Shike – Day 272 of 306

As their love progressed she made another delightful discovery. Somewhere in the years between thirteen and forty-five she had lost all shame. Even that beautiful first night on Mount Higashi had been alloyed by fears of what the world would think if they were suddenly discovered. Now, she thought, if all of Kamakura walked in here and saw us lying in this embrace, our clothes open, our bodies touching everywhere, I would let them watch. I think I might enjoy being watched. I am proud of this. Proud that I can excite this man, this warrior, and draw his passion into me. The years with Kiyosi, with Kublai Khan, in China with Jebu, even with Hideyori who needed so much coaxing—all that experience had taught her a great deal about the art of love. I am as much a master of this flowery combat as Jebu is a master of the sword, and I wish that the whole world could see us.

She stood up, taking his hand, and drew him with her to the sleeping platform, the untied cords of her mauve silk robe hanging loosely by her side. As she turned to pull him in through the curtains she looked closely at his body under his grey robe, which had fallen open. She gasped, shocked. There were scars everywhere. His neck and chest were covered with large and small marks, slightly paler than his brown skin. She pushed back his robe and saw that his shoulders were also scarred. She stroked the scars with her fingertips, feeling their thickness and roughness. Then she leaned her head against his chest and began to cry.

“My darling, what have they done to you? How you must have suffered.”

“I never felt most of these wounds,” he whispered. “You have caused me far more pain than any of these cuts and gashes.”

“Don’t say that, Jebu.”

“You could not have hurt me if I had not loved you.”

“I will give you pleasure that will more than balance the pain.”

“You can give me more than pleasure. You can give me happiness.”

“You have known so much pain,” she murmured. “Your body is so scarred, so toughened. Can you still feel my touch?”

“I may look to you like an old oak at the end of winter,” he whispered, laughing softly. “But, miraculous as it may seen, life surges within.”

She pulled him down to the bed beside her. Their movements together were like those of swimmers, graceful and rhythmic. Together they were gliding through a sea of pleasure, a warm sea without a shoreline, rising and falling with the waves. She forgot where she was, she forgot time and age, she forgot that she was the Ama-Shogun and he was a Zinja warrior monk. She was a woman enjoying the body of a man. Nothing more. But nothing less.

When at last they lay side by side, exhausted in a blissful semi-trance, she patted her old wooden pillow. “I’ll have a good story to tell my pillow book tomorrow.”

“You keep a diary? You never told me that.”

“It’s my deepest secret. I’ve never told anyone before this. Perhaps I’ll read to you from it, if you stay with me for always.” The thought brought reality painfully back. “Jebu-san. What are we going to do? How are we going to live?”

Jebu pursed his lips. “There was a time when we might just have run off together, not concerning ourselves about what is correct. But we can’t do that now. Your first duty is to the Sunrise Land. To have it openly known what we are to each other would damage your prestige. We must go on meeting in secret.”

“When I sent Moko to bring you to Kamakura, I wanted this. I never thought beyond the moment when we might be united in body and spirit after so long a time apart. I never thought about what it would mean to my position. I never thought about how we could live as lovers.” She took both his hands and stared deep into his eyes. “Jebu, I swear to you—if you wish it, I will give up all this right now. I will go with you wherever you want to go. I will never, never let anything come between us. Let us leave this castle tonight, if you want. I will be your wife or your consort. I will live with you in a temple or a farm or a mountain hermitage. You need only tell me.”

He propped himself up on his elbow and his grey eyes stared into hers for a long time. “I wish—” he said. Then, “No. That is not the way for us.”

“Why not, Jebu? The Sunrise Land can fight this war without us. Surely we deserve happiness in the years remaining to us.”

“That is not the way to insight. That is the way to lose it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You said you would go anywhere with me. Then I ask you to stay here, and we will manage to be together as often as we can, and we will go on with the work we must do.” He smiled. “I imagine countless great ladies and lowly monks have had to surmount this very problem in the past. You remember the story of Empress Koken and Priest Dokyo? She took him for her lover, wanted to marry him and make him Emperor, until the god Hachiman himself intervened, declaring, ‘The usurper is to be rejected,’ and put a stop to that foolishness. We must be discreet, my lady Ama-Shogun. I will accept no titles or offices. I will be just one of many military advisers attached to the Shogun’s Court. Whenever you send for me, I will come to you. Moko will be very happy that his mission to the Pearl Temple turned out so successfully. We must find a way to tell him without anyone else finding out.”

Taniko laughed. “Everyone will know about you and me, Jebu-san. It is impossible to keep secrets in these paper-walled chambers where there is a servant behind every shoji. The best we can hope for is to be discreet, as you said, and not make a public scandal. Everyone in this castle is loyal to me. They may talk about me among themselves, but they will protect my reputation.”

“Good. Then we can tell Moko at once. He’s been very unhappy ever since you and I quarrelled at that audience last night.”

“Not at all,” said Taniko, twining her fingers in Jebu’s white beard. “Moko was always confident that you’d come round. He told me this morning that you loved me. Otherwise, he said, you wouldn’t have been so angry at me.”

“The fellow knows me too well. And reveals my secrets. I should have cut off his head the day I met him. You stopped me from doing that.”

“You wanted me to stop you.”

“Indeed I did. And my instinct was right. Ah, Taniko-san, how sweet to lie here with you and summon up the past. Almost as pleasant as what we were doing a little while ago.”

“I enjoy conversation much more than that other,” she said teasingly.

“Well, then, there’s no need for us to worry about discretion,” said Jebu with a laugh. “From now on I’ll come openly to your rooms. You can have your ladies-in-waiting present, and we’ll just talk. In fact, why not dress ourselves and call them in right now?”

“For all I know, they’re hiding just beyond my door, laughing at us,” she said.

She turned towards him, her small white hand stroking his scarred chest. She could hardly believe this was happening. One night after he arrived they were in each other’s arms, after being apart for ten years. She could hardly remember at this moment what it was that had separated them for so long. She was not even sure they had ever been separated. Now that they were reunited, though, she wasn’t going to let him go so quickly. She kept him there in her chamber till dawn.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)