Shike – Day 61 of 306

They embraced, and Jebu turned his back on Taitaro and on the blazing Waterfowl Temple and started walking down the beach towards Hakata.

Chapter Nineteen

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

One hears very little from the capital these days. Once in a while Akimi manages to slip me a letter or a present by way of a trusted servant. I can only guess how it makes her feel to be Sogamori’s mistress. Poor Akimi-san. Her son Yukio is now a novice monk at the Buddhist temple on Mount Hiei.

Sogamori has had himself appointed chancellor. This is an ancient office, long left vacant, and is considered higher than the office of Regent. Fujiwara no Motofusa, who is now Regent, must be grinding his blackened teeth down to stumps. With the office of chancellor and with tens of thousands of Takashi samurai ready to spring to do his bidding, Sogamori is the real ruler of the Sunrise Land.

According to Akimi, Sogamori was recently heard to say, “Anyone who is not a Takashi is not a human being.” That remark has been repeated all over the capital. People follow the Takashi fashion in everything from the way men wear their ceremonial hats to the style of the family crest on one’s clothing. Anyone who wants to be in fashion must study and copy the way things are done in the Rokuhara.

A strange and frightening thing happened yesterday. A troop of Takashi samurai visited Daidoji. Their leader was a giant barbarian who spoke our language very poorly, with a thick accent. He questioned all the guards who fought with Jebu, then came to see me.

Arghun Baghadur, he said his name was. What sort of an outlandish name is that? He would tell me nothing of himself, save that he does the bidding of Sogamori and had old Squint-Eyes’ permission to question me. He asked me many questions about Jebu, to most of which I answered that I did not know. Having been told by Horigawa that I speak Chinese, he conversed with me in that language, which he spoke passably well.

I made one stupid mistake. After he had asked me many questions I declared that I had no interest in Zinja monks, especially those of barbarian descent. He pounced at once.

“Then you know of his descent. He must have told you about himself.”

I had only intended to make an insulting reference to this Arghun Baghadur’s own barbarian background. Led on by my wish to hurt, I forgot myself and made a serious error. It was as Jebu once told me: the warrior who acts out of anger or hatred is simply seeking his own defeat.

I answered that I had guessed Jebu’s barbarian ancestry from his appearance. Suddenly I realized that Jebu had told me his father was killed by a giant barbarian with red hair and blue eyes, and that the barbarian wished to kill Jebu. Instantly I felt sure this was the very man. If only there were some way I could warn Jebu.

The barbarian pressed me with questions for an hour more. I pray I told him nothing else that might help him. After he left, I fainted. Compassionate Buddha, help Jebu.

-First Month, eighth day


Arghun Baghadur’s visit brought her last meeting with Jebu vividly back to her. Finally she forced herself to accept a fact she had only suspected in the months since she had seen Jebu. She was pregnant.

Compassionate Buddha, she whispered to herself, help me.

She waited another month to be sure, before telling Horigawa the news on one of his infrequent visits to Daidoji. She asked his permission to go to Kamakura for the lying-in. Any place was better, she thought, than this god-forsaken country rathole. And once she got away from Horigawa, she might be able to find excuses to avoid returning to him.

“Out of the question,” said Horigawa.

“But a woman of good family returns to her home to give birth.”

Horigawa smiled and tapped his fingertips together. “Not, I think, when the home is as far away as Kamakura. It would be entirely too dangerous to your health. What would your honoured father think of me, if I let you journey so far? He who takes such good care of every passing traveller, such as the Muratomo boy.”

Taniko’s heart sank. “Then send me to my uncle’s house in the capital.”

“Oh, no. Never again will you go to the capital. You disgraced me there once. It will not happen again.”

“I did not disgrace you.”

“There are many there who know that you were the go-between for Akimi and Sogamori. Now Akimi acts the great lady as Sogamori’s mistress. People know that you thwarted my efforts to have the Muratomo brats eliminated. Among those people I am a laughing stock because of you. Now, when you arrive in the capital with your belly swollen, there will be rumours that the child is not mine. I will not be laughed at because of you.”

“Why should anyone think the child is not yours?”

“None of my wives has ever had a child. And the story of the armed monk who came here and killed my guards has made its way to the capital.”

“That has no bearing on whether you are the father of my child.”

“You will stay here. You will bear the child here at Daidoji.” He smiled at her. “It is really best for you. Pregnant women should not travel. The custom of a woman going home for the lying-in was followed when all the best people lived right in the capital. Besides, there are excellent midwives here in the village. You will be very comfortable.”

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