Shike – Day 89 of 306

“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.

Chapter Three

Taniko and Atsue were playing go when they heard the carriages and mounted men come rumbling through the gate of the Shima mansion. Atsue’s hand, about to place a white stone in a move that threatened a whole line of Taniko’s black stones in a corner, hesitated in mid air. He put the white stone down slowly, and they sat and looked at each other.

The returning party made much more noise than Uncle Ryuichi and his outriders had on leaving, as if there were more horses, perhaps more carriages, with him now. The nervousness Taniko had felt all morning turned to dread. Pushing the go table aside, she took Atsue in her arms.

After a time, the shoji screen to her chamber slid back, and Aunt Chogao’s tear-streaked face appeared in the opening. One look, and Taniko’s fear turned to a wild, despairing terror. Her aunt shook her head helplessly.

“Your uncle wants Atsue in the main hall.”

Taniko kept her arms around the boy. “If he wants Atsue he will have to come and tear him from me.”

Sobbing, Chogao left. Atsue was crying in Taniko’s arms. She patted the small shoulder beneath the dark green robe.

“Mother, kill me like you killed that man, and then kill yourself. We’ll meet Father in the Pure Land.”

Taniko bit her lip. “You have a long life before you, Atsue-chan. I would rather lose you than harm you in any way. And even in the worst moments of my own life I’ve never wanted to kill myself. Let us commend ourselves to the mercy of Amida. Homage to Amida Buddha.”

“Homage to Amida Buddha,” Atsue repeated.

Ryuichi came into the room. Behind him there walked a small, hatefully familiar figure wearing a tall black-lacquer hat.

“Good day to you, Taniko-san,” said Horigawa, baring his blackened teeth in a broad grin.

With a scream of rage Taniko reached for the nearest weapon, which happened to be a lighted oil lamp. She hurled it at Horigawa, who stepped aside, laughing at her. Ryuichi shouted an alarm as the small, orange flames raced up a paper wall. A servant rushed in with a pot of water and threw it on the fire, and Ryuichi beat out the remaining flames with a quilt.

“I see Lady Taniko is still given to setting houses on fire,” said Horigawa.

“It was you who put this idea in Sogamori’s mind,” said Taniko, wanting to spring upon her husband and strangle him.

Horigawa spread his hands. “On the contrary, I suggested to Lord Sogamori that the offspring of a woman of unsound mind and low birth could hardly be worthy of his attention. But he insisted. I am merely here to see that his wishes are carried out. By law you are my wife, and this boy is my son. He will be adopted by Lord Sogamori, and you, from now on, will be part of my household.”

His household. They were sending her back to Horigawa. Her mind reeled under the shock. For a moment she really did want to kill herself. Everything that had given her happiness in these past years was gone, as if swallowed by an earthquake.

She knelt and held Atsue. “We will not go.”

“That man isn’t my father,” Atsue sobbed.

“Of course not,” Taniko said through clenched teeth. “He is incapable of being anyone’s father.”

Ryuichi was pleading with Horigawa. “You don’t want her as a wife, Your Highness. I’ll see to it that she doesn’t trouble Lord Sogamori.”

A change came over Horigawa’s face. His cheeks reddened under his courtier’s white powder. His eyes narrowed and his thin lips drew back from the black teeth. In a voice choked with hatred he said, “She is my wife. Mine. I will dispose of her as I see fit. Do not interfere in this, Ryuichi.” Horigawa turned away from Ryuichi and called through the shutters to men standing on the veranda.

“Taniko,” said Ryuichi, “perhaps if you let the boy go without making a scene, we could persuade Prince Horigawa to allow you to stay with us.”

“Don’t deceive yourself, Uncle,” Taniko said coldly. “The prince has old scores to settle with me. As for you, you failed me when I needed you most. Now I don’t want to stay with you.”

“Try to understand, Taniko. All the world bends before Lord Sogamori as grass before the wind. I can’t withstand him.”

“I thought a samurai could withstand anything.”

Two men in red silk jackets and shin-length trousers, their long swords hanging from their belts, tramped into the room. They looked somewhat sheepish at entering the chamber of a lady unprotected by a screen. Standing against the wall, they kept their eyes averted from Taniko and looked questioningly at Horigawa.

“Really, Your Highness, this is unnecessary,” Ryuichi said. “You insult me by bringing your samurai into my house.”

“You have already shown yourself unable to make the members of your household obey the commands of Lord Sogamori,” said Horigawa. He turned to the samurai. “Take the boy from her and put him in Lord Sogamori’s carriage.”

Taniko remained kneeling with her arms around Atsue. Ryuichi held out his hands to her.

“Please, Taniko. Do not disgrace us like this.”

“It is you who disgrace yourself, Uncle.”

“Take the boy,” Horigawa snapped at the samurai.

The elder of the two men stepped forward and stood over Taniko. “Excuse me, my lady. Will you give us the boy?”

“I’m sorry,” said Taniko, “but I cannot do that.”

“We know you, my lady. It was you who helped one of our comrades into the beyond. You are held in great esteem by all samurai. But we must obey orders. Do not force us to shame you.”

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