The Witch Nichang– Chapter 46
The carriage was shaking. Its frame was probably long rusted, and its axles were squeaking. I flinched when I first heard it, but after a while, the rhythm became soporific.
Once you got used to the bumps on the rugged mountain roads, they became as soporific as a cradle.
I lay relaxedly on a fairly clean mat, coughing. I was a little tired, but I didn’t feel like sleeping at all.
Since several days ago, I had been excited.
The wedding a few days ago felt as if it was before my eyes, simple yet ceremonious. Most of the villagers we knew from the neighborhood came to give their congrats. Red and noise were everywhere. Amidst the clacking and banging, a couple was performing the wedding ceremony. The man with red silk draped over his shoulders was in his early 50s, and his wife was hidden behind the red veil, but it couldn’t hide her plump body.
They were happy, however. From then on, they were family and would stay by each other’s side for the rest of their life.
I had waited too long for this moment.
I met my dad who was staying in the village when I hurried back from Mount Hua. The villagers were simple folks. Plus, considering what he had done earlier, they treated him well. They took good care of him, especially Wu Liu and Shitou who got his help, but he still looked haggard, probably because of his worry for me. When I showed up, he was so excited his eyes were welling with tears.
Like they say, it takes a hundred days for the bone to heal, not to mention this place was in the middle of nowhere. It took him almost half a year for his leg to recover without leaving any permanent injury. Before he could celebrate, a serious illness hit him. Although it wasn’t life-threatening, his condition went back and forth and was difficult to cure. Like this, more than a year had passed.
Finally, spring came. The day was getting warmer, and his condition was improving, but he looked much older now. I took the chance to persuade him and finally got him to agree to give up the mountain hut he had lived in for so long and his hunting life and move to the village and settle down there.
But that wasn’t all. There were still a bunch of problems, like his livelihood.
The idea I had when I was young came in handy now. I talked to the lady from the herbal tea store, borrowed a small space in front of her store, and set up a stall to sell some snacks.
It was impractical to sell those snacks that would take a lot of effort and cost in a countryside like this. It was pointless, and I didn’t want it to look too outlandish and flashy, so I decided to make the simplest egg cake. I taught it to my dad step by step and asked him to keep the recipe to himself. Fortunately, people in the ancient world had the tradition of keeping their skills to themselves, like the saying, the master would starve to death once their disciple learned their skills. My dad understood that too, so he promised me at once.
The egg cake was square in shape, plain and simple. They didn’t stand out when placed on a stall, like tofu, but it had its own charm, especially the way it melted in your mouth when having it with tea, so it had gained its popularity over time. When the villagers were free, they liked to gather around here to enjoy some tea and cakes and chat away.
That was why we, to be exact, my old man was able to get closer to the widowed teahouse owner, Madam Wang.
I was aware of it and was just waiting for the moment to come, but what was weird was as the days went by, nothing happened. I thought it was because it was difficult for Madam Wang since remarriage was a disgrace, though not a taboo, in a countryside like this, but after sounding them out a few times, I found out it was my dad’s problem.
Somehow, my dad had noticed the reason I did that and my wish to leave. That was why he dragged it out.
But what couldn’t be kept couldn’t be kept. After that, I hardened my heart and talked it out with him. Although I didn’t go into the details, I made it clear that my heart to learn the art from Master was sincere, so I was going to leave, eventually. I told him not to worry about me and cherished the one next to him.
My dad had been down after the conversation, but with Madam Wang and the villager’s comfort, he gradually got over it.
And there it was, a simple yet ceremonious wedding half a month later.
At this moment, over three years had passed since I returned to this place for the second time.
I did all I could at this point. On their wedding night, I packed up everything and left a letter I had written beforehand. Then I went out through the window and left with nothing more to worry about.
Time flew by. I had never stopped missing her. I was thrilled at the thought that we would see each other again soon.
Humans are weird. We can live through years, yet we get so impatient for the last bit of time on the road, wishing that the road will shrink into inches or that we can fly.
It was September when the autumn arrived, and the weather turned cool. I was on the road almost day and night. When I finally arrived at the border of Sichuan and Shanxi—as the old saying goes, haste makes waste—I caught a cold. Although it wasn’t serious, I felt sluggish, and that held things back.
