The Witch Nichang– Chapter 22
“I can’t sleep tonight. My mind drifted back to the past again. I left without saying goodbye that time; it’s more of an act of spite. Every time I wake up from my dream, I miss you dearly. I regret it, but I am like an arrow that has left the bow—there’s no turning back. A twenty-year promise is beyond the horizon. Today, I’m cutting my fingertip and writing this for later reunion. If fate let us meet again, that proves our love as husband and wife is true.”
Standing in the stone chamber, I was reading the dark red text on the scroll by the dim oil lamp. Most texts were much like this paragraph, no beginning nor an end. The days were written at intervals. The longest gap between entries was more than a year. Instead of saying it was a diary, it would be more apt to call it Master’s notebook for her feelings.
Even though it was so fragmentary, reading up to here, I gradually figured out some outlines of the recorded events from between the lines.
It turned out that Master was already married and seemed like her husband was also a skilled swordsman, and they had a deep affection for each other. Master once told me she wanted to merge and refine the strengths of a hundred schools to create a unique school of swordsmanship. Now it seemed it was her husband’s idea. He even seemed to have joked about it with Master. It was too bad that both of them were sword masters, and Master was a prideful one, so the joke immediately incensed her. She declared to create her own school and compete against each other in twenty years to see whose was better. After that, she left without saying goodbye, taking the sword manuals her husband had gathered with her. Knowing that her husband was looking for her, she even wandered around to avoid him in the first few years. That was when we met and followed by a year of wandering.
Later, there was no more news of Master’s husband searching for her. Master thought he must have given up, so she settled down in Mount Hua with me and devoted herself to refining her swordsmanship. But there was love, after all. As the days went by, she would still miss him and reflect on the past. It was only her feelings were insignificant. Hence with blood as a channel for her feelings, she wrote down these words to be witnessed in the future.
Master was unbending. Even with blood as her feelings, all these entries were written short and simple, mostly just a few words. It did not take me long to finish them. Apart from these blood-written texts, the things recorded later on were some sword training’s ideas, progress, and stuff that happened in life, and even the course of taking Lian’er and me as her disciples was recorded at the end.
I finished it in a short while, and that was how I happened to learn about the whole story. It was hard for me to not get emotional. In those days when I was wandering around with Master, I thought there must be some kind of Jianghu feud stories about her, but her story turned out to be so simple. All because of a joke and an act of spite.
For a moment, I was so engrossed in my feelings that I forgot there was someone else waiting beside me with eager eyes.
It was probably the tacit understanding developed back then when I was reading the medical book. Whenever I was reading something, especially something useful, Lian’er would usually wait patiently and would not make a fuss or rush me. But now that I was still silent after finishing it, she finally got antsy. She tugged at my sleeve and asked: “Hey, how’s it? What do those fancy words say? Are they useful?”
I shook my head. After giving a little thought, I told her exactly what was written in it combined with my understanding of it. Although much of what was written were Master’s inner thoughts, they indeed had nothing to do with her preferences or anything like that.
Of course, she was not happy to hear that and seemed rather unhappy about it, staring stone-faced at the scroll for some time. Then she suddenly looked up at me, seeming bewildered aside from looking unhappy: “You mean Master likes another person besides us? She loves this man? More than us?”
“Silly girl…” I thought she was upset about something, and I was thinking about how to comfort her. But a question from her that came out of nowhere amused me instead.
“What are you so upset about? Master’s love for us is that of a master and disciples, but for him, it’s that of a man and a woman. They’re two different kinds of love.”
“Love between a man and a woman?” Lian’er understood the relationship between master and disciple, so she had no questions about that. Instead, she skipped right to the latter kind. She tilted her head and wondered: “How does the love between a man and a woman look like? What’s the difference?”
This was…not an easy question to answer.
For an instant, I almost knew how parents feel when confronted with an innocent and awkward question from their child, so I just went with what most parents would do in response—giving a vague answer: “Hmm…well, you’re still young, Lian’er. You’ll understand when you get older…”
Somehow, I felt a sudden thud in my heart as I spoke!
Will you naturally understand the love between a man and a woman once you get older? Yeah, didn’t you realize that before?
This child beside me was slowly growing from a girl to a young lady. Even though she was just twelve-year-old, in this world where people could get married at the age of thirteen or fourteen, a love relationship was not too far off for her.
But…who would be the man?
I had been calling her Lian’er all this while. She was our Lian’er. The Lian’er, who was abandoned by her father, raised by a mother wolf, and brought back by us from the wolf’s den by chance. That was what I had told myself.
I had been calling her that all these years. I almost forgot she had another name.
She was once so small, a teeny-tiny wolf kid. At that time, I could not associate her with her name at all, so I forgot about it soon after. In a couple more years, I had completely put it aside and never thought of it again.
And yet? Look at the person standing beside me right now. The scene by the creek flashed before my eyes. She was still adorable, but now there were other words that can represent her. And those words were used to describe women, such as slender and gorgeous.
Having the poise of the autumn water and the look of jade, she was now closer to the legendary lady who towered above the world.
So? There was a lady named Lian Nichang. Then would there be that…that man? A man named Zhuo Yihang, who would hurt her, fail her, and burden her for half of her life?
I did not know, and I did not want to know either. It was best to never know. I felt irritated for no reason. Regardless of whether I believed it or not, I admitted that as soon as I tried to think about such a possibility that Lian’er would know such a person, know the taste of love, be hurt by it, suffer from it, and even end up…, I felt terrible. An indescribable feeling overwhelmed me.
After all these years, I had consciously or unconsciously held this child deep in my heart, even deeper than Master. Master had her past, her experiences, and someone she loved. And she, like I, had no attachments in this world and seldom relied on anyone else. We saw each other as a presence that would always be there for one another.
Maybe, this was why it shook me so much to think about it compared to a few years ago. I could no longer accept such a possibility—the possibility that someone might hurt Lian’er in the future and hurt her so deeply, so badly, so absurdly.
I took a deep breath, slowly letting out all the stale air in my chest. And yet, so what if I could not accept it?
I think a lot, so it is not uncommon for me to halt in the middle of a conversation. The person beside me had something in her mind, and she was a short-tempered one. When she saw that I was not talking, she did not bombard me with questions, but went rummaging around the chamber, perhaps with the thought of not losing any time.
As my gaze followed the nimble figure, I smiled wryly. I could not be telling her: “Lian’er, whenever you meet a man surnamed Zhuo in the future, you must stay far away from him and never talk to him, nor can you like him, etc.” If I really said so, I could guarantee she would pay more attention to people with this surname instead.
For now, I could only take one step at a time.
But I was sure of one thing—I want to protect her. My Lian’er could be the one who captivated the world and rose above it, but she would never be the heartbroken woman whose hair turned white overnight in the story.