The Witch Nichang- Chapter 6
Spring came after Lunar New Year. After the awakening of hibernating insects (begins around March 5 and ends around March 20), the weather in the mountain was finally getting warmer, and the snow and ice around were gradually melting into purling streams.
The mountain life of three was much livelier than of two, but I had grown accustomed to it.
Great things happened. Since leaving the wolf’s den, the child’s animal nature had slowly diminished under our strict discipline these days. Recently, she had stopped biting people or gnawing on things easily and seldom made loud howls anymore. She even learned how to eat clumsily from a wooden bowl. Master’s eyes were beaming with joy witnessing that, and I was happy for her.
There were also some subtle changes in her attitude toward us.
Her attitude toward Master had gradually changed from pure fear to a kind of reverence. She even displayed affectionate and clingy behaviors sometimes. Master was pleased to see this and felt that it was a sign of the gradual disappearance of animal nature and the budding of humanity. I had nothing to say on this, but I personally believed that it might be the remnants of her animal nature having an effect on her behaviors. It was worth knowing that there was always a leader in every wolf pack. Such behaviors of hers were probably her instinct to recognize Master as the leader.
In this case, it could explain her attitude toward me.
After all, compared to the gratifying progress on Master’s side, her attitude toward me always came with one word—defiance.
I thought it was because the first fight we had in the wolf’s den that she had held a grudge and sowed hostility against me. I had tried to get close to her in every possible way. But after a long time, I realized that although she had no longer glared at me with belligerent eyes, and wasn’t constantly being aggressive anymore, she was still stubborn and supercilious. It was totally different from her attitude toward Master.
Perplexed by this, I felt that only the law of the wolves could explain this situation after thinking it over—She instinctively sensed the power of Master, and conceded to her. She then recognized her as the leader, but would never accept others’ position to be above her. And this ‘others’ was, of course, me, which was why she acted haughty toward me in every way, causing a lot of trouble.
Having figured out the reason, I could only feel more ironic, feeling that the journey ahead would be difficult, yet didn’t know what to do with her.
Of course, there were two sides to the story. She didn’t always work against me in everything or act rebellious and unruly, especially when it was time to cook.
I was the one who usually prepared the meals in the cave. Initially, the child wouldn’t even touch the cooked food when I gave it to her. She would only drool over bloody raw meats, and sometimes she would also eat grassroots or tree berries. Master couldn’t stand it. She told me not to give her anything but cooked food, even if she would starve to death. Later, she had really fasted for a few meals and was lethargic, seeming piteous. I couldn’t unsee it. After careful observation of her behaviors, I noticed, not that she refused to eat; it was just that she couldn’t take hot food, not even when it was warm. And the weather was freezing cold then, so every dish I prepared for each meal was steaming hot. Naturally, she wouldn’t eat it.
Because of this, I felt somewhat guilty. After that, I would specially cut some meat, add less seasoning, and roast it slowly with low heat, then slice it, and let it cool before giving it to her. As I thought, she liked it. After this occasion, she was willing to accept other food little by little.
Even though she liked it, she seemed to have her own conceit as a proud little wolf. She would never be tempted by food and danced around merrily like cats and dogs, especially when the person who enticed her was me. While I was roasting the meat, she would stand watching over me silently in the distance, letting the smell of roasting meat waft through the air without taking a glimpse at it. Occasionally, when she peeked out of the corner of her eye, she would assume a look of indifference. Sometimes, when I wanted to tease her, I would take my sweet time to roast the meat and not give it to her. Once her craving turned into frustration, not only would she not give in and please me, she would threaten me with a ferocious look instead.
Or maybe I should be happy, for she didn’t bite down on me.
Although we didn’t get along well, the kid did gradually return to the track of being a so-called human following Master’s expectations. On the day when she was awkwardly trying to stand on her feet, Master removed the rope from her.
At first glance, Master seemed to be very strict with this child, but I was well aware of how much effort Master had put into her. Since the child came, Master spent significantly less time in closed-door meditation refining her martial art, especially the initial phase. As the child only feared her, she was the one who looked after the child all the time. Later, when the situation was slightly better, she would retreat to the stone chamber to train, but she would definitely come out once in a day or two, which was quite different from the ten-day-to-half-a-month meditation when it was only the two of us.
