Shike – Day 265 of 306

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.”

He had never forgiven her for being ambitious. The other men in the room were all staring at Jebu. He had committed an offence by mentioning Yukio, whose reputation was still under a cloud here in Kamakura. She was sure it was Jebu’s way of reminding them that he had fought for Yukio to the end and did not regret it.

“My lady, we’re worn out from travelling such a great distance in such a short time,” Moko stammered. “We have not eaten all day. Might it not be better to meet again when we’re fresh?”

Dear Moko was trying to protect Jebu by blaming his discourtesy on fatigue. It made her want to laugh in spite of her sorrow.

“Don’t be absurd, Moko. We’ve only begun this conversation,” she said.

“My apologies, Lady Taniko,” said Jebu, still staring steadily at her screen. “Of course the name of Muratomo no Yukio should never be mentioned in this castle.” That implied she had approved of Yukio’s persecution and death. She could not answer the accusation in front of her councillors, because that would require her to criticize Hideyori, whom she was obliged as a respectable widow to defend. But she could not let the charge go unanswered.

“I accept your apology, Monk Jebu,” she said in the pleasantest tone she could muster. “Your loyalty to your friend and lord of so many years is commendable.” She chose her next words carefully. “The dispute between my lord Hideyori, the late Shogun, and his brother Lieutenant Yukio, was a great sorrow to me, and I never understood the reason for it. Now that both are gone, let the quarrel be buried with my husband’s ashes at the Hachiman shrine, where karma took him from me. Let both lords be remembered only as two of the greatest heroes of the Muratomo clan. With the passing of time we forget the reasons for our bloody quarrels. We remember with respect all the great warriors of the Sunrise Land, even the mighty ones of the Takashi family, as well as those who slew them. If only all our heroes were alive today we would not have to fear the most terrible enemy our nation has ever known.” There, she thought, that message was clear enough: I, too, sympathized with Yukio. See, I publicly call him lieutenant, the title Hideyori forbade. Let us forget all past grievances. I do not blame you for the deaths of Hideyori or Kiyosi or Atsue. I need your help.

Jebu smiled, a smile without humour or kindness. “I quite agree, my lady. Yesterday’s enemy, today’s friend.” Meaning, You are no better than all the other samurai, with their ever-shifting loyalties. The answer bitterly disappointed Taniko. She had hoped to have his love to sustain her. Instead, if she wanted him near her, she would have to live with his contempt. She felt as if an earthquake had split the ground open and she were falling into the fissure. This situation was impossible. They must come to terms of some kind, even if he could no longer love her. She realized that she owed him much for the years of suffering she had inflicted on him by sending him away after he confessed to killing Kiyosi, and that she should be patient now. She could endure his scorn for a little while. Perhaps if they talked alone, she could make a peace of sorts with him.

“The Zinja honours the samurai by quoting an old saying of ours,” she said. “I am hoping that Zinja and samurai knowledge combined will help us to win this war. I would like to discuss this further with Shiké Jebu. I will not hold the rest of you.” With formal salutations to Moko, Zumiyoshi, her councillors and most of her court women, she cleared the Lilac Hall. For appearances’ sake she remained behind her screen and kept an elderly lady-in-waiting, whose discretion she trusted, sitting at a corner of the dais.

“Come closer, Jebu,” she said. “Now that we are alone there is no need for you to sit so far away.” He rose fluidly, halved the distance between them and dropped to his knees again. No man moves so gracefully, she thought. He made the samurai look like waddling ducks. Her hunger for him was actually physically painful. She could not take her eyes off his long brown hands.

“What does my lady require of me?” he asked in that hoarse, soft voice that made her spine tingle.

She forced her mind to the business at hand. “We know the Mongols will attack somewhere along the west coast. The Bakufu generals are preparing our defences. You can help them by teaching them whatever you can remember from your years of fighting among the Mongols. You can tell them how to train our men. You yourself can set up a school in which samurai can be taught new tactics. Scattered all over the Sacred Islands there must be surviving samurai who fought under you and Yukio in China and Mongolia. You must find them and make teachers of them.”

“There will not be many of them, my lady,” said Jebu coldly. “Only about three hundred came back with us from China. Many of those were killed during the War of the Dragons. More died when your noble husband made war on those who remained loyal to Lord Yukio.”

“Well, you will tell all who supported Lord Yukio that the past is done with and their nation needs them now,” said Taniko, despairing as she saw that Jebu was not going to let the subject of Yukio alone.

“If the rules of your Order permit, I wish you also to train our men in the Zinja martial arts. By this I mean the Zinja philosophy as well as the specific techniques. From what you told me of it long ago, I believe the Zinja philosophy could be most valuable to the samurai.” She gave Jebu what she hoped was a winning smile, momentarily forgetting the screen between them and then cursing it when she remembered.

“Perhaps you can also help our officers with planning,” she went on. “The Mongols could attack anywhere along the coast of Kyushu or Honshu, and that is a terribly long line to defend. Our forces will be spread so thin that a Mongol attack will be like punching through a paper wall.”

“Then I suggest you build a wall of stone,” said Jebu.

“A stone wall all along the coasts of two islands? Impossible.”

Jebu shook his head. “It will only be necessary to build it around Hakata Bay. That is where the Mongols will land.”

“How can you possibly be sure of that?”

“They need a very large harbour to accommodate a huge fleet. The harbour must be as close to their ports of embarkation as possible, so that their ships, already overloaded with men and horses, won’t have to carry provisions for a long voyage. The landing site must also be close enough to the heart of our country that the Mongols will not have to fight their way across the whole island of Kyushu or down through the mountains of Honshu to get at the Home Provinces and Heian Kyo. There is only one harbour that fulfils all those conditions, Hakata Bay.”

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