Shike – Day 281 of 306

“There go our ships,” said Munetoki, excitedly pointing in the direction of Hakozaki. Jebu felt his heart lift as he saw the long, low silhouettes of little galleys racing out to meet the enemy at the mouth of the harbour. It looked as if a hundred kobaya were dashing out. Watching the little ships reminded Jebu that Moko had had a hand in designing them, and with a sudden chill he asked himself, where is Moko? His friend could have been caught out there somewhere. How could any ship escape a fleet so huge?

The ocean was now carpeted with sails almost to the entrance to the harbour, with more of them coming over the horizon all the time. It was now possible to make out some of the ships themselves, craft Jebu recognized from his years in China. The Mongols must have appropriated everything afloat in the ports of Korea and China. There were huge, deep-hulled seven-masted ocean junks that traded with the islands in the southern and western seas, harbour junks with barrel-shaped hulls and high sterns. There were broad-beamed weighty junks and long, light ones, junks with narrow bows and junks with flaring bows, junks with square sterns and with oval sterns, deep-keeled junks and flat-bottomed junks, junks with one mast, with three masts and five masts. There were two-section boats designed by Kublai Khan himself for traffic on China’s inland canals. There were innumerable smaller ships, sampans, reed rafts, trawlers, canoes, even rafts made of inflated skins.

“If only I could go out in one of our kobaya,” Sametono said suddenly, fists clenched.

“Don’t even think of it,” said Taniko, her eyes frightened. “Your place is back in Kamakura, not here. And certainly not out at sea.”

“Excuse me, Mother,” said Sametono, staring back at her. “I’m not going back to Kamakura.”

“Sametono, we’ve talked about this before,” Taniko said angrily. “You are not needed here. You would simply be one more source of worry for our samurai, another person to protect.”

“I’m sorry, Mother, but I am the Shogun,” Sametono replied quietly. “Munetoki has shaved my head and knotted my hair. I am a man. I am ready to take my place with the warriors. I would not go against your advice in many things, Mother, but I will in this, because you are speaking from the heart as any mother would, not from the mind of the Ama-Shogun.”

“That is not true,” said Taniko evenly. “A samurai woman sends her son off to battle with a smile. You are Shogun, as you say. You are needed in Kamakura to govern the country.”

“I am inexperienced at governing. Cousin Munetoki can do that better than I can. If I stay here, I can continue to do what you did so beautifully yesterday, Mother. The troops will fight all the harder knowing they are fighting under their Shogun’s eye.”

“Are you suggesting that I return to Kamakura?” said Munetoki angrily. Jebu suppressed a smile.

“Cousin,” said Sametono, “I will never forget when you came back after the last attack on our country and told us the story of how the Mongols were defeated. Please let me have the honour of reporting to you, after this war is over.”

Munetoki turned to Taniko with a resigned look. “The boy has to win the respect of the samurai. It will not do for him to be kept in Kamakura like a child-Emperor. Someone of our family is needed here to inspire our men. You and I will go back to Kamakura. First, though, I mean to make one raid on one of our little ships. I insist on that.”

“Very well, Munetoki,” said Taniko. “Then you will go back to Kamakura. But if Sametono stays here, then so shall I. And if Sametono does anything foolish, he will answer to me.”

“Mother,” groaned Sametono. “You shame me.”

“I will not shame you as long as you keep to your proper place. On shore, observing the battle, letting the samurai see their Supreme Commander, but out of danger. If you dare set foot in one of those little ships you had better be prepared for real shame when you come back. Because I will be standing on the beach waiting for you.” Her eyes blazed with a wrath that Jebu found amusing, though he was sure it was terrible to Sametono.

Jebu glanced out the window, saw a sight that transfixed him and called, “Look!” Flames were rippling along the sides of enemy junks, sails were blackening and heavy, dark grey smoke was coiling into the air. A cheer went up from Jebu and the others as they saw Mongol ships start to sink. It was difficult to see the kobaya at this distance, they were so small. But it was clear that they were among the enemy vessels, boarding them and setting them afire. Blazing lights sailed through the air. There were bright flashes and sounds like distant thunderclaps. Hua pao aboard the junks were being brought to bear on the little ships. But more and more of the invading junks were burning.

The battle at the harbour mouth raged for over an hour. Jebu asked himself again and again, where is Moko? Soon the ocean was obscured by smoke, and it was impossible to see the fleet coming over the horizon. At last, though, the smoke began to clear. Jebu could see the low, dark shapes arrowing through the waves back to Hakozaki. He tried to count them. It was difficult at this distance, but it seemed there were no more than thirty. His heart turned to lead. Over a hundred had gone out. The burning junks sank. The Mongol fleet was visible again, filling the ocean as far as the eye could see. Jebu expected the invaders to start sailing into the harbour, but instead the nearer ships were tacking and heading toward Shiga Island.

“They’re trying to land on Shiga and get around the wall,” said Munetoki.

“I must go,” said Jebu. He bowed deeply to Sametono and Taniko.

“The fighting for Shiga Island will be over by the time you get there,” Taniko protested.

“It may go on for days, my lady,” said Jebu moving towards the stairway. In a lower voice that the others could not overhear he said, “Stop trying to protect the men you love.”

“At least trying to protect Sametono gives me an excuse to stay near you,” Taniko whispered. “Promise me you will not let Sametono go into combat. And promise me you will come back to me.”

“I promise,” Jebu whispered. He squeezed her hand and left.

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