Chapter Twenty-Five

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Chapter Twenty-Five – The Impasse

Try as she might, Xiao Xiao never found the old woman again. It was as if the Jade Emperor had sent someone to test her and push her to her limits.

Suddenly, as Ming Zhu had come, the dragon princess seemed to have disappeared. No movement. No sighs or whispers. It was as if the dragon princess had gone away.

There was a great silence in Xiao Xiao’s head.

~*~

Xiao Xin, at the meantime, had started to babble her first word. Everyone leant close and tried to pick out what she was babbling about.

When they finally caught what she said, Mother was amazed and placed a hand over her heart, calling her little daughter “blessed”.

The word was “long”.

Dragon.

Xiao Xiao’s own heart leapt too.

But with Ming Zhu gone, what was she, a human girl, going to do?

~*~

While she fretted and chaffed, the palace remembered the ancestors and cleaned the tombs of the emperors and empresses who had gone before. Servants were given leave to visit their family grave.

Mother brought Xiao Xiao to their family graves and placed offerings of dumplings, fruits and rice before the tombs of her great grandparents, people whom Xiao Xiao had never met. Mother tackled the mass of vines and weeds covering the tomb stones with gusto, removing the tangled green plants with her bare hands. Then she lit bright red candles and poured Shaoxing wine into tiny porcelain cups. These she placed beside the food offerings.

And before Xiao Xiao knew it, Qing Ming was over.

Yet, Ming Zhu was still gone.

~*~

Xiao Xiao tried to alleviate her anxiety by following her maids over to the nearest rice field and harvest the very delectable rice paddy snails. While Autumn and Spring chattered excitedly, scooping hands of glossy-shelled snails into their baskets, Xiao Xiao picked through the mud listlessly.

She was reminded of the auspicious day she found Xiao Xin, the same day she had thought about rice paddy snails. Was that almost a year?

While they boiled the snails with herbs, Xiao Xiao stared at the skies. Where did Ming Zhu go?

Why did she leave her alone?

 Ming Zhu, where did you go?

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