Shike – Day 35 of 306

Go-Shirakawa had said something about this being an age when the teachings of Buddha were forgotten. Jebu had heard other Buddhist priests speak on the same theme, calling these times the Latter Days of the Law. The Buddha, they said, had predicted that the day would come when his laws would be broken and the world sink into chaos. It did seem, thought Jebu as the bonfire of the Sanjo palace roared into the sky, that everything old, everything beautiful, everything wise was gradually vanishing. Perhaps, indeed, these were the Latter Days of the Law.

Chapter Eleven

At sundown on the day the Muratomo seized control of the Imperial Palace, Horigawa and a small contingent of bodyguards stopped at the Shima residence. Horigawa sent for Taniko.

“I got your message. You are a dutiful wife. But by the time it reached me I had already learned of the Muratomo coup. How did you escape from the palace?”

“I was able to slip out through the north-east gate before Domei’s men had complete control of the palace. The palace grounds and buildings are so complicated; they’re hard to guard and easy to escape through if you know your way around.”

What Taniko did not add was that a frightened Akimi had awakened her before dawn. “You are in danger. You must leave the palace now, by the north-east gate. It isn’t guarded yet.”

“What’s happening, Akimi-san?”

“Domei is about to seize the palace and take the Emperor and Empress prisoner.”

“Why? He must be mad. It’s his duty to protect the Emperor.”

“He’s been abused for too long. He wants to take control of the government and avenge himself on his enemies. His men are ready to move at sunrise. This is your last chance to get out. Hurry and dress.”

Taniko’s mind was racing. “It’s my duty to stay here with the Empress.”

“No one will hurt the Empress. But you are Horigawa’s wife. Even though he likes you, Domei will have to use you as a hostage to try to get Horigawa. We know that Horigawa won’t put himself in Domei’s hands to save you. That means Domei may have to hurt you. You must get out now.”

“I must warn the Empress.”

Akimi’s beautiful face was grave: “I won’t let you do that. I’ll turn you over to Domei’s men.”

“Do you approve of what Domei is doing?”

“Approve? I have loved him for twelve years. I’m part of his family. My son is a Muratomo. I saw Domei’s father beheaded. I watched the Takashi seize every opportunity to insult him, to grind him into the dirt. Yes, I approve. If he did not fight back he would not deserve to be chief of the clan.”

“Yes, I see.” Taniko was dressing quickly with Akimi’s help. “Of course he must try to win back all that his family has lost. But to seize the Emperor is unheard of. What if Domei can’t hold the palace? The Takashi have tens of thousands of men over at the Rokuhara. I don’t trust this way of doing things. It’s too simple and too violent. It makes Domei look like a rebel.”

Tears glittered in Akimi’s large eyes. “I know, Taniko, I know. I’m terrified for all of us, for Domei, for my son, for Domei’s other sons. He’s wild—desperate. He has to do something. He isn’t cunning, as the Takashi are. He thinks he can cut through the net they’ve woven around him with a single sword stroke.” She sighed. “There’s no turning back now. It’s in motion. Our karma will decide what happens.”

Hurriedly, wrapped in a heavy cloak, Taniko followed Akimi out of the Wisteria Hall. In the distance, before the Hall of Military Virtues, she could see dark, square masses of men gathered. The clink of weapons and armour carried clearly through the cold, still, pre-dawn air. She followed Akimi along a winding path through the twisted trees planted in the north-east corner of the palace grounds. They came to an ox-drawn carriage held by a servant. The women said goodbye and Taniko got into the carriage. The guards at the north-east gate were apparently not involved in the plot. They didn’t question Taniko and let her through. Soon afterwards she was at the Shima mansion.

Now Horigawa said, “As soon as Domei feels he has the palace under control he’ll send men after me, and I don’t intend to give him the pleasure of catching me. The Muratomo may attempt to take you as a hostage. Take your carriage and follow me to Daidoji as quickly as you can. We’ll be safe there until Sogamori returns to the capital.”

“There’s no need for me to take a carriage,” said Taniko. “I can ride as well as you. Perhaps better.”

“Thank you for reminding me that I married a rustic wife,” said Horigawa.

Taniko looked at him levelly. “You married a samurai wife.”

Heavily cloaked against the cold of the last month of the year, Horigawa, Taniko and their party, riding without stopping, took half the night to reach Horigawa’s country estate, the manor called Daidoji. The samurai and peasants on the estate had heard nothing of the events in the city and were amazed to see their lord and his lady suddenly appear at the gate.

“Dig a pit deep enough to bury a man behind the guards’ quarters,” Horigawa ordered the steward, “and cut a length of bamboo that will reach to the bottom. Post a lookout above the pass. I want to know at once if armed men ride this way.” Without another word to Taniko or anyone else, he disappeared into his quarters. A moment later Taniko heard the steward’s angry voice commanding servants to take lanterns and shovels down to the guards’ quarters and begin to dig.

It was the hour of the ox, the blackest part of the night. Taniko went to her chamber in the women’s house, tended by sleepy maidservants she had come to know on previous visits to the manor. She had a charcoal brazier brought in to warm the room and wrapped herself in as many robes and quilts as she could find. But she could not sleep. She lit an oil lamp and settled down with The Tale of the Hollow Tree given her over a year ago by Akimi.

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