The Trial of Julie
This story is not an erotic story I'm afraid so if you are looking for sexual stimulation I'm sorry. Instead it is simply an extract from the third volume of my novel "Slaves of the Amethyst" It recounts the story of the character Julie who faces a crisis in her life and becomes suicidal. In desperation she runs to the extraordinary Oriental gardens in the parklands of Mathom Hall to take counsel of their mistress Shiro-san. This is the trial though which that lady puts her. I post this story for a dear friend.... a person who loves cats!
Julie had been awake for hours. She had helped Doris prepare breakfast for her two sons in Doris’ beautiful little cottage set in a glade of the Oriental Gardens. She was calmer now. In fact she felt sublimely tranquil. Julie had slept at Doris’s cottage the night before and she’d been awoken early by the two young boys who were rushing about in great excitement. This was to be a big day in the Oriental Gardens for the gardens were hosting the big garden party for the valley’s c***dren. Terry and Richard were in a fever of excitement at the thought that all their school friends and other friends from Mathom would be joining them in the gardens that night. The air of excitement pervaded the whole vista of Shiro-san’s domain and even at this early hour extra helpers were already erecting the trestle tables and pavilions for the party out on the lawns and around the lakes. It was all Doris could do to keep her two young sons wedded to the breakfast table for sufficient time to consume their breakfast in anything other than unseemly haste. “For heaven’s sake boys!” she cried in exasperation, “Stop wolfing your food! The party’s not until this evening for crying out loud! You’ve plenty of time to see everything. Have a bit of respect! Whatever must Julie here think?”
“Aww mam!” moaned Terry in frustration. “We want ter see t’ firework display they’re settin’ up ovver Shiro-san’s palace!”
“It’s only a load of tubes and frames and what have you boys. They won’t be setting any off until this evening when it gets dark! Anyway the lady Shiro won’t be amused to have you lot running about this early in the morning!”
“T’ lady won’t mind mam.” Richard protested “She never says owt when we go ovver on ter t’ island.”
“Hmmph! Shiro-san’s far too lax with you youngsters. She’ll spoil you all rotten!” Doris turned to Julie. “I’m sorry Julie! They’re hopeless this morning! Did you sl**p well anyway?”
“Yes ma-am!” Julie replied politely, enjoying the domestic morning chaos in Doris’s household. “I’m sorry ter ‘ave put yer ter so much trouble like.”
“Oh it was no trouble whatsoever Julie. It was lovely having you. Come on have some more bacon.” Doris picked up the pan from the kitchen stove. “Get by Bobby!” she grumbled. This last was directed at a large black dog of uncertain ancestry, a permanently lolling tongue and incessantly wagging tail, who had attached itself to Julie with all the canine devotion that stated quite clearly that life simply wasn’t worth living if Julie Hawthorne wasn’t part of it. Julie’s magic was undiminished even in the Oriental Gardens.
“Well maybe just another rasher or two if yer please ma-am.” It was disgraceful really. Julie had already eaten a big bowl of cereal, two fried eggs, two sausages, four rashers of bacon, a grilled tomato, some fried mushrooms and two slices of fried bread. Whatever the austere morning repast might be in Shiro-san’s palace, here, in Doris’s household, breakfast was a traditional hearty English cholesterol nightmare and proud of it. Julie had woken up famished!
“We’ve finished mam! Can we go now?” pleaded Terry.
“Oh go on then or we’ll have no peace otherwise! Take Bobby with you and don’t be going up to the palace and disturbing Shiro-san do you hear? And remember you’re to be back for lunchtime. Your fathers are arriving for lunch and they’ll be wanting to see you.” The two boys left in delight although Bobby had to be cajoled out of the house looking miserable at being separated from his newfound love in Julie. Doris sighed. “I just don’t know where they get the energy from. Anyway let’s have another cup of tea.” Doris plied the teapot.
“D’ yer want any ‘elp doin’ t’ dishes ma-am?”
“No leave them Julie. How are you getting back to the village?”
“I dunno ma-am. T’ lady Shiro said she’d get someone ter drive us back like but I’ve still got me bike chained up at t’ top gate.”
“Well don’t worry about that Julie. We’ll sort that out for you. I’ll get one of the delivery lads to drive it back in his van. How are you feeling today anyway?”
“Better ma-am. I…. I ‘ad a long talk wi t’ lady Shiro last night an’ … well it’s ‘elped me see things a bit clearer mebbe. I’m sorry I’ve been so much trouble ma-am.”
“Don’t be silly Julie! You haven’t. I’m just pleased that you’re feeling better. I’m glad that Shiro-san helped you put things into perspective.”
“Well she didn’t say ovver much ma-am. Just sort o’ listened really.” Julie shook her head. “It were funny like. She didn’t seem a bit put out by me turnin’ up. It were almost as if she were expectin’ me!”
“I think she was Julie. Ever since the last time you were here I think Shiro-san’s been expecting you to come back to her. She’s a very wise lady Julie.”
