Sir Rutherford Climbs Mount Fuji – Part 3

XI

 “Come in, gentlemen,” the tall woman encouraged them.
“And bring you little dog,” her sister added.  “I love little dogs.”
Toby was standing behind his master unsure of the two witches but ever the diplomat, Sir Rutherford strode forward and began his introduction, “MY NAME IS SIR RUTHERFORD…”
“We know who you are, Sir Rutherford, and why you are here.  The hour is getting late.  Why don’t we go inside where it is…safer,” the tall woman encouraged.
“Oh, right you are,” Sir Rutherford agreed, a little put out at not finishing his speech.
“You can tell your groom to leave the horses in the stable behind the hut,” the fat woman said waving a pudgy hand at Hirobumi, “there’s plenty of room there.”
“Groom? Groom!” Hirobumi protested but the rest of the party were already entering the hut and he was left with the three horses in the gathering dusk.  “Four years studying English at Wasabi University and she thinks I’m a groom!”

“Please make yourselves at home gentlemen,” the taller sister said, “and you are most welcome to stay the night.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Sir Rutherford said looking around the room.  It was simply furnished with a few wooden chairs, a mantelpiece above the fireplace but the centrepiece was a large circular table in the centre of the room on which some huge candles were burning.  There were two doors in the far wall and the shorter sister poked her head round one and said, “We’re having roast beef and Yorkshire pudding tonight in your honour.”
“Oh, I say,” the Ambassador smiled broadly, “that’s wonderful news.  At least it’s not that awful mushroom soup.”
“No, not tonight,” the cook called through from the kitchen.
Just then Hirobumi entered the house and all five people sat at the circular table.  The witches must have been very used to this scene because they waited patiently as Sir Rutherford spread his hands on the table and said, “Ladies I’m sure you know that it is our intention to climb Mount Sushi tomorrow and to that end we seek your guidance as to which path will be safe.  My companions here,” at this point he shot his two friends a rather annoyed look, “have debated endlessly this afternoon as to the three questions we should ask.  And perhaps now it is time to hear the fruits of their deliberations.”  He turned to Hirobumi and Daito who then turned towards each other.
“I still think we should ask each of them which path is not safe and then ask one of them if she agrees with the other,” Daito said quickly.
“No, I still think it has something to do with what her sister would say,” the secretary stated.
“Whose sister?”
“Well, Kako’s,” Hirobumi nodded to the fat sister opposite him, “Right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” the fat woman answered.
“That’s the first question,” the thin sister pronounced from her seat opposite Sir Rutherford who put a disbelieving hand to his forehead.
“You idiot!” Daito shouted at Hirobumi, “you’ve wasted one of the questions!”
“It wasn’t my fault.  I just, I just…” words failed the secretary and it was left to Daito to ask his question.
He turned to the thin sister next to him, “If I asked you if the white path would not be dangerous for us tomorrow, would you answer in the affirmative?”
Without hesitation the thin witch said, “Yes.”
The two companions looked at each other for several seconds both trying to work out what the answer meant.  Hirobumi was the first to give up and said “What exactly does that mean?” and then quickly added, “Daito?”
“Ummm.  It means that she thinks the red path is … ummm.  Hang on… ummm…. if she said… ummm”
“Now you’ve wasted a question,” the secretary scolded, “we’re no further forward at all.”
The two continued bickering for a few more minutes during which Sir Rutherford took something from his pocket and then turning to the fat witch beside him, he held out his hand and quietly said “Would you like a chocolate?”
She looked at his hand and saw a paper bag on which was printed the jolly face of Harry Hanzo.
“No, thank you,” the fat woman said and then quickly took a chocolate out of the bag and put it in her mouth.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mistress Wako,” he said.
“A pleasure to meet you too, Sir Rutherford,” the fat witch replied.
“Harry’s gateau, Harry” Sir Rutherford murmured softly before turning to his companions and saying, “Tomorrow gentlemen we will take the white path for that is the safest.  Incidentally we were expected here today and we are most welcome to stay the night.  Unfortunately dinner will not be roast beef and Yorkshire pudding but undoubtedly will include mushroom soup.  Toby, I suggest you stay near me because Mistress Wako here doesn’t like little dogs at all.  And Hirobumi, I expect there wasn’t much room in the stable, was there?”
“Um, no Sir Rutherford.”
“How many horses were there?”
“Well, more than a hundred I think,” the secretary replied astonished at the speed with which their fortunes had changed.
“No doubt you are keeping them until their owners return,” Sir Rutherford asked the thin sister opposite him.
“That’s right.  Until their owners return,” she said.
“And how many owners have ever returned?” Hirobumi asked.
“Only Daito here…..So far.”
“Bravo!” the recently revealed Wako started clapping from the chair next to the Ambassador. “After all these years it was finally my sweet tooth that gave us away!  Well done!”

