The Witch Nichang– Chapter 44
I spent the next two days in a guest room at a corner of the inn.
It was a quiet room on the inside of a corner, isolated from the crowd and the noise, a great place to rest and recover.
The owner’s hospitality was hard to refuse. Master felt there was no need to refuse after learning the reasons. It was a time when we needed such a quiet place. Besides, the inn’s location by the town entrance made it easier for her to come and go.
The next day, I was in a stupor all day long. I almost slept through the day. It wasn’t only because of the long night of struggle and exhaustion, but also I hadn’t slept well since I started out on the road with Honghua Guimu. Although I did nothing, I couldn’t rest well because too much was on my mind.
Now that the load was off my chest, I just went out like a light. In a stupor, I remembered Master had woken me up once. I had my injury checked and took my medicine. She said I had internal injuries but nothing serious. I just had to rest well, and she asked me not to worry. I forgot what happened next. I guessed it was because I passed out again.
I felt much better the next day. Though I was still feeling a bit dizzy and lethargic, I could finally stay awake for most of the time. I didn’t dare to treat it lightly when I thought of what Master told me yesterday, so I started to meditate after getting up from the bed and did the breathing practice twice. When it was almost noon, Master flitted in and did what she always did—checked my injury, gave me my medicine, and explained the things I should avoid and take notice of before I got better. Then we chatted for a while about Honghua Guimu until dusk before she flitted out, just like how she came in. Except for me, no one would notice her come and go.
I didn’t ask Master to stay for a meal because I knew she was worried about Lian’er.
I knew it very well because I was even more worried about Lian’er.
It had been two whole days, but I hadn’t seen her. I slept in a stupor on the first day, so it couldn’t be helped. I thought I would see her at the same time as I saw Master on the second day, but the reality was disappointing.
And so another night passed. By the third day, Master arrived as expected, still no sign of the person I was expecting. I couldn’t wait any longer. While I was taking medicine, I looked for an appropriate time to ask, “Master, how has…Lian’er been in these two days? How come I don’t see her? Is she alright?”
Master was standing by a bronze washbowl, washing away the decoction dregs in the black pot with the clean water inside of it. She didn’t raise her head even when she heard me. “She’s fine. That kid was hurt a little, but not as bad as you. Plus, she’s strong. She’s up and about as if nothing happened after a day’s rest. Just…” She seemed to get a little pensive as she spoke.
“Just what?” I couldn’t help but get a little worried.
“Hey, what’s the hurry?” Master laid down the pot. She, who was wiping the water off her hands, laughed when she sensed my impatience. “It’s actually good news. Since Lian’er started practicing martial arts, she’s never met an opponent. It always comes to nothing no matter how many times I tell her that there’s always someone better out there, but she seems to get it now after she’d lost out. These two days, she’ll practice on her own without me urging her to, working harder than before. In fact, I owe some gratitude to Honghua Guimu.”
“Oh, I see. That’s great, great…” I went along with it. I was relieved, but at the same time, somewhat disappointed.
Of course, it was great that she was fine. It was reassuring to know that she learned from her mistakes and put her heart into practicing. But…but how could I not be upset that she would rather spend her day like that instead of coming down to see me?
It looked like I didn’t overthink it that night. She actually held a grudge against me.
“Then…Master, I have something to tell Lian’er. Could you pass it to her for me when you go back?” If she didn’t want to come, then I would go to her. Since I couldn’t go in person, a message was better than nothing. Otherwise, it would only get worse the longer I dragged it out, given her temper.
Who knew Master’s response after that was surprising.
“What a coincidence.” She raised her brows as if she remembered something and said, “I almost forgot. When I came out, that kid had something she wanted me to ask you.”
I didn’t expect that from Master, but it didn’t stop me from feeling happy. “Eh, really? What does Lian’er want to say?”
“Don’t get up. Why are you so restless today? Be careful of your injury!” Master had wiped her hands dry. She took two steps over and pushed me back to the bed, then she sat down sideways on the edge of the bed before speaking unhurriedly, “Actually, about this, not only Lian’er wants to know, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your plan over the past two days.”
