Dance of the Leaves
July 17th 1857, Shirley Calway Chapter 1- A Sudden Rush through the Trees
It wasn’t so much so that the wind felt settled to Shirley Calway as she followed a group of well dressed gentlemen between a long row of blossoming Sakura trees.
Far from it in fact, as beyond the sheltered grove the wind became a howling gale that had embroiled the western half of Mikawa kicking up dust in great clouds that swirled throughout the city scouring everything it passed.
It tore at the hundreds of tightly packed wooden houses, that stood together, thatched rooves heaving under the ravaging gale that assailed them, through the wide arterial streets and the thinner vessel like alley ways while the air currents danced overhead as though calling the winds onward.
However there, sheltered by strong walls of wooden pillars that the wind could not yet breach, was no sense of urgency, none of the primal fears that filled the hearts of the ashigaru, the peasants, nothing of the sort, a strange deadness suffusing the air.
To Shirley this all seemed rather unnatural, the calm that permeated the glade was not something she found comforting at all, and though the falling Sakura blossoms, explosions of both pale and passionate pinks, were as beautiful a sight as she had ever seen she could not help but shiver as a wisp of the mornings cool breeze stole through the vast rows of trees.
The gust caught the trim of her frilly yellow dress and flicked its base revealing slim ankles which ascended into sleek marble legs. She hurriedly pushed the ruffled dress back down, smoothing any imperfections in the fabric away with clean manicured hands hoping none of the other members of the small group had seen the brief moment of impropriety.
To her left was her father, a tall handsome specimen of the modern British male, hair neatly combed over his head, parted ever so neatly down the middle, while his shirt and coat even more neatly pressed against his wide back, the latter of which flowed down to the backs of his knees which gave him a regal appearance. He was locked a heated discussion with a smaller Japanese man, they always were she thought to herself, or perhaps it was that her father was just overly tall, his six foot form dwarfed the indigenous peoples making him a figure of awe and respect.
From what she could derive of the quickly flowing Japanese speech they were assessing the last shipment of goods that had arrived in the port from Bristol, comparing the profits received from the sale of Tobacco, furs, and various other imported goods.
Shirley quickly lost interest with the long winded talk of tariffs, and berthing charges and ended up counting the cherry blossoms falling around her. This proved to be impossible for where one fell from its branch to the earth a hundred more would follow it, an undulating sea of twisting and turning petals that soon littered the ground.
It was the way they fell that intrigued her.
At her home in England she had witnessed the leaves falling in autumn from the wood that was kept by their estate wherein thousands of brilliant gold leaves had fallen from their lofty perches. There they would rain down unheeding of their surroundings awash with a kind of natural energy that was almost palpable and made the whole scene seem almost prosaic.
But here in Japan the cherry blossom leaves seemed to fall as if each individual blossom had a purpose, each fallen leaf a part of a he greater design of the tree, and each tree a part of the whole glade.
Her reverie was broken by a shrill voice, which she knew instantly was directed at her.
She flicked her gaze over to the source, a small, petite, blonde haired woman with speckled green eyes that gazed deeply into hers. The woman’s face was almond shaped and the features slim and graceful in a way that Shirley could simply not accept, not when hers were so skewed and graceless.
In a moment of self consciousness she began running her fingers through her auburn hair, brushed straight by the chambermaid that very morning, Shirley could still fell the rough strands of hair as her hands brushed it over her shoulder.
The woman’s eyes began to linger on her, though she could not tell what emotion they held within as if they were carefully veiled by a thin layer of silk leaving whatever was on the other side clouded and obscured.
She couldn’t find the strength to keep looking into those eyes and so turned back to her musings. In doing so the tip of her shoe found what must have been to only root in the whole garden, and without warning she began to tumble forwards, her balance lost, and all semblance of grace out the window.
There was a brief instant during the fall where she felt strangely safe, as if her feet were beyond the bounds of earth and in that instant she was untouchable.
An instant later she felt a strong arm around her waist and a jerk as she was drawn backwards where she landed in a tangle of limbs.
“Shirley? Good Heavens Shirley what was that all about?” the high pitched voice of her mother sounded over the clamour of concerned voices.
She didn’t answer for a moment, stunned, but her thoughts racing.
The fall hadn’t injured her in the slightest and the ground wasn’t nearly as hard as she had imagined it would have been.
Something cold and hard brushed against her arm. She recoiled abruptly, shifted her weight to the right where she found herself sitting strangely on the ground knees together , feeling the soft caress of grass along her legs and thighs. She glanced back to where she had being laying almost a second ago, gasping, mortified by the way fate had played out.
Sprawled out on the grass next to her looking very dishevelled and stunned was Quinn, his lean form spread-eagled, arms and legs akimbo, the pristine jacket he had been wearing that morning now sullied by dust.
His clothing was similar to her fathers, he had always liked Quinn, not for any reason she could fathom beyond his boyish good looks and quick witted charm.
