by Margo Fallis
A long time ago, when the Great Wall stretched across
China, there lived an Emperor and his daughter, Ming-mei. A huge palace
sat at the bottom of a hill surrounded by a high stone wall. This kept the
Emperor and Ming-mei safe from invaders and wild animals.
Inside, forests of bamboo grew thick and lush. The
Emperor’s two royal pandas munched on the leaves, stretching their reach
to grab the tastiest ones at the top of the bamboo canes. When the wind
blew, little pieces of bamboo struck against each other, sounding like a
symphony and giving joy and peace to those who heard it.
Protected from the cold by the height of the walls,
cherry, orange, and fig trees blossomed. Their fragrance floated up to the
palace. Ming-mei often stood on her balcony, where she could see
everything in her father’s kingdom. When she smelled the orange blossoms,
she held her dress out to the side and danced through the palace.
Ming-mei often walked around the edge the ponds. White
lotus grew from lily pads floating on top. Fat green frogs hopped from one
to the other. Koi fish swam below the surface. Their fins and tails swayed
back and forth in the water.
She loved everything about her father’s palace, but her
favorite place, the flower garden, delighted her heart, especially in
spring. Red tulips, yellow daffodils, and grape hyacinth bloomed,
springing up between the peonies. When the sun shone on the flowers and
the morning dew glistened, she’d pick a bouquet of daffodils for her
father, the Emperor. Nothing made Ming-mei happier than being in her
Late in spring, hundreds of butterflies appeared – blue
ones, lavender ones, pink, yellow, and green ones. Ming-mei watched them
flutter from flower to flower, gathering pollen. All summer long they
stayed in the palace garden. Sometimes Ming-mei spread her arms out and
flapped them up and down, pretending to be a butterfly. Crickets chirped,
singing nighttime lullabies to Ming-mei, rubbing their wings together
after the sun went down. She slept well; knowing the loving arms of nature
surrounded the palace.
In a far off kingdom, there lived an evil Emperor named
Suanmi. Instead of flowers and butterflies, his palace was decorated with
statues of ferocious lions, beastly dragons, and other hideous and ugly
creatures. No flowers grew; no fish swam in his ponds and no water lilies
made homes for frogs. No crickets chirped a song. Red dragonflies hovered
around the palace making a noise like roaring flames. Emperor Suanmi found
no joy in life and wanted everyone to feel unhappy and miserable.
One day, Ming-mei woke up and heard music coming from
her garden. She ran to the balcony to see what it was. The butterflies
danced in a circle, celebrating the ending of summer. Their wings touched,
making an umbrella of gossamer rainbows. The frogs croaked a rhythm,
boom-dee-boom-dee, and the bees buzzed and hummed. The koi fish sprayed
water high into the air; each droplet catching the sunlight, shimmering
with color, like magical prisms. Ming-mei gasped with delight and ran to
get her father.
While Ming-mei looked for the Emperor, dozens of red
dragonflies flew over the palace wall, intending to put an end to the
celebration. Their wings beat so fast that they stirred the air, making
fire. They raced toward the flower garden. Flames spread, setting the
bushes on fire, singeing the butterfly’s wings, and chasing the
nightingale’s from their nests. After destroying the beautiful garden, the
dragonflies flew back towards Emperor Suanmi’s kingdom.
The koi fish sprayed water on the butterflies and
crickets, dousing the flames. When Ming-mei and the Emperor reached the
garden, they stood with saddened hearts. Instead of velvety petals and
soft, hairy leaves, they found destruction. Ming-mei fell on her knees and
sobbed. The Emperor wiped the tears from his cheeks. He knelt next to his
daughter and picked up one of the butterflies, holding it gently in the
palm of his hand. He stroked its damaged wings and feathery antenna and
then lay it down on the charred ground.
Summer passed and autumn rains fell on the garden. Soon
winter snow dusted the ground with an icy whiteness. Every day Ming-mei
stood on her balcony and looked down upon her garden, remembering the
beauty that once stood below her.
When once again, the first bird landed on the palace
wall, ushering in spring, Ming-mei noticed something. She ran down to the
flower garden and saw tiny green shoots bursting through the snow. Day
after day they grew taller. Soon buds appeared, and then the daffodils
bloomed. Peonies burst forth with magenta flowers. Tulips spread their
apple-red petals. Ming-mei’s heart swelled with joy when the first
butterfly fluttered among the daffodils and the first cricket sang her a
lullaby at night.
By mid-summer Ming-mei’s garden, full of life and
energy, once again brought laughter and harmony into the Emperor’s
kingdom. The frogs jumped upon the lotus pads. The koi fish swam through
the ponds, and Ming-mei danced through the palace, fluttering her silken
butterfly wings in rhythm to the boom-dee-boom-dee of the frogs and the
buzzing and humming of the bees.
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