The Witch Nichang– Chapter 15
The moment I collapsed, I was actually fully aware of what had happened.
That time I pleaded with Master to take me in, I was bearing a risk-it-all attitude because I knew that this body would be a disappointment. It was considerate of Master to say I lacked talent.
Since I was born, I would get sick every so often. They were all just minor diseases like cold or fever, however, when it happened often enough, it inevitably became annoying to others. Many times, when I was in swaddling clothes, I could clearly read the annoyance in the adult’s eyes. Especially the high fever I had when I was two, they had basically already given up on me. They didn’t even bother to look after me. But thanks to that, I could get up, steal dad’s liquor, and wipe it all over my body to cool down while they were away. I also kept drinking water and tried to induce sweat. Only then I managed to survive through it.
Therefore, when I grew a little older and was able to walk around freely, I would pay extra attention to this aspect, and consciously took care of my body as best as I could. Slowly, there were some improvements, and gradually I wouldn’t get sick so easily. Nevertheless, I had always paid great attention to it and never dared to let down my guard.
However, after being with Master for all these years, I had slowly neglected it, perhaps because of the martial art training, my body seemed to become stronger.
Hence, it wasn’t something unexpected that this downpour had messed up my body. Just that I didn’t expect the cold to strike me so furiously without any signs after not getting sick for a few years, knocking me out straight away.
In a daze, I seemed to be awake and at the same time, still dreaming. Dully, I felt that all my bones were aching. I knew I had sweated a lot. The air blowing out of my nose was as dry and scorching as being in the desert. I could hear sounds in my ears, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. They were very far away but posing a strong pressure on my eardrums.
I had a fever. I knew it in my mind, as clear as a mirror, but I couldn’t voice it out.
Vaguely, I knew Master was talking but didn’t know what she was saying. After a while, the voice disappeared. All that remained was the noises in my ears, which were making me sick. I hated this feeling, so I let myself fall deeply asleep in exhaustion.
When I opened my eyes again, the noises were gone, but the cave ceiling seemed to become unusually broad and was slightly swirling.
I found myself lying on the stone bed, so I wanted to hold up my body sideways with my elbow, but halfway through, before I could finish the move, a hand pushed me back down.
“Master said you should lie down and stay still.” Lian’er was right next to the bed, saying it with a definite tone and looking at me with sparkling eyes. “I want…water…” I forced myself to stay up and replied, not even having the energy to smile at her. My voice was so scratchy that it sounded nothing like myself.
“Oh.” She responded, got up, and went to the stone table to take the white porcelain teapot, but she didn’t pour the water for me, just handed over the teapot directly, and said: “Take it.”
That was exactly what I needed. I took the porcelain teapot and gulped down the water through the spout. The refreshing water ran down my burning body, somewhat quenching my thirst at last.
When I passed the porcelain pot back to her, I felt much better.
“Where’s…Master?” I asked, turning my stiff neck to look around within a small radius. The meditation chamber’s door was wide open. No one could be seen inside. “Master went downhill to buy medicine that very night. She said you’d have to take medicine with your condition.” She answered casually, putting the water teapot back on the table. Then she came back, pushed my body back which had been propped up for drinking, and ordered: “Lie down and don’t move.”
I smiled in resignation and fell back to the bed.
Among the three of us, it seemed like I was the only one who had some medical knowledge, not to mention Lian’er. Master should know how to treat wounds, but for diseases… if she knew, she wouldn’t have fainted in the mountain near my house back then.
No one had fallen ill over the past few years. I didn’t know whether it was luck or misfortune… I thought while feeling groggy, then I drifted off to sleep again before I knew.
It should be dawn by the time I woke up again. The soft, foggy light shone into the cave from outside. My body felt heavier than before, and I could hardly open my eyes. I managed to call for a few times before I realized there seemed to be no one in the cave.
Fortunately, not before long, I heard sounds coming from beside me. I forced myself to turn and look—it was the child dashing in from outside, her body was wet, from the waist down, to be precise.
It didn’t seem like she had been caught in the rain. Besides, I didn’t hear any rain. “What’s going on?” I asked, feeling languid.
She looked up when she heard my voice. Seeing that I was looking in her direction, she didn’t say much, her expression changed subtly, and she responded: “You’re awake?” After that, she turned and headed outside. Soon enough, she was back with her clothes changed and a few things in her arms. She put them down beside the bed before pulling me up slightly, and said: “Master told me before that I should give you something to eat once you’re awake, but you fell asleep again earlier, so I won’t forget this time.”
My whole body felt weak. I let her pull me up and took a closer look at the things on the side. They were a few baked sweet potatoes, still stained with some fire ashes, wisps of aroma and heat wafting from them, supposedly right out of the fire.
“Here.” She patted away the dust, peeled it attentively, and handed over to me. This attitude of hers was a little… odd.
Although I had a headache, my brain was wide awake. Plus, with her wet clothes and subtle expression before, I knew there must be something up. When I was just about to ask, the sweet potato was pressed against my lips. I reckoned she figured out what I was thinking, but I wasn’t sure if it was because she didn’t intend to speak or was putting Master’s order before anything else. Anyway, she looked like she wanted to shut me up with food.
Under usual circumstances, I wasn’t as headstrong as her anyway. Plus, I hadn’t eaten anything at all since yesterday. The sweet potato in my face smelled nice, arousing the slumbering hunger in me, so I took a bite without thinking.
Only when I took a mouthful of the sweet potato did I realize the situation had become…err…a situation in which she was feeding me?
