Shike – Day 78 of 306

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.

Kiyosi shook his head. “My father would accept no apology from Motofusa. And it’s not just he. Yukio, the youngest son of Muratomo no Domei, has reappeared. He is raising an army in Kyushu. Our spies say he wants to sail across the sea to fight for the Emperor of China. My father is sure Yukio wants to raise another Muratomo rebellion. So I must go to Kyushu and crush Yukio at once.”

Still shaken by the carriage brawl, still stunned by the realization that she had killed a man, Taniko felt a new fear clutch at her heart. “Must you go?”

“I am commander-in-chief of the army. I have advised my father to let Yukio go. All the malcontents in the Sacred Islands would flock to his banner, and we’d be rid of them once and for all. We wouldn’t have to lose a man. But my father will not be satisfied unless blood is shed. No victory is real to him unless men die for it.” The anger in his face faded and was replaced by a deep weariness.

“Oh, Taniko, I remember Yukio so well—that bright-eyed boy who used to play in the gardens of the Rokuhara. Every time I looked at him I felt a pang, knowing it was I who beheaded his father. I wondered if he knew it, and I wondered what he thought of me. He wasn’t much older than our Atsue is now, the first time I saw him. And now my father commands me to bring Yukio’s head back to Heian Kyo.”

Taniko held his hand while the carriage trundled along and he, in turn, patted Atsue’s head. “I’m so tired, Taniko. So tired of it all. How terrible it is that the fighting cannot stop.”

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

Last night my lord Kiyosi came to me and told me, with no great satisfaction, that the carriage of the Regent Motofusa was attacked by a troop of samurai as his procession was on its way to the Special Festival at Iwashimizu. The samurai killed eight of Motofusa’s retainers, cut the oxen loose from his carriage and drove them off.

Motofusa’s carriage was too heavy for his remaining men to pull. He could have waited for more oxen or a palanquin to be brought, but he was afraid for his life, and so he walked home through the streets like any commoner and missed the ceremony. He has thus been publicly shamed.

Since Iwashimizu is one of Hachiman’s shrines, and Hachiman is the Muratomo patron, Sogamori thinks that in some obscure way he is hurting the Muratomo. By offending the god of war? This seems to me a dangerous way to get at one’s enemies.

Kiyosi brought a new flute for Atsue, a family heirloom called Little Branch, which has been his own favourite flute until now. At least, Kiyosi says, the Regent has paid many times over for the death of our bannerman and the fright he gave our little Atsue. Even the Regent, formerly the most feared official in the land, who once controlled the words and actions of the Emperor, can be chastised by the Takashi.

Each night before I fall asleep, even when I lie in Kiyosi’s arms, the face of the man I killed appears in my mind. His dead eyes seem to look at me and not to look at me. And in the darkness and silence of my bedchamber I feel a horror in the pit of my stomach. I have done a dreadful thing. Killed a man. There is blood on my hands and they will never be clean.

More than that, every night I see the look that was in the eyes of my little Atsue after he had seen me stab the bannerman to death. He knows now that his mother can kill. A nine-year-old boy should not have to live with such a memory. I see my own horror at what I have done reflected in his eyes. It is as Jebu told me. We are all part of one Self.

If that is so, the bannerman was I, and I was killing myself. Indeed, he asked me for death. The samurai often kill themselves or ask others to kill them, to avoid capture, mutilation and shame. What I did was not horrible. It was a mercy. Yet, the fact that I have killed another human being fills me with terror, because it is such a vast thing, such a final thing. Whether I have done it for right reasons or for wrong ones, it is taking for myself the powers of a kami. Such an act should be approached with fear, as one approaches a very holy place.

My Jebu—is he still mine after all these years?—has killed and killed again. By now he must have lost count of the numbers he has killed. I was there the first time Jebu killed a man. I remember how he stood looking down at the bodies of those he had killed for a long time after the fight was over. What was he thinking? I wish I could talk to him now.

I’ve asked Kiyosi how he feels about killing, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He says the part of his mind that thinks about killing is sealed off when he is with me.

How lonely I will be when Kiyosi is gone campaigning in Kyushu.

-Third Month, twelfth day

YEAR OF THE HORSE

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