Julie nodded and stared at her teacup. “She did say one thing that got me thinkin’ ma-am. I was tellin’ ‘er about ‘ow I’ve bin pretendin’ ter be someone else but mesen and she jus’ laughed an’ said that I ‘ad ter learn wot I was afore I could pretend ter be summat that I wasn’t! I’m buggered if I know wot she was talkin’ about!”
Doris laughed. “It sounds authentic Julie! Shiro-san often says things that don’t seem to make sense at the time but later, when you think it through, it all makes a great deal of sense. She’s changed many a person’s life with an enigmatic statement like that Julie.”
“I’ve never met anyone like ‘er ma-am!”
“And you’ll seldom meet her like again Julie. She is an extraordinary lady. I’ve met some wonderful people Julie but only one wiser and more extraordinary than our Lady Shiro of the Garden.”
“Oo’s that then ma-am?”
“Why Her Serenity the Empress of course; Lady Mathom of the Great Hall.”
Julie shivered “She… she frightens me!”
Doris leaned across the breakfast table to take Julie’s hand. “You are wrong to be frightened of Her Ladyship Julie. She is the kindest most loving person that I know. Oh everybody’s a bit scared of her to begin with but one moment of magic and you’ll love her forever more. She’s wise beyond your comprehension Julie. However great your problems might seem to be she could solve them with a lift of her little finger. Have you never spoken to her?”
“Only a couple o’ times in passin’ when I were a k** ma-am.”
“Perhaps you ought to talk to her Julie.”
“Wot me? Why would she want owt ter do wi t’ likes o’ me?”
“You might be surprised Julie. I think I know some of the problems with your f****y and everything. Well she might be able to help. This is the festival season. Everybody in the valley has the traditional right to petition Her Ladyship during the festival. Why don’t you request an audience?”
Julie shook her head vigorously. “Blimey ma-am no! I can’t see me goin’ ter Lady Mathom fer any ‘elp! Yer don’t know the ‘alf of it!”
“Well you ought to think about it Julie.” Doris paused “Listen Julie if you’re not up to facing the rest of the festival you’re quite welcome to stay here you know. I’m sure your friends will be able to manage without you and they’ll understand. It won’t be as if you’re neglecting your part either. You can help out with the c***dren’s garden party today. Goddess knows we could use the help.”
“I… I don’t know ma-am.” Julie was sorely tempted. She quailed every time she thought about going back to face the others. How lovely it would be to bury herself away here in these peaceful gardens for a few days. It sounded like bliss. “Yer know I never ever went ter t’ k**’s party when I was young ma-am. Me mam allus wanted us ter go but I allus used ter twag off.”
“Why Julie? Most k**s love the annual garden party.”
“Dunno ma-am. I think it were cos I was always frightened o’ comin’ anywhere near ter t’ All. It used ter scare me.”
Something caught Doris’s eye out of the cottage window. “Oh look Julie! It’s Shiro-san. She must be coming to see you.” Julie looked out of the window to see the Japanese lady gliding along the path that led across the meadow to the cottage dressed in a fabulous kimono. Julie’s heart jumped at the sight of her. She was dressed in greens and golds that harmonised with the flowers in the meadows as if she herself had blossomed from the tranquillity of the little glade and captured the early morning sun in the robes she wound about her. Julie now knew that Shiro-san changed her costumes endlessly to blend into the perfection of her creation, the Oriental Gardens. By spring she would be like the blossoms on the cherry trees or in autumn the golds and reds of the trees’ leaves. She would even change her dress throughout the day from the fresh crisp tones of the morning into the softer hues of the afternoon and the darker mysteries of the night. She had kimonos to suit every mood and atmosphere endlessly varying them like some great artist ceaselessly aware of her own presence within the picture she painted around herself; a brushstroke within her own masterpiece.
Julie and Doris hurried to the door of the cottage to greet her with low bows and she returned the bow graciously her eyes twinkling with amusement in her exquisite face. “Ohayoo gozaimasu Shiro-san.” said Doris in great politeness with a bow.
“Domo arigato gozaimasu.” replied Shiro-san in equal formality.
Doris indicated the little garden table on the lawn before the cottage. “Will you join us for cha lady?”
“Why thank you. A little while perhaps.” Shiro-san took a place whilst Doris rushed off to prepare tea. Shiro-san never drank the strong black Indian or Sri Lankan teas most favoured by the British but only the delicate green teas mostly d***k in Japan. Doris took care over the preparation of the tea making sure not to boil the water for fine green teas are spoiled by being boiled. The tea was a high quality Gyokuro from the Uri district near to Kyoto, a region famous for its tea. Gyokuro meant jade dew and the leaves of the bushes were grown in the shade just before harvest to ensure that the flavour was subtle and delicate.
Shiro-san invited Julie to join her whilst Doris was busy. “And now my little Hakuchou how are you today?” asked Shiro-san in her lovely lilting voice.
“Er…. fine thank you ma-am.”
“You have slept well? Your dreams were sweet ones?”
“Y… yes lady Shiro.”
“I am pleased for today I must ask great courage of you.”