Well, judging from our size and height, we looked only a few years different in age. In other’s eyes, we might just seem like two kids getting along well with each other, but she had always been a little kid in my heart. I could take care of her with no worries, but I felt awkward when I was the one being taken care of. My face was flushing for no reason. Fortunately, it wasn’t noticeable since I was burning.
“This…I’ll…I’ll do it myself.” I murmured embarrassingly and reached over, wanting to take the food. However, I didn’t know whether she could tell that my hand had no strength or just being stubborn with me. Anyhow, she simply refused to give it to me, even pushing down my outstretched palm with one hand and shoving the sweet potato closer to my mouth with another hand. Her eyes were full of… excitement.
Realizing that this child’s interest in feeding me had been sparked, I felt a deep sense of impotence. I took a few bites awkwardly, hurriedly saying that I was full, and lied back down. She didn’t seem satisfied with the feeding, her face showing her discontent, but she also knew the boundaries, so she just pulled a thin quilt on a side over me.
Soon after, the awkwardness subsided, and fatigue began to set in again. It doesn’t feel right, I thought, I shouldn’t be falling asleep again like this.
“Lian’er…what’s going on earlier?” I turned to look at her. The discomfort of my body promptly reminded me of something. “Right…what’s the time now? How long…has Master been away?”
It would take about half a day to make a round trip downhill. However, it would take less than six hours for an adept martial artist like Master if she was to go at full speed. I remembered it wasn’t too late at night when I blacked out, but it was already daybreak at this time. A whole night had passed, yet Master still hadn’t come back. I couldn’t help feeling a little worried.
Lian’er said nothing earlier. Seeing me asking about it, she didn’t try to hide it from me and answered frankly: “It’s about 7 in the morning now. I don’t know when Master will be back. I just went to have a look. There was a major flash flood downhill, and the road was blocked.”
“A flash flood?” I was shocked at first, but on second thought, it was usual for the rivers to overflow, considering the unceasing downpour a few days ago. Suddenly, I remembered that she was wet from the waist down earlier, and my heart pounded. Not knowing where my strength came from, I stretched my hand over, hauling her toward me: “Don’t tell me you went into the water to explore the road?”
“Mm, I did try to.” She didn’t think it was a big deal and answered: “But the water was too murky and erratic, and wide too. I couldn’t get across. I don’t think Master could either.”
She said it like it was nothing, but I was horrified hearing it. Mountain floods, unlike the rivers, anything could possibly be in the murky water—trees, branches, vines, rocks, and all sorts of things. Once you got sucked in by the torrents and got smashed or entangled, the consequences would be unimaginable. She was being fearless as if a newborn calf, unafraid of tigers. She actually dared to wade into the water and explore. I was so worried that I wanted to teach her a lesson, but I knew the last thing she wanted was for me to lecture her. It would be worse if she acted against me then. Resignedly, I could only repress my feelings. I took her hand and advised her with a soft voice: “Lian’er…it’s too risky. Promise me never to do that again…okay?”
She looked at me with her brows frowned and asked questioningly: “How about you if Master doesn’t come back in time?”
I was slightly stunned upon hearing that. Then, I realized this child was actually taking me into consideration. I couldn’t help feeling warm in my heart and replied softly: “I’m fine…it’s just a common…cold. Just that it’d caught me off guard. You haven’t seen a cold before… it’s nothing serious, really, let alone life-threatening. Don’t worry…”
She was still staring at me, a pair of eyes like the translucent spring water shifted, yet she said no word.
Looking at her, I knew she had something in mind. I took a breath and went on: “What’s…wrong?” She was hesitant for a moment, but in the end, she responded in a whisper: “You said not to worry before…that time you treated the little wolf…”
Stunned, I understood her meaning. For a moment, all kinds of feelings stirred in my heart. I forced myself to reply with a smile: “Even if you don’t believe in me…Lian’er should believe in Master, shouldn’t you? Even if Master takes a detour, she’d be back in a day at most with her speed… By that time, we’ll have the medicine. Then, it’ll be alright, isn’t it?”
After I finished my sentence, I couldn’t hold on any longer. My temper was throbbing furiously, even the cave seemed to be spinning. I could no longer care if she believed it or not. I fell back to the bed feebly and closed my eyes to rest.
Everything after that became blurry. I seemed to fall into a boggy dream. The dream was bizarre and tangled, all kinds of scenes were mixed together—high buildings and grey tiles, street lamps, and bullock carts. For a moment, the road underneath my feet was cement and asphalt, and the next moment, it turned into yellow dirt and dust flying in the air. I seemed to be falling, and at the same time, running. When falling, I felt the infinite sense of weightlessness; when running, I seemed to be hunted by something. Regardless of which, the sense of helplessness was unusually strong. I kept screaming, but my voice was carried away relentlessly by the wind.
Screaming hard like this, I would sometimes wake myself up. I heard my own scream in my ears. Unlike the sonority I thought in my dream, it was so soft that it could only be considered as a whisper.
Other than that, there was a familiar voice resonating beside my ears. That was Lian’er’s. I knew that I was burning up and gibbering, and I knew that she must be worried. But before I could do anything, I was dragged back into the deep mire again.
My consciousness came and went. Being in a trance, I was oblivious of the passing of time. By the time I finally regained some consciousness, a shudder suddenly hit me, and I was woken up by a gust of cold wind. Then I felt each breath I took was filled with the damp, fresh air.
And the sound of her breathing was underneath me, too close, way too close.