The Witch Nichang– Chapter 17
On Her Back
How does it feel to trust your life to someone else?
I couldn’t quite describe it, just knew that it felt terrible, really terrible.
It was for this feeling that I closed my eyes, but closing my eyes felt much worse. In the darkness where all I could feel was my own heartbeat, temperature, and the strange presence on my arm.
Perhaps sensing something was off, it seemed a little agitated and was crawling around. The sensation of its ventral scales rubbing and squirming against my arm felt clear through the clothes.
Being able to control my body with my mind didn’t mean that I was physically comfortable with this feeling. My heart clenched, and I wanted to hurry her but didn’t dare to do so. Since I chose to hand over the control, all that was left to do was to wait. Rushing her served no purpose other than interfering with her judgment, and in most cases, it would only make things worse.
Fortunately, I could still sense her presence, which was somewhat reassuring.
The sense for that presence was actually quite subtle, more like a hazy intuition. It was so quiet around me that I couldn’t even hear her breathing, but somehow, I knew she was there. I could even picture her looking ready to attack like a wolf.
Suddenly, a gust of breeze blew against my face. It was so soft that it just left a slight chill on my skin.
But that wasn’t a breeze! For then there was a tight squeeze on my right arm, and it was getting tighter. The living vine that was wrapping around my arm began to coil up and constrict, causing significant pain to my arm. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I opened my eyes with a grunt and saw the branch in Lian’er’s hand was now stabbing straight into the snake’s mouth!
It was a precise strike, at least to me it was unbelievable, but it was also the most effective way and avoided the risk of snakebite entirely. The only downside, if I must say so, was the pressure it brought to my arm during its death-struggle.
The child knew it too, so she was now squatting, one hand holding the branch and continuing to clamp it down, the other reaching out to grab the lifted part of the snake’s body, tugging it left and right, trying to peel it off my arm. However, the snake’s constriction strength was apparently stronger than she could have imagined. Seeing the blood flow get obstructed and the arm gradually starting to turn blackish purple, she couldn’t wrap her head around the situation and got a little nervous, nipping her lip and glancing at me in a hustle, as if she was…worried.
I lifted my free hand, and without adding fuel to the fire, stroked her back and told her it was nothing serious, that it was all right.
After bustling about for a while, that thing finally lost its strength and was yanked off by Lian’er. She clutched it in her hand, smacking it several times, and then it completely slackened into a dead, motionless thing. As if it wasn’t enough to vent her anger, she threw a few more glares at it before raising her hand and casting it far away. It disappeared into the night without a flop.
This childish act set my mind at rest, at the same time, it was somewhat funny.
But I didn’t dare to laugh because the person in front of me had a straight face on. Seeing me press my lips together and smile, she glared over at me, but said nothing, just stepped to the side in silence, picked up the herbs on the ground she gathered earlier, and swished them in front of my face, the meaning of which went without saying.
Seeing her serious face, I surely wouldn’t be so dumb to mess with her. I just looked over the herb she handed me, and at last, after a moment of hesitation, I decided to answer honestly: “It’s similar enough, but…too bad, it’s not the one.”
I thought I might piss the child off, but it turned out not at all.
“Oh.” She sounded level-headed and showed no obvious expression, just tossed the wrongly picked plant aside, but she reached over abruptly in the next instant and hoicked me from the ground! It all happened so fast and unprepared that all I felt was my body getting lighter, and when I came back to my senses, I was already on her back again.
“Lian’er?” It was out of nowhere, so I was baffled: “What’re you doing?”
She sneered and replied: “I’m carrying you.” After that, she said no more, going about stepping straight into the bushes with her body slightly leaning forward, her left hand supporting me, and her right hand sweeping the bushes. It looked like she intended to keep on searching for the herb this way.
I knew it would be bad the moment I saw the sneer, but I never expected her to do that. I froze for a moment, then I thought about it again before opening my mouth again with deliberation: “Lian’er… what’re you doing?” Since I knew she was mad, I got serious: “What happened just now was just an accident. I was being careless and slipped up. Now that it’s settled, you really don’t have to—”
Before I could finish, a cold snort interrupted me. She didn’t answer me right away, not even turning her head, just shoving the handful of herbs she just picked in my face and asked: “How about this?”
“Um… no” With one look, I rejected it at once and tried to continue with my explanation earlier. But as soon as my words entered her ears, she just chucked it away. Before I could say another word, she shoved a handful of newly picked herbs in my face again: “What about this?”
I felt resigned. At this point, if I still didn’t get her intention, then I had lived my life in vain.
So this time, without confirming or rejecting it, I just took the herb she handed over and looked at it in my hand, ignoring her question, and continued what I wanted to say: “It’s too exhausting for you, Lian’er. How can I not worry about you? Besides, it wouldn’t be that coincidental. There won’t be—”
“You’re such a nag!” With me on her back, she erupted eventually and yelled over her shoulder in exasperation: “Who cares if you’re dead or alive! I just feel like it’s much more convenient like this! Save me a trip to the tree to ask you. It’s too much trouble!”
After yelling, without waiting for me to answer, she straightened up and reached her hand over her shoulder, wanting to grab the herb she just handed to me: “If not, throw it away! What does it mean, holding in your hand and not talking?”
Although she was always arrogant and tetchy with me, she had only two genuine outbursts so far. Maybe because she cared about my condition, compared to the punching and kicking at the creek last time, it was obvious she let me off this time. I knew it but didn’t want to argue, so I quickly reached out my hand and put it around her shoulders to avoid falling off while bumping along, and my other hand went to protect the herb in a hurry: “Easy, easy, you got it right this time. It’s a herb. Do you want to throw it away?”
