The Witch Nichang– Chapter 18
I had taken the medicine that Lian’er picked twice tonight, the first time was at midnight, and the second time was at the first light.
Both times, she was the one who brought the medicine over and called me. I was ashamed to say that because of the drowsiness, I ended up not knowing whether she had rested or gone to sleep at all for the whole night, but I knew even if she had, she mustn’t have slept well.
They were common herbs, after all. No matter how thick you boiled it down, the effect was still mild and slow. The only reassuring thing was that the condition was at least not worsening and was under control.
The reason I told her this on purpose was to ease her mind so that she could go to rest. Who knew, after hearing this, she pressed her lips together, thought about it for a second, and said with a sudden realization: “Then I’d better go get some more herbs, in case it isn’t enough.” With that said, she lifted her leg and was ready to set off.
Between tears and laughter, I reached out in a hurry and held her. We stared at each other like this for a while. In the end, she didn’t go.
Not that I was capable, but because Master had returned.
We were tugging at each other when she came back, and neither of us noticed right off. It was the child who reacted first. She halted and looked towards the cave entrance as if she felt something. Then, she called out in excitement and went over. It was then I turned around and saw Master walking in.
She seemed a little disconcerted, judging from her look now. But I couldn’t tell where exactly. The thought merely flickered in my mind; it didn’t make much noise. I waited for her to come a little closer and was going to get up and salute her, but Master came straight over and pushed me back to bed. She reached out her hand, felt my forehead and pulse, and asked me some questions, to which I answered honestly. Then, I saw her knitted brows finally loosened up a little, like a sigh of relief.
It was also a relief for us that Master made it back safely. We knew that her martial arts were unfathomable, but it was only human to worry in the face of the unknown. I did, and I believed that so did Lian’er.
That was why the child seemed so happy in that instant.
For some time after that, it was Master who took care of me.
The medicine she brought back from the mountain’s base was prescribed by an old doctor in the town. Each dose consisted of a mixture of several herbs packed in a packet with a complete prescription. The effect was naturally incomparable to the one cooked out of one or two kinds of herbs picked from the mountains. Even so, I was still feeling dizzy for a few days before the medicine kicked in and slowly suppressed the condition.
I was always grateful to Master. I didn’t want to use such exaggerated, sentimental words like ‘indebted’ to express my gratitude to her, but I remembered everything she did by heart.
Like this time, it was me who disobeyed her, and the reason I got sick after staying under the rain was also because of my weak body. To sum up, I brought it all on myself, yet she still hurried down the hill and didn’t mention a word about how difficult the journey was when she came back, just silently staying by my side, making sure I took my medicine and got changed, just like how I stayed by her side when we first met. Though she didn’t say much, everything was done with all her heart.
Actually, I more or less had my doubts. I had a feeling that something might have happened to Master during the trip downhill because of her subtle distress when she returned. And also because even the largest flash flood—maybe it could hold her back for a few hours, even forced her to make a detour—even so, it wouldn’t have taken her an entire day.
But since Master didn’t bring it up, I kept it to myself, keeping to our usual way of being together.
As for Lian’er, I didn’t think she was aware of it. Although she was highly intuitive, she was still young and naive. She wouldn’t observe others’ expressions or moods and overthink as I would find myself doing.
Speaking of the child, she had been out of sight again ever since Master had returned.
Because I didn’t see her often, sometimes I sighed and wondered if all the worries she had about me that night were just a whim of the moment, and I was just being self-conscious because of that old habit of overthinking?
After thinking about it this way, I felt it wasn’t.
Perhaps I was just comforting myself, but it was hard to see her these days, not least because most of the time, I was half-conscious and asleep. Sometimes, while I was half-awake, I could vaguely sense some presence. Unlike Master’s, it was a presence unique to a young child, lingering around for a while. Sometimes, I could even feel a soft chill on my forehead, stopping for a moment before disappearing again.
Unless these were delusions, otherwise, there was no other possibility but the child.
If it really was her, why did she always come when I was asleep? Was it deliberate or pure coincidence? This made me wonder, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
The doubt was there all the time, though it bothered me to think about it, it didn’t affect anything.
Sickness comes like a landslide but goes away slowly like spinning silk.
