Shike – Day 84 of 306

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.

Part Two: The Book Of Kublai

Because men suffer, they fight and kill one another. The innocent, who begin by fighting to defend themselves against robbers and murderers, become robbers and murderers themselves. Someone must protect them, both from what happens to them and from what they become. It is our hope that we can take upon ourselves the duty of necessary fighting and killing. We think we can be trusted.

The Zinja Manual

Chapter One

Summer came to Heian Kyo. The screens and lattices of houses were opened to the air as the days grew longer and the nights warmer. Rain and sun alternated to deepen the green of the huge old willows that grew along the avenues and canals. Moon and fireflies lit the night. Taniko found that she missed Kiyosi terribly. She wanted to share this beauty with him. Unable to talk to him, she wrote poems, two or three a day, and imagined herself reading them to him.

The sun warms the wind,
The wind strokes the willows,
The willows reach down to caress the river.

She had little to record in her pillow book. She liked to write about the gossip of palace and Court, the problems of the country’s rulers, the struggles of powerful men. About all this, she had heard in abundance from Kiyosi. Since he had sailed south to Kyushu her life had been one of isolation, monotony and boredom. It was no consolation to her that it was the same for almost all women of her station, except the few lucky enough to have duties at Court. She had no idea how other women managed to tolerate such lives.

Her one source of daily joy was the companionship of Atsue. The boy had quite forgotten his horror at seeing his mother stab a man to death, and the two spent hours together every day. Atsue was growing to look more and more like his grave, square-jawed father. Every fifth day she took him by carriage to the Buddhist temple on Mount Hiei for lessons on the flute and koto with a famous master. Daily she listened to his practice on these instruments. She finally convinced him the samisen was worth learning and gave him lessons herself. Kiyosi had taught him go, saying that every samurai should play the game well, and Taniko played it with Atsue night after night. She took him for walks through the garden, teaching him the names of summer herbs and flowers. Late in the evening, just before he went to bed, they would sit and watch the moon rise. Atsue would play on his flute just for pleasure, and his playing was often so beautiful it brought tears to her eyes.

A strange silence fell over the Shima household in the middle of the Fifth Month. Taniko’s maids seemed nervous and chattered less than usual while helping her dress and undress. There was something furtive in the way her aunt and cousins greeted her in the women’s quarters and hurried past on business of their own. Ryuichi’s oldest son, Munetoki, now a fierce young samurai of nineteen, had gone off with Kiyosi’s expedition to hunt down the last of the Muratomo. Uncle Ryuichi seemed to have disappeared completely. When she asked about him, Aunt Chogao said he had gone on a long journey by sea to Yasugi on the west coast. Yasugi, Taniko knew, was a stronghold for the pirates who preyed on the Korean coast and shipping. All her life she had been hearing rumours that her family was involved with pirates; this seemed to confirm it.

One afternoon a servant announced that the first secretary to Lord Takashi no Sogamori was in the main hall and had asked to visit her. She felt a little leap of pleasure. She had not had a letter from Kiyosi in nearly a month. She hurriedly prepared herself with her maid’s help, set out the screen of state in her chamber and sent her maid for Sogamori’s secretary.

She immediately noticed the willow-wood taboo tag tied to the secretary’s black head-dress and dangling down the side of his face. She wondered if the evil that beset him was a personal misfortune or something that had fallen upon the entire house of Takashi. It would not be polite to enquire. It was surprising that a man under taboo would even leave his house. He must consider the visit essential.

She had never seen the man before, but she recognized the type. His prim manner and old-fashioned, slightly tattered robe and trousers proclaimed him a Confucian scholar. Doubtless a man of good family whose declining fortunes had forced him to go into service with a rising clan like the Takashi.

They exchanged greetings, the secretary peering nervously at the screen as if trying to see through it. He wants a look at the famous lady who delights Kiyosi, she thought.

At last the secretary said, “Lord Sogamori has sent me to you to inform you of his wishes.”

“I am honoured,” said Taniko. “But I had hoped you might have a message for me from Lord Kiyosi.” Through the openings near the top of the screen she could see that the man’s eyes had widened in surprise—and possibly fear—at the mention of Kiyosi’s name.

“There was no message,” he said hastily. “Lord Kiyosi sent no message.” There was something in his voice that frightened Taniko. “What is it then?” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Lord Sogamori desires that his grandson be sent to him.”

The secretary’s words surprised Taniko and intensified the dread she felt. “For how long?”

Again the secretary seemed surprised. “Why, for the rest of his life, my lady. Lord Sogamori wants to give the boy the Takashi name and adopt him as his own son.”

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