Even so, I didn’t want to waste my time staying in a foreign place. I went around the town’s entrance and hired a reasonably priced mule carriage with a green curtain. It was a little shabby, but at least it was clean. The coachman looked honest. He promised he would drive me to the next border. Even though I wasn’t feeling too well, I wasn’t afraid he would harm me.
So that was why there was the rocking and squeaking now.
We were traveling west along the Daba mountains. When it was almost dawn, we arrived at the border of Qipanguan. The mountain roads here were narrow. I could hear the loud whipping sound coming from the coachman and his constant shout, but the carriage was slowing down, rocking more and more. You could know how bumpy the road was from that.
It wasn’t new to me as I was used to traveling, but I wasn’t feeling too well now, so it was making me a little uncomfortable. I got up and slightly lifted the corner of the curtain, taking in two deep breaths of fresh air outside and enjoying the roadside scenery. This place was surrounded by the mountain and the river, the cliff on one side, and the rapid on the other. Although the scenery was beautiful, the journey was perilous.
I wasn’t aware of it while I was hurrying on my way. Now that we had slowed down, I was in the mood to enjoy the scenery. When I thought of how I had to spend money and the effort to get to places with magnificent scenery in my distant past life, yet such scenery was everywhere now, I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings.
As I was immersed in my emotion, I heard a sudden woah from the coachman, and the wheels stopped, together with the rocking.
It shouldn’t have stopped here. I frowned, thoughts flashing through my mind, but first, I put on my veil and touched the short sword by my waist under my robe before calling out, asking, “What’s wrong? What’s with the sudden stop?”
“Miss…Miss, this…this…this is bad!” Outside, the coachman was stuttering, as if he was in shock, and said, cowering, “Ther…ther…there are…strongmen fighting ahead!”
The so-called strongman in a commoner’s eyes was most likely bad news. It wasn’t uncommon for a poverty-stricken place to have some bullies and bandits. I put on my bamboo hat, lifted the curtain, and leaped off the carriage. The first thing I saw was the shivering coachman curled up behind the shafts, then two groups of people facing off against each other at the mouth of the mountain pass not far away.
They weren’t facing off, to be exact, because they were already fighting.
Luckily, the situation wasn’t chaotic and out of control.
The group blocking the mouth of the mountain pass was a mounted troop. There were more than ten horses. The people riding on them were all sturdy men, looking menacing. The group of people who was stopped before us was a lot more diverse. There were caravans and horses, armed men, and an old man who appeared to be over seventy years old.
Looking at the situation, it seemed obvious, distinguishable at first glance, who was the bad guy and the good guy and who was the strong one and the weak one.
But the truth was, it was too early to say who was at a disadvantage. People were fighting between the two troops. It was a courteous one-on-one fight. A young man with straight brows and large, round eyes was riding on the horse. There was a slingshot in his hand, the pellets flying like shooting stars, raining down like a hailstorm. Opposite him, a man with a curly beard was blocking his shots, brandishing a thick-backed red bronze saber to where not a single drop of water could get through, deflecting all the raining metal pellets. He wasn’t at a disadvantage, but he couldn’t attack either.
Occasionally, I couldn’t stop myself from minding others’ business, but this was certainly not one of them. I creased my brows and said right away at the sight of it, “We’re too close. Step back a bit.”
“Wha…what?” The coachman’s face blanched, teeth chattering, as if he didn’t understand a thing I said.
I glanced at him and said patiently, “They won’t be done anytime soon. It won’t do us any good to stay too close. Let’s back up while we can so that we won’t get swept up in this.”
Only then did the person seem to get it. He agreed profusely, grabbed the whip, and whipped the mule to drive the carriage, his hands shaking. With all these years I had lived, how could I not know that jianghu was just a myth for the commoner. It was unusual for commoners to encounter such a situation, so I could understand his terror. Seeing that he was shaking, I tried to help him reverse the carriage from the side.
But the road here was narrow. There was no way out on both sides. It was already difficult for a carriage to pass, let alone reversing. As we were urging the mule, the fight was getting intense judging from the sounds, and suddenly, a person shouted, “It’s rude not to greet!” followed by a few swishes, and there was wind gushing toward here!
I raised my head with a shudder. A dark blue flame was flying over. Before I could think, I moved out of instinct and leaped. Then I drew the weapon on my waist and deflected it.
