Rebecca woke first in the cellars and gazed in total satisfaction at the sl**ping Jennifer, face down, at her side. She was beautiful with her auburn tresses lying in a great sheath on the pillow. Fondly Rebecca stroked her back feeling the traces of the whip on the velvet skin. Jennifer stirred and murmured in her sl**p. Rebecca felt an over powering love for the lovely girl at her side and bent to kiss her softly on the back. Part of her mind was still lost in the enchantment of the afternoon and night before and she closed her eyes revelling in the memory of it. Their whipping had been an act of consecration. Sebastian had curled the lash around both their bodies until they screamed in mutual torment. The flogging had seemed to last forever and their burning bodies had been slick against each other with perspiration and they could taste the saltiness of the tears on each other’s face. At last it had ended and Sebastian had left them to blubber out their love for each other through their anguished sobs. By the time Sebastian had returned to release them they’d been on fire with passion and they’d clung to each other in a frenzy. So heated had their desire been that they’d collapsed to the stone floor and started to make love immediately. Sebastian had retired discreetly. For the rest of the afternoon and well into the night they’d slaked their lust on each other in delirium, driving each other into madness by scoring their fingernails across each other’s whip marks and releasing one monumental orgasm after another. They’d added scratches and bite marks to their weals and bruised each other in the fury of their passion. At one point Rebecca had played the man to Jennifer and had utilised a strap-on artificial penis to pin her to the bed and ravish her fiercely. Jennifer had screamed under the violation and thrust her hips against Rebecca’s in an orgy of indulgence as the echoes of the thunder from outside rumbled down into the cellars. Well into the night they had collapsed, finally exhausted, and deep untroubled sl**p had claimed them.
Rebecca sighed in the recollection. This girl was now hers forever. They’d made vows of terrible finality in the aftermath of their whipping and committed themselves for the duration of their lives to the love of each other in the sweet moments between the satiation of their desire and blissful sl**p. There was one last thing that Rebecca wanted to do to cast this bonding in solid granite and she was worried, for she needed pleasant weather for it. Leaving the little cell quietly, so as not to wake Jennifer, she made her way to the dining chamber. With deep gratification she saw that the rain of last night was gone and the morning sun was lancing down through the skylights overhead from a blue sky. It was just perfect for the day of wonder she had long planned. Sebastian entered the chamber and she greeted him with a fond kiss.
“I trust that you slept well Miss Rebecca.”
“I am pleased to hear it. The day has dawned most pleasantly Miss. I think it will be quite hot by this afternoon. I’ve ordered your car for half past nine just after breakfast as you desired. I understand you will be taking luncheon with Shiro-san.”
“That’s correct Sebastian and we’ll be sl**ping in the garden so I’m afraid I shall be taking your charge away from you.”
“I shall certainly miss her Miss Rebecca. It has been a delight to have her here.”
“I’m sure you will see her again in the near future. She’s very fond of you and I’m certain she’ll be a frequent visitor. We’ll both visit you!”
“You fill me with great joy Miss Rebecca and you are always welcome.”
“I know Sebastian. I love you!”
The feeling is entirely mutual Miss. You grace these humble caverns with your presence.”
“Thank you Sebastian. I’ll go and wake Jenny now and we can bathe and have our breakfast.”
Jennifer woke dreamily to Rebecca’s kisses and tried to drag her back into bed. Rebecca laughed and told her “No time now darling! We’ve got a tight schedule so we must be up and away. It’s eight o’clock now and breakfast is at half past so let’s go jump in the bath.”
“What is this schedule Becky?”
“It’s a surprise Jenny! Something wonderful. There’ll be magic in the air today! Come on shift your sweet fanny!”
After breakfast Sebastian came into the dining chamber carrying two long cloaks over his arm. “Your car is waiting ladies and I’ve brought you your robes.”
“Car? What car?” asked Jennifer in bewilderment.
“We’re leaving the cellars Jenny honey. Last night was your last night down here!”
Oh we’re going upstairs?”
“Not immediately Jenny. We’re … er… taking a little detour you might say!”
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere special! You’ll see! Now say goodbye to Sebastian.”
“Oh!” Jennifer was flustered and confused but she jumped up to hug Sebastian “Thank you Sebastian! I… I’ll never forget these last few days. Thank you so much!”
“The pleasure was entirely mine Miss Jennifer. I do hope that your stay was not too uncomfortable.”
Jennifer laughed, “I don’t know how to answer that Sebastian! If a week ago somebody had told me what was going to happen to me and had told me that it would be sheer bliss I would have thought them quite mad!”
“Well then I am content Miss Jennifer. It has been a great joy to have you here. I do hope that you will visit me again soon.”
“Oh I will! I will I promise!”
“I am most gratified to hear it Miss. Now your cloak Miss if you will allow me.” Sebastian held out a long cloak in silvery green. It had no sleeves but just d****d over the shoulders and fastened with a clasp at the collar. Other than that it fell just loosely nearly to the ankles. You had to clutch it about yourself to hide your nakedness beneath. Jennifer was surprised.
“Are we to leave the house dressed like this?”
“That’s right Jenny.” Rebecca told her. “Just a cloak and a pair of sandals. Don’t worry you won’t need more where we are going.” Rebecca’s cloak was in deep purple.
“I’m not worried Becky! Its more clothes than I’ve worn all week! It feels strange to have anything on at all other than my collar and cuffs to tell the truth but you mentioned a car. Does that mean that we might have to appear in public like this?”
“We’re not going far Jenny and it will be very, very private; very secret.” Rebecca donned her own cloak and the pair of them slipped on light sandals. Wishing Sebastian a final farewell Rebecca led Jennifer up some steps to a doorway that opened out into the grounds. As they left the cellars Jennifer looked back with something akin to grief at her parting. That those caverns of torment could have become such a domain of comfort and contentment she could scarcely credit. She knew that she had left a part of her, wandering those dungeons forever. Chester accompanied her to the door and she reached down to stroke his large head one last time but he would not venture beyond the confines of his strange underworld. She was sorry to part from him. There were tears in the hazel eyes that blinked in the brightness of the morning sunshine.
A limousine was waiting for them there and a uniformed chauffeur held the door open for them. Jennifer clutched her cloak tightly about herself and climbed into the big car hastily. Once they were both seated the driver steered the car around the Hall and down the long drive to the gates of the grounds. Jennifer looked at Rebecca questioningly but her companion just patted her hand and smiled. Beyond the grounds the driver transported them through the countryside and then up onto the fell tops above. On a lonely road across the heather clad hillside the car stopped and the chauffeur rushed around to open their door for them.
“Here we are Jenny!” Rebecca informed her.
