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)
Another day, another set of problems for Shao Zi. Let’s hope she gets through this one in one piece.
Zhuang Yuan Town, dawn.
The scholar ran the abacus and looked through the account books: “Dong Lin (東林 // East of Forest) Town has a Landlord Wang who has a sum of money that hasn’t been collected. Shao Zi, we’re going to head out in a moment.”
Shao Zi shook her head: “Innkeeper, you go ahead. I’m going to stay and watch over the tavern.”
This would be a five to six day round trip, so she definitely did not want to go. That Official Wang was originally from their Zhuang Yuan town, then he moved to the neighboring Dong Lin Town. The old innkeeper happened to be handing off the tavern, so this matter of debt was forgotten.
“Oh…this account is rather hefty. Someone like me who lacks the strength to even truss a chicken, running around with that much silver. There shouldn’t be any bandits around should I pass a through mountain forest, right?”
Shao Zi gave his arm a squeeze over his clothes. It was clearly very sturdy, ah. But looking at his scrawny appearance, whatever, she should still escort him. Otherwise, what would they do if he lost the silver? “I’ll go back to my room and pack up first.”
Going back to the room to pack meant going back to the room, jumping down from the window to the flowerbed, and leaving word for the others to: Take good care of the house, don’t let bad people come in and steal anything, put an immediate stop to any strange ghouls want to live here, and so on and so forth. At the end, Shao Zi thought of a question, then turned her head to as Pa Pa: “Did that dumb scholar leave yesterday?”
Pa Pa said with all seriousness: “No, he was in his room the whole time.”
Shao Zi frowned: “Then how did he wake up? Didn’t I cast a formation?”
Moneymaking Tree said: “Little miss, a kind reminder that that scholar isn’t so simple.”
Shao Zi’s eyes turned, then she took her her bag into the main hall. As long as the scholar obediently watched over this tavern and didn’t come up with any absurd ideas, then it’s not a problem. Once two hundred more years pass and she’s able to retain her human form every day, she’ll watch over this home herself, become the lady boss, and be at ease.
The scholar already prepared the carriage and was standing under the sun, light shining softly upon his fresh face. Shao Zi thought inwardly that this scholar actually wasn’t too bad looking. It’s just that it felt like if a strong wind gusted by, he would be blown off into the horizon.
After getting on the carriage, the scholar picked up the reigns and uttered a soft “jia.”1 The carriage didn’t move…he contemplated for a moment, then lifted the reins again and cracked it with a “jia.” The horse was still looking around.
The corner of Shao Zi’s mouth twitched: “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to drive a horse…”
The scholar said helplessly: “I really don’t.”
Normally…normally he wouldn’t even use something as slow as a horse, okay…
Shao Zi really wanted to kick him off. Angrily taking the reins, she said: “I’ll do it!”
The scholar was deeply grateful: “Miss Shao Zi is truly a reliable hostess for the tavern.”
Shao Zi stuck her tongue out at him. Clearly, he was the one who was too unreliable, okay?
As such, the townsfolk saw Tong Fu Tavern’s male innkeeper sit at the side in relaxation while the pretty, female number two crudely drove the carriage. They couldn’t help but lament, the scholar was a man who didn’t understand having tender feelings towards the fairer sex, ah. With such an unscrupulous businessman, the tavern definitely will not go out of business.
Dong Lin Town wasn’t considered far, but there were two rugged mountain roads in between. On that mountain would sometimes be banditry. They would stick a tree branch on the ground and declare they planted the tree and the road was run by them, then effortlessly rob a huge sum of silver to enjoy back at home. Shao Zi bitterly detested these kinds of people, but this time, she didn’t plan to beat them into the skies. She wasn’t going lift a finger. Instead, she was going to wait for the scholar to step up.
In the end, they passed through the mountain roads and the bandits who normally gathered there were nowhere to be seen!
The two peacefully left the mountain forest with no issues whatsoever. By then, the sky had darkened, so they sought out a tavern to stay at. Their rooms were adjacent to one another. Once Shao Zi put her bag down, she heard a creaking sound coming from the room next door. When the scholar came in to discuss the travel route for the next day, Shao Zi asked: “Why is it so noisy next door?”
