The Witch Nichang– Chapter 36
After the departure, the journey went smoothly, except Gongsun Lei, with indignation and dejection on his face, parted with us at the border of the two provinces. After some time of traveling day and night, I finally saw the familiar mountain range from afar.
At the start of the journey, I could see the red flower dame was still a little cautious of me, but my good behaviors and attentiveness along the way were probably to her satisfaction, especially I was consciously being respectful and looking after her throughout our journey, which she appreciated despite her peculiar temper, so slowly we were getting along well.
Therefore, she agreed when I suggested we should stay for the night before going up the mountain tomorrow since it was getting a little late.
We came to the town where I used to pick up stuff. It had been two years since I last visited here, and it had gotten busier. The once remote areas on the outskirts had expanded to become a part of the main street. Many stores that were not there before had sprung up. For certain reasons, I had chosen a new inn by the outskirts, but I didn’t expect it would get in my way instead.
“Sorry—” The bellboy was nodding and bowing as he looked at the book, a pair of small eyes darting back and forth. “There are many travelers lately. Our humble inn is full. There’s only one room left. How about—”
After hearing the usual line I was somewhat tired of hearing, I heard an answer that went with it before I could say anything. “Nevermind. We’ll take that.”
This isn’t good, I said to myself, but I couldn’t appear to be too hasty, so I just crinkled my brows and said to the fine dame: “Why don’t we go to another inn. There’s no need for us to cram in one room.”
She threw a frosty glance at me and said: “What? You don’t like this old lady?”
“Not at all.” I quickly answered. “I’ve explained it to you on the road. It’s because I’m not used to sleeping with other people. It’s hard for me to fall asleep when there’s someone beside me, so I hope it can be two rooms. Otherwise, I’m afraid that you can’t get rest when I’m tossing and turning.”
“Girl, I saw you’re being deferential to me on the way here, so I’m going to be honest with you.” The corners of the fine dame’s lips curled. “The more deferential you are, though I like it, the more worried I am. Since Heaven has left this place with one room, you and I should stay together for the last night, even if that means being wronged as a wretch. Unless you have something to hide.”
“That’s a strong word. I was just thinking that we’re going up the mountain tomorrow, so I don’t want to disturb your rest. If you say so, then I’d be glad to.” I cupped my fist and replied calmly, controlling myself not to give away anything. The older, the wiser. I thought I had somewhat gained her trust, but it all came to naught in the end.
Even so, it didn’t mean there would be no chance anymore.
The bellboy was shrewd. When we started talking, he didn’t interfere, and now when he saw our conversation had come to an end, he was quick to pick up and smooth things over. “Ladies, no worries. Although it’s just a room, its inside was spacious. I’ll take a few men to put up another bed. I’ll make sure you won’t disturb each other at night and have a good night’s sleep.”
With such attentive hospitality, the matter was settled. We followed the bellboy to a room on the left side of the second floor, and he pushed open the door. The room was indeed clean and spacious. The bellboy didn’t lie. He left after making the tea but returned again before long with another two men and some stuff. First, they moved the small cabinet beside the window to make some room. Then they started to get busy, putting together the bed frame and laying cushions on it, looking like they were giving their all.
While they were busy with their work, we stayed on the other side of the room. Perhaps thinking there would be a fierce fight tomorrow, the red flower dame sat on the bed cross-legged to meditate and rest without saying much. In this case, I couldn’t do anything on my own either, so I sat at the wooden table beside the bed with her and went over tonight’s plan twice in my head but daren’t think about it too much. Afraid that my face would give away something, I let my mind wander off.
Though I said I let my mind wander off, all I was thinking was what was in front of me.
Apart from thinking of a plan, I had tried hard to jog my memories while we were on our way here. I couldn’t be sure if this world was the same as the world in the book, but when it came to the crunch, I wanted to grab on to something, so I couldn’t help but try to dig something out, hoping I could remember snippets of the story to get rid of the adverse situation. At least, I wanted to find out what was happening now or who I was dealing with.
But after mulling over it on our way here, I couldn’t remember there was such a character. I had tried every means to dig into her. For example, I asked for her name in the name of courtesy. When she was finally willing to tell me, she just blinked and said: “You either call me madam or Gongsun Daniang.”
Fine, I remember there was this name “Gongsun Daniang.” But unfortunately, she clearly wasn’t the lady of the Tang Dynasty, the beauty by the name of Gongsun, who caused a great sensation with her sword dance. So I could only sit down in frustration. My brain was turning into mush.
