The Witch Nichang– Chapter 57
There was one thing that had always felt strange to me: Master’s lenient attitude towards me over the past few years.
At first, I deliberately distanced myself from Lian’er because I couldn’t keep my heart from stirring, but she mistook it as me missing my family, so she let me leave—you could even say she encouraged me to leave. After Honghua Guimu, she didn’t say much either. When I said I wanted to go back and help my father get back on his feet before coming back, she accepted it and agreed to all of it, not saying anything on this matter.
Was it strange? What was so strange about it? If I looked at them individually and thought them over, they all made sense–every single thing she did was just the way a master cared for her disciples.
That was why I had been brushing off that vague feeling of strangeness. I had always thought it was my overthinking mind acting up.
However, reading this confusing letter at this moment and somehow connecting myself with those wine wares, a thought struck me, sending a chill down my spine and stirring up a storm in me.
The only time I had come across this wineware—the wine jar and the wine cup—was a few years ago when the three of us enjoyed dinner together with the breeze and the setting sun at the stone table outside the cave to celebrate Master’s birthday.
Even though many years had passed, the memory of that evening was still vivid and colorful. It was a golden dusk. The wine jar was filled with fine aged wine. The wine cup was fresh out of the kiln. On the stone table were some side dishes Lian’er and I brought back from a restaurant down the mountain. Master had drunk a lot. At first, she was quaffing the wine, but in the end, she looked a little lonely. As for Lian’er, it was the first time she touched alcohol, so she had drunk herself to stupor.
I remembered that dinner ended without a word. Lian’er got drunk and passed out, Master went out for a walk to sober up, and I…
And I, unable to help myself, kissed Lian’er…
As if suddenly waking up from a dream, I looked down at the poem on the paper again. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things. This time when I looked at the poem again, it no longer felt simple. The more I looked at it, the more I felt there was more to each line. Wasn’t the line “the young green bamboos are half sheathed, new tips are peeking out the wall” a metaphor for my feelings? And didn’t “their shadows creep across the books, casting an illusion of night, the wine bottles seem to cool as their shadows pass by” hint at where Master was at that time? Could it be that she saw what happened at that time?
When I thought about it, it wasn’t impossible. If anything, it was highly likely that she did. Although I had seen her leaving with my own eyes, there were a thousand reasons for her to turn back. Besides, Master’s qinggong was better than Lian’er. If she had slunk back into the cave at that time and…
I couldn’t help clutching my fingers tighter on the paper, and I was thrown into a brief confusion. I had always thought that only heaven and the earth knew about my feelings. But if Master already knew about it, how embarrassing would that be? On the other hand, if she knew, didn’t her support and encouragement of me leaving make sense now?
But Master being Master, would she really see her disciples as troublesome and hope for me or even encourage me to leave once and for all?
I didn’t want to believe this interpretation. If so, it was more difficult to accept than Master knowing my feelings, and it contradicted the impression I had of her all these years. I shook my head hard, shaking those slightly extreme thoughts out of my head. I paced around for a while then I stopped and calmed myself down, trying to sort out my thoughts again.
I emptied my mind and sorted through my thoughts again from the beginning. Even if I managed to explain the first two sentences following my train of thought earlier, it couldn’t explain the last two sentences, could it? Besides, if I thought about it, there was one more question. Even if Master coincidentally saw me getting carried away that evening, could she have guessed my actual feelings?
No matter how intimate, infatuated, and enchanted I was, in the end, I just kissed on Lian’er’s cheek if my memory served me right.
Just now, panic swelled up as if I had done something wrong, but now that I calmed down and thought about it, I didn’t think Master could see through my feelings with just what she saw, at least not everything.
Could it be that I worry too much? And looked at it the wrong way? But it didn’t seem like it…
If I carried the thought further, was there something out of the place other than the kiss? I remembered, at that time, my mind went blank, and I bent over to kiss Lian’er. Then when I came around, I instantly felt chagrined, at not being able to control myself and at these feelings I had, feelings that I shouldn’t be having. It awoke the irresolvable issues buried deep in my heart, so…
So I called that name, that name that had died, that name that I never wanted to hear again. I stared at the face reflected on the water and said with a sneer, “Do you want to die again?”
If Master had seen what happened before, then she wouldn’t have missed that.
If what happened before didn’t raise her suspicion, then anyone who saw that would think it wasn’t normal.
Not to mention that I did act differently after that night. I started to become withdrawn and distance myself from Lian’er, even going as far as not wanting to look her in the eyes and spar with her.
I didn’t know whether Master had seen my feelings, but with these, I figured Master at least knew that I had an unresolved issue, something that I had never told anyone, a Gordian knot, and Lian’er undoubtedly triggered it.
So when even sparring failed, she gave me the option to leave.
Did she give me that option to protect Lian’er? Looking at the last two sentences of the poem, I doubted it.
“If only they are left untouched, someday you will see them reach the clouds.”—The original meaning of this sentence was that as long as it wasn’t bogged down by bonds and ties, it would eventually grow to the height of clouds.
I guessed Master wanted to tell me with this that she respected me and my thoughts and wouldn’t interfere with what I did.
