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637 The Years with Huo Shao

 Gu Nianzhi carefully checked the bathroom to make sure there was nothing that shouldn't be there. Just as she was about to remove her clothes to shower, someone knocked on her door. Gu Nianzhi thought it must be the fat nun coming by to give her clothes, so she quickly covered herself up to go open the door.

It was indeed the nun holding some clothes as she smiled at Gu Nianzhi. "This was my habit when I was young, and there is also some brand new underwear." She thought about it then continued, "All the underwear is one size, so they should fit, even though they're a bit big."

This nun was too nice! Gu Nianzhi had a great impression of her and smiled with a shake of her head. "No problem, baggier underwear is more comfortable." She accepted the clothing from the nun and began chatting with her. "What's your name?"

"I'm Josephine. What about you?"

"I'm... I'm Cereus." Gu Nianzhi only told the nun her English name.

Josephine didn't suspect her at all and smiled as she waved. "Then goodnight, Cereus."

Gu Nianzhi also said goodnight to her and watched her return to her own room before quietly closing the door. Carrying the bundle of clothes from Josephine to bathroom, Gu Nianzhi saw she also brought a sleeveless top along with the underwear. She decided to properly shower and shampoo to clean off the dirt from the past few days. She had been rolling around in mud, climbing trees, and even swimming in rivers, so she smelled awful.

She almost didn't feel picky about the scent of the soap or care if the high pH wasn't good for her skin. She grabbed it and worked up a lather at the sink, then rubbed it on her face to wash her skin. Taking off the dirty jacket she had been wearing for several days, Gu Nianzhi walked into the shower and began to wash herself.

After showering, she used soap to wash her own bra and underwear. The soap had a very high pH, so her body and face felt tight and dry after. Although she really wanted to apply lotion to her entire body, there was no moisturizer for her face in the room, so she had no choice. Feeling very sleepy after the shower, she collapsed on the soft four-poster bed and almost fell asleep as soon as she hit the mattress.

...

In the Reverend Mother's room, she had prayed with her rosary and was about to go to bed when the phone rang. Who would be calling at this late hour? The Reverend Mother was shocked and decided to take the call after some hesitation. Cell signal in the Alps was very weak, so cell phones were basically useless there unless the Copernicus Satellite Navigation system could be utilized. However, that wasn't something normal people could afford. Needless to say, a tiny nunnery didn't have that kind of money, so they still used ancient landline phones.

"Who is calling?" the Reverend Mother asked politely.

The caller paused for a second and spoke German in a somewhat rigid way, but the grammar was correct. "I'm a detective from the Munich Regional Police. We have a tip that a fugitive just fled to your nunnery."

The Reverend Mother stood up abruptly and asked anxiously, "What? What fugitive are you talking about?" She instantly thought of the young girl Josephine had let in to shelter from the rain. She was incredibly beautiful but turned out to be a bad person?!

The caller laughed quietly. "It's a young girl. She's very pretty. You must've seen her?"

When the caller mentioned this and claimed they were calling from the police station, the Reverend Mother had no reason to doubt them. Also, it was true that a suspicious young girl had entered their nunnery. Josephine was kind enough to take her in, but that girl lied to her! The Reverend Mother grew stern. "She's a fugitive? How do you know she's here? If you know, then why don't you come to arrest her right away?"

The woman replied patiently, "We have a satellite tracking system and located her at your nunnery from tracking her cell signal."

"Oh." The Reverend Mother believed her and nodded before asking, "What law did she break?"

The woman didn't answer directly but replied vaguely, "The courts will sentence her for her crimes. Our job as the police is to arrest her first. We hope that you'll cooperate with us and assist us with this great favor." She then continued, "This girl is very crafty and highly suspicious in nature. We hope that you don't give anything away. Just to try to keep her there. Our officers are heading over to your nunnery, so as long as you keep her there for a few hours tonight, our officers should be there early tomorrow morning. At that time, you can hand her over to us."

