The Witch Nichang– Chapter 45
After that dawn, I hadn’t tried to ask Master to deliver any message. I only occasionally learned about how Lian’er was doing through her words. They were all stuff like practicing martial arts, hunting, and roaming around the woods, like she was the same as before, only she was more hardworking.
Meanwhile, Master came almost every day, rain or shine, picking up the medicine and preparing it. I felt bad about it, so I forced myself to get up after lying in bed for a few days. Even though I didn’t know the prescription, at least I knew how to prepare the herbs. At first, Master told me off about this, but she couldn’t do anything about me because it was impossible for her to watch after me all the time, and my injury was healing well, so gradually, she didn’t bother about me anymore. But she would still come every one or two days. Apart from visiting me, she would teach me some sword techniques and cultivation methods that I had missed out on in the past two years. As such, we spent more time together compared to those years in Mount Hua.
It was a pity that days like these wouldn’t last.
Half a month later, the injuries on my body were basically healed under her meticulous care. I no longer felt any discomfort, even on that part of my back. Master warned me that I still needed a long period of meditation and breathing regulation to eradicate any health problems, but at least I didn’t feel any discomfort while meditating.
At this rate, I no longer had the reasons to stay. Although I never talked about it with Master, we both knew that farewell was around the corner.
That day, she came as usual with some tonic, dictated two sword techniques she just created, and asked me to remember them. Then she hung around for a while. When she was about to leave, I spoke, smiling, “Master, you haven’t had my cooking for a long time, right?”
She had already stood up at that time and was about to go. She stopped at my words and turned around, looking at me before answering, “Yeah, it’s been over two years.”
“Then I’d like to make some food later tomorrow. I don’t know if you…guys will do me the honor of coming then?” I kept smiling, trying to sound as lighthearted as possible as if I was saying it on a whim.
What I got in return was Master’s deep, surveying eyes, and then a nod. “Sure—” she said it as if she just agreed without thinking. “Since you have such filial piety, why not?”
I nodded, aware that she understood.
I got up early the next day. After declining the bellboy’s warm offer of help, I went to the market to pick up some groceries and took care of them one by one—stewed those that needed stewing and washed those that needed washing. Luckily, it was convenient to cook in an inn. There were all kinds of kitchen utensils available which saved a lot of trouble.
Like so, I worked until noon. The preparation was done. What was next would be much easier. When the sun set, I had finished making the dishes as planned and setting them out in the room.
The feast wasn’t a grand one. I couldn’t do it either if it was an actual feast. They were just the usual home-cooked dishes that Master and Lian’er liked. Only a few of them required some extra work and time. I thought they wouldn’t bother to make it themself in the past two years.
The next step was to wait.
I lit the candles and waited for a while more, seeing that the sun was setting, and the last trace of light waned, the sky looking out from a corner of the window slowly fading from warm golden to pale blue and eventually overtaken by the darkness. While the day hadn’t entirely turned dark, I got up and took the two dishes that wouldn’t taste as good when cold and went to the stove to reheat them.
When I came out of the kitchen, the only light left was the one swaying in the lanterns. Fortunately, the sky was clear tonight. I hurried up the stairs by the moonlight. As I turned around at a corner, I saw silhouettes standing in the hallway. It seemed like they just arrived, standing at the door, ready to knock it.
“Master.” I could wait patiently, but the anticipation was killing me, so I couldn’t help but call out happily and took two steps forward. Then I saw the person standing at a corner beside Master. Although I had expected it, I still felt a wrench in my heart.
“Lian’er,” I called.
They turned around together at my call. Master asked as usual, “Where did you go?” The person behind her, however, went further and further into the corner without a word.
I smiled resignedly. I couldn’t stay for much longer with the hot dishes in my hands. I nodded to them as I pushed the door open and put the dishes down on the table before turning around and answering, “I was cooking just now. I just came over after heating these two dishes.” But I saw they were still standing at the door, so I asked, puzzled, “Master? Why aren’t you coming in?”
Master said with a smile, “Coming.” But right after that, she darted a glare to the side. A hint of sternness fleeted across her collected face. I didn’t miss it, although that movement was quick, and I understood right away when I saw where her eyes glared. After sighing to myself, I turned to the other side of the table, leaning over and blowing out the candle on the table that was burning perfectly fine.
The candlelight was out, and the room fell dark but not to the point we couldn’t see our hands because the moonlight was shining through the window, as bright as the clear sky, quietly cascading down into the room.
“You can come in now, right? Lian’er?” I said, standing in the moonlight, looking at the stubborn figure outside the room with a smile.
It was a quiet feast. Though quiet, it wasn’t tense, just like how we had been together for a long time. No one had touched the wine on the side I had prepared. That was just for Master. She was a drinker, but she didn’t feel like drinking now, and her disciples weren’t too crazy about that liquid. Luckily, I had also prepared some tea, and the food was something everyone liked.