Jennifer climbed out of the car in complete bewilderment. There seemed nothing but the bare hills and moorland in every direction. “Here Rebecca? But there’s nothing here! We’re just up on the fells here!”
“Oh but there is Jenny! Look.” Rebecca pointed to a simple dirt track leading over the swell of the hill. “That’s our path. That’s the track to a fairy kingdom honey. It’s not far and this is going to be the experience of your life believe me!” Jennifer shook her head in confusion. The big car drove off and left them on the lonely hillside with the breeze in their hair. “Come on Jenny! We don’t want to give some old shepherd up here a heart attack now do we?” Slowly they walked along the track serenaded by the skylarks on the hilltop. The ground rose for some distance but then began to descend. They came upon a tiny stream and the path followed it, questing downwards. Eventually they rounded a crest and Jennifer realised that they must have taken a roundabout route in the car for she could see the great Hall far in the distance. The little stream plunged down into a little valley and they followed it until they came to a gate. It was a strange entrance, an ornamental brick archway closed by a wrought iron gate bearing a sign declaring this to be private property. Beside the gate was a large gong and a hammer hanging on a chain. Rebecca took the hammer and struck at the gong three times and its sonorous reverberations echoed in the little valley. “Make a wish Jenny.” She told her.
“Where does this gateway lead to Becky?”
“This is the way down into the Oriental Gardens Jennifer. Beyond here, if you like, lies the spiritual home of our House. This is the most magical place in Mathomdale. This is our Garden of Eden Jenny. This is where our spirits live! Now make a wish!”
Jennifer looked at the cuffs still on her wrists and the lovely Rebecca looking at her expectantly. In her mind’s eye she saw all the people that she was coming to regard as her f****y, Rachel, the twins, Abigail, Sebastian, Alice, her wonderful Julie and finally the overpowering presence of her Mistress. “I think all my wishes have come true already Rebecca.”
“There’re always wishes and dreams Jenny! Look there.” Rebecca pointed to a gilded plaque on the wrought iron gate. It said, “Audio Somnio” “That’s Latin. It means dare to dream. It’s the motto of our House Jenny. Beyond these gates there are dreams. You only have to wish them to come true. We’re the House of Mathom, your original dream team!”
“Oh!” Jennifer felt a rush of anticipation. She had heard things about these gardens. Rachel had talked of them briefly with a far away look in her eye and a wistful tone to her voice. They had cast a spell over her Jennifer knew but it was intensely personal and Rachel hadn’t elaborated on what she had found beyond these gates. Silently Jennifer made a wish but never ever told anybody what it was she had wished for. Rebecca unlatched the gate and the two young women passed into the realm beyond. The stream wound through a small vale until it took a sharp bend and passed into a small and narrow gorge. At the head of this gorge Jennifer drew in her breath sharply. Standing guard at each side of the entrance to the narrow defile were two enormous sphinxes carved from the stone of the cliff face. They stood some ten metres high and their nether regions were in the form of great squatting cats whilst their upper torsos were those of naked women. The faces on the huge statues were serene with closed eyes. Rebecca walked forward and bowed formally before the two statues beckoning Jennifer to do the same. Rebecca spoke formally in a clear voice.
“These two humble slaves beg permission to pass this portal and ask the blessing of the Goddess within her inner realm.” There was a stillness in the air and Jennifer half expected some sonorous voice from within the rock to bid them enter and bless them. But Rebecca straightened up and took her by the hand. Jennifer could feel Rebecca’s hand trembling slightly and she saw that her face was flushed with excitement. “They’re called the Sentinels Jenny.” she whispered almost as if fearing that the two statues could hear her. “They guard the inner entrance to the gardens. It’s very bad luck to pass them without asking for permission and the blessing of the Goddess.”
“I see.” Jennifer was mesmerised by the atmospheric intensity of that quiet place with the little bubbling brook weaving between the awesome figures of the two sphinxes. Rebecca led her by the hand into the little gorge. There were caves in the cliff faces and more water poured from them adding to the little brook until it was a much more substantial stream. They wended their way along a stony path at the side of the brook. At one point the path ended in a sheer rock face and they crossed the stream by means of a high arched stone bridge with low pa****ts to continue on the other side. The stream sounded loud in the narrow confines of the gorge and in places dropped over waterfalls of exquisite beauty where the track was carved from the cliff face and had wooden railings high above the rushing water. They walked without speaking, as if the sound of their voices would defile the tranquillity of that narrow canyon, and gripped each other’s hand as if fearful that they might be spirited away by whatever nymphs ruled within these quiet cliffs. Finally the gorge opened out and they crossed the stream once more over a little wooden bridge and passed into a little vale of heartbreaking loveliness. Here the ground was nearly flat and the stream became a tranquil meandering bubbling brook over the tiniest of little waterfalls between verdant closely cropped meadows whose grass seemed more like a velvet carpet studded with wild flowers.
Jennifer gasped in wonderment. This peaceful hollow seemed some sort of natural perfection and beyond it she could gaze down into the gardens stretching away into the distance. She could see miniature forests, terraces of rock and small cliffs intertwined with harmonious shrubs, towering trees and inviting glades. There were pavilions, towers and tall pagodas peering tantalisingly between the trees and the glint of water on still pools and running streams. The place didn’t seem connected to reality at all. It was a true fairyland almost impossible to take in at a first glance. It was a tapestry of harmonising colour and shape. It was so perfect that it brought a lump to the throat. In a blinding flash she understood the tremor in Rebecca’s voice when she talked of this place.
“Goddess! How beautiful Rebecca!” she breathed.
Rebecca’s eyes were shining in the way that people’s do when they have sprung a lovely surprise on one dear to them. “It’s quite something isn’t it?”
Jennifer was breathless “Oh Rebecca! If I could capture this on canvas I would call myself an artist indeed! I’ve never seen anywhere like it! Goddess how big is this place?”
“From the portal of the Sentinels to the Bridge of Despair it’s about four miles long and maybe half that wide at its widest point. It’s growing as well. Each year it gets just a little bit larger, a couple of feet here a yard or two there, as it gradually takes more and more of the grounds and lands about into its essence. There’s a legend that says that one day, in some remote and unforeseeable future, when mankind has finally come to redemption, it will cover the world and we’ll all live in the garden forever more.”
Jennifer looked around the little vale. It was impossible to tell whether this harmonious perfection was natural or contrived by human hand. Every rock and boulder, each little stunted tree or shrub, every calm pool in the little stream seemed so natural yet at the same time just so perfectly placed to create a perfection of harmony. “Is this real Rebecca? I mean is this just natural or has it been fashioned like this?”
