The Witch Nichang– Chapter 53
When I went out of the bamboo forest with my hand on my wound, it startled the people waiting outside.
The short lady exclaimed in surprise when she saw the blood seeping through my fingers landing on my bloodstained lapel. The tall lady beside her didn’t freak out as much as her, but her face turned pale too.
Meanwhile the steward Dong Sun remained unruffled. She walked over calmly and glanced in my direction before turning to the person next to me.
“Chief, should we take care of the wound first or have breakfast first?” She asked respectfully.
Lian’er acted as if nothing had happened and said frankly, “Bring the food to my room.” Then she took me away.
The next few days were peaceful. I spent most of my time in her room since the wound on my neck was a little unsightly, and I preferred the tranquility of the forest anyway.
Lian’er was busy being the glorious king of the mountain, so she wasn’t around for most of the time, but she first asked her ladies to set up a bed in her room for me. Its location and placement was similar to how our beds were arranged in Mount Hua. Sometimes I felt like we were back in Yellow Dragon Cave when we talked after the light was out.
When she had time to spare, she would keep me company and show me around the stronghold. Although I said she was keeping me company, it often ended up being her dragging me around and showing off the people and things in the stronghold. Her complacent and relaxed look made it seem as if the events of a few days ago had never happened.
Perhaps after that excruciating bite, she was over it. After that day, we never brought up anything related to that again.
Only the wound on my neck remained.
In the end, Lian’er not only didn’t feel bad about this slightly embarrassing wound, she seemed to be rather pleased with it. I could feel her eyes on me every time I changed the dressing in front of the mirror before sleep. She would stand by and watch me spill the ointment all over the place with my awkward hand movements before she came over with a smile on her face and helped. I didn’t know what she was so happy about. She was probably having fun with how all over the place I was.
At first, I didn’t mind her delight, but when this happened a lot, it became annoying. Speaking of which, it was all thanks to her that now I had a wound on my hand, and a wound on my neck. Although I somewhat brought it on myself, there was no need to be so happy about it all the time, right? Besides, it wasn’t the first time she bit me. It was a curse that I would get a new bite mark every time we met.
“What are you talking about?” One night, I complained about this to her. She disagreed with it when she stood beside me and listened. She glared at me through the mirror while applying the ointment on me and said, “I didn’t hurt you a lot growing up. How did you get to that?”
The wound stung a little, but I felt a cool sensation on it because of the ointment. I ignored it and just smiled. I said to her, counting with my fingers, “How am I wrong? The first time when I saw you with the wolves, I got bit on the arm; the second time when I saw you with Honghua Guimu, I got bit on the finger; this time when we finally met again, I got bit once more. Every time, there’s blood. Doesn’t that mean I would get a new wound every time I see you?”
“So you meant this kind of seeing.” She seemed to understand and didn’t try to argue. She first nodded and smiled. While she was smiling, her face suddenly dropped.
“If you’re going to count it this way, then I’m going to bite every time I see you until I see blood. See if you dare leave again!”
I paused for a moment and stopped making fun of her. Looking at that blurry face in the mirror, I was dazed for a moment before saying with a sigh, “I won’t anymore…”
I won’t anymore, really, unless the hardships she is destined to experience are over, and she no longer needs me by her side and asks me to leave.
Life was good, but I couldn’t feel peaceful. How could I? Perhaps Lian’er had put it behind her. She could talk and laugh so frankly with me because her conscience was clear, but although I talked to her like how I used to, whenever I was alone, I couldn’t get away from the emotion I had at that day. The sadness still lingered.
After a few more days when the bloody wound had almost scabbed over, the thought of leaving was getting stronger.
I want to go to Mount Hua; I still do. There were two people I was supposed to reunite with: one was already here, but the other I could never reunite with again. I felt a sense of indebtedness, as if there were unfinished business and incomplete journeys. Besides, Master passed away there. How could I not pay respects to her? Even though I was two years late, I should toss a handful of soil, burn an incense, and kowtow for forgiveness.
But that didn’t seem to cross Lian’er’s mind, probably because she didn’t care about these traditions. For her, death was death. She didn’t believe in ghosts or souls. That was why when I told her what I was thinking that night, she just responded with a “oh” and said casually that we could go together when she was free, but then I heard no word from her later on, nothing.
As I waited, I started to get restless, but she was busy, so I couldn’t rush her either.
Lian’er was very busy. I was worried that she would screw up at first, but now it seemed like I had worried too much. The people in the stronghold had their way of managing affairs inside the stronghold. There was no need for Lian’er to worry, but she would need to show her face when dealing with other bandits, but she probably had a plan for that. With that plan, she wouldn’t do anything too crazy, which was why she didn’t make many enemies within outlaws, instead, she made a lot of friends. She seemed to be uniting the gangs and growing.
She never avoided me when speaking about these matters. Today, she talked about who she beat and who she made friends with. The names sounded foreign to me. I didn’t care to ask, but I couldn’t ask her about going to Mount Hua with me either.
If it was back then, I would probably have planned to go on my own first. That way not only I could stop feeling restless but also I wouldn’t be in the way of Lian’er’s work. However…
I wouldn’t speak of leaving so easily anymore.
September would soon come to an end. Winter Clothes Day. was on the first day of October. I wasn’t so familiar with all these old festive days and didn’t care about it either, but when I saw the ladies in the stronghold took time off and were making paper clothing in two or three, I remembered there was such a day to pay tribute to the dead, and that reminded me of the thought that had been on my mind. For a moment, I felt that I couldn’t wait anymore, so I turned and headed to the front of the stronghold.
