Shike – Day 42 of 306

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

Chapter Thirteen

Five days after the Muratomo defeat at the Imperial Palace, Moko brought Taniko the news that Domei had returned to Heian Kyo. Taniko was again at the Empress’s Wisteria Hall, Horigawa having rushed back to the city as soon as he heard that the Muratomo had been driven out of it. Empress Sadako was prostrate in her chambers, still not recovered from the fright Domei’s insurrection had given her. Lady Akimi was conspicuously absent.

Moko knelt on the veranda outside Taniko’s room and spoke to her through the screen, shaking his head.

“It was very sad. Domei and his older sons were attacked by a party of Takashi samurai. They fought their way through, but all their escort was scattered. Domei and his three sons found themselves alone in the mountains in a blizzard, with their enemy in hot pursuit. One son was wounded and could not keep up. He begged his father to kill him, rather than allow him to fall into the hands of the Takashi. Finally Domei gave in and stabbed his son in the heart. At least the boy did not cut his belly open, as some samurai do when they want to kill themselves.”

“Horrible,” said Taniko. “And Domei still couldn’t escape?”

“He tried, my lady. He and his two remaining sons dug a grave for the dead young man and struggled on through the falling snow. They stopped at a farmhouse to rest, not realizing how close behind them were the Takashi samurai. The peasant who offered them hospitality betrayed them. Domei was bathing when his enemies burst in upon him and captured him. The two sons were also unarmed. The Takashi took all three prisoner and brought them back by order of Sogamori, to be publicly executed here. They even dug up the body of the dead son and brought his head back to the capital. Many other Muratomo leaders are to be beheaded as well.”

“How sad. What of Domei’s two younger sons?”

“One of them, Yukio, is here in the capital at the home of his mother, the Lady Akimi, whom you know. They are both under house arrest. The other—this is very interesting, my lady.”

Taniko leaned forward and peered through the screen. She could see that Moko was smiling, revealing all the gaps left by his missing teeth. “What is it?”

“You might not have heard this, because you had fled the capital with your honoured husband when the fighting was going on, but a huge Zinja monk with hair of a fiery colour is said to have performed prodigies in the battle for the Imperial Palace.”

Taniko’s heart beat faster. “That can only be one person.”

Moko nodded. “So I thought, my lady. I have also heard that this same monk escorted Domei’s other young son, Hideyori, into the north-east.”

The north-east, Taniko thought. She would have to send a secret message to her father to watch for them.

“When are the executions to take place?”

“In three days’ time, in a pit beside the prison at a place called Rokujo-ga-hara, where Rokujo Avenue crosses the Kamo River. All around the execution ground poles have already been set up, and the heads of a dozen of the better-known rebels who were killed in the fighting look down on passers-by. Truly, as I heard a monk say, we must be living in the Latter Days of the Law.”

“Yes,” said Taniko. “Moko, I want to know so much more about the world than I do. All I can see is what happens within this Nine-Fold Enclosure. It is a great pity that Captain Domei and his sons must die. I knew and like him. But the power of men to execute other men in the name of the Emperor is what holds this realm together. If I want to know the world, I must know this. Will you go to the execution and be my eyes, Moko? Will you see them for yourself and me?”

“I’ve seen a good deal of killing in my life,” said Moko. “And I’ll probably have to see much more before I myself step into the Great Void—or am pushed. The last thing I want is to go look at killings that I don’t have to see. But if it will help you, my lady, I’ll go, and I’ll tell you about it.”

Moko went to the execution ground early to find the best possible vantage point. The place where the condemned were to die was a wide, circular depression, somewhat deeper than the height of a man, beside the Kamo River. Court attendants in shining, light green robes had already roped off the area nearest the pit for the noble witnesses. Moko saw that if he joined the crowd of common onlookers on the riverbank he would be too far from the edge to see anything.

But there was a huge, old cherry tree beside the prison which had long been used for public floggings. From its topmost branches a man would have a fine view. Used to working on buildings, Moko had no fear of heights. In a moment he was securely perched on a high, but strong, limb that would allow him a good view of the proceedings.

It was only after he was settled on his perch and could look around a bit that he saw a pair of dead eyes staring at him. A pole bearing the head of a rebel killed in the fighting at the Imperial Palace had been set close to the cherry tree. A bit shocked, Moko took a deep breath and winked at the head.

“Good morning to you, my lord, whoever you are. I trust you are not suffering?”

Just think, this could be the head of the shiké Jebu. But they probably wouldn’t bother to set a monk’s head up on a pole, any more than they would his own.

Gradually the area around the pit filled up with spectators. Carriages brought the men of rank, who were admitted to the best positions, close to the edge of the pit. From his cherry-tree limb Moko could see along Rokujo Avenue, which was filled with ox-drawn carriages—wickerwork carriages, palm-leaf carriages, and the towering, elaborate Chinese carriages with their green-gabled roofs, whose use was restricted to the Imperial family and the highest officials of the Court. The carriages blocked one another’s way, and Moko watched with amusement as three fights broke out among forerunners of rival noblemen.

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