Rebecca laughed. “Nearly everybody asks that Jenny! The truth is that it’s both. It is both nature and artifice at the same time. The genius of these gardens is that they don’t recognise human beings as unnatural. In here human artifice harmonises with natural beauty. In fact the very concept of natural beauty is a human artifice. You don’t expect a squirrel to appreciate the loveliness of the tree it lives in. But humans can and do. This is what makes us human in many respects. We change our environment around us all the time and often we just make it ugly. These gardens show the full flowering of human ingenuity. Here nature has been crafted, enhanced, nurtured to display its full beauty. Do you see that boulder over there?” Jennifer looked at the large white boulder. It was set on the velvety carpet of short grass with a tiny wild rose bush along side. It was strange. Its whiteness was almost luminescent and there were dark thin veins in it that resembled the patterns drawn by some ancient people in celebration of their existence and culture. It was easy to imagine enigmatic messages in the network of the dark lines. “That’s called the Stone of Forgetfulness Jennifer. I know the lady who had it placed here. They found it quarrying in the hills nearby and she spent nearly three months in meditation before deciding to place it here. Apparently they made a full ritual out of it and blessed it in its new location. She planted that little rose bush by the side of it with her own hands yet you’d swear that it just grew up there on its own. She told me about that stone some years ago. She cried when she told me.”
“Cried? But why?”
“Because she can never see it again Jennifer.” Rebecca looked sad. She indicated a little stone bench by a series of flat rocks traversing the stream “Come let’s sit awhile and take in the view and I’ll tell you something about these gardens.” They wrapped their cloaks about them and sat on the bench. “You’re very privileged to see these gardens Jennifer.” she continued. “We call them the Oriental Gardens but that’s not strictly accurate because they’re neither exclusively oriental nor completely occidental. They’re a mixture of cultures and styles borrowing from lands all over the world. They have elements of the gardens of Shalamar in the Punjab, Japanese gardens, recreations of the Summer Palace in China, the finest examples of English landscape gardening and just a huge crafting of the natural beauty of the valley. They are quite unique Jennifer. Some people have considered them to be one of the wonders of the world yet very few people have ever seen them. If they were opened to the public then you’d have millions queuing up to see them. There is certainly no other garden in England that comes remotely close to their perfection and possibly not in the world yet it is a private reserve of the House of Mathom. The Hall itself contains treasures of incalculable value but there is probably nothing that can equal the aesthetic value of these carefully tended gardens.”
“Who made them Rebecca?”
“Ah I was coming to that Jenny. Today you are doubly privileged because you are going to meet the architect behind this loveliness. She is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met Jenny. She’s Japanese and her name is Yuki Shiro but everybody calls her Shiro-san. This…” Rebecca swept her hand around to encompass the magical scenery below them, “... is all hers. She is Queen here and this is her realm. Even our Mistress defers to her within these gardens Jenny. They say she has lived within these gardens for over two hundred and fifty years and she never leaves them.”
“Not once Jennifer! Ever! This is all the world she requires. She has seven slaves under her. They change from time to time but there are always seven because it’s a lucky number. There are always four women and three men. Of course other people come in to help from time to time but those seven and herself live here permanently. Many of her slaves live with her for years, decades even and when they part another takes their place. The lady I told you about lived in these gardens for nearly twenty years before leaving to found a f****y without. But there is a rule that nobody that has ever lived here as a tender of these gardens may ever return once they have left. They are not even allowed to set foot beyond the boundaries of the garden. When they leave they say their farewell at the bridge at the end of the gardens and they can never cross back in. That’s why it’s called the Bridge of Despair. It’s as if when they leave they have turned their back on paradise.”
“Oh that’s terrible!”
“Not really Jennifer. I suppose they carry the garden about in their heads for the rest of their lives and many of them go on to become great gardeners in other places but you can see the sadness in them when they talk of their days in here. Me? I couldn’t do it. I’m not the meditative type that could spend all year fashioning a little waterfall on some tiny little rivulet that hardly anybody’s going to see anyway but there are people to whom such a life is very attractive and spiritually rewarding. We should just be happy that we’re allowed to share in the creation that they have made. I said before that these gardens are our spiritual home Jenny. Well I wasn’t being flippant. People who experience these gardens never forget them. When you walk beyond the Bridge of Despair you always leave some part of you behind. That part comes back to haunt you in your dreams. Whenever I feel tense or depressed or life just gets too much I can close my eyes and I’m back here walking these gardens in the springtime when the cherries are blossoming and scent their blooms in my nostrils. I’ve come here many times seeking peace and a moment of forgetfulness from the world beyond and always it feels new and fresh to me. Here’s the place where we find our serenity. This is the garden of the Goddess.”
Jennifer looked at her lover in astonishment. She knew of Rebecca’s consuming passions but she had never seen her so wistfully contemplative. She looked old beyond her years yet younger than she had ever seen her, the sagacity of great age mingled with the wonder of a c***d. The gentle little vale seemed a perfect setting for this beautiful woman Jennifer so loved, as if she herself had been planted there with loving care, another flower to enhance the enchantment of this private place. “But this place is huge Rebecca. Surely it can’t all be made and maintained by just eight people.”
“No of course not Jenny. Many other gardeners and helpers come in to help with all the work but Shiro-san and her slaves are the brains behind the whole affair. Nothing gets done in here without their say so. I suppose you could say that Shiro-san is to these gardens what Sebastian is to the cellars and caverns, Mistress and Master of their own domains.”
“You said that the Lady defers to this Shiro-san. Does that mean that she has no authority here?”
“Goddess no! These gardens are the property of the House of Mathom. They are a part of the Lady’s empire and she is supreme over them. No what I meant is that she grants autonomy to the Mistress of the gardens and when she comes here she concedes her authority to the lady of the gardens. But ultimately these pleasure gardens grew out of the Purple Lady’s vision. She has her own pavilions within the gardens. We sometimes jokingly refer to the gardens as the Summer Palace. Come on we’ve talked enough let’s walk down and explore.”
Jennifer never forgot the enchantment of that walk down into the Oriental Gardens. At virtually every turn there was some new wonder to behold. There were exquisite glades and picnic grounds, perfect little waterfalls, springs and quiet pools. There were lily-clad ponds with little islands in them with tiny pavilions on that you reached by extraordinary small bridges. There were groves of ornamental trees that seemed just perfection. One Rebecca called the Sato Zakura garden made up from hosts of dwarf ornamental cultivated cherry trees grafted onto wild cherry trees. “You should see this place in the spring Jennifer when all the cherries are blossoming in pinks and whites. There’re over thirty different forms within this part of the garden alone. That one over there with the drooping branches is a Cheal’s Weeping Cherry but most of the varieties have Japanese names. That one’s a Hokusai and the tall conical one over there is an Amanogawa. A bit further down I’ll show you the magnolia groves. They’re glorious too in the springtime. Each spring we have a garden party in here to enjoy the blossoms.” The little carefully tended path weaved between the small trees and Jennifer could see how the petals of the blossoms would form a gentle snow of pinks and whites as you walked beneath the boughs and the small pond within the groves would have its surface carpeted by the falling petals. Before long Jennifer had no idea where they were anymore, for Rebecca led them often aside to examine hidden corners and explore a bewildering assortment of exquisitely beautiful features.
