Shike – Day 264 of 306

“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.”

Chapter Eleven

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

The Ama-Shogun. I both like and dislike that nickname. To be thought of as Supreme Commander of the samurai even though I am a woman—what woman has ever achieved so much? There have been Empresses who ruled alone, but they inherited the title, and they ruled so badly that no woman will ever be permitted to occupy the throne again. So the historians say. Of course, the historians are all men.

How well I and my family rule will soon be tested. The people and the samurai are strong enough, and the gods are surely on our side. What it comes down to is whether we, who happen to be leading the country now, can lead well during this coming invasion. It is hard to believe, but there are moments when I miss Hideyori’s cleverness in matters of state.

Our agents in China and Korea report that the southern Sung capital, Linan, has surrendered to the Mongols without a struggle, and the child who is Son of Heaven has knocked his head on the floor in homage to Kublai and has been carried off into captivity. I’m glad Linan surrendered. It would have been a horror beyond imagining if that magnificent city had been destroyed and its millions slain.

But some Chinese fight on. The war party has crowned the younger brother of the captured Emperor, and they still occupy the coastal provinces. They have a huge navy. The longer they hold out, the more time we will have to prepare for our own ordeal. A naval war between the Mongols and the Chinese will destroy many ships Kublai could use against us.

But, the Nun Shogun? I am far from being a nun. I know that now more than ever, as I tremble with anticipation at seeing Jebu again. He must come. I have sent Moko after him to the Zinja Pearl Temple, and I sent Zumiyoshi with troops and horses after Moko. Jebu may be here at any moment. Here. At last, after all these years, with all barriers between us gone. My love for him has arisen like the phoenix and soars in the heavens.

Someone knocks at the door of my chamber. Perhaps Jebu is in the castle even now. I feel all the eagerness I should have felt, but did not, on either of my wedding nights.

-Fifth Month, twenty-fifth day


It was late in the evening when she received them in her personal audience chamber, the Lilac Hall. She wondered if anyone had told Jebu that name and if so, whether it would mean anything to him. As etiquette required, she sat on the dais behind a screen. It was a warm night. She had ordered the shoji panel on the east side of the room opened, permitting a glimpse of the moon floating among the branches of pine trees, as if caught by them. A double row of councillors in red and green kimonos lined the length of the room, seated under the murals of lilac bushes that gave the hall its name. Even though no one could see her except the one lady-in-waiting who relayed her signals to the servants, she had dressed with care in a white silk outer jacket printed with the red Shima crest, shades of green showing at her neck, sleeves and hem. In her hair was her mother-of-pearl butterfly, the lucky ornament that had gone with her to China and back. She needed luck tonight, she thought, feeling a hollow in her stomach. She signalled to the lady-in-waiting that she was ready.

Miura entered first, his helmet tucked under his arm. Then came Moko in his rich robes. Her eyes leaped to the tall figure beyond them. Her first sight of him struck her like a physical blow, and she gasped. He looked splendid in his long robe. The skin of his hands and face was a rich dark brown against the grey cotton. He dropped to his knees beside the others, and all three pressed their foreheads to the polished wood floor. Jebu sat back, eyes cast down, hands folded in his lap, waiting. One advantage of a screen, Taniko thought, was that she could avidly drink in the sight of him and no one need know. Her heart was hammering furiously in her chest, like a prisoner trying to escape. He was so near, for the first time in over ten years. Other than that strange, brief glimpse of him at the Hachiman shrine, this was her first look at him in all that time. There were many more wrinkles around his eyes, whose grey she could not see because he kept them determinedly fixed on the floor. His white hair was parted in the middle and fanned out stiffly to his shoulders, giving him the look of a lion in a painting. The ends of his moustache hung down to his white beard. Anyone looking at him would see a fierce-looking middle-aged monk, but to her the young man she had met the day she began her first journey down the Tokaido was clearly visible.

She spoke at last, first thanking General Miura and Moko for bringing Jebu safely and quickly to Kamakura. Moko’s eyes flickered nervously back and forth between Jebu and the screen behind which she was sitting.

At last it was time to address Jebu. The mere thought of saying his name aloud intimidated her. She hoped there would be no quaver in her voice.

“My most profound gratitude to you, Master Jebu, for your willingness to leave the peace of your temple. You must find this military capital a noisy, discordant place after the quiet of monastic life.”

Now, for the first time, he lifted his eyes, and again she felt as though she had been struck by a club. He was looking straight through her screen, as if he could see into her eyes, even though she knew he couldn’t. She almost felt like fainting, as she had at the Hachiman shrine. The eyes were impenetrable as granite. There was not a trace of feeling in them. They saw into her and told her nothing—and thereby told her everything. Oh no, she thought. The hollow in the pit of her stomach turned to a sinking iron ball. The joyless grey eyes told her that he was not happy to be here, that he hadn’t wanted to come to her, that he hated her.

He spoke now, thinly masked disdain curling his beard and moustache back from his teeth. “My lady, a summons from one as exalted and powerful as you honours this lowly monk.” The voice was hoarser than she remembered it, but softer. The sound of it made her shiver.

“I cannot seem to find peace anywhere in this world, and I am more used to the ringing of steel on steel than the chiming of temple bells. For every night that I have slept in a monastery, I’ve spent a hundred nights on the ground. As for this capital of yours, it is a strong, fierce city, worthy of samurai. Of all its edifices, the grandest is this residence of yours, my lady, the Shogun’s castle. The Shima family mansion, where I left you long ago, before I joined Lord Yukio to fight at his side during the War of the Dragons, was an admirable palace. But this castle dwarfs it utterly. My lady has risen far in this world.”

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