Master called me Xian’er and called her Lian’er.
I knew as long as Master hadn’t named her for a day; it meant that she still wasn’t considered as Master’s disciple for a day. But whenever I saw Master spending time with her, calling her Lian’er, I always had a weird feeling.
I, too, felt odd for this weird feeling.
I wasn’t a jealous person, much less of such a master-disciple relationship. Undeniably to this day, Master was the only person with whom I had developed a relationship since I came to this world. I was grateful to her…grateful to her for getting me out of deep water and opening up a whole new world before me, so I wanted to repay her and try my best to fulfill all her expectations of me.
But now, there was a more suitable person to carry these expectations.
I was a little upset, yet deep down, I felt a sense of relief.
If so, why do I have this inexplicable feeling? Where does it come from?
For a long time, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Until that day—it was the beginning of the summer.
The weather in the mountain was still pleasant at this time, gentle breezes blowing in the air, but the turn of the season was just around the corner.
Children of a few years old grew up fast. Her last year’s clothes didn’t fit her anymore when I took them out and had a look. Ever since we brought the kid back, she had been wearing my old clothes, and the size didn’t fit her well either. Since her animal nature was fading, we decided to take her along to the market downhill to buy some new clothes after a brief discussion.
The so-called market was just the most basic mountain village fair. Farmers from villages around gathered for buying and selling goods. Master and I were no strangers to it, but for the child, everything was new.
I thought she would look about with curiosity and like to try everything. But who knew, amidst the jostling crowd, this kid kept a cold face with caution and vigilance written in her eyes. When she saw anyone came too close, she would pucker her nose and give the person a menacing look. Fortunately, she was in Master’s arms, so she didn’t do anything in the end.
Seeing her response, we didn’t want to stay on the street for any longer. We headed straight to the clothing store after purchasing the necessities.
I hadn’t been very demanding. It was a clothing store, but as a small store in the countryside, they sold both ready-made garments and fabrics side by side. We were lucky as we quickly found clothes that fit her. It would be difficult to find fitting ones if she were a little younger. Master also picked some silk and prepared to sew a robe for her after we got back.
The old shopkeeper’s face lit up with happiness as silk was expensive quality goods in this small village store. He measured and cut the silk himself while pouring out flattery the whole time. I didn’t know how he mistook us for mother and daughters. He first complimented Master, saying she was blessed for having such a pair of daughters, and then praised her for being a good mother.
I felt uncomfortable listening in by the side. Master seemed annoyed too, however, she couldn’t lose her temper. She could only sit tight and wait for him to finish his job.
In contrast, the child was more relaxed now, probably because she was away from the crowd. She was just starting to learn how to speak of late. While listening to the old shopkeeper talking, she babbled along with bright eyes.
At first, Master and I were used to this, so it didn’t surprise us.
Until she uttered a crisp and clear word among her babbling:
I saw Master start slightly, looking incredulous. She looked at the child in her arms deeply. And for a moment, tears welled up faintly in the corners of her eyes.
I had been following Master for so long. This was the first time I had seen her lose her composure. I dropped my head down quietly, all sorts of feelings flooded my heart.
Luckily, Master had quickly recollected herself despite losing her cool. With a deep breath, she was back to normal. The old shopkeeper saw nothing when he lifted his head back up, heard only the child’s babbling. He was delighted and asked for the child’s name while chatting with Master.
The moment I heard the old shopkeeper’s inquiry, a premonition struck me for some reason.
I looked up at Master, saw that she was silent at first, then she slowly looked over to the silk chiffon in the shopkeeper’s hands, and gazed fixedly at it with her mouth ajar for a while.
I heard her reply: “This child’s name is Lian Nichang.”
A sentence crashed into my brain, instantly freezing my limbs and bones.
In a trance, I only knew that I seemed to have repeated the name once more.
Her name was as familiar as the sound of thunder to my ears.
惊蛰(Jīngzhé)- 惊 is to startle and 蛰 means hibernating insects. It’s the 3rd of the 24 solar terms in the traditional East Asian calendars. Traditional Chinese folklore says that during Jingzhe, thunderstorms will wake up the hibernating insects, which implies that the weather is getting warmer. Source: Wikipedia