Jennifer was surprised to find many classical influences mixed in with the Oriental influences such as Greco-Romanic statuary and fountains. “Don’t forget that these gardens pre-date Shiro-san’s tenure as Mistress of them.” Rebecca told her.
“You mean she didn’t create them then?”
“They were started really in the late fifteenth century. Some of the oldest parts show the influences of that era. You’ll find a lot of influence from the renaissance within the inner gardens, Shiro-san took over the gardens in the eighteenth century and it’s only from then that they started to attain their oriental characteristics. Shiro’s genius was to harmonise the previous European formal gardens with an oriental style and at the same time introduce the 18th and 19th century English landscape gardening styles that grew up out of people such as Capability Brown giving the whole place a sort of hybrid character. Many of the styles within the garden can be seen all over the place throughout the grounds but it’s only really in here that they achieve such a totality of perfection. This side valley is the jewel in the crown of all our parks and gardens.” Rebecca led her over to a stone fountain, like a large horse trough, of obvious Italian influence with reliefs carved on the stonework. Water gurgled out of a metal pipe at its base where a little rose bush grew. “Recognise this Honey?” Rebecca asked.
“It … it seems familiar. I can’t put my finger on it though.”
“It’s called the Fountain of Venus. There’s a study of it in a painting in the Hall. It’s the same fountain depicted in Titian’s masterpiece “Sacred and Profane Love”. Nobody knows if the gardens borrowed the design of the fountain from Titian or whether Titian painted the fountain in his picture from this fountain.”
“Of course! Of course! I know the painting! Goddess I’d love to paint Helen and Heather sitting on it.”
“Why ever so?”
“The two women in the painting are identical Becky. They’re supposed to be two aspects of love. One of the women is naked whilst the other wears a 16th century Venetian wedding gown. You can’t tell that they’re exactly the same woman to begin with because one is turned sideways so you only see her in profile.”
“I see! A bit of nudge, nudge, wink, wink is it? This is what the bride looks like in her wedding frock and this is her a bit later on!”
Jennifer laughed “Something like that! Titian was certainly renowned for the eroticism of his work.”
“Well I think you’ll get short shrift out of the twins darling. They’re meticulous about keeping their figures trim and Titian’s models don’t look as if they’ve ever heard of dieting! Come on there’s something just along here I want to show you.” Rebecca led her by the hand through some more groves to a place of extraordinary peace and loveliness. It was a tiny, flower-clad glade containing a small stone cottage and a minute chapel.
“Oh this is lovely!” exclaimed Jennifer, although she was beginning to become repetitive in the use of that adjective.
“It’s called the Captain’s garden Jenny and there’s a story about it. It’s named for a Captain Richard Brownlow who lived here for many years.”
“Was he one of Shiro-san’s slaves?”
“Oh no Jenny! He wasn’t even of the Line. He was a Royal Navy captain on a frigate in the Second World War fighting in the Atlantic. He was decorated for bravery and had a tremendous war record. He had a wife and two young c***dren in London. Near the end of the war he returned home and found his house gone and his entire f****y dead. They’d been killed by a flying bomb. It broke him. He left London and came to live in the North of the country with relatives trying to find peace but he was a broken man. One day he decided to end it all. He wrote a long suicide letter and then came up to the hills above Mathomdale to find a place to die. He didn’t know Mathomdale and as he wandered about the hills he accidentally came upon the entrance to the Oriental Gardens and he drifted down into them. He was walking about entranced in the gardens when he came upon a young woman called Mary, who was an Alpha slave of Shiro-san, in this glade and fell in love with her. Shiro-san allowed him to live here and he built this cottage for himself and Mary and found peace after all. He lived all the rest of his life as a guest working in the gardens and never left them again. He died a few years ago and Mary left the gardens for good after she’d built that little chapel to lay him to rest in.”
Jennifer felt the tears pricking at her eyes “Oh that’s a beautiful story Rebecca; sad and beautiful.”
“We can find beauty even in our grief Jenny. I’ve talked to people that knew the old man. They say he used to potter about in the gardens singing bawdy sea shanties and tell them outrageous sailor’s stories on the veranda of his little cottage. Everybody loved the scandalous old rogue and it broke everybody’s heart when he finally died. They’ve left the cottage just as it was when he lived in it and it’s full of maritime artefacts and ships models that he used to make in his spare time.” Rebecca paused and looked wistful then she brightened up “Come along you can’t be sad for too long in here. Let’s move on. We’ve loads more to see!”
Indeed there was. Rebecca showed Jennifer perfect little pavilions in secret glades seemingly custom made for private lover’s trysts where the trees were hung with little lanterns. They climbed to the top of a high wooden pagoda and took in the panorama of the gardens from a balcony high above the treetops. Everywhere Jennifer’s senses were assailed by beauty. There seemed no end to the richness of this contrived landscape. You saw one idyllic little causeway across a mirror like pond and thought that it could not be bettered in perfection only to take another turn in the path and discover another treasure that surpassed it yet. There was a pavilion entirely gilded in burnished gold set among American Chestnuts that you just knew would blend perfectly into them in their golden autumnal foliage. Years, centuries, of thought and meditation had gone into the artful contrivance of these gardens. The sheer genius of it took one’s breath away. They passed through open groves where all the trees were hung with tiny silver bells that glittered and tinkled softly in the breeze and came upon little springs bubbling out of the ground that had been carefully opened to view and where you could kneel and drink the pure cold water thankfully on a hot day. Rebecca showed her one pavilion that straddled a small stream. It was long and open sided and the sides of the quietly flowing water were paved and you could sit cross-legged by the stream. “It’s based on a garden in Japan.” Rebecca told her. You’re supposed to come in here with a brush and a parchment and sit by the stream and compose a poem. At the far end of the pavilion somebody floats little cups of saki, rice wine, down the stream. If you haven’t finished your poem you’re supposed to pick them out of the water and drink them and replace the cup back on the water for somebody to collect at the other end. You’re not allowed to leave until you’ve composed your poem. It’s supposed to be in the waka or haiku forms of five lines or so.”