Where the two winds of his waist coat met protruded a long handled pistol holstered in an elaborately crafted leather strap, the pistol itself looked to be an unwieldy thing though Quinn never seemed bothered by it even if she was.
“Shirley” boomed a very deep voice from above her, she squinted into the light but could not discern the features of her father. “ I think you should be apologizing to young Quinn here. Were it not for him and his quick thinking you could have been injured.”
He bent down to her level and hugged her tightly whispering gently.
“Are you all right darling?”
She nodded silently.
“Good Girl” the tender reply.
He withdrew quickly and offered his hand to her, which she accepted with all the grace she could muster, though it was evident on her face that she was greatly abashed.
As she dusted herself off her eyes briefly flicked up to Quinn noting the amused expression that was being played along his face while two of the men from the diplomats entourage were fussing over him.
“Um.... Quinn” She said quietly, her voice threatening to break and flee from her at any moment.
“Thank you. And I’m sorry I got your clothes all dirty. I... just wasn’t looking where I was going.”
She glanced up in time to see his expression soften, his clear blue eyes meeting hers and a warm smile appearing on his face that neither required neither an apology nor the need for formality she insisted of keeping with him.
“My Lady.” He responded quickly, his voice strong with a Welsh accent that made his voice seem lyrical. “No apology is necessary. It was my pleasure to ensure no harm came to you...”
He paused briefly and shot her father a wicked grin, which received a similar response almost immediately.
“.. but the real pleasure was slipping my arm about the waist of such a pretty young woman.”
She flushed a deep shade of crimson as the two men began to chuckle amongst themselves while their Japanese counter parts stood several feet away smiling politely as the often did.
“ Please dear” the high pitched voice again.
“ You’ve embarrassed the poor girl half to death, leave her be for a while to gather her wits. Gracious me Mrs Brynholm, these men have no sense of delicacy. Especially you Quinn. Our daughter is delicate.”
“Of course dear lady. My most humble apologies.” He bowed low, flashed her a roguish smile, which to Shirley, seem to have a pronounced affect on her mother who giggled and turned away from him.
“Oh” scoffed the Brynholm woman, her voice piqued with interest. “Mr Calway will have to watch out for young Quinn lest he steal away his wife.”
“Oh madam I wouldn’t dare though she is indeed a very beautiful...”
As the conversation degenerated into a series of masculine banter and polite compliments Shirley found herself fixating on Agitha Brynholm.
A loathe able woman form her perspective and very prodigious producer of gossip and malignant rumours however she always knew of all that happenings and goings on within the circles of the British, French, and American diplomatic envoys. As such her father had instructed her to befriend the woman so as to be kept up to date with the latest news though she found it a very trying experience.
Mrs Brynholm herself was a round buxom woman who Shirley though may once have been pretty in her hay day but now lines crossed her face and her chin and she had begun to look very much so her age, which is she was correct in her estimates was somewhere around her early fourties.
Her husband was equally as rotund with wispy white hair that protruded from his barren scalp and equally so from both his chin and nostrils. He, for the most part was a jovial man, who oft spent his days in the harbour gentleman’s club parlaying with his fellows from all over Europe and downing brandies which gave him a ruddy red complexion.
Shirley suspected that his figure and drinking habits coincided with a need to escape Mrs Brynholm though she also suspected that he dare not say it to her face.
Her attention snapped back to the conversation as her father let out a long, booming guffaw which seemed to echo about inside her head.
At that time she began to regret having accepted her father’s invitation to attend the business meeting .
Her head felt light and her dress was stained by the grass which, now that she had begun to think about it, would not reflect well upon her or her family should she even be allowed past the sitting room of the luxurious offices of the city officials.
“Father?” she said quickly, the conversation dying around her, deepening her sense of self awareness.
“Would it be possible for me to return to the house. I do not feel very well and I fear that I the state of my dress would not be acceptable for the meeting today.”
She looked about the faces of the crowd seeing her mother flick her eyes over to Agitha, send a jolt of indignation throughout her entire being, who shrugged unceremoniously before rounding of Mr Brynholm whose red, pock marked face, deepened to an ever brighter shade of scarlet than she ever dreamed possible.
Behind them the Japanese business men discussed amongst themselves and from what she could understand of their language they concurred with her request.
Quinn looked her up and down, nodded approvingly, as did her father , who also made the same gesture before wrapping a powerful arm about her shoulders.
“ Yes” he said, slight note of regret in his tone. “ Will you be alright on your own? Take Quinn with you at least he would enjoy your company I am sure and I would feel more at ease if I knew you were safe with him.”
Shirley shook her head vehemently and took the strong tone she always used on her father when he suggested something ridiculous.
“ Don’t be silly Daddy.” Her voice confident and strong showing that no negotiation was possible from that point on.
Quinn whistled cheekily, but nodded as she spoke.
“Quinn is your bodyguard and regardless of whether or not my company will be of enjoyment to him is not the most pressing concern. Besides we are on our estate a there is no one who could get within a hundred meters of the house without being stopped and questioned, the Ministry has seen to that.”
