Part of a Peony’s Tavern translation project at fruitydeer.com.
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Source: 芍藥客棧 by Yi Mei Tong Qian // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
In the previous part, I referred to the spirit that took the Daoist priest’s soul away as an evil demon, but what the author called it was more akin to ghost spirit. For reasons that will become apparent in this chapter, I’ve revised it and will use ghost spirit moving forward.
Shao Zi’s mouth twitched at the corner and she pointed at his nose: “You…have a bloody nose.”
The scholar stilled, raising his hand to cover it and looking upwards ruefully: “It must have been too much replenishment.”
Not long after, he happily headed out whilst clutching his nose.
Shao Zi sat on the rooftop of the tavern, basking in the moonlight. After consuming enough water, she took some time to absorb the essence of the heavens and earth. It was the perfect occasion for honing her spiritual craft. Gathering qi down past her naval, she expelled the foulness within her abdomen and drew in the pure evening air. After repeating this for a half shi chen, her vitality and energy had been restored. Going off and fighting a tiger spirit wouldn’t even be a problem right now.
Just as she decided to return to the flowerbed, vines of Japanese creeper leaped up, covering almost the entire roof in an instant. He chirped: “Lao da, lao da, an unfamiliar Daoist priest came into town from the eastern side.”
Shao Zi punched her fist to her palm. Her gaze was burning: “Alright, you guys go back first, I’ll go take a look.”
After saying this, she stooped over and jumped down from the eaves, then flew to the east.
Even from afar, she could see a young man wearing navy blue Daoist robes, walking along the deserted street in the middle of the night. The man’s face was cold and handsome and his hair was gathered in a green jade guan.1 On his back was a peach wood sword. Little ghosts kept running around him, repeatedly sizing him up and down. Yet, they didn’t dare to get too close. When Shao Zi touched the ground, the ghosts dispersed.
Shao Zi observed the Daoist priest from up front. His skills weren’t capable of subduing her. It was unclear if was because he was he was missing part of his soul, but his eyes were spiritless and his expression lacked any sort of emotion. He was like a large, handsome string puppet. However, his footsteps were steady, neither hurried nor volatile, enough to make little demons apprehensive. After sizing her up, he suddenly stopped. He took the sword and brought his gaze up, staring at Shao Zi: “From where does this evildoer hail, hurry and retreat.”
Shao Zi chuckled: “Not bad, your soul is out of balance yet you can still see me. However, I don’t have evil intentions. I just want to tell you that Yun Chang is waiting for you.”
Yun Chang…what Yun Chang? The Daoist priest knew nothing, speaking again in a low voice: “Evildoer, if you don’t retreat, don’t blame me for packing you away.”
Shao Zi could only move a little ways further, mumbling: “He really forgot everything and only remembers the matter of exorcising demons.”
The Daoist priest pace stopped and he looked up at the vastness of the sky. A mass of gloomy demon energy appeared before his eyes. The yin was extremely dense. Immediately, he turned on his feet and swiftly leapt in that direction.
Shao Zi was busy following from behind, was that direction not Tong Fu Tavern? Indeed, Yun Chang understood this Daoist priest well. Although she did not know what their shared past was, this Yun Chang’s power was not enough to beat the priest. If her soul were to accidentally shatter and disperse due to a beating from him, it’d be hard to say whether she was foolish or dedicated.
Arriving at the doors of the tavern, the Daoist priest raised the sword in his left hand while carrying a bottle gourd in his right. He began reciting a spell that Shao Zi could not understand.
He ran to and fro and looped back and forth several times. Then, with a shout, a circle of light surged outwards, rupturing that cluster of clouds and bursting open into a thousand li2 of white light. In a flash, the heavens and earth shifted colors. It was as if it had become daytime. The “shua” sounds of violent winds swept across, blowing on Shao Zi so strong that she was shaking uncontrollably.
