Shike – Day 297 of 306

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?

There was a crack as loud as the boom of a hua pao and the rear mast, directly in front of them, broke loose. To Jebu’s amazement it did not fall. The wind got under the sail, which was still attached to the mast, and lifted it like a kite to splash into a wave some distance away. And then another deafening snap, and the next mast broke loose and flew away. The next, and the next. The masts blew away in succession, snapping like straws, swooping through the air. With each booming break, with each flight of a pillar of wood and its flapping batwing sail, the ship lost ground in its race for shore. There were only three masts left now. Those three sails remained their only hope of reaching shore before the ship sank or broke up on the rocks.

Sakagura shouted, “Everybody to the bow. We’ll have to jump for it when the ship hits.” Jebu, Sametono and the others untied themselves from the tiller. Together with Sakagura they rounded up the survivors huddled along the deck and rushed them to the bow. There was another skull-numbing snap, and one of the remaining masts crashed down on the fleeing men like a felled tree. Jebu looked back. The mast had fallen across the bodies of three men. They were crushed. But the fourth man was pinned by the leg only. Jebu went cold. It was Sametono. Their eyes met, and Sametono shook his head and waved Jebu on. Unable to make himself heard over the volcano roar of th storm, Jebu grabbed Sakagura and Kagyo and jerked them to a stop, pulling them back to help him with Sametono. Other men saw and joined them. All got their hands under the mast and tried to lift. It wouldn’t move.

“Save yourselves! I order you!” Sametono shouted.

“No!” Jebu roared back. Sametono looked amazed, as if he had made a sudden, overwhelming discovery.

The ship struck ground. They were all thrown flat to the deck. The mast that had been pinning Sametono tipped up and fell away from the junk. There was no blood and no broken skin. Probably the bone was broken, but Sametono would have to hobble on it as best he could. With his arms around Jebu and Sakagura, Sametono started towards the bow of the ship. They had only moments to jump off before the ship was swept out again by the next big wave. The last two masts, the foremast and the one behind it, had broken off and lay toppled forward. Red Tiger had fallen on the beach itself. It had been lifted over the rocks and grounded on the sand. The men ran to the broken masts and climbed down them, using them as bridges from Red Tiger’s bow to the ground. Just like the collapsible masts Moko had designed. Moko!

“Your father!” Jebu shouted to Sakagura. ‘”We can’t leave him to be swept out to sea.”

Leaving Sametono in the care of Kagyo and another Former Zinja, Jebu and Sakagura raced back to the cabin where Moko lay. The little body was crumpled in a heap in one corner, where it had been thrown by the wild careening of the ship. Jebu picked up Moko by the arms, thankful that the wound that had killed him was bound up. Moko’s head lolled back, pale as white paper, and his mouth fell open. He was so light that Jebu could almost have carried him alone. Jebu taking the head and Sakagura the feet, they ran out of the cabin and trotted down the deck. Jebu looked over his shoulder. A wave as tall as Mount Fuji was falling upon them out of the black sky. The stern cabin of Red Tiger vanished under water, and then the ship rose up under them. Hanging on desperately to Moko’s body, Jebu was almost washed overboard. As he and Sakagura stood up and started running for the bow, they saw with horror the shore recede and the black tips of the rocks rush past the sides of the ship as it was carried out to sea. Then another wave caught Red Tiger and threw it like a javelin back at the shore again. As it struck the beach with a stunning crash, Sakagura and Jebu reached the bow with Moko’s body. There was nothing they could do but lift the body over the rail and let it drop. Then they jumped—a distance five times the height of a man—to the sand. The soft wet sand and martial training saved them from broken limbs as they hit and rolled. Another colossal wave was coming at them. It caught the ship and began to pull it out to sea. It dragged them off their feet and nearly carried them back into the water. Struggling frantically, each hanging on to one of Moko’s arms, they clawed, crawled and floundered up the beach towards the safety of the wall which now seemed impossibly distant. At last, reluctantly, the water released them, flowing back into the bay. Jebu saw the scarlet bow of Red Tiger disappear behind a wall of green-black water. He collapsed on the sand with a sigh.

The Red Tiger was upon them again. Riding the crest of yet another wave, the ship’s bow loomed gigantically over them, threatening to fall upon them and crush them. Somehow Jebu managed to get his numb limbs moving and help Sakagura with Moko’s body. Just behind them Red Tiger hit the beach with a thunderous crash and a cracking of timbers. The storm was using the huge junk as a plaything, Jebu thought as they staggered towards the wall, tearing it slowly to pieces as a cat destroys a mouse.

They dared not stop to rest again. One wave after another pursued them up the beach, seizing them and pulling them back. Some waves, larger than others, rushed past them to crash into the base of the wall. These knocked Jebu and Sakagura down again and again, so that by the time they reached the wall they were bleeding and nearly dead from fatigue. Men in loincloths lowered a wooden ramp from the top of the wall and helped them up. They identified themselves at sword-point to samurai who still had no idea what might have happened to the Mongols, and then they were allowed to seek shelter on the leeward side of the wall. Tenderly laying down Moko’s body, Jebu and Sakagura collapsed, exhausted.

A voice beside him said, “I feared I might never see you again, Shiké Jebu.” It was Sametono. His leg was tied to a broken board with a white piece of silk that was wrapped around it many times. He had crawled painfully over to Jebu on hands and knees, dragging the broken leg behind him.

Jebu closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the rough stone of the wall against which he was sitting. “I’m happy to see you, too, your lordship. Please forgive me for letting your leg be broken.”

“Don’t be absurd, Jebu.” Jebu opened his eyes and saw that Sametono’s eyes were glowing at him, cat-like. He certainly did look like Taniko. “Have you ever heard of Joshu’s No?”

“No. That is, I never heard of it.”

“It’s a Zen kung-an set me by Eisen.” Sametono told him the story of No. “I’ve been trying to work it out ever since. All the time I was dangling from Arghun’s masthead I was thinking about Joshu’s No. Over and over to myself I said, No, No, No. That was the only thing that kept me from going mad. Today I learned that No can affirm as well as deny. Thank you for improving my understanding.”

“I am your lordship’s servant,” said Jebu wearily, wanting to sleep, not discuss philosophy.

“If I hadn’t had that small satori it would be awfully hard for me to bear the burden of my obligation to you, Master Jebu. I have been a fool. I defied your advice. And now many brave men are dead because of me. Uncle Moko is dead because of me.” Sametono’s voice broke. “Everything that happened was my fault.”

Resignedly, Jebu opened his eyes. The rescuing was not over. The boy’s spirit needed rescuing, too.

“When you set sail with Sakagura last night, you thought you were doing right. Remorse because your actions did not have the results you wished is a waste of your time. All you can truly say is that you might do things differently on the next occasion. There is no right or wrong.”

“No right and wrong?” Sametono looked excited. “Then there is no Yes or No. Yes and No are both Yes. I see, I see!” Laughing wildly, he crawled away. Jebu stared after him, watching him climb painfully to the top of the wall, where he pushed himself to his feet with his broken leg propped under him. He waved his arms and shouted something into the teeth of the storm.

One word or sound, over and over again. Jebu could not hear it, but knowing Sametono he was sure it could be only one cry: “Kwatz! Kwatz! Kwatz!”

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