A long time ago, when porcelain was still very expensive and only available at the Finest Establishments, a woman named Julia lived by herself in a house on the edge of town, near the forest. She was a widow, her husband having died a few years prior, and she had a soft spot for collecting bric-a-brac. Every wall of her house had a china cabinet filled with small ornamental and sentimental porcelain objects—figurines, animals, as well as actual plates and tea sets, in a wide variety of colors and patterns. When she dusted she would take each item gently and fondly and brush the dust off.

One day Julia picked up a bright pink pig, which was rooting around in the porcelain dirt for truffles, and remembered how she had got it with her husband on a trip to London. She had always been fond of the pig, which seemed like a friendly and happy pig (and quite successful at finding truffles, given its corpulence) and she cradled it in her hands, loving it. When she dusted it she heard two small sneezes and a grunty, clayish sort of voice say, “that tickles!” She gave a short, involuntary scream and narrowly avoided dropping the pig, which looked up at her kind of quizzically.

“You’re alive!”

“Of course! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you weren’t alive a moment ago.”

“How odd, I can’t remember coming alive.” The pig looked like it might be trying to remember, but apparently wasn’t successful, and said, “you wouldn’t happen to have some dirt, would you? I feel like I need to be looking for something, and I think it’s in dirt.”

Julia put the pig in the pot of a largish plant, where it happily started rooting around in the dirt, then went into the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea, dusting forgotten, rather overwhelmed by this rather unusual turn of events.

Over the next few weeks Julia and the porcelain pig got used to each other, with Julia requiring the most adjustment. The pig did not seem to need to eat or drink, although it did get tired and go to sleep. It had a fondness for the plant, and although it had decided that what it was looking for was not there, always requested to be placed there for the night, where it curled up contentedly against the stem. It liked to follow Julia around, which made her fearful that she would step on it, but since it seemed like a intelligent creature, she explained that she was afraid of stepping on it and asked it to not stay too close and to keep closer to the edges of the walkways. It did seem to have a innate need to search and it was always sniffing around at the ground. One day the pig seemed particularly stir-crazy, so she suggested it go look outside in the garden. It stepped outside, sniffed the air, and seemed to get sort of intoxicated by all the smells. It ran around in circles for a while sniffing the ground, until it slowed down enough that it thought to go look elsewhere. It was a tired, happy, excited pig that returned in the evening. Julia insisted that it have a bath, as it was covered in dirt. The pig rather liked the warm bath, and fell asleep immediately afterwards, upon being placed at its plant.

Several other figurines came to life in subsequent months. There was an grey rabbit that was looking up adorably, which did seem to like to look and listen intently at the speaker, whether human or porcelain. It was definitely not the ideas sort of creature, but great at listening, and very compassionate. The bird singing on a branch came to life in mid song as Julia admired it. It didn’t speak, per se, but rather sung its replies in what seemed like an intelligible language—if only one could speak bird—as if it lived in an opera. It was certainly intelligent, and over time Julia came to understand some of what it sung. Later Julia found a bird from the same manufacturer packed away in a box, and when it came to life, the two of them would chatter away in arias and duets.

A figurine of a ballet dancer twirling in a long pink dress added vivacious color to the household, as she was always dancing around. Sort of like a flamingo, one of her resting positions was her arm up, standing on one toe, a position she reached by twirling couple of times and just slowing down until she stopped. It reminded Julia of a dog turning around three times before going to sleep, except that the dancer did it in one beautiful, fluid motion. Julia thought it looked pretty uncomfortable, but decided that it must not be, since she had held that position for years prior to coming alive. Interestingly, her dress was not actually a part of her, although it certainly was an oddly stiff and solid kind of cloth. It would stand up by itself, but when the dancer put it on it acted like regular cloth, almost as if it came alive when she wore it. Julia liked making dresses for the dancer, who would wear different ones depending on her mood, but she said that her porcelain dress felt like it was a part of her, and she never wore other dresses for long.

There was farm girl with long blondish hair in a plain blue-over-white dress who smiled demurely at the Swiss shepherd boy she was positioned across from. Julia had always thought that she was a sweet girl, and as Julia thought so one day as she cradled her after dusting, she came to life. She was, indeed, a sweet girl, and liked helping with the cooking and the cleaning. The cleaning Julia could arrange for: she made a doll-sized broom and Belle would clean all the corners and edges that were hard and out of the way for a large broom. The house never looked cleaner. The cooking was harder, because slicing a carrot is more like chopping a tree when when the carrot is three times as longer than you are.

