The Woman Warrior

by

Maxine Hong Kingston

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Kingston’s mother and Moon Orchid’s sister. Brave Orchid is a strong, resilient woman and “a champion talker” who immigrated to the United States from Canton province in January 1940 after her husband, who had found work in New York, sent for her. During her years in China, Brave Orchid trained as a midwife and doctor. Though she was a woman of science, she told stories of fighting off ghosts, particularly Sitting Ghost, which sought the bodies of newborn infants and, during her years at medical school, tried to paralyze her with fear. Brave Orchid confesses to her daughter that she suffered a fall in her status when she moved to New York, then to California to work in the laundry that she and her husband opened. Brave Orchid had six children, but may also have had two older children, a son and a daughter, who died in China. Brave Orchid is a dutiful woman who continues working long after her husband has retired. She hires herself out to pick tomatoes on local farms. She dyes her hair black to appear younger, then waits in line on Skid Row, her daughter recounts, with other recent immigrants to be chosen for work. She differs from her sister, Moon Orchid, in that she does not care for fancy clothes and is so careful with her resources that she eats everything and cooks everything—even her children’s leftovers. She is also much stronger than her younger sister and is unafraid to speak, whereas Moon Orchid is very timid. Brave Orchid is pushy toward her daughter and her younger sister, often forcing them to assume roles to which they seem ill-suited. In the case of Moon Orchid, she inadvertently forces her sister to relive the trauma of being abandoned by her husband, from which Moon Orchid never recovers. In many instances, Brave Orchid privileges traditions and established beliefs over the needs and feelings of others, particularly those of Moon Orchid and her eldest daughter.

Brave Orchid Quotes in The Woman Warrior

The The Woman Warrior quotes below are all either spoken by Brave Orchid or refer to Brave Orchid. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Woman Warrior published in 1989.
1. No Name Woman Quotes

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born.

Related Characters: Brave Orchid (speaker), Maxine Hong Kingston, No Name Woman
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
2. White Tigers Quotes

After I grew up, I heard the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father’s place in battle…. I had forgotten this chant that was once mine, given me by my mother, who may not have known its power to remind. She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid, Fa Mu Lan
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’m not a bad girl,” I would scream. “I’m not a bad girl. I’m not a bad girl.” I might as well have said, “I’m not a girl.”

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
3. Shaman Quotes

But the Communists wear a blue plainness dotted with one red Mao button. My mother wore a silk robe and western shoes with big heels, and she rode home carried in a sedan chair. She had gone away ordinary and come back miraculous, like the ancient magicians who came down from the mountains. “When I stepped out of my sedan chair, the villagers said, ‘Ahhh,’ at my good shoes and my long gown. I always dressed well when I made calls. Some villages brought out their lion and danced ahead of me. You have no idea how much I have fallen coming to America.”

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

Nor did she change her name: Brave Orchid. Professional women have the right to use their maiden names if they like. Even when she emigrated, my mother kept Brave Orchid, adding no American name nor holding one in reserve for American emergencies.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

My mother’s enthusiasm for me is duller than for the slave girl; nor did I replace the older brother and sister who died while they were still cuddly. Throughout my childhood my younger sister said, “When I grow up, I want to be a slave,” and my parents laughed, encouraging her.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid, The Slave Girl
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

I hope this holeless baby proves that my mother did not prepare a box of clean ashes beside the birth bed in case of a girl. “The midwife or a relative would take the back of a girl baby’s head in her hand and turn her face into the ashes,” said my mother. “It was very easy.” She never said she herself killed babies, but perhaps the holeless baby was a boy.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Whenever my parents said “home,” they suspended America. They suspended enjoyment, but I did not want to go to China. In China my parents would sell my sisters and me. My father would marry two or three more wives, who would spatter cooking oil on our bare toes and lie that we were crying for naughtiness. They would give food to their own children and rocks to us. I did not want to go where the ghosts took shapes nothing like our own.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid, Father
Related Symbols: Ghosts
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

“This is a terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away,” she said. “Even the ghosts work, no time for acrobatics. I have not stopped working since the day the ship landed. I was on my feet the moment the babies were out. In China I never even had to hang up my own clothes. I shouldn’t have left, but your father couldn’t have supported you without me. I’m the one with the big muscles.”

