Shike – Day 77 of 306

“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.

“Don’t feel bad about me, my lady,” the old man said, trying to smile. “I’ve got the same sort of wound I’d give myself if I’d tried to kill myself in the samurai way.”

Taniko raised her head at the rumble of wooden wheels. Far above her the Regent’s state carriage lumbered past, a rolling palace. When it went by, she saw Motofusa himself looking out the rear window at her. With his thin, small face and sparse moustache he looked very much like Horigawa. He wore the tall black hat of office. He looked at her with a faint, superior smile.

Defiantly, Taniko met his gaze. By your courtiers’ standards it is shameful for me to look you in the eyes, Motofusa, she tried to say with her gaze. But I want you to see the hatred in my eyes, and to show you that your courtiers’ world is passing away.

In response to her stare Motofusa’s grin broadened, showing teeth dyed black after the fashion of the Court. He closed the curtains of his carriage.

Many of the Takashi samurai lay on the ground, badly beaten. A few appeared to be unconscious. Those on their feet looked angry, frustrated and ashamed, all at once.

Taniko turned to one of them. “Go to Lord Kiyosi. Tell him what has happened, and tell him we will wait for him here.”

She looked down at the old samurai whose grizzled head lay in her lap. “Are you in great pain?”

He gave her a smile that was really a grimace. “Of course not, my lady. But I shall not live. You could do me a great service.”


“None of the men is armed. Except you.”

“I? I’m not armed.” Then she looked down at her hand that was still holding the dagger she had taken from the courtier. “I’ll give this to one of the men and he can help you.”

The deep-set eyes looked into Taniko’s. “I would like you to do it, my lady, if you can bring yourself to. My lord Kiyosi is not here. You stand in his place. It is much to ask, I know.”

Taniko hesitated. I must do it well. He must not suffer. I cannot say no. “Yes. You must tell me what to do.”

His fingers feebly tapped a spot below his rib cage. “Strike here. As hard as you can. Drive upwards towards the heart.”

Taniko raised the gold-hilted ceremonial knife high, gripping it with both hands. Slowly she lowered it till the point touched the place he had indicated. Then she raised the knife again. Am I strong enough?

She said, “Say with me, ‘Homage to Amida Buddha.'”

“Homage to Amida Buddha,” the old man whispered.

With all her might, not thinking, letting the Self do it, as Jebu would say, she brought the dagger down. She felt it meet flesh, but the force of her thrust and the sharpness of the blade pierced the flesh, and her fists struck against his chest.

She looked down. Please be dead. His eyes were open, and they did not blink. She had done it. She had given him what he asked for. She had stopped his heart. She said again, “Homage to Amida Buddha.” Gently, with the index finger of her right hand, she pulled each of his eyelids down. Slowly she eased the grey head to the ground and stood up.

She looked around. A small group of Takashi samurai were standing around her in a circle. When she looked at them, they bowed deeply from the waist. She handed the dagger to one of them and looked around for Atsue.

He was standing beside one of the samurai, clinging to the man’s leg. When she turned to him, he took a step back. She held out her arms, but he did not move. She started to go to him.

Terror filled his eyes. “You killed him. There’s blood all over you.”

She looked down. Her bright yellow cloak was speckled with blood. She hadn’t realized the old samurai had bled so much. She felt that she must wash the fear of her from Atsue’s eyes, or it would remain there for ever. Determinedly, she strode over to him, took the whimpering boy in her arms and lifted him up.

Kiyosi himself came soon in one of the Takashi’s finest Chinese-style carriages. It was surrounded by a hundred Takashi samurai in full armour. Kiyosi gave orders that the body of the bannerman was to be borne in state on a cart to the Rokuhara. He helped Taniko and Atsue into the carriage, climbed in himself, and sat Atsue on his lap. He patted Taniko’s hand.

“You and the boy suffer because my father must have more and more power,” Kiyosi said sadly. “Motofusa is our enemy because he wants Prince Mochihito, rather than my sister’s husband, Prince Takakura, to succeed to the throne. Now we must avenge Motofusa’s insult to our family. So it goes on and on.”

He was not angry, Taniko saw, just sad and tired. “What is wrong, Kiyosi-san?”

“I have come to realize that I will never know peace. All my life I’ve been fighting my father’s battles, and still there are more battles to fight, and there will never be any end to it as long as I live.”

“Give Motofusa a chance to apologize. When he realizes what his people have done, he will probably regret it.” Actually, remembering the smug face at the window of the carriage of state, she could not imagine Motofusa apologizing for anything.

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