The scholar raised his ears, “zhi-zhi-ya-ya“…”zhi-zhi-ya-ya“2…he raised his hands and covered Shao Zi’s ears: “See no evil, hear no evil…I’ll switch rooms with you.”
Shao Zi looked at his suspicious expression and moved his arms away: “I won’t switch, I want to sleep. Innkeeper, hurry and return to your room.”
The scholar looked at her with misfortune: “Alright.” Ultimately, he once again poured a cup of tea for her. “You haven’t drank tea all day, right?”
Shao Zi licked her lips. It seemed so. She received it with her hands, tilting her neck upwards and drank it all. Ow! Her stomach began burning again. She sniffed the cup and confirmed it was tea, not wine.
Finally driving that nagging scholar back to his room with much difficulty, Shao Zi hugged the vase in the room and set up the blankets on the bed, preparing to squeeze for a night with this little potted plant who hadn’t yet cultivated a spiritual form. The wall next to this bed was adjacent to the neighboring room. Next door was really noisy, ah.
Shao Zi originally wanted to instill the mindset of not being a busybody and simply lie down to sleep, but after a moment, she climbed back out of the flower pot. There was no way to even relax, ya.
She tiptoed over from the window, then poked a hole on the window’s paper covering. Peering inside, she saw a man and woman tied up by the round table inside the room. Both were dressed extravagantly. On the woman’s head were gold and silver hairpins. Her mouth was stuffed with a cloth ball. As Shao Zi was just about to open the window and go inside, she saw the door open. This tavern’s innkeeper and a group of number twos came inside.
The female innkeeper came forth to pull out the accessories on the woman’s head, throwing them to a number two at the side. She smiled crookedly: “They say that opening a business is good for making money, but we may as well go up to the mountains and become bandits. We even have to smile all day for others. Lao-niang3 has had enough.”
That number two bowed and smiled: “Leader,4. Wasn’t this all merely to avoid the militia’s crackdown? Once things pass, we’ll go back. Plus, that man who just entered the tavern doesn’t look half bad, we’ll snatch him back and make him the leader’s wife.”
Shao Zi held her breath and pulled pulled her head back. No wonder there weren’t any bandits on the road. It turns out these bandits opened this black tavern to escape the government’s reach. Moreoever, the scholar is the innkeeper of Tong Fu Tavern, how can he be snatched away to the leader’s wife? This Shao Zi would be the first to object, okay!?
The number two saw the window repeatedly opening and closing and was about to go over and close it. Who would have thought that at that moment, he saw a maiden leaning over there. He screeched with fright: “Ghost, ghost!”
Shao Zi snickered. Seeing them want to escape, her slender finger swept across. Rattan vines flew up simultaneously, binding them together. At the same time, the entire room filled with ghosts moaning and beasts howling. She patted her hands and jumped inside, untying the man and woman. With a curl of the finger, she wiped their memories from just now. Afterwards, she grabbed a person in each hand and sent them to a nearby tavern that was much safer.
Then she went back to the black tavern. Those seven or eight bandits were in a throng, simultaneously biting at the vines, chewing to the point that their mouths were filled with sap. When the saw Shao Zi approach, in an instant, not even the sounds of crows or sparrows could be heard. They didn’t dare to move.
“You scoundrels need to be sent to the governing office for punishment, lest you continue hurting people.”
Everyone heard this, but who would be willing? They got up to run, but Shao Zi hooked a finger and used the vines to knit them into a bundle, carrying them towards the direction of the town’s governing office.
In the mistiness of the night, the scholar stood at the railing, watching Shao Zi carry that big ball of vines and leave, sighing: “Still loves being a busybody just like in the past, ah.”
As he finished muttering, a slight tremor came from the wooden panel below his. Not a moment later, the tremor became like that of a waking dragon. The scholar didn’t seem to feel it at all. Once the tremor began shaking so much that his teeth were rattling, he finally lifted a finger and flicked the pillar: “If you keep behaving maliciously, I’ll eat you.”
The entire tavern suddenly stopped and returned to its original appearance.
