Shike – Day 59 of 306

There were still unanswered questions. Who, exactly, was Jamuga? Who was Genghis Khan? What had Jamuga done to call down upon himself such relentless vindictiveness? But Jebu felt he had heard enough. It was time to act, while Arghun was still talking to Taitaro, before the Mongol became restless.

Mongol. Whatever a Mongol is, I’m partly one, too.

When he burst up through the temple floor, Arghun would be taken by surprise. That, plus his Zinja training, should be enough to enable him to kill the man who had killed his father. In the darkness he reached up to move the stone slab.

He found he could not touch the ceiling. He paced the room from wall to wall, reaching above his head as high as he could. His fingertips touched empty air. He felt the walls for a handhold. Except for the low opening to the tunnel Taitaro had told him about, the walls were smooth. He was caught like a cricket in a jar. There was no way to climb out.

Jebu clenched his fists and growled to himself. Taitaro had known about this. The old devil had planned it this way, to protect him.

Promising himself he would have a word with Taitaro, Jebu crouched and crept through the low tunnel. In total darkness, he had to feel his way. The tunnel was lined with stones which formed a vaulted roof to prevent collapse. It must have taken many months to build it that well, even though it was only about fifty feet long. But the tunnels under the temple were bored through the solid rock of the mountain. How long had they taken? The Zinja were patient.

Now the tunnel began to slant upwards. Jebu’s fingers touched rough stone. He pushed gently. The stone moved easily. A crack of light appeared, and he cautiously raised the stone a little more.

He heard the crackling and crashing of Arghun’s samurai stumbling around the brush-grown temple grounds searching for him. He raised the stone enough to be able to see his immediate vicinity. There was no one near by. He pushed himself out of the tunnel, creeping flat along the ground, and dropped the stone back into place.

Through weeds and shrubbery, Jebu snaked towards the temple. He darted up the steps. Cautiously, he peered into the temple entrance. He could see two dark, seated figures, one small, the other a bulk like a mountain, facing each other near the altar, a candle on the floor between them. From this distance he could not see Arghun’s face well. But the Mongol had his profile to Jebu and might detect a movement out of the corner of his eye if Jebu rushed him.

Thinking of shadows, Jebu edged around the entrance-way and crept along the back wall of the temple to the rear corner. He drew the collar of his hood up over his nose and mouth to muffle the sound of his breathing. At last he was behind Arghun.

Your armour is your mind. A naked man can utterly destroy a man clad in steel. Rely on nothing but the Self.

Slowly, silently, he worked his way along the side wall of the temple. Taitaro would probably see him, but the abbot would give no sign. Jebu drew his Zinja sword. A further soundless progress towards the altar, and he was facing Arghun’s broad back.

Rely on nothing under heaven. You will not do the fighting. The Self will do the fighting.

The ritual sentences of preparation for combat were swept aside by an overwhelming urge to kill the man who had killed Jamuga. Jebu poised the Zinja sword, aiming the point at Arghun’s red-cloaked back. Then he sprang away from the wall, launching himself at Arghun.

Just before Jebu reached Arghun, the Mongol rolled to one side. Surprised, Jebu dived past him. Suddenly he was driving the point of his sword at Taitaro’s heart.

“No! Father!” Jebu screamed. He heard Arghun laugh in the shadows.

Jebu’s Zinja-trained reflexes came to his aid and he swung the sword wide. Taitaro also moved quickly, springing to his feet. But they could not help falling into each other.

“Idiot! He saw you reflected in my eyes,” Taitaro snapped as the two of them went down together, disentangled themselves and quickly stood. Jebu was furious at himself. He had been taught about eye reflections and had forgotten.

Jebu saw that when Arghun evaded the sword thrust he had also seized the candle. It was on the altar now, and the Mongol was standing beside it. His sword, long and curved though not as long as a samurai sword, gleamed in his hand.

Arghun and Jebu stood looking at each other. Jebu could read nothing in the narrowed blue eyes. They were fierce and empty as the eyes of a falcon. The Mongol’s hair was hidden under his helmet, but the red moustache was a surprise. It was the same colour as his own hair. Why, he looks like me, Jebu realized.

Arghun grunted. “I knew if I kept the old man talking, you’d come sneaking around. You are Jamuga’s son, no doubt of that. You are as big as he was. But I think you will be easier to kill than he was. You’re just a child.”

Jebu was stung by the contempt in Arghun’s voice. “A very-well trained child, Arghun. Who intends to kill you this night.”

Arghun shrugged. “There is training, and then there is experience.”

Without warning, Arghun leaped at him, bringing his sabre down in a stroke that would have cut Jebu in two had he not leaped backwards. Arghun kept charging him, thrusting and slashing.

Jebu ducked around the hanging hollow log that served as a temple gong, keeping it between himself and Arghun, slowing down Arghun’s rush. Jebu took a crouching attack position, his short sword held before him, waist-high. He was swept by a wave of exhilaration. This man had taken his father from him. Now he would pay with his life.

Jebu darted around the log, slashing at Arghun. He expected the big man to duck back, but Arghun stood firm, parrying Jebu’s sword with a clang. They were almost chest-to-chest, and Jebu thought how unusual to be fighting someone as big as himself.

Arghun put his boot behind Jebu’s bare heel and tripped him. Jebu saved himself by turning his fall into a somersault, rolling away from Arghun’s thrust. Part of Jebu’s anger turned against himself. He was fighting poorly tonight. He was making mistakes, letting himself be taken in by obvious tricks. He told himself that he must get the better of the Mongol. Otherwise he would be failing himself, his father and the Order. Not only his life but the meaning of his life depended upon it.

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