One day Julia found the girl sitting in the china cabinet, just looking at the boy and his sheep. By this time Julia had begun to suspect how the figures would come alive, so she tested it out by taking the the boy and sheep into her hands. He was a lovely boy, and she had always appreciated him, and as she did so, he, too, came alive. The girl looked a bit surprised and then blushed shyly, while he looked at her and said remarked that he had never seen anything as beautiful. The two quickly became close friends. The boy was definitely all boy, enjoying risky things like attaching a long piece of string to the china cabinet, climbing it and rappelling down. He beat one of Julia’s hairpins into a sword, and would fight crickets in the garden. Previously if Belle encountered a spider she would beat it confidently with her broom until it scuttled off, but now she would scream when she saw one and the boy would rush up with his sword and attack. He would help Belle up the cabinet with the rope, where she would dust off the figures. And most evenings they would climb onto their shelf, with the sheep strapped to the boy’s back, and fall asleep together—Belle on the boy’s shoulder, with her head tilted slightly up, looking at him demurely; he with his head on hers, his one arm around her and his other arm hugging the sheep, which sat on his lap. (The sheep never showed any signs of intelligence, but usually followed them around kind of like a dog.)  And they were content.

After this Julia started bringing all the others to life. She started with the General, a rather dashing figure, his hand on his sword, looking out, presumably on his army, with a confident and practiced air. He was not the sort of man-of-action general who ran around everywhere on his rearing steed, nor was the sword-waving general urging his men on to bloody victory. No, the General was a Man of Command, a man who thoughtfully surveyed the situation, created bold strategy, and executed it through his men.

Julia brought one to life each day, a sort of Advent Calendar, where you open the door and see the surprise for the day. The household would stand around in awe and excitement while she brought the next figurine to life, and then they all welcomed the new addition and got to knew him or her. One unexpected consequence was that the household soon got rather large and fairly uncontrollable; here the General proved most helpful. Most mornings he would meet with Julia for a briefing for the day, and then maintained order and schedule throughout the day.

The General’s main task was organizing the Bathing. Julia had experimented with bringing some dishes to life, not sure what would happen. It turned out that the dishes enjoyed being eaten off of, or drunk out of, but they really loved being washed up. Most of the other figurines enjoyed it, too, but not as much as the dishes. (Even the black cat would occasionally enjoy a bath if he thought no one was looking. On the occasions he was discovered, he would nonchalantly jump up to the counter and begin licking himself, as if he had been merely dispassionately exploring this experience that all the plebs were raving about and had slowly—just now, in fact—come to the conclusion that hot, soapy water could hardly be called a real bath.)  First suggested by the General, Julia would fill up the sink with hot soapy water, and the second sink with clean water (sometimes hot, sometimes cool, usually decided by voice vote), and the dishes that had been used that evening and well as portion of the others on a rotating basis would line up, and jump in, enjoy the water a bit, and move to the rinse stage, allowing a new set to enter the bath. Julia had wondered how the plates would move about and whether they would grow limbs. The did not grow limbs, but would roll around on their edge, and when they wanted to climb something they would shimmy up along their bottom, kind of like how a starfish might climb up to the sink, but frequently looking a more like Salvador Dali than aquatic life.

The household settled into a happy, contented chaos. Julia taught them games, music, and general life skills. She and the General organized fun activities, and also craft times where they would build useful or beautiful things that were figurine-sized. Julia also wanted to beautify the yard, which abutted onto the forest, so sometimes they would all go out and plant things, weed the garden, and landscape. The General was very creative in building tools that enabled the figurines to move things that one would think would be too heavy or too high for them. The trellis, for example, was constructed with a staircase that wound around one of the poles. Not only did this add visual interest, but it also gave the figurines many more places to go. The top of the trellis was a popular spot for the more romantically inclined, or those that liked the view from up high.

Julia’s relationship with the General evolved into a deep partnership. She loved all the figurines and tried to spend time with them all, but the General’s deeper thought and strategic insight was very helpful in helping her clarify how she felt about the community was functioning and in helping her identify her vision for the future. He also had insightful thoughts and intriguing strategic ideas.