“Of me ma-am? Ow d’ yer mean?”
“I have been thinking about you a great deal Hakuchou and I think I may know the answer to some of your problems. However, to find that answer, you must perform a great service for me this morning and for that you must be brave.”
“What sort o’ service ma-am?”
“A dangerous one Hakuchou!”
“Oh yes perilous indeed! You will need all your courage today. Today you must walk into the mouth of the dragon!”
Julie relapsed into silence as Doris returned with the tea. The birdsong in the trees and bushes around them seemed unnaturally loud. Shiro-san was watching her very carefully, judging her finely and treasuring her greatly. She watched Julie’s inner battle for peace and the stirring of her courage knowing that this young girl must be tested as all were ultimately tested. Shiro-san however had little doubt that her little swan would prove equal to the test. Finally when she judged the moment to be right she rose, shouldered her parasol and addressed Doris. “I’m afraid I must take your young visitor away for a while. There is something I must show her.”
Doris stood and bowed. “Of course Shiro-san. Go with the Goddess Julie.”
“Thank you ma-am. I’m sorry again to ‘ave put yer ter so much trouble.”
“And I repeat again Julie. It was no trouble at all. Please feel free to visit us anytime you want.” Julie bowed according to the custom of these gardens but could find no adequate words to say.
“Come Hakuchou.” Shiro-san urged. “Let us walk awhile.” Shiro-san led Julie through the glades of the Gardens in silence and Julie tripped along after her heart beating heavily. At last she could take the silence no more.
“Wh… where are we goin’ ma-am?” she enquired fearfully.
“To one of the most terrible and perilous parts of my realm Hakuchou.”
“You… you said it might be dangerous ma-am.”
“Oh yes! Hai! Abunai! Dangerous! Very! I need you to perform a task for me. One that only you can do.”
“Wh… what is it?”
“Hush Hakuchou! You will see.” Shiro-san took them aside down a little path. They crossed the stream by way of a tiny carved wooden bridge and shortly afterwards they were climbing up a slope between thick coppices of trees. It was quiet among the trees and Julie felt the tension mounting by the second. The trees and undergrowth were thick and if anywhere within the Oriental Gardens could have been called gloomy this was it. Then they came upon a stair of rough-hewn steps cut into the rock and Shiro-san hitched up her kimono and led Julie up the stairs. Julie tried to keep count of the steps but lost count at a hundred which clearly demonstrated her nervousness that even her extraordinary numerical skills could so desert her.
Finally they emerged high above the gardens on a grassy terrace before a looming cliff. Set into the base of the cliff was a forbiddingly large cave mouth and Julie gasped in wonder and horror. The rock about the mouth of the cave had been carved into the likeness of a great gaping dragon’s head. There were two huge flaring nostrils above the opening and two enormous wild eyes glaring down from above them. The floor and roof of the opening were lined with huge gleaming teeth and there was a soft red glow flickering from the darkness within. The dragon was painted in golds and scarlet and held an aura of menace and feral ferocity. Nor did it guard the cliff alone for all over the cliff face were dozens of other carvings, gargoyles, gibbering goblins, hideous b**sts and monsters all glaring down on the little sunny patch before the base of the cliff. There were trolls, great carved spiders with numerous glittering eyes, multi-headed serpents and gaping skulls. There were symbols and hieroglyphics etched into the rock between the figures that you just knew were unspeakable curses and the whole scene spoke of dreadful evil and warned of the folly of daring to pass any further this way. To Julie’s fevered imagination the whole cliff face seemed to be alive with crawling monstrosities eager to leap down and devour her. The whole relief was some dreadful nightmare out of the tortured imagination of the insane.
“This is the dragon’s mouth,” said Shiro-san. “Here you must enter.”
“Wot go in there?” asked Julie appalled.
“Yes that is correct Hakuchou.”
“Wot on me own?”
“Yes you must enter alone. I shall wait for you here.”
“I can’t do it! It’s ‘orrible!”
“There are even greater horrors beyond the portal of the mouth Hakuchou but nevertheless enter you must. This is the task I lay upon you. You must be brave.”
“’Ow… ow far in do I ‘ave ter go?”
“To the very end Hakuchou! To the final chamber, the very stomach of the dragon, the most dangerous place of all. There you will find a treasure, precious and perilous. You must bring that treasure back to me.”
“No more questions now Hakuchou. Time grows short! This is the task laid upon you by the Lady of the Gardens! Obey me in this!” Shiro-san seated herself on a boulder, her parasol over her shoulder. “I shall be waiting here. Have no fear! Go boldly with the Goddess and no harm shall come to you.”
Fearfully Julie approached the cave mouth and hesitated before the row of huge teeth guarding the entrance. She turned to look back. Shiro-san was sat quite still watching her dispassionately. Julie took a deep breath and stepped between the teeth penetrating into the gloom beyond. To begin with she could hardly see a thing as her eyes adjusted from the bright morning sunshine outside to the dark interior. Once her vision returned she realised that it was not entirely dark within the cave. There was a flickering red illumination before her. Slowly she felt her way toward it more terrified than she had ever been in her life.
