The Witch Nichang– Chapter 77
As She Said
Lian’er had a bad temper. She had gotten angry at me many times since she was a child. The way she vented her anger had changed as she grew older, from direct attacks when she was a child to verbal attacks, and recently, she had been giving me the silent treatment quite often. Regardless of how she vented, I could still handle it, so I wasn’t that afraid of making her angry.
But I was afraid of making her worry.
Unlike most of the time when her emotions were straightforward, Lian’er tended to bottle up her feelings when she was worried, as if she didn’t know how to express them, like the last time I got hurt. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell that it had bothered her.
Her expression then was similar to the one now.
“Lian’er…cough… ” Although I wanted to reassure her, it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation to talk. As soon as I opened my mouth, I choked on my own blood and the sand dust that gushed into my mouth. I turned my head to the side and coughed, trying to block the wind with one hand and stop the bleeding with the other, and at the same time, I wanted to get to her quickly, so I found myself in a difficult situation. Everything was a mess.
But in the next moment, the raging wind died down a little because someone had stood in front of me, her clothes flapping in the wind.
I could barely open my eyes because of the wind, but even so, I knew who was standing in front of me. I didn’t care about blocking the wind. With one hand pressing on my bleeding nose, I grabbed the person in front of me with the other hand and said loudly, “It’s okay! It’s just that the air has been too dry and hot these past few days, and I’m a little overheated. Don’t worry about it!”
The howling of the wind was so loud that it almost drowned out my shouts. After that, I squinted, but I couldn’t see her expression, nor did I get any response. There was nothing I could do at the moment, so I had to focus on the important thing first. I turned her around with a jerk and freed my hand that was stopping the bleeding to point in the direction where I had found the old path, gesturing for her to look into the distance.
As soon as I moved my hand away from my nose, the blood came gushing out again, and even tilting my head back didn’t help. Maybe because of the sandstorm, this time happened to be the worst of all the times it had happened. I was annoyed with myself and even blamed my body a little, but there was nothing else I could do, except to put pressure on my nose again to stop the bleeding. Just as I was about to pull my hand back, someone pressed down on the side where my nose was bleeding before I did.
“Lower your head.” I was patted on the back, then I heard Lian’er voice. We were close to each other, so her voice was moderate, “Tilting your head back will only make your blood flow backwards. Since there’s heat in the blood, it’s better not to swallow it.”
I lowered my head slightly as she said, and then she whistled. The sharp whistle managed to break through the wind and traveled beyond. After a while, a tall figure came over against the wind. His voice came before his body. He called out, “What’s wrong? Have you found…” He was in front of us before he finished, but he stopped abruptly, and his voice changed to a strange tone, “Huh? What’s going on here? What are you doing, lowering your head like that, Zhu’er? And why do you need someone to hold you? Are you hurt?”
I couldn’t answer him or shake my head, so I just waved my hand. Lian’er took over and said “She’s feeling a little sick. I want to take her back to the camel and let her rest. We’ve found the path. Godfather, you can help us navigate the way together with the guides.”
When the old man heard that we had found the way, he was so happy that he forgot about everything else and kept asking where it was. Since I couldn’t speak, I pointed in the direction I had shown Lian’er earlier. The old man strode over before I had even put my hand down, and at that moment, I felt an arm tighten around my waist. Before I could react, I was lifted up and brought to the ground.
Lian’er brought me down from a high place. Although her movements were gentle, the fact that she didn’t warn me showed that she was angry. I stumbled a bit before steadying myself, but I didn’t say much else.
The posture of looking down with my nose covered while being supported looked strange. When I braced against the wind and sand and returned to the caravan, I could feel the surprised gazes of the guides on me, and it was also uncomfortable to be held like this. When we reached our camel, I couldn’t help but put my hand on Lian’er’s fingers, which were pressing against the side of my nose. I looked up, shook my head slightly, and said softly, “I’m fine, Lian’er. Try letting go of your hand? The bleeding should have stopped by now. Don’t worry.”
She shot me a look but didn’t seem to be against it, allowing me to hold her hand, tug it a little, and gently pull it away. Probably because she had kept pressure on it for a while, it didn’t bleed again this time. I let out a long sigh of relief. Rubbing the bridge of my nose, I wanted to say something, but the people at the front of the caravan were urging us on.
“Lian’er…” I only had time for a word, so I pleaded, “Don’t get angry just yet, okay? We have to get out of here first. Let’s get on the camel first, shall we?” After that, I looked at her, afraid that she would throw a fit regardless of time and place. Given her willful personality, it wouldn’t matter to her even if there was an army charging at us, let alone a sandstorm.
Our eyes met just for a brief moment. Who would have thought that she just blinked, nodded readily, and said, “Okay.”
Lian’er reached for the saddle as she replied, her expression and behavior seeming normal. I was relieved, but she didn’t get on the camel after holding onto the edge of the saddle. Instead, she turned back to look at me after she had steadied the camel. Familiar words came out of her mouth, “You go first and sit in front.”
Startled, I looked to the girl beside me and saw that she was also looking at me with a slight curl on her lip. Her expression was one of knowing, but her pupils were slightly narrowed in a way that allowed no question.
Coughing awkwardly for a few times, I looked away and got on the camel as she said without a word of protest.
The group set off again into the strong wind, this time with a clearer sense of direction. Old Tie led us from high above while the two guides expertly maneuvered the camels forward against the wind. Everything was going smoothly, so much so that there was nothing left for the two passengers on the last camel to do.
