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)
Happy Friday! I changed banner art for some the prior chapters because I wasn’t loving the ones I originally used. Hope you guys like the new images. Today, we learn more about Tong Fu Tavern’s strange guest. 🙂
After expending some effort to cast the inescapable net, Shao Zi ran downstairs to carry the tonic to the scholar. Upon seeing him, she said with complete seriousness: “You’re not allowed to go upstairs and eat chicken, duck, or roasted pork.”
The scholar stared at that large bowl of replenishing tonic. Shao Zi looked his appearance as he made to leave and raised her hand in a gesture: “Innkeeper.”
“Oh…” The scholar looked at death as his home1 and accepted the bowl which had filled to the brim with soup. His face was filled with grief: “Is it possible to not eat this great replenishing tonic?”
Shao Zi was decisive: “No.”
If she guessed wrong and the scholar was merely a foolish mortal, what would she do if his yang ended up getting affected by Yun Chang? Shao Zi stood up and patted his shoulder: “Innkeeper, take your time to drink. You’re forbidden from secretly pouring it out.”
The scholar was dispirited: “Oh…”
Shao Zi took a pair of joss sticks that were used to worship Guan Gong2 and ran to Yun Chang’s room, lighting them near the vase. Gently, she fanned the faint scent of the fumes into the vase. Not long after, Yun Chang woke up and floated out from the vase. Her voice was soft and weak, her lips devoid of color: “Many thanks to the maiden.”
Shao Zi brushed the fumes, letting it linger around the bed in order lure her over. After Yun Chang laid down, Shao Zi said: “The Daoist priest went stay at the tavern across the street. It’s probably because he wants to recover his strength and then come and capture you.” Her eyebrows wrinkled. “What is it that you owe this priest?”
Yun Chang shook her head: “I don’t owe him anything. Before he lost part of his soul, I had never met him.”
Shao Zi was bewildered: “Then why take things so far?”
Yun Chang did not reply and only gently closed her eyes, recalling matters from long, long ago.
In the city of Qing Zhou, the Orchid Waterside Pavilion was teeming with sounds of singing. The songstress lightly plucked at a pipa3 string, singing “The cloud’s (yun) heart has no me. I, the cloud (yun), has no heart. The lazy cloud nests, the lazy cloud’s nest has many guests. When the guests come to idle with me, wine simmers and tea boils.” The timbre was melodious, describing an unending outpour of emotions and singing of an unending grief.
She leaned against the railing and looked into the distance, listening to the decadent sound by her ears and watching a flock of handsome gentlemen as they hugged songstress’ lithe and slender waist in merriment. All that was on her face was a look of indifference.
This kind of joyous singing and laughing continued all the way until morning when the sun rose. When the city’s common folk passed by the Orchid Waterside Pavilion, in actuality, it was silent and bereft of noise. Those from last night…mortals could not see. The brouhaha was merely a lively gathering of ghosts waiting to be collected. They were wandering ghosts with no one to obey to and nothing to do.
She had already lived many days like this for hundreds of years. It had been for so long that she didn’t even know what year it currently was. In the beginning, she would ask around about what emperor currently presided over the imperial court, whether or not the imperial teacher was an idiot, and who amongst the concubines were the most favored. She would also listen to common folks’ chatter about whose daughter-in-law was strong-willed and unfilial to her in-laws, whose daughter married a scoundrel, and whose family was pregnant with another child.
After listening for a few hundred years, she realized that she had become fed up from listening. And then, she had nothing to do.
The netherworld sometimes forgets about a ghost. At times, a long period of time passes before they finally remember and go to the living realm to collect them. However, because these ghosts lived their days like walking corpses, subsequently getting swallowed by time, once a ghosts wanders for a long time, they eventually forget that they were actually awaiting reincarnation and become hostile spirits. They tyrannize mortals and, in the end, get packed away by Daoist priests that hunt monsters and eliminate devils.
