The Witch Nichang- Chapter 20
Actually, what…what was I panicking about?
Weird. By the time I realized what I was thinking, my hands were still on my ears. The skin was hot, and the beating in my chest was much faster than usual.
I reached the creek bank in a few steps and squatted, scooping up some water to wet my ears. A cold sensation instantaneously rushed up, and with the wind blowing against my face, the refreshing feeling spread all over my body. Then I stood up and softly let out a long breath.
That was right. Just now, I was just…taken by surprise.
I had once hiked past a small village, and a few naked children suddenly sprang out of a corner. I was taken by surprise that time, so…so was this time.
I had never lived in a community before and never been to places like bathhouses, so I wasn’t used to seeing naked bodies. Master and I were the ones who bathed Lian’er when we first brought her back and had done similar things a few more times since then, but we hadn’t bathed her since she was a little older. It had been so long. It was only natural to be surprised seeing her nak…em unprepared, wasn’t it…
My heart gradually calmed down when I thought of it this way. I shook the water off my hands and brushed the corner of my clothes, but was still standing with my back to the other side, unwilling to turn over.
I didn’t look back until a hand patted on my shoulder and a “Hey—” came from behind me.
But I frowned the moment I turned around.
The person behind me was now almost as tall as I was. Her facial features had become more and more exquisite over the years. Unfortunately, her temperament remained the same. A few wisps of hair on her forehead was dripping, and her clothes were still wet, but she didn’t care, draped them over her body, and walked over barefoot to meet me.
“Why are your clothes wet? Weren’t you wearing nothing just now? Or did you slip and fall into the water before?” I pulled her over and checked on her from head to toe, not seeing anything unusual.
“It’s all because of you.” She pouted and answered placidly: “They were dry at first, but you were yelling at me to put them on, so I went ahead and put them on. Now you’re complaining when I do so.”
When I heard that, I rolled my eyes at her, not bothering to twaddle with her, and replied casually: “Okay, okay, it’s my fault. I should have reminded you that you can’t put on your clothes when your body is wet, that you need to dry off first.” Yet I was pulling her away from the tree’s shade towards the rocky bank where we could get some sun.
She was satisfied after getting the better of me verbally and followed me with a smile. It wasn’t until we reached the rocky bank and stood still that she asked with curiosity: “Why did you pull me over? What’s the difference between talking over here and over there?”
Why? To get some sun. I pulled her over to stand on a flat boulder and responded as I fixed her loose sash: “It’s easy for you to sneak out earlier. Master’s looking for you, so she ordered me to look for you, but by the look of you now, you’d better dry off first, or else you’ll make her angry again when you’re back.”
Standing in the sun, she said nothing, just cozily closed her eyes, and spread her arms like she was going to let me fix her up at will.
It was mid-summer, and her body temperature was a little higher than average, so she was wearing only a light-colored unlined garment now, which was made of the softest fabric we could find at the bottom of the mountain. The thin material gave the wearer a graceful look, but that was exactly why I noticed an…issue when I started fixing her clothes.
Her clothes’ fabric was too thin. She had put them on when her body was wet, so her clothes were soaked through now. It was bad enough having the clothes clung to her body, and there was the fact that it was light-colored. I didn’t notice it when standing in the shade, but now that we were standing in the sun, I could see everything under her clothes, even the color of her skin was apparent.
I was fine before I noticed it. But I felt weird again now that I took notice of it. What I had seen just now somehow surfaced in my mind. Although it was just a glimpse of memory, her shapely fairness stayed in my mind.
We had always been together day and night and had been growing up together. Perhaps, that was why I hadn’t paid much attention to her changes. It was only now that it dawned on me that the child’s body had gradually shown the curves of a young girl. But she was only twelve years old, wasn’t this development a little…?
My face heated up somehow when I realized what I was thinking. She happened to be fixing her clothes. The transparent fabric could barely cover anything, and its blurriness added to my embarrassment instead.
I averted my gaze from her and hurried up, trying to get it done as soon as possible.
As the saying goes, a fool’s haste is no speed. The more I think about it, the more troubles I ran into. Because I wasn’t looking, there was a knot that I didn’t tie it right, so when I pulled from both ends, the sash not only didn’t tighten, it loosened instead. Two small objects fell out from the sash’s interlining. Before I could see what they were, they had dropped onto the rocks and were rolling towards the water.
It all happened so suddenly. Before I could react, Lian’er’s eyes had gaped open; she wheeled around without looking and caught the objects with just a scoop before it fell into the rapids.
Then, I heard a splash, and the water was splattering everywhere.
“Lian—Lian’er! Are you alright?” My heart skipped a beat. As I stared at the water, I saw her emerge from the water before I could finish my words, shaking off the water on her head like a pup, and waded ashore, dripping.
I went to her in a hurry.
Once ashore, she ignored everything else and opened her palm first to check on the things in it. I supposed she had made sure they were fine, so she looked relieved. She smiled to herself and looked up at me, puckering her face and pursing her lips as if she was about to throw a fit. But she thought better of it.
I didn’t care what she was thinking and quickly wrung the water out of her clothes for her. They were just wet before, and I figured they would dry off if she stayed in the sun for a while, but well, she was drenched like a drowned rat now.