The Reverend Mother was extremely nervous and asked quickly, "She's that dangerous? Will she hurt us? Hurry up and get your officers here! There's only a few of us here, and we're all women!"

"Yeah, I know." The woman hung up.

The Reverend Mother set down the phone and felt even more uneasy. She got up to walk around the room in circles but still couldn't calm down. Opening the door to Josephone's room, she saw she was already asleep, so she could only go back. She sat in her room until the sun was nearly up, then finally thought of a solution.

...

The nunnery's kitchen started breakfast early in the morning. There weren't many people in the nunnery, so there wasn't a designated chef. All the nuns took turns making breakfast. With the Reverend Mother's position, she had no need to be scheduled for breakfast duty for a long time, but today she behaved out of the norm and went to the kitchen herself after saying she'd make everyone breakfast. The nun assigned to cook that morning was very happy and thanked her profusely before going back to her room to sleep some more.

The Reverend Mother was alone in the kitchen. She took out flour, eggs, and blueberries picked yesterday to make blueberry bread and blueberry cake. Both were her signature dishes, so they were more delicious than the ones from shops or restaurants.

...

Maybe it was because Gu Nianzhi was in a completely new environment that she didn't feel comfortable in the bed. She started by sleeping for four hours before the extreme drowsiness and tiredness faded away, then she woke up and couldn't sleep again. She recalled how she only slept for four or five hours a night in the wilderness a few days ago because she was too stressed and couldn't relax. She couldn't sleep too much, even when she felt very tired. As long as the sleepiness faded, she woke up.

Sometimes she also thought about how this deep feeling of unease seemed to be rooted directly in her memories. She had also been like that for the first year or two living with Huo Shao. She could only sleep three or four hours a night and would be sure to wake up at midnight from a nightmare.

Huo Shaoheng had obeyed the military's command to become her guardian, but at the time, he was only a 22-year-old young man and had no experience raising a child. Also, she wasn't a young child that would stop crying with some hugging, coddling, or candy. This child was a 12-year-old girl, neither a baby nor teenager, so he couldn't hug, coax, or give her candy to stop her crying. Huo Shaoheng had no choice, so he could only quietly sit at her bedside when she woke from nightmares and awkwardly pat her shoulder to let her know he was there with her and not to be afraid. With the reassuring patting, Gu Nianzhi gradually fell asleep.

She remembered how in the early mornings after she woke from nightmares, she could always see Huo Shaoheng slumped over in deep sleep at her bedside as soon as she opened her eyes. His young and handsome face carried weariness and stress uncharacteristic for his age. Later on, he was completely in charge of her sense of security, so she stopped crying, as if she had grown up overnight, and never gave Huo Shaoheng trouble again. The longer she was with him, the more secure she felt, so she began sleeping longer and longer hours at night and even developed a habit of not getting out of bed...

Huo Shaoheng saw that he had overcorrected her and began urging her to join early morning training with his soldiers. They frequently ran ten-kilometer cross-country runs, and because she had weak health as a child, she started with only one kilometer, which later increased to two, three, and then ten-kilometer cross-country runs. It was because of this that she vehemently hated running. Before she knew it, she gradually left behind the nightmares from her childhood as they were replaced with the nightmare of daily morning runs!

When she thought of his, Gu Nianzhi couldn't help breaking into a smile. She hugged the blankets and sat up to look at the dark sky outside. Her stomach rumbled, and she was feeling so starved, her stomach was flattened. She didn't know if this place had any food.

She couldn't sleep anymore and decided to go wash up in the bathroom. Checking to see that the bra and underwear she washed yesterday had dried, she changed into her own underwear before cloaking herself with the habit from Josephine. Looking in the mirror, she couldn't help laughing. The energetic girl in the mirror with huge eyes and a bright smile was obviously a fake nun! She made a face at her reflection and drew a cross on her chest with her right hand before quietly opening the door to poke her head out.