I was confused, so I didn’t want to try anything rash. I just wanted to get out of trouble. Who knew my control was a little off because I wasn’t feeling too well. I gave it all in that move, Whirling Crescent. When the fire pellet got hit, it went back the same way it came, charging straight toward the mounted troop at lightning speed. With a thump, it hit the slingshot-holding hand of the man with thick brows and large eyes.
The man was caught off guard when he took the hit. He looked over and said, glaring at me, “Oh well. Looks like you’ve got help! Let’s see who’s she!” With that, he drew his weapon and dashed over.
I closed my eyes ruefully, smiling and saying to myself, nothing could be done now. It didn’t seem like a good idea to explain it now, so I could only face up to it and take his attack first.
This person was also wielding a bronze saber. I could only fight it with a short sword. At first, I was cautious, and I was only defending. For one, I didn’t want to make things worse, and second, this was the third time I fought against other people over the ten years in learning martial arts, even including that time with Honghua Guimu and her foolish son. I wasn’t exactly experienced, so I daren’t lower my guard.
After a few rounds, I noticed this guy wasn’t that much stronger than Honghua Guimu’s useless son. He was quick, but because of his limited moves, he wasn’t someone I would consider a master, so I slowly let my guard down. While dealing with his attacks, I started to think about how I could end it properly so that I could get myself out of it in time.
Before I could figure it out, the guy over there suddenly withdrew his move and leaped away in a huge stride.
“You’re…” When I looked at his face, his expression had become a little weird as if he was hesitating and a little scared. He immediately cupped his fist and said, “My brother and I are ignorant. Had we known this place was under Mount Dingjun’s wing, we wouldn’t have meddled in this business. Please forgive us!”
After that, he waved his hand. The curly bearded man waited for the right time to leap away. He shouted at the young man with straight brows and large eyes, “Great shooting skills. Wudang’s shooting skills truly live up to its name!” Then the two got on the horse at the same time and said, “Please give our regards to Taoist Ziyang. Just say that Huolingyuan* and Fanshanhu* thank him for not killing us back then!”
He let out a whistle as soon as he finished. As if getting an order, the mounted troop reined in and turned around together, retreating from the valley and galloping away.
This turn of events was sudden. I stood in place, perplexed. It wasn’t until I heard someone praising, “Nice shots!” that I snapped back to myself. A studious-looking man got off a white horse and came over to the group, talking to the young man who wielded the slingshot. I realized afterward that I had nothing to do here, so I sheathed my sword and turned around, ready to leave.
But I heard a voice saying, “Hold on, hero.”
The word hero gave me the willies. I didn’t think he was calling me, but I knew there was no one else.
I stopped and turned around. The old man I saw earlier got out of the carriage and jostled through the crowd. He came over with a smile on his face and saluted me.
“We ran into bandits on our way. Thanks for saving us, hero. I’m grateful to you!” He said.
He was a senior, after all. I coughed uneasily and said as I held him, “There’s nothing heroic about it. I…I was just passing by here on my way to the west and happened to get swept up in this. You don’t have to thank me.”
“What a coincidence?” The old man’s eyes lit up and said in delight, “I’m traveling west to my hometown too. If you don’t mind, why don’t we travel together? For one thing, I can get a chance to thank you for your help, and for another, we can look out for each other on our way. It’s better than traveling alone and facing all the inconvenience, right?”
He said it with courtesy and sincerity, but his intention was obvious.
A person who looked nice and polite on the outside wasn’t necessarily so on the inside. I had no interest in the so-called jianghu affairs.
When I was about to refuse, people had gathered around me. I supposed the old man was their leader. Other people started to persuade me, going along with him. I didn’t say anything. When I looked around, my eyes came upon the slingshot-wielding young man standing outside the crowd, looking a little high and mighty. Suddenly, I remembered what the person from the mounted troop said before leaving.
I didn’t understand what they said to me, but I remembered every word they said to the young man. The curly-bearded man said, Great shooting skills. Wudang’s shooting skills truly live up to its name!
Wudang, these two characters stuck out. Then something came to my mind, and I had a second thought.
I raised my head and said, cupping my fist at the old man with a smile, “Well, if you insist.”
Strongmen refer to bandits in the ancient times.
*These are the characters’ nickname, Huolingyuan (Fire Spirit Ape) and Fanshanhu (Mountain Flipping Tiger)
Which do you guys prefer, translate it into English or keep it as it is?