Shike – Day 300 of 306

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.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Although the Mongols had never landed there, Hakozaki was almost as completely levelled as Hakata. It was water, not fire, that had destroyed this town. At the height of the tai-phun, waves higher than the walls had reduced the walls to rubble and carried away most of the houses. The buildings that were not swept away were nothing but piles of broken timbers mixed with dislocated rocks and pieces of ships. As Jebu trudged up the beach past the ruins of the town he saw bodies of drowned men and horses that had been thrown upon the beach by the waves. The storm had also scooped up sea creatures, fish and crabs, and black-green heaps of seaweed and tossed them on the beach to drown in the air. Flies were starting to swarm.

There were blue breaks in the clouds that suggested the sun might even emerge today. The tempest had raged for two days and two nights, and that morning the rain had stopped at last and the wind had died down, and the dazed people around Hakata Bay were beginning to take stock. It was once again becoming oppressively hot. Beyond Hakozaki people were gathering around a pile of wood that had been the wreckage of Red Tiger. The ship was so huge and had been thrown so far up on the beach that it had survived the pounding of the storm. Sakagura and his men had chopped the great timbers and ribs into smaller pieces which they built into a rectangular pile.

Shortly after Jebu took his place in the front rank of mourners, Taniko’s carriage rolled up, and she stepped down, leaning on Sametono’s arm. Her eyes were red with crying and her face was haggard. Jebu moved silently to her side. Now there came a procession of priests, followed by samurai carrying a small fifteen-man kobaya. Seated amidships, dressed in a white kimono, was Moko. Drums and bells and gongs shattered the silence, and the priests began chanting the sutras. The music and chanting went on for a long time. Once Jebu caught himself wishing he could hear what Moko would say about how tedious all this ceremony could be. At last the priests came to the end of their rites. Sakagura went up to Jebu.

“Does your Order have a chant or a prayer that might be said for the soul of my father?”

“I will say something,” said Jebu. He stood beside the pyre, his white robe blowing in the faint breeze, and faced the people who had assembled to do Moko honour.

“Over three cycles ago in the Year of the Dragon, I met this man on the Tokaido Road, and he was my friend from that day to this. When I first met him he was a simple man from a small village, but he had been trained as a carpenter, and he was skilled at his work. His work was his way of penetrating the mysteries of life. He travelled to the far places of the earth and brought back discoveries to the great benefit of his people. He designed and built the ships that helped us defend ourselves against the Mongols. His sense of duty drove him to volunteer for a raid into the very centre of the Mongol fleet, and he died on that raid. He died saving my life.” Jebu stopped, realizing that if he spoke another word he would sob aloud. The sun was out now and it dazzled him. He looked at Taniko. Tears were again running down her face, as copious as yesterday’s rain. At last Jebu felt able to continue.

“And yet, when I have said all that about Hayama Moko, I have not said enough. What was the meaning of his life? When Moko died of his wound, a wise brother of my Order said to me that those who die at the height of their powers, of whom we say, death cut them off too soon, are least to be mourned. Moko lived in such a way that if he had lived a thousand years we would still have to say his life was too short. He died without a weapon in his hand, sacrificing himself to save others, without striking a blow. He took no priestly vows, yet at no time in his life did he injure another being. His life was dedicated to the creative principle. Why did he die at the hands of another human being? We must never tire of asking that question. Moko has by his death sent us on a quest, a search for the answer to the question, why do men kill other men? That quest itself is the meaning of Moko’s life and death.”

There was a long silence after Jebu spoke. Then Sakagura stepped towards the pyre, holding in one hand a blazing torch.

After the funeral, Sakagura and Jebu took one of the few kobaya that had survived the storm to see if there were any sign of the enemy fleet. It was a fifteen-man ship, like the one they had burnt with Moko. The sun was now hot and high, the waves in the bay sparkling and tame. Jebu and Sakagura had little to say to each other on the way out to the harbour mouth. Each remained sunk in his own grief for Moko.

Their ship rode so low in the water that they did not see the wreckage until they had nearly sailed into it. As they came opposite Shiga Island they began running into huge broken timbers and fragments of decks and hulls drifting across their course that had to be pushed out of the way. Then, at last, they could go no further. A barrier of splintered, water-soaked wood, rocking in the waves but solid as far ahead as they could see, blocked their way. There were bodies, too, many bodies of men in soldiers’ and seamen’s garb. They floated in the water or lay tangled in the wreckage of the Great Khan’s fleet. And there were sharks, black fins cutting the water all around the piles of wood, scavenging.

