Shike – Day 88 of 306

“Can the Shima not control their women?” Sogamori whispered harshly. At the sudden change of tone Ryuichi’s innards froze with terror.

“Your miserable servant begs forgiveness if we have offended,” he mumbled, bowing his head.

“If you have offended?” Sogamori growled. “You should be ashamed to show your face before me, Ryuichi. You should have thrown yourself into the Kamo on the way here.”

“She is overcome with grief,” Ryuichi pleaded. “She does not know what she is saying.”

Horigawa spoke. “I have warned my lord Sogamori that the woman is both wilful and wicked.”

Ryuichi was outraged. He wanted to cry out, to demand that Horigawa apologize. The Shima family was being insulted here. But he remained silent. He was too frightened to speak.

Sogamori held up the sword again. “This will belong to Atsue when he performs his manhood ceremony as a Takashi.”

“We are overwhelmed by my lord’s offer to adopt the boy Atsue,” Ryuichi said. “Only, we plead for time. The boy’s mother is so newly bereaved.”

“Do you compare her suffering with mine?” Sogamori rasped. “What was she to my son but another courtesan? What right does she have to mourn? We will have the boy here today.”

The realization that he would have to face Taniko drove Ryuichi to make one last effort. “But she is the boy’s mother. She loves him.”

“She is still married to me,” Horigawa cut in. “By law I am the boy’s father. I say he shall go to Lord Sogamori.”

Ryuichi stared at Horigawa, astonished.

“Thus the woman is no obstacle, Ryuichi-san,” said Sogamori.

“I have a further thought, Your Excellency,” said Horigawa. “To ensure that she is kept under proper control, I shall take her back into my household.” He turned to Ryuichi and bared his blackened teeth. “You have borne the burden of caring for her long enough.”

Ryuichi was overcome with horror. She’ll kill herself, he thought. “No, no, that will not be necessary.”

“Let her be taken to Horigawa’s house at the same time Atsue comes here.” Sogamori laughed mirthlessly. “Peace will be restored to Ryuichi’s household.”

Horigawa said, “My journey to China on Your Excellency’s behalf will be an arduous one. It may be a year or more before I return. I will need the companionship and help of a wife. I have so immersed myself in my duties that I have not had time to seek one. On this voyage I shall have to make do with the one I have.”

But Taniko hates you, Ryuichi thought. You killed her baby daughter, now you are helping to steal her son. Merciful Buddha, she has lost Kiyosi, and now she will lose Atsue. And then to fall into the hands of Horigawa again—she will surely go mad.

“Yukio has escaped to China after killing my son,” Sogamori brooded. “Well, there is one Muratomo on whom I can avenge myself. Listen, Ryuichi.”

Ryuichi shrank back. “Yes, my lord.”

“Send your swiftest messenger to your brother Shima Bokuden in Kamakura. Tell him the Imperial chancellor finds the continued existence of Muratomo no Hideyori a danger to the serenity of the realm. He is commanded to execute Hideyori immediately. I want the head brought back to me by the same messenger.”

If only Bokuden were here, Ryuichi thought. He would know what to do. In the midst of all his anguish, the prospect of Hideyori’s death troubled Ryuichi least of all. Hideyori had never brought any good to the Shima house, and Yukio had destroyed their entire little world. Ryuichi had no tears to spare for the Muratomo.

“As you wish, my lord.”

Horigawa said, “The other Muratomo will not escape your wrath in China, Your Excellency. Through me, your vengeance will follow him to the Central Kingdom.”

“Prince Horigawa is a remarkable man, Ryuichi-san,” said Sogamori. “He is small in body, but within that small head of his is encompassed the entire Chinese language, not only all its literary classics but all its terms of trade and warfare. The prince can equally well address the Sung Emperor or bandy words with the lowliest sailor on the docks. The messages he carries to China and the information he brings back will be precious to me. If he needs your niece, he must have her.”

“I understand, my lord,” Ryuichi quavered.

“I will send a carriage with you for the boy, Ryuichi-san. Do not let your family trouble me again.”

Horigawa rose. “I will go along myself, with my own carriage, to bring my wife back to my house.” He bowed to Sogamori. “Would His Excellency be pleased to send some of his samurai with us as an escort?”

“Tell the captain of the guard to assign twenty outriders to you.” Filled with despair, Ryuichi bowed, turned and shuffled out of Sogamori’s presence.

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