Yun Chang moaned in pain, leaning against the pillar in front of the room and looking down towards the priest from above.
Shao Zi clenched her teeth and signalled to her, lowering her voice as she said: “You still haven’t left? When the formation is complete, you’ll be packed into the bottle gourd.”
Yun Chang’s white garb fluttered, almost fusing into the white light. Only dark threads of her hair could be seen dancing about while all that could be heard was the echoing sounds of her clinking bu-yao3. Hearing it blend into the sounds of the wind made Shao Zi’s heart clump up.
She just couldn’t understand. How much gratitude did must one owe to be willing to suffer this kind of torment? Out of three hundred times, enduring even just once was already so painful.
“Finally found it.”
The sound coming from behind was as cold as frost. Just as Shao Zi turned around, cold and vicious energy rushed up to her face. Composing herself, she saw that it was a wild boar spirit. Shao Zi gave a slight pause. Wild boars are naturally burly and their skin wouldn’t feel pain from being hit. What’s more, this one must have at least 900 years worth of power.
The wild boar spirit peered at her as well, his expression fierce: “Could it be that you’re also here to snatch this Daoist priest’s soul?”
Shao Zi laughed dryly, thinking inwardly that that this wild board must be the monster one who took away the the priest’s soul. She couldn’t help but get angry. Yun Chang, ah, this is clearly a monster, not some ghost spirit! If she had known beforehand, she would have just pushed away this pile of problems. Wild boars are irritable with irrational temperaments. What would she do if he wrecked the tavern? She smiled subserviently: “How is that possible? I’m just passing by.”
The wild boar spirit gave her a once over, surmising that she didn’t have the nerve anyways: “Get lost.”
Shao Zi bent at the waist, bowing slightly: “I’m leaving, I’m leaving now.” She took two steps, then saw him stick out his hoof to ready an attack on the priest, who was currently expending all his energy on casting the formation spell. She grit her teeth and picked up a stone on the ground. Releasing a puff of air, she quietly crept behind him, raising the stone to smash it fiercely against his head.
All of a sudden, the configuration turned into that of the mantis stalking the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind him4. Nobody expected a sudden downpour of water from the sky, drumming down on their three foreheads and smothering their faces with water.
The Daoist priest’s formation abruptly vanished, the wild boar spirit shouted, and Shao Zi was dumbstruck. The three looked up in unison, but all they saw was a man clad in gray clothing, holding a copper basin. He didn’t see them at all and said to himself in contentment: “Soaking one’s feet in warm water before sleeping every night, one of the beautiful joys in life.”
…Water! For! Washing! Feet! The three were instantly stunned into stone.
Shao Zi angrily wiped off the water on her face. When she looked over once more, the wild boar spirit was already gone and the Daoist priest had lowered his head to wipe that bottle gourd that had been dirtied by the gray water. She peered at the second story suspiciously, this scholar…was he doing this purposefully or was it accidental? There was no reason whatsoever for there to be such a coincidence every time. Plus…didn’t he say he was going out? When did he come back? Shao Zi sniffed the damp spots on her. This thing that was able to scare off the boar demon, was it really just water from washing feet? But she thought it through in detail and did not detect anything strange mixed into this water.
Shao Zi discreetly clenched her fist. Tomorrow, she’ll go and expose that scholar’s true face! This bugger is definitely not some ordinary person!
Daybreak, summertime. The morning sun rises, dyeing the world in light.
Shao Zi stretched, raising her head and shaking off the morning dew on her face, her vitality and energy restored. Her legs shrank back and she stepped out of the flowerbed, fixing the little crinkles on her clothes before preparing to open up shop.
As soon as she moved door panels aside, she saw the scholar jump off an ox cart, carrying in a pot of flowers. Shao Zi looked at him suspiciously, when did he leave this time? Thinking about it, she unwittingly squinted, sizing up this skinny scholar: “Morning, Innkeeper.”