One day disaster struck. The day had begun with the pig rushing in excitedly with what looked like a ball of dirt in her mouth and shouting incoherently at the same time. She had finally discovered what it was that she had been looking so long for: the fragrant, walnut-sized, black ball of fungus-fruit that we call a truffle. Julia cooked up a fantastic truffle pasta sauce with just a part of it. But while she was helping the dishes wash, one of the plates turned around quickly, broadsiding the plate standing behind it and knocking it the other way and eventually off balance, who cascaded into the remaining plates. They rolled off, onto the floor, hitting several of the dishes and figurines in the line as they hit the floor and broke. Three plates broke, the cow creamer-dish (you poured the cream out the mouth into your tea) lost its head, a ballerina had her hand knocked off, and the sheep lost a leg.

There was a stunned silence, then some of the more sensitive girls (like Belle) started crying, mostly out of shock, at that point. Julia tried to comfort them, but when they asked her if the plates would be okay, she said that she would repair everyone tomorrow, and inwardly hoped that it would work. Julia had wondered if the figurines could die, and it did seem like the plates were very dead. (Despite her shock and sadness, she couldn’t help wondering later how much a plate could break and still be alive. Was it 51%? 75%? Cracked into three pieces instead of two?)  She suggested everyone go to bed.

Sleeping did not entirely repair the mood. Julia woke up to the wails of an inconsolable ballerina proclaiming that her figure was ruined and she only had one hand and only having one threw her out of balance and ruined her form and you could even see inside her and it’s just more than than someone should be expected to handle. The pig, who like all pigs was intelligent and curious, came up and asked,

“Can you really see inside of you? May I take a look?”

The ballerina mournfully pointed her arm in the pig’s direction, who looked inside with great interest, moving the arm around to get better lighting.

“Katherine’s hollow, you can see inside of her!” the pig said excitedly, and not terribly quietly. Some of the more curious figurines nearby came over to take a look, with the result that Katherine became an object of curiosity for a while, which did mollify her somewhat.

Julia went in to town and bought some repair cement and spent much of the afternoon repairing the plates and the cow creamer-dish. Katherine wanted to be repaired right away, and was a little upset when Julia told her and the shepherd boy carrying his lame sheep that she would do it the next day, after the plates had dried. Julia was not really sure what would happen with the plates, and was even less sure if it were possible to even cement dead porcelain onto live porcelain.

The next morning Julia took the plates in with her to her bedroom, insisting to the others that she needed to do it privately. She had never resurrected anyone before, and while it seemed like it was probably easier to resurrect a plate than a person, she still was not sure what to do. But she figured that if she did the same thing she did to wake them it might work. So she picked up the plate and loved it, and indeed, it came back to life. The other two plates and the cow also came back to life, and it seemed like the cracks had vanished, although the plates said that they felt sore for a couple of days.

Next Julia took the sheep and cemented its leg back on, immobilizing it with a splint. Then she took it and loved it (it was such a cute sheep). The sheep blurted out a “baa!”, the first sound it had ever made, and it seemed like the leg was as good as new. It was hard to tell, though, because the sheep had been limping around before being repaired without looking at all bothered. And it didn’t say anything beyond the initial “baa,” either. Katherine was more vocal, and she gave a suprised “oh!” and then “that felt really good!” when Julia loved her.

Everyone seemed as good as new on the outside, but the inside apparently was not. Bathing was decidedly less popular, and the figurines kept a distance while on the counter. The General took the accident as a personal failing due to his lack of foresight and discipline and slowly became more disciplined and less considerate. Julia noticed and told him the importance of kindness, but it only led to arguments between them. Eventually he seemed to listen and seemed closer to his old self, but Julia had concerns that she could not identify, but could not shake, either. The house was calm, but somehow not entirely peaceful.

The storm broke several weeks later. One of the figurines slipped and an argument broke out. Julia tried to calm things, but the General had taken charge of the argument.

“How can you say that? Rosemary almost slipped and broke something, just like before, because this kitchen is unsafe,” the General exploded.

“This kitchen isn’t unsafe, how can you say such a thing?” Julia replied, a little hurt at his accusation.

“This kitchen is a death-trap. The previous incident that killed—yes, I say killed,” said the General in response to Julia’s expression, "—four of our number, who are thankfully still here with us. Yet there has been no change, no improvement to make things safer.”

“I spent two days stiff and cold, it was horrible,” said one plate.

“I was just standing there, and the next thing I knew I falling into pieces. Now I’m scared to take bath, but I have to go into the very same sink,” said another plate.

“But Mother fixed us,” interrupted Katherine.

“Yes, she fixed them,” acknowledged the General, “as she should, because it was her failure. Nothing has been done since, nothing has changed. Enough of this! I am leaving tonight. We shall found our own house, where we will be safe. Who is with me?”

