Shike – Day 83 of 306

Yukio ran amidships and helped pull wet, naked men from the fishing boat. “Marvellous!” he shouted. “Splendid! Let sake be brought for these men at once. They’re cold from their swim.”

Looking aft, all Jebu could see was rolling clouds of black smoke and a jumble of burning ships. Then his eyes narrowed. Two ships were coming after them. One, judging by its lines, was a Muratomo transport, while the other appeared to be a Takashi warship. He caught Yukio’s arm.


Yukio laughed wildly. “Look again.” There were white banners waving from both ships. Jebu remembered the two ships that had come together and the masses of samurai locked in hand-to-hand combat. Evidently the Muratomo had won.

“We have eleven ships now instead of ten,” said Yukio. “A gift from the Takashi.” He suddenly seized Jebu violently by both arms and shook him with a strength surprising for such a small man.

“China, Jebu! China! A whole new world for us! Let the Takashi perish in the nine hells. The future is ours.”

Yukio laughed again. “Out to sea,” he called to the pilot. “Take us to China.” The signal flags flapped, and the Muratomo vessels turned away from the mouth of the harbour and set their course westwards. All sails were up, and all rattled as the strong wind from the east took them.

Yukio’s feverish gaiety subsided. “If only we hadn’t killed Kiyosi. That takes some of the joy out of this victory for me, Jebu-san. He was the wisest of all the Takashi, the best fighter, the noblest lord. In killing him we’ve dealt the Takashi a blow from which they may never recover. Still, I would rather he had lived, if karma allowed it.”

Jebu shrugged. “It was his day to die. I’m sure he was as ready and willing as you and I are. And he was trying to kill you.”

“You saved my life. Again. I am in your debt for ever.” Yukio gripped Jebu’s upper arm, hard. “But it’s a great sadness, not just for Kiyosi’s sake. His death harms others for whom I care. There was a woman, Kiyosi’s woman. She was very good to my mother and me. Remember I told you how my mother became Sogamori’s mistress to save my life? Well, this lady acted as a go between, for no other reason than her affection for my mother. And she suffered for it. Her husband was Prince Sasaki no Horigawa, who wanted Hideyori and me dead. He punished his wife by— Why are you staring at me?”

Jebu’s body went cold. Even now, he reminded himself, the secret must be kept. He made himself assume a calm expression.

“This lady. Was her name Shima Taniko?”

“Yes, that was she. Did you know her?”

“Long ago,” Jebu said, waving his hand as if it were of no consequence. “I’ll tell you about it some time.”

“She had a baby by Kiyosi, a son, while I was at the Rokuhara. I suppose he’d be about nine by now. Another son whose father has been torn from him. Moko is right. War is an evil thing.”

Yukio turned away and began to walk among the men on his ship, praising them, even talking to the rowers and patting their shoulders. Then he called for a small boat so he could visit the other ships. A dinghy was lowered over the side, and Yukio leaped into it with the astonishing, easy grace that Jebu had first seen seven years ago on the Gojo Bridge.

Jebu walked along the deck to the forecastle and stood staring into the empty blue sky. His eyes burned and his cheeks were wet.

Why am I crying? he thought. If I hadn’t killed Kiyosi my friend would be dead now.

Instead, another son has lost his father. As Yukio did. As I did.

Another woman has lost the man she loved, as my mother did.

He had never wanted to know what Taniko was doing. Only once had he asked, when Moko told him what happened at Daidoji. That had been the worst moment of his life. He had never asked about her, because it hurt too much. Hardly the attitude of a true Zinja.

What if he had known what Kiyosi was to her? Would he have hesitated to kill him? Or would jealous hatred have gone winging along with his arrow?

No, he had never wanted to invade her life. Even when Domei said he was sending men to kill Horigawa, his first thought had been that he must not go. How much less would he want to kill this Kiyosi. After all, he himself had given her nothing.

He didn’t really know how much Kiyosi had meant to her. He might just have been a protector, someone to whom she could escape from Horigawa. Or he might have been a true lover, a man who had made her cry out with delight in the darkness, as she had wanted to, —but never could with Jebu.

Whatever she shared with him, Jebu had reached out from all this distance, after all this time, and destroyed it. Just by letting go of a string that propelled an arrow. Such a little thing. So easy to kill a man, end his whole life and whatever it meant, perhaps destroy many other lives at the same moment.

But even if he’d known what he was doing, he’d have done it anyway, to save Yukio.

Why was he crying? Because he’d done an evil thing? But a Zinja was beyond good and evil. A Zinja was always aware of his own perfection.

From a dark chamber in his memory a voice whispered, The Zinja are devils. He had not thought of the Saying of Supreme Power in years.

Was this what it meant? That in trying to do good the Zinja did evil, and then tried to tell themselves it didn’t matter, that good and evil were the same thing? If war was an evil thing, as he had been shown today, and the Zinja were devoted to war, then truly they were devils.

He had hurt Taniko. Had hurt her child. And there was no way he could undo it. He couldn’t even want to undo it, because the only other choice would have meant the death of his friend.

He wondered if she would ever hear a description of the man who killed Kiyosi. He wondered if she would realize that it was he.

The sun had crossed the sky and now hovered, white hot, ahead of the Muratomo fleet. It paved a road of dazzling white jewels in the sea before them. Somewhere at the end of that glittering pathway lay the land of his father, the empire of the Mongols. Perhaps he would actually see the land where his father was born and meet again his father’s killer.

And perhaps, too, the great distances would help him forget for a time that small, white, lovely face that had haunted him ever since that journey down the Tokaido.

With trembling fingers he reached into his robe for the Jewel of Life and Death.

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