The Witch Nichang- Chapter 13

Futile

Running in the rain, Lian’er said nothing, just clasping my hand in hers, and hurried on at full speed while watching the road ahead with her lips pursed.

Thanks to the practice before, I managed to keep up with her speed. 

I wanted to ask something, but I would choke on rainwater whenever I opened my mouth. Besides, I actually knew where we were heading without asking. For nearly a month, we would make a trip in this direction every day. 

With unease in my heart, I only hoped that the worst wouldn’t happen. 

However…

Wiping off the rain on my face, I looked at the scene before me while panting—the pack was crammed in the concave area below the cliff, taking shelter from the rain. Perhaps they had grown used to it and also came to understand something over the past month. Therefore, when they saw us, especially me, they stepped aside one by one on their own accord, revealing the mother wolf and her son who were huddling inside and leaning on the mountain wall. 

The wolf pup’s condition was terrible. Anyone who didn’t understand what it meant could see it at first sight.

I hurried over in a few steps, oblivious of being wet, and reached out my hand to gently peel off the soaked bandage on his wound. However, the moment I touched his body, I realized he was shivering as if suffering from malaria, his little limbs were shaking, and his temperature was lower than usual. The mother wolf was constantly licking him, seemed to be comforting him, but to no avail. 

The herbs that I had applied four days ago had all dried out and changed color. And now, after having been soaked by the rain, it had turned mud-like and was smudged around the wound. I tore off a corner of my clothes, squeezed out the excess water, and carefully wiped that area clean, finally exposing the wound that had somewhat turned white. There were some signs of inflammation around the wound, but they were not severe; the wound had even healed a little. 

From the surface, I couldn’t see any abnormalities, but his condition was indeed not good.

Could it be…a thought flashed across my mind, but I did not want to believe it. With my mind made up, I held the wolf pup in my arms, carefully covering him with my coat, and then rushed out. 

However, right when I was entering the rain, not two steps down, a hand grasped my sash.

“Where’re you going?” The child looked straight at me. 

I was a little flustered because of the conjecture I had in mind, and for a moment, I forgot that someone was silently standing behind me all the time. Turning back to look at her at this moment, I found that her eyes were calm, and she seemed to be more collected than I was. 

“Take him to the village down the hill. People over there usually rear livestock. Maybe they know how to treat him better.” I did not want to make it sound too grave, so I just told her what I would do at the moment. But who knew, after hearing it, she said nothing. After a while, she still hadn’t let go of the sash. Instead, she asked: “Why didn’t you do this earlier?”

I remained silent until she repeated the question, only then I responded hesitantly and ambiguously: “Commoners, especially those in the mountain village,…err…dislike wolves…”

It was actually more than disliking. The beasts in the mountains had taken who knew how many lives that depended on the mountains. The hatred had accumulated year after year, generations over generations. The mountain men prided themselves for the capability to kill beasts. Anyone who could kill a tiger or a wolf would be a hero in others’ eyes. It was almost impossible to expect them to save a wolf pup. 

But there was really no other way.  

We looked at each other, and no one said anything. Perhaps she saw something from my eyes. She bit her lips and let go of her hand at last, but she turned to hug the wolf pup in my hands and smiled coldly: “They hate us, then we don’t go begging them. A wolf is a wolf, not a dog.”

I was not sure if it was a coincidence. The wolf pup gave a few whimpers, seemingly in response, and was struggling to shove himself into her arms. 

The rain still kept falling, fine trickles of rain intertwined. The mountains were as if shrouded in a smog-like veil. I stood within the veil watching silently—watching the child holding the little life in her arms, walking step by step to the mother wolf without looking back, and sat down. She let his head lean against his mother’s neck comfortably, and his body curled in her hands, stroking him over and over again, saying something over and over again. She kept saying until that little life gradually stopped trembling in her hands. 

The mother wolf let out a low wailing cry, which resounded like ripples, spreading out little by little among the wolf pack, and finally, it started resonating in all directions.

Amidst the low resonating cry, she got closer to rub his little nose for one last time, and then she put down the body that was still soft, came to me, and said: “Let’s go home.”

