Chapter 6 (Pt 2): "The little crane shares her fish"
Chapter 6 (Pt 2): "The little crane shares her fish"
Jul 27, 2021
Jié Qiáng took Mîn Jíng’s hand in his and they walked with the group to the awaiting carriage. He looked around as three new guards appeared.
“My father insisted,” she told him. “He wants to ensure our safety if anyone realizes who you are.”
“Won’t they draw attention?” he wondered. “Do you usually have so many with you when your brothers accompany you?”
He agreed with King Yīng’s decision for her sake, but as with his journey to the palace, he felt an increase of military support would raise suspicion and create danger where there may have been none.
“Sometimes,” she answered. “Sometimes not. It depends on how busy the streets will be and if there is a celebration of some kind drawing a big crowd.”
Her answer settled his wariness and he acknowledged the guards with a nod as they bowed to report for duty. He watched Yáng Ning step in front of a guard who attempted to position himself beside Jié Qiáng.
“It’s all right,” he told the soldier. “He’s my personal guard.”
The man nodded and took a step over to stand watch behind the pair.
Mîn Jíng held onto Jié Qiáng’s arm and gave it a squeeze. She liked his caution in new situations and liked how he was quick to accept a change to his usual expectations. She liked even more that he trusted her judgment, something she rarely received from her father and older brother since her mother passed away.
Thinking back on her multitude of mistakes made through spontaneous decisions, she understood their doubt. She had worked on becoming a wiser person since the battlefield, though, and they still treated her like that careless child.
“These three have been with me the most when going out,” she told him about the guards. “They know my habits with the people, so they know what to look for and what should cause them worry.”
She smiled at them and they nodded to her respectfully.
“Oh,” she said as she slowed their walk, “I should tell you about Rèxīn, Féng’s wife.”
He paid closer attention as she seemed ready to tell him something urgent.
“She can’t speak,” Mîn Jíng informed him. “Rèxīn became ill as a child and almost died. Her recovery was long but she did survive it. No one knows why she could no longer speak.
No one wanted to marry her, and she was treated terribly by her parents because of it. Féng fell in love with her the day they met. She’s kind and gentle. I think you’ll like her,” she smiled.
“Those with a royal lineage can be cruel,” Jié Qiáng noted in regards to anyone with a flaw being shunned.
“Commoners can be just as unforgiving,” she replied. “She used to have things thrown at her and slandered as being cursed and possessed when going out to the market. She doesn’t like to leave their palace for fear of being ridiculed. I hope she’s here today to meet you, but I’m certain she won’t be coming with us. I helped her make her own hand language. I’ll show you how to tell her hello if you meet her.”
Jié Qiáng patted her hand on his arm and smiled down at her for her compassion. He kissed the top of her head and noticed for the first time the design on her white jade hairpin.
“A butterfly,” he noted. “Is it your work?”
She nodded as she pulled him to walk faster.
“One of my best,” she replied.
“You don’t wear many hairpins,” he said. “Do you not like them?” he wondered when he thought of his plans to buy her the prettiest ones at the market.
“I like them very much,” she answered. “When I go out to be with the people, I don’t like to have an appearance that I’m flaunting my wealth and status. They know I’m their princess. Why do I need to make a grand gesture with elaborate ornamentation? Especially to those who work so hard for just one meal.”
He pulled away his arm to wrap it around her as they neared the awaiting carriage.
“Besides,” Mîn Jíng continued as she wrapped her arm around his waist, “the children like to hug me and can play a bit rough around me. I don’t want them getting hurt by a pointed end of a pin or bulky jewelry.”
“Your niece and nephew?” he wondered.
“No,” she answered and then smiled. “You’ll see.”
Before he could ask her to elaborate, two children started running their way.
“Aunt Mîn!” they both shouted and Mîn Jíng pulled away from Jié Qiáng to give them a hug.
He watched as they sandwiched her between them and hugged her tightly. The little girl was the first to notice him.
Wén Mĕi stepped away from Mîn Jíng without taking her widened eyes away from the tall prince. As she stood completely still and stared, the others laughed at her reaction.
“This is Prince Jié Qiáng,” Mîn Jíng told her. “He’s going to be my husband.”
“Wow,” Yán Mĕi responded as he left Mîn Jíng to circle this new person. “Wow,” he said again at Jié Qiáng’s sword.
Jié Qiáng laughed as the little boy scrutinized every inch of him. He laughed again when the little girl continued to stare up at him as if she were honoring a statue of a deity.
He gave the children a deep bow and said to them, “It is my honor to meet my niece and nephew.”
Yán Mĕi quickly hugged Jié Qiáng’s leg and Wén Mĕi ran to hug him around the waist. He placed his hands on both of their heads and patted them gently as he laughed at their uninhibited show of affection.
Féng Wěi quickly called out to his children for their inappropriate behavior.
“Children! Remember your manners!” he admonished.
Both children groaned and stepped away to acknowledge the prince with a bow.
“It is an honor to meet our uncle,” they said almost in unison.
Jié Qiáng smiled and replied to their worried father, “Nothing to worry about. They’re adorable and I appreciate the opportunity to meet them while I’m here.”
At his remark, Féng Wěi stepped closer to him and Mîn Jíng.
“They don’t know you’re leaving,” he told them in a hushed tone. “We’ll tell them later so they don’t spread it around to the other children in the market.”
Mîn Jíng and Jié Qiáng nodded in understanding. Mîn Jíng was fine with keeping it a secret for now because she didn’t want them upset on the last outing they would have together for some time.