The illumination came from lanterns set upon the wall but they were of little comfort for the scene they illuminated was some awful vision out of hell. The walls of the cavern were painted in bl**d red and there were faces carved into the relief of the walls, faces of despair mingled with those of despicable evil. You could almost hear the moans of the damned and the cackling of their tormentors. Julie shuddered and closed her eyes tight fighting down the urge to flee in panic. She gulped back the bile that had entered her throat and urged her feet forwards. A little further and the cave grew dark, too dark to see her way forward. There were little rustling noises and tiny squeaks that made the hair on the back of her neck bristle from the darkness beyond. She hesitated long. It seemed unthinkable to penetrate that dark zone with its awful little noises betraying the presence of some foul infestation of vermin within. Julie was almost sobbing in fear.
The last vestiges of her mind that remained coherent in that hellhole nagged her to a decision. She needed light! In despair she reached for one of the lanterns hanging from the wall, wincing at the hideous visage that adorned the wall beneath it. Tentatively she lifted the lantern from the hook and holding it aloft crept forward into the darkness. The lantern consisted of a single candle inside a wicker frame covered in paper and its light was feeble but enough to reveal more horror beyond. This seemed some realm of the dead for there were bones s**ttered on the floor and the walls were painted with skeletons and skulls. Julie felt cobwebs brushing her face and whimpered in fear. She hated spiders! Cautiously she crept on but the little jittering noises and rustlings grew louder as she went and her trepidation grew. She came to a bend in the cave. The noise seemed to come from just around the curve and it was long before she could steel herself to negotiate it. As she did so the noises suddenly rose to a crescendo and suddenly the air was full of wild fluttering and hundreds of black shapes detached themselves from the walls and flew about her in a wild maelstrom. Julie screamed and dropped her lantern plunging herself into darkness with the wild fluttering and squeaks all around her. She cowered on the floor sobbing helplessly.
Now she was crawling back the way she had come, frantically scrabbling along the ground sobbing in panic. She felt bones under her hands and knees and more cobwebs on her face driving her out in terror. At last she was back in the illuminated regions and she leant against the wall crying piteously. She just wanted to be out of this terrible place, wanted to flee back to the terrace at the base of the cliffs and into the warm comfort of Shiro-san’s serenity. In that thought Julie began to recover her courage. There was something more terrible than these caves after all. She would have to tell the gentle lady of the gardens that she was not brave enough after all, that she had failed in her task, that she was not worthy of the trust the lady had placed in her!
Gasping for breath Julie squatted on the floor of the cave and tried to still her wildly beating heart. “Bats!” she thought to herself. “They’re only bl**dy bats! There’s thousand o’ bl**dy bats in t’ valley! Yer see ‘em every evenin’ in t’ summer around t’ street lights in t’ village! Where d’ yer think they sl**p in t’ daytime yer dozy cow? In bl**dy caves that’s where! I must ‘ave disturbed their roost! They’re probably just as frightened o’ me as I am o’ them!” Slowly she pulled herself to her feet. “Come on yer daft bitch!” she told herself. “Yer bein’ bl**dy hysterical! They’re only bl**dy caves wi daft paintin’s an’ statues on t’ walls! There’s nowt ter be frightened of!” Julie took another lamp and shielding its fragile flame cautiously proceeded once more into the depths of the cave.
There seemed to be less frantic activity at the bat roost where Julie relocated her discarded lantern on the floor. Carefully she took the candle from her new lantern and relit the old one affording her more light within the cavern. Now she could see the bats clustered along the roof of the cavern. There seemed to be hundreds of them hanging from ledges and projections. In spite of her fears she found her curiosity stimulated by them. She approached them cautiously. They had funny little faces with upturned noses and big pointed ears. They were quite cute really when you looked at them closely. She saw that many of them had small ones clinging to them and she realised that these must be babies clutching on to their mothers and her face softened. She must have frightened the poor things to death when she’d come blundering in here with her lamp and screaming her head off! She wondered what sort of bats they were. They had a big book at home that showed all the species of mammals in Britain. She’d have to look them up when she got home.
Calmer now, she pressed on into the cave leaving one of the lanterns behind as guide for her return. She entered into a large cave and her heart jumped once more. The whole of the far wall was carved into the likeness of a grotesque monster with multiple arms and three enormous eyes above a slavering gaping mouth full of teeth. Between the outstretched legs of this monstrous apparition was a small exit, the only other exit to this cave and there were old rusty chains hanging over it. So lifelike was the carving that Julie seemed to feel its eyes regarding her as she tremblingly crossed the chamber. She pushed aside the chains with shaking fingers. The chains felt cold and clammy. She found herself in a long narrow passageway that was damp and musty. She hurried along hating the feeling of the slimy walls until once more the passage opened out. She crept into this larger chamber her feeble little light illuminating only a fraction of it. The cavern seemed vast and she had no idea how to find her way through it. With infinite caution she moved out into the cave.
