Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 9, Part 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 9 - Butterflies On The Meadow

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
edited by kakashi

Bai Qian woke up to a prickling pain on her forehead. Though when she opened her eyes, she quickly realized that it was not exactly a headache that had been bothering her. The little sprite had been tugging on her hair with both hands, its orb-like eyes were so close to her face that they looked five times their normal size.

“Little Sprite…” she tried to say, but the words came out as a hoarse whisper.

The sprite zoomed back a bit and puffed its cheeks, looking thrilled that it had gotten her to wake up.

It was nighttime, Bai Qian blinked. Her eyes found the source of light that was keeping the room warm and bright. Her vision was blurry but she could tell she was lying inside a sort of cottage. The delicious smell of mantou coming from somewhere made her think for a second that she was back at the Kunlun safehouse.

“Here go you!” shouted someone, and there was a sound of something hitting the ground.

“Oh, don’t be a cranky old man,” responded a woman’s voice. “How often do I ask for a favor from you?”

“This is absurd. Making me bring you all these fruits and vegetables. Do you have any idea how heavy this potato sack is! Why couldn’t you have come to town and haul them back home yourself? It’s nearly the Mid-Autumn Festival, one has a lot to do --”

Mid-Autumn Festival. So this was the mortal realm.

“I told you!” the woman sounded out of patience. “I have to take care of some sick relatives, I can’t leave the house! Why did you have to bring them here yourself anyway? Where’s that boy who usually does delivery?”

“He asked to leave early today. And -- that’s another thing -- you never told me you had relatives --.”

His sentence was cut off by a jingling sound.

“Here you go,” said the woman. “Happy?”

“You just want to shut me up,” said the man, but he sounded pleased. “Just so you know, not all merchants are generous enough to do this servant stuff for their buyers for so little money --.”

“Yes yes, I know. The next time I go to town, I’ll be sure to buy three sacks full of vegetables from your shop. Now please let me get back to making dinner or I’m going to burn something!”

Bai Qian heard the man’s muttering and then a slamming noise. Clang, clang, some pots and pans were colliding into each other.

Her eyes slowly adjusted to the candlelight and the shape of various objects became clear. Her whole body was overpowered by a fatigue that sent waves of pain toward her chest, where she had been hit by an Arctic jailer, everytime she tried to move. She took another minute to stare blankly at the ceiling.

Then, slightly turning sideways, Bai Qian came to notice that the structure she’d been resting on was not a bed, but what looked to be a large wooden chair cushioned by several layers of sheets and quilts. Right next to her head was the silk fan. And her sack… Bai Qian stared around, where was the sack? There were healing potion vials inside the sack… and… she gasped, Pojing.

Bai Qian inhaled a large gulp of air, rolled around and hoisted herself up.

But a sudden dizziness caused her to lose balance and blinded her vision. Before Bai Qian could lift herself up she had fallen right out of the chair, dragging the bed sheets and quilts down with her.

The sound of footsteps reverberated on the ground. A tiny shriek and a small hit upon the back of her head told Bai Qian the sprite had taken care to hide itself.

“Don’t get out of bed!” it was that woman she had heard earlier.

“I’m sorry --,” Bai Qian murmured, she must have caused a mess.

But no reprimanding came. The woman rushed over, wrapped her arms around Bai Qian’s shoulders and raised her from the ground with such strength and at the same time, a kind of warmth that made Bai Qian think of her mother.

“My friend --” Bai Qian said, still grasping her head. “Did you take my friend back here? He’s injured. He’s…”

“He’s here. Don’t worry, he’s in the next room. I’ll take you there.”

“Wait…” Bai Qian put her hands down when she was beginning to feel steady again, and lifted her head. “I had a small sack with me, did you happen to see it...”

“It should be --” the woman went back to the messy bundle of sheets on the chair and started rummaging through them. “Here.” She turned around and held it towards Bai Qian, smiling. “I placed it at your feet.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Bai Qian as she hugged the sack close.

“Your friend is over here.”

The mortal woman, who was wearing a kind smile though her brows slightly furrowed in concern above her ebony eyes, took Bai Qian’s arm again and steered her away from the wooden chair, toward the next room behind a bead curtain, in which there was a real bed; and Pojing was lying on it.

“Pojing…” Bai Qian dove forward, kneeling down at the bedside.

His complexion was ashen, though compared to when they’d been in the Arctic Prison, there was some improvement, his right arm fully bandaged and attached to a long wooden splint. She grasped his wrist and made an attempt to check the flow of his healing power with magic, but it only ended in disappointment. Even if she weren’t so exhausted, this was too advanced a spell to be done by someone who was not a physician.

