Shike – Day 274 of 306

“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.”

“A poor sort of victory,” said Nagamori. “Any true samurai would be ashamed to fight by feigning retreats and hiding behind walls.” Some of those around him muttered agreement.

Jebu smiled and said, “It is painful to be told that one’s preferred style of fighting is not effective.” He stopped smiling and stared hard into the eyes of each of the officers facing him, especially Nagamori Ikyu. “You enjoy the privileges of samurai because you have accepted the duty of defending this land and its people. In decisive moments, to be unwilling to use the necessary means is to invite disaster. It is to betray those you are pledged to protect.”

The words sank in and they stared back at him solemnly. “Please understand, honoured sirs, I am not here to give you orders on how to fight. My superiors—our superiors—have asked me to teach you certain ways of fighting that are different from those you are used to. The Shogun, the Regent, the Bakufu and their generals will decide what tactics to use. I am no general.”

He could tell by looking at them that his frankness and simplicity had impressed them. The initial resistance displayed by Ikyu and those who agreed with him was typical of the first day with a new group. He had been training samurai officers in Mongol tactics and Zinja fighting methods and attitudes for the past five years, and he felt he knew how to overcome that resistance. In different parts of the Sacred Islands he had set up nine other schools like this, staffed by Zinja martial arts masters and veterans of Yukio’s China campaign. Each school took one hundred samurai officers through a gruelling, intensive course of training lasting two months, running from sleep to sleep every day and through some sleepless nights as well. Most of the samurai hated it, undergoing the training only because their lords told them to. Jebu had managed to put over twenty thousand through the course. The highest-ranking and most promising samurai studied under Jebu himself at Hakata Bay.

Now that he had this group’s respectful attention, he could speak of deeper things. He opened his heart to them and shared with them some of the Zinja principles that had been part of his way of life since boyhood.

“Get rid of the fear of death. Being afraid to die will not keep you alive in battle. It may even kill you.

“Warriors who rise to eminence, as you have, honoured sirs, may think they have earned comfort. This temptation can ruin you. Hardship and danger make warriors strong. Comfort and safety spoil them.

In my Order the older monks are treated more harshly than the younger ones. If you would be good officers, you must discipline yourselves more rigorously than you would the rawest recruit.

“Practise, practise, practise. Practise constantly with all your weapons. Practise until the sword is part of your arm. Become one, not only with your bow and arrows, but with the target. Learn to react instantly with all weapons, without having to take time to think.

“Remember that anything can be a weapon. We Zinja are trained to fight and kill, when we have to, with any object that comes to hand—a monk’s walking stick, a parasol, a fan, even a teapot.

“Since you’re officers, the unit of troops you command is your chief weapon. Practise long hours every day with them, drilling them in the tactics you are going to use.

“Remember Muratomo no Yukio. Not his unhappy final days, but his great victories. Tonamiyama, Ichinotani, Shimonoseki. In China, Yukio led the defence of the city of Kweilin against a Mongol force many times the size of ours. We held out for six months and the Mongols eventually left the city unconquered.

“Yukio was a master of all weapons. I am honoured to say that the first time we met he trounced me soundly. And he was only fifteen at the time.

“He was cheerful and courageous. He was merciful and just. In all things, Yukio is a model you can hold up to your sons. Never forget him. He is watching us as we fight.” Jebu felt tears coming into his eyes, and he saw tears on the cheeks of many of the men listening to him.

“Enough talk,” he said. “Now our samurai and our ‘Mongols’ will show you how the warriors of Kublai Khan can be defeated.”

The Ama-Shogun and the last of the Zinja walked together in the garden of the military governor of Kyushu at Dazaifu. She carried an oiled-paper umbrella to conceal her face, should anyone spy her walking at night with Jebu. There was a mist in the air, and rain was threatening. They followed a winding path past clusters of black bamboo full of fireflies and bell cicadas. The lagoon occupying the north side of the garden was intended to be a small replica of Lake Biwa. Some former governor of Kyushu, his heart in the Home Provinces, had built it. A garden house on a little island was a miniature replica of Lake Biwa’s shrine to the goddess of Chikubushima. Jebu picked Taniko up in his arms. She felt light and tiny. He carried her over the stepping stones to the island.

A faint light from the lanterns scattered artfully around the garden filtered in through the windows of the little house. Jebu looked down at Taniko’s upturned face, loving her delicate bones, her fine skin, her large eyes. He touched her cheek lightly with his fingertips, then bent to kiss her greedily, like a warrior slaking his thirst during a respite in battle. They sank to the floor, Jebu drawing Taniko down into his lap. Facing each other, they kissed for what seemed endless moments. They had made love in this manner many times before. He reached around behind her, untied her obi, then began to part her robes. It fascinated him that, considering how many layers women wore, it was always easy to get through the clothing of one who was willing. His own simple robe and the fundoshi, the loincloth underneath, were never a barrier. Joining their bodies, they went into a near-trance of mental and physical bliss. They barely noticed the patter of rain on the wood-shingled roof of their shelter. As in meditation they paid no attention to the passage of time. They sought no climax in their union, the state of arousal and the ecstasy to which it lifted them being the main object of their desires. They were no more anxious for completion than they would have been if listening to beautiful music.

When she felt like speaking again Taniko asked, “Will you ride with me when I inspect the wall tomorrow?”

“I’ll be near you.” He leaned back against the wall of the little house. She lay with her head on his chest.

“Jebu,” she said abruptly, “I don’t like the idea of being carried along the wall in a sedan chair. It would make me happier, and I think would please the samurai, too, if I could go on horseback.”

“I have no say in the matter,” said Jebu.

“It’s Munetoki,” she said bitterly. “He takes my advice in everything, but he insists that I hide myself like a leper. It makes no sense. We’re prisoners of rules in these islands. Not just the women, but every one of us from the Emperor down. That’s why I fear for us. The Mongols will do anything to win, while with us it’s all honour and ceremony.”

“Yes,” said Jebu. “Exactly what I’ve been trying to teach the officers who are sent to me.”

“When the Mongols come I intend to show myself to the troops as the Ama-Shogun. I will not hide myself. Jebu, how much more time do we have before Kublai’s fleet comes?”

“It will come next year,” he said with certainty.

Last year, the Year of the Hare, the Mongols had completed their conquest of China, destroying a Chinese fleet in a great battle off the southern coast. The last Sung Emperor, a boy, had disappeared beneath the waves, like the child-Emperor Antoku at Shimonoseki. And so the Mongols are already a sea power, Jebu thought with foreboding. Agents on the mainland reported that the Mongols were ruthlessly driving both the Koreans and the Chinese to prepare for the invasion. Chinese soldiers and ships, only a short time ago fighting against the Mongols, were now being rounded up to fight for them. Arghun Baghadur, head of the Office for the Chastisement of Ge-Pen, had left Khan Baligh and journeyed to Korea, where he spent a month and then sailed on to the fallen Sung capital, Linan, the largest port in China. Arghun would waste no time. They would come next spring or early summer and try to break through the coastal defences before the autumn storms.

Her nails dug hard into his scarred chest. “What is it, Taniko-chan?”

“I dread the Mongols. So many times they nearly killed you. So many times I have lost you. I don’t want to lose you again.”

“You must not think of the future. The future does not exist.” And yet, as he stroked her long hair, which had not turned grey despite her age, he thought, you may very well lose me, my love. There are so many things I have to do. And there is so much for you to do, as well.

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