XII

Harry Hanzo’s bag of chocolates was passed around the table and everybody took one except the thin witch Kako who obviously was the sister who didn’t like chocolates.
Her larger sister, Wako, disappeared into the kitchen and presently dinner was served.  There was a bowl of miso soup and a huge bowl of rice each but also some roast chicken, pickled vegetables and bread.  Sir Rutherford ate heartily all the time entertaining the others with stories of his time in China.  At the end of the meal he asked Wako if he could smoke his pipe.
“Of course you may, Sir Rutherford,” she replied.
“Really?” he queried.
“Yes, really.  We’ve finished with the lying game for now.”
“Oh good.  I’m glad to hear that.”
Sir Rutherford blew a smoke ring towards the ceiling and then asked the sisters, “How long have you been the guardians of the mountain?”
“Oh, a couple of thousand years I believe.”
“Don’t you ever get bored?” Hirobumi asked.
“Oh, no.  We’re far too busy looking after all the horses.  It all started with that King from England.  What was his name, Kako?”
“Arthur.”
“That was it.  He kept talking about his quest to seek the grail, whatever a grail is.  He had a fine horse with lots of gold bits on it.  But he never did come back for it.  It’s in stall number one in the stable.”
“But if that was centuries ago, how come the horse is still alive?” Daito asked.
“We give our word to look after the horses and look after them we will however long it takes,” Wako said solemnly.
“Tell them about the American, dear,” Kako urged from her side of the table.
“No, no. I couldn’t,” Wako started turning red.  And then as a sister would, Kako started telling the story for Wako.
“It was about a week ago.  This handsome young American turned up.  Handsome but rugged and yet intelligent.  Wako was quite taken by him, weren’t, you dear? ‘Oh, hasn’t he got lovely brown eyes!’ you said, didn’t you Wako?”  Wako turned an even brighter shade of red as her sister continued.
“He was an architect or archi-something or other.  Anyway, he tried to get round us by asking the questions in Greek.  Only his Greek wasn’t very good and he got himself terrible confused.  So, off he went in the morning with his big hat and his whip and we didn’t see him again.  It was a bit of a shame to have to lie to him.”  

The candles on the table had burnt down low and both Hirobumi and Daito was snoring softly in their chairs before Sir Rutherford said,
“Well, thank you for a wonderful evening ladies.  It was most interesting listening to your stories and I’m sure your other sister won’t begrudge you the little you have told me of her.”
“Sir Rutherford.  You strike me as a man who can hear ten words and accurately surmise a thousand more.  Is that not so?”  Kako asked.
“Well, the first rule of being a good diplomat is to listen, you know?” the Ambassador modestly conceded.  With this, Sir Rutherford pushed back his chair and gently shook Hirobumi awake.  He then he picked up the still sleeping Daito and followed the two sisters to the second door.  The two men were amazed at the sight they saw.  The corridor stretched on as far as the eye could see with dozens of bedroom doors on either side.  “Until the others return?” Sir Rutherford asked over his shoulder.
“That’s right.  You may have the first three on the right.”
“This isn’t a hut,” Hirobumi was blinking himself awake, “it’s a palace.”       

