Shike – Day 68 of 306

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.

They undressed each other, not stripping away all their garments, but peeling away the layers of silk just enough to reveal each to the other, like a partially unwrapped gift. With a pang of regret Taniko thought fleetingly of Jebu, only to say to herself, as the samurai often said, that the past was the past and the present was the present, and this shining lord was someone she desperately needed and could not deny herself.

His face shadowed in the lamplight, he looked at her intently, seriously, his nostrils flaring as he drew deep breaths. Always, before now, she had seen him fully dressed in the clothing of a courtier. Now, for the first time, she saw and felt the power in him—the solid, broad neck, the wide, square shoulders, the great, flat muscles across his chest. She stroked his arms delicately with her fingers. These were the thick forearms of a swordsman, strong as tree trunks.

This was the body of a man trained from childhood to kill. He was, and would always be, a samurai, a man whose way of life was death. To such a man, who faced death constantly, a moment like this must be very precious. Each time he was with a woman he must know that it might be the last time, and this knowledge must give the union a painful sweetness which no man but a samurai could ever know. With Kiyosi she shared that poignancy, that transience.

This beautiful man might be cut down tomorrow, like a flower in a field. Shuddering with pleasure, she gave herself to him.

For the first time, Taniko experienced what it was to spend night after night with a man she loved. Her days passed with a honey-warm delight she had never known before. It was as if she had gone hungry all her life and was only now discovering the taste of good food.

Examining her body in privacy, she found her hips and breasts growing rounder, fuller, though her waist and legs were still slender. She had the figure of a woman now, no longer the body of a girl. Her mirror told her that her cheeks were a healthy pink, which, of course, she had to hide with white powder when she dressed. Her eyes sparkled and her hair was thick and glossy. How far she had come from the wraithlike creature invoking Amida Buddha in the corner of her chamber! How far Kiyosi had taken her! She had never been more beautiful.

They began to travel together. Kiyosi took her for carriage rides through the city and on visits to nearby shrines. During the autumn they went several times to one of the Takashi country estates, where they spent the day riding and hunting with falcons. They sailed the length of the Inland Sea from the port of Hyogo, which the Takashi virtually owned, to Shimonoseki Strait, opening into the great western sea.

Since she was no longer connected with the Court, and since their relationship had no official status, she was unable to accompany him to any of the great state banquets and festivals he frequently attended. But she was always with him at smaller, intimate dinners and parties he and his close friends gave for one another. Kiyosi was the centre of a circle of young nobles and courtiers who wrote poetry, patronized sculptors and painters, talked and drank and played the flute and the koto and the lute until dawn and went on long rollicking visits to one another’s country houses.

Taniko found the young Takashi men to be brilliant, evanescent creatures. A few years ago these young men would have been going to war instead of reciting poetry or riding after their falcons. One day war might strike Heian Kyo again, and some of these young men might fall. In their poems, the samurai often compared themselves to cherry blossoms, beautiful but blown away by the first strong wind. Taniko thought the comparison apt.

She knew that Kiyosi had a principal wife and two secondary wives, as well as sons and daughters. In matters involving affairs of state, this was the family to which Kiyosi was responsible. She did not resent them, and she hoped they did not resent her. They had possessed Kiyosi long before she knew him, and they would have him back long after she lost him. Somehow or other she would lose him, of that she was sure. All joy, she had learned, lasts only for a moment. Cherry blossoms. She wrote a poem for Kiyosi.

Many are the nights
We sleep in each other’s arms.
In years to come
We will think these nights all too few.

Kiyosi didn’t like it. It was depressing, he told her, to dwell on the instability of life. Such matters should be left to monks. As for himself, he intended to live for ever.

We have slept together
And your long black hair is tangled in the dawn.
We will remain together
Till your black hair turns white.

Sogamori, Kiyosi’s awesome father, approved of her. They had met several times at Takashi banquets, and the stout chancellor had smiled benignly and spoken pleasantly to her.

Aunt Chogao beamed and little Munetaki peeped, awestruck, as the Takashi hero strode through the Shima galleries. Uncle Ryuichi was beside himself with delight and sent glowing reports to Lord Bokuden in Kamakura about the way Taniko had charmed herself into the highest circles of the Takashi. Bokuden wrote letters back praising Taniko and mentioning in passing that Muratomo no Hideyori was growing up to be a dutiful subject of the Emperor and was no danger to the social order.

He was already fully grown when I met him five years ago, Taniko thought, even if he was only fifteen.

She managed, while being honest with Kiyosi, to be of help to her family. She told Kiyosi in a straightforward way that she wanted to do things for the Shima, and he gladly supplied her with information and sometimes with more tangible gifts to pass on. Several times he told Taniko where Chinese trading ships were going to land their goods secretly to avoid the Emperor’s tax officers. Though the Takashi held the highest government offices in the land, much of their wealth was based on tax avoidance.

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