“You can’t do that!” Julia said, angrily. She was about to forbid them, to stand in their way, to lock them in the cupboard until they learned better, when she had an epiphany. She suddenly became aware of why she had been uneasy. The whispered meetings between certain of the figurines; the erosion of trust between them and her, and between themselves; the loss of the carefree wonder of life and the joie de vivre. If she forced them to stay it would simply poison the culture that they had. She had given them life, but apparently they had chosen to live life themselves, in bitterness and fear, rather than the joy that she wanted for them. And in that moment she knew the pain of parenthood, when you love your children but your children love you not.

“Leave if you must,” she said sadly. “But you have to know, it isn’t safe for you out there. Men will find you and they will make you perform for money, and threaten you, and use you. They will make you their slave.” Julia choked back tears. “But if you want to stay here, you need to trust me.”

“Let all those that trust her remain here then. I shall lead the rest, who seek safety and peace from this arguing. Who is with me?”

A large number of plates joined the General, a ballerina, and, all told, about a third of the figurines. The shepherd boy stood up, and took Belle by the hand, expecting her to come with him.

“Don’t go,” she pleaded. “Why do you keep listening to the General? He isn’t being fair to Mother.”

“You just don’t understand, do you? He’s a stronger leader than she’ll ever be.”

He motioned the sheep to come with him, but it didn’t move a muscle. “Baaaaa,” it said, its second utterance a monosyllabic sentence that spoke of both refusal and sadness and (Belle thought) pleading.

“Ungrateful sheep,” he muttered, putting his hands in his pockets and marching off to stand proudly next to the General.

They all walked out into the night, with most of the rest of the family, especially Julia, crying.

Without the boy around, Belle resumed dealing with spiders herself, but it was with a savagery borne out of anger and frustration, so that what few spiders remained abandoned the house altogether. The sheep followed Belle around closely, and she would hug it and cry herself to sleep in its fur for the first few weeks. She talked a lot with Julia in the first few days, and became more devoted to her. All of them drew closer together, for Julia told them what she had seen, and what community she wanted to build. While it did not lessen the longing for the friends they missed, they did realize that who their friends had become was not compatible with how they wanted to live.

The household settled back down into a new normal, but while the day-to-day activities did not look much different, their character was. Julia started consciously creating the community she envisioned. She encouraged vulnerability between family members and practiced it herself. She gave each figurine a role in the community that matched their personality and interests, and worked with each one to develop a plan of work or service that benefited the community. This lead to a dynamic community that was fairly self-sustaining.

The pig, for instance, clearly loved finding things, so one of its services to the community was finding things that were lost. When someone lost something, they would find the pig, who would go looking for it. Katherine, the ballerina, organized stage performances of all kinds (usually with dance a prominent feature), but also loved music. She even managed to write a short opera with the two birds, which usually had the role of background musicians. She had trouble communicating with them at first, since they spoke their own language, but she found that if she sung what she said that at least they seemed to understand reasonably well, and she eventually got an impression of what the birds said, even if it was not very precise. (But maybe birds have little need for precision in their lives, and if so, presumably their languages would reflect that.)

One summer night, as Julia was enjoying a cool summer evening on the porch, she saw movement in the distance which was strange and not like an animal. Full of hope, she ran out to meet it. She found a bedraggled shepherd boy and a joyless ballerina, both splotched with mud and looking very, very tired. The tiredness was notable because it was not a physical tiredness (which, being porcelain, they could not feel), but an inward tiredness that somehow manifested on their surface even though one could not find any particular spot where it was visible.

“We were wrong, " said the boy to Julia. “It was stupid and arrogant for us to leave you.”

“I’m sorry for not trusting you,” said the ballerina. “I’m sorry we hurt you by leaving. Can you forgive us?”

“May we come back?” asked the boy, without a lot of hope. “I’m tired of living by myself and hiding.”

Julia picked them both up and hugged them (as much as one can hug a small porcelain figurine). “Of course you may! I’m so glad you came back!”

They walked back and Julia shouted excitedly to the house, “Helen and Silas have come back!” Moments later they were surrounded by crowd of happy family members, being hugged and told how good it was to have them back and how much they missed them. Belle had arrived after they were already surrounded, so she waited a little shyly until the commotion had died down, and then wrapped her arms around him and held him for a long time, saying nothing, until Julia said she needed to give the ballerina and the boy a bath. Julia gently washed them off herself, then dried them off, held them for a moment, loved them. They each said “oh!” and they looked less tired. The tiredness continued to wear off day by day as they re-learned to live in the community, until after a few weeks it had vanished.

