Shike – Day 290 of 306

“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.

Moko and Sakagura stood silently, awaiting orders. “You must be very careful that word of this does not get out,” Jebu said. “I will tell those who must be told. Moko, you will have to ride at once to Lady Taniko at the governor’s castle at Dazaifu. Tell her what has happened. I should bring her the news myself, but I have much to do here and there is no time. Tell her that I have a plan, if she is willing to trust his life to me. Of course, if she has any orders of her own, I will follow them.”

“Shiké, don’t ask me to break this news to her,” Moko wailed. “I couldn’t bear it.”

“A moment ago you were telling me that you were ready to cut your belly open with a knife. Tell Lady Taniko that if she wants to let me try my plan, she should gather all the finery for men she can find in the chests at the governor’s palace. Court dress, robes, hats, jewellery, that sort of thing. She should have it sent by carriage to Hakozaki as quickly as possible. Sakagura, I want you to get me a ship, preferably not a warship, but a large, handsomely decorated one, a gozabune, a governor’s galley, something of that sort. I presume you are enough of a famous sea captain to be able to requisition a ship.”

“One thing, shiké,” said Moko as father and son turned to go. “Yes.”

“I owe you so much already that I cannot find any way to thank you. I could praise you for a thousand lifetimes and it would not be enough. I have one last favour to ask. Whatever you do in this rescue attempt you’re planning, you must let me go with you.”

“Moko, you are not in any way to blame for what happened to Sametono. A raid of this sort is hardly the place for you, and you do not need to risk your life to expiate something which is no fault of yours.”

“Fathers are always accountable for the deeds of their sons. Everyone says so. As for my being out of place, I respectfully ask you to remember what I accomplished in Oshu. Furthermore, I know ships, I know this harbour, I know quite a bit about Mongols. If you do not take me, shiké, you will find me dead when you return.”

Jebu put his hand on Moko’s shoulder. “Still ready to go anywhere with me, are you, old friend? Well then, I won’t leave you behind this time, either.”

Taniko insisted on coming to Hakozaki from Dazaifu along with the wagonloads of Court dress Jebu had sent for. While the costumes were loaded aboard Jebu’s ship, he sat with her in her carriage. She was dry-eyed. She had been through these crises of terror and grief so many times, it seemed there were no more tears to shed.

“I don’t think he’s still alive,” she said faintly to Jebu. “In a way I hope he isn’t. I can’t stand to think of what they might do to him. I don’t want you to risk your life trying to save him. You are all I have left. A storm is coming. If you go out there you will never come back.”

“Yes, he may be dead and I may not come back,” Jebu said. “But it is not true that you will have no one left. I said that same foolish thing to my father, Taitaro, when he was preparing to die. I had everybody then. As you have everybody. You are the mother of this nation, the Ama-Shogun. Do not fear, my love. You can never be separated from me, because we are both the Self.” He held her in his arms and kissed her, and his tears wet her tearless cheeks. Then he pushed himself away and climbed out of her carriage.

General Miura Zumiyoshi was standing near the carriage, staring gloomily at Jebu’s ship. Jebu had secretly notified him of Sametono’s capture, and he had passed the disastrous news on to the other generals.

“I don’t know what I can wish you,” he said. “What you are attempting to do is impossible, but it is a noble attempt. May you be reborn in Amida’s Western Paradise.”

Jebu bowed and thanked him, then ran across the dock to the great beribboned state galley.

The ship rose high and fell far, hawsers screaming in protest, as tall waves rolled into the Hakozaki docks. The moaning wind whipped the red and white ribbons and the embroidered banners that adorned the sides of the vessel. The hull itself was richly carved awl decorated with red and gold dragons. The ship’s name was Shimmering Light, and it was, as Jebu had ordered, a gozabune, a state galley with a high bridge and a deck covering the sixty rowers, used in normal times to transport provincial governors and the like.

Timing his jump to catch the ship on the rise, Jebu made the perilous leap from pier to deck. Kagyo, Moko and Sakagura were waiting for him.

“Were you able to get the items we need on such short notice?” Jebu asked Kagyo.

“All the men had to do was search their own tents,” Kagyo laughed. “Each one has his little souvenirs from the monastery armoury. But moving around in these prisons of drapery will not be easy.”

Kagyo and the other Former Zinja had already donned the costume sent by Taniko. Kagyo wore what the courtiers called a hunting costume, an outfit that had nothing to do with actual hunting, a tall, shiny black cap advertising high rank, an embroidered dove-grey jacket with trailing sleeves and billowing apricot trousers with legs as round and full as a pair of paper lanterns. He carried a folding fan and an oiled-paper parasol. The forty Former Zinja gathered on the deck of Shimmering Light were similarly dressed, like a delegation of ineffectual courtiers from Heian Kyo. They wore tall black caps, jackets of pink, green and lavender, and full trousers printed with diamonds, leaves, blossoms or birds. All carried parasols and fans.

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