The Witch Nichang– Chapter 61
Fighting with destiny, grabbing fate by its throat, hm, it was easier said than done.
It seemed like I had failed on the first try.
“Leave? No. What’s the hurry? We’ll talk about it after tomorrow night.” Lian’er was working on a river fish as she spoke. It was a steamed fish, tasted light and fresh, just the way she liked it. That was why she didn’t mind the trouble, which was rare. A pair of bamboo chopsticks were moving across the fish as smoothly as a sword blade. The fine bones hidden in the flesh somehow gave way obediently, piling themselves into a small snowdrift. After she boned the fish and dipped it in the broth, she gave a small portion to me and sent most of it into her mouth with satisfaction.
I spaced out a little seeing her enjoying her food, then I realized that my suggestion had been turned down.
If you aren’t sure if you can win a direct confrontation, just avoid it. If you don’t want them to develop feelings for each other, just don’t let them see each other. With this simplest tactic of retreating when the enemy attacked in mind, I suggested over dinner that we leave Yellow Dragon Cave tomorrow and return to Mount Dingjun. I thought Lian’er would gladly accept it, but who knew she would refuse.
“Why?” Frowning, I put the last bit of vegetables into her bowl. If I didn’t do that, this little wolf wouldn’t have touched the greens at all till the end of dinner.
“We’ve stayed here for several months now. Now that we’ve carried out Master’s will, there’s no need for us to stay here anymore. Don’t you want to go back to the stronghold?”
She reluctantly picked up the vegetable and grudgingly chewed it a few times before gulping it down, as if what she ate wasn’t vegetables but straws. Then she took a mouthful of soup, rinsing away the taste in her mouth before she answered, “Of course I want to go back. There’s a lot of stuff waiting for me there, but I’m not done here.”
“What is it?” I laid down my bowl and chopsticks, looking at her, waiting.
Then Lian’er realized that she slipped up, but she didn’t act awkward about it. She laid down her chopsticks with equal grace and brushed her hair as she turned her eyes. “I’ve arranged a duel with someone at Yunu Peak. The time is tomorrow night, so it’s not too late to leave the day after tomorrow. Can’t be any earlier than that.”
“…Why didn’t you tell me?” I looked into her eyes, feeling somewhat exasperated.
“You didn’t ask.” She was straightforward and answered honestly, finishing off the last bite of fish in her bowl.
Alright. It was true that I never asked her about these things. There were almost no secrets between the two of us, but the stronghold wasn’t hers alone after all. I was more like a guest there, so I consciously avoided meddling in her business. I never even tried to find out what she and her people who came to report to her were talking about every time she went down the mountains.
“Lian’er, I wouldn’t ask about the things in the stronghold. It’s fine that I don’t know…” But some things had to be made clear. Otherwise, I would be the one worrying about her.
“But if it concerns your safety, that’s a different story. You’re worried about me getting sick; I’m worried about you getting into trouble. We only have each other when Master is not around. Do you understand?”
I stood up when I said that, both hands pressed against the edge of the stone table and my eyes fixed on her, hoping that it would make her understand the severity of my words.
She looked back at me without averting her eyes, but there was no fight in her eyes. A pair of bright eyes blinked a few times, then a smile spread across her face, and she said, “I like to see you worry about me. Maybe I’m used to seeing it since I was little. I feel like there’s nothing I can’t overcome when you’re worried.”
I expelled a breath and said, “Then you’d better bring me along for everything. The more concerning the matter is, the more you shouldn’t forget that.”
I took away the dishes on the table as I said so. Having no time to wash them, I stacked them in a corner, wiped my hands, and looked at the sky outside. The moon had risen in the east, glimmering with stars spread sparsely across the sky. It was nice. Then I turned around and got my coat and flame stick, grabbed her, and said, “Let’s go.”
Lian’er had just washed her face with clean water. She was starting to settle down, feeling satisfied and content. When she saw me acting this way, she said, surprised, “For what? The duel is tomorrow night, not tonight.”
