Shike – Day 275 of 306

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.

Chapter Fourteen

A letter from Kublai Khan to Shima Taniko:

Since you have shown a predilection for chopping off the heads of my ambassadors, I send this letter to you by a more indirect route. By the time you receive it, the lama who placed it in the hands of one of your ladies-in-waiting will have disappeared. If the seal on the letter is broken, I suggest you chop off the lady’s head, since she will have learned far too much about you. That you may not doubt the authenticity of this letter, let me remind you that the name “Elephant” was known only to the two of us.

Do not allow the failure of my last expedition to your islands to raise false hopes. It might well have succeeded, but for the accident of a storm. Also, that time we sent only a small army, the greater part of our troops being occupied with ending the resistance of the southern Sung. This time we will come with all our might, together with the power of China and Korea, which are now ours to command.

I remember well your wisdom and strength of character. That is why I released you those many years ago. I knew that you would, even though you are a woman, rise to a position of influence in your own country. You have gone even further than I expected. You can tell your countrymen what you have seen of me and my power. Tell them that to resist me will lead to their destruction, whereas your small nation can reap incalculable benefits by becoming part of a greater whole. I am even prepared to overlook the execution of my ambassadors, since he who ordered it is now dead. I do not understand a people who would turn their backs on their most able general, Muratomo no Yukio, my former officer, and submit to the rule of a man who got himself killed falling from a horse. . . .

I know that your people are proud. All nations believe they are descended from gods, but you seem to believe it with more passion than most. Do not let pride drive your countrymen to destruction.

You know me well, Lady Taniko. Perhaps you would like to renew your acquaintance with the splendours of Khan Baligh and the companionship of the Great Khan. Nothing would please me more than to welcome you back. This will become possible after your countrymen have been persuaded that honourable submission is their wisest course.

You know that I have the will and the power to do whatever I decide to do. I can move mountains and change the course of rivers. Do you imagine that I will let a little people on the world’s edge resist my authority? You claim you live in the place where the sun rises. I tell you that from the rising of the sun to its setting all nations must bow to the one Great Khan. Eternal Heaven wills it.

-written and sealed at Khan Baligh First Month, fourteenth day


Angrily biting her lip, Taniko rolled up the letter and held it over the brazier that heated her room. How insulting that he should have thought her capable of betraying her country, eager to return to his harem. Unbidden a vivid memory of their lovemaking in his huge bed flashed through her mind, and she felt herself stirred. This only made her more furious, and she thrust the remainder of the scroll viciously into the fire, almost burning her fingertips. He hadn’t seen her in years and years. He would never want her in his bed now. Didn’t he realize she knew that? Or that she still had Jebu? Yes, I know him, she thought, but he does not know me. He does not know my people. Whatever we may be, children of the gods or ordinary human beings, we cannot be subject to any other nation. We must rule ourselves or not exist at all.

It was late in the Fourth Month when a small junk with a red mainsail was sighted approaching Hakata Bay from the northwest. The junk and its coloured-sail signal had long been awaited. At once a messenger was despatched to western defence headquarters at the town of Dazaifu, inland from Hakata, with the simple message that the Mongol fleet had set sail from Korea.

Jebu ordered a fifteen-man kobaya to carry him out to the approaching vessel. As he looked out at Shiga Spit, the sandy islands on the north side of the mouth of Hakata Bay, he recalled the day Yukio and he had watched that line of ships flying blood-red Takashi banners rounding the same island.

As Jebu’s little ship crossed the mid-point of the harbour, the junk with the red sail came into view. An hour later Jebu was aboard it, embracing Moko.

“You act as if you are relieved to see me, shiké,” said Moko with a smile. “You know I’d do nothing to endanger myself. We simply hovered around the mouth of Pusan harbour with the sea gulls, fishing and trading, claiming to be friendly Chinese. When we saw the Mongols embark on the Korean ships we came back here at once.”

“What are they sending against us?” asked Jebu.

Moko’s smile disappeared. “There are two fleets coming, shiké. From Korea there are nine hundred ships carrying fifty thousand Mongols and Koreans, and their horses and siege equipment.”

“That’s about as many as they sent against us last time,” said Jebu.

“Yes,” said Moko. “But before that fleet arrives here, it is to be joined by a second fleet, known as the South of the Yang-Tze Fleet, coming from Linan. In that fleet, shiké, there are four thousand ships. It carries one hundred thousand warriors and even more machines and fire-spitting devices. If I believed that the gods would help us, I’d have some hope, but if we must depend on what mere mortals can do, then it is certain that we will be overwhelmed.” He searched Jebu’s face as if hoping to find some comfort in it.

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