Chapter Two

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Chapter Two – The Green Pearl

 Xiao Xin flourished. By the third month, she was fat and Xiao Xiao played with the rolls of fat on her limbs. She had such bright eyes and a beautiful mouth. She couldn’t be peasant stock, Xiao Xiao wondered.

 The Empress of the East Palace visited Mother twice a week. She was already showing, her stomach round, beneath her sumptuous gown. She announced her pregnancy officially on Yuan Xiao, the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year, to the delight of the emperor and the rest of the gossip-hungry court.

 Mother had her servants and her capable cook prepare mid-autumn snacks. Pomelo slices, boiled caltrops and tiny bite-size mooncakes filled with white lotus paste and nuts. She also had a plate of boiled peanuts, her personal favorite. So where the women chatted, Xiao Xiao watched over Xiao Xin, making hand butterflies to charm the little baby. She was still getting used to the fact that Xiao Xin was now her sister. Her ears, however, listened to the conversation behind her.

 “You should have seen her expression,” the Empress of the East Palace was giggling. “She is so angry!”

 “Aiyah,” her mother said. “Don’t make more enemies, Xiu Hui. You know how much she hates you.”

 The Empress of the East Palace heaved a sigh. “She’s such a child.”

 A laugh came from her mother. “In physical years, she is a child.”

 The rest of the conversation tapered down to the discussion of the barbarian priests who had set up a school in the city. Barbarian. Italian. The priests called themselves Jesuits. The barbarians were forever interested in the Middle Kingdom.

 Xiao Xiao turned her attention back to Xiao Xin who was snoring in her sleep. The little baby was  clutching something in her little fat fist. Xiao Xiao tilted her head. Was there a green glow coming from the fist?

 She gently pried the fingers open.

 The baby was holding a tiny green pearl.

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