“Scouting,” I said curtly.
You can never be too careful. This applies everywhere you go. Lian’er believed that we knew all the way around Mount Hua, but she nonetheless agreed to have a look—even though in her mind, she probably saw it more as accompanying me.
I hadn’t thought about this at all. This suddenly came out of nowhere. I wasn’t ready for it. Even if I had a gut feeling that nothing could go wrong, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy. I only found out a little more about the duel after I asked her on the way. The person she was going to have a duel with was a jianghu member called Ying Xiuyang. Lian’er called him an old crook, saying that he stabbed some great hero in the back and he was wicked. It was highly likely that he was a Manchurian mole who betrayed his country, but unfortunately, she lacked evidence, so she challenged him for a duel as an excuse, so she could kill him and get rid of the problem. The duel was supposed to take place near Mount Dingjun, but we couldn’t go back because of the matter with Master, so she changed the place to Mount Hua.
Needless to say, this information was reported to her by her people from the stronghold. I didn’t doubt the legitimacy of the information, but Lian’er was simple and didn’t like to deal with the scutwork. Even though she was the chief, the real power was in someone else’s hand. She was more like the titular chief. Even if she was respected and hailed by the people and what she did and said was for the country and the people, the truth was she ran the risk of being manipulated and used.
It might be a little cold and heartless to think this way. I had no real feeling about the country and the people in this world. The country was in chaos during the late Ming dynasty, wars were everywhere, threats were coming from within and without, and then came the fall of Ming dynasty. These were just a few lines in the history books. To me, these were all bound to happen and had nothing to do with me. I had no ambition of getting involved in it since I was way past the age of being young and reckless and had once experienced death. That feeling still lingered. The wheel of history was too hefty. One slip, and I would be crushed to ashes again.
But of course the people who lived in the present wouldn’t think so. Even the rebellious Lian’er who didn’t read much developed sympathy for the misfortunes and these strong emotions of love and hate because of what she had seen and heard and being around it after coming down the mountains. It was in no way wrong that she was willing to bear the burden of standing up for the people.
But when I thought of the conversation I had with the chief steward, Dong Sun, it still gave me a headache.
The road to love was going to be bumpy, so was the road ahead. I couldn’t make a single mistake walking on both. What I feared the most was that there was nothing I could do.
Lian’er didn’t know what I was contemplating. When she didn’t get any response from me after she told me—probably thinking that I didn’t agree with what she was doing—she got angry and stopped talking and just focused on the road. I was thinking about the things on my mind, so I only realized something was wrong after a while. I looked up and saw that she was scowling. I couldn’t help but ask, “What’s wrong? Angry again?”
“That’s my question to you. You have a serious face on.” Lian’er snorted and kept going. “Is pleading for Wudang’s disciples not enough? Do you want to plead for the old crook too? I like to fight, and you like to intercede. It’s so annoying.”
I didn’t know how she came to that. I chuckled when I heard that and asked in return, “In Lian’er’s eyes, am I a do-gooder who goes around pleading for people?” She slowed down but still not looking back. I picked up my pace to catch up to her and grabbed her hand, stopping her.
She was cut off, anger still colored her face. She remained silent, reluctant to look me in the eyes. I sighed to myself, thinking to myself, not again. I looked around, thinking about how to cheer her up. Then I stumbled across an old tree by the cliff under the night sky, dotted with spots of pale rouge. An idea struck me. I smiled and said, “Wait here,” and headed towards it carefully.
But the person next to me didn’t listen. Even though she didn’t want to talk, she followed behind me, keeping a three step distance.
I knew she was a person who had a sharp tongue but a soft heart. She probably was worried about me going to the edge of the cliff alone. I wanted to grin, but I couldn’t or else I would have a hell of a time if I exposed her, so I could only smile to myself, and at the same time, a corner of my heart was melting.
