The Witch Nichang- Chapter 1

Encounter

“Xiaosan’er, you stupid little girl!” As soon as I sat down before catching my breath, I heard a loud yell.

“You’re so dumb. Throw the firewood beside the stove right after picking it up? Are you going to choke us to death by starting a fire this way? Take them to the backyard and dry them under the sun. Go!”

You’re the one being Xiaosan [1], I secretly retorted while frowning, but daren’t say it out loud.

Resignedly, I got up and rubbed my sore arm, hauling the firewood bundle which was taller than me to the backyard, leaving a long trail on the ground. Her grumbling voice was still lingering around my ear. Fortunately, she didn’t follow me and keep on nagging.

The so-called backyard was just a rather flat space behind the house. 

The crooked fence could barely keep the bamboos and trees out, let alone the overgrown weeds. I rarely went near that area, for I fretted that something might spring out from the grass.

Looking around the house, there were mountains and only mountains. 

I let out a sigh and untied the rope knot, leaning the firewood sticks against the wall in a line one by one.

The firewood sticks were thick and long. It was exhausting to move them with my tiny arms and skinny legs. No wonder two of their daughters are gone, considering they were doing such laborious works under such a harsh environment. 

But, I cannot perish just like this. I don’t want to die. 

Though I was staying in a hunter’s family out in the wilderness, with the unimaginable destitute and toil; though I might never go back to the vibrant and lively life I had before, I still wanted to be alive. It was enough to experience the fear of death once.

“What kind of odd things is my little San’er drawing on the ground again?” A big hand stroked my hair along with a deep voice. Then, I was off the ground the second I felt a slight pressure around my waist. 

I dropped the branch I was using to draw on the ground. I had to turn around and hold the man’s neck close to maintain my balance, calling him with a smile: “Dad.”

However, on the inside, I had goosebumps all over me. A few years had passed, but I still couldn’t get used to it. 

The man never noticed a thing. Giggling, he strode into the house while holding me in one arm and his prey in the other hand. Today’s harvest was plentiful compared to a few days ago, and the woman was delighted. She was preparing the meal while grumbling, as usual. Sitting by the dining table, she was planning on smoking the leftover meats so they could sell them for a better price at the market in two days.

While the woman was immersing herself with her thoughts, I hid away half a piece of steamed bun. The woman would think that it was the man who had eaten it. 

No matter how poor they were, she could never let the man starve. 

After that, we would wait for the night to fall. 

Nighttime was the time I hated the most, the day became dark so fast after sunset, and the oil lamp was too expensive, so I could only get into bed early after finishing my chores. But, this was not the worst thing; there was another thing that I really couldn’t stand. 

Subtle yet rapid pants came from the dark. I got up silently, groping for the door, making no noise as usual.

A six-year-old kid shouldn’t have understood these things; she shouldn’t have understood adults’ thoughts about her; she shouldn’t have known why men were superior to women; she shouldn’t have known what her parents did every night on the bed after the lights were out. A six-year-old kid should have been asleep by now after working with her parents for the whole day. 

But unfortunately, their San’er was an exception. 

The moonlight shined bright in the courtyard, and the air was slightly humid. Although the frogs were croaking and the crickets were chirping, the serenity of night remained untouched.

I climbed up a stone table and took out the jerkies that I hid underneath the table, eating it with the half piece of steamed bun I’d stolen this morning. I gazed into the bamboo grove and the starry sky at the far side, sinking into my thoughts while having my extra meal. 

Thought of the time before, my worries had deepened.

Reign of Emperor Wanli……? [2]

I didn’t understand how ancient people knew which era they lived in. After years of hard work, this was the only familiar term I found out.

Having a so-called foresight seemed useless at this place. The houses were scattered all around the mountains, and the nearest neighbor was 3 miles away. The journey to the closest village was about half a day. This place seemed detached from the outside world.

And finally, I’d gotten a bit of information, but what could I do with it?

Wanli… Even though I didn’t remember a lot, I knew that this reign title meant something bad.

I was agitated and upset.

In the time of chaos and a world full of heroes, I was no more worthy than a bear, even my dad, who was a hunter, couldn’t defeat a bear. Ordinary people, human bodies with flesh and blood, I’d already experienced how fragile human life was. I daren’t have such vain hope. Even if I went through these troubled times, the chance of me dying uglily was higher than anything.

But I was destined not to stay long with this family.

Women were like objects. They would be used to their fullest, and eventually, they would be married to someone in exchange for a dowry. I was well aware of it from the beginning. What I’d seen and heard made me even more convinced of this.

Looking at my hands, small and chubby, they were still a kid’s hands. But time flew, it was never too early to prepare.

Even so, how much could I prepare?

I couldn’t help but smile bitterly at the thought of this.

