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)
Yun Chang’s arc has reached its end. A little bitter, a little sweet. All in all, a growing experience for Shao Zi, Tong Fu Tavern’s sweet little summer child. We also get to meet another important character in this chapter.
Shao Zi opened her palm wide and a sphere of light rested at the center. She stuffed it into Yun Chang’s hands: “My legs have no strength, go back first and help the priest.”
Yun Chang gratefully took it: “Thank you, Maiden.”
Shao Zi waved a hand. After Yun Chang left, she rubbed her chin in contemplation. Yun Chang foolishly went to save a Daoist priest whom she shared no relations with, but she herself wasn’t even very familiar with Yun Chang. Why did she suddenly become filled with righteousness and go off to help her? She looked up to the sky and moon, but she only saw dark clouds covering the sky, lamenting: “Looks like I’m really am a good demon after all.”
From the mountain’s forest came a soft chuckle. Cold and merciless; yet another rush of demonic yin energy. Shao Zi trembled: “Who is it?”
The sound rang loud like a bell, but it was cold as frost: “A little flower demon dares to act heinously on my mountain. If you’re willing to send sacrificial beauties and wealth in place of the boar demon every year, I will let you off. If not, you can become a peony flower soul.”
Shao Zi froze, it seems that mountain demon had unexpectedly been provoked. The mountain demon was the king of the mountain. The monsters living here must all abide by his orders and offer sacrificial worship every year. She initially thought that the boar demon was just a passerby; she hadn’t expect that it actually had a relationship with the mountain demon. With this, she was done for. Even a thousand years of cultivation would not be enough to defeat him, ya.
The mountain demon did not appear, yet the hostile energy spread closer and closer. Shao Zi’s footsteps stiffened. There was nowhere to flee, because it could control the whole mountain. If she tricked it and fled to the tavern, the mountain’s ghouls and monsters would all come and attack without restraint. Then, the whole town would suffer calamity. As the mountain demon came forth, a sudden breeze dusted across her back, messily blowing against her silky black hair. It gently dusted her face and caused her sleeves to flutter in disarray. When she turned slightly, she saw a tall, unfamiliar, man standing at the side.
The lines of the man’s side profile were natural and gentle, carrying no wickedness. His expression held a slight smile and a sense of suave indolence. The corners of his lips were faintly pursed into flirtatious curves, seducing one’s soul. It seemed that only a slight flick of his hand could be enough to destroy the world.
Shao Zi dazed for a moment, eyes pinned on this handsome man. Where did he come from?
The man opened his mouth slightly. With an amiable smile that was void of murderous intent, he gently spit out the words: “Get lost.”
When the last syllable sounded, the mountain became absolutely quiet. All that remained was the wind brushing at the earth and its rustling echoes. Instantly, the sinister energy consuming the mountain withdrew. A dense moonlight sprinkled across the mountain’s forest, covering the ground in silvery white and reflecting against the blue-robed man’s handsome face. It was if he was an immortal descending to earth. Shao Zi couldn’t control herself and her nostrils started getting hot…
The corners of the man’s mouth curled, his eyes holding a smile: “Miss.”
As Shao Zi was just about to inquire about his name and identity, she suddenly thought of Yun Chang. She fiercely knocked her head: “If Yun Chang goes back now, won’t she run right into the ghost collectors’ hands? Thank you, Gong-zi,1 I will offer gratitude another day!”
“…Miss…I…” Before he could finish speaking, he saw the pretty figure depart as fast as a gust of wind…with an injured spirit, the man palmed his forehead.
Shao Zi rode the winds all the way back, barely catching her breath. Just as she got back to the tavern, she saw Pa Pa and a few little brothers lying prone. Seeing her, they shouted: “The opponent is just too strong. Lao da, we can’t hold it anymore.”
Shao Zi jumped up, rushing towards Black and White Impermanence. With one hand, she cut off the iron chains locking Yun Chang’s hands, pulling Yun Chang behind her.
Black and White Impermanence sounded coldly: “If you keep obstructing us, we’ll go to Yan Wang and report you.”
No matter how powerful she was, Shao Zi couldn’t fight the netherworld. She hesitated, but Yun Chang was already tugging her hand, handing over that soul: “The Daoist priest is still trapped in the formation. I can’t go inside. Can I trouble Miss Peony to restore his soul for him?”
“Wait,” Shao Zi said in astonishment. “You aren’t going to go yourself? I’ll help you hold off the ghost collectors.” Seeing her shake her head, Shao Zi was even more confused. “You suffered so many tribulations and hardships to help him preserve his soul. Then, with great difficulty, you found the part that he lost. You’re just going to leave without saying a word to him?”
Yun Chang nodded lightly: “This is still good.”
Shao Zi frowned: “Why?”
“If it were not for him, I wouldn’t be able to wait for the ghost collectors before turning into a hostile spirit who’s unable to find peace. Helping him retrieve his soul wasn’t to save him, but to save myself. I should thank him.”