She froze, stifling another scream. She had seen a light moving ahead of her, a ghostly luminescence flickering ahead of her in the dark. The ghostly light was still now as she peered ahead in mounting fear but it had moved! There was something alive in here or at least something that shone and moved. Was there some awful spectre haunting these caverns, some dreadful unquiet spirit lurking ahead of her in the dark? Petrified she took a couple more steps and then froze again. The light had moved once more! She took another step and the light moved too. It was mimicking her. It stopped when she stopped, moved as she did. Experimentally she moved her lantern from side to side. The light in the distance followed the movement perfectly. Julie let out her breath with a gasp, the perspiration on her brow forming rivulets down her forehead. “It’s a bl**dy reflection!” she told herself. “Yer frightenin’ yersen wi yer own shadows yer gormless twit!” Emboldened she pressed forward toward the light. Now it was obvious that she was seeing a reflection of her own lamp in some polished surface. It was a fair way across the cave but at last Julie stood before a huge sheet of some highly polished metal. She held up her lamp and saw her own reflection in the metal. She laughed aloud. “Well nowt ter be frightened o’ there!” she said. “Just awd Julie ‘Awthorne lookin’ like she’s about ter wet ‘ersen!” She laughed at the image of her face in the polished surface. “Now why?” she asked, “Would anyone put a flippin’ great mirror in a place like this?” Then she smacked herself on the forehead. “Of course yer daft prat! Start usin’ yer brain Julie! ‘Ow else would yer find yer way across this cave? Yer put a friggin’ great mirror up so’s that when yer shines yer light across t’ cave it reflects back an’ shows yer t’ way ter go!” Julie looked around and sure enough by the side of the mirror was a small passageway. “Well looks like this is t’ way then.” she said aloud and passed into the passage.
The passage was long and narrow and it wound about considerably but it presented no great obstacle as it wove its way back into the hillside. At last Julie rounded a final bend and saw a soft light ahead of her. She approached on tenterhooks to perceive that the light was emanating from a small opening d****d with a curtain of fine reeds. With a sudden thrill she knew instinctively that the light beyond the curtain was her target. This was the inner sanctum, what the lady Shiro had called the stomach of the dragon, the most perilous part of all. With her heart in her mouth Julie crept on toward the curtain. The light beyond was yellow and warm but Julie hesitated for long seconds before the curtain barely daring to breathe. “Come on.” She whispered to herself “Yer ‘aven’t come all this way just ter bottle out at t’ last ‘urdle!” Taking a deep breath she pushed aside the curtain and stepped into the chamber beyond.
She blinked in surprise. It was a small chamber no more than ten metres across and well lit by many candles on the walls. It was also, as far as a superficial glance could tell, completely empty. Julie was baffled. It seemed ridiculous to have come all this way to find a completely uninteresting little chamber with absolutely nothing in it. Julie put down her lantern and scratched her head in puzzlement. “What the ‘ell’s all this about then?” she said aloud. As if in answer there came a tiny little noise from a far corner of the chamber. Julie started in alarm. It had been a feeble little mewling sound. She looked in the direction of the noise and saw a tiny basket nestled in one corner. She hadn’t even noticed it. Once again the little note came from the basket. Utterly baffled by now Julie strode over to investigate. It was a little wicker basket whose lid was held shut by a small clasp. Julie knelt down and undid the clasp before taking another deep breath and opening the basket. She peered fearfully inside. “Aaawwww!” she cried in wonder. Peering fearfully back at her was the most heartbreakingly lovely little face she had ever seen. It belonged to a little Siamese kitten with impossibly blue eyes and huge dark pointed ears. It had a dark chocolate brown face, legs and tail contrasting with its cream coat but it was that face that captivated you. The ears were so big that they just looked silly on the little delicate face and the blue eyes were enormous and they were staring at Julie frightened. The tiny mouth opened to emit a pathetic little mewl and Julie’s heart broke in two.
“Aaww! Yer poor little thing!” Julie reached down into the basket to pluck up the tiny creature and clutch it to her breast. “Fancy leavin’ yer all on yer own down ‘ere! Yer poor little precious!” She stroked a finger across the tiny head and was rewarded with another little mewl. “Yer must be cold an’ ungry as well yer poor mite! Poor thing!” Julie cradled the little kitten in her arms compassionately, tears coursing down her cheeks. “Come on love!” she said decisively “Let’s get you out ov ‘ere! I’ll ‘ave ter put yer back in yer basket love whilst we get back through t’ caves.” Gently Julie lowered the kitten back into the basket. “It won’t be long I promise love.” She told the little kitten as it protested with feeble cries. “Don’t cry now! I’ll ‘ave you out ov ‘ere in no time!” Julie picked up the basket and her lantern and set off back through the caves her mission now forgotten in her haste to bring this helpless little creature to safety.