However, overcome by an irrational fear that Pojing’s pulse would somehow terminate if she let go of his wrist, she kept her hand firmly upon his.

“A physician from town has seen to his arm,” the woman said. “He said it was the worst case he’d ever seen. It’s healing but he won’t be able to use it for a while after he wakes up. That is -- I’m not sure if he will anytime soon --” she looked at Bai Qian grimly. “He’s lost a lot of blood and has been asleep for two days already, the same as you. The physician fears the coma might last for a bit longer.”

Sleeping for several days at a time was quite common for immortals, especially for recuperation, Bai Qian thought to herself, but not that she could explain this to a mortal.

“He’ll wake up soon,” she said instead. “I’m sure he will.”

“I hope so,” replied the woman. “Was he attacked by a wild animal?”

“What…?”

“There are claw marks on his stomach.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian cleared her throat. “Yes… it was -- something -- I didn’t see clearly -- a really big cat --”

“In -- these woods?”

“No, not in these woods --”

“I didn’t think so,” the woman nodded. “I’ve lived here for a long time and I can say that this area is really safe. But --” her voice was etched with some sudden positivity -- “the wounds have stopped bleeding so the doctor took the bandages away.”

“Thank you,” Bai Qian said under her breath then turned back to Pojing. “Thank you.”

“I’ll be getting dinner ready in the kitchen. Come when you’re ready.”

Bai Qian nodded. Then, she sat and waited until the footsteps faded. When she was sure that the woman was out of earshot, she reached into her sack - Lingyu’s pendant, Zheyan’s books, the feathers, the potions, they were all there. Carefully, she untied Pojing’s white garment, pulled it aside just enough for her to see the claw marks, then grabbed one tiny vial from the sack, pulled the cork and began to pour one drop of potion on each mark.

She would think of a way to get in touch with Nalan and Zhuowei, Bai Qian forced confidence into her own thought, they needed to be at Xunzhua in the shortest time possible. She needed to know whether Yehua and A-li were safe.

“Get well,” Bai Qian whispered, sighing as she pulled the blanket up to Pojing’s shoulders.


***


Still dizzy and stiff-legged, Bai Qian followed the delicious mantou smell and made her way into the kitchen. At the threshold, her steps slowed down as her eyes suddenly set on the face of her savior, who seemed to be finishing something behind the counter. With a better source of light, Bai Qian was able to see with clarity. This woman looked older than her by appearance, though not by much.

She stopped for a brief moment and observed in silence.

Bai Qian often heard that some people - mortal or immortal - possessed beauty so unique that they were impossible to overlook in a crowd. Her niece had been said to be one of those people. Having seen the Eldest of the Crafters in person, Bai Qian, though still bitter about their last meeting, had concluded that his was also a face that turned minds and hearts.

Strangely, this mortal woman who was dressed in a plain colored robe gave Bai Qian that same impression - someone whose presence was capable of dominating an atmosphere.

‘Beautiful’ was not the word, but mysterious, out of this world. As if she did not belong in this realm, in this house at all. Her movements - even the smallest ones - conveyed a fierceness of character that was greatly magnified by the strength borne by her straight brows, her chin, her jawline.

Was she by herself in these woods? Bai Qian wondered. If so then no doubt she must possess a fair amount of courage. She certainly looked like someone who had encountered more in her lifetime than just annoyed shopkeepers and unconscious people.

And those eyes - red phoenix [1]… Bai Qian had a feeling she had seen them somewhere. Perhaps from another trip to the mortal realm a long time ago? In another faraway city?

However, before Bai Qian could remember exactly where, something else captured her attention as she stepped into the room.

Food, she gaped at the newly cooked dishes that had been laid out on the table; all the questions in the world fled her mind. There weren’t that many dishes but the sight of them reminded her how long she had gone without food. Rice, vegetable soup, fried mushrooms, steamed buns, mantou - this was better than any Heavenly Feast Bai Qian had ever seen. A steaming pot of tea had also been put out. Instead of teacups, though, there were two wooden bowls next to the pot - the kind of bowls one would find at food stalls on the street.

“Sit down,” said the woman to Bai Qian as she seated herself. “Eat as much as you like.”

Not waiting to be asked again, Bai Qian settled onto a wooden chair while the woman scooped some rice into two small bowls, then passed one over to her.

