There are some secondary characters who just cry out for a book of their own and Temperance Marston (the cousin of Midori, heroine of The Gilded Fan) was definitely one of those. Her story, The Jade Lioness, which is the final part of my Japanese trilogy, is now available as an ebook, with the paperback coming in October.
Set in 17th century Japan, the story features Temperance’s adventures after the end of the English Civil War. Having heard so much about her cousin’s country of birth, Temperance wants to see it for herself, but she hasn’t quite realised how restricted foreigners are in the exotic empire of Japan. In fact, they don’t get to even set foot on the mainland!
For an impetuous young woman like Temperance, that is intolerable and she takes matters into her own hands. And that’s when she meets Kazuo … Here is a short excerpt showing what happens:-
The Jade Lioness, excerpt:-
‘By all the gods, a water sprite in broad daylight!’
The voice, low pitched but strong, carried across the water and made Temperance flip to an upright position instantly while she searched for its source. She found it on a large, flat rock on one side of the bay, where a young man stood gazing at her with an astonished expression that swiftly changed to one of delight. He leaned forward for a better view and Temperance reacted instinctively by covering her chest with her hands and attempting to tread water at the same time. Her insides turned cold with fear and she cast an anxious glance towards the shore where her clothes lay discarded, so near yet impossible to retrieve. She’d been so careful before removing them, making sure she was alone, but now suddenly here was this intruder.
‘Hanarero! Go away,’ she ordered, too shocked to care whether she sounded rude or not.
The young man’s eyebrows rose. ‘You can speak?’
‘Of course I can speak.’ Her Japanese was far from perfect, but she could make herself understood well enough even if the finer nuances of grammar still eluded her. ‘Now leave, please, this is a private bay.’ She had no idea whether it was or not, but the lie was worth a try.
He looked around slowly. ‘I was under the impression that this stretch of the coast was wild, no matter which daimyo owns it. But perhaps it is reserved for water sprites?’
‘Yes, no, I mean … oh, please, just leave.’ Temperance tried to imbue her words with imperious command to hide the fact that she was panicking, but it didn’t have any effect. The young man smiled and shook his head. He seemed very much at ease and Temperance realised it would have been better if she’d kept quiet.
‘If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay for a while. It’s not every day I come across a water sprite, and one who talks to me no less.’
Was it a trick of the sun, or were his eyes twinkling? Temperance wasn’t sure, but she suspected the latter.
‘Please, won’t you tell me why you are here?’ he continued. ‘Are you the guardian of this bay? Is there something special, perhaps holy, about it, or are you one of the unfortunates who have drowned hereabouts?’
‘I am not a water sprite, as I’m sure you are fully aware. I am a perfectly normal human being and if you are an honourable man, you will turn around and walk away now. I shall dive under the water and when I come up again, I expect you to be gone.’ She turned and did just that, hoping against hope that the man would do as she asked without arguing further.
Having spent her entire life living next to the sea, Temperance was an expert swimmer and could hold her breath for a long time, thus giving the man ample opportunity to leave. When she surfaced at last, she was much further out than before and resolutely stared out to sea for a while to give him even more time to depart. She heard nothing, so she finally turned around to make sure he’d gone. She had to put up a hand against the glare of the sunlight in order to scan the shore and a sigh of relief escaped her when there was no sign of him. The feeling of dread subsided.
‘Phew, that was close,’ she muttered, then gave a little shriek as the man’s head suddenly popped out of the water not three feet away from her. Her heart went into panic mode again.
‘I thought I would join you instead.’ He smiled. ‘That way you don’t have to feel embarrassed.’ He looked pointedly at her hands, which she had raised automatically to shield her near-nakedness from his view.
Temperance stared at him, momentarily lost for words, then scowled fiercely while trying to put some distance between them. ‘How on earth did you reach that conclusion?’
He followed. ‘Well, if we are both without clothes, you are not at a disadvantage.’
‘But you are a man and I’m a …’
‘Female, yes I know.’ He grinned. ‘Surely you have bathed with other people before? Or do water sprites not mix with humans?’
‘For the last time, I’m not a spirit of any kind and no, I am not in the habit of bathing with others, especially not men. Why do you think I’m here in this bay by myself?’
‘I was hoping you would tell me that. If you’re not a magical creature, what pray, are you? And why is your speech so strange?’
The man was staring at her hair now, the silvery blonde strands that floated all around her shimmering in the sunlight even when wet. She noticed him studying her blue eyes with an expression of fascination too. Anger took hold of her, pushing the fear aside temporarily. He was teasing her again, he had to be.
‘I’m a foreigner, as you must know, still trying to master your language, and I am not allowed to mix with your people. We gai-jins have to remain on the island of Dejima and not set foot on Japanese soil. I was desperate for a swim, so I borrowed a rowing boat before first light and made my way here. There, are you satisfied now? I warn you, if you are thinking of reporting me to the authorities, I will not come willingly.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’ His grin broadened. ‘I’m a ronin.’
‘An outlaw? Dear God …’