The front of the stronghold was where all the meetings and training took place. I had familiarized myself with the place over the last few days. I knew that Lian’er was receiving some guests over here today, so I went straight to the guest hall. The ladies on guard duty along the way knew me, so they didn’t stop and search me, and the journey continued without a hitch.
When I reached the stairs before the meeting hall, I could hear talking and laughter coming from inside. I pulled myself together and thought about what to say. When I took a step, about to go up the stairs, I heard a voice coming from behind.
“How are you, jiejie? Why are you in such a hurry? ” She asked.
I turned around and saw a person at the stairs holding documents and walking over leisurely. Who else could that be if not the chief steward Dong Sun?
After getting used to the stronghold in the past few days, I more or less knew what was going on in the mountain. Most people here were saved by Lian’er. As chief, Lian’er was respected because of her impressive martial arts, and she was second to none for that, but when it came to making major decisions behind the scenes, this person was actually the real boss, or at least, someone who was also in charge.
Fortunately, she was genuinely assisting Lian’er and was loyal to her, so I had always treated her with respect. Now that she asked, I replied honestly, “I need to talk to Lian…your chief. I couldn’t wait, so I came here. I just need a few words with her. I’ll be on my way once I’m done. It won’t be long.”
“Oh, I see. I was wondering why you were in such a hurry.” She came in front of me while I was answering her, stopping three steps before me, and said gently, “Chief is having a meeting in the meeting hall now with people of all paths from Sichuan-Shaanxi. I’m afraid now is not a good time.”
What she said sounded very sincere. I acted out of impulse just now. After coming here in a rush, I hesitated for a bit when I heard the bustle in the hall. Now that I heard her say that, after giving it a thought, I said, “If that’s the case, then I’d better come back another time. Sorry to disturb you.” With that, I turned to leave, but then I heard a “wait.”
I turned around for the second time and saw that she was still standing right there holding the documents. She said solemnly, “Actually, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. Would you be willing to hear me out now?” She looked serious, so I cupped my fist in earnest and said, “Please, enlighten me.”
“You flatter me. I’m in no place to enlighten you. The fact that we are here was all thanks to the chief. The chief really deserves her reputation as a hero,being the best of the best. She will definitely be somebody in the future. We, me, and the other sisters, just have to willingly give our life for her and follow her unto death.” She looked down and explained slowly. Her voice was even. “Since the chief introduced you as her family, you should also play your part as a family. Don’t hold her back while she soars.”
She didn’t say a lot, but what she was trying to say was blatantly obvious. I looked down upon hearing that and went silent, all kinds of thoughts going through my mind until I heard footsteps getting closer. I looked up and reached out, stopping Dong Sun who almost walked past me. I stared at her, frowning. “Did she say that? Or did you say that?” I asked.
She didn’t seem to expect me to come around so quickly and ask that, but she stood firm and said, “That’s what the people want.”
It would have been better if she hadn’t said that. As soon as she said that, it all seemed so ludicrous. I couldn’t stifle a chuckle. Not wanting to argue with her, I asked the question again, “Did she say that? Yes or no?”
“You don’t believe it’s God’s and people’s will?” This time, it shook her a little, as if she didn’t expect me to be so persistent.
“People’s will is what people want. It isn’t only the few hundred people in the stronghold. As for God’s will, we have no way of knowing that. Does it matter if I believe it or not?” I smiled as I shook my head and answered, “In the end, it doesn’t matter if I believe in God’s will or people’s will. What matters is I know there’s one person who doesn’t believe in it. As long as she doesn’t want to, even if the people kneel down and beg God, she still won’t want to.”
“You!” She knew who I was talking about. Finally, her face fell and spluttered, “Wait, what are you doing!”
Although the martial arts of the people in the stronghold was taught by Lian’er and they had been training hard, they had just trained for two years, how could she have stopped me? I evaded her blocking with a slight dodge and said, smiling, “Nothing. Why are we arguing about who’s right? We could ask her.”
We had been talking in a lowered voice, so it didn’t alarm the people inside, but the door was right in front of us. As soon as I pushed the door after that dodge, the door opened, and the view inside unfolded before my eyes.
The hall wasn’t too huge. It was elegantly decorated, flanked by two rows of pear wood round chairs. In them seated more than a dozen people in different outfits. Although I was shocked, I still put on a smile, and the one sitting in the carved wooden chair in the middle was the person we were talking about just now.
A dozen pairs of eyes darted to me when the door swung open. Some were shocked, some were furious, and some were confused, only the person in the middle smiled as she glanced over.
“It’ll be Winter Clothes Day in a few days. I want to go visit Master in our old house.” Althougheveryone was looking at me, I couldn’t be bothered. I just looked at that one person in the hall and asked with my hands behind my back, “Nichang, do you want to come along?”
When I called her that way, she seemed surprised. She raised her eyebrows and asked instead, “Are we going now?”
Actually, I wasn’t in such a rush. It was fine to leave early tomorrow morning, but somehow, I nodded and said, “I’m going now. Is that okay?”
Then I saw a flicker of shadow and the next moment she was standing in front of me, her eyes beaming and her lips smiling. She held my hand and said, “What are you waiting for? Let’s get going.”
 It’s a Chinese burial tradition, where family members toss a handful of dirt on the casket before burying it, and after that, incense is burned.
 The Winter Clothes Day falls on the first day of Lunar October which marks the beginning of winter. On this day, people burn clothes made of colorful papers in front of their ancestors’ graves to keep them warm.