Shike – Day 266 of 306

“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.”

“If we put all our troops and defences there, the Mongols are sure to learn of it,” said Taniko. The conversation was going much better now. The bitterness was gone as they discussed the problem that faced them.

“They will still land there, even if they know we are waiting for them. They will be confident that they can overwhelm us. A shrewd strategist would try to land at an undefended place, but when a man has conquered as vast an empire as Kublai Khan’s he expects to win by throwing all his troops against all the enemy’s troops in one tremendous encounter. Such a man feeds his overly exalted notion of his own power with adventures like that.”

Taniko saw the smiling face of Kublai Khan in her mind. A man before whom nations had trembled from the time he was a small boy. A man who could dream of building his own green mountain with one tree of each kind in the world on it. Jebu was right; such a man would probably land his troops at Hakata because it suited his convenience, even if every warrior in the Sunrise Land was waiting there for him.

“Do you think we can possibly win, jebu?” she asked anxiously.

“You are the only fighting man, of all those around me, who has any idea of the Mongols’ real power.”

“They have never failed in any war they have undertaken,” said Jebu. “Still, Kublai Khan is attempting the most difficult and hazardous of all military operations, an invasion across a wide ocean. His ability to send reinforcements will be limited, especially if his fleet is forced to remain at anchor on our shores. If we can hold his army to the water’s edge, they will need their ships as a base to operate from. They won’t be able to send the ships back to ferry more troops across. That is why I suggest a wall. As to whether we can win, no one can say. There are too many uncertainties. We Zinja believe in throwing ourselves into the struggle with all our energy, without concerning ourselves about who wins or loses.”

“If they win, I do not intend to live,” said Taniko.

“I know,” said Jebu with a smile. “You will take a bow and arrows in your own hands and die fighting.” The moment was almost companionable. Thinking of the wall he had suggested, she remembered the half-ruined Chinese Great Wall, where they had stood together and looked north, into the wind, at the land that bred the Mongols. The lamps in the Lilac Hall burned low, and the lady-in-waiting who was there for respectability’s sake seemed to be asleep.

“Oh, Jebu, when you spoke of a wall, I could not help remembering the time you and I saw the Great Wall in China together. We had just been reunited after so many, many years apart, and I have never been happier, before or since. You must remember. This is happening again now. We’re together again. We can be happy.”

Her voice faltered. There was a long silence as Jebu stared at her. Beneath the granite eyes she sensed volcanic fires. The brown hands resting on his thighs were tense.

At last he spoke. “I am prepared to serve you, my lady, but only in this war. I do not think it accomplishes any purpose to discuss a past that no longer exists.”

She cringed back, glad of the screen between them that hid from him her look of dismay. “Why so fierce, shiké?” she pleaded. “From the moment you entered this hall, I have felt your anger. I do not think I have done anything to deserve such hatred. Whatever the reason, I beg you to forgive me. How else can we work together? Surely you would not have come here if you hate me as much as you seem to.”

Jebu’s reply smashed her hopes. “There are many reasons why I am here, but the most important is Yukio. He was my life. I am doing what he would want me to do if he were alive. He would be in command of our defences now if he had not been murdered by the man you married—my lady.” He spoke through bared teeth.

I do not have to humble myself before anyone, she thought, much less this rude monk. I am the mother of the Shogun. Samurai by the tens of thousands would die to defend me. The Regent turns to me for advice.

“Thank you for explaining yourself to me so clearly, Shiké Jebu,” she said in a steely voice. “Please leave me now. This audience is ended.”

“My lady.” He stood up, bowed, and backed out of the room with an elaborate display of courtesy.

She sat with her fists clenched. I will not let that man have anything to do with defending the Sunrise Land, she thought. Let him go back to his monastery. I hate him.

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