Shike – Day 301 of 306

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.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Taniko and Eisen walked together at twilight between a broad, still carp pond and the stone outer wall of the Todaiji Temple in the old city of Nara. Everything around Taniko whispered of age and tragedy. The Todaiji had been built by Emperors five hundred years earlier, when Nara was the capital of the nation. Thousands of people who lived here had died by fire and the sword in the War of the Dragons, when the Takashi in their wrath descended on the temple. Now new buildings were rising on the Todaiji grounds. Under the direction of Eisen, whose authority among the Buddhist priesthood had grown greatly because of the favour of Kamakura, the monks and people of Nara were rebuilding the temple. Taniko, making a state progress with Sametono from Hakata Bay to Kamakura, had stopped for a time at the Rokuhara in Heian Kyo. At her first opportunity she made the two-day journey from Heian Kyo to Nara to see Eisen and inspect the rebuilding. Ceremonies over, they walked in the garden to talk confidentially.

“I am sorry to tell you that your father has entered the Void, my lady,” said Eisen. “I just received a message for you from the head priest of the Rikyu-in Temple.” The Rikyu-in was a small temple established by disciples of Eisen near Edo, a remote fishing village north of Kamakura. There Shima Bokuden, his head shaved, had idled away his life and dreamed of his days of power under the careful eyes of Zen monks who had formerly been Zinja.

“What did he die of?” The news surprised her, but she felt no grief. She was momentarily ashamed of her cool reaction. In fact, she realized to her greater embarrassment, she felt rather relieved that one problem at least was over with for good. Her father would never trouble her again.

“Pneumonia,” said Eisen. “He had the best possible care. He died shortly after the news reached the temple that the Mongol fleet had been destroyed. I’m told he was pleased about that.”

“He might have had some word of praise for his family,” Taniko said wistfully. “No matter. Please say prayers for his soul.” Was the face I had before I was born my father’s face? she wondered. But she felt no more enlightened.

“As soon as I get back to Kamakura,” she said, “I’ll have this temple’s income increased. All our wealth has had to go to the war. I want you to complete the casting of the giant statue of the Buddha which will replace the one that was destroyed here by the Takashi. And later on I want to have a Buddha just as big built at Kamakura in memory of my husband, the late Shogun. I promised that to him when he was dying. Without him we would not have had the armies we needed to hold off the Mongols.”

Eisen held up an admonishing finger. “These are worthy projects, my lady, but please remember that when the Buddha was alive, he asked only for what people could spare him after taking care of their own needs. There are many families bereft, many people homeless, many children fatherless. I beg of you, use the wealth of the Bakufu to relieve the suffering of those in want, before we cast any statues. There is an old story about a monk who took shelter in a temple on a winter night and used a statue of the Buddha for firewood. That is the true attitude of Zen.”

Taniko laughed bitterly. “You seem to be the only priest who thinks so. There isn’t a temple in the country, large or small, whose priests are not claiming personal credit for defeating the Mongols. It was their prayers, they say, that brought the tai-phun. They are all calling it the Kamikaze, the Hurricane of the Gods. Noshin is the worst of all. He claims that the day of the storm all the flags on his temple pointed straight at Hakata Bay. He demands—he does not request, he demands—that the Bakufu endow his temple with more rice land than any of the older temples now possess.”

“Kamikaze,” said Eisen musingly. “That tai-phun did not save our Sacred Islands by itself. It was our samurai who held that enormous Mongol army to the beach for two months. If the Mongols had entrenched themselves on our land, the storm would not have defeated them. The true Hurricane of the Gods is the spirit of our people.”

“They’re not inspired any more,” said Taniko sadly. “It’s only a month since the Mongols were driven away, and already that wonderful spirit that filled the country is gone. Everybody is clamouring for riches, hounding the Bakufu for lands, titles, offices. And we have practically nothing to give. In fact, we have to ask the samurai and the people to sacrifice even more. Kublai Khan will want to try again. We will not be safe until he dies, if then. We have to keep our defences in repair, build new walls and more ships, keep armies permanently stationed along the threatened coasts. We’ll be straining our resources for years to come.”

“And you want to build gigantic statues of the Buddha?” Eisen said gently.

“I thought it might remind people not to be so selfish.”

“There is only one way for leaders to inspire the people, my lady,” said Eisen. “By example. You enjoy the privileges of a ruler. Stop feeling sorry for yourself that your subjects make demands on you. Remember, there is no guarantee from the gods that your family will hold power perpetually. These are dangerous times for governors, my lady. In addition to bands of impoverished, disgruntled samurai roving the countryside, you have preachers like Noshin stirring people up, claiming that their sufferings are caused by the sins of their rulers. At such a moment as this, it would take very little to provoke rebellion. If you want your regime to remain in power, the lives of the country’s leaders must be beyond reproach.” He stopped walking, stood with his back to the carp pond and stared meaningfully at her.

“What are you suggesting, sensei?”

He hesitated, then a look of resolve came over his face. In that flicker of expressions she saw to her surprise that even the great master Eisen could be reluctant to say something unpleasant.

“My lady, I suggest that it would be wise for the monk Jebu to leave the country for a while.”

Taniko was speechless for a moment. This sudden turn of the conversation shocked and angered her. How dare this man speak to her of Jebu? How dare anyone? Jebu leave the country? Along with the joy of victory over the Mongols, her happiest thought in the last month had been that at last she and Jebu would be united and that nothing could separate them again for the rest of their lives. She could not believe her ears.

“Please forgive me for disturbing your harmony, my lady,” Eisen said. “It is simply that a journey has been proposed to the monk Jebu.”

“Proposed by whom?” Her anger grew stronger. Someone wanted Jebu out of the country. When she found out who, she would set the samurai on them.

“Those formerly known as the Zinja, my lady.”

“Are you one of them?”

“I and the others of the Order have been doing our best to look after your welfare and that of your family for many years.”

“Why do you want to separate me and Jebu?” She was on the verge of tears.

“Of all of us in the Sacred Islands, Jebu is the one who can carry out this mission, a journey to the West. He will speak for us to our brothers in distant places, he will represent us in the Councils of the Order, he will learn what is happening in the rest of the world, and he will come back here with precious knowledge. You cannot imagine, my lady, how uniquely important such a journey can be. A single man travelling across the world from east to west or from west to east in these times can change the course of history.” He went on to tell her a little about the Order and its purposes, its far-flung branches, its constant need to keep its parts in communication with one another. She was amazed and rather frightened to realize that all this had existed without her knowledge. Jebu had kept his Order’s secrets even in bed.

“All lands everywhere are going through a time of great and painful change,” said Eisen. “From all this change can come great benefit as well as suffering on a scale never before known. We who call ourselves the Order must be in a position to spread constructive ideas, to influence. Jebu’s foster father, Taitaro, undertook the same sort of responsibilities for the Order before him. Indeed, he left Jebu’s mother for years of meditation and travel.”

“You are asking me to let my happiness be destroyed by a secret society I scarcely knew of before, for the benefit of people I have never seen.”

“For the benefit of your people, my lady. If you knew that Jebu’s journey could help ensure that the Mongols would never again threaten the Sacred Islands, could you accept his going?”

She thought long. “You play upon my love of country to persuade me to sacrifice the man who is my life.”

“The first branches of the Order Jebu visits will be those in China and Mongolia. He will meet with people who are trying to influence the course of events in those countries.”

“You can’t promise me that Jebu’s leaving me would accomplish any such wonders, can you?”

“Indeed, I can guarantee nothing,” said Eisen. “But it is knowing you should act in a certain way, and acting in that way regardless of the effect of the action, that leads to enlightenment.”

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