“I know the teacups are around here somewhere but I couldn’t find them, you don't mind using these bowls, do you?”

“No, not at all,” said Bai Qian happily.

Whatever table manners she had learned at Kunlun and from her family were no longer in Bai Qian’s head at the moment. She picked up her chopsticks and started to gulp down any food the woman put in her bowl. This was the mortal realm anyway, she thought, and the mortal realm was where rules and boundaries could be ignored. At least she and her Sixteenth Senior believed so.

In truth, the soup needed a lot of salt, and the vegetables were a bit undercooked, but Bai Qian was too grateful to utter any complaints. She had also not eaten a single meal for the last three immortal days; even just plain rice would taste like the best dish in the world to her. The coldness in the Arctic Prisons had worn her out so much that she felt as powerless as a mortal.

A measure of strength came back to her as she went through the generous meal. Bai Qian only wished Pojing could have his share of it.

“Do you --” she swallowed a large piece of radish. “Do you live here alone, Jie-jie [2]?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “I rarely cook for anyone so I’m not sure my food is to anyone’s liking.”

“It’s delicious,” Bai Qian said.

“Is it?”

Bai Qian nodded sincerely.

“Those are mung bean buns from town,” she gestured at the large plate of buns. “They’re for dessert but I won’t say anything if you want to eat them now.”

Looking at her rice bowl, Bai Qian sniffled upon suddenly realizing how much she missed her Seniors, especially Zilan, with whom she’d used to sneak into the kitchen at Kunlun every other night to get their hands on Changshan’s snacks that they hadn’t had enough of in the evening. And when travelling to the mortal land, they would walk around town, tasting all the sweets they could find no matter what time of day it was.

“Thank you for helping us, Jie-jie,” Bai Qian said. “I know we must be bothering you - sleeping in your house for days like that.”

“No matter,” she replied. “But of course, now you and your friend belong to me forever.”

Bai Qian’s heart gave a jolt and she dropped the sweet bun into her rice bowl. A rather mystifying expression formed on the woman’s face. What joke is this? Bai Qian gulped. Did she escape from the Arctic Land just to fall into the hands of some sorceress who trapped travelers that got lost in the woods?

Though, just when Bai Qian began to seriously consider summoning her fan, the woman broke into soft laughter.

Relax,” she reached over and took Bai Qian’s chin into her hand, like her mother always did. “I was joking! I’m not a witch who sucks people’s souls after helping them like you often hear from those boring tales.”

Right… Bai Qian stared at her, half suspicious, half amused, the remnant of the sudden fright still prickling her spine.

“Almost got you there, didn’t I,” she laughed.

Once again, Bai Qian was sure she had seen this face somewhere before but she could not quite place it. But before she knew it, she too was laughing, though mostly at herself - the fear left by their visit to the Arctic Prisons had clouded her head so much that she couldn’t even recognize a joke when she heard it.

“So -- what do they call you?”

The tone this woman used with her, Bai Qian thought with a mixture of amusement and intimidation, one would have thought she really was the younger one here. Though, looking back at herself, Bai Qian decided that it was hard to blame anyone for not speaking to her with the same tone she usually received from Qingqiu’s people - she was gripping a bowl of tea in one hand and a sweet bun in the other.

“Erm… Xiaowu,” Bai Qian said the first name that came to her mind.

“You must have been through something terrible, Xiaowu” she pushed the fried mushrooms over to Bai Qian.

“I was -- er -- we were running from some -- thieves.”

“Road thieves?”

“Yes.”

“I see. Well, thieves are scarce in this forest, but sometimes they just show up without warning.”

Bai Qian uttered a sound of agreement while emptying her bowl of tea.

“Where were you heading?”

“We were heading -- north,” she replied.

“Why don’t you stay here for a few days, at least until your friend gets better. I don’t mind.”

Bai Qian said nothing for a brief while. Truth was, she wanted to leave right away, but she knew for a fact that she would not be able to cloud-jump for quite some time. Perhaps sword-riding was an option, but one sword could not possibly carry both her and an unconscious Pojing, not to mention the kind of thing they could encounter out there these days with Luoji in charge in the Nine Heavens.

“Thank you,” Bai Qian said at last, smiling. “What is your name, Jie-jie?”

There was a strange hesitance in the woman’s eyes, the candlelight illuminating a sudden sadness etched on her face.

“Wanming (晚明),” she said.

Chapter 9, Part 5
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[1] Red phoenix: a type of eye shape

[2] Jie-jie (姐姐): older sister, term of endearment, used to address an older woman.