Shike – Day 296 of 306

The terrible rolling motion of the ship had stopped. It felt, there in the cabin, as if the ship had righted itself and was plunging forward, like a whale, through the waves. Jebu looked out the open cabin door. There was nothing but blackness ahead and rain was spraying in through the door in sheets. Jebu started to shut the door when Sakagura appeared in the doorway. He came into the cabin and Jebu slid the door shut behind him.

“Oh, Father,” Sakagura cried. “Are you alive?”

“Sakagura-chan,” Moko whispered. “Come to me.”

Weeping and groaning, Sakagura knelt at Moko’s head. “I have disgraced our family, Father,” he wept. “Dishonoured the family name you founded.”

“Listen to me, Sakagura.” Moko’s voice was stronger, firmer now. “You will not commit hara-kiri.”

“But, Father—”

“This is your father’s dying command. You must live.” Amazed, Jebu remembered how, so many years ago, his mother, Nyosan, had said almost the same thing to him. Live, Jebu. “You will live in order to carry on the family name,” Moko went on. “See that the proper observances are performed for your father. Bring glory to our family.”

“I have brothers,” said Sakagura brokenly.

“Your brothers were too young to fight in this war. Only your deeds can bring glory to our family name. You must stay alive to see that they are remembered.”

Sametono said, “Uncle Moko, your son bears no shame. I ordered him to take me out in the kobaya with him.” Sametono turned anguished eyes to Jebu. “This is all my fault. If Sakagura commits harakiri, I must, too.”

“Then it is settled,” said Moko with a peaceful smile. “Neither of you will kill himself. Shiké Jebu, I have gone through life fearing death, and now at last I know how foolish I was. I feel no pain and no fear. I wish I had always had the wisdom to contemplate death with a smile, as your father, the holy abbot, did. Surely, today’s exploit is the greatest of my life. What better day to end my life?”

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back. Sakagura held one hand and Jebu held the other. They watched Moko’s breathing slow, grow fainter. Then it stopped altogether. He was lying on the cushions with his eyes closed and a look of bliss on his face, not breathing at all. And Jebu knew that he would never look into those crossed eyes again.

As if impaled by a spear, Jebu groaned and fell, face forward, beside Moko. He lay howling with grief. After a moment he felt strong hands helping him to his feet. He opened his eyes and blurrily saw Sametono, who draped one of Jebu’s arms over his shoulders. Yes, thought Jebu, I want to get out of this cabin. Together Sametono and Kagyo dragged Jebu out into the rain and wind and darkness, leaving Sakagura lying beside his father’s body. The three men huddled against the carved and painted wall of the captain’s cabin. The air and spray stinging Jebu’s face helped clear his head. He looked forward, trying to see the shore. The curtains of rain were almost opaque. A lightning flash revealed a stretch of beach, stripped of buildings and life, some distance away. They were travelling towards it with incredible speed. The masts and sails screamed protest against the force of the wind pushing them along. The speed of such wind was inconceivable.

“He was my oldest friend,” Jebu wept.

“I know,” Sametono said into his ear.

“He had so much to live for. So much yet to do. He was learning. He had his work. His family.” The pain of losing Yukio had been terrible, Jebu remembered. But he himself had expected to die shortly. And Yukio knew he was finished, that he had no future in the Sacred Islands, that even his wife and children would not be allowed to live. Yukio’s life had ended in hopelessness and helplessness, and Jebu had been glad that his suffering was over. Moko had had many good years ahead of him.

Kagyo put his head close to Jebu’s and said, “Do not sorrow for a man whose life is cut off in fullness. Such a man has made the most of life.”

Of course, Jebu thought. That is why we Zinja never mourn for one another. The image of the cherry blossom came to him. The samurai are right.

The black waves rushed past. Those waves were Arghun’s tomb. Arghun had haunted him all his life. He could not remember when Taitaro first told him of the man who killed his father. And Arghun’s last act had been to kill Moko. Jebu felt no satisfaction in the tarkhan’s death. He had not killed him, it was Arghun’s own weapon that killed him, in the end. Moko learned and built. Arghun brought only death and destruction wherever he went. Moko’s death was a calamity, but Arghun’s whole life was a calamity. Moko sacrificed his life for mine, Jebu thought. To repay him for that sacrifice, for the extra years he has given me, I must try to fulfil more truly the purpose of the Zinja.

Be true to the Self Jebu knew what his future must be as surely as he knew that this ship was about to wreck itself on the shore of Hakata Bay. It was clear what the Self, acting through him, intended for him. Only the Order offered hope. In a flash of lightning, the tai-phun-driven waves before Red Tiger seemed to turn crimson as he saw all the blood that had been and would be spilled in all humanity’s murders and robberies, oppressions and wars. An ocean of blood, the blood of millions of men, women and children. It was unbearable. He screamed aloud.

Then in another lightning flash he saw a great tree rising before the ship, its roots sunk deep in the blood, but living things appearing in its branches. A tree that shone with the brilliance of an eternal lightning bolt and shed, in the midst of the cold ocean, the warmth of the sun. It glowed with a pure, white light above the red sea. The Tree of Life. I’m seeing it without the help of the Jewel, he thought. Taitaro was right. The magic is in my mind. And just as all living things were part of that great tree, so all consciousness was part of the one Self, and no one was ever lost. Not Moko, not Taitaro, not even Arghun. There were many branches and leaves, but the Tree was one.

A wave avalanched on the ship’s stern. Jebu heard screams and shouts from the bridge. He scrambled up the ladder, followed by Sametono and Kagyo. Of the four men, who had been holding the great bar that controlled the rudder, two had been swept overboard, one lay unconscious and one clung frantically to the tiller, which swung back and forth unaffected by his weight, scraping his legs bloody on the deck. Jebu and Kagyo threw themselves against the tiller. Sametono carried the unconscious man below. The ship had already started to swing athwart the waves, and the creakings of the masts were louder than the screaming of all damned souls. The tiller fought the three men like some giant animal.

Sametono was back moments later with Sakagura and two other men and a length of rope. Lightning flashed, and Jebu was able to make out the rocky shore between Hakata and Hakozaki dead ahead. The Red Tiger was making its final run. It would crash them into the rocks or it would sink here in the deep water and take them all with it. The six men tied themselves to the tiller. The junk was riding lower in the water than it had been. There were holes belowdecks blown by the exploding black powder. Actually, the water down there had acted as ballast, steadying the ship against the gusts of wind and the waves that battered it from every side, giving it extra mass to hold it on course.

There were moments when the junk was balanced on the crest of a wave, both stern and bow out of the water, the rudder cutting uselessly through empty air. Jebu tried to imagine the size of a wave that could lift an enormous vessel like this out of the water. He had never heard of waves of such size or winds of such force as these. For good reason, he thought. No one has ever experienced them and lived to tell about it. Water tumbled over the high stern, knocking their feet out from under them. The ropes held them to the tiller, but the tiller threatened to break their ribs. Jebu’s hands froze to the long board like claws. Each flash of lightning revealed the rocky shore a little closer. Once as the waves were going out the lightning showed Jebu the floor of the sea and the roots of the great black rocks near shore. A jumble of wood that might once have been a ship clung high on the side of one of the rocks. The wind whipped black beards of seaweed on the rocks. Another flash and all was sea as far inland as the wall, the rocks completely covered, the beach under swirling, foaming water. At times the wall itself appeared to be under water, only the stone watchtowers standing above the waves. Jebu remembered that there had been a tall forest behind this section of the wall. Now there were no trees. The forest was gone, the trees blown flat. What of the towns, he wondered? What of the samurai? Had this tremendous storm killed everyone on shore?

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