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signs were reported daily; faces speaking of doom were seen in lanterns
outside Daifukuji temple; a flock of birds had traced characters of ill luck
in the sky. As soon as they arrived, Shizuka was aware of the real grief and
anger of the townspeople at Taku's death. She did not go to the Arai mansion,
but stayed in an inn not far from the Umedaya, overlooking the river. On the
first night the innkeeper told her that Taku and Sada were buried at
Daifukuji. She sent Bunta to inform Zenko of her arrival, and rose early the
next morning, leaving Miki asleep, limbs twitching and lips moving in some
vivid dream, to
walk along the riverbank to where the vermilion temple stood among the sacred
trees, facing out to sea to welcome sailors home to the Middle Country. The
sound of chanting came from within, and she heard the sonorous and holy words
of the sutra for the dead.
Two monks were scattering water on the boardwalks before sweeping them. One of
them recognized Shizuka, and said to the other, 'Take Lady Muto to the
graveyard. I will inform the abbot.'
She saw their sympathy and was grateful for it.
Under the huge trees there was a hint of coolness. The monk led her to the
newly dug graves; no stones yet covered them; lamps burned beside them and
someone had laid an offering of flowers - purple irises - before them. She
forced herself to picture her son's ashes in the casket beneath the ground,
his strong agile body stilled, his quick sardonic mind silenced. His spirit
must be wandering restlessly between the worlds, demanding justice.
The second monk returned with incense, and shortly afterwards, as Shizuka
knelt in silent prayer, the abbot himself came and knelt beside her. They
remained in silence for some time; then the man began to chant the same sutra
for the dead.
Tears formed in her eyes and traced their way down her cheeks. The ancient
words rose into the canopy of the trees, mingling with the morning song of
sparrows and the gentle cooing of doves.
Later, the abbot took her to his room and served her tea. T have taken it upon
myself to arrange for the stone to be carved. I thought it was what Lord Otori
would have desired.'
She stared at him. She had known him for some years, but had always seen him
in a merry mood, as able to joke
with the sailors in their rough dialect as to compose elegantly humorous
verses with Takeo, Kaede and Dr Ishida. Now his face was drawn, his expression
grave.
'Surely his brother, Lord Zenko, has dealt with all this?'
'I'm afraid Lord Zenko has become somewhat influenced by the foreigners: no
formal announcement has been made, but everyone's talking about it. He has
taken on their religion and now professes it as the one true faith. This
renders him unable to enter our temples and shrines, and unable to perform the
necessary ceremonies for his brother.'
Shizuka stared at the priest, hardly able to believe what she heard.
'It's caused a great deal of unrest,' he went on. 'There have been signs and
omens that the gods are offended. People fear they will be punished for their
lord's actions. The foreigners insist on the contrary that their great god,
Deus, will reward Zenko and anyone else who joins him.
'Which includes most of his personal retainers,' he added, 'who have been
ordered to convert or die.'
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'What absolute madness,' Shizuka said, resolving to speak to Zenko as soon as
possible. She did not wait to be summoned to his presence, but on her return
to the inn dressed with care and ordered a palanquin.
'Wait here for me,' she told Miki. 'If I don't return by evening, go to
Daifukuji, and they will look after you.' The girl hugged her with unusual
intensity.
Zenko came out to the veranda steps as soon as the palanquin was set down
inside the gates, lightening her heart for a moment and making her think she
had misjudged him. His first words were of sympathy, followed
by expressions of pleasure at seeing her, surprise that she had not come
directly to him.
Her eyes fell on the prayer beads he wore round his neck, the symbol of the
foreigners' religion, the cross, hanging from his chest.
'This terrible news is such a shock to us all,' he said, as he led her into
his private room, overlooking the garden.
A little child, his youngest son, was playing on the veranda, watched by his
nurse.
'Come and say hello to your grandmother,' Zenko called, and the boy obediently
came into the room and knelt before her. It was the first time she had seen
him: he was about two years old.
'My wife, as you know, has gone to Hagi to be with her sister. She was
reluctant to leave little Hiromasa, but I thought it best to keep at least one
of my sons with me.'
'You recognize then that you are gambling with the lives of your other
children?' she said quietly.
'Mother, Hana will be with them within two weeks. I don't think they are in
any danger. Anyway, I have done nothing wrong. My hands are clean.' He held
them up to her and then took the child's hands. 'Cleaner than Hiro-masa's,' he
teased him.
'He has Kikuta palms!' Shizuka exclaimed in astonishment. 'Why did you not
tell me?'
'Interesting, isn't it? Tribe blood is never completely eradicated.' He smiled
broadly at her, and gestured to the maid to take the child away.
'He reminds me of Taku,' he said, wiping his eye with his sleeve. 'It is some
shred of comfort to me that my poor brother lives on in my son.'
'Perhaps you will tell me who killed him,' Shizuka said.
'Bandits, obviously. What other explanation can there be? I will pursue them
and bring them to justice. Of course, with Takeo out of the country, desperate
men grow bold and come out of hiding.'
It was obvious that he did not care if she believed him or not.
'What if I order you to tell me the truth?'
His eyes flickered away from her, and he hid his face in his sleeve again, but
she had the feeling he was not weeping but smiling, in surprise and glee at
his own audacity.
'Let us not speak about ordering, Mother. I will observe all my filial duty
towards you, but in all other terms I believe it is now appropriate for you to
obey me, both as Muto and Arai.'
'I serve the Otori,' she replied. 'So did Kenji, and so have you sworn to.'
'Yes, you serve the Otori,' he said, his anger showing. 'That has been the
problem for years. Wherever we look in the history of the Otori's rise, we see
your hand - in Takeo's persecution of the Tribe, in my father's murder, even
in Lord Fujiwara's death - what led you to betray the secrets of the Tribe to
Shigeru?'
'I will tell you! I wanted a better world for you and Taku. I thought you
should live in Shigeru's world, not the one of warlords and assassins that I
saw around me. Takeo and Kaede created that world. We will not let you destroy
it.'
'Takeo is already finished. Do you think the Emperor will favour him? If he
does return, we will kill him, and I
will be confirmed as ruler of the Three Countries. It is my right, and I am
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