Shike – Day 47 of 306

There was a noise like a thunderclap and a blinding flash. The old scholar leaped to his feet and nearly fell into the stream. Taniko was shocked and frightened. A harsh, powerful stench filled the garden. A puff of smoke drifted past the dwarf pine trees. It was as if Sogamori had unleashed an ugly, vicious demon.

A horrified silence had fallen over the banquet. It was broken at last by Sogamori’s laughter.

“There’s a new subject for poetry,” he said loudly. Taniko glanced at Kiyosi and saw that he had his head down, staring resolutely at the stream, his expression a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.

Horigawa, who should have been outraged at the disturbance, strolled over to Sogamori and said, “Most remarkable. Has the esteemed Minister of the Left taken up sorcery?”

Sogamori laughed and sat down. “Nothing magical. It’s only a Chinese toy. I have a new man in my service, a barbarian from across the sea. He brought me a box of these little thunder balls. An amusing novelty, is it not?”

Taniko wondered about Sogamori’s barbarian. Could he be from the same land Jebu’s father had come from? Jebu had said nothing about these horrid fireballs.

Now it was Sogamori’s turn to recite. He stood up, thrusting out his chest, and boomed out a Chinese poem about a battle that had been fought over a thousand years before:

His chariot horses draped in tiger skins,
Duke Wen charged the lords of Ch’en and Ts’ai.
The Right Division of Ch’u collapsed,
Its battle flag dragging in the dust.

This was greeted with appreciative murmurs. Taniko observed that the old scholar who had been Sogamori’s victim had left the banquet. After a few more poems, it was Kiyosi’s turn to recite. Would he try to match his father in belligerence? Taniko wondered. Kiyosi remained seated, a thoughtful, faraway look in his eyes. He spoke in Chinese, so softly Horigawa’s guests had to strain to hear.

Frontier war drums disrupt all men’s travels.
I am fortunate enough to have brothers, but all are scattered;
There’s no longer a home where I might ask if they’re dead or alive.
How terrible it is that the fighting cannot stop!

There was total silence after Kiyosi had finished. He set his wine cup adrift and gazed after it as if he were quite alone. All eyes turned to Sogamori. If he had been annoyed by poems that neglected warfare, what would he do when his own son recited a poem that deplored it? The man on Kiyosi’s right took the cup out of the water and held it in a trembling hand, afraid to begin speaking.

“Who wrote that?” Sogamori asked in a low, hoarse voice.

“Tu Fu, honoured Father,” said Kiyosi. “One of the great poets of the T’ang dynasty.”

Sogamori nodded. “What compassion. What depth of feeling. Truly, a poet who understands the sufferings of a war-torn land.” With a lugubrious expression Sogamori reached for a wine cup and drank deeply.

Suddenly he grinned at Kiyosi. “My son’s taste in poetry is flawless,” he said proudly. “Just as his victory at the Imperial Palace shows that he has no peer in war.”

Taniko could hear breaths being expelled throughout the group. An unpredictable man, Sogamori, she thought; a changeable man. There was no telling how he would react when she lured him to a secluded part of the garden to encounter Akimi.

The servants brought food, and the recitations resumed. Another cup of wine was launched down the stream, and another. The formality of the occasion began to dissolve.

People stood up and moved about. The flirtations constantly being conducted by courtiers took their toll on the guests, as this man or that woman slipped discreetly away from the stream to rendezvous in the safe seclusion of the trees. Among the guests who stayed in their places, conversation gradually took the place of recitation.

Taniko quietly left Horigawa’s side, motioning to a maid to take over waiting on the prince and those near him. She hurried to the room where she had secreted Akimi.

“Now is the time.”

“Taniko-san, I’m terrified. What if something goes wrong?”

“I’m terrified, too. What else can we do?”

“You did not have to do this much. I’ll always be grateful to you, Taniko-san.”

Returning to the banquet, Taniko unfolded the fan she had had painted especially for the occasion and took up a dish of sweetened fruits. She carried the dish to Horigawa, Sogamori and Kiyosi, who were deep in discussion.

“Nits make lice,” Horigawa declared flatly.

“Twice in recent years the Takashi have been responsible for public executions,” said Kiyosi. “Many think this scandalous. We have lost the goodwill of many important men, many families, and the people in general, because they view these killings with horror.”

Taniko offered Sogamori an orange slice skewered on a sliver of wood. The heavyset Takashi chieftain smiled broadly at her. Taniko could see he must have been a very handsome man twenty years ago.

Smacking his lips after the orange slice, Sogamori said, “What have those executions to do with this question?”

“The Takashi are already called butchers,” Kiyosi said. “It is your advice that has got us that name, Prince Horigawa.” The young man’s dark eyes blazed at the prince. “Do you want us to be known as child murderers, too?”


  1. TurtleReader Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    TurtleReader wrote:

    The egg or young of a parasitic insect, such as a louse

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