“Have you ever done that?”
“Oh yes in the springtime when we visit the cherry blossoms. Mind you I usually end up half canned! I’m not very poetical!”
“I think you’re lying! I’ve seen a poetic side to you.”
“You’d make anybody wax poetical Jenny darling! Come on let’s go kiss the Goddess!”
Rebecca laughed easily “You’ll see!” She led Jennifer through yet more entrancing and exquisite corners before bringing her out into a clearing containing a strange statue. It was of a life sized naked woman sitting with one arm arced away from her and the other held lower down and her face turned as if to receive a kiss. It was if she had some invisible lover held in her arms in tender embrace.
“What a strange statue!” Jennifer exclaimed.
“That’s because it’s incomplete Jennifer! Watch!” Rebecca shed her cloak on the lawn and climbed naked up onto the pedestal of the statue. She squirmed between the arms of the statue and sat on its lap folding her arms around the marble torso and placing her lips on those of the upturned face. Jennifer gasped. Suddenly the sculpture was complete. The marble figure now perfectly embraced Rebecca, one arm about her back and the other resting on her thigh. It was astonishing. The whole was now a work of two beautiful women, one in stone and the other in living flesh merged with each other in gentle lovemaking. She half expected the marble figure to come to life or for Rebecca to become petrified in stone to complete the tableau.
“Oh Goddess this I have to paint!”
Rebecca grinned down at her “It’s weird isn’t it? Go on you have a go now!” Bemusedly Jennifer replaced Rebecca on the statue. It felt perfectly shaped to accommodate her and the stone was cool against her naked skin. She felt her nipples brush the smooth grey marble and come erect in pleasure. She almost moaned in arousal so wanton did the pose feel. Rebecca clapped her hands in glee. “Perfect! Just perfect. Damn why didn’t we bring a camera?”
Jennifer left the statue and embraced Rebecca marvelling at the feel of her warm flesh after the cool stone. “Have we time Becky?”
“No we haven’t Jennifer! Behave yourself! We’ve been wandering about for hours and Shiro is expecting us. We don’t have any specific time to meet her but if we start where we left off last night we’ll never get there! Later though! Tonight we have all night to make love in the gardens!”
Rebecca looked serious “Jenny there’s something that I want from you tonight. Something that is very special to me. I want you to do something for me. For the love of me will you do it?”
“What is it Rebecca?”
“I don’t want to tell you Jenny. Not yet. It’s a surprise. It may be difficult for you but it would mean a great deal to me. Will you do it?”
“Becky you came and shared my whipping yesterday in the cellars for the love of me. You didn’t have to do that but out of love you did it. So whatever you want me to do I shall, sight unseen, however terrible it is. I swear it!”
“Oh Jennifer thank you! It won’t be too terrible I promise you.” She kissed Jennifer and then clipped their cuffs together. “Beloved let’s go down into the inner sanctum now. To the heart of the magic.”
At the heart was a shallow lake and a causeway of broad stones that led to a large island at its centre. Carefully they walked across the causeway to the island. It was perhaps three acres in area of groves, lawns, flowerbeds, fountains, little summerhouses, shrubs and majestic trees. Once again there were bells hanging from the trees and dozens of Chinese lanterns. At the centre of the island was a complex large pavilion with a surrounding veranda and a tall tower all in carved and exotically painted wood. Rebecca had been right; this island felt like the epicentre of all the magic pervading these gardens. “Doesn’t seem to be anybody about.” murmured Rebecca.
Jennifer thought that strange for they hadn’t seen a single soul since they had set foot in the gardens. “Is … is this where she lives?”
“Yes this is Shiro’s palace Jenny. Well we’ll just wait until somebody comes along. There’s a rock garden over here I want you to see. We can sit by that.” When Rebecca said a “rock garden” she meant exactly that. Jennifer had a vision of a sort of rock shrubbery planted with alpine flowers and they must have seen dozens of examples of that so she was puzzled as to why Rebecca particularly wanted her to see this one. But this was very different. It consisted of a number of large rocks of differing sizes nestling in a bed of coarse pure white sand. The sand had been carefully raked to make fluffy looking patterns and Jennifer’s artistic eye immediately saw the point as they sat on the little surrounding wall gazing in fascination at the sunken garden. The rocks looked just like the peaks of mountains poking through the clouds. You could almost see in your mind’s eye the tiny figures of mountaineers atop the peaks or mountain goats walking sure-footedly on the slopes. Rebecca agreed with her. “But it changes Jenny.” She told her “Every few days somebody rakes the sand in a different way and the image changes. One day the stones are like an archipelago of islands in a tropical sea. The next time you see them they’ve raked the sand up into circular mounds around the rocks and they’re a series of fortresses standing on a plain. Then again you’ll come here and they’re a herd of wild b**sts curled up and sl**ping on the grasslands. There’re lots of these kinds of rock gardens in Japan. There’re famous ones in Kyoto I believe. They’re sometimes called Zen gardens because they’re made and maintained by Zen Buddhist monks at their temples. I can just sit and look at this for hours and let my imagination roam.”
“It’s just perfect Becky! Like everything here it’s just perfect! This whole place is just the most fantastic thing I ever saw!”
“I am so very glad that you like it” The two girls jumped to their feet startled by the sudden lilting voice behind them. Jennifer’s eyes widened in surprise. The owner of the voice in some ways was the most fantastic thing she had seen so far in the gardens. She was tiny, like a fragile doll, and extraordinarily beautiful with her oriental features and delicate high cheekbones, elegantly curved eyebrows and exquisite dark Asian eyes. Her dress was quite remarkable for she wore the full dress kimono of a geisha and her kimono was an art work in itself, a great sheath of sky blue silk decorated in amazing gold, white and black designs of trees, birds and distant mountains. A broad obi in pure gold was about her waist and her black hair was tied up on her head with delicate gold ornaments. Over her shoulder she carried a blue and gold parasol to shade her perfect skin from the heat of the afternoon sun. Rebecca clasped her hands together and bowed low in Asian fashion. “Konichi-wa Shiro-san!” Hastily Jennifer copied her and the lady bowed politely in her turn to them.
“And you are most welcome my ladies. It has been long since you visited us here in the gardens Lady Rebecca. You have been neglecting us.”
“Not for want of the desire to see them again and the pleasure of your wise company My Lady.”
The tiny Japanese woman turned to Jennifer and smiled enchantingly. “And you must be the lady Jennifer. I have heard much about you. You are very like your mother. She spent much time with us here beyond the last bridge. May I welcome you to our humble garden? May your stay here be one of peace and great joy.”
