Shike – Day 63 of 306

“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.

Again she dragged herself to her feet and ran after Horigawa. He stopped and called his samurai.

“Hold her till I return.”

Tentatively at first, then more firmly as he saw that the prince was watching him, the guardsman nearest Taniko gripped her arm. With a nod, Horigawa turned and walked out the front gate as the two gate guards saluted with their naginatas. The guards stared after the little man holding the crying infant in his arms. A strange stillness fell over the manor.

Another samurai removed his obi and tied it around Taniko’s waist. “You should go inside and lie down, my lady. A woman in your condition should not be up and about.”

Suddenly, through her tears, Taniko was filled with rage. “What kind of samurai are you? You’re nothing but worms! You tell me to lie down when my baby has been ripped from my arms? You let him take my baby. You let him kill a defenceless woman. You are the ones who should lie down. You’re not men. No real men would stand by and let these things happen.”

“The prince is our lord, my lady,” said the man who had given her the sash. “We are sworn to obey him in all things.”

“You call yourselves samurai. Where is the courage and the kindliness samurai are supposed to have? You are only samurai on the outside. You have the hearts of maids. I have the only samurai heart here.” She glared at the men standing in a half-circle around her. They looked at the ground. She turned to the man holding her. “Let go of me.”

Still he held her. The samurai who spoke to her said, “Let go of her. Let her do as she wishes. This thing will bring bad karma on all who are part of it.” Taniko felt the man’s hand fall away. She raced for the gate. The guards with naginatas stepped aside.

What she saw made her scream in anguish. Horigawa was half-way up the stone steps that led up to the mill on the hilltop. Like a huge spider, he climbed rapidly.

Taniko ran to the mill and started to climb. Horigawa was far above her.

“Don’t! I beg you, don’t,” she screamed at him. “I’ll do anything you want. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. Take the baby away from me. Sell her if you want. I’ll be obedient to you. Don’t hurt her!”

The sound of the waterfall and the creaking of the mill wheel drowned out her voice. She struggled on up the stone steps, feeling weaker each time she raised a foot. She felt blood running down the insides of her legs. Clawing at the steps, using her hands to drag herself upwards, she climbed on.

She was screaming, but she did not know what she was screaming. She could not think. She could not hear herself above the roar of water tumbling over black rocks. She could no longer see Horigawa. She was almost at the top of the hill.

Horigawa was standing upstream. As she caught sight of him, he lifted her daughter up over his head with both arms and hurled the screaming baby into the middle of the stream.

The baby howled in terror as she struck the black water. That was the last sound Taniko ever heard from her child. She plunged into the water. Vainly she reached out as the little body swept past her and over the edge of the fall. She felt the current pulling her. She let herself fall forward into the cold water, wanting to be carried to her death with her daughter.

Just as she neared the edge she felt strong hands seize her and pull her out of the water, powerful arms carry her over to the bank of the stream. It was the samurai who had tried to help her. Without looking at Horigawa, who stood panting by the edge of the rushing stream, he carried Taniko slowly down the steep flight of stone steps.

At the bottom, Taniko raised her head weakly. She saw peasants standing around a morsel of dead flesh lying on the grass beside the mill pond. They stared at her, horror-struck. Then all of them knelt, and one covered the little body with a blanket. Taniko was silent. She closed her eyes. She could not comprehend what she had seen.

A man emerged from the gateway of the manor carrying the body of a woman in his arms. Some of the peasants went over to him and formed a small procession to follow the woman’s body to the village at the base of the hills.

A puff of smoke rose from the women’s quarters of the manor. Taniko suddenly remembered knocking over the oil lamp in her room. Soon the smoke became a thick, black cloud reaching to heaven. Crackling red flames leaped up after it.

Some of the servants tried to throw water on the fire, but it was useless. A strong breeze was blowing, and the flames quickly spread from the one building to all the others. Broken beams blackened in the fire, and torn paper walls turned to ashes and flew skyward like so many crows.

Within minutes the entire manor had burned to the ground.

The samurai standing with Taniko said, “It is a sign. The kami are angry at the prince for what he has done. They have destroyed his house.”

Some peasants overheard him and made the gesture of warding off demons.

“Homage to Amida Buddha,” Taniko said.

Immediately, those near her echoed it: “Homage to Amida Buddha.”

A peasant woman touched Taniko on the arm. “Your home is gone, my lady. You are ill. If you will be so kind, come to my miserable cottage and we will care for you.”

Taniko said, “Homage to Amida Buddha.” The samurai and the peasant woman led her away.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)