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)
The Chinese term people use when they want to pay respects or prostrate towards someone in order to form a master-disciple relationship is “拜師” (bài shī), which is a respectful term that literally means bow to the master. I wasn’t sure of the best way to translate it so i just used variations of “let him becoming my shi fu” or “get a shi fu” in the translation.
The guard asked: “Dragon Deity, you’re asking regarding…”
“The person impersonating me.”
Four months…six months…
Eight months…ten months…a year…
Finally, one day he left the palace he had not left for tens of thousands of years.
But she had decided to change her strategy. Since sincerity did not work and framing did not work, what she could do was could help give him a good reputation. Thus, she began doing good deeds. She spent the entire last year recovering her original looks and no longer dared to go out an indulge in gluttony. And anyways, it was more free and relaxing to help little demons cross the river.
Today, she helped another group of little demons cross the river. She was sitting at the riverside, munching on steamed buns when a murderous aura soared above her head. She looked up and saw a plates of armor, nearly choking: “Mer, mermen…”
The mermen were steaming with murderous energy, their halberds raised with piercing intent. But then, a gust of wind came out of no where, instantly blowing them away. She blinked. Were they just passing through? As she pondered over the strangeness, she suddenly saw someone clad in black standing off to the side. He didn’t seem to have any spiritual energy, but someone who could come to the River of the Dead couldn’t be a mere mortal, either. She reckoned that she should just continue munching on her steamed buns.
After she finished a bun, she saw that the person still stood there. She wavered for a moment, then reached into her cloth bundle and gave him a bun: “Eat it, no need to be courteous.”
“…” He as speechless. Did he seem like the type of person who would come and beg for a bun…Looking at that dried up thing, he didn’t have much of an appetite. “I won’t eat.”
“Oh.” She bit half of it then saw a little demon jumping towards the River of the Dead. Immediately, she put down her bun and with a jostle of the body, she transformed into a dragon and glided over.
He was a bit shocked as he gazed upon the dragon who seemed indistinguishable from himself. He finally understood why she was able to run about the Six Realms without causing anyone’s doubt. Had he not known about this already, he would have thought he had a twin brother. Even her posture while soaring in the air was similar.
When she finished her good deed and returned, she saw that he still hadn’t left. The pair of stern eyes could make people feel rather timid, but they seemed somewhat familiar. She held a bun and asked: “You really won’t eat?”
He glanced at her: “I don’t eat vegetarian.”
“Vegetarianism is quite good.”
“You…used to eat meat exclusively in the past, no?”
Her eyes opened wide: “How do you know?”
“The dragon deity attended banquets across the Six Realms and became renowned for his addiction to meat, behaving as if he were Tao Tie.”1 Recalling the aggravated look of the head minister back then, he even thought the head minister had conjured up the wrong person through a dream.
She scratched her head: “Actually, I’m not the dragon deity…it was just an idea I came up with because I wanted to get a shi fu.”
He blinked, this was…a method for paying respects for a shi fu?”
“My natural aptitude is lacking, so when I heard that the dragon deity was really powerful, I decided to pay respects and have him become my master. With great difficulty, I finally reached the Dragon’s Gate, but I ended up getting kicked all the way back here. So spent all my focus on cultivating, then after five hundred years, I was finally able to transform into his appearance. The plan was to eat and drink all around to draw him out, but he didn’t come…so I decided to do some good deeds for him.”
He finally understood. So a tiny little white snake like this spent five hundred years to master transformation. And was even kicked out the door when she initially arrived at the Dragon’s Gate?
In the following days, whenever evening drew near, she would see that black-robed man standing by the riverside. She would talk to him often, but…he still didn’t eat the steamed buns.
One month…one year…five years…
He had already watched her eat steamed buns to the point that he himself had become numb, yet she still continued to eat them. All signs indicated that she would probably still be eating steamed buns in the future. One day, he finally couldn’t help but ask: “Are steamed buns delicious?”
She shook her head decisively: “Not at all!”
“…Then why have you been eating steamed buns for five years?”
Her nose soured:2 “Because the money I earn every day is only enough to buy steamed buns.”