Jennifer swallowed and bowed once more “I… I thank you Shiro-san. Your garden has already brought more joy than this wretched slave can ever deserve. I thank you for the gift of it although I am not worthy of such a precious boon.”
“Ah Lady! You wrong yourself! You grace these gardens with your loveliness. The wall seat you reclined upon when I first saw you will be honoured. With your permission I will call it the Jennifer throne and each year on this day I will adorn it with flowers in memory of the first day that I set my eyes upon you.” Jennifer choked and blushed unable to express herself in the face of the deeply touching tranquillity that surrounded this tiny woman like a veil. She bowed low again not trusting herself to speak. “But come the Lady Rebecca and yourself must be thirsty and hungry. Let us retire to the veranda and I shall order refreshments for you.” Jennifer thrilled at the sound of the soft beautifully modulated voice. The English was impeccable but there was just enough hint of oriental accent to make it exotic and captivating. The woman glided across the lawn to the veranda, her kimono about her ankles, in studied grace. Jennifer could not take her eyes off her. This was the gentle magician that had woven her spell about these gardens of entrancement. You could not envision her in any other environment. She was indistinguishable from her own creation, perfect, subtly delicate and oh so fragilely beautiful. She belonged here as much as the butterflies that flitted over the flowery lawns, ephemeral, yet somehow indestructible in her harmonious preciousness.
On the veranda, beneath the maple trees, there was a low table, only a foot or so high and they knelt down on cushions beside it in Japanese style. Shiro-san clapped her hands lightly and a latticed door at the side of the pavilion slid open and two young women emerged bearing trays. Jennifer gazed at them in astonishment for they both wore full highly decorated silk kimonos but neither of them was Japanese. One was a ravenously beautiful blond girl in a red and gold kimono whilst the other was a fine boned attractive African woman with skin the colour of polished ebony dressed in a kimono of white with black patterns on it and a black obi. They lay their burdens down on the table in graceful symmetry and stood to bow low to their guests. Rebecca and Jennifer rose to bow in return as Shiro-san introduced them. The blond girl was called Daniela and she bid them welcome, her voice carrying a hint of central European accent about it. The African girl bore the name Nadira and her accent was difficult to place for her English was flawless. The two women knelt by the table and served their guests food and poured tea for them.
Jennifer realised that their approach must have been long observed for the food and tea were hot. She picked up her rice bowl admiring the fine china of it and blessing herself that she had learned to eat with chopsticks years ago for those were the only utensils on the table. The food was very Japanese in character with fine white rice, little pieces of fish marinated in soy sauce and delicate shrimps. There didn’t seem much chance of her gaining weight in the gardens. In fact she was thankful that the meal was so light for otherwise it might have distracted her from her host and she found it difficult to not stare at the extraordinary Japanese woman. She had a gracefulness that possibly only the Mistress of the Great Hall could have matched although she lacked the simmering sensuality of that rival. She just seemed so delicate. You would be afraid to touch her for fear of her shattering in your hands or of disturbing her tranquillity. But as Jennifer watched her she realised that this tiny woman was much less fragile than she appeared. She held an aura of immutable timelessness about her as if the world beyond her domain could change, crash in ruin or wither away and yet leave this woman and her garden unaltered. Like bamboo she might bend in the wind but never break and all her purpose was to maintain this little touch of earthly paradise she had fashioned out of the vision of her own serenity. For she was this garden Jennifer realised. This entire landscape was simply an extension of this woman’s inner being, indivisible from her as if the very garden grew in obedience to her irresistible harmony.
No wonder the Purple Lady had granted her the custody of this domain, appointed her keeper of this garden of the Goddess. She remembered her lessons that the Goddess was many things, sometimes wild and untameable, sometimes sweet and loving, other times hard and ruthless. She had the gentleness of a mother and the fiery passion of a lover. She was an imperious lady and a soft c***d that retained its sense of wonder. She was kind words, laughter and gentle caresses at the same time as She was strong, calculating and devious. She was also this woman Jennifer saw. Shiro-san carried the Goddess in her in a pure aspect. This serenity of beingness, this perfect harmonisation to her environment was the Goddess in a very specialised aspect. She saw Rebecca’s point that there was an analogy to be drawn between her and Sebastian. Both wore aspects of the Goddess perfectly adapted to the worlds they inhabited. She wondered how many other realms had the Purple Lady created and placed her acolytes in charge of. Was that her genius too that she could so easily recognise which aspect of the Goddess ruled one and place one into the environment most suited to that aspect? For Shiro-san could never be all the other aspects of the Goddess so purely. Only the Purple Lady could do that.
“Shiro-san? she asked “Rebecca tells me that my Mistress sometimes spends some time in these gardens. Is that very often?”
“Ah lady! You ask a great mystery of me. The Great Lady never leaves these gardens.”
“Rebecca says that nobody ever really leaves these gardens.”
“The lady Rebecca has great wisdom for her years. These gardens are but a dream and the spirit takes its dreams everywhere. The Great Lady taught us long ago that reality is but the sum total of our dreams. She granted me leave to dream my dreams in the gardens of Her House for these gardens are Her dream and my dream but a dream within a dream. The Great Lady cannot leave a place where she lives forever.”
Jennifer pondered these strange words. “Yes but does she sometimes bring her physical presence within these gardens?”
Shiro-san laughed and her merriment was like the tinkling of the bells in the bushes. “Ah so sorry lady! You are a precocious one! I must try not to avoid your questions with philosophies! Yes the Empress does bless these humble gardens with her visible presence from time to time although not as often as we would like. She has many realms to oversee and this is but a garden of dreams.”
“I would love to meet her in your beautiful garden Shiro-san.”
“But you already have my lady Jennifer. In the eye of your spirit she walks beside you through every grove. The kiss of the breeze in the cherry blossoms is her caress upon your skin. This is her dream. In here you walk the pathways of your Mistress’s spirit.”
“And you my lady Shiro?”
“I am among the most blessed of slaves lady. So much love does my Mistress bear me that she allows me to live in tender to her very dreams. Will you take some saki?”
“Yes thank you! I tried it once and I liked it.”
“And you lady Rebecca?”
“Yes My lady Shiro. I would love some.” The hot rice wine was served by two more girls, one an extraordinarily beautiful Chinese girl called Ming Ue and the other a blond woman of clearly English extraction called, incongruously, Doris, whose clear blue eyes seemed forever on the point of laughter. They poured the wine from a little flask that was even to the untutored eye a work of art with astonishing indigo designs on the delicate white china. The tiny little cups from which they sipped were special too. As Jennifer raised hers to her lips she saw that there was a purple eye painted onto the bottom of the inside of her cup. They drank the hot fragrant wine with great pleasure but as she regarded her empty cup she gasped. The painting on the interior had disappeared!
