Shike – Day 267 of 306

“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.

Chapter Twelve

At noon the next day Taniko sat in the moon-viewing chamber, a room on the top floor of the highest tower in the castle, which she often used for meditation. The sun was bright on the lower rooftops near by, their gold dolphins reflecting a blinding radiance. Her feelings were more divided than ever. She had to accept Jebu’s help, now that she had asked for it. The good sense of his plan to build a wall around Hakata Bay proved how useful he could be. And in spite of his anger at her, she could not get his face out of her mind.

Then there was the problem of what to do about the sword presentation. Ever since Hideyori’s death she had kept the Muratomo heirloom sword, Higekiri. She thought it fitting that it go to Sametono, and was planning to give it to him in a ceremony at sunset today. She had intended Jebu to be a guest and to meet Sametono and Munetoki. His presence at the presentation would symbolize the reconciliation of the Shogunate with the followers of Yukio. But since she and Jebu could not be reconciled, it might be better to hold the ceremony without him. She both wanted, and did not want, him to be there. After so many years, her need to be near him was so great that she wanted to see him despite his hatred. She thought of asking Eisen’s advice. He would be invoking the blessing at the ceremony. But Eisen did not know Jebu. Moko did. She quickly wrote a note asking Moko to come to the castle immediately and sent one of her guards off to his house.

Moko came to Taniko’s private chamber at the hour of the sheep. He was perspiring under layers of kimonos, each more heavily embroidered than the next. Being old friends, they met without either screens or ladies-in-waiting to protect Taniko’s virtue. Taniko’s quarters were as austere as they had been when Hideyori was alive. The principal decoration in the room was the calligraphic copy of the verse from the Diamond sutra Sametono had made years ago, which she had mounted on a scroll and hung in her personal altar. Today there was a vase of white roses beside it. As usual, Moko took a moment to admire Sametono’s artistry and to read the verse.

“No such thing as goodness,” he said. “You know, the old sage Taitaro said something like that just before he died.”

“Taitaro dead?” Taniko was shocked. “Jebu didn’t say a word to me about it. That wonderful old man. Oh, how sad!” Taitaro’s appearance in Shangtu long ago had given her the first ray of hope that she might one day be rescued and return home. Taitaro had seemed like a father to her—a real father, not like Bokuden—during her sojourn with Jebu in China. Tears sprang to her eyes. How could Jebu have failed to tell her that? Did he hate her that much? “Homage to Amida Buddha,” she whispered in Taitaro’s memory. “How and when did he die, Moko?”

Moko told her of Taitaro’s almost miraculous departure from this world.

“The Tokaido,” said Taniko, wiping her eyes with the pale green sleeve of her outer kimono. “So much that is important to us has happened along the Tokaido. Do you remember how you swore you would always be the messenger between us, Moko-san?”

“I do, my lady,” Moko’s eyes were large and liquid with sadness.

“Moko-san, you saw how he spoke to me at the audience last night. I feel that I should never have sent for him. What do you think?”

“My lady, I am sure Master Jebu still loves you. His rages prove it. He is a man who has been learning all his life to accept calmly everything that happens to him. Yet, towards you he is an earthquake, a tidal wave, a tai-phun. Even a fool like me can see that he loves you.”

Encouraged, Taniko stopped crying. “What about the sword ceremony, Moko? Shall I invite him?” Amazing, she thought. The leaders of the nation turn to me for advice, and I turn to a cross-eyed carpenter.

“Let me take your invitation to the shiké, my lady. I will persuade him not to behave like a bear in springtime.”

“Oh, Moko, how can I thank you enough?”

“I have another reason for doing this, my lady. Since your son was gracious enough to raise my family to samurai class, my eldest son must now carry our new family name, Hayama, into battle. I want him to be trained by the shiké. I can think of no better way to ensure that he comes out alive.”

The Great Audience Hall of the Shogun’s castle was hung with the banners of the great families that supported the Bakufu. On the top level of the dais, wearing a jewelled head-dress and almost buried in crackling, gold-embroidered robes, was the ten-year-old Shogun, Muratomo no Sametono. Behind him hung a huge silk cloth bearing the embroidered Muratomo White Dragon. At his side was the hilt of a gold-mounted sword which many in the hall recognized, some with reverence, some with indignation. Kogarasu. It was the first time Sametono had openly worn the Takashi sword. At Sametono’s left sat the Regent, Shima Munetoki. The lower levels were occupied by the principal officers of the Bakufu, by the great clan chieftains and, behind a tall folding screen, Taniko. Even though she had arranged and planned the ceremony down to the last detail, Taniko was expected to remain behind the screen throughout.

She could see Jebu and Moko on the floor of the hall, near the dais. She had broken protocol to seat Jebu there, where she could look at him. Eisen stood up now and recited a blessing. Munetoki spoke from his seated position beside Sametono, telling the history of Higekiri and the tragic way it came into the possession of the Shogun’s widow.

“She who next to the Empress herself is the most highly honoured lady in our realm now chooses to present this treasure to her exalted son, our Lord Shogun, Muratomo no Sametono.”

Munetoki rose and went over to Taniko’s screen and received from her the sword box, a work of art in itself with mother-of-pearl birds in flight inlaid on gold lacquer. Reverently, Munetoki carried the sword box across to Sametono, kneeling and bowing as he held it out to him. Sametono took the box and opened it. He took out the sword and held it up so that people could admire the black-lacquered scabbard wrapped with bands of silver and the hilt with its silver dragon. He drew the ancient straight blade one third of the way out of its scabbard as was customary for sword viewing, studying the perfectly polished steel and its wavering, shadowy temper line.

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