“It’s solid all the way from here to Shiga Spit,” said Sakagura, standing on the prow of the kobaya.

Slowly they rowed south along the wooden barrier, looking for an opening out to sea. But no matter how far they went it was the same, a wall formed by the wreckage of ships, a wall too solid for their little ship to penetrate.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen before,” said Jebu, “and perhaps nothing like it will ever be seen again.” This is for you, Yukio, he thought to himself. If you still exist in any form, if that was truly you who stood beside me on the rail of Arghun’s ship, then behold this. Your people, inspired by your spirit, have triumphed over those same Mongols who destroyed you.

“They must have jammed together in the harbour entrance trying to get away,” said Sakagura. “They got stuck, and the storm wrecked them.”

“They may have lost half of their fleet here,” said Jebu. “They probably lost many more out on the open sea. We will have to send scout ships out after them, of course, but I don’t think they will be coming back. This expedition of Kublai Khan’s, at least, is finished.” Tens of thousands of men drowned, whole armies. It was difficult to picture, terrifying and pitiable. It was as Taitaro had prophesied to Yukio and Jebu years ago in China: “The jewels created by Izanami and Izanagi shall be protected by the Hurricane of the Kami.” With a sigh, Jebu sat down cross-legged in the bow of the kobaya, his long-haired, bearded head sunk on his chest.

“Compassionate Buddha!” Sakagura said, looking at the remains of the Mongol fleet. He ordered his rowers back to Hakozaki, then dropped down beside Jebu.

“Shiké, I thank you for speaking so beautifully at my father’s funeral this morning, but your words were strange for a warrior monk. What did you mean about finding out why men kill one another?”

“The Zinja were founded for the purpose of protecting people from war and killing, so my words were in keeping with the spirit of my Order. After many generations we have been forced to admit failure. That is why the Order has been dissolved.”

“No group as dedicated as the Zinja simply disappears, shiké,” said Sakagura with a knowing smile. “There is more to it than that. My father hinted to me that your Order has simply decided to make itself invisible.”

“And why should that interest you?” said Jebu. The resemblance to Moko in the young face was strong.

“Shiké, I am at a crossroads in my life.” Tears appeared in Sakagura’s large brown eyes. “I thought of myself as a great hero. I enjoyed the praise of other samurai. Then I made the great blunder that cost so many lives, including my father’s, all through my foolish pride and hunger for glory. I’ve dreamed all my life of preferment, land, power, rank. I wanted those things as much for my father’s sake as for my own, shiké. I respected and loved him. I knew him for the wise an compassionate man he was. And brave. He was brave, even though he kept saying he wasn’t.” Sakagura paused a moment, unable to go on. “He was brave but never foolish,” said Jebu.

“There were those in Kamakura who laughed at him, shiké. I wanted our family to rise so high no one would ever dare laugh at my father again. But instead I caused his death. One of the other kobaya captains is going to hire an artist to paint a scroll depicting his heroic deeds. He will present it to the Bakufu along with his petition for rewards. A few days ago I thought I would do the same thing. Now it seems ridiculous to me. When you said this morning that my father’s death sent you on a quest to find out why men kill one another, I thought, if a warrior monk can ask that question, so can a samurai. Shiké, I think I want to follow you on that quest, wherever it takes you.”

The good teacher begins by discouraging the would-be student, Jebu thought. “I am not seeking followers,” he said abruptly. “I have no idea what I myself am going to do now. In any case, this feeling that the life of a samurai is not right for you is doubtless only a passing phase. Your grief for your father will naturally come to pain you less in time, and the samurai way of life will seem good to you again.”

“You don’t understand, shiké—” Sakagura began. Jebu turned a thundercloud face towards him.

“Leave me alone. I am meditating.” Jebu folded his hands in his lap and half closed his eyes. Sakagura sighed and said no more. To the rhythmic beat of the oars the kobaya glided across the dancing waters of the harbour. Time passed, while Jebu reflected that what he told Sakagura was partly true. He was indeed uncertain about his future, and there was much pain in that.

Sakagura did not speak to him again until the kobaya was tied up at a makeshift pier at Hakozaki. Then, after they had both climbed out, he turned and faced Jebu.

“Excuse me, shiké, but what you don’t understand is that I am very much like my father. He told me how he once promised to follow you anywhere, even to China, and how he kept that promise. Since my father has commanded me to live, I want to take the place he left vacant. I too will follow you. Anywhere.” Giving Jebu no chance to reply, he turned on his heel and marched off into the town. Jebu stood there smiling after him, hoping his beard would hide the smile.

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