It was easy now the return passage. She was almost hurrying ignoring the images of horror etched on the walls, their images holding no more terror for her. She paused in the chamber containing the huge carved monster to look into the basket to reassure herself that her precious burden was unharmed then turned to the enormous carved figure. “Fuck off you ugly bastard!” she told it and hastened away. She murmured encouraging words to her little kitten as they went. At the bat roosts the squeaking and fluttering must have frightened the little a****l for it cried piteously but Julie said. “Now, now love they’re only bats! Yer’ll be untin’ them when yer a bit bigger!” Julie paused however to extinguish the lantern she had left among the roost. Now the bats could return the accustomed security of their darkness. Julie passed the final chambers and there wonderfully was the opening of the cave and she was out into the open. The sun was shining down in glory on the grassy terrace before the cliff face and Shiro-san was sat upon her stone smiling at her, so very proud of her little Hakuchou.
Julie paused feeling momentarily foolish but Shiro-san beckoned her over. Suddenly shy Julie walked over to her and, obeying the commands of Shiro-sans hands she squatted on the grass at her feet laying the little basket down. “Well Hakuchou what treasure have you brought back from the dragon’s belly then?”
“P…please ma-am I went as far as I could! I… I got ter this chamber right at t’ end but there were nowt in it but… but well this.”
“I think “this” might well be enough treasure for one day Hakuchou. Come open your basket and let us feast our eyes on your wealth.” Julie opened the basket and lifted the little kitten out, blinking in the sudden bright sunlight, and held it gently for Shiro-san to see. The Japanese lady smiled gently and reached out to stroke the kitten. “Well Hakuchou he doesn’t glitter in the sunlight but he is a precious gem indeed your little jewel. May I hold your treasure for a moment?”
“Y…. yes ma-am… of course.” Julie handed over the kitten, which mewled in alarm, but soon calmed down under the gentle caresses of Shiro-san’s fingers and began to look about it with interest. She teased it with a finger and the tiny a****l batted her finger with a paw.
“Ah see Hakuchou there is life in our little tora yet! He is recovering his courage!”
“Please ma-am? It’s a he?”
“Oh yes Hakuchou. A little tomcat.”
“Is he wot yer sent me ter find ma-am?”
“But of course Hakuchou! I told you that you would find a treasure. Is he not a treasure?”
Julie reached over and petted the little kitten her eyes soft. “I… I think he’s lovely ma-am but yer said the treasure would be dangerous. There’s nowt dangerous about ‘im!”
“Oh but there is Hakuchou! See! He is so small I can hold him in the palm of one hand but he has captured and enslaved two big nasty people already! He is a peril this one!” Julie laughed and tickled the tiny creature fondly.
“Ee I was frightened in there ma-am.”
“Frightened? Whatever of?”
“Well all t’ statues an’ t’ paintin’s ma-am.”
Shiro-san threw back her head and laughed deliciously. “Poof! Is this what frightens us? Old stones and silly pictures? Have they frightened my little Hakuchou? Hah! Here little one take your little treasure and I will teach them not to frighten you!” Shiro-san handed over the kitten and rose determinedly to her feet. She strode over to the cave mouth and stood before it with her hands on her hips. “So!” she shouted, “You have frightened my Hakuchou. Now you have asked for it! I will teach you a lesson you won’t forget!” With that Shiro-san pulled an extraordinary and comical face at the cave and poked her tongue out, blowing a long raspberry. For the next minute or two she strode up and down before the figures on the cliff pulling faces at them and thumbing her nose whilst Julie sat on the grass and giggled helplessly. She couldn’t help it. The tiny Japanese woman seemed almost ludicrously comic as she marched up and down parodying the grotesque faces carved on the cliff wall. “Hah take that!” she was calling. “Any face you can make I can make better! Now who is the ugly one? Are you frightened yet? Pooh to you! Ugly stones!” Finally she turned her back to the cave mouth and suddenly hitched up her kimonos showing her bottom to the carved figures and looked back over her shoulder to blow a last raspberry and Julie laughed until her sides ached.
Shiro-san re-adjusted her dress and returned to her seat on the boulder with a smile. “So Hakuchou do you think I frightened them?”
“N.. no ma-am!” said Julie wiping the tears from her eyes.
“No of course not. How could I? They are only stones and pictures. How can they be frightened and how can they possibly frighten us? The only thing to fear beyond the dragon’s mouth is that which you take beyond it yourself.” Shiro-san reached out to caress Julie’s golden locks in great affection. “We have both of us found a treasure this day. Come bring your little kitten I have something to show you.” So saying she rose and led Julie away from the cliff to return down the track toward the centre of the Gardens. Julie looked back at the cliff before they descended and laughed to herself. The horrible carved figures just looked comical and silly now. They retraced their steps back into the heart of Shiro-san’s enchanted realm. Shiro-san led her through the bewildering glades and orchards until at last they came to a small lake with an island set in the middle. From this island rose an enormous towering pagoda of emerald greens and gold, its apex high above the trees around. Julie stood and gazed up at the enormous structure in awe. Its surface was painted as though it was scaled like the skin of some enormous reptile and there was a great carved wooden dragon curled about the foot of it. The tail of the dragon d****d across the little lake forming a curved bridge connecting the island to the land.
