Shike – Day 299 of 306

“We’ll lose many men finishing them off,” said Jebu.

“Our men want to draw blood today,” Zumiyoshi growled. “They’re angry, they’ve come out here in this storm to fight, and it’s Mongols they want to kill.”

“I came out in this storm because I can speak to the Mongols and might persuade them to surrender,” Jebu said. “General, it’s one of the oldest military principles never to attack a cornered enemy. It’s too costly.”

“Go ahead, then.” Zumiyoshi turned away in disgust.

Jebu selected a spot half-way between the samurai and the Mongols. He planted his naginata in the ground and tried to think of arguments that might move the invaders.

“We know how to honour a brave foe,” he said. “It is a waste of your lives for you to fight on. The storm has destroyed your fleet. You are the last of your army left on our shores. We are willing to accept your honourable surrender. It is no disgrace. It is foolish to shed blood for no purpose.”

Someone called out, “You will make slaves of us. We would rather be dead.” A spear, well aimed and thrown hard, came whistling through the rain. Jebu deflected it with his naginata. More spears flew. Now, behind him, he heard the battle shout of the samurai. They ran past him, slogging through the wet grey ashes, rank after rank, swords and naginatas at the ready.

In man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat the fighting style of the samurai was far superior. Without their horses, with their bows and arrows made useless by wind and rain, the Mongols were outmatched. And they were outnumbered. Samurai swords rose and fell like farmers’ sickles in a field ripe for harvest. Jebu had no stomach for fighting today, and he certainly wasn’t needed. Sickened though he was by the killing, he stood where he was and watched.

In the centre of the Mongol square, standing on a little hill of rubble, stood a familiar grey-bearded figure shouting orders and encouragement—Torluk. Jebu remembered hearing that Torluk had been put in charge of the Chinese troops and the South of the Yang-Tze Fleet. He must have taken personal command of this all-important beachhead and now intended to die defending it. Using the pole end of his naginata as a flail, Jebu plunged into the fight. He pushed men aside right and left until at last he was in the front rank of samurai.

“Torluk,” he called. “Torluk, come to me.”

Torluk’s eyes met his in shocked recognition. With a roar, the old Mongol was off his mound and charging at Jebu, swinging his sabre. Jebu thrust his naginata to a startled samurai near by and awaited Torluk’s rush with his open hands held out before him.

Suspecting a trick, Torluk checked his rush and began circling Jeb slowly. Age, Jebu saw, had affected Torluk more than it had Arghun. His movements were slower, less certain than they had been. A flicker of superstitious fear crossed his face.

“So, you still live,” said Torluk. “I had heard you were alive, but I could not believe it.”

“Yes, I am alive, and your master, Arghun, is dead,” said Jebu. Something—fear, grief?—crossed Torluk’s bearded face, then was pushed back by the determined, concentrated stare of the professional fighting man.

“And now you mean to kill me and complete your revenge?”

Jebu laughed. “You wish to die in combat, of course, but I have a crueller fate than that in mind for you.”

At that, Torluk charged, raising his blade and bringing it down at Jebu’s neck. Jebu swung his body to Torluk’s right, so that the Mongol commander brushed past him, the sabre grazing Jebu’s chest. Jebu seized Torluk’s extended sword arm in a grip that twisted the wrist, leading the grey-bearded man around him, slowly applying more and more pressure to force him to drop the sword. Torluk pivoted in Jebu’s grip, swinging behind him. Over his shoulder Jebu caught a glimpse of a dagger in Torluk’s left hand just before the point of the blade struck Jebu’s corselet, failing to penetrate. Jebu got his shoulder under Torluk and threw him through the air, to land on his back with a thud. While Torluk lay stunned, Jebu tore the weapons from his hands and bound him quickly with his own rawhide lariat.

Samurai and Mongols were fighting all around him. Jebu turned away in despair. It was as he had warned Zumiyoshi; killing off the last Mongols would be costly. Even though the samurai outnumbered the Mongols and were their superiors in combat skills, every Mongol who died was managing to take at least one samurai with him. They were fighting with the strength of those who already count themselves dead. The circle of fighting warriors grew smaller and smaller. It was surrounded by a much larger circle of the dead. Samurai and Mongol lay side by side in death as they never could have done in life. Oceans of blood, thought Jebu. Oceans of blood.

When Jebu dragged the captive Torluk to him, Zumiyoshi said, “Now I see why these barbarous warriors coming out of a desert place have conquered half the world. They have true fighting spirit. You can’t tell that about a man until his back is to the wall. Who have we here?”

“The commander of this beachhead, tarkhan Torluk,” said Jebu. “Now that we have their leader, perhaps the rest of them will surrender.”

Torluk understood the language of the Sunrise Land and spoke it, though with an accent. “It has been my misfortune to be captured, though I hoped to die in combat. These, my fighting men, will never surrender. And our desert lands will breed tens of thousands more warriors. Do not think that you samurai have won a final victory today. When news of our deaths reaches the ears of Kublai Khan his rage will be as terrible as this tai-phun. We will come again. We will come again and again until we are victorious.”

“We never give up either, friend,” said Miura Zumiyoshi, drawing his long blade.

“Wait, general,” said Jebu quickly.

Zumiyoshi turned a face of outraged wonder towards Jebu. “Surely you don’t expect me to let this man live? He was one of those responsible for this war against us,” Zumiyoshi sputtered. “Why, he doesn’t even want to live.”

“I know,” said Jebu. “But, general, I urge you to send him back to his Great Khan with perhaps a few other captured Mongols. I want the Great Khan to have a first-hand account of what happened here to his fleet and his army. He should be told that we will never surrender, and that we will wipe out every expedition he sends here just as we did this one. How do you think tarkhan Torluk will feel, being one of the only Mongol generals left alive, bringing Kublai Khan news of defeat? That will be punishment enough for his complicity in this war. Of course he wants to die. That would be much less painful for him.”

“I dislike it,” said Miura Zumiyoshi, “but what you say makes sense.” He turned to Torluk. “I order you to go back to your Great Khan and tell him how great this defeat was, and that the samurai will never surrender to him.”

“You do not have to order him,” said Jebu. “He will report all this to the Great Khan because it is his duty as a Mongol.”

The battle was still going on. Under sheets of rain a mob of samurai surrounded a determined little circle of Mongols. Jebu strode off towards the struggling warriors. He worked his way to the front rank of samurai, roaring for the fighting to stop. The ground beneath his feet was soaked with so much blood that even the downpour could not wash it away.

At last he was looking into the few remaining Mongol faces, angry, frightened, determined, ready to die. With a gesture he pushed back the ring of samurai, bristling with swords and naginatas.

“All right,” he called in Mongolian, raising his voice to be heard above the wind and the rain. “There has been enough fighting. Your tarkhan Torluk has been captured. He is going home, and those of you who are alive now are going with him.” First one Mongol dropped his spear, then another threw his sabre down on top of it. With a clatter, all their weapons went down in a pile. The samurai opened a path for them, and Jebu led them away.

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