Part of a Peony’s Tavern translation project at fruitydeer.com.
Do not download, copy, or redistribute without permission.
Source: 芍藥客棧 by Yi Mei Tong Qian // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
It was mentioned in a past footnote, but here’s some information that becomes relevant again this chapter:
Peony in Chinese is 芍藥 (sháo yào) while Shao Zi’s name, which means spoon, is spelled 勺子 (sháo zi). The two “shao” are different characters but share the same phonetic component. In addition, “yao” in sháo yāo also sounds like the Chinese word for demon, 妖 (yāo), so the Chinese title of the book, Shao Yao Ke Zhan, could also be seen as a bit of wordplay, Peony (shao) Demon’s (yao) Tavern (ke zhan).
Her breathing came to an abrupt stop. Shao Zi work hard to open her eyes and look at the person, but couldn’t see anything. As she was about to summon a light, they seemed to sense her movements and reached out, holding her hand and closing her palm, preventing her from lighting a lantern. Shao Zi obediently put her hand away. Her body was picked up by that person and with lithe footsteps, they leapt towards the outside.
Shao Zi lightly sniffed the scent on his person, raising her head: “Are you the person that was on the demonic mountain that day?”
The other party did not answer. Again, Shao Zi burrowed her head and sniffed: “It’s different…” She reached out and touched his chest. It was flat. A man! Then she went higher and touched his face. No beard, wrinkles. It was a young man! Further, further up…she couldn’t reach…the other party avoided her.
She felt an immediate chill in her heart. Could it really be that dumb scholar? How did he get in so effortlessly? If her guess was correct, then in the future, she really wouldn’t be able to turn around and get the tavern back. She gritted her teeth: “Dumb Scholar, it’s you, it’s you, right? You’re pretending to be a pig to eat a tiger.”1
A gust of wind suddenly grazed by. As Shao Zi was reacting oddly, that person finally opened his mouth: “What is the maiden saying? We’ve only just parted at the demonic mountain, yet the maiden is still so full of energy.”
It wasn’t the voice of the scholar. These words clearly sounded like those of a skilled person. Once again, the stirrings of spring2 sprouted in Shao Zi’s heart and she worked hard to wedge deeper into his embrace. She really hoped this demon’s belly was just a bit bigger so that they wouldn’t get out so quickly. She asked: “Expert, why are you here?”
His tone was calm and steady: “Passing by.”
“…” Passing by in a toad’s stomach…Expert, stop speaking nonsense…”…”
That person stopped abruptly, ruminated for a long time, then finally said: “It really did set up an enchantment formation.”
Shao Zi became a bit nervous: “Then what do we do?”
“I’m too lazy to move, let’s just puncture the stomach and go out that way then.”
So it was because he was too lazy to move that he decided to strike back…Shao Zi suddenly felt moved. This expert’s cognitive process really was different from ordinary people’s, ah. She said: “But it can’t be penetrated. I already tried a short dagger and longsword.” Her interest was piqued. “Expert, what kind of weapon do you plan on using?”
The scholar blinked: “Fingernails…”
“…” She expended so much energy and still could not puncture it, yet the expert said he would use his fingernails! Fingernails! She asked sincerely, “Expert, what’s your name? I’m called Shao Zi.”
That person’s tone of voice held a slight gaiety: “Shao Zi…is it because you’re a peony?”3
“No, this name was given by Grandpa. Soon after I began living in the tavern, I was hungry in the middle of the night and ran into the kitchen to steal food. As a result, Grandpa discovered me and asked me which house’s child I was. I didn’t dare to answer. He cooked me some noodles and said I could live there from then on. He gave me the name, Shao Zi, and said that the tavern was to be my home. Mn, I’m called Shao Zi because back then, I only knew how to use a spoon and couldn’t use chopsticks.”
The strength used to hold her increased slightly, and he replied softly: “Mn.”
Why was it that Shao Zi felt a sense of familiarity from being held in his arms? But this was simply impossible. Ever since she cultivated a consciousness, she had lived at the foot of the mountain and thereafter met Grandpa and Grandma, who had gone up the mountain to collect medicinal herbs. No, at that time they were still a young couple. They had transplanted her into the tavern’s flowerbed. In a blur, fifty years had passed.
The demon energy inside the toad were inebriating. In a haze, Shao Zi began recalling the days of the past and started feeling upset again. Those times were so good and lively but now it was taken over by a scholar who was always up to no good. Already in a state of delirium, she grabbed onto the man’s clothes and angrily spoke in a low voice: “Dumb scholar, you’re not allowed to bring the tavern to ruins.”
The scholar held her even tighter. From his arms, her breathing was steady, having already fallen into a dream. A refreshing breeze swelled under his feet, slowly dispersing and fanning away the demon energy, engulfing it all in an instant. He stepped across. As if lotus flowers bloomed below his feet, he walked forward like a torrent of water covering a thousand li4 as if unstoppable.
The toad spirit croaked in pain, awaiting their leave so he could run away. The scholar shot it a look: “Squat well.”
The scholar carried Shao Zi onto the carriage, then removed a garment to put it on her. Then he leaned over and got off. Just as his feet made contact with the ground, a light breeze flitted by. Once again, he became that miserly scholar.
He walked before the toad spirit, eyes pinned on him with a face of smiles: “You have two paths. One, you will not be allowed to appear again until your karma is cleansed through the passage of time. Two, continue to stay in the form of the tavern and purify yourself.”
The toad spirit looked bitterly at him: “Is there a third path?”
