Ming Zhu swam with determination. Her tail churned the water in powerful strokes. Even the great sharks, with their half-moon smiles, moved aside for her, bowing slightly. She was the daughter of the dragon king.
She had been thinking about Xiao Xiao. They were both so similar and so different. They knew palace life and how wondrous it could be. But palace life was what drove her mother, the Queen, out – so many intrigues, the whispers and the jealousies. It was just not silk, brocade and beautiful things, but knives embedded in the civility and the gentleness. It was unbearable. It was intolerable. Too many xiao ren, mean-hearted people who wanted only fame and status.
Now she saw the knife in brocade and silk in Xiao Xiao's life. She also knew her friend saw it too.
She just had to protect her. And the little girl.
There was treachery in their midst.
Ming Zhu hated treachery. It was worse than lying, worse than pretending. And all together terrible. People forgot who they were, before ambition crept in.
She remembered cool hands on her forehead once, when she came down with an illness. The fever rippled through her like lava.
"Remember you are loved," her mother was saying, silver scales running up her slender arms in intricate patterns. "Remember who you are."
I remember, Mama.
With purpose, she headed towards the great Yang Tze River. Along the way she helped with the flows of the currents, irrigated the fields of the farmers and dislodged a blockage in one of the delta's branches. But still she swam on, heart on fire.