I intended to save up some money in secret so that when I was going to leave this place, it wouldn’t be hard for me to start a business with this advantage—this was what they always wrote in the books. I could try it out by imitating the books but a reign title had easily ruined all my plans.

I feared for the chaos, for death, yet I couldn’t protect myself. Even after racking my brain, I couldn’t remember the structure of those advanced devices in the modern days. Back in those days, I had learned some kickboxing for fun. But I’m afraid that I can’t even beat my sturdy father with that.

Learn a new skill? But from where could I learn?

There was a storyteller that came to talk about fabled legends once in a while whenever there was a market in the village. All the youths and the elders would listen with excitement. Looking at their admiring gaze, I’d learned that even in this place, Wuxia was just a legend. Blacksmiths sold only farm tools and kitchen knives, and the people who claimed they could fight relied more on brute force and recklessness.

A world full of masters, where were you?

After finishing the last sentence in mocking myself, I swallowed the last bit of steamed bun. I didn’t come up with any conclusion, as always. I wiped my mouth and kept away the remaining jerkies, waving to the moon before sneaking back to my room.

There were only snores in the dark. Adults who had finished with their business had fallen deeply into sleep.

I crawled into my bed and drifted off to sleep while counting my heartbeat.

A few days later, it was the market day.

This day was the most important day for the family that lived in the mountains. All their income came from selling the goods they had on this day and exchanged it for necessities such as oil, salt, vinegar, and rice, which they couldn’t produce themselves. The adults had already packed up and were ready to go before sunrise. This time, their daughters didn’t insist on going along. They remained quiet and sent them off on their journey.

Then, I put on my puttees[3] and set off to the mountain.

A few days ago, I had finished all the jerkies I stashed away. So, I needed to check on those small self-made traps that I set on the mountain. Perhaps, there might be some new harvest. It would be even better if I could get some fresh fruits along the way.

Funnily enough, the biggest problem I’d faced so far was just malnutrition and hunger. Most of the harvests at home were used to exchange money. Besides, they didn’t value girls in this era; It was enough to not let them die from starvation. Fortunately, I had gained some knowledge from being a backpacker back then. Plus, I was born in a hunter’s family, and under the influence of it, I’ve learned how to hunt for a living.

I hurried on, wanting to go back early and get everything done before the sun went down.

But who knew, things didn’t always go the way I wanted. It began to rain halfway on my way back, and after a short while, it was all blurry and misty over the mountain.

I crouched under a dented cliff, holding a few sheets of board leaf over my head, counting the time as I observed the rainfall. Then I’d decided to brace through the rain if it didn’t stop by the time I counted to 2000.

As I counted to 700, I saw a vague trace of white in the rain.

It was rare to see something white in a dark green mountain forest, as there weren’t many white animals in the natural world. Hunters and herb gatherers usually wore hemp cloth. There was no need for them to dress in white to make themselves feel awkward. Thus, the shade of white was rather conspicuous.

Even though it was conspicuous, but it only appeared for a moment.

I mumbled to myself, but still keeping track of my counts, carrying on with the counts as I held down my doubt.

At 1207, the rain was easing off; After another 100, the rain stopped.

After the heavy rain, the air brimmed with a rich scent of fresh grass. The plants around the mountain became fresher as if they had taken a shower. Careless of the dripping water in the surrounding, I came out from below the cliff. After a moment of consideration, I walked toward the direction where I saw the shade of white a moment ago.

When I was getting closer, I picked up a thick wooden branch along the way—though, in the end, the wooden branch was useless.

On the muddy ground and a large area of crushed vegetation lay a person. The white robe stood out against the green plants around with the splashed yellowish mud stains.

And me—the moment I caught sight of the thing in the person’s hand, my heart pounded.

That was—a sword.

This was the first sword I’d seen hitherto in this life. A sense of surreal inadvertently emerged—was that really a sword?

With doubts, I carefully poked the person with the branch and called the person a few times. Seeing that the person didn’t move, I reached out my hand toward the sword while holding my breath. The person didn’t hold the sword tightly; with just a slight yank, I pulled it out of the person’s hand.

In my hand was the hefty, metallic sensation of the sword. It might be too heavy for a kid; I clutched the hilt with great exertion and tried to pull it out of its sheath but I failed. Then I took a breath and tugged it with all my strength.

The hum of the sword unsheathing resonated beside my ear and an icy cold glow gleamed on my eyes.

Beneath the icy glow, the blade reflected an unfamiliar, childlike face—that was me.

This was—real.

My heart was beating like a drum.


[1]XiaoSan is commonly referred to a mistress; a third person in a relationship.
[2]“Wanli” is the era name of Zhu Yijin’s reign, the 14th emperor of Mind dynasty.
[3]Puttee, also known as legwraps, is a strip of cloth used to wrap around the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee for support and protection.

Translator’s notes:
This is the very first novel I translate. I’m super excited to share this novel with you! Hope you like it. Enjoy!

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