Master was sitting in the main seat by the window, the soft moonlight sprinkling on her, adding an air of lustrous elegance to her as the breeze blew past outside the window. She wasn’t aware of it, taking her time to taste the food like she always did. Though not in a jovial mood, she seemed at home when she sometimes spoke to me.
As for Lian’er, she chose to settle in a seat in the shadows opposite Master. The bright moonlight barely reached her chest. Only the rough outline of her face could be seen.
I wasn’t trying to gaze at her, not even trying to talk much, just helping her with the food, like how I treated Master, picking all her favorites and putting them in her bowl. She wasn’t shy about this. Although she said nothing, she didn’t seem to have the slightest intention of refusing. She would eat what she loved regardless, not feeling the slightest uncomfortable.
I was sitting in the side seat between the light and the shadows, much like my feelings now.
We were almost done with the food before we even touched the wine. It was getting late. No matter how slowly we ate, the feast was coming to an end, though no one mentioned it.
What would come would come. I got up, took the untouched wine on the pearwood table beside me, flipped over two small cups, and filled them up. One was served reverently to the one sitting in the main seat by the window, another was picked up by myself.
“Master, although you said there’s no need for wine to cheer things up today, I still want to drink a toast to you,” I said as I raised my cup.
I didn’t return to my seat, just standing politely beside the table. As I bent over slightly, the translucent liquid in my cup was glittering.
“I didn’t get a chance to say anything the last time we parted. It’s just you giving me advice. At least this time, I want to express my gratitude with this toast. All these years of teaching and raising me. I’m ashamed as I feel that I’ve let you down. I hope you take care of yourself this time we part. When I return after I’m done with my family affairs, I’ll definitely stay by your side, and fulfill my filial duty, and never leave again.”
I finished my words in one breath. Then I raised my head and swigged down the wine in the cup.
Although Master’s face was calm as usual in the moonlight, there was glitter in the corner of her eyes.
“Good, good, don’t mention it. I accept your gratitude.” She said, swigging down the wine with a tilt like I did and laying the cup upside down on the table.
After toasting to Master, I filled up my cup again and flipped over another clean cup. I hesitated for a while. I didn’t fill it with wine but took the tea and filled it up. Then I pushed it in front of the other person.
“Lian’er, you’re not good with wine, so I replaced it with tea.” I raised the wine cup like I did before and said, “Can I ask you for a favor if I drink to you?”
For a long while, I received no answer from the person in the shadows. It wasn’t until Master gave a cough that she reluctantly picked up the cup. I didn’t mind it as I knew her. I just said what I wanted to say, a conclusion I came to after a few days of careful consideration. If she didn’t agree, I wouldn’t be at peace when I left.
“Lian’er, I beg you, no matter what happens, don’t go anywhere, just stay in Mount Hua, stay by Master’s side, at least until I’m back. Heed my words.”
This came out of nowhere. I guessed the person listening to this might be confused, but I had to say.
Since Honghua Guimu came into the picture, I became less unsure of the path ahead but grew more uneasy. I had been thinking about it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I only knew there must be all kinds of feuds and troubles waiting in the distant future.
But that was all after Lian’er became Jade Rakshasa. If she didn’t get into jianghu, everything would never have started.
“I know I was in no place to ask you for anything. Just…” The person in the shadows remained silent. Unable to get an answer, I had to carry on, “Just that the world is so huge. Once you leave Mount Hua, I’m afraid…afraid that I’d never find you.”
If I couldn’t find you, I couldn’t help you. If so, I didn’t know what was the point of getting into all these.
This was your story, my deviation.
I picked up the wine cup. As I was about to down its contents, I heard a sudden bang, especially jarring in the silence.
I was stunned. When I looked over, Lian’er had slammed the cup on the table, and the next moment, she leaped to her feet in the shadows, snatched the wine cup in my hand, threw her head back, and downed it.
After finishing it, she turned around with a snort and left without hesitation.
It all happened so fast, as if in the blink of an eye. In that blink of an eye, it felt as if I had seen her, or not. Only the pair of eyes glittering with moonlight shone on my heart.
“This kid. She’s getting more and more willful!”
Master’s slightly displeased voice brought me back to myself. I answered, shaking my head with a smile, “It’s okay. That means she agrees. I can put my mind at rest now.”
“You’re just spoiling her.” Master sighed, seemingly reluctant to continue the topic. Then she moved on and said seriously, “When are you leaving tomorrow?”
“I’m leaving early tomorrow morning, so Master doesn’t have to send me off. You can go home tonight and get a good night’s rest.” I lowered my head and replied frankly, just afraid to look at her.
This was a farewell dinner. Everyone knew it.
Except that I would still feel sad when saying it out loud.
For the rest of that night, I sat by the window, enjoying the moon and slowly finishing the jar of wine I was holding by myself. The wine was mild, not intoxicating to me but to my heart. Without it, I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I didn’t wake anyone up and left some money as a token of my gratitude before leaving Mount Hua for the second time.
Although it was sad to leave, I was relieved because Lian’er had drunk that cup of wine, so everything wouldn’t happen so quickly.
Or so I thought at that time.