XIII

Sir Rutherford was woken by the smell of bacon cooking.  “That’s more like it,” he thought as he pulled on his boots.  Hirobumi and Daito were already eating their breakfasts as he took his place at the table.
“Good morning, Sir Rutherford,” the fat witch, Wako said as she placed a huge plate of bacon, sausages and eggs in front of the Ambassador, “ I hope you slept well.”
“Yes, perfectly well,” the gentleman replied, “I shall recommend your guest house to all my friends.”
“None of your friends are welcome here!” Kako called from the kitchen.
“Is she always that rude in the morning?” Sir Rutherford asked Wako.
“No.  It’s just her turn today,” Wako whispered with a wink.
“Oh, I see,” Sir Rutherford replied tapping his nose.
After breakfast the group of adventurers went outside and said their goodbyes to the two wise women.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Sir Rutherford said, “and we hope to be back by later this afternoon.”  
“We’ll be standing right here waiting,” the slim witch, Kako said.
“Hmm, I wouldn’t put any money on that if I was you, Daiki,” Sir Rutherford muttered as they started up the path towards the top of the mountain.  The path quickly became steeper and there was little chance that the horses would have been able to climb any further up the mountain.  After a few minutes they came across a simple signpost which had a red arrow pointing left and a white arrow pointing right.
“So this is it, gentlemen,” Sir Rutherford paused looking at the sign, “are we agreed on taking the white path?”
“Yes, Sir Rutherford,” Hirobumi said without much enthusiasm.
“Yes, sir,” Daito replied quietly.
“Gentlemen!” Sir Rutherford exclaimed, “We are not far from our goal.  A little more spirit please!”
“What about the Terrible Goddess at the top?”
“You leave the Goddess to me, Hirobumi.  Oh, that reminds me,” and with that, the Ambassador took a small bottle out of his pocket and applied some aftershave on each cheek, “this was given to me by Queen Victoria herself.  It’s the same formula that Tutankhamen used.”
“How do you know?” Daito asked.
“Because Queen Victoria told me.”
“And how does she know?”
“Because she’s a queen, silly.  Now, enough chatter, Daiki.  Let’s try and get to the top before lunch.”
“He still hasn’t worked out that my name is Daito,” thought Daito still a bit puzzled as to how Queen Victoria could know the recipe of Tutankhamen’s aftershave from a few thousand years ago.
The three adventurers set off up the white path, Sir Rutherford in the lead with Daito not far behind and Hirobumi bringing up the rear.  The trail was wreathed in cloud which made seeing more than 100 feet impossible.  At times the cloud closed in on them further and Sir Rutherford had to warn the other two to stay close by otherwise they might get lost.  By now the three of them had got used to the terrible smell of rotten eggs.  Hirobumi wondered how the wise women could stand living in such a place with the terrible smell and near constant cloud.

XIV

After a few hours they came to a huge boulder by the side of the path.  From under the boulder two streams emerged and ran a short way down the mountain before disappearing into a gravel bed.  Sir Rutherford looked at the streams carefully for a moment or two before turning to Daito and saying, “Whatever you do, don’t cross the streams?”
“Why?”
“It would be bad.”
“I’m fuzzy on the whole good/ bad thing. What do you mean, ‘bad’?”
“Watch,” said Sir Rutherford and threw a small piece of bread into one of the streams.  Instantly the piece of bread began fizzing violently and skating on the top of the water before bursting into a blue flame.
“Right.  That’s bad.  Okay.” Daito stammered a little shocked.
“And this is supposed to be the safe path?” Hirobumi asked even more shocked.
“No,” answered Sir Rutherford quietly, “this is the safer path.  There are many dangers and we must be careful.  We will continue up the mountain but walk behind this boulder.”
A little further on the path was blocked by a river of thick slow moving lava.  The river was about 10 feet across and the heat made the group shield their faces with their hands. 
“What do we do now, Sir Rutherford?” Daito asked as the lava bubbled and burped in front of them.
“Look!” shouted Hirobumi before Sir Rutherford had a chance to answer, “there are some stepping stones further up.”
It was true.  There were 5 small stone islands in the lava river a little way up the mountain.
“Well done Hirobumi!” said Sir Rutherford and they clambered over some boulders to the stepping stones. “Now we don’t know if these stones are stable or if they will remain above the lava for long so don’t hang about, go quickly and confidently.  I’ll go first.  Daiki second and Hirobumi last.”  With that the Ambassador leapt lightly onto the first stone, then the second and so on to the other side.  Daito followed immediately but stopped at the third stone.  The gap to the fourth was larger than the others.  “I knew I should have brought a bit of rope,” he thought, “I knew I’d need one if I didn’t bring one.”  After a few more seconds of hesitation he leapt for the fourth stone which he just managed to land on and then his momentum took him forward onto the fifth stone and then the far bank.  Hirobumi also paused at the third stone but just as he leapt, the river gave a huge burp which sent lava onto the rucksack that Hirobumi was carrying.  The bag instantly caught fire and was well alight as he landed with a  sprawl on the far bank.  Sir Rutherford and Daito quickly stamped out the blaze but Hirobumi was more concerned with saving the bread that had been damaged by the fire and the stamping.
“What are you doing, Hirobumi?” Sir Rutherford asked.
“Well, I just want to make sure we have enough bread.”
“Enough for what?”
“Well, the way home.”
“Oh, right.  Good thinking.”
Just then there was a huge explosion from somewhere ahead followed by screaming sounds which grew louder and louder.  “Oh, this just gets better and better,” Sir Rutherford muttered before yelling “DUCK!”
“Where?” Hirobumi asked looking around as the other two took cover behind a nearby boulder.  Sir Rutherford just had time to pull Hirobumi into safety before the area was bombarded with football sized rocks which whizzed through the air and landed with deafening booms.  The rocks rained down for a minute or two by which time the three friends were covered in dust.  Gingerly they left their shelter and Sir Rutherford was the first to speak, “Hirobumi, your lack of everyday English will be the death of me.  Everyone knows that ‘DUCK’ means ‘take cover’ especially on a volcano when accompanied by explosions and whizzing sounds.”
Before Hirobumi could reply Daito shouted, “Look here.  The rocks have made some more stepping stones.”  It was true.  There were now more than ten rocks stretched across the lava river.
“Ah, well, every cloud has a silver lining, eh?” the Ambassador said and then seeing a question forming on Hirobumi’s lips he quickly added, “this way chaps.”
“Clouds? Silver!” Hirobumi repeated as he took up his usual place at the rear.