I was irritated, yet I didn’t know what to say. Besides, I had no right to blame her because I also had something to do with what just happened, so I could only keep it to myself. I silently led her to a boulder’s edge to sit down, took off her braid first, and let her long, dripping hair down. After slightly drying it, I went around to her front to take off her clothes.
She had no problem with me letting down her hair, but when she saw me reaching out to unbutton her clothes, she pouted and asked: “What’re you doing?”
“Your clothes are dripping. Beware of getting rheumatism in the future if you keep them on. Besides, it dries faster if you take them off.” I answered her plainly, not caring if she understood what rheumatism was. My hands kept unbuttoning her clothes. I didn’t feel awkward at this moment as I was piqued and stripped her clean swiftly.
I wasn’t embarrassed, and she was even less embarrassed than I was. She just symbolically protested and let me do my thing. After I was done, she stretched and moved herself to a dry boulder by the side. Like the wolf in the distance, she lay down and curled up cozily under the sun; her hands were still playing with the two small objects.
That was what I saw when I looked back after spreading the wet clothes out to dry on another boulder. I couldn’t stand looking at her even if I wasn’t embarrassed. I went over, took off my coat, and was about to put it on her. Unlike Lian’er with high body temperature, I knew my body was weak, and the temperature difference between day and night in the mountains was huge, so as long as it wasn’t too warm, I would put on a coat even in summer, lest I caught a cold. In the end, it was me who suffered.
She didn’t mind anything I did before. Only when I took off my coat and was about to put it on her did she start acting against me and refused to accept it no matter what. I cajoled her for some time. Finally, only after I wiped the sweat on my forehead to prove that it was warm now and that I didn’t need the coat did she take it over reluctantly and draped it over her shoulders.
It was a little quiet for the rest of the time. We sat side by side in the sun, listening to the babbling of the creek, talking to each other from time to time while waiting for her hair and clothes to dry. There was no such thing as an endless talk between people who spent their days and nights together. More often than not, we were just being together in silence. I covered my mouth and yawned idly. From the corner of my eyes, I saw the things she had been holding, and that caught my attention.
If it were before, I might have hesitated for a bit, but we had fewer qualms about each other now, so when the thought came to my mind, I asked her straight away: “Lian’er, what’s so important in your hand? You went out of your way to catch it just now.”
When she heard that, she looked slightly hesitant as if she didn’t know if she should just say it, but she still opened her hand in the end and showed me what was in it.
What lay in her hand were just two stones, similar to those pebbles on the rocky bank, but their colors were pure, one black, one white. At first glance, it was easy to mistake them for jades. While the shape was apparently carved by hand, the carving seemed a bit…
“I made them.” She was hesitant before she showed them to me, but now she sounded proud: “It’s Master’s birthday in a few days. You secretly made something for her last year, so it’s my turn to make something for her this year.”
“Ah!” I called out. If she hadn’t mentioned it, I would have forgotten about it.
When I came into this world, I only knew I was born in winter; I never cared which day it was, much less celebrated it. Besides, the rules here seemed to be a little different: they only celebrated their birthday at certain ages. I never bothered to understand it, and Master never cared about it, as if we had naturally forgotten about it.
Of course, Lian’er wouldn’t understand something we didn’t care about, not until last year when we went down the mountain together and met a country gentleman celebrating his seventieth birthday. It was a lively scene, and that was when Lian’er got curious. With Master and I explaining it to her, she somewhat understood it. After that, she kept asking for our birthday. I didn’t know mine anyway, so I just answered frankly, but Master, both disdainful of lying to coax her and unable to resist the child’s insistence, finally had no choice but to tell her her birthday.
When she told Lian’er, I was listening in by the side. Subconsciously, I did the math and realized it was soon. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know, but it was always a bit of a concern if I did. However, I didn’t know the rules, so I had no idea what was the right thing to do. I ended up going to a kiln maker at the foot of the mountain, begged him to let me make my own mug, and gave it to Master respectfully.
These were all trivial matters. I didn’t do it to please anyone. It was not even a birthday celebration. I just wanted to take the opportunity to show my inexpressible gratitude to Master. Who knew Lian’er would get mad when she found out and blamed me for not taking her along. She got so furious that she wouldn’t talk to me for days. It took me a lot of coaxing to quench her anger. I thought it was over, but it turned out she had always remembered it.
Since I knew she cared, I didn’t want to tease her on this matter. I took a serious look at the stones on her palm and praised with a smile: “You made them yourself? Nice work. They’re…pretty.”
When she heard my praise, she lit up. Holding one in each hand, she stuck them in front of me and said with pride: “They’re beautiful, aren’t they? It took me a lot of time to find such beautiful ones, and they’re a pair!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Who on earth gives their elder something that comes in a pair? Others might think it’s for her sweetheart…well, Lian’er didn’t know what a sweetheart was yet.
While I was poking fun at her to myself, the child continued: “I’ll give one of these to Master, and when it snows in the winter, I’ll give the other one to you. Though you don’t know when you were born, it’s in winter after all, right?”
I’ve reached my Kofi goal!! I’ll update another chapter by the end of this week as a reward. Thanks for everyone who supported me on Kofi. Every bit helps and means a lot to me. Love y’all <3