The other Elders looked on and while there were quite a few that would’ve liked to come with them, this was something that usually only involved the Grandelder and maybe relatives of the dragon or phoenix if they were living in the forest. Even though they were of the same tribe, they were still outsiders in regard to this particular conversation. Thus, they could only sigh in regret, hoping that they would be able to ask some of their questions later on.
Meanwhile, Lan Jing sat back down in front of the tree in her usual spot while she motioned at the seats opposite her for Zhu hong and Zhen Zhu to sit as well. Zhu Hong helped his partner take a seat and then sat down next to him, quite close.
Lan Jing watched all of this, the satisfaction in her eyes clearly visible. “So, why don’t you tell me about the past week? Have you been well?” She looked especially at Zhen Zhu but also gave Zhu Hong a glance, making sure that he was alright as well.
Taking care of a recently hatched phoenix could be taxing. There were way too many new things and still a lot to prepare especially in a case like Zhen Zhu’s where his spouse had only been given a week to prepare for the wedding.
Zhu Hong gave a faint nod in answer to her unspoken question but then looked at Zhen Zhu to tell the rest. This was an important moment for his little phoenix. He didn’t want to take anything away from it.
Zhen Zhu didn’t need to be told twice. No matter whether it was the other phoenixes or dragons in the dragons’ valley or Grandelder Lan Jing, he just loved talking about all the things that his husband did for him. Thus, he immediately launched into his tale of his experiences in the past week, starting from the robes that Zhu Hong had prepared, to the way he had shown him the valley and made him get acquainted with the other phoenixes and Elder Bi’s family, and also the things that he liked the most about the dragons’ valley.
For at least an hour, there was nothing but the constant chattering of the young phoenix filling this building around the mother tree. Lan Jing’s smile didn’t dissipate in the least. She watched him, seeming to become even happier with every sentence she heard. Originally, she had had a good feeling about Zhu Hong because he had been careful in taking Zhen Zhu from her hands back then. Now, it seemed that she had really judged him right. He was somebody who took his partner’s needs into consideration. Clearly, Zhen Zhu would live well at his side in the future.
When Zhen Zhu finally arrived at describing the current day and how they had come here, Lan Jing couldn’t help but laugh.
“To be honest, we were a little worried when you took so long to get here. Most couples will arrive early in the day. But it was a really nice idea of your husband to do this for you.” A little heads-up would’ve been nice but she didn’t want to rain on Zhen Zhu’s parade so she kept that thought to herself.
Zhu Hong could imagine what she was thinking though and cleared his throat with some embarrassment. “I guess it might’ve been better to fly here fast and then show Zhen Zhu more on the way back but I figured that since it would be the first time we fly together, it might be better to do it this way around. Also …” He looked at Zhen Zhu, his expression a little difficult. He wasn’t sure if he would mind if Grandelder Lan Jing knew that he didn’t know how to fly yet.
Zhen Zhu looked at him, blinking his round eyes.
Zhu Hong reached out and rubbed his cheek before he turned back to the Grandelder. In any case, she wasn’t a chatty person. If they told her, it would stay between the three of them. “Zhen Zhu is still growing so it’s not quite convenient to fly yet. I was worried that it might be too much for him to take if I carried him at full speed.”
Lan Jing raised her brows for a moment but thinking back, she figured that it also wasn’t strange. “Ah, yes, that can be quite awkward. The chicks grow at a different rate. For some, it will take just a few days until they are completely grown up in that form as well and for others, it will be a few weeks. Sometimes, they just need a little more than those seven days so it is an awkward stage to fly indeed. You could have sent word that you need two more days or so though. Don’t force yourself.”
Zhu Hong nodded, feeling a little relieved that Lan Jing didn’t seem to think that there was anything odd about this. Even though Chengse had already told him that he didn’t need to worry, it was still nice to get this confirmed by another phoenix. Especially one like Grandelder Lan Jing who was quite a bit older and had seen many phoenixes grow up first hand. She should know a lot about this.
Lan Jing turned to Zhen Zhu, getting more serious. “You mentioned that you wanted to know more about your family.”
Zhen Zhu’s expression also turned somber. “Yes, if it’s possible, I would like to. They aren’t alive anymore though, are they? I mean, my parents at least.”
Lan Jing nodded and gave a sigh. “Yes, I’m afraid they have already left us. Just like Gao Manao did back then.” She looked at Zhu Hong and felt that these two children were really too pitiful. Neither of them had their parents anymore so there also wasn’t anybody to go to with questions.