She started and stopped moving. For a moment, she seemed to forget she was mad and glanced at me with her eyes squinted, looking askance: “Really?”
I nodded in haste, smiling innocently at her. I didn’t lie. It was such a coincidence that the ones she looked for in all seriousness were always similar but weren’t the right one, instead, the one she grabbed in a fit of pique was right on target.
She glanced at me a couple more times and probably felt I didn’t coax her, so she took the herb in her hand, scanned it, and sniffed it. Her brows flattened out, and she whispered to herself with her head slanted: “Ah, so this is what it looks like. It’s pretty common. Took me an entire day to look for it.”
She was still a child, after all. Her temper came and went. I tidied the strands of loose hair at her temple and smiled: “Now you know what this herb looks like. Just go look for it with this as a reference, so can you put me down now?” After that, I moved a little, trying to get down.
Who knew she would notice it, and then her back tensed. Instead of cooperating, her arm that was supporting me tightened a bit more.
“What now?” I frowned and asked her, pretending to not understand.
In fact, I knew the reason why she wouldn’t put me down, and the anger and outburst she just had were nothing more than the lingering fear of the previous mishap. I thought she would have been calm and collected, or at least not so concerned. But from the look of it, it seemed I was wrong again.
As expected, she tensed up and said with her head held high as she kept me from getting down: “What are you coming down for? I’ve seen a bunch of herbs like that earlier. I will pick them all at once and we can go home. If I put you down now, I’ll have to carry you again later. It’s better to save the trouble.” She said it as if she was in the right.
I sighed in my heart. Without an excuse, I thought she would give in even if she was reluctant to. But now, it seemed like the child was getting better at using her language skills. Could it be because we were talking more these days?
As for her, as always, she didn’t care about my opinion and continued to act on her own when she was done talking.
With a reference in her hand, the target was much clearer. This time, she didn’t have to rummage through the bushes at random and went straight for the target instead. Weeds and whatnot weren’t an obstacle for her at all. In the waist-tall scrubs, it would take me some effort to search even in the morning. But she had swept through most of the area in no time.
However, herbs were, after all, rare and weren’t as easily obtained as she made it sound before. While the upward sloping terrain had made it easy to search without hunching, it could still be tiring after a while.
I was so close to her, watching the sweat slowly seeping out of her forehead, I didn’t know what to say to her. After several attempts to speak, in the end, I could only sigh and raised the hand that was around her neck, dabbing the beads of sweat away for her.
Gradually calming down like this, my head started to get dizzy again. The night wind offered me temporary comfort, but in fact, did more harm than good to my condition.
“You really surprised me this time, Lian’er… ” Maybe it was the increased dizziness. Lying on her shoulders and closing my eyes, I actually started mumbling out of nowhere after a while.
“Hey, what will you do if I die of a disease by chance, or get killed by that snake earlier? Would you bury me as I taught you? Or would you rather pass me to those mates of yours for them to feed on?”
The thing with that little wolf just happened yesterday… um… or was it the day before? The time was a little blurred by my dizziness, but the images were still vivid in my mind, as were the feelings I had then. I didn’t think the place I held in her heart would be much higher than the pup.
The child’s definition of affinity was less intricate than that of the others. She would draw a circle, and everyone outside the circle was irrelevant, might even be a potential enemy, whereas everyone inside the circle was one of her own. Inside that circle, except for Master was stronger than her, the rest were weaker than her. For those who were weaker than her, she always wanted to conquer and manage them, and correspondingly, she would also offer protection.
I was also included in this circle. My position might be slightly higher, but that was all.
My head hurt a little more at the thought of what would have happened to the little wolf if I hadn’t insisted. A normal person wouldn’t want to suffer that treatment even after death. The cold really befuddled my mind, and I actually started to dwell on it, demanding an answer from her.
Being pumped by me like this, she could no longer stand it and jerked her back up.
“I’m sick of this! I won’t let you die!” The reply was loud and clear, and her tone was one of furious exasperation: “I won’t let you die! Then you won’t die! Asking those things about death for what? So annoying! Shut up!”
I shut up when she said shut up.
Getting yelled at and shocked like this, a thin layer of sweat broke out on my back. It did nothing but snapped me into consciousness. Then I realized what kind of childishness I had just displayed. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to bury my head in the sand and forgot that I was being scolded by a child and just did as she said, hoping that I could get hold of myself, and wouldn’t say something stupid that could shame me to death.
I kept my mouth shut, and she stopped talking. Like this, we gathered enough herbs in a hurry and went back. The journey home was silent.
When we’re back at Yellow Dragon cave, it was already late at night. Master had not yet returned. The herbs had to be pounded and boiled, but I was feeling dizzy already, so I had to adopt the previous method again—a person says, the other does.
Until the end, guarding the blazing fire and watching the gurgling, burbling concoction grew darker and murkier, I couldn’t stay up anymore. My eyelids drooped and my head sagged. Half-asleep, I felt someone was getting closer, calling me a few times while shaking me, sounding worried. I subconsciously curled my lips up, reached out in a daze and patted her to show her I was fine and fell back to sleep again.
I remembered nothing after that, except that I slept surprisingly sound in the warmth. Such a good sleep lasted until the child woke me up to take my medicine, and there wasn’t even a nightmare between.
When I woke up, I thought, maybe something was different from now on.