Shiro-san saw her startled surprise and laughed. “Ah forgive me Lady! It is just a little pleasantry of ours, a silly little indulgence! Doris pour the lady some more saki.” Doris seemed closer to laughter than ever as she refilled Jennifer’s cup. In the full cup the purple eye was clearly visible through the clear liquid.
Jennifer shook her head. “How does it work?” she asked.
Rebecca answered, “I don’t know exactly Jenny. I’ve seen them before. They work on some principle of refraction that only makes the picture visible when the cup is filled with liquid. They’re quite popular novelties in Japan. Often they have rude pictures in them. A friend of mine brought some back when she visited Tokyo a few years back. I haven’t a clue how they do it but they’re clever aren’t they?”
“They certainly are! It scared the daylights out of me! I truly thought they were bewitched!”
Rebecca laughed, “Shiro-san loves optical illusions Jennifer. These gardens are full of them. There’s one pavilion with a wall covering half a veranda that’s painted to exactly resemble the outside. You have to go back and look twice to discern where the wall ends and the outside scene begins. There’s all sorts of things like that in these gardens when you start looking for them.”
Shiro-san nodded, pleased. “All of the gardens are an illusion Lady Rebecca. But then isn’t everything?”
Rebecca smiled “After a few more cups of saki I’ll probably agree with you Shiro-san!”
“Saki is good for dreams and illusions Lady. Let Doris fill your cup and we can dream on together.”
“I must go soon Shiro-san.”
“You have to go?” asked Jennifer in surprise “But why and where?”
“Only temporarily Jenny. I’m coming back a little later in time for dinner. There’s just something I have to do first.”
“Whatever is it?”
“Just a little surprise Jennifer. Something to make our night in the gardens perfect.”
“I can’t keep up with all your surprises these last two days Rebecca!”
“Don’t you like them?”
“Of course I do! Every one has been magical. I just can’t help wondering what you are conjuring up this time.”
“Something special Jenny. You’ve trusted me this far trust me a little more.”
“Good. Can you look after Jennifer for me Shiro-san?”
“But yes Lady. Is there anything she requires particularly?”
“Yes. Will you have her whipped? There wasn’t time to do it earlier but our Mistress has said that she must be whipped every day until she is brought back to her.”
“But of course. We shall take her to the magnolia groves and she can bless the late summer blooms with her agony. Even the song birds in the trees will still their chatter to listen to her sweet screams.” Jennifer cast her eyes down and sought her inner harmony.
“Thank you Shiro-san. I will leave her with you then until later.”
When Rebecca had departed Shiro-san had Doris pour more saki for Jennifer. “Please take your time Lady. We shall take you to the magnolia groves when you have found your peace.”
Jennifer swallowed “Thank you Shiro-san. You do me great honour to permit my agony within your garden. I shall try to prove myself worthy of that honour.”
“Ah so sorry Lady but it is you who honour us! These gardens will be sweeter and more blessed yet for their having you share your pain with them. We shall plant flowers in the grove where you bless us with that pain and we shall call it the Jennifer grove forever more in memory of the honour you grant us.”
“You honour me too much but I thank you. I am ready now.”
“It is well Lady. Let us seek out the magnolia groves then.” The four slaves of Shiro-san had been kneeling on tatami mats but now rose in a single unified harmonious body to assist Jennifer to her feet and e****t her. Shiro-san led the way but her four women flanked Jennifer, carrying soft mats, as they passed over the causeway of stones across the lake and through the gardens to the magnolia groves. The groves were beautiful and the low Saucer Magnolias had a late flowering among their green foliage. Shiro-san seemed undecided as they walked among the groves. She’d see one lovely open space but shake her head and lead them onwards seeking some place of more fitting perfection. At last they came upon a truly idyllic corner where a little lawn lay between the trees and a tiny spring bubbled out at one side by a little statue of Pelutia, the mermaid of the House of Mathom. Shiro-san walked over the ground critically, even stooping to place the odd fallen petal of the Saucer Magnolias in a more balanced location. At last she seemed satisfied. She turned to Jennifer and asked, “Would this place please you Lady? Would this be fitting for the honour you grant us?”
“Why it’s perfect Shiro-san. I am deeply touched that you have found so beautiful a place for me.”
“Thank you Lady. This would be a good place to die, a good place to be reborn. Let us birth you here in your garden.” Shiro-san murmured an order to her four ladies. They cast their mats on the ground and bowed low. “Will you rest awhile Lady whilst my slaves bring those things we require?”
Yes thank you.” Jennifer knelt upon one of the mats. Shiro-san bowed and lowered herself to a mat facing her. Her four slaves disappeared.
“It will be only a short while Lady. Let us enjoy the beauty of this day.”
Jennifer resided in a place of great peace. Her mind had seldom felt so clear, as if the cool waters of the spring were washing it clean and leaving a purity behind that no words of her own could describe. Another sacrifice was required of her yet it felt so appropriate, so apt that she could leave her pain in this place of sweet serenity. Shiro-san did not speak but watched her calmly, seeing the Goddess in the slim frame of the young woman before her. Jennifer raised her eyes to the sky. It was deep blue and unblemished by cloud. She felt the rays of the sun, now dropping down in the late afternoon, on her upturned face and shivered in their caress, glorying in her life. “The sky is so clear today Shiro-san. I’ve seen little of the sky these past days.” Shiro-san fanned herself with an elaborate Japanese fan and smiled.
“Will there be stars tonight Shiro-san?”
“Some yes Lady but many will be washed away. Tonight is the night of the full moon. The brilliance of the moon will drive all the lesser lights out of heaven.”
“Then your garden will be bathed in moonlight Shiro-san.”
“Indeed it will Lady. A fitting accompaniment to the light you shine on them. Will you walk in the moonlight tonight Lady?”
Goddess willing. I would see these gardens by the light of the moon.” The four ladies of Shiro-san’s garden came back and knelt before her. They were carrying burdens and these they lay on the grass before her as if seeking her approval. There was a small but stout box, some lengths of rope and a long coiled whip. Jennifer looked at these objects without fear, almost dispassionately, and nodded in acquiescence.
Shiro-san addressed her. “Lady will you choose your second from among my ladies? You would grant great honour by your choice.”
Jennifer looked at the four girls before her. The choice was agonising. There was the lovely Daniela, the statuesque dark Nadira, the exquisite Ming Ue and Doris, she of the laughing eyes. How could she choose among them? They were all looking at her, their faces shining in anticipation. The wisdom of such a choice seemed momentarily beyond her. From some deep hidden resource of her mind came an answer. She remembered something she’d read once about the meanings of names. She took a deep breath and said, “The moon will shine tonight therefore I choose Ming Ue for this is her night.”