Shao Zi tossed the bandits to the front gates of the administrative center, peered in all four directions, then sounded the drum of injustice.5 Quickly, she heard scattered sounds of humans as the ran over in succession. Tossing the drumsticks, she jumped onto the rooftop of the front hall then saw the bailiff come out. He tore off the piece of paper she stuck on that read “We Are Bandits” and ushered them all inside. At this, Shao Zi finally left at ease.
Upon returning to her room at the tavern, she stretched comfortably. Just as she just hugged the vase and prepared for a good night’s rest, the bed abruptly cracked open before she could even shut her eyes. Shao Zi’s eyes opened wide and her entire body fell inwards, falling into a bloody mouth wide open like a sacrificial bowl.6
The scholar, who was in the stables with the horses, awaiting for Shao Zi’s return, took pause. He looked up at the indistinct toad shape that was writhing its waist. His gaze frosted: “Actually going and swallowing my family’s little peony. Unforgivable.”
Shao Zi didn’t faint from shock but rather, fainted from the fumes. When she woke up, it wasn’t from a natural awakening either, but from the stinky fumes! Where in the world was this place, the stench was unbearable. She got up and retched twice; it was dark and she couldn’t see anything. Blowing towards her palm, she conjured up a lantern.7 Looking around in detail, it turned out to be something like a karst cave. From the nooks and crannies were pointed stones that hung down, protruding out. Lifting her foot with a kick, the ground suddenly began to shake and demon energy scattered about. Shao Zi held steady, gritting: “Daring to take my demon power in vain. You are courting death.”
Oftentimes between demons, some will swallow each other as food to increase their own demon power, but they become monsters this way and are unable to ascend to immortality due to karmic consequences. Shao Zi has always been a flower demon; when she encounters these kinds of demons, it’s typically headache-inducing. Even if they hadn’t cultivated for as long as her, since the party had eaten many a demon, their demon power could not be underestimated.
With the spark in her left hand, she summoned a sharp dagger in her other hand. Intermingling her demon energy with it, she forcefully pierced it into the stone wall. At once, the cavern the cave rumbled loudly, shaking so much that Shao Zi felt a wave of pain in her ears. She gritted her teeth and resisted loosening her grip. Nearly vomiting from the jostling, she tossed the lantern altogether. The light immediately extinguished. Then, she conjured another dagger and spared no energy as she thrust it in.
The toad spirit was pierced consecutively, and it leaped a hundred zhang8 into the sky, landing violent back on the ground and leaving the ground sharking like thunder within a one hundred li radius. Shao Zi, who had been swallowed into his stomach, also shook from her hands. This toad spirit could not be underestimated; despite being stabbed consecutively, it still wouldn’t die.
Shao Zi looked up for a moment, discharging fire from her hands and rubbing them against the inside of its stomach.
She conjured a longsword and pierced at it. Still no reaction.
Furiously, Shao Zi swung a kicked. She wasn’t sure if she kicked right at the toad’s life acupoint or what, but it suddenly sprung upwards, then fell heavily back down. Shao Zi shook with the undulating of its stomach. When it landed abruptly, she was shocked into a cold sweat and quietly muttered, “I’m done for, I’m going to get crushed to death by rocks.” She didn’t expect to silently fall into a warm embrace, getting firmly supported.
- 駕 // Jia: Chinese verbal command for telling a horse to start going.
- Sound for creaking or squeaking noises.
- 老娘 // Lao Niang: Translates as old lady, but the “old” here is more like “great” or “grand.” Usually used when referring to oneself in an arrogant manner.
- The term used is 寨主 (zhai zhu), which, in ancient times, can refer to village chief or leader of a group of bandits.
- 鳴冤 // Ming Yuan: A big drum used in ancient times to cry out for justice. Literal meaning is “crying grievances.”
- 血盆大口: Idiom. Fig. A ferocious mouth of a beast. Also describes someone who greedily exploits.
- There’s some cute wordplay here. There are different ways to say lantern in Chinese, one of them is 花燈 (hua deng), which translates to flowering light. Similar to those lanterns you see for the Lantern Festival.
- 丈 // Zhang: Ancient unit of measurement. One zhang is about 3.65 yds or 3.3 meters.