The Witch Nichang– Chapter 14
In the end, we still buried him.
Lian’er was still a little confused about what I had just said, but she eventually chose to send off the little wolf on his last journey with me in a human way, not an animal way. We worked together to fill the hole with dirt, pile it up high, and tamp it down into the shape of a mini grave mound.
The rain stopped before we knew it, and the sky was getting dark. She patted the small grave mound before standing up and said to me: “Let’s go home.”
I smiled bitterly as it came to me now that I still had a huge problem to solve.
Acting on a whim was bound to create future troubles. On the way back, I had gone through many ways on how to face Master, how to explain it to her, and whether to confess truthfully to her, but I felt inappropriate no matter how I thought about it.
Before I could straighten out anything, we were already standing at the cave entrance. I looked at Lian’er, stretching out my hand to hold her, and went in together.
The inside wasn’t as bright and as spacious as the outside. The lights were lit, and Master was sitting in the shadow where the light and darkness met. Her expression was unclear. I hurried over, stopping three steps away from her, and dropped to my knees without saying a word. Lian’er was standing behind me, nudging my shoulder. I tugged at her sleeve, and she knelt together with me.
We said nothing, nor did Master. For a moment, the room sank into unbearable silence.
My hand was unconsciously kneading the hem of my clothes. I had no idea what was the best way to explain the situation even after thinking it over. At the same time, I also didn’t want to stay in this depressing silence for any longer, so I clenched my jaw and lifted my head, about to open my mouth. At the very moment, Master moved first.
She first swept her hand across the air to stop my voice, then got up from the stone bench, and paced slowly toward us, stopping in front of us.
“You two have secrets?” At last, she opened her mouth, her voice was calm and flat, revealing no emotion in her voice, yet her eyes were sharp, so sharp that it impelled people to bow their head to avert from such a gaze. But I didn’t bow my head after all. Facing that gaze, I answered frankly: “Yes.”
“You feel that the secret is worth hiding and taking the blame for her?” Master asked again.
Was it worth it? I didn’t know. I knew that this secret would anger Master, even making her disappointed with Lian’er. It was my initial intention to keep the secret for Lian’er, but in the end, especially after the little wolf’s incident, I couldn’t tell if this hiding was for Master, Lian’er, or myself.
“Yes.” No matter whom it was for, the answer could only be this.
The room sank into silence again. I couldn’t help being worried as I thought this answer would have enraged the high-esteemed Master. But who knew, after waiting for a long moment, Master didn’t scold us, instead I heard her sigh and said: “If you feel that way, then I have no interest in knowing it.”
After saying that, she left for the stone chamber with a flick of her sleeve. I couldn’t respond in time. A second later, I straightened up and called in surprise: “Master.” She stopped, with her back facing us and her hands crossed behind: “I don’t need to know, but you’d still have to be punished for your disobedience.”
To my delight, I finally grasped the implication in her words that she had forgiven us. I answered, loud and clear: “Master, please punish me.”
Perhaps the delight in my voice was too obvious. Master threw a glare at me without saying a word before going into the stone chamber. Silence prevailed over words. I smiled awkwardly and remained kneeling on the ground, not daring to get up. I knew this was probably the punishment, at least for now.
The cave quieted down again, but it was no longer depressing, just sheer silence.
In the utter silence, the string that had been stretching in my head all day relaxed at last. Everything had passed. It wasn’t perfect, with many regrets, but it had still passed.
After staying under the rain and not having anything for almost a day, I gradually drifted into a trance while kneeling with my cold, exhausted body.
On the brink of sleep, I suddenly felt something leaning against my back.
I was dazed but immediately recognized that it was the child’s head.
She knelt behind me, head against my back. I felt her breathing through the slightest vibration, shallow but even. She fell asleep before me, and I was still awake instead, so I subconsciously kept my back straight to let her lean on more comfortably.
I didn’t expect this tiniest move would wake her up.
A mumbling mutter came from behind me. She stretched out her hand and patted on my back as a complaint. Perhaps she was quite comfortable leaning on me. She moved a little but didn’t leave, just turning to another side to lean on, and fell asleep again.
But the soft, gentle breathing wasn’t as even as before, so I knew she was awake.
Opening my mouth, I wanted to say something to her like “Are you tired?” or “Are you hungry?”
Instead, I blurted out this word, out of the blue. Even I myself was scratching my head when I said that, yet it felt like the right thing to say.
I couldn’t see her expression. Maybe because she was sleepy, her voice when answering me was soft with a hint of indolence. “You sure are weird.” She added: “It’s me who dragged you out today. Why are you saying sorry to me now instead?”
“Not this.” Feeling the warmth on my back, I pressed my lips together and continued: “I mean…the thing with the pup. Sorry.”
Initially, she came to me for him in a rage, but after I had started treating him, no one had mentioned this again, until today’s…loss.”
At first, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong on this, not until now. Reasonably speaking, I still didn’t think I had done anything wrong—it was all sorts of factual reasons adding up that caused this injury. The reasons I saved him were, on the one hand, to appease Lian’er who was raging at that time, on the other, I pitied him being so small and young.
But the fact was, the trap I set had indeed injured him. I hurt him yet couldn’t cure him, letting him suffer for nearly a month and watching him die.
I had given Lian’er hope, but I had also failed her in the end.
She should have hated me to death with her usual black-or-white attitude towards love and hate. But until now, she hadn’t mentioned anything and was even willing to sleep on my back.
So, let me be the one who gets it out, I thought. I would have to face it one way or the other.
However, I heard her laugh.
There was a time I thought Lian’er didn’t like to laugh and only liked to act haughty in front of me with her chin up. Only recently, when we started to get along, did I realize she would smile quite often. She would smile mildly when she was happy, smile scornfully when she wasn’t happy; she would smile even when she was extremely angry. It didn’t matter if she threw a tantrum.
I couldn’t see her smile at the moment, nor could I tell her emotions with her laughter alone. I could only keep my back straight and wait.
In the swaying shadow of the lamp oil, I could hear the child on my back whispering: “He didn’t hate you, so I don’t hate you either. You cried today. I saw it.”
This answer had lifted off something in my heart.
I couldn’t believe I actually cared so much about it. And now, because of her words, my mood was brisker than when I got Master’s forgiveness as if only this was what truly put my heart at ease, even my whole body loosened up.
Holding my head, I felt lighter and lighter, a floating sensation that I shouldn’t have even when I was relaxed. Contrarily, my consciousness was sinking. I couldn’t even lift my eyelids, only feeling tired and sleepy.
This drowsiness flooded in too fast and fierce. I couldn’t resist it and could only give in.
The last thing I saw before losing my consciousness was the child holding me up. Her eyes glinted with the candlelight were flashing with shock and bewilderment.
I wanted to comfort her, saying it was all right, but I couldn’t.