The Witch Nichang– Chapter 35
An Old Affair
Despite having a bad feeling about it, I still cupped my fist after pulling myself together and said politely: “My teacher indeed settled in that area, but I don’t know if she’s the person you’re referring to.”
The woman rolled her eyes and spoke dryly: “What? Do you have another master?”
The way she spoke was dripping with sarcasm, contrary to her righteousness when she lectured her son, but considering how common it was for so-called masters to have a peculiar temper, I made nothing of it and spoke my mind: “I’m slow. I’m grateful to Master for not giving up on me. How dare I divide my attention when I can’t even keep up with what I’m being taught?”
“Then that’s it.” Perhaps because I was being polite throughout, her face lightened up a little, the corner of her lips lifted a little, and she said: “Although your skills aren’t quite there yet, your style and moves are the same as your Master. Do you think I’d miss those?”
“I dare not think so.” I bowed, keeping my fist cupped, and suggested: “Since you recognized these, are you perhaps…an old friend of my master?”
Though I asked her that, I didn’t really think she was Master’s friend. If I didn’t know Master’s secret, there was still a possibility that she might be. Since I knew Master was avoiding her husband, she would never tell anyone about her hideout, and the fact that no one had ever come up the mountain to visit Master proved that.
So I just wanted to ask her that before making judgments and guesses based on her answer.
“Not really. I’ve only seen her once.” She didn’t lie to me. Even though her voice was sarcastic and arrogant, her answer was honest. “That was a few years ago. I missed the lodge for the night when I passed through Mount Hua, so I was camping out in the wild. Who knew I came across a master. I saw she and I were of the same age. For once, I wanted to know her out of a fellow feeling. Who knew she didn’t appreciate it, saying that she was in a rush down the mountain and refused my kindness. It’s intolerable. After exchanging a few words, we got into a fight, a fierce one. Both of us came out even after a hundred rounds. Now that I think of it, that was fun, hahaha!”
She seemed to have thought of the fun part. She cracked up as she spoke. I seemed to be listening, but on the inside, I was caught in indecision.
What she said doesn’t sound like a lie, but Master rarely goes down the mountain, not to mention going down overnight. If there is one time I can remember, that is…
As if to prove my guess, the woman resumed after she was done laughing. “Unfortunately, she called a halt in the middle of the fight, saying that her disciple was sick and was waiting for her to get the medicine, that she couldn’t stop for too long and promised to fight again another day. I reckoned she was a person of character because she valued her disciple, so I agreed. Who knew…” At that, her face fell, and she was staring at me with her icy eyes, saying eerily: “Who knew after that, I’d waited for her for several days and never seen her again! Girl, what’d you say? Isn’t your master a little untrustworthy?”
Since she had said that, it had proven what she said was true. I gave a full bow and said sincerely: “What you said was right. To tell you the truth, I’m the disciple Master talked about. I was very ill at that time. After my teacher brought the medicine back, she had stayed by my side for a few days before I got better. Maybe that’s why she had missed the date. I hope you understand and don’t blame Master for that.”
While I was sincerely asking her, she stamped her staff on the ground and snorted: “It’s useless now whether I understand her. It’s a fact she shirked from our fight. I‘d wanted to seek this dishonest person out after that, but Mount Hua’s too big, so everything was in vain. Instead, it became an issue for me. But nobody escapes the divine judgment. I didn’t expect I’d come across her disciple a few years later. I don’t know where she’s hiding, but you do, right?”
“What’re you going to do?” I couldn’t just answer her, so I threw a question back at her.
“Isn’t it obvious? I want you to take me there and let your master carry out what she had promised back then and have a good fight. Not too much to ask, is it?”
“What you said is reasonable…” I looked down and continued, neither servilely nor overbearingly: “But as a disciple, how can I reveal her hideout without her permission? I hope you can understand.”
When she heard my answer, she began to cackle wickedly, her phoenix eyes exuding eerie coldness, and she muttered: “At this point, do you think you have any choice?” As soon as she finished her words, she swept her staff on the ground, sending a few small stones shooting over at lightning speed like arrows!
When I heard the familiar, sharp, air-piercing sound, I daren’t slow down, but this time, she meant to catch me cold, so they came in full fury, faster than before. Although I had been on guard, it was too late for me to dodge them, so I could only grit my teeth and withstand the attack. I gathered my qi to my arms to block. When I finally blocked all the flying stones and my arms were aching, I saw a shadow flying close like a ghost from the corner of my eyes, stretching out its hand, and was about to seize me. My heart shivered. From the stones flying over to me blocking all of them, it all happened in a split second. A second before, my opponent was obviously dozens of feet away, and before I knew, she was right next to me. I couldn’t help but be petrified. It was too late for me to react, so I just blocked out of instinct, then I felt a grip on my wrist, my pulse being taken hold of, and I lost all my strength right after that.
Such an instant defeat was expected. It couldn’t be helped. From the outset, I didn’t have the confidence to beat her, a person who could stand against a hundred rounds with Master. I resisted because I had to.
I accepted my defeat in peace, and she caught me with ease. Things had come to this without a ripple, but right about this time, a shout rang out: “You dirty old bitch! Let go of Miss San’er!” I turned around in shock and saw Wu Liu swinging his arms and charging over bare-knuckle.
I knew the crowd had mostly cleared out, but some were still watching the situation here. Among those, there were three who came along with me. I just didn’t expect him to be so bold at such a moment. It was too late for me to stop him. Before he charged near, the man at a slight distance who was dejected and fell silent after being lectured just now suddenly brisked up and yelled: “How dare you insult my mom!” He went up to Wu Liu with a kick, sending him flying to a side.