Well, at the very least, there was still that Elder Bi and his family. That way, they weren’t completely without help in the dragons’ valley. And from what she had heard today, it seemed that they also got along rather well with the other phoenixes and dragons there so it shouldn’t be a problem. If there was something that they needed, there would be people they could turn to.
Zhen Zhu looked at his husband when Gao Manao was mentioned and reached out to take his hand.
Zhu Hong just smiled. “It’s been a long time to me but Zhen Zhu has only found out about his family recently. Is there anything you can tell him, Grandelder? Or maybe something he could be shown?” He didn’t even know just who Zhen Zhu’s parents were.
Back then, when Grandelder Lan Jing had gone to put the egg into the compartment and returned, she had only explained to him that Zhen Zhu had been up on the mountain for quite some time. She hadn’t mentioned who his parents were or what kind of story was behind this. So he hadn’t been able to tell his spouse anything.
Lan Jing nodded and then slowly stood up, waiting for them to follow. “Let me show you the compartment that was made for your egg first. It is not like seeing your parents but you can see the last thing they left behind for you.”
Zhen Zhu immediately jumped to his feet, almost falling down but Zhu Hong hurriedly hugged him and pulled him back onto his feet.
“Careful. It’s not going to run off and they certainly wouldn’t want you to get hurt over this.”
Zhen Zhu nodded but couldn’t help but feel anxious. Even though he was happy to have Zhu Hong at his side and even though this family he created with his husband would be more important to him than the connection with his parents, he was still curious. He wanted to know about them. And to be honest, he would’ve loved to be able to get to know them. It was a pity that he would never have that chance.
The three people walked around to the compartment right at the end and Lan Jing motioned at it.
“The couple will usually prepare it themselves after they’ve brought the egg up the mountain. They decide what will be put in there all by themselves, trying to think of that future child of theirs.”
Zhen Zhu stepped closer, looking at the small nest on the shelf. It looked especially comfortable as if his parents hadn’t wanted him to ever come to harm or feel uncomfortable. Clearly, he had meant a lot to them.
Without realizing, Zhen Zhu’s eyes actually shimmered with tears. He couldn’t help but grieve this relationship that he knew he would never be able to have. Right now, he really wished that at least one of them had still been alive.
Zhu Hong also looked at the nest and gently rubbed Zhen Zhu’s back. He knew that it didn’t help but he hoped that reminding him that there was a new family for him would at least alleviate the pain the smallest bit.
After a moment, Zhu Hong couldn’t help but turn to Lan Jing. “His parents … Did they have any other relatives that are still alive?”
Lan Jing nodded and reached out to pat Zhen Zhu’s hair when he turned around to her, his eyes reddened. “Your dragon mother … was actually my niece.”
Zhen Zhu’s eyes turned round, almost unable to believe this. “So you are …” His gaze darted around, trying to make sense of that.
Zhu Hong also needed a moment but then immediately realized. “His great-aunt.”
Lan Jing nodded and patted Zhen Zhu’s head again. “I’m afraid I’m your only living relative though. When my niece and her husband brought you up the mountain, that was already more than five hundred years ago.”
Zhen Zhu’s eyes were opened wide and Zhu Hong also couldn’t help but stare at her. Lan Jing had said back then that the egg was rather old but he hadn’t quite caught her drift. He had thought that it might be a few decades but he wouldn’t have guessed that it was more than a century. Now though, it seemed that his guess had been much too conservative. Five hundred years was a long time. Naturally, in that amount of time, a lot could change. No wonder that neither of them was alive anymore.
Lan Jing motioned back to the front. “How about sitting down again? I can try to tell you a bit more. I’m afraid that I might not know as much as you would like to know either but I guess it is better than nothing.”
Zhen Zhu immediately nodded like a chicken pecking rice and then followed his husband back to the front, sitting down while he stared at Lan Jing wide-eyed.
The Grandelder looked at them for a moment and then sighed. “In my family, there weren’t that many people. Originally, I just had one dragon brother. While I myself never went on to have children because my marriage did not work out, things were different for my brother.
“He was quite happy with his own spouse and the two of them had three children together, one of them being your mother, and the other two being phoenixes. Unfortunately, only one of them survived. And that one also didn’t live that long.
“Your mother was the only one who had a bit more luck. She grew up in the dragons’ valley and then went up the mountain. When she came here to present the egg, she was smiling proudly. I was already an Elder at that time and couldn’t help but wonder just what kind of magnificent egg she must’ve found to be this happy with herself. Then, she pulled out a white egg without any pattern or additional color. Looking at it, I was stunned.”
