to China now.

Five nights later a messenger came from Prince Horigawa, and Ryuichi ordered the third-night rice cakes placed in Taniko’s bedchamber. After sunset the prince’s ox-drawn state carriage drew up before the western gateway of the Shima mansions without even a pretence of secrecy, and the prince, wearing his usual tall black hat and a scarlet and white cloak, more festive looking than the black and gold one he had worn previously, strode through the lamplit gate, while the Shima family peered at him through screens and blinds.

His performance with Taniko was as brief as at their first encounter. This time, though, he bit her breast at his moment of supreme pleasure. This left teeth marks, which he looked at with satisfaction afterwards.

As was expected of her, Taniko paid him a pretty compliment on his manly strength. Inwardly, she was quaking. They were now committed. She was bound to him. It was his third-night visit, with the ceremonial eating of rice cakes, which actually sealed their marriage. It was all over, and now that it was done she could see no future for herself. She felt a sensation of sinking into a bottomless black pool. She had done her duty as a samurai woman, yes, but might duty not be easier for a man, who died only once and quickly, than for a woman who had to die a little bit each day for years and years?

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