Shike – Day 41 of 306

Beyond the residential buildings Jebu saw a stable. There was no time to saddle the horses. Panting, their breath steaming, the men threw themselves on the animals’ bare backs. There were only a dozen horses. Those samurai who were left without horses turned and lined up to hold off pursuers.

They rode for the north-west gateway in the outer wall. A Takashi humming-bulb arrow shot past Jebu’s head with a piercing whistle. Jebu decided that if the Takashi caught up with them he would turn and fight them at the gate, giving Hideyori time to escape.

They were through the gate and galloping wildly down the city streets. A startled ox pulling a carriage lumbered out of their way and crashed into a near-by wall. What was anyone doing on the streets on this day? Arrows splintered against the pavement behind them. Jebu jumped, his horse over the low wall against which the ox had just blundered, followed by Hideyori and six other mounted samurai. They rode through the gardens of a nobleman’s estate past screaming, terrified servants.

In a short time they had lost themselves among the houses of Heian Kyo aristocrats. Pursuit seemed to have been called off. For the moment the Takashi had what they wanted, the palace.

Hours later, circling cautiously through the streets, they found the main body of Muratomo warriors. Domei was sad and tired. His force had been greatly reduced, not only through casualties but because of men getting lost in the streets, wandering away or, discouraged, fleeing.

While Jebu and Hideyori had been looking for Domei, he had realized too late that the Takashi were doubling back for the palace. His men had reached the main gate only to find a much larger army than their own in possession. Then they had marched across the city in the hope of mounting an attack on the Rokuhara, but the Takashi stronghold was occupied by Sogamori with an even larger force of samurai. Domei estimated that between the men stationed at the Rokuhara and the Takashi allies who had come in from the countryside, there were forty thousand Takashi samurai in the city.

“They hold the Imperial Palace against us. They have the Emperor and the Retired Emperor in their hands. Both Their Majesties have proclaimed the Takashi their defenders and us outlaws. Everything has turned out exactly opposite to my hopes.” Suddenly he lifted his head and smiled, almost gaily. “Many times the falcon stoops and comes up with empty claws. Then he must fly away to try again.”

Jebu glanced at Hideyori. The fifteen-year-old boy was staring at his father with an appraising look that was almost contemptuous.

A few hours later the Muratomo army was streaming out of Heian Kyo by one of the western gates. The weary samurai glanced over their shoulders from time to time, expecting a Takashi pursuit. Jebu rode with Domei. One of Hideyori’s older brothers lay in a horse-drawn carriage, his right leg almost severed. Jebu had attended him with Zinja remedies, a powder to clean the wound and a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

When they reached the heavy woods at the base of the mountains north of Heian Kyo, snow began to fall.

Domei said, “We must scatter. My older sons must go with me. But, Hideyori, I want you far, far from Sogamori’s reach. Since Jebu brought you safely through the battle, I will entrust you to him.”

Domei turned to Jebu. “Lord Shima no Bokuden of Kamakura is a secret ally of mine. He is not a very good ally—he feigns friendship for both sides. But he should be able to see that Hideyori can be valuable to him, and only he is far away enough and powerful enough to protect Hideyori from the Takashi.” Domei sighed heavily. “My youngest son, Yukio, is in the capital. I can’t save him. Hideyori may be the last of us. He is the future of the Muratomo clan.”

Jebu nodded, astonished at the revelation that the calculating Lord Bokuden, Taniko’s father, was in league with the Muratomo. Perhaps that was the reason he had relied on one inexperienced Zinja to escort his daughter through Muratomo territory to Heian Kyo. And the reason their party was attacked only once. But Jebu agreed that Bokuden could not be considered a very trustworthy ally.

When Hideyori had walked away, leaving Domei and Jebu alone, Domei let his head drop.

“I have been a fool, shiké. I helped the Takashi destroy my father and now I have ruined myself and my sons. I have done everything wrong. I would welcome death now.”

Jebu said, “In my Order we are taught to see that all is one. Victory or defeat, life or death, it is all the same. The act is everything, the result nothing.”

Domei shook his head. “It would comfort me to believe that. But I can’t. Go now, Jebu.”

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