Shike – Day 269 of 306

“Your mother is most kind,” said Jebu, glancing over to the screen where Taniko sat, sending her heart whirling upwards like an autumn leaf caught in the wind.

Sametono said, “It’s true that the blood of three great Takashi gentlemen flows in my veins, but in my own humble person I represent the union of the contending clans, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Bosh,” said Eisen, a twinkle in his eye, having come up to the Shogun. “Sametono is Sametono. Takashi and Muratomo are names and nothing more.”

Sametono laughed, a clear, metallic sound. “No matter how high I climb on the ladder of Truth, Eisen-sensei is always above me.”

“Look up at my rump,” said Eisen, “and you’ll see the face of the Buddha.” He turned casually to Jebu, ignoring the shocked stares of Munetoki and Moko and said, “We meet again, Monk Jebu.”

“My father recommended that I see you, sensei,” said Jebu.

“How is the aged, honoured Taitaro?”

“Dead,” said Jebu flatly.

Eisen smiled. “The tide rises, the tide falls. We must talk when there is more time, Monk Jebu.” He patted Jebu’s hand, bowed to Sametono and turned away.

“There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask a Zinja monk,” said Sametono. “I’ve heard that you Zinja monks can kill at a distance just by pointing a finger at an enemy or shouting at him. Can you really do that? Could you teach it to me?”

“Those are old stories that go all the way back to the martial arts schools of China, Your Highness,” said Jebu with a smile. “We Zinja train very hard, but we can’t kill by magic.”

But he looked at Hideyori, Taniko thought, and Hideyori fell off his horse and died. Sitting behind her screen, watching Jebu in conversation with Sametono, Taniko felt a surge of hope. Jebu was his old self, kindly and intelligent. The day before, when he had entered the Shogun’s castle for the first time after Yukio’s death, he must have felt he was putting himself in the hands of his enemies. Now he knew that all here were his friends, anxious to have his help. Perhaps, next, he would relax a little towards Taniko herself.

So, let us try again, she thought. She would invite him to have ch’ai with her in her chambers tonight. One more conversation might not rekindle the love he had once felt for her, but at least it could put an end to hate, and that would be a beginning. With her invitation there must, of course, be a poem. As she stared longingly at Jebu she began to compose one in her mind:

Lonely waterfowl
Lilac branch bare of blossom,
Together again.

He came to her chambers just before midnight, escorted by a giggling maidservant. As she looked into his face her heart sank. Even though there was now no screen between them, his eyes were as cold and hard as they had been this morning. After he had stared at her for a moment his eyes fell, and he sat there as if alone. The silence seemed to stretch on endlessly. She watched him hungrily, thinking that if he would not talk to her at least he could not prevent her from enjoying the sight of him.

But at last she could stand the silence and the yearning no longer. “Jebu. Why did you come to Kamakura if you hate me so much?”

The grey eyes were watchful, unsympathetic. “I do not wish to hate any person. It is not the Zinja way. I came to Kamakura because to refuse to help in this war would be a betrayal of all Yukio fought for.”

She did not know how to answer this. A silence fell again, which she filled by preparing ch’ai. As she handed his cup to him, she noticed with anger at herself that her hand was trembling. She saw him looking at her hand as he took the cup from her with polite thanks. He leaned back on the elbow rest beside him and drank.

Although he seemed perfectly at ease, the intimacy of the chamber, which she had hoped would draw them together, was making her oddly uncomfortable, as if she had disrobed to seduce him. She looked at the verse Sametono had inscribed on green paper years ago, which now hung on a scroll above her private altar: “Though we speak of goodness, the Tathagata declares that there is no goodness. Such is merely a name.”

What would Jebu make of that if he noticed it? Probably that she was a wicked person who did not believe in goodness, which was apparently what he thought of her already. More than anything else in the world she wanted him to love and respect her. And here he was, so close, but he despised her. The need for him was unbearably insistent; for it to be thwarted was intolerably painful. If only he would talk about the reasons for his hatred of her, instead of sitting there in that dreadful self-contained silence.

“You think what I did was a betrayal of Yukio, don’t you?” she said at last.

He glared at her. “Must we speak of this? I’m here. I’ve agreed to help. Let the rest of it alone. Don’t write me any more poems.”

How could he be so cruel? “I can’t help it. I love you.” She was close to tears.

He stood up instantly. “This conversation must end now. To continue will only cause great pain for both of us, perhaps make it impossible for me to serve you.”

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