“This is the Dragon Pagoda Hakuchou.” Shiro-san told her. You have walked into the dragon’s mouth now you must climb to the top of its tower.”
“Is it dangerous as well?” Julie wanted to know.
“But of course! But then we carry our dangers everywhere with us don’t we? Come let us climb together.” They crossed over the fantastic bridge and entered the pagoda to climb the wooden stairs within. The Dragon Pagoda was the tallest structure anywhere within the Oriental Gardens and the spiralling wooden steps seemed endless as they made their way upwards. Near the top the tower narrowed and Julie paused to catch her breath, the sweat heavy on her brow. Incredibly the tiny kitten had fallen asl**p in her arms. At last Shiro-san led her out onto a platform at the very top of the towering edifice.
Julie gasped in wonder for the view was extraordinary. Below her the whole vista of the Oriental Gardens was laid out in panoramic relief and beyond that the great rolling parklands of Mathom Hall stretched away into the distance. It was beautiful and breathtaking. “Aaww! This is lovely ma-am!”
“Oh yes Hakuchou! This is the realm of the Great Lady! This is her vision. This is her dream. Look around and tell me what you see.” Julie cast her eyes over the landscape laid out before her. Her vision followed the curves of the hills, lingered long in little valleys and sheltered glades, followed the line of entrancing streams and danced over shimmering lakes, dallied awhile amidst the copses and woods and came at last to settle upon the massive structure of the Great Hall in the distance. It stood there like some fortress of obstinacy, huge and commanding, dominating this fairy landscape with its brooding presence; Hall of constancy, Castle of adamant, the seat of all the magic in these lands, the dwelling of the Witch Queen of Mathomdale in all its power and resolution. Julie shivered.
Shiro-san was watching her carefully and saw to the fraction of a second when her gaze fell upon the Great Hall, seeing the shadow that crept across her face. She came to stand next to her and placed a hand about her waist. “Ah yes Hakuchou. There indeed is the very house of the dragon. What treasures would you find therein do you think if only you dared to enter through its portals?” Julie gulped, her eyes riveted on the distant Hall. “Listen Hakuchou,” said Shiro-san softly. “Today you walked into the very mouth of the dragon and, although you were afraid you walked into the very depths of his bowels. You expected to find terror and despair and what did you find instead?” Shiro-san paused to stroke the kitten in Julie’s arms. “Why nothing but a little kitten Hakuchou. A little kitten in need of love and protection and once you found him all your fears vanished like the morning mists before the rays of the sun. For your fears were only in your mind Hakuchou. You carry fears yet and I say to you that you will never know peace and joy until you laugh in their faces. You will never find peace in these lands until you walk without fear into the House of the Dragon itself.”
Julie stared at Hall unable to tear her eyes away. This was where Rebecca and Alice and all the other girls lived. This was where her beloved Jennifer lived. She felt a tear trickle down her cheek. “Please ma-am!” she whispered “Oo am I?”
“Ah Hakuchou! Stop worrying about who and what you are. Others will see that far better than you will ever see it yourself and they will love you for it.” Shiro-san paused “As I do!”
“You ma-am? But why I mean what for?”
Shiro-san stroked her face gently. “Let us go down now Hakuchou. There is one last thing I must show you and then we had better prepare you to return to the village for you have more dragons to face there.” They descended the tall pagoda and Shiro-san led her once more through the gardens. In a quiet grove she brought Julie to a lovely little pavilion set among the trees by the side of a tiny brook. “Do you know of this Hakuchou?” Shiro-san asked her.
“N.. no ma-am.”
“Your mother never mentioned it?”
“Strange. Come let us step inside.” The interior of the pavilion was split up into small rooms by tatami walls and it was furnished simply but in exquisite taste in Japanese style. There was a sl**ping chamber with a large low futon in the middle. Shiro-san paused here. “Do you know the name of this house Hakuchou?”
“Why no ma-am.”
“It is called the Julie house.”
Shiro-san smiled “Your mother had her own dragons to face Hakuchou. She spent her confinement here with us in the gardens. That was nearly eighteen years ago. You were born in this room, in this house. We call it the Julie house in your honour. The little maple tree by the veranda was planted for your birth; its leaves are the gold of your hair on your birthday. It is the Julie tree.”
Julie was staring at Shiro-san in astonishment. “Yer mean me… me mam ‘ad us in ‘ere?”
“Wot on ‘er own?”
“Oh no of course not. She had help of course.”
“Oo… oo ‘elped ‘er?” But somehow Julie already knew the answer to that question.
“Why she had several helpers but I was the midwife. I delivered you with my own hands on that very futon Hakuchou.” Shiro-san smiled softy and placed a hand on Julie’s shoulder. “It has taken you nearly eighteen years to come back to me. But you have come back and it is my joy, my little Hakuchou as dear as any daughter.”
Julie choked back the tears her mind reeling. “Is… is that wot yer want from me lady? D’ yer want me ter come ‘ere an’ live in yer garden?”