Even so, I wasn’t going to give up so easily because this concerned the safety of Master, even Lian’er’s.
So as the time passed while I was sitting, my mind started to drift again. My eyes floated to the person meditating on the bed, especially that red flower sitting on her temple. Somehow, I felt the flower was hinting at something. It wasn’t uncommon for women to be gaily dressed in this world. Although she wasn’t young, she was youthful-looking and glamorous. There was nothing odd about wearing a flower, but maybe because it was too conspicuous, so the longer I looked at it, the odder I felt.
Holding up my head, I was iterating “red flower…red flower…red flower” to myself, hoping to use it as an opening. As I was doing so, “Red Flower Society” popped up in my head, unbidden, making me shake my head and tap myself in the head wryly.
I never thought such a tiny movement would prompt the person meditating on the bed with her eyes closed to speak.
“Girl, why are you tapping your head?”
I was startled when I heard these obscure words. I looked up at the woman. She never opened her eyes. How could she tell what I was doing so clearly? I hesitated for a moment before deciding to be frank and express my doubts.
“How…how can you see me without opening your eyes?”
“Duh!” She was still in her meditation posture, sneering with her eyes closed. “You’re still a newbie. Of course, you don’t know this. If you rely only on your eyes to see everything in the world, can you really see it all?” She paused, seemingly reluctant to
go further into it, and was back again to the question. “You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you tapping your head?”
When dealing with these seasoned masters, you should never lie when you can. I answered honestly, holding nothing back. “I was just guessing who you are just now. I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how much I tried. That’s why I was tapping my head. Nothing more.”
She cackled for a while. “Consider yourself lucky that you’re being honest. Your eyes had stayed on me for a long time. I don’t believe it if you say what you were thinking has nothing to do with me. Just what is there to guess about me. Didn’t I tell you my name?”
“I’m slow and out of touch. Although I got your name, I was still clueless and didn’t dare to keep asking. That’s why I let my mind run wild. Hope you wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh? What have you thought of? Tell me.”
“I was just thinking…” I hesitated for a while. Feeling that it should be fine to tell, I said: “I was just thinking the red flower on your temple seems to have some special…”
Once the words were out, her eyes flicked open, a pair of sharp eyes looking straight over, so stinging my heart shuddered! I wondered if I had said something wrong, but she didn’t look like she was angry, so I gradually calmed down and let her stare at me frankly.
After a moment, the sharpness in her eyes dissolved, and she burst into laughter. “Not bad, not bad. Girl, though you know little and your martial arts are lacking too, your judgment is spot-on. Not bad!” She laughed for a while before she stopped and said: “As for who I am, I’ll introduce myself when I see your master. You just have to bring me to her, and you’ll know by then. Why make blind guesses now? Huh?”
I didn’t say much and went along to agree with her. At this moment, that bellboy and his men had done setting up the makeshift bed. He was showing it to me proudly. There was an overtone of asking for tips in his words.
I went over to have a look. It was indeed neat and clean, so I took out some silver bits and gave them to the bellboy while praising him. He was already beaming when he saw that. He quickly stretched out both his hands to take it. As soon as his hands came close, he flipped his hands, and I saw a few charcoal black words on top of them.
Don’t move the windows!
My movement was slightly delayed when I focused my attention, while that bellboy took the tips in a flowing movement and shouted thanks. As he put the money into his waist, he rubbed his hands against his clothes. A little stain was left on the hem, and nothing was on his hands anymore. After that, he left the room as he nodded and bowed.
Because of his excellent show, the red flower dame on the bed didn’t notice anything strange. With this lapse of time, I regained my composure. I walked to the makeshift bed to have a closer look, pretending that I wanted to make the bed. The window on the wall was ajar, just a finger-wide gap, no more, no less.
I was mystified. What does it mean? What is going on? This bellboy’s behaviors are weird. Could it be that this is an inn run by brigands? Even so, that doesn’t explain his behaviors. Could it be he wants to help me? That’s impossible too. These people are all new to me. I don’t know them. Besides, they don’t know what is happening to me. Lodging in this inn was a coincidence. Where do I even begin with so-called help? Or…could they be here to cause trouble for the red flower dame? If so, they should be cautious of me too when they see me talking and laughing with her.
While my brain was running at full speed, my hands didn’t stay idle either. I was touching and tucking the bed as if I was really nitpicking and adjusting the sheet touched by others. When I was done, I turned around, keeping a calm face.
I can’t figure it out. Regardless, something will happen tonight.
I just hope everything will go as I wish.