Shike – Day 286 of 306

Eisen shrugged and patted Jebu’s knee. “Only you can decide. The whole philosophy of the Order is based on that.” He rose. Kagyo following him, and walked to the opening of the tent.

“I will never part with her.”

“It will rain today. The clouds are already covering the moon. Good morning to you, Jebu-san.”

After they were gone, Jebu went out of his tent and sat on a hilltop watching a misty day dawn over the harbour. Samurai paced restlessly along the top of the curving wall that stretched along the beach. Jebu asked himself, where will they attack today? With a grunt of anger he dismissed Eisen’s message from the Order. If they think I will give her up after all this time, they are fools, he told himself. But they were not fools, he knew, thinking sadly of the empty temples all over the Sunrise Land. They were the wisest and the most dedicated people he had ever known. They were his people. Out of habit he reached inside his robe and took out the Jewel of Life and Death. Sadly, he put it away again. It meant no more now to him than a piece of glass. The Zinja gone. The Jewel gone. Yukio gone. Taitaro gone. Now they wanted to take Taniko. They were systematically stripping away anyone or anything that he cared deeply about. But a Zinja was not supposed to have attachments. He had started out in life knowing that. How had he acquired so many?

Chapter Nineteen

In the middle of the Seventh Month, the South of the Yang-Tze Fleet, long delayed in its rendezvous with the fleet from Korea, arrived at Hakata Bay—four thousand ships carrying a hundred thousand Chinese troops. The day after the huge new invasion fleet appeared, the defending generals held council before sunrise in the pavilion north of Hakozaki. There were ten of them, and among them they represented every region of the Sunrise Land. Each wore a slightly different style of armour and spoke with a different accent, but they were alike in their air of calm gravity which masked deep anxiety. In the position of honour on the raised platform under the pavilion sat the young Shogun Sametono, his eyes burning with excitement, eagerness, concern. Jebu was sitting with a group of lesser officers and kenin who had been called to give counsel and receive the generals’ orders. He noted with a twinge of worry that Sametono was wearing battle armour and had the sword Higekiri at his belt.

Sametono had little to say until the generals were finished outlining their plans for meeting the new threat. Then he raised his young voice. His hands, as he gestured, were trembling.

“Honoured generals and brave officers, today and the next few days will decide the fate of the Sunrise Land. Until now I have stayed out of battle, persuaded that the life of the Shogun should not be risked. But if we lose now, it does not matter whether the Shogun lives or dies. Today, I go into battle. I ask you generals to assign me a place in the defences.”

There were cheers from many of the officers. Jebu himself was stirred. He did not want to frustrate the boy, but he had promised Taniko he would do everything in his power to keep Sametono out of combat, and there was good reason for doing so besides Taniko’s maternal fears. The death of Sametono would be a disaster from which the forces of the Sunrise Land might never recover. Jebu asked for permission to speak.

“I have fought in many battles, honoured generals,” he said. “I ask you to imagine what it would do to our warriors, brave as they are, to hear in this moment of crisis that the Shogun himself has been killed in battle. Precisely because it will be so difficult to hold back the enemy now that they have three times as many troops as before, it is all the more important that nothing happen to our Shogun. I beg his lordship to spare us any fear for his safety, and I beg you honoured generals to intercede with him not to expose his exalted person to danger.”

There was a muttering of agreement as Jebu sat down. Dawn was starting to break over Hakata Bay. Looking down the beach, Jebu could see mass pyres where stacked enemy corpses were being burned by slaves. The dead samurai had been taken inland for more ceremonious cremation. Wrecked Mongol siege machines were being chopped apart by labourers so the wood could be re-used. Here and there beached ships were being salvaged. The hulks of enemy junks sunk in the offing were left there as a barrier to other landings. Out on the bay many of the invaders’ sails were up and their ships were beginning to move towards shore. Shrill voices could be heard shouting war cries across the water, and the drums on the ships were taking up their inexorable beat. Jebu turned his attention back to the generals. Sametono was glaring at him as if he wanted to kill him.

Miura Zumiyoshi, the senior officer among the generals, addressed Sametono. “Your Lordship, we think the Zinja monk has spoken well. To lose you might be the very blow that would weaken our men’s morale enough to let the Mongols break through our lines. We humbly suggest that you refrain from going into combat.”

Sametono’s face turned a deep red. He was the Supreme Commander of these generals, of all samurai in the Sunrise Land. But leadership in the Sacred Islands was traditionally never a matter of one man’s will. Leaders who disregarded the opinions of their supporters soon lost that support. Sametono knew that Jebu had turned the consensus against him. He nodded abruptly and uttered his acceptance of the generals’ “suggestion” in a low voice.

Shortly afterwards the meeting ended. Jebu felt a tug at his sleeve and turned to see Moko’s son Sakagura smiling and bowing to him. The young man looked thin and wolfish after two months of leading forays against the Mongols nearly every night.

“Master Jebu,” he said, “I wish to ask a favour. I have never had an opportunity to meet his lordship. Would you introduce me now, while he is here?”

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