The Witch Nichang- Chapter 2
One day later, she was awake.
That day, it’s after turning her over that I could confirm that this person was a woman. Because in difficult times, she could be mistaken for a skinny guy looking at her back. Luckily she was a woman, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to move her back before nightfall with my weak strength and skinny limbs.
She suffered no injury on her body, only had a fever. Her forehead was boiling, yet her limbs were ice cold. I placed her on my small bed, wiped her dry, covered her with a thick blanket, and put a cold towel on her forehead. After thinking for a while, I chopped up a piece of ginger and garlic, boiled them into a bowl of thick ginger soup. I fed her the soup while she was still in a trance.
I was glad that no one had seen it when I was doing all these. These were not something a six-year-old girl who lived in a mountain would know.
The adults were taken aback when they came back, but they didn’t doubt much with the excuse I had prepared in advance. The woman that I was supposed to call Mom was reluctant to let her stay. But after seeing the person wearing clothes that a poor commoner couldn’t afford, she kept quiet. Out of a sense of crisis—the lady looked like she was in her late twenties, though her features were not the finest, she was still good-looking and even more appealing when sick—in short, she didn’t allow my hunter dad to get close to that person, only asking me to take care of her.
This was exactly what I was hoping for.
The next morning, the lady was awake. Dad had gone out by now, and the wife was occupying herself in the backyard. When she opened her eyes, I was the only one inside the small house, a little child who should be harmless in other’s eyes.
But the moment she opened her eyes, her gaze was so sharp as if it could kill.
A chill struck my heart, I suppressed my unease while maintaining my composure, giving her a naïve, harmless smile.
It was not that I hadn’t thought about the worst possibility that I might bring in an atrocious person. It was just that I couldn’t let go of any opportunities at any cost. We couldn’t judge people by their appearance, but looking at her, the chances of her being a malicious person were slim—though this was just an intuition.
But the minute I saw her sharp gaze, I genuinely doubted my intuition.
“Where are my clothes?” She asked after realizing the situation she was in. Her eyes were still sharp, but she couldn’t hide the huskiness in her voice because of the cold.
My eyes were wide open: “Sister’s stuff? It is right next to the pillow. There was no one at home yesterday, and your clothes were all wet when San’er helped you to change. So, I put it next to you after I’d dried and folded them.”
After listening to what I said, she turned back and checked at once. I was frank about this. I didn’t coax her, anyway. I dried all those clothes myself, only dried and folded them without rummaging through them, not even opening her small pouch because the knot on the pouch was rather bizarre. I couldn’t guarantee I could tie it back after I’d opened it.
After seeing all her stuff was still there, she heaved a sigh of relief, then she remembered something and asked sternly: “Where’s my sword?”
I’ve been waiting for this question, so I didn’t panic, only smiling more innocently.
“Shh, sister, keep your voice down.” I lowered my voice and leaned over with the gesture of whispering beside her ear. A hint of alertness flashed in her eyes—probably considered me as a kid, so she didn’t stop or dodge me.
“I’d hidden sister’s sword in the firewood pile behind the house. I can’t take it out now. Otherwise, San’er will be in big trouble.”
I pretended to be mysterious, yet she frowned.
“My dad and mom told San’er before that this world is bad. Bandits and evil people are everywhere. They told me to keep away from whoever has a sword and do not bring them home. San’er hid away sister’s sword first so dad and mom wouldn’t know about it.”
Perhaps because of the naïve and innocuous answer from a child, after hearing this, she seemed a little more relaxed. She looked at me as she raised her brows: “Really? Wouldn’t you be afraid that I might be a bandit or evil person?”
“Sister doesn’t look like one. San’er likes you.” I smiled at her. Turned over, I jumped off the bed and went to the stove to get a bowl of aromatic rice porridge for her. The people living in the mountain were unsophisticated. The family was poor and didn’t seem to be very hospitable, but since this had happened, I tried to prepare better food for her.
I handed her the porridge and looked at her in anticipation. She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but she didn’t drink it, just carried on asking me questions.
“Your name is San’er? Are you the one who saved me yesterday? Can you tell me what happened?”
I nodded and retold the story. It was the truth anyway. All I had to do was to hide my thoughts at that time. Then she asked me a few more questions, and I answered all of them honestly. At this moment, the woman I should call Mom came in. She was a little constrained, maybe because she was facing a noblewoman. She didn’t boss me around like she always did. After chattering for a while, she walked out of the room, leaving me to take care of her.
