Shike – Day 67 of 306

Jebu continued his daily practice of contemplating the Jewel of Life and Death. Carefully secluding himself so that his samurai companions would not see and covet the Jewel, he would lose himself in the maze traced on the transparent sphere’s surface.

Moko felt that the Jewel must be magic, and he feared its power over his master. Jebu had told Moko the whole story of Jamuga, Taitaro, Arghun and the shintai. The Jewel was beautiful, Moko thought, but why did the shiké spend so much time staring at it?

Chapter Twenty-Two

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

Sogamori has commanded that the young Muratomo no Yukio be moved from the Buddhist monastery on Mount Hiei to the Takashi palace, the Rokuhara. Sogamori claims he has heard of threats on the young man’s life, but everyone agrees that the main threat to the Muratomo heir is Sogamori himself. Akimi, it is said, no longer has much influence on Sogamori, who has fallen foolishly in love with a sixteen-year-old white rhythm dancer from Kaga province named Hotoke.

I wonder what Father would do if Sogamori ordered him to execute Hideyori.

-Seventh Month, eleventh day


Kiyosi’s visits had become the high points of Taniko’s life. He now came in the evening and brought his lute with him, and while he played, they sang together. First, though, they would spend an hour or two discussing the gossip of the day. Kiyosi found that nothing concerning the intrigues at the Court was beyond Taniko’s comprehension, and he had even fallen into the habit of asking her opinion on difficult affairs of state in which he was involved.

“Father is beside himself with glee,” he said one evening. “He says he has finally matched the accomplishment of the greatest Fujiwara.”

“How so?”

“He has arranged for my sister, Kenreimon, to marry the Imperial Prince Takakura. And he intends to have Takakura succeed to the throne when Emperor Rokujo retires.”

The year before in the Year of the Sheep, Emperor Nijo, whose Empress, Sadako, Taniko had served as a lady-in-waiting, had died after a short illness. Sogamori, the Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, and the Regent, Fujiwara no Motofusa, had agreed that the new Son of Heaven should be Nijo’s son, Rokujo, who was now only four years old. Next in succession were two sons of Go-Shirakawa, Mochihito and Takakura.

Taniko pointed this out. “Prince Mochihito is next in line for the throne after Emperor Rokujo.”

“He will be persuaded to step aside.” Kiyosi looked away uneasily. For his visits, Taniko sent the servants away and put aside the screen of state. They had long since been conversing face-to-face. The Shima family had no fear of scandal. Indeed, Ryuichi was frankly hoping for something scandalous to occur.

“Kiyosi-san, this is a mistake. Your father is now tampering with the Imperial succession. His appetite is boundless. He is like the frog in the peasant tale who puffs himself up until he bursts. As you know, I hear things from people who would never talk to you or to a member of your family. People are afraid of the Takashi, and some are growing to hate them. What will they think when they learn that Sogamori intends to put a Takashi on the Imperial throne?”

“Just to marry the Emperor, not to be Emperor—”

“That wouldn’t fool the stupidest street sweeper, and it doesn’t fool me. Obviously Takakura and your sister will have a child, quite possibly a son. That child will be Sogamori’s grandson. And as soon as that happens Takakura will conveniently abdicate and the Emperor will be a Takashi. Sogamori’s ambition is as plain as Mount Hiei. I tell you, he overreaches himself.”

“What Father intends is not unheard of,” said Kiyosi. “The Fujiwara married their daughters to the Imperial heirs many times. The Imperial house today is as much descended from the Fujiwara as it is from Emperor Jimmu. And besides, we Takashi have Imperial blood. We are all descended from Emperor Kammu.”

“It’s not the same,” said Taniko. “The Fujiwara were as close to the throne as a river to its banks when they intermarried with the Imperial house. Emperor Kammu lived a long time ago, and since then the Takashi have been provincial landowners, traders and samurai. People see you as rustic upstarts. And what’s more, the Fujiwara themselves are among those you should be concerned about. They are envious of the power of the Takashi. Your worst enemy at Court is the Regent, Fujiwara no Motofusa.”

“Motofusa is no danger to us.”

“The Fujiwara still have enormous influence in the country.”

“Influence. What difference does that make? You speak of people fearing and hating the Takashi. Why should we be concerned? The day of the Fujiwara, the day of the nobility, is over. They had authority, and we respected and obeyed them. They despised us, the samurai, because we did the fighting, we shed the blood. The nobles of Heian Kyo were above all that. When Go-Shirakawa’s brother tried to overthrow him, and later, during Domei’s insurrection, we discovered that it was our arrows and our swords that decided events. It is from the sword that authority springs. And now that the Muratomo have been crushed, every sword in the land does the bidding of the Takashi. My father holds the country in the palm of his hand.”

Taniko shook her head. “You are talking like your father now. I think you know better. You cannot rule this land with swords alone. If the nobles, the priests, the landowners great and small, the peasants and the people in the streets all turn against the Takashi, they can bring you down. The swords that serve you today will turn against you, if your enemies seem to have right on their side.”

Kiyosi said nothing for a moment. Then he spoke in a wondering voice. “You offend me.”

Taniko bowed her head. “I have overstepped myself with the august Minister of the Interior.”

“No one says such things to me any more.”

“I ask your pardon.”

“You don’t understand. I need someone to remind me that the world still looks on the Takashi as uncouth butchers. We deceive ourselves. Only you, Taniko-san, of all the people I know, speak to me of things as they really are.” He did something he had never done before in all the times he had visited her. He moved across the floor until he was sitting beside her. He took her hand.

Taniko’s hand felt as if she had put it close to a fire. A warmth spread through her arm to her entire body. It was a sensation she had felt many times on looking at Kiyosi, but never had it burned like this. She sighed with the pleasure of it.

“Have you nothing to say now?” he whispered.

“Words are not the only language.” She put her hand on top of his.

“I only came close to you. If that silences you, you are easily silenced.”

“It has been very long since I was silenced so, Kiyosi-san,” she said, letting her head fall against his chest.

Delicately his hands found their way into her robes. With the sure touch of a very experienced man his fingers penetrated the many layers of dresses and skirts she wore and found the recesses of her hungry body. She melted with joy at the sensation, and reached up to stroke his cheek again and again with an almost frantic insistence.

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