“The General led us a long way into the woods, into a clearing,” the boy told Belle (and the sheep) one day. “Everything went fine for a while. For a while cats would jump on us from behind and try to bite us, but after a while we learned to be watch out for them and they learned that we were not tasty, so they mostly left us alone. We built ourselves some huts, under the General’s leadership. He was always afraid of something, and he made us work like slaves. If we didn’t obey him, he hit us with the handle of one of Mother’s steak knives that he had stolen before we left and hidden in the woods, and liked to use as a sword. When he hit us it felt like we vibrated all over and really hurt.

“Winter was horrible. The huts kept the snow off of us, but it was so cold, and dark, and it seemed like it lasted forever. We longed for the warmth of home, and for hot baths, and we begged the General to make a fire. He refused, saying it would “give away our position.” I think the huts gave us away anyway, though, because when Spring came, some men through our clearing and picked up one of the huts to see why they were there. Naturally, we ran away, which got their attention. The first ones were scared and thought we were Faeries or something and ran away, but later others came and took a lot of us away. One man grabbed Helen and I and took us back to his house and made us learn tricks to perform for him. We escaped the second night, and tried to find our way back here. We kept to the edge of the woods, but we had no idea where to go, so it took us a long, long time. I think we must have walked around all the woods in the area. It’s really good to be back...”

However, after several months, the boy asked Julia if he could go look for the others. Julia said yes and that she had been hoping he would ask. She made him some dark clothes that he could wear to be almost invisible in the dark, and he practiced moving in the garden and the house at night, until he was able to sneak up on the rabbit, who could see well in the dark and was sensitive to movement. Midway through his training the pig asked if she could go with him, and Julia was delighted. She showed them a map of the area, which they memorized, and she went walking with them in the evenings to familiarize them with the area. Belle was not happy about him leaving and they had many arguments, but in the end she realized that she missed her brothers and sisters more than she was afraid that he would not return, and by the time they sent he and the pig off, she was even proud of him, pleased that it was her boy who was going on a dangerous mission to find the lost family members.

They were gone for a week, but returned with a relieved teacup, who apologized profusely to Julia and then was re-introduced to the family, along with a hot bath and a dose of love. The boy and the pig continued making trips every so often, and taught several other teams. The boy was a natural: he loved adventure and was not afraid of risk, and with his well-practiced climbing and rope skills he could get pretty much anywhere. Within a year they had explored all the houses in the village and discovered many of the family. About half were overjoyed to learn that they were welcome to return; each apologized and asked for forgiveness from Julia, and was reunited with the others after a bath and an infusion of love. But others were too ashamed to return, or were too bitter about everything to return. Others were too afraid to make the journey. Some had apparently embraced the motionless life of the porcelain world around them, either out of complacency or out of fear of being discovered, and had fallen into a deep sleep, out of which the boy was unable to wake them. And a few (mostly plates) had died, shattered either in the conflict in the woods, or at the hands of their new owners, whether accidentally (for the ones who had the presence of mind to be still and look like normal porcelain) or because they would not perform (for those who had revealed their life).

No team had found the General, although some of the returnees (and some who did not return) told tales of an angry, bitter warrior, full of cunning and courage. A few stories placed the General somewhere far away, so perhaps he had been captured and taken somewhere else. Sometimes they would happen on an animal that they seem to recognize human-looking figurines—with a look of fear and a wide berth—which seemed to confirm the stories, and suggested that if he was not nearby, at least his memory was still fresh. And sometimes the Seekers had the sense that they were being followed. It did not seem to be an animal, and it was elusive, whatever it was. There was only rare, fleeting glimpse of movement in a dark part of the scene, or a branch that seemed out of place, or a distant feature of the landscape that was—perhaps—no longer there. Maybe it was just the stories, some of which were hard to believe, but at such times there was a quiet dread, a sense of foreboding just barely above the limit of perception.

The Seekers were themselves hard to see, in their dark clothing and their trained movements that blended in with the ground. But gradually the felt the Shadow came closer to the house, and the teams began taking greater caution when returning. Even so, they were watched, and tracked, and the location of the house slowly identified. And if there had been someone behind a certain small stump, silhouetted by the light from the house and watching the team enter, that someone would have seen the stump gaze towards the house for a while, heard a sigh of victory, and seen the stump quietly melt into the darkness. And so, a few days later, the General returned.

It had been a chilly November day, cloudy with an on-again, off-again drizzle, which made everything cold, wet, and muddy. The house was warm with heat and with the light of home that keeps out the cold of the dying autumn. No one knew how the General had entered the house, but they found him in the entrance.