After all these soundings, she probably cleared her worries, and for the first time, she took a sip of the porridge in her hand, which had become lukewarm.
I daren’t treat her lightly, so I went to her side and asked tentatively: “The porridge has become cold. How about San’er help sister to reheat it?”
She shook her head, seemed to have something to say, then she noticed: “Little kid, although I’m not as old as your mom, I’m also about the age of being your senior. Why have you addressed me as ‘sister’ since the beginning?”
I didn’t expect this question, so I was rendered speechless. I couldn’t tell her that this was an act of flattery to the seniors in my past life by addressing them younger. Since I didn’t have any relatives in this place, I’d kept this habit. Besides, I was pretending to be a good girl just now, so unconsciously, I behaved like how I used to.
Seeing that she didn’t react to this previously, I assumed that she, as a person in Jianghu, didn’t mind trifle formality. Since she asked now, she was clearly a serious and rigorous person. And for a moment, I didn’t know how to answer.
After contemplating for a moment, I decided to counter the changes with constancy, so I remained silent and looked at her with grievances in my eyes.
Having been stared at with such eyes, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She coughed softly and waved: “Forget it, you are just a child. You probably don’t know about these things. My surname is Ling. You can call me… Aunt Ling and never address me as a sister again.”
With joy rose in my heart, I nodded a few times. Having a formal appellation was a big step forward. It was a good start.
Her high fever was slightly better now, but she hadn’t fully recovered yet. Her body was still feeble. Mountain people didn’t always have good medicine. I could only pick some common herbs to boil every day and give it to her together with some ginger soup. My hunter dad was very kind to others. There was always some meat on the dining table these few days, which was more sumptuous than usual. I had something in mind, so I did my best to take care of her with no complaints, merely wishing to leave a good impression on her. I even spared my bed for her, only taking naps beside the bed these few days.
Regarding this, she didn’t have much to say. She ate everything and took the medicine I offered her. She frankly accepted my offers and never said a word of appreciation. Someone was secretly displeased about this, but the man didn’t mind it, so naturally, everything was calm.
Five or six days had elapsed, seeing that her body had gradually recovered. I’d been thinking of a way to carry out my thoughts. After finishing my tasks at dusk, I pushed the door into the house with my head ducked to find her neatly dressed, packing her stuff.
Above all, there was a long sword beside her. It was the one she was carrying, the one I’d hidden in the firewood pile!
In truth, the first thing she did after she could get out of the bed was to retrieve her sword quietly from the firewood pile. As long as others wouldn’t see the sword, I didn’t mind how she hid it. But now, seeing that shevwas no longer hiding her sword and dressed in this way, I understood right away what was going on. I couldn’t help feeling flustered. I rushed up to her, ignoring the couple standing aside.
“Aunt Ling!” I tugged at her sleeve: “Aunt Ling, are you going to leave?”
“Smart little kid.” She stroked my hair but didn’t give an eye to me, only looking at the couple over there, raising a cupped fist salute: “I, Ling, caught a disease by accident while passing through this place. Thanks to both of you and your daughter who didn’t leave me behind. I have nothing to repay your meticulous care in these few days, but only this to express my gratitude.”
As she finished her words, an object flew across the air and landed steadily on the table next to the couple. Looking at it under the afterglow of the setting sun, it turned out to be a silver sycee. Given the weight of it, it could cover the expenses of the family for several years.
Earlier, the couple followed me into the house. They were frightened by the sword at first. But before they could do anything, a sudden fortune windfall dropped in front of their eyes. Startled, they stood in a daze for a while before returning to their senses.
Both terrified and blissful, they thanked her several times. They had seen her well dressed, so they probably had selfish interests of their own with their care in these few days. At this moment, although there was fear in them, they’d gotten what they wanted.
They’d gotten what they wanted, but I was thrown into confusion.
“Then, I shall leave now.” She didn’t dawdle. After offering a cupped fist salute once again, she turned over and was ready to leave. I’d no choice but to hold on to her sleeve, not letting go.
This action had scared the couple. In their eyes, she was someone they couldn’t offend. They demanded me to let go of her. Eventually, she got suspicious. Tilted her head down, she looked at me and asked: “What’s the matter?”
“I… I loathe to…”
Forget it. I’ve no time to waste.
Up to this moment, it would be better to go straight to the point. I clenched my teeth, still grasping her sleeve, not letting loose of my hands. With a thump, I went down on my knees.
“San’er wants to follow Aunt Ling and be your disciple!”
Yes, this was my plan.
