The dragon flowed with the current, letting the powerful force bring her closer to the palace. She passed by burnt-out villages, the villagers still struggling to rebuild their destroyed homes. She witnessed with aghast the cracked earth like tears gouged out with massive claws.
Was she too late?
Last night she was shocked awake by a scream that seemed to resonate around and in her. She feared she was indeed unable to save the little girl. Dragon she was, she didn't think she would defeat an enraged Nian. Her father and uncles would... But one single dragon was no match for a mythical creature known to regenerate every cycle. Why did it turn evil? Why didn't it go away?
She swam up the river now cold with the melting snow. Urgency filled her limbs, filled her lungs.
As Ming Zhu approached the palace, swimming up river, she could hear wailing. Women in anguished pain and anger.
She was too late.
She caught sight of Xiao Xiao. The young woman was holding up her distraught mother, the imperial courtesan.
Ming Zhu thrashed her tail with a roar of frustration. Her actions caused a series of waves. They crashed harmlessly on the river bank, rocking a few wooden boats.
Startled, Xiao Xiao looked up. She thought she saw a shape rear up from the river. Mother was crying, so distraught and upset she was. Mother wanted to go out immediately to search for Xiao Xin. She even had her bodyguards bring her armour (which she persuaded the emperor to make). The palace officials and all of the women urged caution. The monster was dangerous. What if she got killed instead?
"Cowards!" Mother had shouted. "All of you!"
She even had her horse readied, a magnificent mare with the brownest of coats. It had inward-turning ears. A gift from Indian rajas, it was a suitable mount for an imperial courtesan of her rank.
"Your highness, please calm your heart," one of the eunuchs tried to placate her fiery temper.
"Calm your heart, yourself!" Mother said tersely. "Your prayers to heaven will not bring Xiao Xin back."
Xiao Xiao grew more and more worried for Mother... and for Xiao Xin. Every hour they lost, the prospect of saving Xiao Xin seemed to dim further and further.
In her heart, she knew that Xiao Xin was still alive.
She looked at the river again. The waves had grown stronger and crashed against the river bank.
Xiao Xiao flung a glance back at Mother who argued with the officials and her bodyguards. Their lunch was left untouched. Nobody had wanted to eat. It was a simple meal: rice porridge, fish coated with Sichuan peppers and flattened cucumbers tossed with black vinegar and sesame seed oil. Seeing the table laden with food brought back the unpleasant memories from that night.
- 2 Japanese zucchinis. (ordinary cucumbers can also be used)
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
- 1 tablespoon of black vinegar.
- 1 teaspoon of minced garlic.
- 1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil.
- 1 teaspoon of sugar.
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.
- Wash and trim off ends of the zucchinis. Slice the zucchinis crosswise into 3 equal lengths.
- Use a small skillet to gently smash the slices that they split.
- With the slices now split, toss them with the salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes.
- Mix the vinegar and garlic in a separate bowl. Stand for 15 minutes (depending on how fast you want to eat them).
- For the dressing, mix the soy sauce, sesame seed oil and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
- Place the zucchini slices in a bowl. Throw away any extra liquid/water. Add the soy sauce/oil/sugar dressing in and toss.
Serve immediately. The dish complements spicy food very well.
Note: You can also chill the cucumbers for about 20 minutes so that they are more refreshing. Perfect for hot days.
A single leaf.
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