The Witch Nichang– Chapter 67
Southern Shaanxi and Northern Shaanxi were just one word different, but between them, the hills stretched for thousands of miles. It was a long way, and the valley path was difficult to travel.
As a member of jianghu, Lian’er was bound to be busy. After about half a month of recovering at the foot of Mount Hua, someone came to her. It was the lady troops from Mount Dingjun. Almost twenty of them were here this time. It was obvious they were not here simply to send word to her.
I only found out later that Mount Dingjun had made a covenant with Wang Zhaoxi’s father, Wang Jiayin, before sending the gift in a horse saddle. Lian’er should have gone to Northern Shaanxi to meet up with him long ago. Who knew their chief would go to Mount Hua with me and stay there for a few months. Fortunately, there was the duel with Ying Xiuyang, so she could still explain herself. Her people in the stronghold had gotten impatient now that everything was settled but Lian’er was still not back, so the chief steward, Dong Sun, came with a group of people and requested Lian’er to return to Mount Dingjun to get ready.
But Lian’er remained non-committal at first when they met. I listened to their conversations twice in the room. I knew why Lian’er was acting this way. She probably wanted to go back too. Her only concern was my injuries that had yet to heal.
If so, I could hit the road with her. Even though I didn’t want her to climb too high, I would never drag her down either.
“Looking out the window again? It’s the same scenery all over the woods. I don’t know why you haven’t had enough of it already.” The girl bent down, lifted the curtain, and came in as I was spacing out. When she saw me leaning against the window and looking out, she grumbled casually and handed the leather water bag to me. “Drink your medicine.”
I couldn’t tell her that I was looking for familiar sights, so I just smiled and drank half of the medicine as she said. This time we traveled during the daytime and settled for the night. I thought I would be spared the suffering of drinking the medicine, but I didn’t know which lady troop’s idea it was. They actually prepared the medicine during their spare time while staying in the inn and brought it along. As a result, the bitter concoction never ran out for the whole journey.
Lian’er sat down on the seat next to me and watched me until I finished the medicine, then she nodded approvingly, tightening the lid and putting it away. She said, “Let me know if you’re not feeling well. You’re the one who will suffer if you keep it to yourself like a closed bottle. That’ll make me worried too. That won’t do.”
I couldn’t help but smile when I heard that. “The cushion of the carriage is warm. I’ve been sitting or lying down for the whole day, and we didn’t travel a lot in a day. Do you really think I’m a porcelain doll or clay doll?” I replied with a chuckle. I moved my hand to show her. Even though it still hurt, I could already move it a little. We had been traveling in a hired horse carriage for more than a month and a half from Hanzhong to Northern Shaanxi. When we stopped to rest, I often heard the lady troops who followed us expressing their amazement. They were surprised that their chief had the patience. They had never seen her like this, except when she was messing around with her opponents.
Even I didn’t seem to have the memory of her being like this, let alone them.
“Move again. If you move your bone, you’ll have to get it repositioned again. Scared?” When Lian’er saw me move my hand, she puckered her nose and snorted, smiling mockingly. It looked like the look of me having pain during the treatment had left a strong impression on her. I smiled with resignation, trying to explain it away, “I should be glad that we’re in the wild. Where can you get a doctor around here? So it’s fine.”
“Don’t get happy just yet. Judging by the distance, we’ll be on the main road tomorrow and will probably reach Ya’an Mansion before sundown.” Lian’er said lightheartedly, “I’ve told them to look for a doctor to look at your hand first thing after entering the city. There’s no escape from that.”
“Eh?” Jokes aside, I didn’t expect she would actually say that. I couldn’t help but ask, “Aren’t you in a hurry to go to the outlaw alliance meeting. It’s been pushed off for so long because of the journey. Isn’t it a bad idea to enter the city when you’re almost at the destination? I’m fine. You can go do whatever you want.”
“I want to enter the city, what’re you going to do about it?” She gave me a sidelong glance. She had a long face but still with a faint smile. She said arrogantly, “The building won’t run away. It doesn’t matter whether I’m early or late for a few days. I’m already showing them respect by coming all the way here. Who dares to have anything to say about me?”
The chief always stood firm on her words. I didn’t know if her people who came with her had any objections, but I supposed it would do nothing even if they had. The next day before the sunset, the horse carriage traveled all the way into the bustling town.
Since we tried not to draw too much attention, most of the lady troops didn’t enter the town but rode straight to the destination to camp down and send out the message. Only two ladies who looked rather macho changed into a man’s outfit and followed us, so they could drive the carriage and get rooms, handling tasks that required to show face.
