Shike – Day 27 of 306

His performance with Taniko was as brief as at their first encounter. This time, though, he bit her breast at his moment of supreme pleasure. This left teeth marks, which he looked at with satisfaction afterwards.

As was expected of her, Taniko paid him a pretty compliment on his manly strength. Inwardly, she was quaking. They were now committed. She was bound to him. It was his third-night visit, with the ceremonial eating of rice cakes, which actually sealed their marriage. It was all over, and now that it was done she could see no future for herself. She felt a sensation of sinking into a bottomless black pool. She had done her duty as a samurai woman, yes, but might duty not be easier for a man, who died only once and quickly, than for a woman who had to die a little bit each day for years and years?

Horigawa nodded in acceptance of her compliment. “You are fortunate to have a well-born man of the capital as a husband. Think how miserable you would have been in the arms of some rough country man smelling of the rice paddies.”

Remembering Horigawa’s role in the executions of four years ago and his talk about massive bloodshed, Taniko thought, I would prefer the smell of the rice paddies to the stink of the execution ground.

Horigawa reached into the sleeve of his robe and drew out a scroll. “This is a report I received from a monk in China. I intend to present it to Lord Sogamori. You will translate it into your language and write it out in your best hand. I trust your handwriting is acceptable?”

“My handwriting has been praised,” said Taniko, “but it is, of course, only the poor effort of a girl raised in a rustic fishing village.”

The sarcasm escaped Horigawa. “Lord Sogamori is a man of some discernment, even though he is merely the chieftain of a samurai family. You must be sure to form your characters as beautifully as you can.”

Taniko put the scroll in the drawer of her wooden pillow. She could hardly wait for some time to herself, to read the letter from China.

Horigawa ate the ritual rice cakes with her, honouring Izanami and Izanagi, progenitors of all the kami and creators of heaven and earth. She almost wished her own cake were saturated with poison. Then Horigawa removed his hat of office and lay down, resting his head on the wooden pillow she had placed beside her own. With a wave of his hand, he indicated that she was to blow out the candle.

They slept in the same clothing they had worn all day, as was usual. Side by side they lay in the dark on quilted futons. Horigawa was a restless sleeper who mumbled and moaned as if bad dreams troubled him all through the night. Bad dreams might portend future disasters for Horigawa. The possibility pleased her, because her only hope was that he might not live long. Perhaps he was haunted by the ghosts of those whose executions he’d demanded.

Taniko lay awake most of the night. As she had tried to do on her first night with Horigawa, she sent her mind on a journey—this time to Mount Higashi and the night she had spent there with Jebu.

In the morning the Shima family, led by Uncle Ryuichi, Aunt Chogao and their eldest son, five-year-old Munetoki, burst in on them with the expected cries of joy and congratulations. Having spent three nights together and partaken of the sacred rice cakes they were now officially married. However, Taniko would remain in the Shima household, as was the custom among people of their class, and Horigawa would visit her as often as he chose to bestow his princely favours. Taniko hoped lust would provoke him infrequently. She would go to his house when needed there for ceremonial and social occasions.

Taniko’s uncle and aunt each picked up one of Horigawa’s shoes. By taking the shoes to bed with them that night, they would try to ensure that Horigawa would never leave Taniko. Each sign that the world wanted this marriage to be permanent made Taniko’s heart sink a little lower.

Horigawa imperiously handed Ryuichi a scroll. “This is a list of the guests I wish you to invite to the wedding feast. You will hold the feast on the thirteenth day of the Ninth Month, four days after the Chrysanthemum Festival. My diviners tell me that will be the last auspicious day for quite some time.” He took another scroll from his sleeve. “I have also included a set of instructions on how the feast is to be conducted. It is essential that every detail be both correct and fashionable. I prefer not to rely on the judgment of a provincial family in such matters.”

After Horigawa was gone, Ryuichi raged and wept. He was furious at the prince’s contempt for his family, and appalled at the cost of the wedding feast, which, he claimed, would wipe out the family fortune if he followed Horigawa’s instructions.

“Why did you have to marry that leech?” Ryuichi howled at Taniko.

Taniko bowed to hide her amusement. “Forgive me, Uncle. I regret that he causes you such pain. My father commanded me to marry him for reasons that seemed wise to him.”

Ryuichi subsided. “We expect the marriage to do us good. But if my esteemed older brother had only let me arrange a match for you, instead of doing it by himself from such a great distance—” He smiled suddenly. “You, also, might have been happier with the result. You’re a good daughter, Taniko, to put up with marriage to such a repulsive person.”

“I intend to do more than put up with it, Uncle. I have always wanted to live in the capital and be part of the doings at the Court. I have never wanted the lot of an ordinary woman. If Horigawa is the price I have to pay to live here, I accept that price. Perhaps I will do well for myself despite the match my father made.”

Her little cousin Munetoki stared at her, his eyes shining with admiration.

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