Days like this went on a few more days. My cold was getting better with each passing day. Finally, I no longer had to lie in bed all day feeling dizzy and feeble, and my body had also regained some strength, so I wanted to get down and walk around. Master tried to stop me, but saw that I insisted, she just left it at that and warned me it was okay to do light activities like sunbathing in front of the cave, but I wasn’t allowed to practice qigong and go too far.
I promised with a smile. I didn’t have the strength to go far anyway. After lying down for six to seven days, my body felt incredibly sore, and my joints were as stiff as if they were rusted. Enduring all the discomfort, I swung my arms and legs on a flat ground not far outside the cave to get my blood flowing and did some radio exercise moves. Then, I picked a flat boulder and sat down against it, cozily basking in the sun, just as Master told me.
It had been a long time since I had taken such a relaxing break in the sun, so long that I couldn’t remember when the last time was, maybe years ago, or perhaps in my previous life.
The sun was warm. When I closed my eyes, the world became pale red.
Nothing was on my mind. I was fully immersed in this pale red’s warmth. For a brief moment, I almost forgot about everything. It wasn’t until footsteps sounded in the quiet world that I came back to my senses.
The sound of the footsteps was faint. If the world I was immersed in hadn’t been so quiet, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all. There would only be two possibilities for such soft footsteps- either the person had trained in qinggong and was excellent at it, or the person himself wasn’t heavy and was as light as a child.
Or it was simply both.
I turned my head and narrowed my eyes, watching a little figure getting closer. Because she was approaching against the light, I couldn’t see anything at first. I could only see a rim of waving sunlight tracing around the outline of the figure and haloing as if the haloed ink was soaking through the paper in dots.
Only when she got a little closer that I could see her. She was still an innocent, lovely child. For a second, her features seemed to grow a little more delicate than I remembered. She wasn’t exactly the same little person I brought home on that winter night.
Realizing this, I felt a sense of loss somehow.
She came to my side. Seeing that I was still looking straight at her, she was neither angry nor annoyed, but instead, she smiled a little and said proudly: “You really are at a place like this. I found you as soon as I started looking.” After saying that, she actually sat down beside me, leaning against the boulder as I did.
This was another unexpected move from her. But this time, as if I had gotten used to it, it didn’t cause much astonishment. As I watched her sitting down, I reached out my hand, casually brushed the dust off her shirt for her, and asked: “You were looking for me?”
She nodded frankly and said: “I went into the cave, and Master said that you were out in the sun, so I thought this would be the best place to catch some sun, and here you are.” After that, she nodded again with great satisfaction.
Resuming from where it left off, I was supposed to say something like these at this point: “What do you want from me?” or “What can I do for you?” But in the end, when the words were already on the tip of my tongue, they somehow took a turn, turning right into: “Haven’t you been avoiding me all this time? Then why are you looking for me now?”
The moment the words slipped out of my mouth, I wanted to bite my tongue. Being bitter with a child? How mature.
Luckily, I didn’t think she noticed the bitter undertone in my voice, so it didn’t bother her to hear it. She just raised her eyebrows and answered earnestly: “No, I’m not avoiding you. I was just thinking about things, and now that I’d thought it out, so I came to you.”
“Oh?” This was so rare. Of course, she was thinking about stuff, which was nothing in itself, but it was a little unusual that she would say it this way: “What have you been thinking about then, Lian’er? Care to tell me?”
“Nothing.” The child looked at me with her cheeks resting on her hands, and her eyes were frank: “I was just thinking about what you said earlier, that thing called love.”
With that one sentence, my mind was suddenly pulled back to that cold rain.
That time, standing under the tree, she said, “I understand what’s ‘like,’ but…what’s ‘love’?” Her face was full of confusion when she said that.
So I did explain it to her after that, or should I say, tried to explain to her, what love was, although I felt that the explanation was actually quite far-fetched at the time.
I told her that if you like something, it won’t stop you from using it, or eating it, maybe because you like to use it or eat it that you were fond of it; but if you love something, you will be reluctant to let it go and won’t want it to suffer the slightest damage—even if the damage is supposed to be done, and may even do you some good—for no reason and for nothing. Regardless of things or people, if you can’t let it go and steel your heart against it no matter what, then that is love.
In fact, I understood deep down that it was superficial to explain the word ‘love’ in this way, and it might even be a fallacious explanation too. What is love? Countless people around the world have explained it. Any one of those explanations would be more elegant and beautiful than this. But have those flowery words really explained it all?
