Chapter Thirteen

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Chapter Thirteen – The Spring Festival

 

Xiao Xiao woke up to baby giggles and the maids’ excited chatter. It was the eve of the Spring Festival.

Mother had laid out a set of new clothing on her bed: a red pao with golden embroidery tracing the hem. It was made with the best of silk and lined with warm white rabbit fur. It was still very cold. The carp pond had a thin layer of ice. True spring was a few weeks’ away.

Even Xiao Xin had a new dress, similar in design to her adopted older sister. A joyous atmosphere filled the chambers in participation of the reunion dinner and the festivities that followed after. Xiao Xiao couldn’t wait, even though a part of her was still sad that her die die hadn’t returned in time for the dinner.

Instead, they had mala hotpot and freshly-made noodles at the dining hall of the Empress of the East Palace. The diners were presented with platters of fresh dumplings, glistening seafood and carefully-arranged noodles. The fresh food was cooked directly in the boiling red spicy soup. Red chilli bobbed, adding their flavour to the already potent brew. At the end of the reunion dinner, the servants lit fireworks and the palace children wove swirls with their sparklers.

Mother and the Empress sat chatting, pleased and content, their babies on their laps. The little prince looked fed and happy, his eyes bright and curious. Xiao Xin held her red packet, waving it in front of her like a toy. Red packets were given by the married women. Xiao Xiao had already received two, from Ma ma and the Empress. The red envelopes still smelled of vermillion dye and rustled like dried leaves. She looked forward to collecting more red packets in the following days.

The eve of the Spring Festival was the only time Xiao Xiao could stay up late. It was the tradition of shou sui, fending off the evil Nian beast, so that she could ensure longevity for her parents. She only curled up in her blankets when the gong sounded to signal First Watch. For once, she felt happy.

~*~

Do you celebrate Spring Festival? Xiao Xiao asked Ming Zhu in the dream.

There was the swish of tail, a bright smile. Yes! We have the freshest fish, oysters and crabs! Father… father would give me the best pick from the dishes!

Melancholy filled the dream, greying it.

You have to go back, Ming Zhu. He misses you, Xiao Xiao said gently.

Eyes flashing hurt, hurt, hurt. You don’t know about me. Leave me alone.

Xiao Xiao shrugged and slipped back into deeper slumber.

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