Shao Zi didn’t understand. She used to think she was really smart, but the last several days had left her feeling that she was ridiculously dumb instead.
Yun Chang bowed: “For the maiden’s extraordinary grace, I will only be able to repay it in the next lifetime.”
Shao Zi sighed in her heart, holding tightly onto that soul while she lightly nodded: “Take care.”
Yun Chang thanked her again. As she followed the ghost collectors, she glanced once more at the unconscious Daoist priest, suddenly reminiscing the times of the past when he would wake after fainting and she could still see him. But this time would be the last time.
Once he woke up…he still wouldn’t remember her. Nor would she ever have the opportunity to tell him again.
A blue mist quietly appeared on the bluestone road and the gates to the netherworld had already opened. Three figures stepped inside, gradually moving further and further until they were out of sight.
Shao Zi stared in that direction for a long time, feeling a slight sense of loss. Yun Chang left just like this, with no time to even say a word to him. As she was thinking, her foot was suddenly gently poked at. She looked down. The green vibes had already transformed into a young boy; Pa Pa pointed at the corner of the wall: “What do we do about the Daoist priest?”
She hopped over with light steps and embedded the soul in her hand into the priest’s forehead. Seeing his brows shift slightly as if he was about to regain consciousness, she took Pa Pa’s hand and immediately returned to the tavern. She crouched on the second floor railing, watching him. Soon after, he awakened. Sitting on the floor, he kneaded his head with his hands.
“What are you looking at?”
“I…” Shao Zi’s eyes opened wide. In a puff, Pa Pa fled and vanished. She peered to the side and saw only the scholar crouched next to her. His hands were tucked in his sleeves as he followed the direction of her gaze. Through and through, a dim-witted scholar. “Why are you awake?”
“I couldn’t sleep, so I came to look at the moon.”
Shao Zi’s face stiffened, jumping up abruptly: “I forgot to ask that mysterious person where he lives and what his name and age is!”
She gazed far away. If she went back now, would that person be gone? She felt a sudden sadness. The man was as handsome as an immortal and so powerful to boot, yet she came back without asking him a single thing.
In the backyard flowerbed, Lady Xin leaned over and looked at the Shao Zi, who was squatting gloomily by the corner of the wall. She rubbed her chin: “Lao da, what’s wrong? Got beaten up by the ghost collectors?”
The fat bottle gourd spoke: “She and the ghost collectors didn’t make a move on each other, ah.”
Pa Pa gave a “heh heh” of a chuckle : “It seems like lao da met someone very powerful outside, but she ran back without asking anything.”
Chrysanthemum leaped over resplendently: “This should be the rhythym of the beginnings of love.”
Everyone chittered late into the night. Shao Zi woke up with a start and found that she was sleeping crookedly at the wall’s corner. She transformed into her human form, her waist sore and her back aching. She fetched some well water to wash her face, then sneakily went back to her room to change clothes, preparing to open up for business.
Just as the doors opened, she saw someone standing outside. Her hand holding the wooden panel2 stilled. The priest no longer had the lifelessness of the past several days. Spirited, handsome, and bright, he looked nothing like someone who had been at the mercy of others.
The Daoist priest hesitated for a moment, then asked: “Is there morning tea3 here?”
Shao Zi nodded. Because of the matter involving Yun Chang, she wasn’t sure what to say. Suddenly, her hand became light and the door panel had been taken away. The scholar smiled: “Guest, please come in. Our tavern has all kinds of sustenance.”
Shao Zi had an expression of “children really can be taught“4 and welcomed the priest in. After serving several dishes, she couldn’t resist asking: “Is this guest just passing through the town or are you a resident of the town?”
“Passing though.” The Daoist priest paused, his tone light. “I don’t know why, but I simply wanted to come in for a bit.”
Shao Zi’s heart shifted. His soul had returned in full, yet he still couldn’t remember Yun Chang. Even after meeting hundreds of times, those memories continued to disappear time and time again. In the end, it as as if their lives had never intersected, merely passing each other by. What was so good about this kind of ending?
After morning tea, he carried that peachwood sword and left the town. His tall silhouette gradually vanished on the bluestone road. Faintly, under this bright sunlight, there seemed to be a maiden whispering next to his ear:
“Hey, I’m called Yun Chang, ah.”
The Daoist priest’s footsteps stilled and he slowly turned around. But he did not see anyone there.
At the tavern on that ancient road, the wine banner swayed gently in the wind, as if bidding farewell.
Translator’s Note: I have to say, the image of a sad little Shao Zi peony squatting all crooked by the wall like a passed out drunk in her flower form always makes me chuckle. The nice thing about Peony’s Tavern is that, even though it’s almost a little too fluffy at times, there are still some poignant moments that ground the story emotionally.
- 公子 // Gong Zi: Usually used to address young gentlemen. Speaking more strictly, it’s actually a form of address for noblemen’s sons.
- I assume this is the wooden plank that locks the door.
- A light morning meal, like dim sum.
- 孺子可教 // Ru Zi Ke Jiao: Fig. Youth are promising and can have good future prospects.