Shike – Day 98 of 306

The grizzled tuman-bashi started to turn away, then swung around and said, “You will regret your stubbornness. You should surrender now, while you have the chance. There will be no mercy for Kweilin when our tarkhan, Arghun Baghadur, resumes command.”

Chapter Six

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

The barbarians who have invaded southern China are said to smell so bad that the very stench of their approach forces their foes to retreat. They are described as hideous creatures, hunchbacked and twisted of limb. I have even been told that they bite off the breasts of women. Somehow, I suspect that those terrifying reports are spread to excuse the absence of Chinese victories. Jebu is sprung from the barbarians, and surely he is not twisted of limb. And he bites women only with the best of intentions.

The Chinese also have many strange notions about us. They believe that we eat human flesh and worship gods with the heads of animals. It makes one wonder if the things they say about the Mongols are any more true.

From one of the Chinese serving-maids I have heard the tale of a band of warriors from across the China Sea, short-statured and ferocious, who came to fight in the Sung Emperor’s service. That could only be Muratomo no Yukio’s men, and Jebu must be with them. They are now at a city called Kweilin, further from here than the Sacred Islands. I thought if I came here I would be closer to Jebu. We are in the same country, but this one country is as big as twenty countries. I am told they were in Linan a few months ago. Lord of Boundless Light, will I ever meet him again?

-Eighth Month, twenty-sixth day


At its southern end, the brick-paved Imperial Way—which was to Linan what Redbird Avenue was to Heian Kyo—curved past the Imperial Palace and the base of Phoenix Hill. Aristocrats and rich merchants built their palaces on Phoenix Hill, and it was here Horigawa took up residence. The gateway of his mansion led into a formal courtyard surrounded by three imposing pavilions with blue and gold pillars. The window of Taniko’s room on the second storey of the women’s pavilion looked towards a lagoon covered with lily pads. The weeping willows and peach trees around it were green. At home this would have been the beginning of autumn, but here in Linan there was no autumn.

Horigawa’s negotiations with officials in the Chinese Court dragged on for months. He had arrived in Linan with the names of a few people who might be useful—mostly merchants who traded with the Takashi—and he used these like the rungs of a ladder to reach higher personages. But frequently there were waits of many days between his appointments with various great men. Hardest of all to arrange was an audience with the most important official in Linan, the Emperor’s chief councillor and the real ruler of southern China, Chia Ssu-tao.

Taniko remained in isolation, in effect a prisoner. As happened wherever she went, she quickly made friends with the servants, both her own people and the newly hired Chinese. Horigawa had instructed the household staff to keep a close watch on her and warned them that she was not to be trusted. But, consciously employing charm, candour and kindness, she eventually won them all over. Through the servants she was able to make contact with the outer world. An elderly Chinese secretary was especially helpful.

From him she learned some of the history of the Sung Emperors. Their dynasty had been founded almost three centuries earlier by a general who seized the throne. A hundred years ago they had lost northern China, first to the barbarian Cathayans, then to the Kin Tartars. And now the Mongols, having in turn overrun the Kin, had decided to unite the two halves of China under their rule. They had pierced the Sung territories from three directions with three armies; their Emperor, the Great Khan Mangu, in the far west; Mangu’s younger brother, Kublai Khan, in the west nearer the capital; and a famed and feared general, Arghun Baghadur, in the south. She thought she had heard of Arghun Baghadur before, but she could not remember where or when.

At first it seemed to Taniko that all Chinese were tall, grave and silent. Then she met several who were short, passionate and talkative. She thought the Chinese greedy, then heard tales of poor scholars and met beggar monks at the mansion kitchen. Gradually she realized that her quickly formed beliefs about the Chinese were as foolish as the Chinese notion that her people ate human flesh, and she settled down to studying the Chinese one by one.

One of their customs was utterly strange to her. She did not meet any upper-class women, but the servants assured her it was quite true that the feet of wealthy and well-born Chinese women were tightly bound when they were small girls, to keep them from growing. The deformed results, which looked something like the hooves of horses, were known as lily feet, and the Chinese women were proud of them. Taniko could not imagine why, nor why the Chinese men would find such feet attractive, as they evidently did. Only a man like Horigawa, she thought, would want a crippled woman.


  1. ScottS-M Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ScottS-M wrote:

    There will be no mercy for Kweilin when our tarkhan, Arghun Baghadur, resumes command.

    Is that the same guy that is hunting Jebu?

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