Chapter Twenty Four
Xiao Xiao tried to draw the Nian away from the palace. She flew around it, taunting it while it snarled and tried to catch her with its claws. Beneath her the bannermen ran, spearing it and hitting it with cannon fire. A regiment hit it with fireworks: the banging sounds drove it closer and closer to the riverbank.
Her heart swelled like a rising sun when she saw Ming Zhu hurtling towards the Nian. The dragon princess struck it with lightning. The Nian howled in pain.
A little dragon joined them. Xiao Xin! How did she manage to escape from the chamber?
"We fight the monser!" Xiao Xin declared.
The three dragons attacked the Nian, biting and tearing at the monster.
Then the loudest boom exploded right next to the beast. The warships were firing at the Nian.
The river boiled.
From it sprang forth the sea guards all resplendent in their shiny armour with fish scales and crab carapaces. They rode the waves, brandishing their halberds of crab claws and fish spikes. Warriors beat their shields as their mounts - muscular sharks with sharp teeth - churned the water with their powerful tails.
A shimmering dragon, larger than the trio in the sky, emerged. Its scales were brilliant red-gold, its beard lush and curling. Its claws were the colour of mother-of-pearl.
Father! Ming Zhu cried gratefully.
The Dragon King confronted the Nian with a low angry hiss. The monster replied with a growl.
The skies darkened. There was a hint of a thunderstorm.
Pausing where they were, everyone caught their breath.
A sage descended from the mist-covered mountains. Serene, he sat cross-legged in a white cloud.
Chapter Twenty Five
Taming of the Nian
The sage had a long white beard and a merry expression on his wrinkly face. He wore a Taoist priest's robe. To some, he might look like an itinerant priest or even a beggar. Perhaps he was indeed from the infamous Beggars' Sect. Yet, his bearing was oddly regal. His back was straight, belying a certain strength.
He alighted from the cloud, tut-tut-tutting at the Nian.
"Aiyah, you escaped again," he said. His voice was soft, but yet it bore the power of spring thunder. He glanced at the bannermen, at the ship sailors, and finally, at the Emperor who stood with his men. He looked skyward at the dragons and then with a wry smile and courteous bow, at the Dragon King who barred the path of the Nian. "You caused a fair bit of trouble, didn't you?"
He lifted the staff he was carrying, weaving a pattern in the air. The Nian shook its head as if coming out from a trance. More intricate patterns ... and the Nian blinked its lambent eyes once, twice. It gave an incredulous moan.
"There you go," the sage continued. "The anger's gone. I am going to make you my steed."
He addressed the assorted crowd. "The Nian caused the same problem centuries ago. Caused a bad year... so I did teach people how to chase it away: loud noises, red clothing, and happy sounds. Oh, it hated happiness. Obviously, my advice didn't work." He chuckled ruefully, thumping the staff. The Nian whined, lowering its head. The sage hopped onto it nimbly, gripping its mane with his hands, his staff tucked under his armpit.
"Don't worry about the Nian... You will have a good year after this. I promise to keep a stern eye on him. Just hope the Jade Emperor doesn't mind him trampling about in his court." The sage said, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He patted the Nian's head and the beast began to move towards the misty mountains.
The departing Nian left a foaming wake as it crossed the river before bounding in a giant leap into the air.
Silence descended upon the land. The soldiers stared at one another. Sailors wondered if they had just imagined the whole thing. There were dragons in the air, in the water. Mythical creatures from lore. And that old man... a deity!
The Dragon King retreated back into the sea with his warriors.
The dragons in the sky flew away.
And people who watched the drama unfolded felt blessed: dragons came and helped them!
They found a secluded forest fragment to land, transforming back to their human selves.
Ming Zhu embraced Xiao Xin tightly. "You are very brave. This is what I wanted to see, what I want to protect. You and so many other little ones out there. You are worth more than a green pearl. You are powerful."
Xiao Xin giggled, hugging the dragon princess harder. "I knew it was you. I had dreams about you too. And my big sister too!"
