Shike – Day 303 of 306

“Please greet him for me when you see him. And also tell his lordship Shogun Sametono that I hope to see him at his convenience. I am anxious to learn what progress he has made with Joshu’s No.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Taniko’s heart fluttered nervously, partly in happy excitement, partly in fear, as she rode ahead of Jebu along the path up the side of Mount Higashi. She had managed to slip away from all her ladies, maids, retainers and samurai guards. Those at the Rokuhara thought she was at the Imperial Palace paying a visit to the young Emperor and the Imperial family. Those in the newly rebuilt Imperial Palace thought she was at the Rokuhara. She and Jebu could be alone together, celebrating the full moon of the Eighth Month in each other’s arms in the place where their love had begun for them so many years ago.

They tethered their horses by the old statue of Jimmu Tenno. The first Emperor of the Sunrise Land looked as fierce as ever but a little more weathered. She stood a moment before the statue, silently reporting to the founder of the nation that the barbarians had been driven from his shores. Then they turned and walked hand in hand along the path until they came to the spot where they had lain together years before and exchanged vows of love. These twisted pine trees on the hillside now might have been seedlings when we first came here, she thought. Will Jebu remember our vows, and is he still willing to keep them? As for her, she had never forgotten his words, “I am yours for the rest of my life and the rest of your life.”

In the sunset Heian Kyo seemed to rise out of a violet autumnal haze mixing mist from the rivers on either side of the city with the smoke of cooking fires. The capital looked much the same as it had that other night. There was hardly a part of it that had not been levelled by fire or earthquake over the past thirty-seven years, but its people were indefatigable rebuilders. Taniko took off the rice-straw hat and veil she had worn to conceal her features and sat down on the grass mat Jebu unrolled for her. They talked about the war.

“We had a message from one of our people in Korea,” Jebu said. “The Great Khan lost three thousand ships and eighty thousand men. It is the worst defeat the Mongols have suffered since the rise of Genghis Khan. Kublai flew into a rage when he got the news and ran about his palace shouting, ‘Arghun! Arghun! What have you done with my fleet?’ He collapsed and had to be punctured with the Chinese needles and put to bed. Now he is saying he intends to attempt another invasion.”

“Oh, no.” Taniko’s heart sank. “We can’t go through an ordeal like that again.”

“Neither can the Mongols. This defeat has weakened Kublai’s authority over his vassal kings and nobles. I don’t think he can raise another army and fleet. Of course, we can never be sure. We will have to remain prepared for war for many years to come.”

Taniko visualized Kublai’s barbarian wrath with satisfaction. What do you think of us now, Elephant? she thought. You who were always so contemptuous of our little country. Would you still like to have me back in your harem?

“He’s sixty-five years old now,” Jebu went on. “That’s on in years, as members of his family go. I think after his death his successors won’t be so interested in conquering our islands, and the Mongol empire will fall apart. It’s already starting to.”

“That storm convinced the priests and the people that no invade can ever conquer us,” said Taniko. “They say the gods were helping us. Some of the samurai think it was the angry ghost of Yukio that brought the storm. They say Yukio was fighting beside them, seeking vengeance against Arghun and his Mongols.”

“I actually saw Yukio,” Jebu said, his voice filled with wonder at the memory.

“You saw Yukio?”

“He was standing with me on the railing of Red Tiger, laughing, when I was fighting Arghun.”

“Do you think it was truly a vision, or was it only in your mind?” Taniko asked him. “You must have been terribly wrought in that moment.”

“Just before he died, my father, Taitaro, taught me that a mind that creates such visions is miraculous enough. One can attain insight in combat. Sometimes in a moment of insight you see visions.”

Taniko let her small white fingers rest on his long, brown hand. “I had a satori, a flash of enlightenment, talking to Eisen last night. It was one of the most profoundly happy moments of my life.”

He smiled, strong white teeth flashing in his beard. “Then you understand a little better what I’ve been looking for all my life.”

“Jebu,” she said, “my satori happened when Eisen told me your Order wants you to travel to the West.”

Jebu was silent for a while. At last he looked at her with eyes full of pain and sadness. “I am going to go, my love. I have to.”

She shuddered, as if struck a physical blow that she had been anticipating. She rocked back and forth, her face in her hands, weeping. He took her hand, and she pulled it away. How dare he try to comfort her with such a banal gesture. She looked up at him and he was crying, too. For a moment she felt pity for him.

“Don’t say you have to go. Eisen told me the decision was left to you.”

“If the Order had commanded me to go, I would have felt more free to refuse. I did refuse at first. In the last month, since you left Hakata Bay, I have suffered a lifetime of agonies over this decision. Taniko, I love you. I don’t want to leave you. And yet, there is so much I can do by making this journey. Eisen must have explained to you why it is so important to the Order. And I will be the first person from the Sunrise Land to travel all the way to the other end of the world, to that unknown land of the white barbarians. Taniko, travelling and learning are my whole life. Were it not that I love you and can’t bear to be parted from you, I would be overjoyed at the thought of making this journey. I couldn’t wait to leave.”

“I’m sorry our love is such a burden to you, Jebu. But it seems you have the strength, somehow, to part from me.” He seemed to be trying to make it sound as if his sufferings were equal to hers, which could not possibly be true.

“For me to refuse this responsibility would leave me with my insight beclouded and my contact with the Self broken.”

“And I—and our love—must be sacrificed to your spiritual attainment? That’s what I dislike about all this pursuing of insight or enlightenment, whatever you wish to call it. It’s nothing but a selfishness of the spirit.”

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