Just as she gave me the choice and the reason to leave, but ultimately, it was my own choice to leave. For that reason, I was able to take a breather and sort myself out, and if I wanted to, I could come back at any time.
This was Master’s true intention.
Now Master was no longer around. All I could do was guess. Even if it was a bit of a stretch, I wanted to believe that I got it right. The more I thought about it, the more I felt it was supposed to be like that. It was the only way to explain it.
And as if to prove my point, after I read the letter again and again, learning every word by heart, and was about to put it back with my eyes slightly red, I found another line in small letters with the same handwriting on the back of the letter—”question, contemplate, discern, and act with integrity”.
I didn’t need to think about the meaning of these words to understand why Master wrote it here.
Without me realizing, my hand clutched onto the pendant around my neck. This was a small habit I picked up in recent months. Lian’er didn’t put much thought into it when she gave it to me. She didn’t know what meaning I gave to this pendant.
Since we met again, my dormant feelings that had been put aside were awakened by this little gemstone.
And now, as if by chance, a belated letter from Master touched the unresolved feelings that I had been ignoring in a very subtle yet direct way. She even told me what to do.
I had always thought the best way to deal with this relationship and this problem was to just ignore it, put it aside, let it sleep. I’ll let it fade, better forget it, erase it, as if it never existed. It was good for myself and Lian’er. It was enough as long as I could be with her like now, keeping her safe, and away from harm. I still thought so even to this day.
But everything Master did—giving me space, freedom and respect—was not for me to run away. Even though she might not know what her disciple’s problem was, her intention to help her grow and face her problem was clear.
She didn’t even say whether it was right or wrong. She just wanted her to question, contemplate, discern, and act with integrity.
This was Ling Muhua. This is how Ling Muhua should be.
I looked down, feeling warm in my eyes, clutching the pendant until it became as painful as a burn. As my eyes become blurry, a laugh sounding like a cough escaped from my throat. Suddenly, I wanted to laugh. I couldn’t help but feel like laughing. Nice one, Ling Muhua, you could defend and go easy on your own disciple and let her walk away just so she could work out her problem. Why couldn’t you see it when it came to yourself? A mere paralysis and you ran off to die?
You, if I was right, you must still be alive. You had to be alive!
Instantly, I felt relieved, as if a heavy weight I had been carrying had been lifted off my heart. For the rest of the day, I quickly finished off the work at hand, cleaning up the little stone chamber nice and tidy. Why am I getting sentimental and sad here? She must still be somewhere in this world.
I spent another two hours alone like this. When it started to get dark outside and the thunder began to roar, I saw a flash of a figure at the cave entrance, and Lian’er slunk back in. When she saw me, she smiled and told me that it was done and said, “Look, it hasn’t rained yet right?” I returned a smile and said a few words to her before taking her to look at the things Master had left behind in the stone chamber. I even told her about the letter. Sure enough, Lian’er saw the wine jar and wine cup. She held them in her hand, her eyes flickering, and a look of nostalgia washed over her face. She fiddled with them for a while before putting them down. However, she didn’t understand the letter. After reading it twice, she finally pouted and said, “Master was being flowery again. She left it for you knowing that I won’t understand it.”
I let out a guffaw and put the letter away.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it. Master just told me to go do what I want to do,” I said.
“Oh? What do you want to do?” She tilted her head and looked at me, asking curiously, “How come I didn’t know it after all this time?”
Meeting her eyes, I stroked her head with a smile and said, “What I want to do is to take good care of you and be by your side, may I?”
I hadn’t done this for a long time because Lian’er didn’t like me being more senior than her since she was little, and then later, we were separated for a few years, so I didn’t have the opportunity to do that again. Now that she was suddenly being touched on the head again, she froze at first. Then when she came around, she ducked it and said, “Who wants you to take care of me? It’s more like me taking care of you. Look, I told you to rest before I left, and you started cleaning up the stone chamber instead. Such a pain in the neck!”
She rambled on for a while. At first, it was just a retort off the top of her head, but she seemed to think it made a lot of sense after saying it. Then she began to hang on to it, moving me to the bed and forcing me to rest. I didn’t feel tired, instead, I felt relaxed, so I didn’t mind joking around with her. When she pushed me, I just fell back to the bed. Then a thought hit me. I tugged at her and asked softly, “Then rest with me?”
For the past few months, we had been sleeping on the same bed. I was getting used to it, not to mention Lian’er. Besides, there was nothing else to do. Thunder was roaring outside, and it seemed like it was going to rain. She glared at me and then said with a smile, “Fine, I’ll rest with you. Since I’m going out this afternoon, I could use a nap now.” With that, she got onto the far side of the bed and lay on her usual spot, ready to fall asleep.
Seeing her settle in, I turned and lay on my side. After a slight hesitation, I reached out and wrapped my arm around her waist for the first time.
This was the first time I touched her of my own accord since we slept together. She seemed to be used to it and didn’t show any discomfort or awkwardness. She just shifted slightly and got into a more comfortable position and then settled in again.
Outside, the thunder was rolling; heavy rain was approaching.
Inside, we were sound asleep.