The Witch Nichang– Chapter 33
“San yatou, down here again, huh? Looks like you’ve traded a lot today.”
“Xiao San’er, Dr. Zhou always has something good to say about your goods. Where do you get them? Tell us too.”
“Hey, Miss San’er, just in time. Come have a look. Taken fresh out of the ground this morning, fresh and crisp. Take some home.”
There would always be someone greeting me walking down the road. All these years had passed, but it was still those same old familiar faces. Everything was the same, even the way they called me hadn’t changed. If not for the traces left by time on those faces, you would feel as if time was frozen here.
I was young back then—actually, it wasn’t a matter of being young. Back then, something was occupying my thoughts. I spent all my time thinking about how to escape an unfavorable fate and simply didn’t have time to care about anything else. Even though I often went to this village, I subconsciously detested everything here, whether it was good or bad, young or old, thinking those were the things I should leave behind together with fate, so apart from maintaining the proper manner, I also kept my distance.
Now that I was back with nothing to fear, I started to get more accepting, slowly getting acquainted with the people, and the sense of distance was far weaker now.
But after I got too close, it would sometimes get troublesome.
“Come, come here, Miss San’er. You must be thirsty, having come all the way here. Come have some tea. I’ve added some heal-all in it. It clears heat and improves eyesight, stimulates saliva and quenches thirst. Come, it’s my treat.” The woman from the herbal tea house next-door grabbed me before I was two steps out of the pharmacy. She dragged me inside fervently and sat me down, leaving me little room to refuse.
The woman was quite famous in the neighborhood, so I knew what she wanted to do. I smiled a little, not saying much, and drank my tea as I listened to her rambling about how good this guy from this family was and how great that guy from that family was, and it always ended with the same old cliché: “Miss San’er, say, you’re not that young anymore. It’s no good to be a maiden lady. You still have to get married no matter how good-looking you are, right? For women, it’s only right to have a family.”
When I saw her almost done talking, I smiled and replied with my most commonly used excuse: “I don’t dare to make any decision about my marriage without Master’s approval. Master’s got a big temper. If anyone is to be found guilty of deception, no one will be able to take it by then.”
I only found out after I came back that my parents had explained my disappearance as I had taken a master as my teacher by chance and had gone to learn the art in the mountains of immortals. The villagers were skeptical when they first heard it and seemed to have suspected in private that my parents had sold me, but it was someone else’s family business, anyway and far away from them, so it wasn’t long before they put it behind them.
Hence, when I returned ten years later, it caused quite a stir in the village. All the doubts were gone right away and replaced by infinite awe and admiration for the legendary immortal fate and teacher.
Sure enough, as soon as I said that, the woman over there started to look uneasy and didn’t know how to go on. She first complained a little: “Ay, this master of yours…you said she travels around, but how can she…” She broke off in the middle of her sentence, seemingly not daring to go on, then it turned into a sigh: “…This is going to hold you up. You said you want to wait for her to decide. How long do you have to wait? You don’t even know when she’ll come to visit you. Those immortals are unworldly, unlike us laities who’ll miss someone and don’t feel right if we don’t see them.”
I was using this as a reason to excuse myself, so these words were supposed to go in one ear and out the other, but somehow, the last part about missing someone stirred me up. For a moment, I fell into silence as I was holding the tea bowl.
I don’t miss her during the daytime, not a bit. Every day, I would only go outside and look at the stars alone when the night falls and silence prevails, like when I was a child, opening up myself, even allowing myself to miss her, to look back on the moments we were together from the start of our encounter, every detail of it, and every feeling that comes along with those details.
I told myself, when there is only concern and no bitterness every time I miss her, only warmth and no sweetness every time I look back on our memories, that is the day I can return.
Concern and warmth are affection, bitterness and sweetness are love. The former is something I want to give her, but the latter is unacceptable.
But time was ticking away, and two years had gone by in a blink of an eye. The sweetness could fade, but every time I missed her, the bitterness in my heart permeated and thickened, which threw me off and stressed me out. The time left for me wasn’t infinite. Aside from Lian’er’s resentment, I was counting on the fact that Lian’er wouldn’t get into trouble because she was young to allow myself to be headstrong once, but if I had mistaken something or something happened to her when I was away, then…
Uncertainty was wearing away my confidence day by day. If this went on, when would I be able to return to those two, to go back to being their Zhu Xian?
Unknowingly, I was caught up in my own emotions, which probably made me look not too friendly. Seeing this, the woman beside me quickly laughed and patted on my shoulder, appearing to be considerate, and said: “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Our Xiao San’er is so beautiful and has a master like an immortal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little late. Ah—” Suddenly, her eyes lit up. “Look, your pop is here. Heh, you really are the apple of his eyes. He gets worried every time you’re away.” She said, pointing in a direction as she smiled.
Looking up in the direction she pointed, I saw the man walking into the store with a simper on his face.
Putting aside my mind full of thoughts and getting a grip of my emotions, I stood up, walked to him, and asked plainly: “What brought you here?”
“Heh, heh, there was no one home when I got home after work. Then I remembered you said you were going to come down today…” The man was simpering, his hand fiddling with a few strands of white hair in his sideburn. “I’ve nothing to do anyway, so I thought I’d pick you up.”
“Oh…” I nodded and replied: “I’m also done with my business. Madam Wang treated me to some tea while I’m on my way back. Since you’re here, why don’t you sit down and have a bowl too.” With that, I brought him to the table. Without having to ask the artful woman, she already had a fresh bowl of tea ready on the table and brought along some melon seeds and snacks. As soon as she saw us sitting down, she jumped right into a conversation with my dad, like she was used to.