With that she made her goodbyes to the business men, who responded with polite bows and much tipping of their hats, then to Mr and Mrs Brynholm, and finally to her father and mother before proceeding back down the path through the trees.
As she walked the wind began to increase in strength, not noticeably at first but then it began to whip around her scattering the floating petals and forcing her off the path to the right.
Unable to withstand the winds strong will she let herself be borne along by them, from the path, and then into a dense area of tightly packed trunks.
As she entered the copse the wind died once again and now that she was shielded by the trees strong limbs she was able to gather herself and her thoughts.
A quick glance about revealed to her that although there were sizable gaps between some of the trees in the nearest ring the outer rings filled them in diverting with wind outward. Overhead a thick network of branches formed and arched ceiling that was alive with a beautiful natural art painted all in pink.
The branches wove in an out of one another, weaving into those that were more than twenty meters away, such were veritable giants that composed this ring of cherry blossoms.
The air within the haven’s influence was still, although not like it had been that afternoon, there it was a calmness to it, it felt soothing and it soon began to make her acknowledge her own fatigue.
She yawned quietly, rubbed her heavy eyelids, stopped, turned to her left where she let her gaze drop down between the trunks of a particularly large sakura.
It was at this point she had realised she was not as alone in the glade as she might have though.
Sitting down, a small hard back book resting neatly on his stomach, and clad in very plain traditional clothing was limp form of a young man.
Shirley was taken aback, she had not expected to see anyone let alone a strange young man sitting in her garden, even more so a sleeping one. Her heart beat wildly in her chest and she quickly managed to place herself in one of the openings between the sakura trees, flattening herself against its strong trunk, ignoring the urge to protect the dress’ frilly lace stitching.
At first she thought the boy looked European though after a moment of scrutiny she saw that his face had the distinct characteristics of the east.
His skin was pale, not perhaps so as hers though compared to the men she had seen before his skin did not have the same olive brown tone that theirs did, and was stretched youthfully over strong, defined cheek bones and around the chin, which held no baby fat.
Compared to the little boys the servants sometimes brought with them when they clean her house, his face was alien, by no means European or Japanese, or perhaps, she though, a mixture in equal parts of both.
He had hair that was the same shade as her father’s, a rich chocolaty colour maybe a shade darker she could not tell just by looking, that was a tangled mess of strands that if straightened may have reached down to just above his eyes.
His eyes were closed and rested over a strong defined nose, not like those of the Japanese, solid and blocky, like Quinn’s though not as sharply angled as his.
Strange, she thought to herself, that she would compare his features to those of her father and his bodyguard.
The limp form shifted, rolled slightly, the book on his lap dropping to the floor where its pages fanned as it hit the earth, almost holding its weight above the ground becoming a strangely elegant bridge, before crumpling under the force of gravity.
In that brief motion she threw herself against the tree once more her face hot, a mix of emotions churning inside of her, fear, curiosity, suspicion, awe, all of them combined together in the blink of an eye.
She hear shuffling once again, the sound of threads against soft, verdant grass, producing an almost inaudible rustling.
A low yawn broke the monotony of the beating in her chest. A pang of fear stabbing her heart.
Please God. Don’t let him find me. Her prayer.
And all at once from behind her came a rushing of wind through the trees.
Shirley was flung bodily into the glade by the sudden ferocity that assailed her, so surprised by this she tumbled head over heels forwards and sudden high pitched cry escaping her lips, a jagged line of pain traced along the back of her head where it struck the protruding roots of a nearby tree.
Her vision blurred for a moment, faint outlines swayed before her threatening to make her purge herself.
She kept control, and in an instant was on the balls of her feet ready to run given a moment’s notice.
However her cover had been blown and she could see the young man looking up at her through deep brown eyes.
His expression betrayed nothing, she could not discern his intent, his emotions, if he was surprised or not, and it was in this lingering moment that she took the time to better assess him.
His garb was a simple white obe tucked neatly into a striped blue and gold sashimono which made him look princely.
His features up close reinforced this, he was tall, she could tell by the way his legs almost reached the distance between them, his shoulders were wide, not unduly so, quite proportionate to his body.
He sat there in a relaxed pose one arm on the inside the sleeve the other within the folds, leaving one sleeve hanging limp by his side, of the obe, both crossed, neck angled up, eyes boring into hers.
She shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, which roved her entire length from top to bottom, and back in the same motion.
He nodded to her, a simple head jerk rather than anything formal, a second ripple of indignation running through her, before he moved to pick up the fallen book.
She watched as he gathered the pages together, smoothing out any that appeared crinkled with long strokes of dexterous fingers, placed it gently in the folds of his robe, then rose and without haste, steps exuding a languid grace, exited the glade without a sound.
July 17th 1857, Shirley Calway Chapter 2- Some Things
That evening Shirley dined with her father and mother in the large, empty banquet hall that composed the greater part of the front of their home.