Shike – Day 289 of 306

The samurai moved out into the hills behind the town and set up camp. A light rain had begun to fall, and many of the men sought shelter under trees. Rain-soaked armour was a nuisance. It took days for the lacings to dry. Jebu made a one-man tent out of his riding cloak and a stick and sat cross-legged under it, cleaning and polishing the blades of his sword and his naginata and tending his wounds. He covered a bad gash on his hand with medicated paper and bound it up with a strip of cotton cloth. Then, using his cloak to keep the rain from his head and his armour, he lay down to try to sleep. There was a strange tension in the atmosphere that made his scalp prickle. The drizzle became a steady downpour. That was a setback. It would be harder for the kobaya raiders to set fire to Mongol ships. But tonight it was all up to the kobaya. Designed by Moko, so fast and manoeuvrable, so easy to build and replace. Easier to replace the ships than the warriors who manned them. Thinking about the little ships, he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Twenty-One

Footsteps near his tent woke Jebu. Moko was standing close by, his eyes red with weeping. Jebu’s first thought was, Sakagura. Then he sat up and saw Sakagura standing behind Moko. The two men were barely visible. Jebu sensed that it should be dawn, but it was still dark. It was utterly silent. Not an insect buzzed, not a bird sang. Pulling his head all the way out from under his cloak, he saw that there were no moon and stars. Sakagura was wearing only a fundoshi. His lean body was dripping water, and he was shivering despite the oppressive heat. Sakagura’s ship might have been sunk, but if he was alive why was Moko so upset, and why did Sakagura himself look as if he had suffered a mortal wound and was holding himself erect only by sheer will?

There was still that strange feeling of tension in the air that Jebu had noticed the night before, but the rain had stopped. He heard the voices of many samurai gathering in darkness for combat near the base of the town wall. He could not see them; they carried no lights that would attract enemy archers. He stood up, tightening the laces of his armour and checking over his weapons.

“I was thinking about you before I went to sleep last night,” he said. “About you and Sakagura. What is wrong?”

“Sakagura,” said Moko. “If only he had been killed yesterday. If only he had never been born.” He turned and struck his son in the face, full force. It was amazing. Jebu had never seen Moko strike anyone. What was even more amazing was that Sakagura stood there and took it. A chill crept into Jebu’s bones. He knew what was wrong.

“Something has happened to Sametono,” he said flatly. His entire body was cold now. “Tell me exactly what happened,” he snapped at Sakagura.

“Give me permission to kill myself, shiké,” said Sakagura in a low voice.

“Don’t be a fool,” Jebu snarled. “What good would that do?” It was all he could do to keep his hands from the woebegone figure before him. These samurai—death was their solution to everything, their way of running from the problems they had created. Succeeding his anger, a feeling of shocked desolation began to grow. How would he tell Taniko, how would he face her?

“Is Sametono dead?”

“If I knew that for certain I would already have killed myself,” said Sakagura with a groan.

“I assume he went to you yesterday and asked to be taken along when you raided the Mongol ships last night. And you agreed.” Jebu could not keep the fury and contempt out of his voice.

“He is the Shogun, shiké. How could I disobey him? Did I not take Lord Munetoki on one of our raids? Did anyone find fault with that? Then why not the Shogun himself?”

“Don’t pretend to be more stupid than you are, Sakagura. Just tell me everything.”

Sakagura began to cry, and he blurted the story out between sobs. “As soon as it was dark enough we went out. Their ships were all clustered around Hakata. I had it in mind to try to set fire to some of the junks further out in the harbour that hadn’t yet unloaded their troops. His lordship insisted on going for Red Tiger.”

“Oh, compassionate Buddha!” cried Moko. It seemed Moko himself didn’t know everything that had happened.

“His lordship said that killing Arghun Baghadur would be better than sinking a thousand junks, because it would break the Mongols’ spirit. We sailed in among the Mongol ships. They were so busy trying to land troops at Hakata that they didn’t even have the nets up. We made for Red Tiger. Think if we had succeeded, shiké.”

“Thirty of you against the four hundred or more warriors on that huge ship? Madness. What happened then?”

“They must have seen us. Just before we got alongside Red Tiger a fire ball struck us amidships and exploded. Most of our men were killed. His lordship and I, standing in the prow, were thrown into the water. The Mongols began fishing around in the water for us with hooks and rakes from the portholes and deck of Red Tiger and other near-by ships. When last I saw his lordship, he was being hauled aboard Red Tiger. As long as our Shogun might be alive, it seemed to me it was my duty to get word back to our side. I spent most of the night swimming back to Hakozaki. I didn’t know who to tell, realizing that the news of our lord’s capture might panic our troops. So I went first to my father. And ever since we’ve been looking for you.”

“Swimming back with the news was the only intelligent thing you did,” said Jebu. “Of course, by now they might have tortured him to death. Or killed him outright. Could they find out who he is? He certainly would try to keep them from knowing.”

“He was wearing an ordinary low-ranking samurai’s armour. He did have his family sword with him, though. Higekiri.”

“Arghun would know that sword. We must prepare for the worst, that they know who they’ve got and will try to use him against us.” Even in his anguish he realized what agonies poor Moko must be going through now. He turned to the little man and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“What are we going to do, shiké? Sakagura and I must commit seppuku at once, don’t you agree?”

“There will be no more talk about anyone’s killing himself,” Jebu said. “We will do what we can to help Sametono. That should be enough to satisfy anyone’s lust for self-destruction.” He realized that the Self was speaking through him, and with that realization came the glimmerings of a plan.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)