The sequel to The Warning.
Green swatted at the mosquitoes alighting on her exposed arms. At least they were getting a decent meal. Her stomach rumbled. She suddenly craved her sugared crickets and plates after plates of steamed paddy field rats. Even frog legs, tian ji, paddy chicken. Anything.
They had been on the road for two days now. Lady White had decided to eschew the usual sedan and walk all the way, much to Green’s chagrin. Her Jie Jie admired the gorgeous scenery of snowy mountains and shimmering lakes, green as jade and flat as beaten bronze mirrors, pausing here and there to look at flowers or blow happily – like a little girl – at the white puffy dandelions. She had the patience of the Lord Buddha.
She thought about the filthy-ragged wanderer and rued the day she promised to follow her Jie Jie to West Lake. She was a dutiful Mei Mei, the best handmaid and confidante of Lady White.
She flicked away a particularly plump-looking insect off her green sleeve, already envisioning dire consequences of their trip. Her peonies must be dying. Old Fan had better water them. Or else…
Of course, they had fun too, sampling all the human street food. Caramelized hawthorn, crabapples on sticks, sweetness dripping down their hands, steamed bao with savory fillings of chives and meat. It was fascinating and so much desirable to scorpions and crickets and simple vegetable dishes.
Green wished she had her own skin back, her real skin, not this tender fair human skin so prone to bruising and swollen insect bites.
This time, the shout was not her. Green glanced up to see a man. He was wearing scholarly robes, all gangly limbs and bones. Bamboo scrolls scattered about him like fortune sticks. She knew that kind of man: bumbling idiot. The kind who stayed indoors and buried his face into books and examinations. Pale skin, soft hands. A si ren, a poet.
Like her mistress, her Jie Jie.
Her stomach grumbled. They were due for a rest stop. Her feet ached. She wanted to eat. Even chicken feet marinated with sugar and vinegar would taste good, the bones crunched like peanuts. Anything to wash the dust out of her mouth. Even tie guan yin tea sounded good, so good.
Lady White was already approaching the scholar. She bent down to help pick up the scrolls. Green smelled his sweet-sour sweat. He had a charming smile and eyes like a sad stray puppy. She stifled the urge to lick her lips or snap at him.
“She is not allowed to fall in love!” The wanderer’s words echoed in Green’s head. “She should not fall in love with humans.”
In the distance, storm clouds rumbled around mountain tops, the grumbling of irritated dragons.