Related Characters: Brave Orchid (speaker), Maxine Hong Kingston, Father
Related Symbols: Ghosts
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
4. At the Western Palace Quotes

“A long time ago,” began Brave Orchid, “the emperors had four wives, one at each point of the compass, and they lived in four palaces. The Empress of the West would connive for power, but the Empress of the East was good and kind and full of light. You are the Empress of the East, and the Empress of the West has imprisoned the Earth’s Emperor in the Western Palace. And you, the good Empress of the East, come out of the dawn to invade her land and free the Emperor. You must break the strong spell she has cast on him that has lost him the East.”

Related Characters: Brave Orchid (speaker), Moon Orchid, Moon Orchid’s Husband
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

“Oh, Sister, I am so happy here. No one ever leaves. Isn’t that wonderful? We are all women here. Come. I want you to meet my daughters.” She introduced Brave Orchid to each inmate in the ward—her daughters. She was especially proud of the pregnant ones. “My dear pregnant daughters.” She touched the women on the head, straightened collars, tucked blankets. “How are you today, dear daughter?” “And, you know,” she said to Brave Orchid, “we understand one another here. We speak the same language, the very same. They understand me, and I understand them.” Sure enough, the women smiled back at her and reached out to touch her as she went by. She had a new story, and yet she slipped entirely away, not waking up one morning.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Moon Orchid (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
5. A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe Quotes

“I cut it so that you wouldn’t be tongue-tied. Your tongue would be able to move in any language. You’ll be able to speak languages that are completely different from one another. You’ll be able to pronounce anything. Your frenum looked too tight to do those things, so I cut it.”

Related Characters: Brave Orchid (speaker), Maxine Hong Kingston
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Maybe because I was the one with the tongue cut loose, I had grown inside me a list of over two hundred things that I had to tell my mother so that she would know the true things about me and to stop the pain in my throat.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Woman Warrior PDF