She didn’t want to turn out like that, but the ghost collectors yet to come. Since she had nothing to do, she realized her reactions became increasingly slower, often losing herself in a trance when looking at something. She would sit in a dark attic from morning to night, then night to morning, waiting…waiting for the ghost collectors…
She began to play tricks on others. Seeing those frightful little mortals looking horrified, she finally found a wisp of enjoyment.
She did not know that when ghosts become hostile spirits, they initially presume that doing these things isn’t such a big deal, scarcely realizing that…during this gradual transformation and up until they finally descend into the abyss, there would be no way to free themselves…
One night, she slid into a house and accidentally frightened an old man, causing him to faint. At the same time, she herself was so frightened that she also fled, pressing a palm to her chest while shaking her head. It’s best to go back to scaring youngsters next time. Scaring someone to death would be a sin and Yan Wang4 would record her sins with a mere flourish of his brush.
Bored to pieces, she came out of an alley and heard a little ghost calling her, saying that he noticed a Daoist priest entering the city. Her lips curled: “What’s there to see about a Daoist priest? In Qing Zhou, reach a hand out and you’ll get a handful.”5
The little ghost said: “That Daoist priest is different. He’s missing over half his soul, but he still dared to make a move when he saw me. Everyone plans on teaching him a lesson. You should also come ya.”
She furrowed her brows. Still so arrogant even though he’s missing his soul? Then she really does need to go teach him a lesson. After thinking it through, her interest was piqued and she quickly wafted towards that direction.
When she arrived, there were already seven or eight ghostlings watching the commotion. She peered over and indeed, he was missing more than half his soul. His gaze was fuzzy and his movements were slightly stiff. That he could still walk was already pretty good, so why was it that could he still catch ghosts? Even if he only had a little bit of his soul left, he should still know how dangerous this kind of thing was.
Raising her hands to cup her mouth, she shouted: “Hey, stinky Daoist priest, aren’t you scared that we’ll eat you up? You still dare to try and catch us.”
He didn’t lift his head and continued to walk. She was considered powerful among the ghosts, given how long she’s been one. But when she leaned forward and rushed over, she hadn’t gotten close before his movements suddenly accelerated. A peach wood sword came out of a sheath, drawing out a stream of golden light and piercing the surrounding ghosts, who all dispersed instantly. She rolled over, dodging further away. He then put his sword away and continued walking.
She really couldn’t understand how someone like this could be so skilled. For the following two days, she followed him. Whenever she got slightly close, he would turn around vigilantly, hand grasping the peach wood sword, ready make a slash at any given time. But once there were no ghostlings around him, he was once again like a soulless body, walking nonstop.
She finally understood why this Daoist priest was so skinny, for he had fainted many times from hunger. Occasionally, someone would give him food. Otherwise, he would starve to a certain degree of severity before finally awakening. Then, he would eat whatever there was to eat. If there was grass, he would eat grass. If there was water, he would drink water.
She suddenly found this very depressing. Living like this, he may as well become a ghost. But he just had to be such a person, continuing to hunt monsters and eliminate devils. On this day, he once again fainted from hunger. She went to a restaurant and stole a bunch of dishes, leaving it in front of him. This time, she did not walk away. She refused to believe that he couldn’t distinguish between kindness and evil. She’s a good ghost, ya!
Indeed, he woke up very quickly. Seemingly detecting a ghostly energy, he instantly picked up his sword. She hurriedly gestured and spoke: “I’m a good ghost! If I were an evil ghost, I would have killed you when you passed out. Think about this carefully.”
He became absent-minded for a long time. Seeing that he had no intent of making a move, she then timidly passed over food to him: “Eat something.”
The Daoist priest stilled, then finally began to eat. In a blink of an eye, he ate everything clean. Once he finished eating, his complexion improved a great deal. Hugging her knees while squatting to the side, she laughed: “Watching you eat makes it feel so delicious. I’ve already forgotten the taste of food. Being a ghost is so monotonous, yet the ghost collectors still haven’t come.”
He was silent. Then, as if he hadn’t spoken for a long time, his voice cracked a bit: “Thank you.”
