Shike – Day 278 of 306

“Noble lords and warriors of the Sunrise Land, forgive my temerity in speaking to you, though I am a mere woman. As his lordship the Shogun has said so well, these are unusual times, and they call forth unusual actions from all of us. Though I am a woman, I am also, like you, samurai. So, think that I come before you today as samurai, and excuse my boldness.

“Let me remind you that I was the wife of the great Lord Muratomo no Hideyori, whose wisdom and strength gave us the new system of government best suited to meet this national peril. As you know, I am also the mother of Muratomo no Sametono, the present Shogun, whom all of us worship for his beauty and brilliance. Because of my late husband and my son I claim your loyalty and ask your indulgence.

“Warriors leave their women behind when they go to war, and when they return they expect to be greeted with a simple modest ‘Welcome home.’ It is not considered becoming in samurai families for husband and wife to display much public affection; this we all know. But we also know that our warriors deeply love their wives, their mothers, their daughters, their sisters. So I come before you representing all those women. Our spirit will be fighting beside you. You fight to defend the Emperor and the nation, you fight for glory, but you also fight for the women who are so dear to you. What will become of us should you fall in battle and we be taken prisoner by the barbarians? Be sure that we will make every effort to kill ourselves rather than fall into their power. And we shall take with us into the Void as many of the enemy as we can. If the invaders come to our cities and our castles and our homes, we women will take their heads. We will be ready for them.” She paused and smiled grimly. “For, is not Amaterasu Omi Kami, the supreme goddess of our Sacred Islands, a woman too?”

In those words Jebu heard the rage of a woman who knew in her own person what it was to be a captive of the Mongols. Kublai Khan himself had taken her as his property and made use of her. Had she ever had any choice about whether she would lie with the Great Khan?

“Were I not a woman, I would compete with everyone here to take the first head of a Mongol invader.” Taniko went on. “I envy all of you this opportunity to gain glory. All who take part in winning this war and saving the nation will be heroes never to be forgotten.

“In all this world there is no people like us. Nowhere else is there a nation whose people attack every task, be it fighting a battle, planting a field or writing a poem, with such spirit. We are unique in our love of beauty, which we apply to even the smallest objects we possess. Our language, our poetry, our temples and houses, our paintings, our very thinking and feeling, the life within our families, all of these are special to us.

“Our people have lived in these beautiful islands, protected by the sea, for centuries and centuries, and we have been free to be ourselves alone. Those of us who have travelled to distant places never knew a day’s peace or happiness until we could return to this land of the gods.” Taniko paused.

“A priest could tell you of the gods better than I can, and happily there are many priests among you who have come to pray with you for our success in this war. This I know; every rock, every stream, every tree in these islands is the home of a kami, a god. Our Emperor himself is a god in the flesh and a descendant of the sun goddess. This land was created by the gods Izanami and Izanagi. For a foreigner to dare invade this holy soil is sacrilege, and sacrilege must be washed away with blood.”

She had not raised her voice, but this final utterance was greeted with a ferocious cheer by the samurai, who jumped to their feet, waving their arms and shaking their fists. Sametono was looking at his mother with shining eyes, while Munetoki sat sunk in wonderment. Between the two chief men of her family Taniko turned her head up to the sun, radiating light. The samurai quieted down now and fell to their knees, pressing their foreheads into the beach sand.

Taniko rose and gestured. Immediately one of her retainers came forward leading a white stallion. Jebu was reminded of Hideyori’s ill-fated horse, but this one was calm and stately. A maid brought Taniko a riding cloak of white silk embroidered with silver dragons flying through silver clouds. A guard knelt and offered his cupped hands to help her climb into the high sidesaddle. Another attendant handed her a tall samurai bow and a silver quiver of arrows with pure white feathers. Taniko signalled to Jebu. He stood up in his black-laced armour and strode forward. She handed him the reins with their heavy silver tassels. He was to lead the horse. He smiled up at her and she returned it; theirs were faint smiles that would not reveal too much.

“My honoured son and my esteemed cousin, will you join me in visiting our warriors?” she said to Sametono and Munetoki.

“You mean to show yourself to all the troops, my lady?” Munetoki’s face darkened and his thick moustache bristled.

“I’m sure they will be as inspired as we have been,” said Sametono. “My mother is teaching us an important lesson, my lord Regent. Let us accompany her.”

There was confusion as horses were brought for the Shogun’s party, riders jostled one another for position, and runners were sent ahead to warn the troops stationed along the wall of the exalted visitors’ approach. With Taniko in the lead, followed by Sametono and Munetoki, they set out. The sun was high in the eastern sky, and Taniko was a radiant vision.

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