I just wanted to guide the naive Lian’er to try to grasp that word for the first time with the simplest of words. As for the deeper meaning behind that word, no one could teach it to her but herself.
But even then, it never occurred to me that she would be so dedicated to figuring it out. Besides that, there was another puzzling aspect to it.
“So… now… Lian’er, have you figured out anything yet? Emm, and… ” After hesitating for a bit, I thought about it and felt that there should be nothing wrong with it, so I asked directly: “And why do you have to avoid me when thinking about this?”
I was puzzled, so I looked at her, yet she looked away. She was still sitting there with her hands on her cheeks, but her eyes gazing into the distance were a little unfocused.
“You’re the one who said ‘if I can’t let it go and steel my heart against it, then that’s love’.” There was a rare hesitation when the child said that, as if she wasn’t quite sure how to structure her words: “I’ve never, ever felt that before, even with the wolf pack. We really are a family, and I really like them, but feelings like unable to see them suffer and whatnot, not at all… it’s all supposed to happen, injury or death. Of course, I’m not saying that injury or death is a good thing…it’s just…it’s just… ” She began to become fretful and bit her lips hard as she spoke: “It’s all supposed to happen. It’s a natural thing!”
I quickly patted her hand and let her know seriously, meanwhile pleasantly: “It’s okay, I understand what you mean. I really understand.”
She looked at me with her head tilted and was silent for a moment. Then she shook me off and took a few slow steps before she stood still with her back to me and spoke: “But then… then you got sick, and you said you might die. When you said that, I felt really uncomfortable, in a way I hadn’t felt before, not even when Master killed the big wolf… ”
At this point, she turned back, looking over with eyes as clear as water, yet clearly reflecting the sunlight: “So, I thought about it for a long time and thought this is probably what you call ‘love,’ right? What’d you say? Yes or no?”
I just looked back at her quietly, not answering right away. After a moment, I smiled softly and said: “What I say doesn’t matter. Yes or no, that feeling is yours, Lian’er, so you have to ask yourself.”
I smiled, and she smiled with me. For some reason, she was beaming as if she brightened up in an instant.
“I think, yeah.” She came back and bent over like she was trying to get a good look at me. It was close, very close, and then she pointed to her heart and said: “I don’t want you to die, whether from disease or snakebite. When you asked me that time, I felt sore here, upset and angry. I guess that’s what it’s like unable to let someone go and see her suffer. If that’s the case, then I love you.” After thinking about it, she added: “If it’s Master, I’ll also feel sore and uncomfortable, then I love Master too.”
So she seemed to come to a definite conclusion. That little face looked so joyful and satisfied. She smiled on her own for a while, and then as if remembering something, she looked me in the eyes again and said: “In that case, don’t ask me about death. I don’t want you to die, so I’ll protect you from death from now on.”
When she said so, she reached out her hand and patted me on the shoulder, mimicking what Master usually did, as if that was a promise.
I didn’t duck, letting her slap at my aching joints. When she was done, I reached out and ruffled her hair as well, expecting her to dodge out of the way arrogantly like before, but she didn’t.
So as I ruffled her hair, smiling, I said to her word for word: “Well, in exchange for that, I’ll protect Lian’er from now on too. Although I’m not as good as you at martial arts, I’ll do whatever I can to protect Lian’er you. Deal.”
“Deal.” She nodded. Only then she dodged my hand, probably thinking everything was good once we had talked it out. Lastly, she patted me twice before turning about and running far away like a wind.
I didn’t want to move, simply leaned there, and watched the little figure running away from a distance until she was out of my sight. Then I turned back, closed my eyes, and went back to basking in the sun.
This afternoon, the breeze was gentle, and the sun was surprisingly warm, warm enough to enter my heart.
In this chapter, I’ve changed the translation of the term “有情yòuqíng” to “to love” which I translated it to “to have feelings for” in chapter 13 as I find “to love” to be a better term for it given the context of this chapter. I’ll stick to this term in the future. Sorry for making such a mistake. Hope you enjoyed this novel so far.
And, thank you very much to those who support me on Kofi and everyone who keeps reading despite my slow update. Your support means a lot to me o(^▽^)o
有情yòuqíng- which can mean “to have feelings/affection for” or “to love”