Brave Orchid Character Timeline in The Woman Warrior

The timeline below shows where the character Brave Orchid appears in The Woman Warrior. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. No Name Woman
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
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Brave Orchid , Maxine Hong Kingston’s mother, tells her that her father had a sister who drowned... (full context)
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...that Kingston grants her shamed aunt, had the baby in the early summer, according to Brave Orchid . The villagers “had been counting” the months from the time No Name Woman’s husband... (full context)
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Brave Orchid recalls that the villagers first “threw mud and rocks at the house.” Then, they became... (full context)
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Kingston notes that, whenever Brave Orchid wanted to teach her children something, she would relate a story like this one. The... (full context)
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Brave Orchid taught her children that whenever they did “useless” things, they used up energy. Kingston wonders... (full context)
2. White Tigers
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...Moreover, it was a woman, according to legend, who invented “white crane boxing.” According to Brave Orchid , that woman, “already an expert pole fighter,” had asked the spirit of a white... (full context)
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On Sundays, Kingston and Brave Orchid would see movies at the Confucius Church. In the films, swordswomen would “jump over houses... (full context)
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Kingston thinks that her own American life was “a disappointment.” Brave Orchid complained about having a girl and acted as though she did not care that Kingston... (full context)
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...of a fighter, she says. She fought the most during junior high and always cried. Brave Orchid tried to lock her children in the house to keep them from looking “at dead... (full context)
3. Shaman
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Four times, Brave Orchid has shown Kingston her medical diploma. Her family airmailed the metal tube that holds it... (full context)
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Brave Orchid left her village by ship, just as Kingston’s father had, and moved into a dormitory... (full context)
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Brave Orchid went to a welcoming ceremony in the auditorium and listened to two hours of speeches... (full context)
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...make up for not having the best memory—unlike Kingston’s father, who could recite entire poems— Brave Orchid did a lot of “secret studying.” She was older, so she knew that she was... (full context)
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When the other girls in the dormitory worried over strange sounds, Brave Orchid would dismiss them as “the wind” and rose to the challenge of checking to see... (full context)
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Brave Orchid pretended not to be afraid. She read aloud to prove that she was calm. Eventually,... (full context)
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Brave Orchid told her classmates about how Sitting Ghost had “pounced” on top of her. It had... (full context)
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Brave Orchid insisted that the danger was not over, for Sitting Ghost fattened itself at night and... (full context)
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Brave Orchid decided that she and her classmates had to rid the world of the “disease” of... (full context)
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When Brave Orchid got scared as a child, one of her three mothers would call her “frighted spirit”... (full context)
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...peasants in her village were more impressed by those who finished three- and six-week courses, Brave Orchid was welcomed home with “garlands and cymbals” after becoming a doctor. Unlike the Communists, who... (full context)
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Before moving to the Bronx, where Kingston’s father was living, Brave Orchid worked in her village, yanking bones straight and delivering babies “in beds and pigsties.” She... (full context)
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When Brave Orchid went to Canton market to shop, she was free with money. One day, she bought... (full context)
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...said that when she grew up, she wanted to be a slave—which amused her parents. Brave Orchid bought the girl for one hundred and eighty dollars (fifty dollars in American money), whereas... (full context)
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For a time, Brave Orchid ’s village was “endangered by a fantastic creature, half man and half ape, that a... (full context)
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As a midwife, Brave Orchid found ways to fool the ghosts. She would refer to some infants as piglets to... (full context)
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...the children ghost stories “so that [they] could get some good chills up [their] backs.” Brave Orchid told a story of a ghost that tried to knock her off of a swaying... (full context)
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...a glass jar on a shelf and used it to “rub [their] sprains and bruises.” Brave Orchid said it was a bear’s claw. She told Kingston that when Chinese people had the... (full context)
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...flesh, because she could eat them. She also did not eat them on fasting days. Brave Orchid differed from the village crazy lady because she was a capable exorcist. The crazy lady... (full context)
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Brave Orchid was living in the mountains with other refugees when Kingston’s father had finally saved enough... (full context)
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When she moved to the United States, Brave Orchid experienced the same war she had left behind in China. She warned the children to... (full context)
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Brave Orchid arrived in New York in January 1940. Kingston was born in the middle of World... (full context)
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Kingston recalls her last visit to her parents. She had trouble falling asleep. Brave Orchid sat, watching over her, wearing “shawls and granny glasses, American fashions.” Brave Orchid told Kingston... (full context)
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While they are talking, Brave Orchid notices that she never calls Kingston “Oldest Daughter,” but instead, “Biggest Daughter.” Kingston asks about... (full context)
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Brave Orchid had continued to work, though she was in her seventies. She dyed her hair black... (full context)
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Brave Orchid tells Kingston that the family can never return to China—a dream Kingston’s parents had been... (full context)
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Brave Orchid wants Kingston around more often, saying that she wants to live in a house where... (full context)
4. At the Western Palace
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When she was around sixty-eight years old, Brave Orchid took a day off to pick up her younger sister, Moon Orchid, from the airport.... (full context)
