Shike – Day 45 of 306

Thinking of his lady, and still shaken from the horror and pain of what he had seen and endured that day, Moko forced himself to his feet, paid for his sake, and set out for the Imperial Palace.

Chapter Fourteen

It was early spring when Jebu and Hideyori stood in the presence of a trembling Shima no Bokuden.

“Does Domei reach from beyond the grave to destroy his friends? This house has always been known as a Takashi house. How could I shelter you here?” Lord Bokuden demanded.

“What do you mean, from beyond the grave?” Hideyori said quickly. “Is my father dead?”

“Yes, of course. And your brothers. Had you not heard?”

Jebu felt a pang of grief at the thought that the brave, strong Domei, in whose service he had spent two years, no longer lived. He looked at Hideyori, whose face was without emotion.

“How did they die?” Hideyori asked.

“One of your brothers was badly wounded, and your father helped him to die. Domei and the other two were captured, taken back to Heian Kyo and publicly executed.”

“What of Yukio, my half-brother?”

“I have heard nothing,” said Lord Bokuden, waving away these family griefs as if he were trying to drive away a mosquito. “But you can see that your family’s cause is hopeless. From now on the Shima must be thoroughly Takashi.”

“I understand,” said Hideyori. “I ask you in the name of whatever bond existed between you and my father to give me shelter for a few days. I think I will continue to travel north. I need time to make plans and to send out messages.”

Standing beside him, Jebu turned and looked at Hideyori. It was a serene profile that bore the mark of authority. There was an unbelievable calm and strength about this fifteen-year-old boy, Jebu thought. Another youth might have prostrated himself before Lord Bokuden, blubbering for mercy. Hideyori might be the last living male in his family, but he was absolutely controlled. Jebu remembered The Zinja Manual: “He who does not feel fear is dead.” What was the price of Hideyori’s control?

After the monk and his charge had left the room, Lord Bokuden took Taniko’s letter out of his desk and re-read it. The letter was in Chinese.

Honoured Father,

This is to warn you that Hideyori, the heir to the chieftainship of the Muratomo clan, is said to be headed in your direction. I have never questioned your dealings with these warring clans, but neither am I unobservant. I have reason to think, therefore, that Hideyori may come to you for help.

At this moment the Takashi are in the ascendant, and you may be tempted to display your loyalty by sending Hideyori’s head to Heian Kyo. I suggest that this young man may be worth more to you alive than dead.

As the Takashi grow more powerful they grow more arrogant and make more enemies. If Hideyori is alive, he will be the natural person for those enemies to rally around. Whoever has protected Hideyori will then hold the key to the future.

These suggestions are offered in all humility and in gratitude to you for having placed me here, where I can observe great events.

Your loving daughter, Taniko

Lord Bokuden grunted. What possessed this daughter of his to think she could advise him in as perilous a matter as this? Still, there was sense in what she said. But he had to assure the Takashi of his loyalty.

Taking up his brush, Bokuden began a letter to Sogamori.

Esteemed Minister of the Left,

I have Muratomo no Hideyori. What shall I do with him? I shall hold him until I hear from you.

Tears formed rivulets in the white powder that coated Akimi’s face. It is not pleasant to see a woman of the Court cry, thought Taniko.

“I loved Domei,” Akimi said. “He was a warrior of force and fire, but he was a gentle, simple man as well. I loved him so much I went through the agony of going to see his head displayed at the execution ground. Now all I have left is Yukio, my sweet, beautiful boy. I fear his father may have condemned him to death.”

“How?” asked Taniko.

“Domei’s legacy to his family is a blood feud with the Takashi. The only way the Takashi can protect themselves is to kill all his sons. And Yukio is in their power.”

Taniko put her hand on her friend’s. “What can I do to help?” She understood how Akimi felt about Domei. She had only to compare the feeling with her own for Jebu. It could have been Jebu’s head on a pole overlooking Rokujo-ga-hara.

Akimi said, “If you will permit me to speak of your husband.”

“Of course.” Be careful now, Taniko told herself. In this house anyone could be hiding behind the panels, listening. So far I have said nothing to endanger myself.

“Your husband has great influence with Sogamori. And I believe—excuse me for saying it, but fear for my son’s life makes me bold—when blood might be shed, Prince Horigawa is in the forefront of those who call for shedding it.”

“I do not think Prince Horigawa would deny that,” said Taniko dryly. “He would speak of the need to strengthen the power of the Emperor and to protect the government from treasonous factions.”

Akimi bowed her head. “Of course. Only—my son is not a danger to the Emperor and he does not think of treason. He is a child. His only thoughts are of watching the wild birds on Mount Higashi and playing the flute. His flute-playing is-beautiful to hear—” She broke down in sobs.

Taniko felt tears fill her own eyes to overflowing. She pressed Akimi’s hand in both her own. “I have no influence whatever with my husband, dear Akimi-san. But I will do what I can.”

Akimi looked up. Weeping had destroyed her painted face. “Believe me, Taniko-san, I will do anything—anything at all—to save the life of my son.”

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