Shike – Day 7 of 306

Domei, still captain of the palace guard, was now chieftain of the Muratomo clan. He seethed with hatred for those who had engineered his father’s death and his own disappointment. And all over the country small battles between supporters of the Takashi and Muratomo would break out at the slightest provocation.

“It is into this cauldron that I am about to toss you,” Taitaro chuckled, “to serve the Shima family of Kamakura.”

“What will I do?”

“Lord Shima no Bokuden, chieftain of the house of Shima, is sending his daughter, Taniko, to Heian Kyo to be married to a prominent person there. You will escort Shima no Taniko to Heian Kyo for her wedding. Your party will journey down the Tokaido Road from Kamakura to the capital.”

Jebu grinned delightedly. “Heian Kyo. I have been hearing about it since I was a child. The most wonderful city in the land. And soon I shall see it. And the famous Tokaido Road as well.”

Taitaro shrugged. “I hope you won’t be disappointed. Had we lived in earlier times, then you would have seen Heian Kyo in its glory. Now the city is tumbling down and overrun with brawling samurai. As for the Tokaido, much of the territory it passes through is controlled by the Muratomo. And the girl Taniko is a kinswoman of the Takashi. What’s more, her husband-to-be is Prince Sasaki no Horigawa.”

“The one who pressed for the executions of the Muratomo?”

“Yes. The Muratomo hate him even more than they do their Takashi foes.” Taitaro stood. “Prince Horigawa comes of a Heian Kyo family that has an ancient name but little wealth. The Shima have an inferior name but great wealth and great ambition. Both sides look on the match as useful.”

Together Jebu and Taitaro walked out of the monks’ quarters. Taitaro went on. “But Lord Bokuden, Taniko’s father, is one of the most tight-fisted men in the Sacred Islands. Witness the fact that he is only willing to pay for one Zinja initiate to escort his daughter all that way through enemy territory. As for Horigawa, he is bloody-minded and treacherous, and has worn two wives to death already. And the Lady Taniko is a wilful girl of thirteen. She has never met Horigawa, and my informants tell me she rebels fiercely against the match. She would rebel even more if she had met him.

“You are going to be in the midst of a very interesting situation.”

Then Jebu found himself alone, standing at the edge of the cliff with the temple behind him, its peaked roof spreading low over the rock like the dropping wings of a huge bird. The sea wind blew against his face; the rising sun warmed his back. Below, the white-capped waves rolled in as regularly as the beating of a heart, carrying unreadable messages from the land of his father.

The women’s quarters of the Waterfowl Temple were set back from the cliff, to the east and north of the main temple and a respectable distance from the monks’ building. It was a distance that made little difference, because there was nothing in the Zinja rule to stop the men from visiting the women’s quarters whenever they wished. In the past few years Jebu had been among those unattached monks who slipped into the women’s quarters at night. There was great pretence of secrecy about such visits, but actually they were condoned by the Order.

As befitted the wife of the Father Abbot, Jebu’s mother, Nyosan, had the largest bedchamber on the eastern side of the women’s quarters, with a view of the morning sun and the monastery garden. Amazingly, there were no other women in the building, or so it seemed when Jebu entered. Nyosan was sitting with her back to him, watching the red ball of the sun float above the small, wind-twisted pine trees. A singing board, placed so as to warn the abbot and his wife of intruders, squeaked under Jebu’s foot as he entered the room. Nyosan’s back stiffened.


Nyosan turned, looking at him with anguish and joy, and scrambled to her feet. “I have been waiting. I have been waiting oh, so long. This has been one of the two longest nights of my life.” She did not have to tell Jebu what the other one was.

They held each other, and she wept in his arms. “My son, my only son. I died a thousand deaths for you. All last night and the weeks before that, when your father told me the time had come for your initiation.”

They sat facing each other. Jebu’s mother was not yet forty, but her face was lined and tired, though her eyes were serene now that she knew her son had lived through the Zinja ordeal. She wore a plain commoner’s robe, as did all the women connected with the temple. Beside her there was a pot of hot rice gruel, a bowl of pickled vegetables and a basket of cakes. She handed him a cake. Smiling at her, he took it and devoured it in two bites. It was juicy and still warm. She handed him another and filled a small bowl with rice gruel. Except for the cakes, it was an ordinary Zinja breakfast.

“Was it truly dangerous? Might you have died?”

Jebu thought of protecting her from the truth, but instead said, “Yes.” When tears came to her eyes he added, “Mother, I am a Zinja. The Zinja are dedicated to death. You must remember that I may die at any moment. Perhaps you should think of me as one already dead.”

Nyosan wiped her eyes with her sleeve and shook her head. “Strange. Your father spoke that way to me, many times. When I told him I feared to lose him, he said, ‘Think of me as one already dead. I have been condemned, and I await my executioner.'”

“Taitaro-sensei says they are going to send me away at once, Mother.”

“He told me. And I may never see you again. But I am thankful for the years I have had with you, even though I know you are doomed, just as your father was doomed.”

“To be alive is to be doomed,” Jebu said.

Nyosan laughed. “Oh! Ordination in the Zinja has made my son a wise man. He is full of sayings that boom like the hollow log in the temple.”

Jebu joined in her laughter. “You’re right, Mother. My sayings are hollow. I know nothing.”

“How could you be expected to know anything, a boy of seventeen years? You will know something of life if you live as long as I have. I have been the daughter of a peasant, and I became, barely out of childhood, the bride of a splendid foreign giant, rich with jewels. And your stepfather, Abbot Taitaro, he, too, is a strange and wonderful man. He has loved me fully, and I have been very happy. Not that I’m so old. I may be twice your age, but I’m still young enough to have babies. Only, what the monks call karma has decreed that Taitaro-sensei beget no babies. So you will always be my only son. My magnificent, red-haired, grey-eyed giant of a son. Live long, Jebu.” She took his hands and held them. “Live long, long, long. Love. Marry. Be a father. Don’t let the Zinja destroy you when you are still little more than a child. You are not just a Zinja, to be used and thrown away like a grey robe. You are Jebu. A man.”


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

    ScottS-M wrote:

    Heian Kyo is an old title for Kyoto apparently.

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.)