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Brave Orchid looked at the people around the airport. Some were soldiers and sailors. She wondered about... (full context)
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Brave Orchid ’s children ran to tell her that the plane had arrived. Brave Orchid pushed to... (full context)
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Back at Brave Orchid ’s home, Moon Orchid greeted Kingston’s father, the scholar whom she had once regarded as... (full context)
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Brave Orchid disliked that her children played with presents in front of the giver, and was further... (full context)
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Moon Orchid walked around the house. She noticed that their grandparents’ pictures were up. Brave Orchid told her that, in America, you could have pictures of anyone you wanted on the... (full context)
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...States. She waited for him to suggest it, but Moon Orchid’s husband never did. So, Brave Orchid found a Chinese-American husband for Moon Orchid’s daughter who was then able to do the... (full context)
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Brave Orchid instructed her sister on what to do when she confronted her husband. Moon Orchid was... (full context)
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Brave Orchid told Moon Orchid that, when she arrived at the house, she should throw out the... (full context)
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Moon Orchid wondered what to do if her husband did not remember her. Brave Orchid instructed her to give details of their life together. She also told Moon Orchid to... (full context)
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The next day, right after breakfast, Brave Orchid talked about taking the direct route into Los Angeles. She insisted that Moon Orchid make... (full context)
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Moon Orchid hoped that “the summer would wear away while her sister talked” and that Brave Orchid would find the sudden autumn too cold for travel. In the meantime, she studied Brave... (full context)
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Brave Orchid and her husband woke at 6:00 AM and prepared for a day’s work at the... (full context)
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When they got to the laundry, Brave Orchid assigned Moon Orchid a task to perform, though all of the jobs seemed too difficult... (full context)
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After lunch, Brave Orchid and her sister walked back to Chinatown for some fun. She introduced Moon Orchid to... (full context)
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...and she could fold them. She spent most of the summer evenings continuing to observe Brave Orchid ’s children. Each day, Brave Orchid asked Moon Orchid if she was ready to go... (full context)
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Brave Orchid assigned the task of driving to her eldest son. The two old ladies and Moon... (full context)
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...happen if she showed up to her husband’s house. Perhaps he would throw her out. Brave Orchid insisted that they be “routine,” though they might have to climb through the window to... (full context)
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Moon Orchid’s daughter insisted on being dropped off at home first. Brave Orchid had tried to get her to confront her father five years earlier, but all she... (full context)
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Moon Orchid was too nervous to go in. Brave Orchid decided to scout the building and come back out when she had a plan. She... (full context)
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...Moon Orchid claimed to be too scared to go into his office and announce herself, Brave Orchid instructed her son to go up and claim that his “uncle” was in an accident... (full context)
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Brave Orchid ’s son returned, accompanied by a man in a dark western suit. He saw no... (full context)
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...an American and could get arrested if anyone knew he had another wife. He told Brave Orchid that he did not write because he had become a different person, and his family... (full context)
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...she lived in Hong Kong and China, she had written “every other week.” One day Brave Orchid called, and her sister answered the phone, but she whispered about people listening to her... (full context)
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Brave Orchid decided that her sister should return north to live with her. When she arrived, Moon... (full context)
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Despite Brave Orchid ’s efforts, her sister slipped further into insanity. She said that the Mexicans had followed... (full context)
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Brave Orchid gave up when Moon Orchid started badmouthing her children. She wondered if Moon Orchid had... (full context)
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Brave Orchid told her children that they must never allow their father to marry another woman. She... (full context)
5. A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe
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...would not have been “twisted into designs.” Kingston thinks that this may have been why Brave Orchid cut the frenulum under Kingston’s tongue, though there was no obvious evidence of this. Brave... (full context)
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When a delivery boy accidentally brought Crazy Mary’s pills to the laundry, Brave Orchid sent Kingston to go to the drugstore to “stop the curse” that the boy had... (full context)
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...they would not be able to marry her off. Kingston refuted the woman’s claim, and Brave Orchid admonished her for talking back. (full context)
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...placing ads in the Gold Mountain News for wives, and Kingston’s parents started answering them. Brave Orchid took one home from the laundry and showed him her daughters’ pictures, focusing on Kingston,... (full context)
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...monster, this birth defect.” One day, he left his boxes for a long time and Brave Orchid opened up the boxes. They were stuffed with pornography. Brave Orchid concluded that he was... (full context)
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...true things she had ever done or thought. Kingston picked a time of day when Brave Orchid was alone, and decided to tell her one thing per day. One day, her mother... (full context)
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...not allow her to turn her into “a slave or a wife.” Finally, she accused Brave Orchid of trying to cut out her tongue so that she would not talk. Brave Orchid,... (full context)
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...TV dinners with peas and carrots. She looked up “Ho Chi Kuei,” which is what Brave Orchid called her at dinner. “Kuei” meant “ghost.” When directed at boys, it could mean “dog... (full context)
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...Communists who claim to have jobs for everyone or the relatives who cannot buy salt. Brave Orchid sends the money she earns from working in the fields to Hong Kong, and the... (full context)
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...aunt, Lovely Orchid, but they let her go for a prettier girl. Kingston’s grandmother and Brave Orchid got home safely, proving to Kingston’s grandmother that the family would be “immune to harm... (full context)