Out of my 3 translation series, Once Promised is probably the hardest to translate - I don't know why - is it the words, the complexity of expression, or that feeling of something slowly twisting tightly on your heart?
I think this is the series that has the most silent readers as well, perhaps you too are quietly savouring each stroke Tong Hua etches in our hearts?
Chapter 8: The Oak Tree, The Hundred Angled Vine (Part 2 of 3)
On the second day, A'Heng was awaken by the roosters crowing.
The morning was not as deathly quiet as the Jade Mountain, but also not like the pleasant morning song of the birds in Chao Yun peak.
When people meet each other they will mutually greet "good morning", young maidens arranging to pick mulberry leaves together, the clashing sound of men picking up their work tools, the high-pitched voices of mothers waking up their children, the noise and crying sounds from the kids, the "moo" from the cows, the "yang" sounds from the sheeps, the "ji ji" sounds of the mother hens....
Too noisy! But --
A'Heng smiled, this was also truly lively!
A'Heng met Mi Duo's mother. Because of her long illness, she has been tortured till there was only a thin layer of skin wrapping her bones, she could not even speak a whole sentence.
A'Heng found out that Mi Duo's lover was called Jin Dan, he was not in the mountain village the last two days, Mi Duo told A'Heng, Jin Dan had gone to the other village to find a maiden to marry.
A'Heng was shocked, "Aren't the two of you... aren't you angry?"
Mi Duo smiled and shook her head, "Mum is bed-ridden, my younger brother is still small, I'm the only woman of the house, the house needs me, he has already waited for me for four years, he can no longer wait."
"So the both of you have to part?"
"Yes, he will be good to another maiden now." Mi Duo's expression darkened, but she still smiled.
"Even though you knew both of you had to part, you still... you still met him at night?" A'Heng could not understand.
Mi Duo was surprised, instead she could not understand A'Heng, "Precisely because we were going to separate, we had to grab tight every single moment we can spend together.*"
A'Heng could not pinpoint what was right about what Mi Duo had said, but she could not also state what she found wrong. Maybe, in this deep mountain far from the world, this was what was right, and the excessive rules and proprieties in the complex society were what was wrong.
A'Heng did not want Jin Dan to leave Mi Duo, but the only way for Mi Duo to be able to marry Jin Dan was if there was another woman who could handle the household matters.
A'Heng asked Mi Duo if a tribe witch had seen to her mother's illness, Mi Duo said a year ago Jin Dan and a few brothers of the mountain village carried her mother to Chi You Village, the head tribe witch said that no mortal would be able to save her mother, one can only follow heaven's will.
A'Heng understood that there were illnesses that could not be cured in this world, the Yan Emperor's medical skills were the best in the realm, but still he could not save his daughter Princess Yao.
Because her mood was not good, she ran to the mountain peak where there were very few people to see Ah Bi and Lie Yang. These two fellow had totally messed up her bag, A'Heng tidied it up again and saw that there was a packet of unripe peaches.
These were the unripe peaches she had sunned on Jade Mountain, these were supposed to be snacks for Ah Bi and Lie Yang, but Ah Bi and Lie Yang had eaten them for ten plus years, and were already sick of it, so they weren't willing to even touch it.
A'Heng picked a few pieces of unripe peach, casually placed it in her mouth, she ate them, suddenly she jumped up, and rushed down the mountain.
A'Heng decided to use these peaches to save Mi Duo's mother, remembering the example of Ah Bi. Still, she did not dare to give these straight to Mi Duo's mother, she took a small piece to boil water, and gave the boiled water to Mi Duo's mother to drink.
On the first day, A'Heng was very worried, there was no good reaction from Mi Duo's mother, on the second day, Mi Duo's mother actually started to say she was hungry and started to eat. Mi Duo was so shocked she wanted to cry and laugh, because her mother had not wanted to eat for four to five years.
Seeing that there was a good reaction, A'Heng directly used the unripe peaches to boil water.
After drinking it for three days, Mi Duo's mother started to eat normally, although she could not sit up, there was clearly an upward trend, she just needed to slowly take care of herself, sooner or later she would be able to walk.
After Jin Dan returned to the village and heard that Mi Duo's mother was recovering, he immediately carried his house's biggest sheep, and walked into Mi Duo's house, although he said nothing, he quite forcefully placed this fat sheep into A'Heng's embrace.
A'Heng was so shocked she jumped onto the table and shouted, "Mi Duo, Mi Duo..." she stared at the sheep, and felt lucky that at least it was not a cow.