Without the trouble of dealing with menial tasks, Lian’er was very relaxed. After we settled down in the inn, washed up, and had a meal, she insisted on calling a doctor.
The night had fallen by that time, and all the lights were lit. Her two ladies were exhausted after traveling all the way here. Now that they could finally sleep in a warm bed, both of them went to bed after dinner when they thought there was nothing more to do. It was a little heartless to wake them up now, but I didn’t want to turn down Lian’er’s kindness. Looking at the lit streets outside the inn and the bustling nightlife, an idea hit me. I asked the innkeeper about the location of a nearby clinic, intending to visit the clinic in person to save the doctor the trouble of traveling back and forth.
Lian’er was usually not much into noisy and bustling places, but perhaps because it was the first time she visited the place and was unfamiliar with the local culture and the big difference in the local folkways between Southern Shaanxi and Northern Shaanxi sparked her curiosity, she didn’t oppose my suggestion, took her sword, and went out with me in excitement.
We were on the main street as soon as we came out of the inn. It was a major city in the prefecture, after all. I didn’t know if we came upon some kind of special day. The town was still buzzing with noises at night, and lights were everywhere. Street traders and officers were traversing the town. Stores and vendors flanked the streets with lanterns hanging from their stalls. Businesses were booming, and people were bustling around.
Lian’er and I blended in and moved forward with the crowd. We were sauntering side by side, looking around as we walked. We were not in a rush to do anything. Everything was new to her, but it wasn’t all that unfamiliar to me. The world changed, but there were still things that were familiar to me on this continent. Date paste, fruit fillings, dumplings, buckwheat noodles, Wantuo, and lamb soup. When I saw something familiar, I couldn’t help but get her to stop by and try it. We were having fun and threw the thing about getting my injury checked out of the window.
“Look at that mountain. Can you see the pagoda on top?” At the moment of excitement, I pulled Lian’er over to look in the southeast direction and pointed at the small hill in the distance in the moonlight. I said with a smile, “The pagoda’s very famous. If I’m not mistaken, there should be a stone tablet and a hundred-meter-tall cliff carving. It’s impressive.”
“…you’re familiar with this place.” The young lady turned around and said, grinning, “Have you been here by yourself?” Although she was smiling, her face looked a little vague in the light.
I was slightly startled, then I was snapped out of my own world and realized that I went a little overboard just now. “…Heh, why do you ask that? I’ve seen it in a book, so I remember a thing or two about it.” I awkwardly made an excuse, trying to hide my uneasiness.
“You really haven’t been here?” Although she was simple and straightforward, she was by no means easy to fool. She still looked unconvinced after listening to my explanation and kept on asking.
“If I must say, maybe I’ve been here once or twice in my dream,” I answered with a bitter smile. What I said was true this time. That was a dream of a backpacker.
I didn’t know if I was lucky. Just as she was about to say something, she was interrupted by a clamor.
“The bandits are attacking the city! The bandits are attacking the city! The city gate has been breached! They’ve made it to the town hall! Quick, everybody hide!”
I didn’t know where the shout first came from. It came rumbling over like thunder. In an instant, shouts were everywhere on the streets. The crowd fell into disarray and scattered away. It was a mess. You could hear shouting and crying everywhere!
“Bandits?” I repeated in confusion and exchanged a look with Lian’er. No matter how chaotic this period was and how rampant the bandits were, there were only a handful of bandits who dared to attack the prefecture’s major city, and it happened over here. It was hard not to think of the outlaw alliances.
“You go and hide in the inn first. I’ll go have a look!” Lian’er obviously had thought of the same thing. She was about to go after pulling me to her and telling me that. My first reaction was to refuse, but then it occurred to me that I wasn’t as strong as usual. I was injured at the moment, and the situation over there was unclear. If I insisted on going with her, I might weigh her down, so I could only nod and say with a frown, “Okay. Please be careful!”
She smiled nonchalantly and turned away. It wasn’t a place to stay long among the tumultuous crowd, so I turned around, about to head back to the inn, but I spotted a person jumped up in the chaotic crowd at the other end of the street. The person was slender and petite, dressed in a yellow shirt and a red dress. It was clearly a woman, but she was holding a long sword, a black veil covering her nose and mouth. There was something odd about her.
Before I could look at her again, she had closed the distance in a blink of an eye. I figured she was in a hurry. She kept lifting herself as she jumped and moved across the crowd, stepping on people’s heads and shoulders. In a few jumps, she was here and shouted, “Lend me your shoulder!” Then she jumped and was going for my right shoulder. It was the injured arm. How could I lend her? But it was too late to tell her, so I could only dodge aside.