"You did?" Xiao Xiao exclaimed.
"I saw you with the pearl and you turning into a dragon."
Ming Zhu looked at Xiao Xiao. "You two need to go back. They would be looking for you."
"When can I see you again?" Xiao Xiao gathered Xiao Xin into her arms protectively. "Next year?"
They all laughed. "We are connected, heart to heart. Whenever you need me, I will be there," Ming Zhu said. "I have vowed to protect Xiao Xin and girls like her. I will see you and Xiao Xin again."
The dragon princess left, disappearing into the lake. The last glimpse Xiao Xiao saw of her was the gleam of her dragon scales before she slipped back into the water.
She hugged Xiao Xin and the green pearl in the pouch pulsated.
The search party found Xiao Xiao and Xiao Xin huddled together in the dark woods. They brought them back. Mother fussed over them again. Meanwhile, the palace began repairing and reconstruction. It was a long tiring ordeal for all.
Xiao Xiao and Xiao Xin kept their secret safe. They enjoyed the lotus root soup and pan seared nian gao lavished upon them by the grateful servants.
Lotus Root Soup
- 500 grams of pork bones (ribs). (You can substitute with chicken thighs, if you do not like pork).
- 1 lotus root (You can get it from an Asian grocer or supermarket).
- 2 table spoons of raw peanuts. (This is optional for folks with peanut allergies)
- 10 red dates (seeds removed).
- 1 table spoon of goji berry.
- 10 bowls of water.
- 1 tea spoon of sea salt.
- Dried squid. (Also optional).
- 1 tea spoon of white peppercorn. (Also optional)
- Rinse the pork bones (ribs) thoroughly. Place them in a large pot.
- Wash the lotus root also thoroughly. Supermarket ones are already scrubbed for consumption. Cut the lotus root cross-wise into thin slices.
- Add the peanuts if you desire. Rinse the goji berry and red dates with water. The squid is optional if you do not like the fishy taste. Add the white peppercorn if you like a spicy and peppery kick to the soup.
- Add all ingredients into the large pot with the pork ribs. Add in the ten bowls of water and salt. Boil for one hour or less. Remove the scum.
- Once done with boiling, simmer for ten minutes or so on low heat. Serve immediately with hot jasmine rice or enjoy it by itself. Perfect as comfort food and a cold day food.
Lotus root soup is so flexible: You can use chicken or pork. You can also use chicken feet which might alarm some, but a lot of Cantonese children will tell you they are delicious. I have heard there are people who use fish bones. For variety, you can add corn and carrots for extra sweetness.
Goji berry is amazing. They are good for your eyes/vision. They are amazing too when eaten raw; they taste like sweet and sharply tart raisins. Some people put them in hot water and drink them as a tea/infusion.
Apparently the leaves of the goji berry plant can be eaten too! It's good stir-fried with eggs.
Chapter Twenty Six
New treaty, New beginnings
The Emperor signed a new treaty with the foreign ships. They grudgingly agreed to remain at Zhou Shan. But they still eyed the silk and tea.
The danger over, the palace heaved a collective sigh of relief. It held a party for the next full moon, complete with plates after plates of delicacies.
Xiao Xiao lit her lantern as the full moon rose. She swore she could see a dragon on the moon. Beside her Xiao Xin carried her rabbit lantern carefully.
They looked forward to the new beginnings. More adventures in the future with Ming Zhu.
New beginnings. Xiao Xiao couldn't wait. Excitement sang in her heart. More herb books, more healing manuals. Adventures together!
Hearts joined together.
Ming Zhu returned to the undersea palace where the Dragon King welcomed her back with open arms. She was thankful for her father's support.
She would return to the surface again.
Thank you for reading!
You can buy the full and complete e-book of Pearl of the Palace by Joyce Chng over at Scarlet Ferret today!
Your purchase includes:
- The full book in DRM-fee ePub and Mobi formats for all e-readers
- All Extras!
You will be supporting an amazing independent author and bookshop.