Shike – Day 69 of 306

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.

It amused Kiyosi to help the fortunes of what seemed to him a smaller and poorer branch of his own family. He persuaded Sogamori to double the allowance sent annually for the maintenance of Muratomo no Hideyori in Lord Bokuden’s household. Grants of tax-free rice land descended on the Shima family unexpectedly.

Kiyosi smiled when she thanked him for his benevolence to her family. He said, “There are certain small fish that attach themselves to a shark, and when he feeds, they enjoy the morsels that fall from his mouth.”

Taniko laughed. “That is a disgusting comparison, Kiyosi-san.”

“Not at all. The small fish are said to help the shark find his way. It is my hope that your family will similarly be helpful to us.”

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

This has been a good year for me, but a bad year for the realm. Famine and pestilence are laying to waste both the capital and the countryside. Every day carts piled high with the bodies of those dead of disease or starvation are taken out through the Rasho Mon to be burned. People are robbed on the streets in broad daylight. Crowds of beggars surround the mansions of the wealthy. The Shima house has its regular contingent, who appear at our door every morning like a flock of sparrows. Uncle Ryuichi lets me feed them, because he feels I have brought good luck to the family. But I tell the beggars not to let it be known that I am giving them anything, or the flock will double in size, and I will be sent out into the street to join them.

The Takashi seem unable to do anything about these steadily worsening conditions, or perhaps they do not care. But they permit no criticism of themselves. They have over three hundred young men between fourteen and sixteen who cut their hair short, wear robes of Takashi red, and patrol the streets. Let someone whisper a word against the Takashi, and before he knows what is happening he is whisked off to the dungeon in the Rokuhara and beaten almost to death. More than once the bodies of men and women have been found in the Kamo River. It is said officially that they were killed by robbers. But often the last time these unfortunates were seen alive was when they were dragged into the Takashi stronghold. In past times, when the people complained, the rulers tried to improve conditions. The Takashi have found a cheaper way to stop complaints.

Although my young lord likes me to be frank with him, we do not talk much about these things. He knows about them. He often seems troubled when he talks to me, and he is silent for long moments. When we do talk of matters of state he pours out his fears for the future of the land, his unhappiness over the suffering of the people. But his father will have things as they are, and my young lord can do nothing but try to advise him. I hear that Sogamori’s rages are becoming more frequent and lasting longer. Just the day before yesterday he smashed to pieces a precious vase from China because Motofusa, the Fujiwara Regent, made a speech criticizing him in the Great Council of State.

I yield myself to my young lord because he is noble and strong and beautiful. He possesses everything that my husband has not at all and that only Jebu has in greater abundance. I yield myself because life is short and I cannot sit in lonely sorrow. I need the arms of a strong man around me. I know Amida Buddha sees, and has compassion on me. But—oh, Jebu! Where are you?

-Tenth Month, sixteenth day


In the Eleventh Month Taniko discovered that, as the ladies of the Court sometimes put it, she was not alone. She was surprised that her immediate reaction was joy. She had not thought that she would ever care about having a child, after the loss of her daughter. For over two months after she was sure, she concealed her condition from Kiyosi. She was not sure whether he would be pleased or displeased when he learned.

One night he touched her bare belly with his fingertips. “I think you are attending too many banquets and drinking too much sake. You seem to be getting rounder in the middle.”

Taniko smiled, then laughed outright. Kiyosi sat smiling at her.

At last she said, “Can’t you guess why my belly is fuller?”

“Spoken like a true country wench. Yes, I suspected. I sensed something different about you. Ah, Taniko-san, I am glad. I had hoped that some day you would tell me this news.”

“You’re glad? Why? You already have many sons and daughters.” He smiled. “I have wanted to give you a special gift.”

She held out her arms to him, and they drew together.

The voluminous clothing worn by the well-born women of Heian Kyo concealed pregnancy until the very last moment. Taniko was able, as she wished, to accompany Kiyosi on short journeys, to go to banquets and other celebrations and to venture out in public by herself from time to time. The physician who attended the Takashi in war and peace, a man who had watched over Sogamori’s health for thirty years, came to examine and prescribe for Taniko and promised that he would be there when she delivered. Taniko hoped that this childbirth would not be as long and as painful as the last.

Her hope was fulfilled. She felt the first labour pains at dawn on the fourteenth day of the Fifth Month in the Year of the Rooster. By midmorning the Takashi physician and a midwife under his direction were with her in the Shima lying-in room. Early in the afternoon Taniko gave one last, agonized push and the midwife drew the baby out of her body.

“He will be called Atsue,” Taniko said when the physician held the baby up for her to see.

Kiyosi came to see her and the baby at sunset. Surprisingly, his father was with him. Through the blinds of the lying-in room Taniko could hear the clatter of Sogamori’s mounted samurai attendants. Ryuichi was beside himself with delight and apprehension. Sogamori’s presence filled the house as if Mount Hiei itself had come down to the city and was walking among them.

“There cannot be enough of us,” he declared. “The boy Atsue is Takashi on both his mother’s and his father’s side. He will learn the arts of war, but he will also learn poetry, musicianship, calligraphy, and the dance. He will be able to appear before the Emperor without concern.” He looked sternly at Taniko. “You will see to it. For now he will remain with you. No expense will be spared for his education.”

Taniko looked at Kiyosi who stood beside his father. In Sogamori’s presence the younger man seemed diminished, a youth without a mind of his own. Taniko saw that Kiyosi might well be the wiser of the two, as many people said, but it was the strength and will of Sogamori that made the Takashi all-powerful.

She felt a chill at Sogamori’s ominous words, “for now.” Kiyosi smiled reassuringly at her. Tomorrow, she thought, he would come, and they would talk as they always had.


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    Anonymous wrote:

    …….this is so far the best book ive ever read….ilike lady taniko ,jebu &above all the brave moko…why cant you make a movie??????????????

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