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  • Jacqueline Grace

The Courtier and The Sakura

There was once a young courtier, who considered his manner and ways different to that of his peers. He was a quiet youth, spending many of his waking hours contemplating the ways of the world, the movements of nature and the stirrings of his soul. He was not easily inspired by the opulence of the court, the silks of the women’s dresses, nor the bejewelled collars of exotic pets. These displays he regarded too overt and repulsive. So too, the boisterous merry making of his peers; the bravado, the chase, rejection and attainment of affection altogether seemed peculiar and crude to him. Instead he would pass his days in solitude, wandering the stony paths of the woodland and the grassed hillsides of the mountains.

Why then is he called a courtier, you must be wondering? This you shall discover in time.

It so happened one day, when the youth was traversing these hillsides, musing over the rustle of the grassy seed heads in the breeze that he chanced upon an almost imperceptible track. Intrigued, he decided to follow to see where it might lead. The vegetation along the subtle path was not dissimilar to any other animal tracks in these parts; grey stone jutting out from the earth and smaller loose pebbles milling about. These were nestled amidst tufts of strong wiry grasses who sprang from miniature worlds of moss and lichen. The path beckoned him into a field scattered with irregularly shaped trees silhouetted against the grey blue sky.

And so he entered.

There was, in the cluster, one tree in particular that caught his eye so much so that he could not bear to withdraw his gaze. It was taller than the others with fine, lean limbs. Unawares, he found himself making his way towards the tree. Beholding her stateliness evoked feelings that were up until this point, quite unfamiliar to him. He approached tentatively, slightly bewildered, as though entreating her permission to draw near.

I say her, for although it was a tree, it was impossible for him to consider it otherwise, so we shall continue to refer to the tree as her, as this is after all his-story.

And so he stood before her and quite without realising, found himself extending his arms to place his hands about her waist, as if to dance with her. Though he had embraced her, he had not yet the boldness to lift his gaze towards her. Instead, in his meekness he kept his eyes lowered, as though bowing to her.

He was so moved by her beauty and the exhilaration that coursed through him that his throat began to tremble. A sweet warble arose from his lips as though he were a songbird wooing its love. The courtier’s song trembled with amour and ecstasy, the mysteries of nature, the grandeur of the cosmos and perhaps not so surprisingly to those who have traversed this ecstatic path before, it entered the chamber of confessions.

Secrets unknown to him spilled forth in an archipelago of exquisite utterances until he had revealed all the secrets of his heart’s treasury.

I cannot tell you for how many hours, days or months he sang to her, suffice to say he sang until he felt quite spent. All the while the tree retained her graceful stately pose.

As his song drew to a close, he felt a peculiar sensation of vacuousness echo within, and a nakedness tingle upon his skin. Unsure what to do with this disenchanting state, he finally felt compelled to lift his eyes towards the tree, wondering how she was capable of possessing such a power so as to seemingly extract his very soul. And more strongly than this stirred this provocation; having attained such a bounty, why did she give nothing of herself in exchange?

Very quickly, the courtier began to feel enraged at the injustice she had dealt him. After all, he was not like the other youths, entitled and vulgar in their lavish and self serving ways. Was he not gentle, considerate and simple in his pleasure seeking? How could she cast him aside when he had entreated her with such honesty, tentative emotion and modest movements?

As if from nowhere, a rapid and boiling heat launched, like a rocket, from his feet to his head. His hands no longer gently caressed her waist but now gripped and shook her with fury. His chest filled with an unknown fire, snarls spat from his lips and roars from his throat. He beat his head upon her trunk until rivers of red flowed.

And all the while the tree, with her bare limbs, stood before him. To the eyes of the birds who sat within her branches, she remained unchanged. Yet through the searing gaze of the courtier, she became twisted and cold.

I cannot tell you how many days, weeks or months passed in this way, suffice to say that the fire within his furnace eventually expired and the unbearable state of nakedness returned. And the in this moment of stillness, the youth lowered his gaze.

As surely as the sun daily sojourns the sky, the nakedness passed. Soon the courtier felt a cold pit welling internally, and a prickling in his flesh. From the seat of his belly, searing spikes rose tsunami- like, and gushed to his extremities, seeking the path of least resistance. Finally, a great dam broke in his throat and tears began to leak from his eyes. Wave after salty wave washed over him until he thought he might drown. And the tree remained unmoved as he wept before her.

I cannot tell you for how many weeks, months or years he wept other than in that time, the tips of the trees limbs swelled into buds until one day, amidst the waves of salty water, the youth felt a shiver descend upon him. The Sakura had blossomed and at this very moment she released her petals to the wind.

