Shike – Day 270 of 306

“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.”

She held out her hand. “Wait. At least let me hear from your own lips what it is you hold against me. Give me a chance to defend myself.”

He sat down again. “Very well. If nothing else, perhaps hearing it will convince you to leave me alone. I will tell you what you have done to me, and you will send me to Kyushu, where we will never have to see each other, and you will never again be so foolish as to mention love to me. Love? Apparently you were able to forget that love for ten years.”

He paused as if collecting his thoughts and took a deep breath. Then he began to speak in a hollow voice, as if he were describing ancient history. He began with their parting, which had happened at her insistence. He reviewed everything that had happened since then, as he saw it. Finally he said, “What you really love is rank and power. When you saw a chance to get them, you forgot about Yukio and me. You did nothing to help us. When Hideyori began to draw his net about Yukio there was no help, no word of friendship, no warning from you. There was only the news that whenever Hideyori appeared in public, you were always at his side. Out of blind ambition you married the man who murdered Yukio and tried to murder me. Can you see now why it is painful for me to be near you? I ask you respectfully, if you want my help, to send me somewhere far away from you.”

By the time he had finished speaking, sobs racked her. Her tears were as much for him and what he had endured as for herself. But she was also astounded at how different his view of events was from hers.

He seemed to have the notion she could have left Hideyori any time she wanted to.

“You have no conception of what a woman’s life is like,” she wept. “We are not permitted to go anywhere, to see anyone, to know anything. After you left me here I was virtually the prisoner of my father and Hideyori. I encouraged Hideyori’s interest in me because it was the only protection I had from my father. Once Hideyori had me in his power, I was forced to view the world through his eyes. He surrounded me with his spies and agents. When Moko brought Sametono here, I was so grateful to you I could have walked the length of the Tokaido to tell you. But I couldn’t get a message to you. I dared not try. From then on, Sametono was my life, and the only way to protect Sametono was to give in to Hideyori and to believe, or try to believe, everything he told me. Yes, I married him. I married him because I was completely alone in the world, because he agreed to adopt Sametono, and because he had Horigawa killed so that he could marry me. Judge me if you must, Jebu, but only after you have tried to feel how I felt then, how helpless I was, how desperately I wanted to protect my grandson.

“I always thought he was lying to me about some things, but it was not until we journeyed together to Heian Kyo that I learned he had lied to me about everything that really mattered to me. He admitted it all with a smile. He said none of it should be important to me, since I was now the most powerful woman in the Sacred Islands. See, he had the same low opinion of me that you do. He tried to embrace me. Knowing what I knew by then, I would as soon be touched by a giant spider. I took off my slipper and hit him in the face with it.”

Jebu looked amazed. “Your slipper? You hit Hideyori in the face with your slipper?”

Taniko smiled bitterly. “Who has more right to strike the Shogun than his wife? He would have cut me down on the spot if he had not been such a cold man.”

“You struck him with your slipper,” Jebu repeated, as if that, of all the things she had told him, was the most astonishing. “The courage that must have taken! You are a true samurai.”

“It took no courage,” she said curtly. “I was angry, and I acted without thinking.”

“It’s all very different from the way I thought it was,” said Jebu, his grey eyes troubled.

“Just as the truth about what you did after we parted was very different from what I thought,” she agreed. “Oh, Jebu-san, there was so much beauty between us. Why couldn’t we have believed in each other?”

“Because we suffered too much to think wisely,” he said. He sat lost in thought, his eyes wandering around the room. They drifted to Sametono’s verse, moved past it, then stopped and returned. She watched curiously as he read it to himself in a whisper, frowning. Suddenly a sun seemed to rise in his face. She shivered as she watched his transformation.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes. There is no such thing as goodness. Exactly.” She wanted to ask him why the verse affected him so, but she held her tongue. It was obvious that something profound was happening to him, perhaps the moment of discovery Eisen called satori. She was even more sure of this when he started to laugh.

“It’s so obvious,” he said. He turned to her suddenly, a glowing smile on his face. “Where did this come from?”

“Sametono wrote it,” she said. “The Zen monk Eisen suggested it to him as a calligraphic exercise.”

“Eisen,” he said thoughtfully. “Of course, of course. Who else would select a verse in which the Buddha himself says there is no such thing as goodness? If there is no such thing as goodness, then we must all be devils, mustn’t we?”

“I don’t understand,” she said, bewildered by his glee. “What is it you learned?”

“Nothing new. I’ve just rediscovered something I already knew. So Sametono studies under Eisen?”

“He and I both do,” she said. “You already know Eisen, don’t you?” Jebu told her of his first meeting with Eisen, at the Teak Blossom Temple. “Before my father died, he told me something about Eisen.”

“What is that?”

“Let us say that it does not surprise me that Eisen would assign a student that particular verse as a calligraphic exercise. And, now that I know you are a student of Eisen it doesn’t surprise me as much that you struck Hideyori with your slipper. Without thinking, as you put it.”

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