But I couldn’t let my guard down, nervously keeping an eye on them. Lian’er pulled a Persian rug out of the luggage behind our camel’s hump. With a wave of her hand, she covered me and herself under the rug.
I didn’t notice what she was doing at first, so all I felt was that everything around me suddenly went dark, and I found myself in a small dark space, the endless desert blocked from my sight. The gusting air suddenly stopped, and even the sharp whistling of the wind weakened immediately, sounding somewhat muffled.
“Rest if you’re tired.” A familiar voice rang out in the darkness. Because the whistling wind was muffled, Lian’er’s voice sounded especially clear, “Godfather and I are here. What are you trying to prove by acting tough? Stop trying to act tough in front of me.” Even though her tone wasn’t exactly friendly, I felt a hand reach over to my waist, and with a wrap and a pull, I was pulled back against her, just like what I had been doing to her these days. Even the gentle movements were perfectly imitated.
I took a deep breath and slowly closed my eyes.
I didn’t do what she said because I wanted to please her or because I didn’t want to push her away. It was because I was exhausted. The small space had kept out the raging wind and dust. It felt quiet and safe here. My strained nerves gradually relaxed in the dark. She was right. I was trying to act tough.
I was aware that I wasn’t the same person I used to be, and I knew my own body, but over the past few days of travel, I had been comparing myself to the past me, both consciously and unconsciously, trying to force the standards from back then on this body. When I realized that I couldn’t meet those standards, I got frustrated and pushed myself too hard. That was why my body couldn’t take it anymore.
At this moment, my agitated dignity finally calmed down. I stopped pushing myself. The fatigue that had been building up hit me all at once. Drowsily, I leaned all my weight on the person behind me and closed my eyes heavily.
The danger wasn’t over yet. The sandstorm was still raging outside, and I, enclosed in this small space, fell into a dreamless sleep.
When I woke up from the sleep, it felt like a world away. It wasn’t an exaggeration. As I stretched lazily and sat up slowly, I felt a sense of disorientation as if a lifetime had passed.
Where was the…desert, sand, dust, and camels?
I was no longer swaying. I stamped my foot; it was solid ground. When I looked up, there was no desert. Around me were walls made out of mud and a roof made out of thatch. Yes, I was in an ordinary room. The thing that creaked under me when I moved, though unstable, was undoubtedly a bed.
But that wasn’t the main point. The main point was that I had changed into different clothes. The men’s Hu clothes were gone, and my body felt fresh. I supposed someone had wiped me down. But who?
Who is it? Where is this place? What happened!
A sudden panic arose. I quickly rolled over and sprang to my feet. The room wasn’t big. A few steps and I was in front of the old wooden door. As I reached out to push the door, it suddenly opened outward by itself. A tall figure came in and almost ran into me head-on!
“Hey! Be careful!” The person was quite strong. He only shook a little after the bump and was standing firm again. He even reached out to help me. “Hey, how come you’re so reckless and clumsy right after waking up? That’s not like you! It’s not a big deal that you bump into me, but if you fall down because of it, I’m afraid Jadey would blame me until hell freezes over!”
It calmed me down a lot to hear his sonorous voice. As expected, when I looked up, I saw Old Tie. My heart, which had been hanging in suspense, was finally released. While feeling embarrassed about my loss of composure, my doubt remained. When I regained my composure, I asked confusedly, “Old man, what’s this place? How come everything has changed after I woke up from a sleep? Where’s the caravan? Where’s Lian’er?”
“A sleep? Zhu’er, that’s a long sleep!” Old Tie stroked his short beard and said, “You’ve been sleeping since we left Bai Long Dui yesterday afternoon. You slept from day to night and then from night to day, and it’s almost evening now. You’ve been sleeping for nearly 24 hours! If your pulse hadn’t been normal and we hadn’t arrived at a place where we could rest, Jadey and I would have been worried sick about you!”
I was speechless after listening to what the old man had said. I was stunned for a while before remembering to respond. As I was about to speak, a voice came from behind the old man, “You’re the one who is worried sick, Godfather. Don’t drag me into this! There were times when she had a high fever as a child and slept longer than this. I’m not worried at all!”
With that voice came someone we were all familiar with. Lian’er walked in with her usual smile. She had changed into a fresh set of clothes, her hair still damp, her hand holding an old clay bowl. She casually handed the bowl over to me after looking at me and said, “You’re awake? Then drink this.”
“What’s this?” I asked, but I had already taken the bowl. The liquid in the bowl was almost dark brown, with dried leaves floating on it. It looked like tea, but when I took a sniff, it had a pungent smell of dried grass. “It’s tea, made from a wild hemp plant that grows around here. It’s a little salty, but it’s not bad,” Old Tie explained when he heard my question.
Since the old man had said so, I stopped worrying about it, and I was a little thirsty too. Although I still had questions, I decided to drink it first, so I took a big gulp, but it made me frown.
“So bitter…” After all, she had brought it to me herself. I couldn’t spit it out no matter how bad it tasted. Besides, the tea was good for me. I forced it down. Chuckling bitterly, I complained to the girl in front of me, “Lian’er…isn’t this a little too strong?”
“Don’t even think about not drinking it.” Lian’er glared at me. “It’s to cool down your body!”
There was nothing else I could say but to finish every last drop.