Shike – Day 72 of 306

“And now,” said Yukio, “let us go to join our friends at the Rasho Mon. Perhaps whoever shaved your head can perform the manhood ceremony for me. For some reason, even though I’m already fifteen, Lord Sogamori never would allow it.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

Surprisingly, for a trio as unusual in appearance and easy to recognize as Jebu, Yukio and Moko, the three continually managed to elude the samurai sent out by the Takashi to hunt them down. Sometimes they were barely out one door when their pursuers entered through another. Sometimes they enjoyed long periods of peace under the protection of one or another friendly local lord. Sometimes the idleness of safety grew boring, and they were almost happy when word came that a group of samurai flying the Red Dragon pennon was riding their way.

Yukio’s main objective was to survive and wait for the Takashi to make a mistake. They had risen so high, they must come down eventually. There was no possibility of the house of Muratomo’s accepting the permanent supremacy of the house of Takashi. During his captivity Yukio had tried to remain on good terms with Sogamori, but still Sogamori had been on the verge of having him killed when he escaped.

Yukio finally explained to Jebu that he had secretly taught himself the martial arts and devised his own exercises for practice. Jebu was almost inclined to believe Yukio’s tengu story. Somehow Yukio had made discoveries in the fighting skills that were not likely to occur to anyone who had learned in the usual way from a recognized teacher. Jebu and Yukio practised together constantly, and Jebu was quite willing to admit that in this youth he had met his master. Together the two men progressed to unparalleled accomplishments with their weapons. When, on occasion, they were forced to fight, legends were born.

Yukio was also interested in the theoretical side of war, and when he learned that a landlord in the land of Oshu, at the far northern tip of Honshu island, had a copy of the Chinese classic, Sun Tzu’s Art of Warfare, he could not rest until he had read it. The owner of the book being a Takashi adherent, Yukio could not simply present himself at the gate and ask permission to read the book. He had to gain entry to the household by stealth.

The landlord also had a beautiful daughter named Mirusu. Each night Yukio positioned himself outside her bedchamber and wooed her by playing the flute, so softly as not to wake the rest of her family. After he had charmed her for six nights with his flute-playing, Mirusu invited him in. He spent the following nights making love to her, and when he had pleased her sufficiently, reading the thirteen books of Sun Tzu.

Yukio was also fascinated by ships. He had studied books on naval warfare and examined the records of the old battles with pirates that had won the Takashi renown in the last century. Yet he had never been on a ship. He questioned Jebu closely about his few voyages and asked Moko what he, as a carpenter, knew about shipbuilding.

“Ships are the key to Takashi power,” Yukio declared one day. They were far to the north, enjoying the protection of the lord of Oshu, Fujiwara no Hidehira, who owed old debts of gratitude to the Muratomo and who bitterly hated the Takashi.

Yukio went on. “Half the Takashi wealth comes from overseas trade. My family can never defeat them as long as we are landlocked. We, too, must take to the sea. You may not know that the patron kami of the Muratomo, Hachiman, was once called Yawata and was a kami of the ocean. So our heritage is of the ocean, and in the ocean we will win the final victory over the Takashi.”

“We should go to Kyushu,” said Jebu. “It’s time we left here, we’ve imposed on Lord Hidehira long enough. My mother and my stepfather both live on Kyushu, and it has been years since I’ve seen them. My mother lives at the Zinja Teak Blossom Temple, and this is what will interest you—the temple is on Hakata Bay. There are fishing boats and a few bigger ships there, and you can study the sea and talk to seamen to your heart’s content. Hakata is a small port, and the Takashi have no forces there. We can live there unseen for as long as we like.”

“Might it be possible to cross the ocean from there?”

“Korea is very close.”

“I was thinking of China,” said Yukio pensively. “In China the arts of shipbuilding and navigation are advanced far beyond ours.”

Disguised as yamabushi-wandering Buddhist monks — Jebu, Yukio and Moko worked their way down the west coast of Honshu, crossing to Kyushu at Shimonoseki Strait.

“This is a short run, but it’s tricky,” said the captain of the fishing boat that weaved a twisting course past hilly islands. “In mid-morning at this time of year, the tide shifts and runs westwards through the strait at eight knots, and we have to navigate across it.”

“You see, that’s the sort of thing I want to know,” Yukio said to Jebu.

“You can’t expect to pick up every bit of seafaring lore in all the land,” said Jebu.

“We must learn as much as we can.”

The three made their way down Kyushu towards Hakata. Jebu insisted on a side trip to the Watefowl Temple, but though the temple had been rebuilt, it was deserted. His heart sank, wondering if anything had happened to Taitaro. Finally, they climbed the hill to the Teak Blossom Temple.

“Is there any news of my father?” Jebu asked roly-poly Abbot Weicho.

“The great Taitaro has left these Sacred Islands. He came to visit us here a year ago. His teachings on the Zinja way of life were incomparable. Unfortunately, though, he only stayed with us a few months. Then his Zinja insight told him that it was time for him to cross the great water. There are things to be learned in China, he said, that will be lost in another few years.”

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