Mi Duo came out from her mother's room, she saw Jin Dan, and was dazed, she quickly covered her face, knelt on the floor and started to cry. De Wa Grandfather was sitting by the fireplace, his body sideways, he used his hand to cover his forehead, secretly wiping his tears.**
A'Heng jumped off the table, patted Mi Duo's back, "Don't cry, don't cry, when Brother Jin Dan left, you didn't cry, now that he is back, why do you cry?"
The news that A'Heng had cured Mi Duo's mother's illness spread through the mountain village, all the seriously ill patients in the mountain village started to come and find A'Heng for their sickness.
A'Heng's heart was worried, but since she had drank everyone's wine in the mountain village, ate everyone's food in the mountain village, she could not refuse. She just continued to use the unripe peaches to boil water. As she boiled, she called on the Emperor Mother, hoping that her flowers that only blossomed every thousand years, the thousand year peaches were as powerful as were rumoured in the great wilderness.
As A'Heng nervously continued, the people that drank the water, even if their illnesses did not recover, their pain was greatly lessened, at least they could peacefully receive death.
In their joy, the people used their mountain songs to express their gratitude to A'Heng. In these bright mountain songs, A'Heng's medical skills slowly started to spread to the hundreds of small villages in the tribe of Jiu Li. All the people in the mountain villages, all those that had hard to cure diseases, came to find A'Heng with a thread of hope.
They transversed mountains, passed rivers, carrying their most treasured cows, the mother hens that could lay the most eggs, and earnestly begged in front of A'Heng, their windbeaten faces were full of hope and prayer.
A'Heng did not know how to reject them, so she accepted them all. Actually, she wanted to leave, but she did not know why, always in the moment before she was going to go she told herself she would stay one more day. A'Heng did not know what was holding her back, maybe it was Jiu Li's strong mountains, beautiful lakes, but maybe it was the kind and warm-hearted faces of all in the De Wa Village, maybe it was the rough but passionate mountain songs, maybe it was the strong but pure alcohol, maybe it was the young maidens who secretly placed sweet mountain fruits at her door, maybe it was the children who caught her robes with their little black hands, or maybe it was that strong cow that would make noise in the field outside.
In these innumerable irrational reasons, she stayed another day, and another day, and another day.
In the morning, the moment A'Heng opened her eyes, she started to think, should she leave today?
One moment she will think of a reason to leave, another moment she will think of a reason to stay, in the end she will forget everything, and only wonder how is Chi You's illness, has the Witch King cured his poison? Has he returned to Shen Nong mountain?
Tossing and turning, she suddenly realised that this morning was very strange, no sound of males going off to work, no sound of females scolding their children, no sound of children crying... the whole mountain village was eerily quiet.
A'Heng quickly rushed down the bamboo house, she saw the Witch King was bowing in front, his forehead on the ground, his whole back bent into a bow, as if he was a praying statue.
The whole mountain village was silent, everyone was hidden far away, confusedly or fearfully looking over here, not understanding why their great Witch King was bowing in front of A'Heng.
A'Heng bent to pick up the Witch King, she frantically asked, "Chi You's poison has not been cured?"
The Witch King shook his head, A'Heng immediately said, "Let's go to Chi You village."
The Witch King led A'Heng onto the sacrificial stage, Chi You was lying right in the middle, A'Heng bent down and surveyed Chi You's injuries.
The Witch King said, "Although the knife wound is serious, but with the essence from Jiu Li's mountains and waters to protect, the Great Chi You's injuries should slowly heal."
A'Heng asked, "The poison is what is life-threatening?"
The Witch King nodded his head, "Jiu Li tribe is good at using poison, but we use worm poison, and this poison is medicinal poison, I have thought endlessly but cannot resolve it."
A"Heng said, "Since you already know Chi You was hurt by my Big Brother, how can you dare to ask me for help? Aren't you scared we were the ones who set the poison?"
"I'm already ninety-two years old, I have not seen much, but I have seen a lot of human hearts, " The Witch King touched the broken blade in his hand, in a deep voice he said, "The sword is the heart and soul of the blacksmith, if the blacksmith's heart does not have heaven and earth, the sword he forged would not be able to swallow the earth, the person who made this sword will definitely not give it to someone who would taint it with poison."
A'Heng lifted her head to look at the Witch King, she did not say anything.
The Witch King said, "The person who set the poison has an extremely vicious heart, this poison had long entered the great Chi You's body, at least for tens of years. Normally there will be no symptoms, only when the great Chi You is heavily injured and uses his divine energy to heal, that is when the poison will be activated, the poison will flow with the divine energy, spreading to the whole body, causing the great Chi You not to be able to use his divine energy to heal and also not to be able to use his divine energy to force out the poison. He is as good as waiting for death to arrive, the great Chi You's body cannot sustain it for much longer..." The Witch King's face darkened, "A few senior tribe witches suggested I go to Shen Nong mountain to seek help, but I rejected it."