I sat at a side and didn’t butt in, quietly having my tea and listening to their conversation, getting lost in my own thoughts.
To be honest, I had never thought of coming back here. That time when I went down the mountain, coming back wasn’t even an option for me. My only impression of that house was cold and toil. By comparison, I would rather find a remote place, set up home, and lived alone, but since I had used this as an excuse to come down, it was better to pay a visit, so that it wasn’t a complete lie. With that self-comforting thought, I took a trip there. I was going to leave after taking a look, but I didn’t expect the situation would turn out to be a surprise.
The shabby house before me was shabbier than it was ten years ago. The man who I once called dad was all alone. He trembled the moment he saw me, and cloudy tears streamed down his face.
Only later did I learn that a turn of events had happened when I left. The nugget of silver that Master left as recompense was the trigger. After receiving that nugget of silver that could cover the household expenses of an ordinary family for a few years, coupled with a bit of savings, the woman wanted to move to a town outside the mountains. After all, not everyone wanted to live a destitute life in the mountains, but the man’s family had been hunters for generations. They had been living off the mountains. Naturally, he wouldn’t allow it. By the end, when the couple was at loggerheads with each other, the man gave the woman a punch. The next morning when he woke up, he found out his wife had disregarded their marriage and vanished with all the valuables in the house and never returned.
After hearing all these, I couldn’t think of much else other than lamenting the unpredictability of humans and that it was a mixed blessing. This man had lost his wife and daughters back to back and was too broke to afford remarriage, so from then on, he had lived alone for ten years. Now that he suddenly saw me return, the missing kinship had spurted in him, and he, a seven-footer, actually cried his eyes out and kept begging me to stay.
I didn’t actually dislike this hunter dad just because he wasn’t too bad to me then, and it was understandable in this era that he wanted a boy to carry on the family name. Seeing him all alone now, I had sympathy for him, so I stayed, thinking that I wouldn’t stay with him for long, and I would fulfill my duty if I helped him sort out his life over the next few years.
In the days that followed, I’d spent a little of my valuables to hire someone to repair the house and pick up some furniture. Once dad had regained his spirit, the kills he got every day from hunting were growing, and life was slowly getting better.
Honestly, the number of kills could be a few folds more if it was me who did the hunting, but humans all needed a purpose in life. I didn’t want to ruin the only confidence he had to be proud of. That was why I never went hunting. I would just go into the mountain off the beaten track from time to time to pick some high-quality herbs and sell them to the pharmacy to help support the house.
Living life like this was more peaceful than I expected, not at all as difficult as it was during my childhood.
But for some reason, I always felt a little uneasy about this peace.
Maybe it’s just me missing her too much, I thought as I shook my head and drank the last sip of the tea. I stood up, took out some coins for the tea, and hinted at my dad that it was getting late and I wished to get going soon. My dad quickly stood up when he heard it. The woman said a few words of courtesy to me. When she knew she couldn’t decline my payment, she was happy to accept it. Then she warmly escorted us out of the store while saying we should come here more often.
I was about to leave when a guy scrambled in and ran into my dad, like a headless fly, his mouth yapping: “Bad news! Bad news!”
Before we could say anything, the woman scowled as she saw the guy had bumped into her customers. She twisted the guy’s ear with arms akimbo and hooted: “Wu Liu, what a guy. What’s the bad news? Can you afford to pay if you hurt my customers?”
I recognized Wu Liu. He was the village’s well-known fleet-footer. Though he was grimacing and hollering in pain, having his ear twisted, his eyes didn’t stop scanning around. When his eyes landed on me, he quickly broke away from the claws as if seeing a savior and came over in a few hops, and said urgently: “Good Lord, you’re really here, Miss San’er. I’ve been looking for you. Quick, follow me. Something‘s happened!”
When I heard it, I furrowed my brows and asked: “What? I’ve told you many times, if anyone has an argument with someone, go to the local police or the village chief. There’s no use coming to me.” Because I had shown a little of my skills a few times in the two years I had been back, plus the previous rumor, the people in this small town had seen me as an unfathomable master. They liked to come to me for resolution whenever there were any disputes, fights, or brawls, which was downright annoying.
“No, no, no, this is something big. A girl was being snatched!” Wu Liu said as he repeatedly waved his hand. After taking a breath, he quickly carried on: “I don’t know where the foreigner came from. When he saw Shitou’s childhood friend who was betrothed to him since she was a child, the one who lived in the neighboring village, he said he wanted to make her his wife! Shitou and his brothers fought with him, but they were knocked down in minutes. I was thinking you seem to be in town today, so I ran all the way here to find you! This is something huge!”
He finished his words in one breath and crouched down, puffing and panting, leaving the three of us looking at each other.
I wasn’t a nosy person who liked to poke my nose into other people’s business. As long as it didn’t concern me, it was better to be an invisible person in those disputes. Only for one thing: it bothered me a little to see a vulnerable woman in this world suffer.
So after a moment of hesitation, I replied firmly: “Let’s go have a look.”
I who decided to meddle in others’ affairs at that time didn’t expect this seemingly minor incident would later get myself, even Master and Lian’er who were at Mount Hua, miles away from here, involved in a dangerous situation.
yatou means “young girl” or “servant girl.” It’s a term of endearment or a derogatory term, depending on the context. In this case, it’s a term of endearment.