When he saw his table full of meat during his noon meal the next day, he suddenly had no appetite. He pointed at the suckling hog roast and roasted duck: “Pack it to go.”
The guards: “…”
Then, under the grieving and bitter eyes of the guards and the head minister, he would bring food for her to eat every day. In a flash, several hundred years passed.
One day, she squatted by the riverside early in the morning, waiting for the black-robed man to arrive. Before she began crossing the river, she saw a big centipede coming over. She stood up: “Do you want to cross the river?”
The centipede nodded. With a jostle of her body, she let it crawl onto her back, then began flying towards the opposite shore. But before she could the other side, a wave of flaming pain crossed her back. The centipede sneered: “I didn’t expect that this is all that the Dragon Clan amounts to. Your spiritual energy, I want it all.”
With all her might, she turned over and shook violently. The centipede hadn’t expected this and ended up falling into the river. Numerous hands reached out from the bottom of the river, hauling it to the bottom before devouring it cleanly.
When he brought a roasted chicken at noon, he didn’t see Little White (小白 // xiao bai). He waited until afternoon and still hadn’t seen her. He saw a bird return from scavenging and waved at it. The bird immediately landed and bowed politely: “Is the Dragon Deity waiting for the little snake demon? She got injured by a centipede’s bite today and returned to Serpent Mountain.”
He fell into a momentary daze, then transformed into dragon form in an instant and flew towards Serpent Mountain.
Upon detecting Little White’s scent, he swooped in and entered the cave. He saw rings of white curled up on dry grass as frosty energy pulsated outwards. He leaned over and held her in his arms, helping her expel the poison. Only then did the frosty energy slowly dissipate. Her body began to shift as well. She turned and began coiling up his hand, slowly moving upwards as if trying to snatch away all his warmth, snaking from above his neck all the way down past his chest.
He stiffened. Everywhere that was touched by that frostiness should be cold, but why is it that he felt even hotter? It didn’t stop until it reached his lower abdomen and found the dragon’s pill in his core.3 Still, he remained stiff.
Dragons had always been a rare divine beast throughout Heaven and Earth. Their whole body was akin to holy medicine. Once the poison dissipated, it took only half a shi chen before she woke up and saw that she was in a dark place. There was both softness and a burning heat. With a shake, she realized that despite transforming into human form, she still couldn’t escape. She began crawling upwards in alarm, then when she finally poked her head out, she saw the dragon deity looking at her rigidly. After a long time, he muttered: “You, first put your clothes on. Also, don’t stomp around…”
When the words fell, she quickly transformed back and slithered away. At her nest, she felt around for her clothes and put them on. He was turned around as he asked: “Are you alright now?”
“Still going to the riverside tomorrow?”
“You aren’t afraid that a second centipede will show up?”
“I’m scared…but out of hundreds of years, only one evil centipede has ever shown up. In these hundreds of years, those that I’ve helped has been over tens of thousands.” She hugged her knees and sat to his side, swaying side to side, much more relaxed now that she’s no longer poisoned. “Thank you for always accompanying me. Even though I don’t know who you are.”
He looked at her: “Do you wish to know who I am?”
She hesitated for a moment: “If I know, can things still be like this? Will you still accompany me?”
He nodded, feeling that…being together and simply listening to her talk was good. Seeing her also put his heart at ease. It was an inexplicable thing.
Translator’s Note: This paintinga below by LOLI武士 perfectly captures the vibe I get when I imagine the dragon deity and the little white snake. ❤️
- 饕餮 // Tao Tie: One of the Four Perils (思凶 // si xiong) in Chinese mythology, which are foils to the Four Symbols (四像 // si xiang —also the Four Guardians, Four Auspicious Beasts). Tao Tie is an insatiable, gluttonous beast with a sheep’s body, tiger’s teeth, and human-like features on his face and hands. So greedy, he’s even eaten his own body. Often a motif found on ancient Zhou and Shang Dynasty dings, which are prehistoric ritual bronze vessels sometimes used for ritual food sacrifices. More on the Four Perils here.
- Referring to the feeling you get in the back of your nose when you want to cry.
- I was confused here, but it turns out there is also an herbal remedy used for sexual potency called dragon pills. Erm. Take this info as you wish, heh.