“Who is that?” Yán Mĕi asked, drawing their attention to Yáng Ning standing nearby.
“My personal guard and best friend,” Jié Qiáng answered, then bent down on one knee to get closer. “He’s an admirer of General Jiāng,” he told him and looked up at Yáng Ning with a grin.
Yáng Ning smiled when the little boy replied with another, “Wow!”
Yán Mĕi went over to him and looked him over the same as he had with Jié Qiáng.
“Wow,” he said again when he saw the sword, and they all laughed.
Féng Wěi smiled at his curious offspring and motioned to his wife to join them.
“Rèxīn wanted to see her sister and meet her new brother,” he told Mîn Jíng and Jié Qiáng.
Jié Qiáng watched the nervous woman walk forward as her husband instructed. She stood close to him and continued to look to the ground until Mîn Jíng went to her. They hugged and began speaking with their hands. He became fascinated with their silent conversation, and Féng Wěi laughed softly.
“They’ll make you dizzy if you watch too long,” he told Jié Qiáng. “Did Mîn explain?” he said in a quieter voice.
Jié Qiáng nodded.
“She’s quiet but can sing songs in your heart,” he described his cherished wife with a gaze of love softening his eyes. He pulled her close and kissed her cheek. “She’s my gift from the heavens,” he said as she looked up at him and smiled softly.
Mîn Jíng smiled at her brother and rejoined Jié Qiáng to make her introductions. She taught him how to greet Rèxīn, and he followed her example perfectly.
Rèxīn bowed delicately and replied to his greeting.
“How do I tell her she’s welcome to visit us, and she will be safe with my people?” he asked.
Mîn Jíng showed him and he followed each gesture.
Rèxīn bowed again in silent gratitude. She smiled up at him and replied that she would be happy to do so.
He bowed to her and smiled.
Féng Wěi gave his wife a long hug and told her to wait for them in the palace. He kissed her and sent her on her way. He turned to the group and motioned for them to head out.
“We should go now before the crowds start,” he advised.
Yán Mĕi quickly grabbed onto Yáng Ning’s hand and pulled him to follow. When Jié Qiáng laughed, Wén Mĕi grabbed onto his hand and did the same.
“She’ll never let you go,” Mîn Jíng whispered in his ear. “I think she likes you,” she giggled.
Jié Qiáng looked down at the little girl to find her still staring up at him. He laughed softly and squeezed her hand. As they stepped up to the carriage, he lifted her to help her inside.
“I can’t fit in there,” she giggled and he looked at her curiously. She pulled open the curtain to reveal crates of food. “It’s for the orphans and hungry people,” she told him.
Jié Qiáng couldn’t believe all of the barrels inside with fresh produce from the palace kitchen. Among the food were bolts of fabric and leather for shoes. He looked behind the carriage and saw a wagon being brought up behind it with more such supplies. He looked back at Mîn Jíng in question.
“I do this once a week,” she told him, and he understood even more than the night of the festival why they loved her.
“We can walk together,” Wén Mĕi was saying as he pulled Mîn Jíng to him.
He held Mîn Jíng’s head in his hands and gave her a soft kiss. He pulled away and smiled as he looked into her dark eyes reflecting the smoky blue of his embroidered tunic.
“The little crane really does share her fish,” he noted proudly.
She hugged him tightly around the waist before being interrupted by her brother.
“We need to go, Mîn Mîn,” Yǒng Wěi reminded her.
She pulled away and took Jié Qiáng’s hand once again. Jié Qiáng helped Wén Mĕi to the ground and let her take his other hand. The group then made their way from the palace to the streets of the capital.
The Yīng and Zhāng kingdoms are engaged in a 200 year war. In order to survive a terrifying enemy with a sinister motive, both kingdoms must set aside their feud and form an alliance through marriage, much to the ire of their people and the Wáng Píng clan.
After Princess Yīng Mîn Jíng's mother dreams she will unite the kingdoms to destroy a deadly foe, she is sent away to cultivate her mind and body. She is a gifted healer loved by all, known for her kindness and compassion...until her family is threatened.
Prince Zhāng Jié Qiáng has a reputation as a heartless brute and womanizer. He believes diplomacy is a waste of time and prefers a swift, violent end to dissidents. Citizens fear him, officials ridicule him, and the king believes he will never understand honor or empathy...until he is transformed by his one true love.
In a coincidence scripted by Fate, Mîn Jíng and Jié Qiáng meet at a festival in her kingdom. Donning masks, he and his companions rescue her from a perilous situation. In her own mask, she guides them through the village, not realizing they are spies of the enemy kingdom. Jié Qiáng becomes intrigued by the kind and carefree girl and vows to make her his wife.
Soon after, both find their way onto the battlefield: Jié Qiáng to fight, Mîn Jíng to heal.
When the political marriage alliance is announced, Jié Qiáng refuses to forget his Little Crane. Dreams of her kept him alive while imprisoned by the Wáng Píng, and he will never allow anyone to take her place.
Mîn Jíng loses all hope of reuniting with her Black Butterfly, fated by her duty to her people. Only dreams of him could dispel her nightmares of war, and she feels this enemy prince will never love her as only her one true love can.
Will their alliance be enough to defeat the cruel and bloodthirsty Wáng Píng? Can their love overcome dangerous attempts to destroy them? Will she succeed in saving their kingdoms, and will he succeed in protecting his beloved wife?