The long hallway was silent and devoid of any other people. Everyone else should still be asleep. Glancing at her watch, Gu Nianzhi saw it was only a bit past 4am, so most people were sleeping deeply right now. She sniffed the air and caught a whiff of delicious baked goods. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the hallway. Could the kitchen be making breakfast? When she was in the military camp, breakfast was usually made around this time. Could nunneries be similar? She remembered that Buddhist monks and nuns had morning tasks, so she assumed nuns should be about the same.

Gu Nianzhi felt even hungrier. She wanted to work hard since she was in an unfamiliar place, and the only way to leave a good impression was to work harder. She didn't want these nuns to assume she was a lazy slob, especially since she was asking them the favor of taking her in. It would be shameful to act like a princess and wait for the nuns to wait on her.

When she thought of this, Gu Nianzhi quietly moved in the direction of the aroma of food. She followed the scent to find the kitchen and saw an older, tall and thin nun with a grim expression place kneaded balls of dough into the oven. Each small dough ball glittered with juicy blueberries. She must be making blueberry bread. Gu Nianzhi instantly lost her appetite. She had been vomiting from heartburn since she had been eating blueberries in the wild for so many days now and couldn't eat any more. As she thought about it, she quietly walked inside and coughed gently.

The Reverend Mother turned around to see an unfamiliar nun standing at the door. She frowned and asked, "Who are you?" She then thought of how this must be the "fugitive" who was taken in last night! The Reverend Mother got nervous right away and instinctively squeezed the spatula in her hand.

Gu Nianzhi thought it was a little strange how this person was suddenly so nervous. However, she appeared calm and replied politely in English, "Hello, I was taken in by Sister Josephine last night. May I ask who you are?"

The Reverend Mother couldn't help assessing her once she confirmed her identity. Although she didn't like pretty girls, this one spoke English in an authentic Oxford accent and behaved politely. She didn't seem like a vicious "fugitive" at all... Somehow, the Reverend Mother had a better impression of Gu Nianzhi than before.

Gu Nianzhi noticed the older nun kept frowning as she looked at her, so she was feeling a bit peculiar. She suppressed the strange feeling in her heart and smiled. "Are you making breakfast? Can I help you?"

The Reverend Mother felt her heart drop as she discreetly retreated towards the oven to block view of the dough she had just put into the oven. She answered grimly, "No, go back for now." She then turned to watch the oven and ignored Gu Nianzhi.

Gu Nianzhi thought the nun was treating her very strangely, or perhaps her impression of Joseline from last night was too positive, so she couldn't react properly to this older nun's cold treatment. She looked at the nun's back blankly and didn't know whether to go or stay.

The Reverend Mother faced the oven and took a deep breath before taking out a small vial from her habit's pocket. Just as she was about to drop something onto the bread, she instinctively looked back. She didn't expect the "fugitive" to still be standing there and looking at her, too! The Reverend Mother panicked and quickly hid her hands behind her back. She chided Gu Nianzhi, "I already asked you to go wait for breakfast. Why haven't you left?"

Gu Nianzhi blinked, confused as to why this person was so upset with her. It wasn't like she was going to stay for free. There was no way she wasn't going to pay. Was it because the nun assumed she couldn't afford it? Gu Nianzhi thought the nuns here shouldn't be so judgemental, but she really had no idea what was going on. "Sorry to bother you." She bowed slightly to give a perfect curtsy.

The Reverend Mother was shocked and pressed her hands more firmly against her back. Gu Nianzhi didn't say anything more but smiled. She left the nunnery kitchen but was still feeling hungry... Looking up at the floral carvings above, she planned to go back and have more water. If that didn't work, she would go out and forage some berries.

Taking a few steps from the kitchen, Gu Nianzhi smelled the much too alluring aroma of food. She couldn't help recalling her times with Huo Shaoheng and his men, and learning about things related to kitchens and food. For example, during the men's training, she had learned the rule of not eating food that she hadn't seen being prepared while being on a mission. She didn't understand it back then and had asked Yin Shixiong, "How can you be always watching the kitchen make food? Then how did you even work?" They weren't chefs.