The Witch Nichang- Chapter 5
“This girl surnamed Lian, her father was a poor scholar. When they fled to this place, her mother died in childbirth. Her father abandoned her at the foot of Mount Hua, and a monk in Mount Yuanji found and raised her…”
I sat on a stone stool in the cave, listening to Master reciting the inscription on the rotten rag in her hand while redressing the wound.
The tattered rag found in the wolf’s den earlier turned out to be the child’s swaddling clothes with her antecedent scrawled on it. The handwriting was already blurry by now, but it was still legible. I once imagined her life experience as complicated and full of ups and downs, but it sounded mediocre now that I knew it. After all, abandoned babies weren’t uncommon in this world, especially baby girls. If it weren’t for the mother wolf that found and raised her by chance, it would merely be an ordinary story.
I turned my head; in the candlelight, the protagonist of the story was curling up on the stone bench where I usually rested, sleeping soundly, frowning and squelching from time to time.
With a faint sigh, I tied the last knot tight, jumped off the stone stool, and came to Master’s side, asking tentatively with a cupped fist: “What should we do with that…kid?”
Master didn’t answer me right away, but took another look at the girl following my gaze. The thoughtful look on her face grew more pronounced.
It was just as I would expect. Upon seeing that, I was more sure of it. There was no reason to hesitate anymore now. I took a step back, bowed, and pleaded: “I beg Master to keep her.”
Deep down, I had known for a long time that Master had always given a lot of weight to the martial arts she created, always wanted to find a talented successor to carry forward her mantle and make it shine. In this regard, I had fallen short of her expectations. Just because she had a high standard and couldn’t find the ideal prospect adhering to her principle of quality over quantity, in the end, she could only put her hope upon me.
That time when I saw Master peering at her in the wolf’s den, I knew that this child was most likely the talent Master had been waiting for for a long time. Otherwise, for Master’s personality, she would never have taken the trouble to search for her origin even though she had saved her.
Even if I didn’t say it now, Master should also have this intention. It would be better if I made it clear and saved her from contemplating, and both sides would be satisfied.
Who knew Master just glanced at me and asked: “Why?”
“I…” Don’t you want to keep her? I secretly grumbled, yet couldn’t speak it out. I hesitated for a bit: “Disciple wants to have a companion who trains and studies together. This…” My voice was getting softer as I lowered my head. This wasn’t me, and Master should know it more or less. This excuse was a little too silly.
I raised my brows and took a peek in secret. As expected, she was looking at me noncommittally. Seeing me lifted my head abashedly, she smiled a little.
“I’m used to seeing you acting like an adult, and you had the gall to guess what I’m thinking.” She said with a smile, reached out her hand, and gave a punitive pat on my head. Then, she stood up, walked next to the stone bench, observed the girl for some time, and finally, she sighed: “Let’s just leave it to fate. We’ll see if we can get rid of her animal nature first”
Only then did I understand Master’s actual misgivings.
Now that I thought of it. It was an era where information wasn’t easily accessible. Such strange events were mostly unheard of. Naturally, she would be in doubt. No matter how good she was, if she didn’t have even the basic humanity, let alone others.
I wasn’t concerned about this. Thinking back to those legends and tales I’d read, it clearly explained that a wolf child was also a human. Their learning ability and intelligence didn’t necessarily deteriorate much. Besides, this child was so young. With an appropriate environment and guidance, it shouldn’t be too difficult to tame the ferity.
But it was just my thoughts. I daren’t make any promises at the moment, just thinking about it in my mind.
Other than what should be done to get rid of her animality, there was one thing that must be done now.
And that was the cleaning.
This child was covered in dirt from head to toes. I already had the intention of throwing the coat away when I gave it to her to keep out the cold earlier. After staying in the same room with her, I was even more sensitive to the foul smell. I had been eyeing her for a while now, but considering the injury on my arm, plus, she might suddenly wake up and hurt others, I could only ask for Master’s help. Who knew Master had the same thought as me. Since we were both thinking the same thing, we ended our break right away and boiled some water. While she was still unconscious, we put her into a tub and gave her a thorough scrub.