“Where’s Julia?” he demanded of the shocked group. Their shock and the note of command in his voice caused them to involuntarily point to the bedroom. He strode over quickly, while some of the group ran back to tell the others, and the rabbit bravely dashed ahead to warn Julia.

Julia had been ill with influenza, so she was in bed, resting, while the family took turns to keep her company. The rabbit dashed in and hurriedly warned them, “the General is here!” The figurines had no time to register their shock when the General strode in, gaving them an even greater shock. The General was covered head to toe in mud, except where the drizzle had washed some of it off. His left leg was missing, but he walked expertly with a makeshift crutch under his left arm. His left hand was missing a finger. He had a large, bulging knapsack on his back, and at his right side was his sword in something like a leather scabbard. His face was streaked with mud, as if he had wiped it off just before entering. The General looked old. The glaze on his faced was cracked with age, and his features seemed old in the same way that the boy and ballerina’s features had seemed tired. Old but alert; weary but cunning; defeated but proud. When he stood still he was still the handsome soldier, his hand on his sword, but now he had a look of command, and a confidence borne out of the knowledge that he had been in every imaginable situation and was now in control of them all.

“I’ve been expecting you, General,” said Julia, with a hint of reluctant inevitability.

The attending figurines were a little surprised and confused, and even the General’s confidence of command had a momentary flicker.

The General walked up to the head of the bed, took off his knapsack, placed it on the floor, and opened it. Inside was a leg and a finger. “Fix me,” he demanded.

Julia shook her head, and with what seemed both love and sadness said, “I cannot.”

“You will not,” the General corrected her. “You absolutely can."

“No, in this case I cannot.”

The General lept up, grabbed the handle of the drawer of the piece of furniture next to the bed and lithely careened off of it onto the bed, standing in front of Julia. He looked into her eyes defiantly.

“After you exiled us, I suffered in the forest but I kept us together. I suffered through the cold of winter, but we made it through. Then men came and took us. They forced me to perform on the streets. They broke my finger when I tried to escape, but I had my revenge. I killed one of my captors by cutting his neck artery while he slept—he put his hand forcefully on the hilt of his sword—and escaped. I fought off the cat who broke my leg. I knew you could fix me, but it took me months to figure out where I was and where I needed to go. I spent weeks along the edges of the land of Men, slogging through mud and climbing over stones and through a maze of branches, fending off wild animals and evading your kind. I have patiently tracked your slaves as they did your bidding, covered in muck to stay hidden. I have been covered in mud for I don’t know how long, and haven’t had a hot bath in even longer. You gave me life, you exiled me, you broke me, but I endured. You cannot refuse me. Fix me!”

Julia spoke again with the mix of sadness and love. “You chose exile, not me. You chose pride and you chose pain. You brought pain on my children and destroyed many of them as a consequence of your choices. Your pride tore the family I created. And now you come back in that same pride and demand I fix you. I gave you life by loving who you were created to be. I can only restore through love. But I cannot love who you have become, and so I cannot restore you while you are this way. I can only restore you if you choose to give up your choices and return to me.”

The General stood still in anger for a moment. “Very well then. Since you refuse, I give you what you have given me.” He unsheathed his sword and with a swift, strong movement he stabbed Julia in the heart, and deftly twisted and slashed it larger. Then he quickly wiped the sword on the sheet, savagely returned the sword to its scabbard, jumped down, picked up his knapsack and strode out of the room, out of the house, into the night.

The household had slowly gathered while the General had been speaking, and they stood still, completely overwhelmed even after the General left, while Julia’s blood poured out. Then, without saying anything to each other, they all climbed on the bed and filed by, each hugging the wound so that her blood flowed onto them, and saying, “Thank you Mother for loving us.” They spent the night next to her, having fallen asleep hugging some piece of her.

Late the next morning Julia opened her eyes. The wound in her chest had closed, although it was still painful. The figurines, who were keeping vigil over her, rejoiced when they saw that she was alive, for she had seemed dead the night before. She sat up slowly and they crowded around.

“Thank you for loving me,” she said, “It was knew that the General had to come, and I wish I could have restored him. But your love has restored me, and now you are my treasure, and I am yours. Thank you for your gift.”

The General never came back and no one ever heard of him again. But the family grew even closer together, living in rich community, serving one another and creating a paradise unmatched since. And if you ever see a porcelain figurine with a deep red splotch on it somewhere, you will know it is one of them.