Shike – Day 5 of 306

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.”

“Ours is a hard task,” said Fudo. “Our obedience to the Order lies in seeming to be disobedient.”

“And our success is failure,” said Weicho with pain in his eyes. “If we are clever enough to deceive the aspirant, it is we who must kill him.”

Jebu wanted to ask if they had ever killed. He tried to remember whether any of the initiations that had taken place in his time had been followed by the mysterious disappearance of the aspirant. He could remember only five initiations and in all five cases he had not seen the aspirant afterwards.

Taitaro said, as if guessing his question, “After an initiation the newly ordained monk is immediately sent from the temple. The aspirants do not know what has become of him. That way they cannot be sure whether any initiation ended in the creation of a new brother or the death of an aspirant.”

“I will be sent away now?”

“Yes. We’ll go to my cell now, and I’ll tell you where you will be sent.” Taitaro smiled. “Then you will have time to say goodbye.”

The house of the monks was built of cypress beams, roofed over with bark shingles and screened with paper and bamboo. It was somewhat sheltered from the seaside cliff on which the temple itself perched. Beyond the house was the stable.

Jebu climbed the steps and entered the one-storey building. It was empty, the futons on which the monks slept rolled up against the walls. The shoji screens around the abbot’s cell at the north-east corner of the hall were closed. Taitaro was waiting for him there, drawing a screen aside and beckoning him to enter.

Taitaro’s cell was empty except for a simple dark brown vase of irregular shape that stood on a low unpainted table in one corner. In the vase was a deep red peony blossom flanked by two willow branches. The screen on the east side of the room was open, giving a view of the pine forest that grew on the mountainside.

Taitaro was still wearing the white rope of office around his neck. Slowly he took it off and placed it carefully on the table before the vase. His dark, tired eyes burned into Jebu’s and Jebu realized that Taitaro must not have slept the night before. Taitaro opened his arms to Jebu, and they embraced and stood silently together. It was Jebu who drew away first, his mind full of the unspoken question. What does my father think of me now?

It was Taitaro, though, who asked the first question. “Tell me, Jebu, do you think I should have done anything to make the ordeal easier for you?”

Jebu was shocked. “I would be ashamed for ever if I thought you had done anything like that.”

Taitaro smiled. It seemed to Jebu that he looked relieved. “Your ordeal was as painful as it has ever been for any Zinja. But we can’t make the initiation as severe as life itself will be. For you, as for all of us, the worst is still to come.”

Jebu remembered the words his stepfather had spoken to him as he lay in the stone coffin: the Zinja are devils. “May we speak of the Saying of Supreme Power?” he asked.

“Nothing can be gained by talking about it, and much could be lost that way. You must think it through—live it through—for yourself, in silence.”

“Then tell me, Father. What has the Order in mind for me? Is there a task for me to perform?”

Taitaro chuckled. “There are more tasks than there are Zinja to perform them. You will go to Kamakura, a small city on the north-east coast of Honshu. You will serve the Shima, a very wealthy family which holds first rank in Kamakura. They are a branch of the Takashi clan.”

“The Takaski,” Jebu said. “The house of the Red Dragon.”

“Yes. Even though your vision was of the White Dragon of Muratomo, your first task will be in the service of the arch-rivals of the Muratomo, the Takashi.”

During his training Jebu had learned about the wars of the two great samurai clans, but now that he had passed through the death and rebirth of initiation, all that seemed rather remote to him. “Tell me again, sensei, why the Takashi and the Muratomo are such great enemies.”

Taitaro recounted the story. The Emperors of long ago had had many wives and many sons. The Imperial family had grown so large that its support became an intolerable burden on the national treasury. It was decided to lop off some of the branches, give them new names and some land, and let them fend for themselves. The descendants of Emperor Kammu—he who built the capital at Heian Kyo—were called the Takashi. They took as their symbol the Red Dragon. The descendants of Emperor Seiwa were known as the Muratomo, and their crest was the White Dragon.

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