Shike – Day 65 of 306

“Well, no seeds have been sown in this field yet.”

“Only a matter of time,” said Ryuichi with an airy wave of his hand. They both laughed.

Taniko realized it was the first time she had laughed since Shikibu’s death. It was the first time since then that she had felt fully alive. She whispered her thanks to Amida, the Lord of Boundless Light.

Chapter Twenty-One

Like the Waterfowl Temple to the north, the Teak Blossom Temple of the Zinja stood at the crown of a hill overlooking the sea, which was here contained within Hakata Bay, a great, circular inlet with the small fishing town of Hakata at its head. Hakata could have been a major port, being an excellent harbour and close to Korea and China. But the wealthy families involved in foreign trade lived mostly at the capital, and it was more convenient for them to conduct their shipping from Hyogo on the Inland Sea.

Many of Jebu’s friends from the Waterfowl Temple were now living at the Teak Blossom Temple. Weicho, the short, rotund monk who had so impressed Jebu with his wickedness during his initiation, was the abbot. No longer required to pretend to play at being a bad Zinja, Weicho was now free to be his true self, a genial, simple man with only one vice, an inordinate fondness for eating.

“What’s become of Fudo, your partner in wickedness?” Jebu asked him.

A shadow crossed Weicho’s face. “He’s left the Order.”

“Left the Order? I can’t imagine anyone leaving the Order.”

Weicho shrugged. “Many strange things happen these days. Others have broken with the Order as well. In Fudo’s case his duties—the pretence, the cruelty, the occasional need to kill an innocent young novice—became too much for him. He’s converted to Buddhism. The last I heard, he was in a monastery in the eastern provinces, sitting on his arse day and night, trying to find happiness by meditating. He’s a cripple. He wasn’t strong enough to be a Zinja. Forget him.” Weicho waved the irritating memory away. Strange, Jebu thought, but Weicho almost reverted to his old role of sharp-tongued cruelty when he talked about Fudo.

Most important of all, Nyosan, Jebu’s mother, lived at the Teak Blossom Temple. Jebu had not seen her since his initiation, and whenever the busy routine of the temple permitted, mother and son spent hours in conversation.

Nyosan had charge of Jebu’s collection of swords. There were now over sixty. Many of them were the lower-grade sort turned out quickly by the swordsmiths to serve poor samurai in combat. Others were magnificent creations signed by such legendary sword makers as Yasatsuna, Sanjo and Amakuni, heirlooms whose capture by Jebu was a tragedy for the families of the samurai who had carried them. It was four years since Jebu had first vowed to undertake the project.

It was evident to Jebu that Nyosan deeply missed Taitaro. It seemed to him a cruelty that Taitaro should deliberately cut himself off from his wife and choose to live alone, but Nyosan herself never questioned his decision. From hints in her conversation, Jebu gathered that her life was not without its compensations. Indeed, it seemed the older men and women among the Zinja enjoyed their own sort of unions with one another, which were bound by no rules except that of secrecy from the younger members of the Order. So Nyosan apparently did not lack for whatever comfort might be drawn from the joys of the body. She was not alone, though she might be lonely, and she never complained. Still, Jebu resented the way Taitaro had left her. Could he not find whatever insight he sought within his union with Nyosan, rather than off in the woods by himself?

During his stay at the Teak Blossom Temple, Jebu followed the usual routine of a Zinja monk at home base—up at dawn, meditation and exercises before breakfast, practice in the military arts until noon, manual labour in the afternoon, study of Zinja lore in the evening. Each day he spent some time staring into the flickering depths of the Jewel of Life and Death. He found that it really did seem to enhance his peace of mind. The obsession with his father and Arghun, the longing for Taniko, were still there, but he accepted them, as a veteran samurai learns to live with the pain of old wounds.

He entered into a liaison with one of the temple women. It was pleasant and gave him a feeling of greater completeness. Together they studied and practised sexual magic, following ancient books from India and China. It was a fascinating pursuit. But more than once when he and his partner had devoted themselves to the sexual yoga for hours and the moment of supreme bliss should have been a moment of profound insight into the Self, instead he seemed to make contact with Taniko. At such times her face would appear in his mind as clearly as if she had supplanted the partner who sat with him in ecstatic union. Sometimes she spoke to him: “The lilac branch will always be there for the waterfowl.” Once Jebu asked his partner if she had spoken. “I don’t remember,” she answered. It remained a mystery.

One afternoon while Jebu was weeding the vegetable garden, a monk approached followed by a small, ragged figure carrying a travel box. The man had a heavy, untrimmed black beard that almost covered his entire face. Jebu did not recognize him.


Now Jebu saw the gaps in the teeth and the crossed eyes, and he knew who it was. “Moko!”

“Shiké, it has taken me this long to find my way to you. I have been over a year on the road, going from one Zinja temple to another, begging for my meals, hiding from samurai and bandits. Luckily I was able to escape with my dogu box. With my Instruments of the Way of Carpentry I was able to earn my living as I travelled. Every place I went, you had been there, but you were gone. Where you seemed to travel on wings, I followed on wooden feet.”

Jebu threw his arms around the little man and led him to the edge of the garden, where they sat on a pair of boulders. “Tell me all the news you can. Is Taniko-san well?”

Moko’s face fell and he was silent. Jebu seized his arm. “What is it?”

Moko hesitantly put his hand on Jebu’s. “Shiké, after you found us at Horigawa’s estate, I had to flee as well. The prince discovered I was your friend. I hated to leave the Lady Taniko alone with him, but I felt that my ghost would afford her small protection, so I went on my way.”

“Did he hurt her?”

“Whatever I know is only what I’ve been told by others.” And Moko told the story of the red-haired baby born to Taniko, its death, the fire and Taniko’s return to Heian Kyo. Tears streamed from Jebu’s eyes. When Moko’s story was over, Jebu sat covering his face with his hands.

Suddenly he stood up, gave a great cry of anguish and rushed to the edge of the sea. There he threw himself on the stony ground and wept. A dark cloud covered his mind. At first he felt no more than a blackness and numbness within, as if a naginata blade had cloven his chest. Gradually, images rose within him: Taniko, the baby he had never seen, Horigawa.


  1. ScottS-M Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ScottS-M wrote:

    I was wondering what happened to Moko.

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.)