I had to say this was more exhausting than breaking ice. I kept boiling and changing the water. It took me a few rounds of water to see her actual skin color. The most pitiable thing was her greasy, matted hair. We couldn’t untangle it no matter how hard we tried to smooth it down, and this had maddened Master. She resolutely swung her sword to cut off her hair, shaving it short to not more than an inch long.
She had woken up once in the meantime, struggled blankly in the water, but was quickly knocked out again, and continued to let us move her around limply.
After all the washing and scrubbing, Master carried her back to the stone bench freshly cushioned with some thick clothes. I then took a dry cloth to wipe off the water and had a closer look at the final result of my hard work.
She now looked like a steaming peeled boiled egg after getting out of the warm water.
I knew that she had good features under the cover of dirt. I had taken a few glances while bathing her just now. But, now that I looked closely, she was far better looking than I imagined. Let’s say this little body with fair and silky smooth skin. Although the skin on her knees and palms was rough, she looked totally different from before. Speaking of her face, the little features of her were still childlike, but looking at her arch eyebrows and almond eyes, red lips and white teeth, she was a total beauty. And now, with her newly chopped hair, she looked naïve and lovable, like a baby.
I took a few more glances with admiration before looking over to Master. I noticed she was also looking at the child with great satisfaction. Her eyes were filled with joy and hope.
For an instant, I was a little upset.
She…had never looked at me with such eyes.
When I noticed what was bothering me, I couldn’t help smiling. Shaking my head lightly, I silently stepped back to a side, pulled out a set of clothes from my baggage, which was a little too small for me to wear, brought it over, and put them on for the child.
If she was Master’s hope, she should be mine too.
Soon after, she slowly woke up.
I watched her long eyelashes flutter open. In a blink of an eye, the innocence and naivety of a baby had all vanished.
She rolled over suddenly and got up on the stone bench on all fours. She seemed to be very concerned about where she was, anxiously wanting to look around. However, because of her movements, she felt a thick encumbrance on her body and was eager to take it off. For a while, she seemed lost, not knowing what to do first. One moment, she raised her head and looked around, the next she lowered her head and tried to tear off her clothes, seemingly in a bustle.
I couldn’t help chuckling for a moment and bursting out in laughter.
Her ears twitched as she heard the laugh, and she turned around swiftly as if she got shocked, glaring at me with savage eyes. She was ready to pounce on me, but when she caught a glimpse of Master standing beside me the next second, she suddenly looked scared, kept retreating until she curled up in a corner, shivering, giving out faint whimpers.
Seeing her attitude between two extremes, I smiled wryly, knowing that my life ahead would be difficult.
As expected, for a long time after that, she would curl up in the corner and remain silent as long as Master was within sight. Although her eyes were full of vigilance and she wouldn’t let others near her, she was considerably docile. However, once Master was out or went into training—in short, when Master wasn’t around—she would turn my life upside down and never listen to me. Whenever she saw me alone, she wanted to attack me, or she would try every possible means within her intellect to escape. Master and I couldn’t keep watching over her all the time. We were forced into no choice, and in the end, we bound a rope around her right ankle and tied it to the stone table—she didn’t know how to untie it, anyway. Every time her movements were restricted, she would vent out her steam on the rope, grabbing and biting it recklessly. After she was worn out from the biting, she would lie face down on the ground with her arms and legs spread out and pant with her tongue hanging outside her mouth.
Occasionally, she would do nothing but gaze out the cave with eager eyes, raise her head and let out dismal howls, which were no different from wolves, with a trace of sorrow, as if calling for her former mates.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. After that winter night, there wasn’t a single wolf to be seen within a hundred-mile radius.