Shike – Day 4 of 306

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

Chapter Two

Jebu felt himself being lifted by many hands. They stood him on his feet and rubbed him with warm blankets. Shivering still, he tried to fight off those who helped him. He must get back into the water-filled stone coffin until the Father Abbot called him.

“Jebu, awake.” It was the voice of Taitaro. Jebu was standing in the crypt, facing Taitaro. Behind Taitaro were the ninety-nine stone urns, and on either side of him stood Weicho and Fudo and the two monks who had brought Jebu into the crypt. Would he ever stop shivering?

“Come upstairs, Jebu,” said Taitaro. “You can stand beside a brazier until you are warm again.”

Wrapped in a heavy robe, Jebu stumbled up the stone steps on legs that almost refused to move, a monk supporting him on either side. Taitaro led the way. They bundled Jebu back into the main hall of the temple and led him to a pile of cushions beside a charcoal brazier. He sat facing Taitaro in front of the altar. All the monks of the chapter sat cross-legged on the floor, in rows, their grey hoods pulled over their heads. The temple was still lit by candles set in bronze lamps suspended from the ceiling. The sun had not yet risen.

“Tell me everything that happened during the night,” said Taitaro.

Jebu began his account, not with his visit from Taitaro, but what happened between himself and Weicho and Fudo. The two sat grinning at him with infuriating audacity when he looked accusingly at them. Jebu went on to tell of his journey on the back of the white dragon and his encounter with the giant.

Taitaro said, “If you see an animal or bird in your initiation vision, it means that animal or bird has adopted you as its own. There is no kami more wise and powerful and fortunate than the kami of dragons. That you rode a white dragon suggests that your future may be bound up with that of the Muratomo clan, whose crest is the White Dragon.”

“But what of the giant?” said Jebu.

“As you describe him, he could be either your father or your father’s slayer, but there is nothing in the vision to suggest that he is either one. He is most certainly one of your father’s countrymen. He must be a powerful spirit. That is why you saw him as a giant.” Taitaro smiled. “It may require the rest of your life for you to unravel fully the meanings of what you have heard and seen this night. You have experienced an authentic vision and, I believe, achieved authentic insight. I welcome you into the ranks of the Zinja. Bring him the robe of a brother of the Order.”

Joy flooded through Jebu like the golden sunlight that had bathed the desert in his vision. The wings of the dragon he had seen in that vision suddenly seemed to be his. Still seated on the cushions, his eyes fixed on Taitaro, he soared inwardly. He had passed the testing, and he had at last the prize he had worked for since early childhood.

A monk stepped forward with a grey robe draped over his outstretched arms. Jebu looked beyond him and saw the sapphire light of morning through the open doorway of the temple. The monk helped Jebu pull the grey robe on over his head. The Zinja robe was really more of a tunic, stopping just below the knees. The sleeves came halfway down the forearms. On the left side of the robe was sewn a circular patch of white silk on which a willow tree was embroidered in blue thread. It seemed a simple garment, but it was lined with hidden pockets to accommodate a variety of Zinja weapons and tools. A strip of grey cloth belted the robe. Jebu tied the ends of the belt in the intricate world-serpent knot that the Zinja always used for this purpose. He pulled the hood of the robe over his head.

“Beyond this robe, you need possess nothing,” said Taitaro.

In unison the monks chanted, “The grey is all colours. The cloth is all matter. The Willow Tree is all time.”

Taitaro said, “Bring him the bow and arrow of the Zinja.” Another monk stepped forward with the short, powerful, double-curved compound bow which the Order had been using for centuries, and a cloth quiver containing twenty-three arrows with various heads-willow leaf, turnip head, frog crotch, armour piercer and bowel raker. The monk slung the bow and quiver over Jebu’s left shoulder. Glancing at the temple door, Jebu saw that the light in the sky was almost white.

“You are warrior as well as monk, monk as well as warrior,” said Taitaro. “Take the bow and arrow with reluctance. Use the bow with dread. Grieve for those who fall to your arrows. But make every arrow count.”

The monks chanted, “The arrows kill desire and point the way to insight.”

Taitaro said, “Bring him the sword of the Zinja.”

A third monk stepped forward with a sword in a plain wooden scabbard and belted it around Jebu’s waist. Unbidden, Jebu drew the sword and held it out to look at it. The Zinja sword was broader and about half the length of the swords most samurai used, but it was heavy and sharp and hard enough to cut through solid rock. The handle was longer and wider at the end than most samurai swords. Zinja swords were forged by the Order, using a secret process centuries old. As Jebu gazed at the sword, its polished steel surface suddenly reflected a blazing light that dazzled him. He looked at the temple doorway. The sun was rising. Its crimson edge appeared over the mountainside, silhouetting the pines that grew outside the temple.

Taitaro said, “Take the sword with reluctance. Draw it with dread. Grieve for those who fall to it. But make every blow count.”

The monks chanted, “The sword is the Self, cutting through matter and time and penetrating to true insight.”

Taitaro stood and raised his arms. “Welcome the new brother into the Order of Zinja!”

Suddenly the temple, always so solemn and quiet, was pandemonium. The grey-robed monks threw back their hoods, baring their heads, and shouted for Jebu. They broke ranks and crowded around him, touching him, squeezing his hand, slapping his shoulder, hugging him. Many were openly weeping. Pride and joy buoyed him up like winds lifting a kite. He was a Zinja. Over the tops of the monks’ heads he could see the full red disk of the sun framed in the temple doorway.

Then he remembered. Weicho and Fudo were on the edge of the crowd around him, smiling at him like the others.

Jebu broke free from the crowd of well-wishers and held up his hand. “Wait. Father Abbot, I have denounced these two before you. I demand that you pass judgment.”

Taitaro laughed. “I judge them to be consummate actors. The testing by brothers of the Order is the climax of the ordeal an aspirant must undergo to become a Zinja.”

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