Shike – Day 76 of 306

“They’re going to fight us, my lady, no matter what we say.”

“Then the disgrace will be upon them. Remember, the honour of the house of Takashi is involved.”

The bannerman went back to the Fujiwara chamberlain and repeated the message.

“Nonsense!” the chamberlain retorted. He turned to the men holding the oxen. “Push the carriage out of the gateway.”

The four men in black were now joined by others carrying naginatas. At the sight of the deadly blades a chill went through Taniko. The police who had been guarding the gate had long since disappeared. Taniko looked over at Motofusa’s carriage, which was still slowly advancing. There were at least fifty men in Motofusa’s entourage. They were not samurai, but armed courtiers, the remnants of the old army of aristocrats and conscripts that had policed the empire before the rise of the samurai. They didn’t really know how to fight, but they knew how to hate, and the small band of Takashi men they faced was unarmed.

The courtiers pushed against the head of the ox, while the banner-man and the Takashi samurai tried to hold the animal where it was. A shoving match broke out. One of the courtiers fell. He rose up shouting curses, his black robe spattered with brown mud. Now the men with naginatas moved forward, holding the long poles with the blade ends sheathed and towards themselves, like fighting sticks. Taniko felt a little relief at this. At least they were not prepared to kill, though it might later come to that.

One courtier swung his pole and caught a samurai on the side of the head. Taniko winced at the thud of the pole against the man’s skull. The samurai slowly sank to the ground.

“Kill them! Kill them!” Young Atsue had stuck his head out through the curtains and was cheering the Takashi samurai. Taniko pulled him back. The child had never seen bloodshed, but he was full of stories of glorious Takashi victories over pirates and the Muratomo, and he was wild with the excitement of his first battle.

But the courtiers’ naginata poles rose and fell furiously, doing brutal work on the samurai. Several of the samurai were wrestling with the courtiers, trying to get the naginatas away from them. If they did, they would surely start to use the blades.

Then stark terror seized Taniko as, with a sudden rush, the courtiers attacked the carriage itself. A pale face, distorted with rage, shoved itself through the window curtains.

“You will make way for Prince Motofusa, Takashi garbage!”

Atsue struck at the man with the only weapon he had handy, his flute. The man jumped back as the flute thumped against the bridge of his nose.

The carriage began to rock and topple. Taniko screamed and took the boy in her arms as she felt the world giving way around her. She had never known such panic since Horigawa had snatched her newborn daughter from her arms and run off to kill her. Now another child of hers was in danger. She and the boy and all the rich furnishings of the carriage were falling, falling. With a crash that knocked the breath out of her, she landed on a side of the carriage that had now become its bottom. The wooden frame creaked and broke in several places. She looked at Atsue to see if his arms and legs were all right. The boy stared back at her, terrified. He was no longer enjoying the adventure.

The carriage shook under heavy blows. Taniko screamed as she saw a naginata blade bite through the wood. Scrambling to her feet and pulling Atsue with her, she made a dive for the door of the carriage.

She found herself in the centre of the melée. The courtiers were hysterical with rage now, and one seized her and tore at her clothes.

“Here is the bitch who cuckolds Horigawa and whores for Kiyosi,” he screamed. The courtier flung Taniko from him so that she fell into the mud. Others were flailing at the carriage with their naginatas. Feet trampled her. Wildly she tried to find Atsue.

The boy was struggling with a black-robed courtier, the same man he had struck with his flute. The man was tearing the flute out of Atsue’s hands. Getting it away from the screaming child, he broke it over his knee.

“Look!” he shouted to the other courtiers, holding Atsue by the shoulder. “Dress the little rustic bastard in fine clothes and give him lessons on the flute and he thinks he lives above the clouds. Go back to the rice paddies, you vermin!” And he kicked the sobbing Atsue into a mud puddle.

Taniko sprang at the man. She saw a little ceremonial dagger dangling from his black sash by a gold chain. She pulled it loose and drew her arm back to stab the courtier.

Someone seized her from behind and pushed her to one side, firmly but gently. It was the bannerman.

“Don’t dirty your hands, my lady.” Still unarmed, he gave the courtier who had kicked Atsue a chop against the side of the neck that send him rolling in the dirt, unconscious.

Taniko pulled Atsue into her arms, grabbing him up as she saw a naginata blade slice into the veteran’s belly. The old man gave a grunt of pain and fell into the dirt, his blood pooling the ground.

The violet-robed chamberlain who had stopped them stepped forward with a grim smile. “Get out of the way, the rest of you bumpkins, or you’ll share his fate.”

The overturned carriage was a heap of kindling now. Even its wheels had been chopped to bits. The ox had run off. Contemptuously the courtiers pushed the wreckage to one side of the gateway as the carriage of Regent Motofusa continued its lordly advance.

Taniko knelt in the dirt beside the bannerman. She gagged when she saw his wound. Through his rose-coloured tunic his stomach had been slashed across. There was blood everywhere.

“Don’t distress yourself, my lady,” the bannerman said. “Don’t spoil your pretty cloak with an old man’s blood.”

The man had survived two great rebellions, a hero, only to die in the mud after a sordid little carriage brawl. “I’m sorry,” said Taniko. “I’m so sorry.” She pillowed his head on her lap.

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.)