Although I didn’t know how skilled she was in her martial arts, and whether her background was good or evil, now, she was the only hope that could take me out of this plight. I’d waited for six years in this sparsely populated remote mountain before I saw this opportunity. If I let this chance slip, I didn’t know when I’d meet the next person who could bring me hope.
It was now or never. I brought my head down, hoping to convey my sincerity.
The room fell into silence for a moment, and the couple was dumbfounded. They never thought their obedient, quiet San’er would have such a bold intention. I didn’t care what they thought. In their eyes, San’er was more like a labor and future betrothal gift. A son was what they’d always wanted.
But a sigh in the near distance made my heart sink.
“It’s rare to have such faith at a young age. It’s a pity…” she sighed. She grabbed my hand that was holding on her. Suddenly, I felt a slight pressure around my hand. A strange pain ran through my nerves. The pain was not intense, but it’s immensely piercing. “Too bad. You are good-looking, but your bone structure is too ordinary, and your natural endowment is average. You have no talent to inherit my mantle, I’m afraid…”
Upon hearing this, I ignored the pain on my hand and answered with a loud voice: “San’er daren’t to ask for the inheritance of Aunt Ling’s mantle. San’er is not greedy. I only hope to follow by Aunt Ling’s side, learn some skills to protect myself, never be at the mercy of anyone thenceforth, and not drift away with the current, so to not be sold to a stranger as concubine or slave in this future”
I was out of my mind. The acute pain, flustered urgency had made my brain heated and dizzy. I only wanted to get my thoughts across to her as fast as possible, so I didn’t realize that I’d poured out all the thoughts I had in these few years. Not until I heard a roar, I felt chills sending down my spine. Then, I broke out in a cold sweat.
The roar came from my dad. The claim about being concubine and slave had enraged him. Oblivious of the situation, he strode up, wanting to grab me: “Little San’er! From where did you hear these things?”
Groaning in secret, I felt myself lifted before I could even think of an answer.
After pulling myself together, I was already in her arms.
“What she said… is it true?” She didn’t even look at me while holding me in her arms. She lifted her chin, glaring down at the man standing near her in disdain as she flicked her sword slightly forward. The hilt was glowing with a cold glow.
Dad was afraid of her. His wife pulled him back a few steps in haste. A hue of red and white appeared on their faces. They stammered, trying to explain yet couldn’t come up with a word. I should be thankful that they were honest people—not so good at lying.
She had witnessed that exact moment, but she gave no reaction. After a short silence, she suddenly turned around and asked me: “What’s your name?”
I froze, then understood the next second and responded with some awkwardness: “They… just call me little San’er… they didn’t give me a name…” Although my voice was awkward and soft, joy inadvertently rose in my heart, throwing me in a flutter. Could it be…
As expected, the moment she heard this, she snorted coldly, glancing at the couple: “A six-year-old child without a name, what else do you have to say? I thought life in the mountain was difficult, so the kids couldn’t avoid hardship. Now it seemed like you two were not even treating her like your own!”
These words are straightforward and without mercy, rendering their face blanched, especially the dad. He was a boor in the mountain, but still, he was a man. Holding his breath, he seemed to turn his shame into anger. His tone had gradually become firmer, although he was afraid of martial artists. He reminded Aunt Ling that she was indebted to them despite everything and told her not to meddle in his family affairs. What was the matter about not giving a name to his child. It had nothing to do with others. His words had a reproach undertone of her being too nosy.
The more he said these, the more obvious the sneer at the corner Aunt Ling’s lips. While they were babbling, she looked at me. “San’er, I’ll give you a name. Would you accept it?”
Only parents can give their children a name.
Once a teacher, forever a mother.
I got out of her arms and kneeled in front of her: “Master, please give me a name.”
She reflected in silence, gazing out into the bamboo forest outside the window. Then I heard her voice saying: “The green bamboos are slim, but they stay strong in the wind and the rain. You’ll be called Zhu Xian.”
Before I could say anything, I felt my body lifted again. The wind blew on my face, and the moment I lifted my head, I saw the sky.
“I’ve taken your child. From now on, whether she’ll return, whether she’ll reconcile with you, or whether she’ll marry, it’s up to her to decide. She is no longer in anyone’s mercy in this world!”
It was as if I’d heard a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon.
Jianghu, as you may know, refers to the martial arts world of ancient China
Sycee, 元宝(yuánbǎo) is a type of boat-shaped gold or silver ingot currency used in ancient China.
Zhu Xian竹纤 literally means bamboo fiber or slim bamboo.