Meirong, whose name meant beautiful countenance, fulfilled her name perfectly. Her eyes shone with humour, her body was softly rounded, her white fur shone like new fallen snow, and the black gleamed like polished ebony. When she was around, Junjie couldn’t keep his mind on what he should be doing. He wanted to spend all his time with her, laughing, joking and playing, for life was truly joyful then.
One day he had wandered to the very edge of the bamboo grove, and there he found a patch of new growth bamboo. Succulent shoots no more than two feet high, they spread out into the surrounding field, and practically begged to be eaten. “I must go and get Meirong and share this feast with her!” he exclaimed to himself, and off he went to find her.
“Meirong,” he whispered, “come with me, I have a secret to share with you! It’s something wonderful, and I know you will love it! Please come.” He smiled coaxingly at her. She looked at him for a moment, then said “All right, show me. I love surprises!” They set out, Junjie leading the way, and soon they broke through into the new growth patch.
Meirong stopped and stared, utterly entranced by the sight. “Oh, Junjie, this is wonderful! Thank you for bringing me.”
With that they started feasting, soon becoming too engrossed to pay attention to what was going on around them. So they didn’t see or hear the truck when it came, or the men who jumped out. The men were as quiet as they could be, whispering among themselves.
“Wenyan, you and Feng go around and block the way into the grove,” the leader, Bohai, said. “Peng, Mingli, go to the sides, Liu and Song, to each side of me. I’ll get the tranquilizer gun and shoot them both. This trip will make us a fortune!” They all smiled, and quietly slipped around to block any escape the oblivious pandas might try. Then Bohai got out the rifle, and in two quick, accurate shots, hit Junjie and Meirong in the shoulder. Both pandas jumped at the sting of the dart, turned and started running, but had only gone s few steps before they fell, unconscious. All the men cheered, and congratulated Bohai on his shooting.
Two hours later, Junjie roused, opened his eyes, and peered around. He was in some kind of box, with bars on all sides and the top. Only the bottom where he lay was solid. And he could feel movement, swaying and bumping, and smell a bad odour that he had only smelled once before. But it was one that stayed in his memory – the smell of one of the moving, wheeled house-things that humans used to get round. He could also smell humans, and – yes, Meirong. They had been captured by humans. He remembered friends who had been taken, and never came back. Oh, no! his wonderful treat for Meirong had not led to a happy day, but to enslavement by humans. He made a vow, then and there, that he would find a way to free Meirong and himself, once they were no longer in this moving house-thing.
He settled down again, and fell asleep. Later, he didn’t know how much later, he woke to find he was in a wooden box, with a wire top. He could hear Meirong crying nearby, and called out to her. “Meirong, I am so sorry. I wanted to give you a special treat, and instead I got you captured by humans. I swear, I will get us both out of here. Please, don’t cry. We’ll be free again, as soon as I figure out how to get out of this box.”
“Oh, Junjie, thank goodness you are alive! I am so afraid, we went a long way in that stinking house-thing. Even if you can get us out of here, how will be ever find our way home again?” she wailed, and broke down in sobs once more.
“Just have faith, my dearest Meirong, I will find our way, I promise.” Junjie said with much more conviction than he felt. Meirong’s sobs died, as she tried to believe. “I’ll try, Junjie,” she whispered. “I’ll try very hard.”
Junjie tried to stand up, but found that the top of the box was too low, and he couldn’t get upright. After a moment, though, he realized that if he did it right, and get his back up against the wire, then if he straightened his legs, he just might loosen the wire. Then he could use his paws to push and work at it, and free himself. Then he could climb out, and coach Meirong so she could loosen the wire on her cage, and they would both run. It was good that the boxes were outside, as he had determined when he looked up and saw stars and a sliver of moon overhead.
The plan worked even better than he thought it would, and in less than an hour, they had both climbed out of the boxes and were running toward a wooded area nearby. They traveled as fast as they could for the rest of the night, pausing only long enough to take a drink from a stream, then on again. They wanted to be as far from their place of captivity as they could get before the men woke and found them gone.
It was over a month later, the moon had waxed and waned and started growing again, before they reached a familiar area. It took almost a week more before they were back in their home grove. Their families welcomed them with tears and laughter, and everyone oohed and awed as they recounted their adventures.
“Junjie has told me many times that my name is perfect for me, that I have a beautiful countenance. As far as I’m concerned, his name is perfect for him. He is truly a handsome hero.” Meirong said with a proud smile.
That evening they became joined, and made a home for themselves. In time, they had their first cub, a boy they named Ping, which means tranquil, because that was what they hoped his life would be.