Maybe because I had stayed in the rain for too long, my limbs were stiff. I was soaked, but my throat felt bone dry. It took me a while to get back my voice. 

“That…” When I lowered my head, even my neck gave out a choppy creaking sound: “That’s it?”

She looked at me as if she did not understand what I meant. 

Taking two deep breaths, the moist and cold air entered my body and finally woke up my usual self. I turned around looking at her and asked: “That’s it? Shouldn’t we…bury him properly?”

“Bury?” She tilted her head, eyes full of questions as if it was a foreign word. She only reacted after a while and replied: “Is it to bury in the ground? But why do we have to bury him? The weather is awful these days. The carcass is still useful for everyone.”

I stared at her as if I had never known her. A biting chill ran up from my feet, spreading through my limbs and bones along the spine. I could not believe the meaning I got from it. I felt that there must be some mistake. Yet my brain had clearly discerned the implication.

I wanted to talk and explain to her, but at that moment, my feelings dominated my body. Like she had done before, I walked to the mother wolf in silence, bent over, and took the pup’s little body. After a moment of thought, I peeled off the bandage on his leg together with the fixed splints. I thought once I peeled it off, his leg would crook to a side like when I first saw it, but it did not. 

How sad. I smiled in silence. The leg bone was trying hard to recover, but its owner could not make it. 

Holding the body, I walked out of the wolf pack step by step. No wolf was stopping me, including the mother wolf, who lost her child. Maybe they were just used to it.  

The child did not stop me either. I knew she was following behind me, but I did not know—and also did not want to know—what she was thinking. I just kept moving forward until I saw a lush tree in the distance. The tree was green and luxuriant, towering in the rain like an enormous umbrella, shielding off the drizzle. I walked to the tree, withdrew the short sword I carried about, and started digging. 

I felt a gaze on my back, but I did not turn around. All I wanted to do was dig the hole deeper, so deep that no wild animal could dig it out. Fortunately, the sword was a great one, and the damp ground was easy to dig. This task did not take me too long. Looking at the satisfactory depth, I took the little wolf over and had a last look. And then, I laid him into the hole, took a handful of dirt, and wanted to scatter over him. 

At this moment, someone grabbed my hand. 

“Why?” A familiar voice came right beside my ear: “What’s good about burying in the ground?”

Her voice sounded serious and puzzled. I did not look up at her, just answering softly: “He was just this small… At worst, I will hunt some prey for the wolf pack as compensation later…” But, this irritated the voice’s owner. She flung the hand I was holding the dirt and snapped: “I’m not asking about this. What’s the use of burying him in the ground like this and rotting away slowly?”

“Lian’er.” I sighed softly in my heart, put down the dirt in my hand, and turned back to her: “People do a lot of things, not just because they’re useful. If everything is measured according to its usefulness, then burial is useless, sorrow is useless, even…” I looked deeply into those bright eyes: “your tears are also useless.”

She was stunned when she heard that. She touched her face recklessly, looked at her palm, and replied: “I’m not crying.”

“You did.” I lowered my head and smiled gently: “When I first saw you, you were crying, leaning on a huge wolf’s carcass. Your face was full of tears. You didn’t cry this time, but don’t you feel sad in your heart?”

Her nose twitched a few times in silence.

“Come and look.” I pulled her over in a soft voice and showed her the little wolf in the hole: “He’ll sleep here. We’ll bury him, and he’ll rest here forever. If you miss him, you can come here to see him. You’re right. His flesh will disintegrate bit by bit, but the bones will still be here, still in a sleeping position, and his flesh will return to this land, and maybe next year, a flower will grow here, just like he has lived again, isn’t that nice?”

“It’s nice…but…” She looked lost: “Why do we want to do that?”

“Because we liked him and loved him. Naturally, we want him well and can’t stand seeing him suffer even after death.” I patiently guided her, but in return, more confusion appeared on her little face.

“I understand what’s like, but…what’s love?”

She asked, a pair of black eyes looking straight at me without blinking.

My heart thumped for no reason.

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