Although Wu Liu was thrown to the ground, he didn’t suffer any injury. The man obviously showed more mercy after being lectured. Who knew a person turned up behind Wu Liu, carrying a yoke from God knows where, hollering: “Back off, scoundrel! Don’t touch my daughter!” The yoke was brought down as he yelled and bashed on the man’s leg that had yet to pull back after kicking someone.
Even the red flower dame was shocked at the turn of events, let alone me. When I saw who was coming, I blurted out: “Stop!” But how could I stop the man who went berserk after taking a beating. He was trained in martial arts, after all. The hit was painful for him, but nothing serious. He whirled around and kicked with another leg, sending the person who came at him flying far off into the distance and hit the ground.
“Dad!” I shouted without thinking and ran over right after breaking away. The woman didn’t stop me when she heard what I called him and came along with me instead. I helped my dad up, who fell on the ground and couldn’t get up while the woman probed his body from head to toe with great speed. When she was done, she said to me: “Don’t worry. No internal injury, just a broken bone in his left leg. Find him a good doctor, and he’ll be fine in a few months.”
Seeing such an act from her, I didn’t know whether I should be mad or thankful, so I just nodded and called my dad. Then he slowly regained consciousness. When he saw the woman beside me as soon as he opened his eyes, he glared at her right away with his eyes ablaze with anger and snarled: “Scram! As long as I have a breath left in me, I’ll never let you hurt my daughter!”
While I worried his words would anger the woman, the red flower dame rolled her eyes indifferently and said coldly: “You ungrateful old man. I’m just borrowing your daughter to lead the way. Do I look like I’m going to hurt her? If I wanted to hurt her, how could she be looking after you right now?”
My dad was startled when he heard that. He turned around to look at me while trembling. “Is it true, San’er? Don’t…don’t be afraid!” He asked. Since things had come to this, I could only nod and say: “It’s true. She was my master’s old…old friend. She was testing me on what I’ve learned so far when she attacked me. She’s looking for Master. Wants me to lead the way. I’m just going to take a trip. About half a month, or over a month at most. Nothing dangerous.”
Dad was still worried after he heard that. He had been sweating profusely because his leg injury had acted up, but still holding on to my hand and making sure again and again. “Will…will you really be right back?”
I fell silent for a moment but quickly snapped back and smiled at him, saying: “I’ll be right back. Just take care of yourself. I’ll ask the villagers to take care of you for now until I’m back again to look after you. Don’t worry, dad.”
I had called him dad countless times, mostly perfunctory. Even the reason I stayed back two years ago was mostly out of pity and obligation, but in the past two years, he had been treating me with care, plus he had risked his life for me just now. His desire to care for his child was palpable, so this “dad”—whether he understood or not—was the first time I had ever said from the bottom of my heart.
Though I didn’t know if I could keep the promise.
After that, I took some time to briefly explain to the concerned villagers around and particularly asked Wu Liu and Madam Wang, who came with me, to look after my dad. After getting their assurances, I told them the things that needed attention and watched them carrying my dad away before I turned back and walked over to the mother and son waiting at a distance.
Seeing that I came over by myself, the red flower dame nodded with satisfaction and said: “Not bad, not bad. Know to swim with the tide, unflustered by changes. Girl, it’s commendable that you understand these at this age. You’ll be somebody in the future.”
I cut the crap and said calmly: “I can do as you say, but I have a condition.”
The woman raised her head and said: “Go on.”
“I don’t want to go with him.” I lifted my hand, pointing to the man next to her who called himself Gongsun Lei, and said: “Due to the various events before, I trust you but not him. Besides, he’s hurt my father just now. According to filial piety, I can’t be together with him in peace. Hope you understand and grant me my wish.”
When that was said, the red flower dame sank into reflection, and before she said anything, the man flipped and roared at me: “You bitch! You bitch! How can you do this! What have I done to you!” After saying that, he thought for a while and thought he might have done something to me, so he went to beg the woman again. “Mom, mom, you can’t do this. I finally got out. It’s been only a few days. You can’t send me back!”
It would have been better if he didn’t say that. Once he said that, the pondering fine dame snapped: “How dare you bring it up! You’ve broken every single rule you promised before you got out! Forget it. Now I have a serious business to attend to. No time to bother about you. You return to the house at Tannan right now. Stay in and reflect. You aren’t allowed to leave the house. I’ll be back once I’m done. If you disobey, you’ll be punished for unfiliality!”
The man was a bastard, but he seemed to be afraid of being called unfilial. His body shivered when he heard it, but he wasn’t happy about it and protested: “Mom, don’t fall for her trick. After she sends me off, there’ll only be you and her on this trip. It’s such a long way. Maybe she’ll catch a break and slip away, and you won’t be able to find her!”
Fortune favors the fools. Although what he said was inaccurate, he was somewhat right about my intention.
However, when the red flower dame heard it, she just sneered unaffectedly and said: “What a joke. I’ve crossed more bridges than all the roads you’ve walked. Slipping away? The girl can try if she dares. See how easy it was. Besides…” At that, she stared at me again, smiling even more wickedly: “She can run, but she can’t hide. The girl seems to be really close to the people in the village, right? If she dares to play tricks, she can’t blame me if they take the hit.”
I kept calm and let her stare at me, head staying low, eyes looking obedient, not saying a word, trying to look docile, as if I had acquiesced in what she said.
If possible, I wanted it to be a win-win situation for both sides and would do my best to seek a satisfactory result for both sides.
But among the two, the priority was undoubtedly Master and Lian’er.