"According to my shi fu(teacher), the great Chi You grew up in the wilderness, he is familiar with poisonous worms and herbs, I am the Witch King in the Jiu Li tribe, everyone in the wilderness knows that I am good at poison and like to call me the poison king, even the highly skilled pugilists in the god tribes fear me. Still, it is obvious that I would never poison the great Chi You. The only person who could have set the poison in the great Chi You's body must be highly skilled gods in the god tribe who are well-versed in medicine, these gods are likely to come from the Sheng Nong tribe, since the poison might have come from them, how dare I seek help from them? If the great Chi You must die, I wish for him to die peacefully in the Jiu Li mountains."
A'Heng felt another layer of respect for this careful and wise old man in front of her.
But what will they do now? If they cannot seek help from the Sheng Nong tribe, if they cannot seek help from the Gao Xing tribe, and even more they cannot seek help from the Xuan Yuan tribe. Thinking of this, A'Heng felt that she had came to the end of her road, there were no more doors open to them.
The Witch King saw the anxiety on A'Heng's face, and felt even more insecure, "Miss Xi Ling, please don't blame yourself. We Jiu Li people respect the heavens, we place importance on the present and what is before us, we pursue happiness. Life and death we leave it for the heavens to decide, even if it is death, the great Chi You will have no regrets."
A'Heng's face whitened, "Chi You would not wish to die so cowardly, even if he dies, he wants to die causing misery to the people who hate him." After saying this, A'Heng's lips revealed a trace of a smile.
The Witch King also could not help smiling, "Using one's life to love, using one's death to hate, these are the sons and daughters of the Jiu Li tribe, although outsiders see us as wild and cruel, actually we know best the preciousness of life, we respect death, but we do not fear death, that is why I will try my best to save the great Chi You, but also calmly accept his passing.***"
A'Heng said, "Thanks for your enlightenment, but Chi You owes me for saving his life twice, I have not claimed back this debt, he better not think of shirking so easily."
A'Heng lifted up her head and let out a long whistle, Lie Yang and Ah Bi came down to the sacrificial stage from the sky.
A'Heng stroke Ah Bi's head, "Chi You is sick, I need your fresh blood, is that ok?" Ah Bi grew up on the Jade Mountain, he ate the peaches, he drank the jade marrow, his whole body was filled with the heavenly essence of the Jade Mountain.
Ah Bi's head gently caressed A'Heng, as if comforting her.
A'Heng told the Witch King, "I will have to trouble you."
The Witch King used the sacrificial jade bowl and silver knife and walked to Ah Bi's side, Ah Bi kindly lifted up one of his front legs, the Witch King quickly made a slash with the silver knife, the fresh blood gushed out, a sweet smell wafted to their noses.
A'Heng turned her back to them, she cut both Chi You and her palms, their palms entwined****, she placed Chi You's blood which contained poison into her own body.
The Witch King brought a full bowl of blood over, A'Heng let him feed the blood to Chi You, "This blood cannot cure the poison, but it can slow the pace of the poison. Every day, you take a bowl of Ah Bi's blood to feed him. I have to leave for a while, a few days later Lie Yang will bring back the antidote."
A'Heng turned to leave, but after a few steps she realised that her robes were caught on something, she could not move, she turned around and saw, Chi You was tightly clutching the ends of her robes.
The Witch King said, "The great Chi You does not want you to leave."
A'Heng used a little divine strength to remove Chi You's hand, she whispered into Chi You's ear, "I will not let you die." Quickly, she left the sacrificial stage.
* I love this - Mi Duo, as a mortal with so little time, teaches A'Heng the importance of cherishing the moments. It is not that because we must part, therefore we should part now - precisely because we have to part, we should be together now.
** This was so incredibly touching, I teared.
*** Using one's life to love, using one's death to hate --- this is so beautiful.
**** A'Heng putting her life in danger, exchanging their blood, this is bold, dangerous, sensual and romantic. It's like a blood oath - putting her life on the line again. Do you remember how she told the Witch King in the previous chapter, nothing good ever happens when I try to save Chi You, but she still does it. Isn't that love?
Comments: Chapter 8 is very important to A'Heng and Chi You's relationship because even though Chi You is unconscious for most of the chapter, A'Heng quietly observes where Chi You was born and bred - it is like travelling through Chi You's internal consciousness and understand why he is the way he is. Strong, determined, uncontrollable, passionate --- this is not the pleasant morning sound of Chao Yun peak, this is the bustle and noise of life!