Shike – Day 263 of 306

“The smoke reminds me of his beard,” said Moko sadly. He was calmer now, having emptied himself for the time being of tears for the old abbot.

Jebu slowly recited aloud a prayer he had been taught long ago, the Prayer to a Dead Zinja. “Death is not the enemy of life. Life is the mountain, death is the valley. As the snowflake that falls on the mountaintop is carried at last to the river, so your self has at last rejoined the Eternal Self. I congratulate you, Brother, on a life well lived. You have seen all the arrows fly, you have seen all the swords fall. You will remember nothing and you at last will be forgotten. But in remembering the Self, we remember you. The Self never forgets.” For the first time Jebu realized that this prayer, like other Zinja prayers for the dead, was not addressed to the one who, after all, had ceased to exist, but to the one who spoke the prayer.

“Homage to Amida Buddha,” Moko declared, as if both prayers were part of the same ritual.

It was late afternoon by the time the fire had burnt down to the blackened rock. Moko, weeping again, used his Instruments of the Way to perform the final office of pulverizing the skull and remaining pieces of bone. Then, with pine branches, they swept the ashes from the cliff edge. The wind caught them and carried them down to the sea.

Jebu stood looking out over the ocean as Taitaro had only this morning, feeling on his back both the warmth of the setting sun and the cool wind blowing from the west. Long shadows purpled the waters below. The wind reminded him of the battle of Shimonoseki Strait. Yukio and Taitaro, the two men dearest to him, both gone. They had melted back into wind, fire, earth and water, of which all things are composed. Yet it was impossible not to think that their spirits were somehow still intact, that Yukio and Taitaro could still watch and love the Sacred Islands and could, as Taitaro had said, return at need.

He looked down at the ocean and thought, we appear, run our course, and vanish again, like waves, while the ocean remains. How sad we are, wishing we could go on forever. Some people manage to attain a spirit of accepting death, but others are cut off before they even have time to do that. The young samurai try to learn acceptance by comparing themselves to cherry blossoms. The life of a blossom is only a day, but it is complete. Atsue, I think, must have known that kind of acceptance. But Yukio, young as he was, lived fully. He did the greatest deeds possible, and wanted to die when the time finally came. And my father Taitaro—if ever I have seen a life ended in the fullness of days, it was his. Men like Yukio and Taitaro are not blossoms, they are golden fruit, falling in ripeness. If it were not that all partings are sorrowful I could almost say that the death of my father was a happy occasion, as I know he wanted it to be. Teach the samurai, he said. I must teach them what is best and truest in the way of the samurai, their own way. We do not have to win wars, we have only to achieve insight and liberation. I must help them understand this.

He heard heavy feet pushing through the woods below. He looked down and saw movement and the flash of metal among the pines. Armed men. Uneasily, Moko moved to stand next to him. A few moments later three samurai of the lowest rank, foot soldiers armed with spears, emerged from the forest. Their bearing was respectful when they saw they were dealing with a monk and a man who appeared to be a well-dressed samurai, albeit not of very military bearing.

“What’s happening here, shiké?” one of them asked. “We saw your fire a long way off. It was too big to be just an ordinary campfire.”

“My father, Abbot Taitaro of the Order of Zinja, died here this morning,” said Jebu. “We have been performing funeral rites for him.”

The samurai frowned. “Things aren’t done that way any more, shiké. You don’t just dispose of your dead in the wilderness. You’re expected to report a death to the proper authorities.” He turned to his comrades. “We’d better take them to the general.”

Moko spoke up grandly. “The highest authorities of all require our immediate presence in Kamakura. You’ll regret it if you delay us.”

Though he was not samurai by birth and had never drawn the sword that hung at his belt, he knew he outranked these three.

“General Miura will sort things out, sir,” said the samurai, forcing himself to be polite. “Please come with us.”

Taking a last look at the spot where Taitaro had died, Jebu shouldered his travel box and started down the hillside. Moko pointed out his own box to one of the warriors.

“I have had to make this journey without servants, but there is no reason for me to carry luggage when there is one of lower rank to do it for me. Since you force me to go out of my way, you may carry my box.” The samurai Moko singled out responded with a murderous look, but after a gesture from his superior he reluctantly strapped Moko’s box to his back.

A small company of foot soldiers and cavalry was lined up on the road at the base of the hill. Moko and Jebu were led to their splendidly dressed general, a black-bearded man who sat on a brown and white horse. Over his armour he wore a light blue cape bearing a white disk, the badge of the Miura family.

“You’re the two I’ve been sent to fetch,” said General Miura Zumiyoshi when they identified themselves. He spoke in the accents of an eastern warrior. “What were you doing starting fires up there in the hills? Surely you know that’s dangerous in dry weather like this.”

Jebu explained the funeral pyre and apologized for not having followed proper procedures. “We monks are not always aware of new regulations. The world passes us by.”

“I’d believe that if you weren’t a Zinja.” Zumiyoshi laughed, his teeth flashing white in his beard. “In any case, shiké, my sympathies. I know what it is to lose a father.”

“If there’s nothing else the honoured general wishes, we should be getting on our way,” said Jebu. “We are expected in Kamakura.”

“Indeed you are,” said Zumiyoshi. “And I’ve come to speed you on your way. Be good enough to mount the horses we’ve provided. We’ll travel by torchlight. I’m to take you at once to her ladyship, the Ama-Shogun.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)