The first flakes of snow drifted across the courtyard. It was a busy time now at the courtyard, as the palace prepared for winter's coming. This was the time that Xiao Xiao hated – being cooped inside the chambers, stuck with her homework and a little sister who whined a lot. It was just as bad as the Ghost Month.
She hated the Ghost Month, because Mother forbade her to be out in night, because it was the time when the spirits were let out from Hell to roam the countryside and visit kin. Each section of the palace made their own offerings with elaborate dishes of steamed chicken, fish and assorted sweetmeats. For a week or two, the air was thick with burning of paper money.
Worse of all, the nannies and servants loved to tell ghost stories. Xiao Xin listened, but Xiao Xiao doubted the little girl ever understood.
Would she understand about dragons too?
The winds were particularly creepy around this time. Xiao Xiao hid under the blankets, clutching the green pearl in the pouch, while she tried not to hear the mournful songs of the wind filter through the window and through the doors.
Now, autumn was edging into winter and the winds were back, wailing their sad songs. Ming Zhu remained silent. Xiao Xiao had a feeling that the dragon princess had something in mind. Change was coming.
The servants muttered about the cold and talked about the hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake.
Only Xiao Xiao knew the heart-beat of a dragon and the change she would bring.