Shiro-san shook her head sadly. “I do not think that can come to pass Hakuchou. If all I understand of you is true then I believe your destiny lies elsewhere but there will always be a home for you in these gardens.” There was a long silence but eventually Shiro-san said, “Come now it is getting late. You will need to freshen up after your adventures and little tora-chan here must be hungry.” They left the pavilion and Julie looked back as they walked away. It seemed that there were mysteries unknown in her life.
Presently they found themselves back at Doris’ cottage. Doris was preparing lunch for the expected arrival of her husbands and the two young boys had returned from their adventures. Doris was ecstatically effusive over the tiny kitten. “Aww isn’t he sweet?” she crooned.
“Please ma-am.” said Julie “I think ‘e might be ‘ungry. Ave yer owt ‘e could eat?”
“Of course Julie! I’ll chop some mince up very fine and soften it in a little milk and egg yolk. He ought to have a little water as well. I’ll take care of it Julie while you brush up.” Doris turned to Shiro-san. “Is he one of Sula’s kittens Shiro-san?” Shiro-san nodded and smiled. “Well get on then Julie and get cleaned up.” Doris continued. She paused. “Have you decided to stay here then Julie?”
Julie shook her head. “No ma-am. I think I’d best get back. T’ other girls is relyin’ on me. I don’t want ter let our Jenny down.”
Shiro-san smiled at her. “I think that is very wise Hakuchou.”
Whilst Julie attended to her appearance the little kitten lapped and nibbled at his food and drink. When Julie returned refreshed the boys were playing with the kitten making it chase a piece of string and laughing at its antics. “There is a car waiting for you at the last bridge Hakuchou. We must hurry.” Shiro-san told her.
“Blimey I’m gonna be late.”
“Oh no I think you’ll be just in time.”
“But it’s nearly lunchtime!”
“You will still be just in time.” Shiro-san scooped up the little kitten. “Come I’ll accompany you to the bridge.”
“I’ll come as well.” said Doris. “Dinner’s in the oven so I’ve plenty of time. You boys stay here in case your fathers turn up early.”
“I said stay here! That’s an order!”
The little entourage set off for the last bridge, Shiro-san carrying the kitten. At the bridge Julie was astonished to see a large limousine parked on the track on the other side of the bridge. “Is that fer me?” she gasped.
“Yes Julie.” Doris told her. “We asked one of the off duty drivers from the Hall if he’d give you a lift. Now don’t worry about your bike. We’ll see to all that. Now come on you’re late. Off you go!”
“Oh ma-am I don’t know ‘ow ter thank you all!” Impulsively Julie rushed to Doris and hugged her.
Doris patted her gently. “It was a pleasure Julie. You come back and see us again real soon you hear.”
“Yes ma-am.” Julie turned to Shiro-san. “Oh lady thank you! Yer’ve saved me life! ‘Onest you ‘ave!”
“Your life is precious to me Hakuchou. Please kiss me and then you must go.” Julie bent to kiss the tiny Japanese lady and then stood back and bowed deeply.
“Thank you Shiro-san fer all yer’ve done fer me.” Shiro-san bowed in return and Julie turned toward the bridge.
“Hakuchou! You are forgetting something!”
“Wh… what ma-am?”
Shiro-san laughed and held out the bundle in her hands “Why your little kitten of course. Your little tora-chan!”
Julie gazed at her amazed “Y… yer mean ‘e’s mine?”
“But of course he’s yours! He’s been yours ever since you found him in the dragon’s belly Hakuchou! I told you he was dangerous for now he is your responsibility. You cannot throw away your life now for now you have a helpless kitten to take care of.”
“Oh ma-am!” Tears flooded into Julie’s eyes and she took the kitten from Shiro-san, her heart breaking. “What was it yer called ‘im ma-am? A tora or summat?”
Doris smiled at her. “It’s just the Japanese name for a tiger Julie and tora-chan means little tiger. Go on now get along with you.”
Julie crossed the bridge cradling her precious kitten and the chauffeur held the door open for her. She turned to bow once more to her friends in the magic zone beyond and then she was in the car being driven through the parklands of Mathom Hall. Julie’s attention was fixed on the kitten in her lap. It had been an exciting day for the tiny creature and now replete with food he was fast asl**p on her knee. So fixated was she on her kitten she scarcely even noticed when the car rounded the huge edifice of Mathom Hall and drove down the drive toward the main road. “What am I gonna call yer?” she asked the little slumbering creature. “I know! I’ll call yer Tiger!” Julie giggled. It was a name you usually gave to stripy tabby cats but it seemed perfect anyway. After all Shiro-san had called him Tiger and he came from the Oriental Gardens. In Julie’s imagination anything to do with the Orient had tigers interwoven with it. She sat back in the upholstery of the car contented. “Well Tiger looks like you an’ me’s stuck wi one another!” At last she understood Shiro-san’s gift to her. It was a perilous gift indeed. Perilous and precious! Shiro-san had given her more than a little kitten. She had given her back her life.
With love to my gentle wolf