She froze. He gave her thanks…a monster hunter giving her thanks. This kind of feeling was incredibly mystifying. She was rather delighted, asking: “How did you become this way? What are you planning to do?”`
His diction was very slow: “My soul, over half of it was taken by a wild boar demon, I want to find him, take it back.”
She nodded, thinking it over before saying angrily: “Then why do you keep wasting energy capturing monsters, ya! I was injured by you so many times. Look, my arm, and oh, my leg.”
“I’m sorry…I didn’t know.”
Her eyes opened wide: “You didn’t know?”
When he did those things, did he not realize he was hunting monsters and eliminating demons? Then how was this strength being supported? She couldn’t understand at all.
“The last bit of soul is fading away as well. I don’t now when it’ll disappear, and…I’ll die.”
She fixed her eyes on him: “You won’t die! According to elder ghosts, as long as a mortal retains a bit of memory, the soul won’t leave. I’ve followed you for four months, every time you capture a ghost, the feeling seems different. That must be what’s supporting your memory. In the future, how about I let you catch me?”
He shook his head, but she didn’t care. Her mind was already made. Let her help this priest continue on living.
Once she made up her mind, she suddenly thought, why did she want to do this…In reality, she didn’t need to do this.
She couldn’t understand, but whatever, no need to keep pondering.
When the morning sun rose, she hid in the shade and nap. The wait for nightfall left her feeling restless. When the sun finally descended, she walked upon the still-warm roads and followed the path of the Daoist priest. It was so hot that it felt like her entire body was being burnt by fires. But she was worried that delaying for too long would cause her to lose track of the priest.
Once she found him, she smiled and wafted towards him while holding a stolen roast chicken, wanting to greet him. But as soon as she approached, golden light flew across and stabbed her in the arm. It was so painful that she almost loosened her grip. A beam of golden light descended and, in a flash, she saw that he had quickly run over, once again piercing at her with his sword. She gritted her teeth and dodged, rebuking: “Stinky priest, it’s me, I’m Yun Chang, ah!”
But in those dull eyes, all that remained was stupor. She felt a pain in her heart, he…he didn’t remember her. They had clearly chatted so well yesterday.
It was only a moment before she came back to her senses. So it turns out this is a side effect to one’s soul disappearing. No matter how long she and him were together, not long after, he’ll forget. It was as if they always remained at the starting point. Even if they left it for some time, they would eventually return. Unless all of the soul was pieced back together, no matter how much she tried, he would never remember her.
But this was good, too…Her heart bled, but she still tried to comfort herself. He did not remember her, but she could help his soul last and help him remember that he was a Daoist priest, that his life mission was to hunt monsters and eliminate devils. As for her, she could be that “monster” and that “devil.”
Over and over again, she would keep count of every time, even up to the hundredth time. She would watch that Daoist priest mercilessly draw out the golden light, all while feeling sad every time.
Translator’s Note: In case it wasn’t clear, Shao Zi told the scholar to not eat meat upstairs because she was preparing to light the joss stick. Deriving from Daoism and Buddhism, abstaining from eating meat was based off the concept of minimizing harm to sentient life.
I’ve been keeping interjections like ya and ah in because it makes the dialogue feel more lighthearted and reflects the story’s relaxed style. These terms generally indicate familiarity or implies endearment on the speaker’s part. Their meaning doesn’t really extend beyond expressions of surprise or mild doubt.
- 視死如歸 // Shi Si Ru Gui: Idiom. Fig. To calmly face death.
- 關老爺 // Guan Lao Ye: Also known as Guan Yu. A famous general from the Three Kingdoms period in China who later became a deity. They probably have a shrine for him in the tavern.
- 琵琶 // Pi Pa: A traditional four-stringed Chinese instrument that’s shaped like a pear and looks like a lute. Played by plucking.
- 閻王 // Yan Wang: In Buddhism, this deity presides over the netherworld and the cycle of reincarnation. Also known as Yama.
- 一抓一把 // Yi Zhua Yi Ba: Fig. Something that’s easy to come by. A dime a dozen.