The scholar chuckled: “Yes, get beaten to death by me right tnow.”
The toad replied tersely: “Two.”
The scholar nodded: “Good boy.”
The toad returned to his original position with a whimper, then transformed into the beams and pillars of the tavern while cursing silently….Good boy, your uncle, ah….I’m clearly being coerced here!
The scholar jumped onto the carriage, grasping the reins and cracking them. No movement. Then he finally remembered…he didn’t know how to drive a carriage, ah…He couldn’t resist pulling up the curtain to look at that person who was in deep sleep. She looked just like a pearl or fine jade with no flaws. After looking for a long moment, he touched his nose and released the curtain. No more looking, no more looking, ya.
After mulling over the method of driving horses for a while, he experimented several times and finally…still failed.
He helplessly gave up and carried Shao Zi back to her room, then bent over and tucked her into the blanket. Peering at her cherry red lips, he couldn’t resist extending his head forward. Warm breath already reached the tip of his nose, but he suddenly straightened, reciting, “See no evil, hear no evil,” as he left.
Outside, the moonlight was bright and pure, reflecting on the ground like frost and snow. After looking for some time, his mood finally returned to normal.
No rush. Anyways, he’s already found her and he would never let her disappear out-of-the-blue again.
Shao Zi felt that the most depressing thing she’s experienced thus far was that she did not get to see the expert’s face when she woke up. Instead, as soon as she opened her eyes, she was met with the scholar telling her, “It’s time to get out of bed and go retrieve our debt.” She got up indignantly, grabbing the blanket and thinking back to the expert’s actions. So considerate, so gentle. Nothing like the scholar who’s always picking on her.
“Thirsty at all? Drink tea then.”
Water, watering, and more watering. Shao Zi choked out a sob. She forgot to ask where the scholar lived again! Sniffing the tea in the bowl and glancing at him dubiously, she pushed it away: “I’m not drinking it.” She put on her shoes and stepped on the floor, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him fiercely: “I don’t care who you are, but if you dare make a move on Grandpa’s tavern, I’ll fight you.”
The scholar looked at her awkwardly scrunched up face of ferociousness, then laughed aloud: “I’m a good person.”
“You’d better continue being one.”
While waiting for Shao Zi to get the horses from the stables, the scholar finally noticed that she head drank the every last drop of the tea. In the blink of an eye, she went from being suspicious to drinking it completely.
His mood immediately lifted. This was trust, ah.
But it was good as long as she drank it. Drinking it…would allow him to better judge the recovery of Shao Zi’s spiritual aura.
Only when Shao Zi got to the stable did she remember something. How come she wasn’t in that vase in the morning and was actually laying nicely on the bed? Even if the expert put her back on the bed, per her instincts, she still would have rolled towards the direction where there was soil, right? Touching her demon’s heart, there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
Once arriving at Dong Lin Town and smoothly collecting the debt, they set out for the return journey. Along the way, they heard all the passersby discussing how a Bodhisattva appeared and captured the mountain thieves, sending them to the administrative center to serve justice.
The Shao Zi who had done a great deed of kindness, was quite pleased.
Back at the tavern, the shopkeepers of the rice and rouge shops on either side of the tavern came out with greetings. After a few words of chit-chat, Shao Zi when inside and soon got a whiff of an unfamiliar fragrance. Hurriedly running into the back yard, she saw the demons playing mahjong and cooking hotpot. Before she could shout, the one standing guard, Lady Xin, turned over and shouted, “Lao da is back, la!” The lively energy immediately dissipated while the mahjong and hotpot immediately transformed into nothingness. Chopsticks hung from Moneymaking Tree and Chrysanthemum’s mouths. They blinked and only then did they see Shao Zi.
The corners of Shao Zi’s mouth twitched as she walked over: “If you want to play, go to the mountains, ya. What will you do if you accidentally let the next door neighbors see you?”
Moneymaking tree’s legs trembled and lustrous bits of gold really fell radiantly. The scent of golden ingots struck their faces as he said: “We’re demons, ah, mortals can get in line if they want to concern themselves with our business. Plus, even if it happened, we can just wipe their memory…What are you doing holding a shovel?!”
Shao Zi glared: “We’re not scared of mortals, but what if a vagabond immortal with high cultivation shows up?”
Chrysanthemum put her hands on her hips: “Aren’t you just relying on the fact that your magical skills are high and your demon power is a bit purer in order to be the lao da of this little courtyard? Ask the others if they even want to protect this little broken tavern and live their days so dully. Demons should act like demons.”
As soon as the words landed, Lady Xin jumped down, her dark brows wrinkling slightly: “Who’s house are you calling a broken tavern?”
Fat Bottle Gourd nodded: “Exactly, we’re the demons of Tong Fu Tavern’s backyard. This is our home.”
Moneymaking Tree and Chrysanthemum shared a look, threw their chopsticks and returned to their original form.
Translator’s Note: I read a review from a Chinese reader that described Peony’s Tavern as a “seeking the wifey” type of story, which seems rather apt. Shao Zi may not realize it yet, but she and the scholar have quite the connection. Also love how the little demon friends jumped out at the end in defense of the tavern 🙂
- 扮豬吃老虎 // Ban Zhu Chi Lao Hu: Fig. To deliberately act a fool so that the opponent neglects you, then taking the opportunity to achieve victory.
- Metaphor for romance or the blossoming of love.
- Refer to post intro for explanation.
- 一瀉千里 // Yi Xie Qian Li: Idiom. Fig. Describing water that is bold, free and flowing.