“Morning, Shao Zi. Come, bring these to the backyard.”
Shao Zi peered at the two pots, her mouth twitching: “A moneymaking tree…and chrysanthemum?”
The scholar flashed his teeth: “These are weapons for attracting wealth.”
“…” Please, first commit yourself to managing the tavern well instead of going off and taking some immodest side route,5 okay! Just spend some more time standing at the doors of the tavern and attracting customers with a shout or two! Once again, Shao Zi spoke sagely, turning into the neighborhood auntie, “Innkeeper, instead of planting these sorts of flowers and plants, the better thing is still opening up early and attracting customers.”
The scholar thought it over, then nodded: “That’s reasonable. Come, hurry and move the flowers.”
Shao Zi’s face palmed.
Entering the backyard, the scholar picked up a shovel, glanced to his left and right, then dug a pit next to the cypress tree and planted the moneymaking tree there. Shao Zi watered the newly planted tree. If vegetation is not watered after being planted, they’ll lose half their life. The scholar really didn’t understand how to take care of flowers or plants. Seeing the scholar taking the chrysanthemum towards her spot, she hurriedly leaped over to protect that empty plot. This was her house! Shao Zi glared: “This place won’t do.”
“I, I want to plant flowers.”
“Oh. Then they’ll be next-door neighbors and become good friends.”
Shao Zi wanted to cry. In the world of flora, chrysanthemums and moneymaking trees were both referred to as the gold yuan wai.6 There was no way she would want to be friends with a gaudy and classless gold yuan wai!
From behind, she watched the scholar squat and dig a pit. She recalled that night when she scared him and he had no reaction at all. Unable to help herself, she stretched forward and breathed into his next. He immediately turned around and the tips of their noses nearly touched. Sparkling eyes reflected each other’s faces, flickering with light while two heartbeats came to an unexpected stop. In a fluster, Shao Zi violently jumped back and ran away.
The scholar came back to his senses and continued to dig the pit. He suddenly felt a slight wetness on his lips and reached up to touch. Mn, another nosebleed. Indeed, too much replenishment.
Shao Zi, who had escaped to the kitchen, clanked around as she cut the chicken, then threw it into the clay pot to continue simmering her great replenishment. Just now, what she blew was demon energy. Normal people shouldn’t even be able to detect it. There has to be something strange about the scholar. As she simmered the soup, she ran over to Yun Chang’s room to take a look. Yun Chang was hidden in a vase, sleeping soundly.
After observing for a while, she sensed that something was off outside. Leaving the room, she looked over to the Jin Xiu Tavern across the way. Indeed, she really did see that blue-garbed Daoist priest standing there like a wooden statue, peering this way.
Last night, he spent so much energy to create the formation, but it ended up getting broken. Without ten days to half of month of recuperation, the Daoist priest need not even think about a full restoration of strength. Shao Zi was tremendously relieved. Now, she only needed to concern herself with when that wild boar spirit might return. So she still had to cast a spell, lest she knock out in slumber and be completely oblivious of any break-ins.
Translator’s Note: The running joke with the nosebleed is so gauche, but I can’t help but chuckle each time, heh.
- 冠 // Guan: A type of ancient headwear used to cover the hair. Can cover the whole head or just the topknot. There are a variety of styles depending on era and social standing. Usually worn by men.
- 里 // Li: A traditional Chinese unit of distance. One li is about 500 meters or 1,640 feet.
- 步搖 // Bu Yao: Hair pins used by ancient women that usually had some sort of charms dangling off the jewelry.
- 螳螂捕蟬黃雀在後: Idiom. Fig. Pursuing a small gain while neglecting the great danger.
- 旁門左道 // Pang Men Zou Dao: Lit. The side door in the left lane. Refers to dissenting religious sect or heresy.
- 員外 // Yuan Wai: Refers to an referred to a historical government post that was once noble, but eventually became riddled with people who bought their way in by donating money.