More rocks and boulders flew over the parties heads as they approached the summit of Mount Fuji but most fell harmlessly away from the climbers.  The ground began to shake with huge regular explosions which by counting under his breath Sir Rutherford timed to be about a minute apart.  At last, just after noon, the three adventurers passed under a gateway which marked the entrance to the top of the mountain.  The cloud closed around them worse than ever and the smell of sulphur was almost over-powering.  Before they could go much further there was a deafening rumbling noise, the ground shook again and a huge pillar of lava shot up from the ground ahead of them, rose to more than 100 feet in the air and fell back down into the crater with a huge splash.  As it did, the air shimmered and a beautiful young women dressed in a crimson and gold kimono appeared before them.  Her skin was pale, her long straight hair was dark as night but Sir Rutherford and his friends were all captivated by her eyes for they were made of fire.  “Who dares to climb my mountain?” the woman shrieked, her flaming eyes flickered as she spoke.
“GOOD DAY TO YOU, MISS.  MY NAME IS SIR RUTHERFORD ALCOCK,  AMBASSADOR FOR HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA TO THE IMPERIAL CHRYSANTHEMUM COURT OF JAPAN, SURGEON (RETIRED) OF THE MARINE BRIGADE, DEPUTY INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF HOSPITALS (ALSO RETIRED) AND UNBEATEN CONKER CHAMPION AT MY SCHOOL FOR THREE YEARS RUNNING.”
“Is that all?” the Goddess asked.
“Yes, that’s all.” Sir Rutherford replied.
“Then you shall die in the Crater of Doom just like all the others who have dared to climb my mountain.”
The lava geyser behind her erupted again just on time but as she raised her hands to cast a spell the aroma of Sir Rutherford’s aftershave touched her perfect nose and she paused.  Her face softened a little and she said  “No-one has ever brought such a wonderful perfume to my mountain before.  I shall give you one chance to save your lives.”
She held out her hand and a box 4 inches square appeared in her palm.
“If you can tell me what is in the box, you will live.  If not, you will die!” her eyes flamed greater than ever, “You have until my lava geyser next erupts.”
“But that’s only a minute!” Hirobumi cried as Sir Rutherford snatched the box out of the Goddess’s hand and read aloud the inscription on the lid,
I run all day but get nowhere
A face I have but no eyes or hair
Three hands have I but no fingers or toes
When will I stop?
No-one knows.
“What does that mean?” Daito asked.
“It could be anything!” Hirobumi.
The Goddess started to laugh and the ground beneath their feet began to shake.  A red glow formed in the centre of the crater as the pressure of the lava increased.
“What do we do, Sir Rutherford?” said Daito nearly in tears.
“Your time is nearly up, Sir Rutherford Alcock, Ambassador for her Majesty Queen Victoria to the Imperial Chrysanthemum Court of Japan…”
Sir Rutherford stood still staring into the crater as the lava rose into the air.

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Comments
  1. Rob/boddy-chan says:

    I know what’s in the box!

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