Shike – Day 56 of 306

“He knows nothing. Spare him, please!”

“If his suffering causes you pain, then he shall surely suffer.”

“If you plan on hurting me again,” Taniko gasped, “you’d better bring your guards with you next time. You won’t get near me by yourself.”

“I have no wish to be near you,” said Horigawa. “I will have my revenge in due time.”

Chapter Seventeen

Early the following summer, Jebu was trudging up a mountain road on Kyushu, a road he had come to know very well as a boy. He reflected on the strangeness of perceived time. It had been three years since Taitaro sent him to Kamakura, but so much had happened to him, and he had done so much, that it seemed more like six. But also it seemed as if it were only this morning that Taitaro and he had stood before the steps of the Waterfowl Temple and said a final goodbye to each other.

The monastery buildings had never been visible from the landward side. One climbed towards what appeared to be an empty hilltop for hours before any of the outlying buildings became visible through the pines. The Zinja preferred seclusion. Still, it seemed to Jebu he should have seen the farm buildings and the gatehouse before now, even at this distance.

When he had climbed a little further, he was shocked to find that the wooden wall around the monastery was gone. The gatehouse was gone. Only the gateway itself, with its tall pillars and crossbeams, was still standing. A gateway in a non-existent wall.

Now through the shrubbery he could see the foundation stones where the granary had stood. He walked to the gate. The bell that visitors used to announce themselves was still hanging from the gateway, along with the hammer for striking it. The Zinja had never bothered to guard the gate, but they were wary of trespassers. To enter without ringing the bell was considered a hostile act. Jebu struck the bell a resounding blow with the hammer and walked on in.

He passed the granary. It was not a ruin. There was simply nothing left of it, no scrap of burnt or broken wood, just the foundation stones. Shrubs were growing where the floor had been. The path turned, and he was out of the pine forest that covered the hillside. Now he was shocked to see that all the buildings—the stable, the men’s quarters, the women’s quarters, the guest house, the library—all were gone. Only the temple itself, a simple, square building with a peaked, slightly curving roof of thatch, still stood.

As Jebu stood there, trying to guess what had happened, Taitaro emerged from the temple.



They ran to each other and embraced. Then they separated, still gripping the other’s arms, and looked at each other. Taitaro’s hair and beard were neatly trimmed, but a good deal greyer. His eyes were older and more tired, the lines in his face deeper.

“Well,” he said, “you’ve seen a lot. I can tell that. Your face doesn’t look as much like a blank sheet of paper as it did when you left. Experience has written on it.”

“What happened here, Father? Where is everyone?”

“You’ve travelled a long road, Son. You must be tired and hungry. Come. I’ve built myself a little hut at the edge of the cliff. You can rest, and I’ll give you something to eat.”

Jebu looked around, perplexed, as he followed Taitaro. His father seemed smaller and thinner than he remembered. Taitaro’s hut, made of cedar frame, paper walls, thatched roof, and dirt floor, was barely large enough for the two of them. His sword, bow, and quiver of arrows hung from pegs on a beam; he pointed to empty pegs where Jebu could hang his own weapons.

Taitaro had dug a square hole in the floor for a fire. Now he lit the fire and set a pot of water on a brazier over it.

“The Order has kept you hired out to the Muratomo. You will remember, I told you that your vision of a white dragon meant that your destiny would be bound up with that of the White Dragon clan.”

Jebu shrugged. “I came back here to have done with the war. I hoped to find refuge where I could refresh myself and perhaps make a new beginning.”

“You must be sorely disappointed to find the place so desolate. I rather like it this way. That’s why I willingly stayed behind when the others left.”

“But why did everyone leave?”

“About two years after we sent you away, we were attacked by surprise at night by a troop of samurai. The fact that we could be taken by surprise at all shows that we were getting soft and did not deserve the name of Zinja. In any case, they killed our guards and rushed the monks’ quarters. Of course, they made so much noise that we were awake and arming ourselves by the time they got here. They set fire to all the buildings. We lost most of our horses in the fire. A group of samurai attacked the women’s quarters, and the women fought bravely and ferociously.”

“Is Mother all right?”

“Yes, she’s fine. After a short, fierce battle we drove off the samurai attacking the monks’ quarters and killed many of them. Then we went to the aid of the women, who had fought their attackers to a standstill with sticks, needles, pots, boiling oil, and kitchen knives. We finished off nearly all of those samurai. I’m afraid we let our emotions get the better of us. They had killed some of the women and wounded many more. The remaining samurai retreated beyond the wall. Stupidly, they tried to besiege us, perhaps thinking that they could eventually starve us off the mountain-top. We gave them a few days to relax their guard, then went down the mountain through the tunnels and came up behind them. This time we gave a better account of ourselves, even though we had to fight uphill. We lost fewer and they lost more. When they started to run for it, we opened ranks and let them go.”

“Were they Muratomo or Takashi?”

“Takashi. Now that the Muratomo clan is defeated and scattered, Sogamori intends to stamp out any other force in the land that does not submit to him utterly.”

“But we work impartially with Takashi and Muratomo alike.”

Taitaro shook his head. “That does not satisfy Sogamori. He distrusts us deeply because many of our brothers, such as you, have worked for the Muratomo. Also because our Order has connections with branches in other lands. He questions our loyalty to the Emperor. By which, of course, he means our loyalty to himself. He has eliminated nearly all the Zinja in the Takashi employ. Thus his suspicion that we side with the Muratomo is fulfilled.”

“Did he himself order the attack on this temple?”

“No, we believe it was the governor of Fukuoka province, an appointee of Sogamori. The governor would have had no trouble finding samurai eager to go up against us. There are many who hate the Zinja. They fear our fighting skills and our stealth. They despise what they know of our child-rearing practices and the free relations between our men and our women. And they’ve heard rumours that we hoard vast treasures in our temples.”

“So, it’s war between us and the Takashi.”

“Not at all. Our relations with Sogamori, even with the provincial governor, are officially cordial. This attack was a probe, to see how easy it would be to destroy one of our temples. We hope we convinced them that it would be too costly. But it was costly for us, as well. Many urns were emptied and refilled in the crypt the day after the battle. Many trees on this hillside were cut down for funeral pyres.”

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