But Lian’er really underestimated me. No matter how bad I was, nothing could go wrong with such a simple task. I successfully got up the tree and snapped off a pale red flower. It was an early spring apricot blossom, its petals stretched out. Though small, it was at its full bloom. Rain and dew of today were sprinkled across the pink and white, adding to its elegance and beauty.
When Lian’er saw me landed safely, she stopped and stood three steps away, her lips still pursed tight, but her expression had lightened up, anger and irritation gradually lifted and replaced by confused curiosity.
I returned a smile and went back to her side. I tapped the small pale rouge between my fingers to shake off the excess dew and fixed it onto her hair lace.
This was the first time I did this on purpose after I had made a certain decision. I had never done it before. Even though I pretended it was nothing, my heart was drumming. After fixing it in place, I took a step back and pretended to look at it. I nodded and said with a smile, hiding my nervousness, “Not bad.”
In contrast to me who pretended to be unaffected, Lian’er was the one who was actually unaffected. She shook her head and found that it stayed fixed. Without touching that small object, she turned her gaze at me and was finally willing to speak. She asked, “What’s this for?”
“This looks good on you,” I answered frankly.
“I know it looks good.” She was even more frank than I was, not even trying to hide her pride. “I look good even without the flower. This flower is beautiful, but it’ll wither in a few days. Can’t compare to me.” Even though she said that, she raised her hand and touched it carefully. Her touch was gentle. It seemed like she liked it a lot.
I smiled looking at her. When she was a kid, she didn’t have any idea of what was beautiful. Now that she had grown up, went down the mountains, and got to know more people, she should have come to know that she had a gorgeous face. With her personality, she was of course very proud of it, but her pride was mostly pure. She had no idea how much impact it had on other people.
“Lian’er.” I pulled her over and let out a soft sigh. “Do you know what I don’t like the most about you going for a duel? Not because you’ll hurt people, not even because you might get hurt since you’re great at martial arts and sword. No one knows this better than me. But I don’t like how those boors look at you. I like that you’re good-looking, but I don’t like those blockheads gawking at you.”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal. If anyone dares to gawk at me, I’ll gouge out his eyes!” In response to my insinuating words, she replied almost without hesitation, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I smiled, disappointed. Sure enough, she didn’t understand it. Nevermind, I didn’t expect her to understand either.
As long as she was no longer angry. There was still time. One step at a time.
As long as nothing goes wrong.
As I was thinking about that, I heard an “eh” coming from the person beside me. Before I could ask her what happened, Lian’er yanked on my sleeve and brought me down by surprise. Crouching under the tree, I tilted my head and looked at her with confusion. Then I saw her making a silent gesture and pointed at the base of the cliff.
The cliff was not tall. It looked more like a hillside judging by its terrain. Looking down following where her finger pointed, I saw two people at the base of the hill walking towards here from afar. Suddenly, an odd whistle rang out, and the people stopped and clapped their hands. Then a few people came out from behind the unclaimed grave.
The wind was blowing in the right direction, so we could hear voices speaking, “Brother Ying can’t make it too? How could we do without him!” One of them replied, “He’s going to find the right timing and show up unexpectedly tomorrow night to scare that witch.” After that, the wind turned, and we could hear them whispering for a while but couldn’t make out what they were saying. It was only towards the end that we heard a man say with great bravado, “Brother Zhuo, we’ll fight the witch at the peak of Mount Hua tomorrow night, so we want to practice and nail that killing formation tonight.”
That “Brother Zhuo” made my heart skip. Lian’er frowned and said under her breath, looking in that direction, “Why is it him?”
I smiled wryly, unable to help myself. Does this count as a mistake?
Khriss, the editor of this novel, is busy lately, so this chapter is unedited. I’ll upload the edited version again after Khriss has done the editing. Please bear with me if there are any mistakes or any parts that sound awkward. I’ve also set up membership subscriptions for early chapters on Kofi. If you’re interested, you can check it out on my Kofi page. Thank you so much for everyone who has supported me and stayed with me until now. I’ll try my best to release a chapter every two to three days (the goal I’m setting for myself). Hope you like the chapter.