Shike – Day 287 of 306

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?”

“I don’t think the honoured Shogun wishes to speak with me just now,” said Jebu.

“Shiké, I may die today. I may never have another chance.” As he called Jebu by the title Moko always used, Sakagura looked so much like his father that Jebu decided to help him. Motioning Sakagura to follow him, he approached Sametono, who was striding angrily and silently through rows of bowing officers.

“Excuse me, your lordship,” Jebu said. “May I introduce Captain Hayama Sakagura? It is Captain Sakagura who plans and leads the kobaya night attacks which have been so effective.”

Sametono stared angrily at Jebu, as if about to reprimand him for daring to speak to him. But his expression changed when he turned to Sakagura. The young men were ten years apart in age and both of the same height. Jebu towered over them. Sakagura bowed deeply to the Shogun.

“Your father is an old friend of my family, captain,” said Sametono with a smile. “Your exploits are marvellous. How many heads of Mongol generals have you brought back?”

“Seventeen, your lordship,” said Sakagura, baring his teeth with pleasure.

When Sakagura retold his adventures, any Mongol officer whose head he took was posthumously promoted to the rank of general, Jebu thought.

“I am proud to meet you,” Sametono said solemnly. “Just to man an oar in one of your kobaya would be a privilege.”

Sakagura bowed, then beckoned to a servant whom Jebu had not noticed before, who handed him a bag made of shiny crimson silk. With a low bow Sakagura offered it to Sametono. “May I present your lordship with a small token of my esteem?”

Sametono opened the bag with curiosity and drew out a wooden statue of a shaven-headed seated figure holding a disk-shaped gumbai, a kind of war fan carried by generals, in one hand and a Buddhist rosary in the other. The delicate carving clearly delineated a stern, unyielding face. The pose was traditional, but the vigour in the small teakwood statue could only have come from the hand of a talented artist. The fan identified the figure as Hachiman, god of war, patron of the Muratomo. The statue had been left unpainted, the sculptor having the good taste to realize that the warm tones of the natural wood were sufficient adornment.

“There is much life force in this,” said Sametono. “I am most grateful to you. By whom was it carved?”

Sakagura bowed. “My unworthy self, your lordship.”

“Not only are you a great captain of ships, you are a remarkable sculptor as well.”

“I inherit my small skill from my father, who was a carpenter, you’ll remember, before your lordship graciously elevated him to the samurai.”

“Your father builds the ships and you shed glory on your samurai family name by the way you captain them,” said Sametono. “Now, I thank you for your gift, and I would like to have a few words with this Zinja monk in private.” Jebu sensed suppressed anger in Sametono’s voice. Sakagura bowed himself out of the Shogun’s presence. Sametono gently put the statue of Hachiman back in its bag and handed it to one of his men standing near by. Then, as if possessed by the war god, he turned a face dark with fury towards Jebu.

“I can never forgive you for what you did today, Master Jebu. Meeting Sakagura only reminds me what heroic feats other young men accomplish, while I remain no more able to do anything than that wooden statue.”

Jebu knelt before Sametono. He felt he could not conduct an argument with the Shogun while looking down at him.

“May I suggest that there is a lesson in that seated statue, your lordship. Our highest symbols of religion and the nation are not expected to plunge into the thick of battle.”

Sametono was obviously close to tears. “I am not a statue. I am a human being who wants to fight to save my country’s life. The generals will not let me plan strategy and they will not let me go into battle. There is nothing I can do.”

“You may not fight where and how you want,” said Jebu gently, sitting back on his heels and looking up at Sametono. “No one can. A nation whose fighting men did not obey orders would lose in any war. Do you suppose that there is one warrior, the Shogun, who is exempt? You must do the duty appropriate to your station, as everyone else must. Eisen and your mother tell me you were unusually enlightened as a child. But one does not light a lamp once and have it stay lit fo all time. You must keep fuelling it. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“I understand that you can preach at me like any other monk,” said Sametono, staring at Jebu with hostile eyes. “But you are not like any other monk. You worship neither gods nor Buddhas. What are you but an adventurer in monk’s robes? You’re my mother’s lover, and you carry messages from her to the generals. Yes, I see very well that you want to keep me helpless, like a wooden statue that you can place wherever you wish. You killed my grandfather, and you were involved in the killings of my father and my foster father. And yet my mother lies with you. What kind of power is it that you have over my mother? It is becoming a national scandal that the Shogun’s mother goes to bed with a warrior monk in whose veins flows the blood of our enemies. You and I are both fortunate that I am under obligation to you for saving my life. It is said that a man may not live under the same heaven with the slayer of his father.”

Jebu held out a hand pleadingly. “Sametono. I understand what you are going through.”

“Address me properly.”

“Your lordship. I have felt hatred. I have wanted revenge. I have been torn by the urge to fight and kill when it was my duty to refrain. I beg of you, do not lose what you have always possessed. Do not let your mind be clouded by the passions this war has stirred up.”

“It is you who have clouded my mother’s mind. Stay far from me. I do not wish to see you. You are dismissed.”

Jebu knew that if he spoke another word Sametono would draw the sword Higekiri that hung at his belt. He stood up reluctantly, bowed deeply and backed away. Sametono turned on his heel and walked stiffly to his horse, followed by the retainer carrying Sakagura’s statue. As he watched Sametono go, Jebu discovered that he was crying. Until now there had been a love, almost like father and son, between himself and Sametono. He wept for the loss of that love. And even more for the boy’s loss of enlightenment.

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