Shike – Day 62 of 306

“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.”

“You are holding me prisoner.”

“Only for your own good.” He stood up and left her.

Taniko felt more alone than she had at any time in her life. She read The Tale of Genji: a beautiful illustrated copy which Akimi had sent her. She liked it better than The Tale of the Hollow Tree. As her stomach started to bulge, she carried herself straighter and tried to hold it in.

“That is good,” said the midwife from the village of rice farmers who worked the paddies around Daidoji and paid sixty per cent of their harvest to Horigawa. “Girls who have husbands and are proud of their babies always let their bellies stick out. They have a bad time when they give birth. Girls whose babies have no fathers are ashamed. They try to hide their bellies, suck them in. And always, they have an easy delivery, because all that holding in makes them strong through here.” She laughed and stroked her hands over her pelvis. “Keep holding your belly in, my lady. But why are you ashamed of this baby? You have a noble prince for a husband.”

Having no one else to confide in and liking the midwife’s smiling, moon-like face, Taniko said, “I do not know whether this baby has a noble prince for a father.”

Taniko considered the notion of going to the Shima house in Heian Kyo without the prince’s permission, but it seemed impossible. From the way his dozens of samurai watched her, she was sure they had orders to keep her on the estate. And even if she were able to slip away, it was unsafe to travel on foot or on horseback. How could she get a carriage and driver? And how could a carriage escape the mounted samurai who would inevitably come after her? No, she decided, she would only distress herself by trying to run away.

The midwife came to examine her once a month. She told Taniko the baby would probably be born in the Seventh Month. Taniko noticed that when not talking to anyone the midwife would constantly mutter under her breath, the same words over and over again. At first Taniko thought the woman was mad. It would not surprise her at all if Horigawa had provided her with a demented midwife. But the woman was pleasant and made so much sense most of the time that Taniko dismissed that explanation.

“What is it you keep saying to yourself?” she finally asked.

“Homage to Amida Buddha.”

“Ah, a prayer.”

“It is more than a prayer. If you repeat it with sincerity, you are saved for all time. When you die your spirit will be reborn in the Pure Land far to the west, where it is possible for even the weakest of us to attain enlightenment and achieve Nirvana.”

“Is that why you say it over and over again?”

“Yes. Also because it is such a great comfort. When I invoke the name of Amida Buddha over and over again, it feels as if I am carrying Buddha within me, just as you are carrying that baby inside you. Try it some time, my lady. When you are feeling sad or in pain, just say, ‘Homage to Amida Buddha’ over and over to yourself until you feel better.”

One particularly beautiful day in the Seventh Month, as she sat reading under a parasol, Taniko found herself thinking back to her ride with Jebu down the Tokaido Road to Heian Kyo. When she realized that those were very nearly the last happy days of her life, a great sadness swept over her. Feeling foolish she said, “Homage to Amida Buddha.” She repeated it. After she had said it about twenty times the sharp edge of the sadness seemed blunted. It was as if she had drunk sake, but with none of its after effects.

The next time she tried the invocation was when she began to feel labour pains. She sent a servant to the village for the midwife, then went to the chamber that had been prepared as a lying-in room and lay on her futon, saying, “Homage to Amida Buddha.”

The midwife came, and they recited the prayer together. Taniko was in labour all the rest of that day, all the night and most of the following day. Holding in her belly did not seem to have helped.

Taniko awoke to see Horigawa leaning over her. His sour breath made her feel sick, and she turned her head aside. He grasped her under the chin and forced her to look at him.

“Taniko, your baby has been born.”


“It is alive. It is a daughter.”


“Taniko, it has red hair and grey eyes.”

Taniko felt her heart turn to ice. Feebly, she said, “Many babies are born that way—”

“No, Taniko.” Horigawa bared his teeth in what almost seemed a smile. “It is his. The monk’s.” He turned abruptly.

Taniko, her whole pain-racked body trembling, raised herself up on her elbows. “What are you going to do?”

Horigawa snatched the infant from the midwife’s arms, held the little, red naked body up as the baby squirmed and squalled. “Look, Taniko. Behold the living proof of your faithlessness.” The baby’s eyes were shut and the hair looked light brown to Taniko. She reached for her daughter. Horigawa laughed at her helplessness and ran from the lying-in room. Swaying, staggering, knocking over the one feeble oil lamp that lit the room, Taniko forced herself to get to her feet and follow him.

“What are you going to do? What are you going to do?” She ran after him through the rooms of the women’s quarters.

On the veranda the midwife caught up with her. “My lady! You’ll hurt yourself. You must lie down.” She held Taniko.

“Help me! He’s going to kill my baby!” Taniko fought free of the midwife. With a rapid stride Horigawa was crossing the front yard of the manor to the gate, the naked baby clutched to his chest. Samurai came out of the guard house to stare at him.

Heedless of the way her single robe flapped open, revealing her nakedness, Taniko ran after Horigawa and seized his arm. Horigawa whirled and knocked her to the ground with a backhanded slap. The midwife came and knelt by the gasping Taniko. She started to help Taniko rise, and Taniko gripped her hand.

“I’m too weak. I can’t stop him, Help me.” The midwife stared fearfully at Taniko, then scrambled to her feet and caught up with Horigawa. Blocking the prince’s way, she fell to her knees.

“Please, my lord, give me the baby.” She held out her arms.

Holding the baby with one arm, Horigawa drew his dagger and lunged at her.

“Homage to Amida—” she screamed, but the invocation ended in a horrid choking sound. Horigawa stepped daintily around her, wiping his dagger on his sulphur-coloured robe before sheathing it. Blood splashing her kimono like the petals of a giant scarlet peony, the midwife toppled forward and fell face-down in the dust. Taniko’s scream was as much for the woman who had helped her as for the baby.

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