Shike – Day 273 of 306

“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.

Chapter Thirteen

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

Our own Great Wall is finished at last. It has taken us nearly five years with many setbacks, including earthquakes and terrible storms. But a message from Jebu tells me it is done, and it is time for me to inspect it. From Kamakura to Hakata is a long journey, but I’ve been anticipating this news and have been packed since the last full moon. It’s been six months since I’ve seen Jebu, and at this rate I’ll soon lose interest in life. I just turned forty-nine last month. Next year I will be half a century old. That a woman my age should be carrying on in secret with a warrior monk is absolutely scandalous.

I’ll see dear old Moko, too, while I’m at Hakata Bay. He has helped design and build a fleet of kobaya, fast little war galleys carrying from fifteen to fifty men. They will go out and attack the Mongol ships and try to sink them before they can land any troops. Many of the kobaya will be captained by men who served with Yukio at Shimonoseki.

The new spirit of the Sacred Islands delights me. I’ve never seen our people so enthusiastic, so willing to work together. They even pay taxes cheerfully. They contribute their share of labour on defence works and then do more than is asked. The samurai eagerly volunteer for duty at Hakata, each hoping he will be the first to take a Mongol head. Individual quarrels, even feuds of long standing, are forgotten. It is a shame that it takes the threat of national destruction to draw us together like this.

-Eighth Month, sixth day


There had been an autumn rainstorm that morning and the yellow grass on the hillside near the town of Hakata was wet. A hundred officers in plain kimonos stood on the slope with Jebu, looking down at the great stone wall. The Hakata Bay wall formed a vast circle following the shoreline of the huge harbour, one day’s ride in length. It was topped by watchtowers and battlements facing the sea. Its seaward side presented a sheer, smooth face over twice the height of a man.

On the defending side, sloping stone ramps enabled the samurai to ride their horses to the top of the wall.

Near where Jebu and the officers were watching, a group of several hundred samurai with white surcoats over their armour, half of them mounted and the other half on foot, were lined up behind the wall. A long way down the beach, at the water’s edge, an equally large group, all cavalrymen wearing bright scarlet coats, awaited Jebu’s signal. They looked from this distance like a bloodstain on the sand. Standing with Jebu and the samurai officers on the hillside was a man holding a large yellow banner with the characters for “Training Is Endless” painted on it in black. Jebu had chosen the slogan to remind these officers that they did not already know everything about warfare, as most of them thought they did.

He pointed to the bannerman, who waved the yellow standard back and forth slowly. The red-coated cavalrymen charged down the beach with shrill, ululating cries. They sounded exactly like Mongols, as they should, since many of them were samurai who had fought in Mongolia and China and would remember the terrifying sound of Mongol war cries till their dying day. As soon as the charge began, the samurai behind the wall rode up the stone ramps nearest them, followed by the men on foot. Removable wooden ramps on the other side of the wall let the defenders sally out on to the beach.

The samurai in white raced down the beach, waving their swords and shouting. A small band of leaders soon outdistanced the rest. The Reds, the samurai impersonating Mongols, slowed their charge, while the White leaders rode on, challenging them to send out their best fighters for individual combat. The Reds replied with a massive volley of arrows. The challengers fell to the sand, all killed.

The main body of White horsemen, enraged at the unchivalrous slaughter of their leaders, came roaring down the beach. The Reds turned and fled. When they had drawn their pursuers about two hundred paces down the beach, they stood in their stirrups in unison and shot arrows over the backs of their horses. Half the White samurai fell from their saddles. The attackers wheeled and bore down on the remaining samurai with sabres and spears. In moments all the White horsemen were lying dead on the beach and some of the Reds were rounding up their runaway horses. The White foot soldiers, who had been unable to keep up with the horsemen, found themselves half-way between the wall and the Reds, unprotected. They set themselves to meet a cavalry charge, but the attackers kept their distance, showering the foot soldiers with arrows. Archers among the Whites brought a few of the enemy down, but not enough to make much difference. Finally the surviving foot soldiers broke ranks and ran. The red-coated horsemen rode them down and finished them before any could make the protection of the wall.

“Very good,” said Jebu, and the man beside him signalled again with the yellow banner. The casualties scattered along the beach and the grassy dunes began to pick themselves up, and foot soldiers went out to collect the arrows, all of which were tipped with large leather balls stuffed with cotton. Jebu hoped none of his demonstration troops had been hurt. In the three years he had been staging these mock battles, only one man had been killed and six seriously injured. There had been a number of broken arms and legs from bad falls, many teeth knocked out—and a few eyes. He turned to address the officers who had been watching the demonstration.

“This is what happens when samurai fighting in the usual way come up against Mongol tactics. I saw it again and again in China until we learned to employ the Mongols’ methods against them. Samurai tend to fight as individuals, each man seeking glory for himself. Mongols are only interested in winning as quickly and easily as possible so that they can enjoy the fruits of victory. They are organized and trained to manoeuvre and fight in large masses, not as individuals. If you ride out to meet them seeking a worthy opponent for single combat, the only opponent you’ll meet will be a cloud of arrows.”

Jebu analysed the demonstration in detail, pointing out how each instance of customary samurai fighting behaviour was less effective than the corresponding Mongol tactic. He noticed many of his listeners growing restless and annoyed. He enjoyed provoking that reaction.

An eastern samurai with a scar down his face suddenly spoke up. “May I say something, shiké?”

Jebu recognized the scarred samurai as Nagamori Ikyu, who had been in charge of the guards at the Rokuhara the day Jebu rescued Sametono. “Certainly, Captain Nagamori.”

“Excuse me, shiké,” said the samurai with a twisted smile. “Lieutenant Nagamori, if you please. I let a prisoner escape from my custody many years ago and was demoted.”

“I’m sorry you were demoted, lieutenant. What is your question?”

“Don’t feel sorry, shiké. I am very happy that particular prisoner escaped. And at least I wasn’t ordered to commit hara-kiri as other officers were who fell victim to your tricks.” The samurai standing around Lieutenant Nagamori stared at him curiously. “What I want to say is, when you stage a battle for demonstration purposes you can set it up to prove whatever you want. It could just as easily be arranged to have those impersonating the Mongols play dead and the samurai appear to be victorious.”

“Quite true,” said Jebu. “But I was not trying to prove anything to you. What you saw was a re-enactment of what happened here six years ago when the Mongols attacked, as well as many battles I witnessed in China between our samurai and the Mongols.”

“How would you have us fight them, shiké, if not in the manner we are accustomed to?” an officer asked.

“Our strategy must be to avoid meeting them head on. When the land, we will stay behind the wall and our bowmen will shoot them off their horses. When they advance, we will retreat and draw them into traps. We will not attack them, we will simply try to hold them to this beach until they decide it is too costly to stay here. If they lose enough men and horses and ships they will withdraw, and that will be victory.”

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