Ming Ue let out her breath in wonderment and kowtowed to touch her forehead on the grass. Shiro-san shone in pleasure. “Ah lady! You are the daughter of Katherine! Let no one dispute it! Your choice is wise beyond measure. Ming Ue will be your second then.” She nodded to the other girls and they rose to assist Jennifer to her feet. Nadira and Doris propelled her gently by the arms whilst Daniela carried the wooden box to a pair of trees at the edge of the grove. The stood her beneath two large boughs of the trees and Nadira and Doris fastened ropes to the rings on her wrist cuffs before casting them over the long sturdy boughs above.
Daniela placed the box at her feet. “If you please Lady.” she requested. Jennifer understood and calmly stepped up onto the box. Nadira and Doris hauled on the ropes and pulled her arms tightly spread above her, until she was stood on the tips of her toes on the box, and secured them firmly to the trunks of the trees. Jennifer grimaced and took hold of the ropes securing her arms firmly. Daniela came to her and lifted her feet clear and removed the box beneath her. Jennifer was left suspended by her arms, her face set in tortured determination. Nadira and Doris took two more ropes and tied them to the rings on the cuffs about her ankles, pulling them wide apart to fasten then in their turn to the boles of the trees. Jennifer cried aloud in torment. She was spread eagled a foot above the ground, crucified between the trees, her limbs shrieking in agony. Ming Ue rose from her mat and stood before Jennifer to bow low. Nadira and Daniela helped her disrobe, unwrapping her obi and unravelling the myriad folds of her outer Kimono and its inner equivalent. At last she stood before Jennifer with just a short inner skirt on and naked to the waist. Doris bowed before her and presented the coiled whip. Ming Ue took the whip, kissed it reverently and bowed once more before the hanging Jennifer. Jennifer’s vision seemed exalted with some great clarity. There was a hush of expectancy in the quiet secluded glade as Doris, Nadira and Daniela took their places on their mats once again. Jennifer was breathing hard her attention riveted on the Chinese girl before her, the quiet bubbling of the spring unnaturally loud. Jennifer had never experienced a moment of such intense awareness before. The tiniest rustle was like a crack in the air about her. The colours of the trees and flowers were shocking in their vividness. Her breathing sounded like a steam train and she could already feel the perspiration trickling down her body. Ming Ue passed behind her and Jennifer focussed her attention on her observers sitting calmly on their mats and watching her with peaceful interest. Shiro-san was fanning herself gently and Ming Ue must have caught her eye for she nodded slightly.
The whip hissed in the air and wrapped itself around Jennifer’s body. She threw back her head and her mouth gaped but not a sound escaped. She felt the coils fall away from her flesh leaving a brand of fire around her limbs. Ming Ue adjusted her position and from the side let the whip sear across Jennifer’s shoulder blades and then across the swell of her buttocks. Even in her pain Jennifer could discern that her tormentor was expert. She walked calmly about the suspended girl reaching out to bring the lash across her body. Sometimes it would double around Jennifer’s stomach then, with an adjustment, she would curl it around her upper torso to let the thin end bite into her breasts. Jennifer held tight between the ropes on her four limbs could only jerk convulsively and her outstretched legs allowed Ming Ue to wrap the whip around each leg in turn, the agony fierce on the inner thighs. Jennifer’s mind was in some higher realm of consciousness. She knew she was screaming but her screams seemed to be merely the output of her body whilst her spirit soared high above the little grove of her body’s torture. She saw the tableau from some elevated plain, the four women kneeling serenely on their mats watching her, Shiro-san’s fan fluttering languidly before her face. It was a transcendent experience. She seemed to be able to look down on her own body writhing in its bondage with interest. She thought how beautiful she was in her pain, how lovely and vibrant were her screams, how aesthetic were the red stripes on her pale flesh. The agony was hideous yet she felt exalted. The gardens had just become a receptacle for her suffering. Her consciousness had enveloped them all. Shiro-san had been right. It was just a dream and that within a dream. Her pain was meaningless. Her spirit was liberated from her body by the torment of the lash. After a while she left the pain behind and reached out with her mind to walk in the dream of these gardens. How beautiful were the chestnut trees growing by the pagodas, how exquisite were the little bridges over the brooks, how perfect were the little ponds and lakes set among the willows. The trees seemed to hear her screams and lean toward her. Little a****ls would pause in their doings to listen to her screams carrying through the groves and glades and all would be aware that there was something special in the passion of her agony.
Jennifer never knew just when the whipping had stopped. She was lying curled up on the soft grass her body like some red throbbing organ wrapped about her. She was looking at her tangled hair on the grass and thinking how precious it appeared. There was a tiny white flower growing amongst her tresses and she moved them out of its way so that she could see it better and wonder at its ephemeral and fragile loveliness. It was as if she had never seen a flower before. She reached out to touch it with her fingers carefully as if afraid that she might damage it. It seemed so achingly and tragically beautiful. She wondered for a moment if she had died under the whip and that this was a new life and she just a babe lying on the grass.
Slowly she pulled her self to her elbows. Ming Ue was kneeling in front of her still naked to the waist. As Jennifer turned her eyes on her the Chinese girl bowed to touch her forehead to the ground not daring to sully the moment with un-chosen words. The other women were watching her carefully, honouring her with their patient silence, knowing that she must come back in her own time. Jennifer struggled painfully to her feet and her observers acknowledged her struggle with deep bows. From some reserve of inner strength Jennifer managed to bow in return but there was no equality in her bow for in this little glade she was queen. She had made it her own through her suffering. Shiro-san’s fan lay folded in her lap and she spoke softly. “You were beautiful My Lady. I thank you for the honour you have afforded us. Will you honour us further and name this glade?”
“I name it the Garden of Return.”
Shiro-san bowed low “So be it! This will be your garden forever. Whenever we want to think of you we will come here and tend your garden for you and it will be blessed among these realms.” Jennifer bowed again and started to walk from the glade. They let her progress for by doing so they granted her honour but once honour was satisfied and Jennifer stumbled at the edge of the glade Nadira and Doris caught her up that she might not fall and gently helped her back to the island in the lake.
This is the final part of this mini-series which is extracted from my three volume work "Slaves of the Amethyst". I would like to thank those people who have stuck with this complex story and I hope that you have enjoyed it. It seemed a logical place to conclude the story at the end of Jennifer's induction and incarceration in the cellars of Mathom Hall. The story continues of course beyond here and if there are any readers who have become interested in it and would like to know more about it or read the entire sage once it is published please feel free to message me or leave a comment.
Thank you for your patience with the story.