“Plan?” I repeated it in confusion, and suddenly, it was as if I saw the light.
“Yes, your plan.” Sure enough, what Master said next was exactly what I expected. “Xian’er, you’re finally back now, although it was because of an accident this time. Since everything is settled now, what’s your plan? Are you going to stay and go back to live with us like before, or are you going to leave again?”
Stay or leave again.
There was a moment of silence. I lowered my head, gently breathed in, and slowly breathed out. I could keep my face as calm as still water, but not my heart.
It had been years since I left. Being in a foreign place, I would miss them every day, but I could still keep myself in check. I never let myself think about coming back because I knew it wasn’t the time. It would only hurt both of us if I returned. But…
But when I was back here, when I saw Master’s face and smile and heard her voice, when I realized I was no longer separated from Lian’er by a thousand miles, I could no longer restrain myself. That secluded place deep in the woods of Mount Hua was where I belonged in this world. It was a place closer to home.
I want to go home, back to my family. Who the heck cares about hurting ourselves? Can’t I just not think about it too much for once and leave whatever will happen in the future to the future?
The temptation was strong. The thought was screaming in my head, echoing over and over again, and my heart seemed to become willful. I clenched my teeth and raised my head. The answer, “I want to stay,” was on the tip of my tongue. I just had to release my jaw, and it would be out of my mouth.
But in the end, I made a swallowing motion.
After that, I looked at Master and replied apologetically, “My father’s leg was injured by Honghua Guimu earlier, so…”
I could let myself be willful, even convince myself to not think too much and not care about the consequences, but even if I did so, I couldn’t stay. I wasn’t an honorable person, but if I put myself in others’ shoes, I didn’t think I could leave someone with a broken leg alone to their own devices.
He had once held my hand with sweat dripping from his head, making sure again and again, asking, “Will you be back soon?” and I said to him, “Don’t worry, dad.”
“Sorry, Master. Once I’ve settled everything, I’ll definitely…” I didn’t know why I was so eager to explain. Maybe the one I wanted to explain to wasn’t someone else, but myself. “I’ll definitely be back soon!”
“No rush, no rush.” Master had heard something about what happened when we were talking about Honghua Guimu yesterday, so I didn’t have to explain too much. She stroked my head with a calm look and said, “I’ve probably guessed it. You’re her daughter, after all. If that thought never crossed your mind, you wouldn’t have been my disciple.”
But after that, she changed the subject and said, letting out a sigh, seemingly at random, “Just that I’m afraid that kid, Lian’er, is going to be disappointed.”
“Lian’er, she…” I hesitated for a moment but still spoke carefully, “She’s hoping for me to come back?”
I hesitated because I didn’t know what kind of answer I was expecting. It would be tough no matter what kind of answer it was. I would disappoint her if she was expecting me. If she wasn’t, what should I do with my feelings?
Even so, I wanted to know the answer. The human heart was just so conflicting.
“Not that you don’t know her temper. Though she doesn’t say so, you won’t know what she might be thinking. I think the reason she won’t come with me to see you is that she’s hoping you’ll go back to see her.”
After that, the topic stopped there. What we talked about later was all trivial matters, at least to me they were.
When it was time to leave, Master left as usual. The difference was that she was bringing along a message that might be disappointing to Lian’er this time. Even though I didn’t want to, there was no stopping now. My decision was made.
That night, I was caught in a dream.
It wasn’t a pleasant dream, but luckily, it wasn’t a bad one either. It was just some memory fragments of the past. In the dream, there was night and wolves, and there was the wind echoing beside my ears, saying, “I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind!”
When I opened my eyes, it was bright outside the window. The darkness was fading. It was the break of dawn. I lay on the bed, eyes vacant. The voice seemed to stay in my ears, and it suddenly dawned on me. Those wordless moments didn’t occur out of anger, nor was it out of grudge.
I forgot, and she was using silence to remind me I had yet to earn the right to see her.
That was it.