Elated, the youth took this as a sign of her repentance for all the afflictions she had caused him to endure. He embraced her tenderly, forgave her coquettish ways, her coldness and magical mischief. He felt quite certain that now in her contrition; she would be more amiable and generous in her love for him.

Nature cycles as it will, yet the fickle nature of the human continues to play its patterns against another it its unwillingness to evolve.

The seasons passed until the fruits of these blossoms grew in lusciousness, fragrance and colour. The courtier felt assured of having secured her commitment and that these budding fruits were her offering to him. And so again he composed sonatas of admiration and sung odes to the magnificence of their love.

Sonata whose execution was almost perfect, save the sound of the blackbirds that nestled in her branches. Why she endured their presence was a constant source of irritation to him. It left in his mouth the bitter taste of her coquettish past. As the days passed he became more jealous of his Sakura, and he found himself meditating upon ways to secure her attachment absolutely. Whenever a bird alighted upon her limbs, a seething heat would fill his head. Caterpillars upon her leaves conjured a relentless revolt compelling him to mercilessly squash them between his fingers, offering a temporary relief from this rising state of agitation. The mind of a lover is irrational at its best and a remembrance of his previous ways in the natural world seemed but a distant dream; the whims of a naive and uninitiated youth.

He laughed with contempt at his former self.

It was by now late Autumn, the days were filled with the dizzying state of heady aromas and the buzz of bees as they awaited the juices of ripening fruit. The grasses beneath the trees were long and dry. They rustled in ways that stirred a kernel buried somewhere in his torso, yet this he simply disregarded, for he was utterly possessed by the task of guarding the fruits of his precious Sakura. The blackbirds had long since left the comfort of her branches and had settled in nearby trees. For these he had driven away with the hurling of stones labouriously unearthed from the dry grounds of summer. Those who have sat on burnt earth to dig out stone will attest to the extreme requirements of such a work through their scraped and scarred knuckles. The courtier, so bent on his task, never noticed the blood as it caked in the creases of his fingers.

Consequently, the ground beneath the leafy canopy of the Sakura did not rustle as the others did. For the works of excavation and agitated pacing had made a wasteland of her floor. Any growth the courtier had not uprooted in his quest for ammunition had soon been trampled underfoot. He had compressed the earth in such a way as to now render it impermeable to seed or water. Instead of the rustle of grasses and the swathing of critters, only meticulous piles of silent stones and a well worn track adorned her roots.

Soon, every tree in the field had dropped its fruit it a glorious celebration of feasting and song. Birds, bees, wasps and small animals gorged with the greatest of satisfactions and the great keepers of the earth- the worms, woodlice, and grubs came to devour the remains, returning nutrients to the trees underside before they settled to rest for the winter.

And so it was with immense frustration that the courtier endured the withholding of the Sakura. She held tight to her fruits even as the trees about her began to shed their leaves. Insatiable hunger for her jewels tormented him, but alas, he simply could not reach her fruit baring limbs. That which he so judiciously guarded, was beyond his reach. All he could do was ward away the birds and animals who seemed to constantly encroach upon his love, to also savour the last fruits of the season.

The Sakura held onto the last moment, until she could retain no more, and in what seemed like a giant exhale, her fruits began to topple, splitting and spoiling as they hit the hard earth, for there was no grass to cushion the fall. The courtier in a state of deliriousness fell upon the fruit, smearing it into his mouth. It was in this very moment of intoxication that a black bird, unable to resist an opportunity, hastily flew into her limbs for a final feast before the descent of winter. Yet so attuned was the Courtier to the movement of these birds that even gorging upon the steadily descending fruits could not waylay his all consuming jealousy.

In a state of madness, the courtier seized the lowest limb of his beloved Sakura, and with a strength that can only conjured by insanity, he ripped a limb from her trunk. He swung this at the black bird and with the precision of a seasoned hunter, struck, and sent it reeling from the tree and smashing to the ground.

In a bed of bruised and bleeding fruit the broken bird lay twitching, until it twitched no more and succumbed to death.

Sap issued from the wound of the Sakura, yet it was with an enduring posture of grace that she helplessly bequeathed her over ripened fruits to the earth. A stench of rot sat heavily upon the air.

The courtier having removed himself from the canopy of the tree, now looked upon her as a spectacle of disgust. The waft of the fruit, the sight of the bird and the torn figure of the tree disgusted him. He cast the branch to the ground, wondering by what witchery he had lingered in this wasteland so long.

Descending the track, he returned to the realm of the court again, for he was now an initiate in the ways of love.

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