“Eh? Ah! Oy!” The woman didn’t expect she would lose her footing. She wasn’t prepared for it, so she fell and landed on her bump. She closed her eyes and frowned, yelping in pain, looking ruffled.
I felt amused and at the same time bad for her. When I was going to help her up, she had gotten up, standing there rubbing on the part that hurt while pointing at me and said angrily, “Hey! How could you be so mean? It’s fine if you don’t let me step on you, but you had to dodge without saying anything and made me fall!”
It was a little unfair to say that. Seemingly still angry after spitting those words, she reached to her waist without preamble when I was about to speak, and with a swoosh, a white shadow came striking toward an acupoint on my right arm! My heart jolted, and I quickly titled my body. As I was dodging, I saw what she was using to strike my acupoint was a jade flute.
“Great, so you’re a martial artist! Then I’m not bullying you. I won’t be holding back!” She realized that when she missed all three of her strikes and saw that I could dodge her attacks with ease. Then she put away her jade flute and drew her bronze sword. With a flick of her sword, she thrusted at me!
I hadn’t seen a lot of women in jianghu so far in this life, but each one I met was more unreasonable than the last one. I didn’t know how to react. Lian’er had her sword with her when we came out tonight, so I didn’t bring anything with me. The two injuries I had didn’t allow me to drag the fight. After a few dodges, I felt that I could manage it, so I wanted to go for it and grab the sword, taking away her weapon first.
As I was getting ready to strike, a long whistle came from behind, then a voice rapped out, “Where has this brat come from? Do you have a death wish? Scram!” The sound of a blade hissing through the air came from behind me. A clink, it caught the sharp blade in front of me. Two forces clashed into each other. You could almost see sparks flying off!
“Lian’er.” I didn’t have to see who landed. I knew who it was by the voice. She landed in front of me, turned around before I could say anything and said, shooting me a glare, “How long have I been away? Why do you always attract bees and butterflies when I’m not around!?” She didn’t wait for an answer after saying that and stared at the masked woman with an angry smile, then she said, “Great skills. Let’s see how long you can last!” With that, she charged at her.
I was stunned because of the words she used. In a stupor, it occurred to me that Lian’er didn’t learn a lot of words, and her word choice wasn’t the most accurate, so it was usual that her words came out wrong sometimes. Only then was I relieved. I collected myself and turned my focus to the fight.
Lian’er saying the woman’s martial skills were great was just to belittle her opponent. She was someone I could handle, so I could imagine she was no match for Lian’er once she got serious.
I was in the position of an onlooker. Their swords were crossing at the moment. It had been only three moves, and the masked woman already had to give her all to thwart her moves. After taking these three moves, she probably figured out that her opponent’s sword skills were far superior than hers, so she feigned an attack and was about to run away, but the one she had messed with was someone she shouldn’t have messed with. How would Lian’er let her off? With a few attacks, she got her opponent trapped in a circle.
The masked woman was driven up the wall. She shouted, “I can’t beat you. I admit defeat. Why do you have to back me into a corner?” Lian’er responded with a sneer, “I don’t accept your defeat!” The masked woman shouted, “See my dad if you have the guts!” It elicited a long laugh from Lian’er, and she said, “I’ll see you first!” She swung her sword and thrusted at her face. A woman’s face was very important. The masked woman shrieked out of shock. The sword blade brushed past her, but it only picked away the black veil covering her face.
The black veil fell to the ground and revealed her face. She was an average young girl. Her facial features were beautiful, but judging from her look, she was probably younger than us. I didn’t know what was on Lian’er’s mind. She said with a smile after she saw her face, “Okay, I won’t kill you. I’ll just leave a mark on you!” She pointed with her sword and went for her face. This time, it did seem like she wanted to leave a mark on her.
The girl responded in fright before I could say anything. She flicked her bronze sword, the tip bounced up and crossed with Lian’er’s sword. Then her sword slid, clearly to the left, but halfway through, it swerved to the right, thrusting toward an acupoint on the left chest!
Lian’er and I, one within the fight and another without, were startled when we saw the move, but it wasn’t because the move was dangerous. While we were in shock, the girl leaped up to the roof and ran away. In a moment, all we could see was a black spot in the distance.
The young lady in the battleground wasn’t in a hurry. She looked at the roof before turning back and asked with a frown, “Did you see that? That move is our sword technique, right?”
I nodded, my eyes fixing on the faint black spot in the distance. I held my breath and out came the words, “Go after her!”
 It’s a negative idiom which is often used to criticize people who behave in a way to attract others’ attention.