Shike – Day 3 of 306


“It’s all right. The Father Abbot has given permission.”

“I’ll come out when he himself tells me to.”

There was silence, then Fudo, the taller and thinner of the two, laughed.

“You’re a fool, Jebu. You’ll drown in there. The purpose of the initiation is to test whether you think for yourself or follow orders blindly. If you follow orders blindly, you die.”

Jebu said nothing. He was not following orders blindly. He was choosing to follow a particular order. He was making a judgment about which orders to follow and which not to.

Short, stout Weicho whispered to Fudo, giggled and said, “Jebu, you are the stepson of the Father Abbot and his favourite.”

“I am the stepson of the abbot, but he has no favourite.”

“You lie, Jebu. Listen. We know that the Father Abbot has shown you special favour. He has given you the Saying of Supreme Power.”

Jebu did not answer. So this was what Taitaro meant when he warned against revealing the Saying to anyone.

“We want the power the Father Abbot has through the Saying. All of us were promised the magic Saying. Otherwise, do you think any of us would submit to this hell on earth of being a Zinja? We know now that only a favoured few actually get it. The rest of us grub out our lives in poverty and misery, living on false hope until we are killed serving the Order. We are not among the favoured, Fudo and I, because we have been caught disobeying some silly little rules of the Order.”

Fudo said, “We intend to be miserable no longer. We know you must have been given the Saying of Supreme Power, Jebu. You must give it to us.”

“I don’t know any magic Saying. The Abbot has been as a father to me only on the days when everyone spends time with his family. Otherwise, he is as distant from me as he is from anyone. He has given me no secret. What you are doing is wrong. You sow dissension in the Order.”

Fudo laughed. “You think there is harmony in the Order, Jebu? The Order is riddled with hatred and treachery, just as you are lying to us now.”

The Zinja are devils. Was this what it meant?

Weicho said, “Enough of this.” He stepped away from the edge of the crypt and reappeared holding a naginata by its long pole, the polished steel blade glowing red in the torchlight. He thrust the weapon down into the pit. “Feel this, Jebu.” The sharp point pressed against Jebu’s breastbone. He shrank away from it, and it scratched him. Weicho probed at him, pricking his chest in different places till the point of the naginata came to rest on the upper part of his belly, just below the rib cage.

“Tell us the Saying, Jebu, or I’ll slice your belly open.”

“‘A Zinja who kills a brother of the Order will die a thousand deaths.'” Jebu quoted The Zinja Manual, the Order’s book of wisdom.

Fudo snorted. “That book is a collection of old women’s tales. You are wrong, Jebu. The Father Abbot foolishly appointed us to guard you. We have only to say we killed you because you were trying to escape from the crypt.”

“I don’t know any Saying.”

“Kill the dog and be done with it, Weicho.”

The instant Jebu felt the point of the naginata press harder against his skin, he swung his hand over and struck the weapon aside. With a quick chop of his other hand he broke the long staff into which the blade was set. The curved steel blade splashed into the water, and Jebu felt around for it. He grabbed the broken wooden end and held the naginata blade like a sword. But he still dared not climb out of the crypt.

“Come and get me,” he said.

“Come and get us,” said Weicho.

“He won’t,” said Fudo. “He still thinks he’ll die if he comes out of that grave.”

“Jebu,” said Weicho softly, “we can make the water rise all the way to the top of your chamber. Tell us the Saying, or we’ll drown you like a kitten.”

“I don’t know any Saying.”

“Fare you well then, Jebu. May you be wiser in your next life.” Jebu heard the grinding of the stone, then a heavy thud as it fell into place. Was the water higher? It might be.

He had learned, as had all aspiring Zinja, to slow his breathing so that he would need hardly any air. He could do that now, but he could not breathe under water. The water was now tickling the edges of his nostrils. He lifted his head and wriggled backward in the tiny space so that the back of his head was wedged in an upper rear corner of the stone box. It was an uncomfortable position, but no more so than hanging by his hands for hours in the course of Zinja training, and it was a position he could hold without conscious effort. He began counting his exhalations—one, two, three, four . . . He went into a light trance.

He was riding on the back of a white dragon whose wings beat only once a minute, so powerful was each stroke. Far below he could see the four great islands of the Sunrise Land, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu and the four thousand lesser ones. Then they were over the blue western sea. They sailed through a sky that was clear overhead, though he could see masses of grey-green thunderclouds to the south as if a terrible storm were rising there.

They passed over land. Below were enormous walled cities and palaces with red-tiled roofs along the banks of gigantic, winding rivers. He saw a stone wall fortified by guard towers that stretched on and on, like an endless, twisted bamboo pole, over grasslands and mountains and valleys.

A mighty army of men on horseback swept down towards the wall. All moved as one man, flowing in wavelike patterns over the land below. They breasted the wall like a flood cresting over a dam.

He saw a great battle being fought. The men on horseback met another army of men in horse-drawn chariots and scattered it, leaving the land littered with the dead.

Then the white dragon was drifting over a desert painted gold by the late afternoon sun. He saw the hide tents of savage people and the herds of cattle. The herders, dressed in furs, sat around smoky fires. The animals munched grey-green vegetation. He sensed that the dragon was carrying him backwards through time as well as through space, and that the herders below would later become the terrible army on horseback he had seen in the land of huge cities.

Then he was flying towards a giant.

The giant was taller than the mountains around him, and he stood with one fur-booted foot planted on each side of a broad lake. His head was covered with a fur-trimmed steel helmet. He was dressed in furs, and there was a necklace of jewels around his neck. One great white jewel, larger than all the others, blazed on his chest. His face was hard and seemed like wind-worn rock. His green eyes glittered, and he laughed and stretched out his arms, sweeping clouds aside as the white dragon, with slow, stately wingbeat, flew towards him.

In a voice that shook the earth, he said, “Welcome, little cousin, to your homeland.”

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