She raised her brows, clearly still having the very same feeling when she thought back. Since the dragons usually liked the more complicated patterns, eggs with just one color were often overlooked. Not to mention a completely white egg.
“Ah, my father must’ve been really ugly then.” Zhen Zhu had also figured out that this was the case so he couldn’t help but worry a bit. Even though he had an apricot pattern, he probably also wasn’t that pretty, was he?
Zhu Hong immediately rubbed his neck, trying to reassure him. To him, Zhen Zhu was definitely the most beautiful phoenix there was.
Lan Jing had on a pensive expression. “Beauty has always been in the eye of the beholder. Just because patterned eggs are more popular that doesn’t mean that a simple egg will be any worse.
“In any case, my niece was happy. And she was looking forward to her spouse hatching quite a lot. Your father needed a bit longer to do so and in that time, she came by at least half a dozen times, saying that she wanted to take a look or that she couldn’t take being apart for so long, it really was quite moving to see.
“Well, there are no rules forbidding that. Most dragons wouldn’t do it because there is a lot to prepare but since she wanted it like this, we also didn’t want to turn her away. Then, your father finally hatched. He had pure white feathers, really quite lovely. Actually, you look a lot like him.”
Zhen Zhu perked up, happy that she had at least said before that his father had looked lovely. If he looked like him, then he was probably also lovely. And he even had additional apricot-colored feathers. He should be even prettier.
Zhu Hong looked at his little spouse and couldn’t help but smile indulgently. It was much too obvious what was going through his mind. But, well, as long as he was happy.
Lan Jing also didn’t think too much. “Well, we brought him over just like we brought you over and my niece was radiating with happiness. The ceremony was beautiful to watch and afterward, the two of them basically lived in their own bubble, showing off their bliss every single day.
“You seldom see couples like this. Even though the dragons and the phoenixes bond in a special way it still takes some time to get used to your partner. A couple such as this is still quite rare.” Saying this, she glanced from one person to the other and finally smiled. “To be honest, you two remind me of them in that regard as well. Clearly, even though it has only been a week, you’ve gotten farther than most couples would.”
Zhu Hong’s eyes widened imperceptibly. That special bond that she mentioned, it was what he lacked. She actually felt that he had managed to get closer to Zhen Zhu than other dragons did to their phoenixes?
He could hardly believe that. But hearing that, his heart thumped and this time, it wasn’t in panic like it had been a week ago but just genuine happiness. If he could really give Zhen Zhu what he needed and wanted, then naturally, that would also make him happy. And now, it seemed that he would indeed be able to do that. How great was that?
Needless to say, Zhen Zhu was happy as well. Whenever it came to his husband or being a couple, he was always easily excited. Hearing that his parents had already made a good couple and that he and his husband were the same, he was naturally satisfied. It seemed that he could make a really good spouse.
Lan Jing saw how proud the two of them were and couldn’t help but laugh. “Did you really need me to tell you that? In any case, your relationship is really quite similar.
“Now, unfortunately, fate wasn’t kind to your parents. It was a few years in that they finally had their first egg with you. They happily went to place it on the mountain and then made that nest for you, waiting quietly for a dragon to finally come and take you away. They were really looking forward to it. After all, at that time, you also would’ve been reunited with them in the dragons’ valley.
“But the first dragon went up and didn’t pick you. And then the next dragon came and didn’t pick you either, and soon enough, ten had gone up and you still hadn’t been brought down. They were a bit worried.”
Zhu Hong reached over and rubbed Zhen Zhu’s neck again, hoping that it could calm him down. “The egg had rolled into a small crevice in the mountain. I don’t know if it was at that time already or later on but it was unlikely for somebody to find it.”
Lan Jing nodded and sighed. “Well, even if that hadn’t been the case, would somebody really have picked him? In any case, you’re the one he is bonded to now. So you’re likely the only one that would have been able to bring him down.”
Zhu Hong wanted to nod but then he stopped. “What do you mean ‘likely’?” From what he knew, one dragon and one phoenix would have one bond. There was no other person that could achieve that was them.
Lan Jing looked at him, her expression not giving much away. “It has been more than five centuries. I’d wager that there were at least one or two dragons who could have had a bond with him.
“You see, usually, it’s also a question of time. Every dragon that sees an egg has a chance to bond with them. So if an egg is lying there and five dragons come by, all five have the chance to form a bond.
“But as soon as one of them has done so, the egg will be taken down the mountain and the hatched phoenix will be married. Thus, the chance is gone for the other dragons that might have bonded with the phoenix. But that doesn’t mean that one of them wouldn’t have had the chance to bond with them if that other dragon hadn’t come by first. We can’t know.”