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)
Shao Zi will do anything to keep her beloved home safe, but that doesn’t mean everyone else in her life wants to see her sacrifice it all.
Shao Zi nodded: “I understand, you first head back to your room.”
Then, she leaped into the kitchen. Who would have expected that a dense layer of smoke had pervaded the room, constricting her throat so much that she rapidly coughed several times in succession. Waving her hands to push away the smoke, she came across a faint figure standing in front of the stove, frying something.
Shao Zi walked over with light steps: “Innkeeper, what are you doing?”
The scholar grinned: “Stir-frying vegetables. Can you not tell?”
Shao Zi peeked at lump of mush inside the pan, replying with difficulty: “I really…could not tell.”
So the all-talented scholar didn’t know how to cook nor did he know how to drive a horse. Was this an example of “the big things are trivial, the little things are impossible“? Shao Zi took the spatula: “Innkeeper, what did you want to eat? I’ll just make it for you.”
The scholar replied earnestly: “Vegetables.”
A calm and quiet Shao Zi was quite out of the ordinary, so the scholar asked: “Is something wrong?”
“No.” Shao Zi gave him a push. “Innkeeper, you go out.”
The scholar took pause, but asked no further. As soon as he left, Shao Zi pan-fried a plate of vegetables along with some porridge to eat along. Then, heading back to the kitchen, she washed the pot and added a ladleful of water. Once it boiled, she began slowly infusing energy, concentrating her demon power at her lower abdomen where her qi resided.
Once her body became so feeble that she could no longer exert her strength, she finally bent over slightly. A round, crimson red bead the size of a fingertip dropped gently into her palm. She looked at it for a long moment, then lifted her hand to throw it into the post. Just as it was about to land in the water, a fair hand extended over and caught the bead.
Shao Zi looked up angrily. Seeing how it was the golden-bright and dazzling Chrysanthemum, she nearly pulled out a knife: “Give me back my demon’s bead!”
Chrysanthemum chuckled mildly and held it tight, unwilling to give it to her: “Taking two hundred years worth of cultivation and turning it into a demon’s bead to help heal the dragon deity? There’s really no one as dumb as you. There are such few peonies in the world who have developed spirits. You survived for this long for the sake of this broken tavern. Is it really worth it? Your demon’s bead can stop plagues and can cure all kinds of poisons. To give it away for just one person’s use, that’s simply too much of a waste.”
Shao Zi’s still fixated at her hand: “It’s worth it. This is the tavern left by Grandpa and it’s my home.”
“The old innkeeper doesn’t even know about your existence as a demon!”
Shao Zi startled, then spoke resolutely: “I was saved and brought back by Grandpa. If he hadn’t transplanted me in the garden, I would’ve been eaten by a bird demon on the mountain long ago. I went and stole food, but he didn’t blame me and even gave me food to eat, gave me a name. Now that Grandpa is gone, I want to watch over the tavern. What’s wrong with wanting to watch over my home…Give me back my demon’s bead.”
Chrysanthemum could not understand her logic at all. If there weren’t a hundred worn-down taverns like this in town, there were at least fifty. As a demon, she actually wanted to protect a mortal thing; such an insult to demons. “You’re such an idiot! Take it, take it, since you want to save it, I don’t want to bother with you.”
She stuffed the demon’s bead into Shao Zi’s hand, furiously storming back to the flowerbed.
Shao Zi looked at the demon’s bead, closed her eyes, then threw it into the boiling hot water. The crimson red demon’s bead melted upon contact, fusing into the water. However, the water did not dye into red. Rather, it remained pure and clean like water coming out of a heavenly hot spring, filling the basin with flawless clarity.
Diligently carrying it out, she headed upstairs. Why did every step feel so heavy? It was like she was holding two hundred years worth of cultivation in her hands.
The scholar sat at the till, slightly raising his eyes to glance at her backside. Even he didn’t expect that Shao Zi would use such a consequential method. It seemed really dumb…and after thinking it over some more, it was still really dumb. But it was so dumb that it made one’s heart ache without any thoughts of disdain. It seemed that, in the end, he must still intervene on the matter. Although the Dragon Clan and the Mermen were extremely bothersome, he was not willing to let Shao Zi commit such a self-abasing thing like sacrificing her cultivation.
Shao Zi carried a big basin of soup and gave the door a knock: “Little White, open the door.”
After a moment of silence, she knocked again: “Big Black, open the door.”
“…It doesn’t seem too good to give people nicknames like this.”
Shao Zi blinked. When she looked to the side, she nearly lost her grip: “Gao…Gao Ren.”
Gao Ren’s side profile was still just as handsome, the faint aura emanating from him making people feel a sense of trust. Shao Zi felt a rush of excitement. Oh no, what was going on with her state of mind lately? It seemed to be following a restless cadence. She asked: “Gao Ren, what are you doing here?”
When her words fell, the door opened. The little white snake peeked her head out: “I was dressing his wounds just now.” Her eyes traveled upwards, and when she saw Gao Ren, she was so scared that her little face turned white. Angrily, she bared her teeth: “What are you doing here!”
Gao Ren grinned, rolling up his sleeves: “I’m here to heal the sick.”
Shao Zi stilled: “What you mean is…you can heal the dragon deity?”
Gao Ren nodded: “Yes.”
“So…” Shao Zi looked down at the basin of medicinal soup in her arms that was as big as a sink. Her face spasmed. “I need to drink this entire basin of soup in order to restore my cultivation?!”“
Gao Ren’s eyes were deep and tinged with sympathy. As if he himself had been subjected to it, his voice became heavy: “That’s right.”
Shao Zi suddenly experienced the deep malice of the great replenishing soup…
Once her stomach was stuffed with soup, she hurriedly pursed her lips and and squatted at the side with the basin for fear that she would vomit as soon as she opened her mouth. A long while later, she looked at the dragon deity who was wrapped in gauze like a zong zi1 and couldn’t help but ask: “Little White, you did this?”
She immediately received a loud and confident answer: “Yes.”
The corner of Shao Zi’s mouth twitched. The dragon deity didn’t toss the little white snake out even though she had bundled him up like this. It was definitely true love. She saw Gao Ren lift his finger and press it on the gauze, slicing downwards. As if cut by a knife, the tautly wrapped gauze severed, slowly splitting open. The blood on the wound had already clotted and it was mixed with some indistinguishable herbs. Just looking at it was enough to frighten her heart and make her jump in fright.
After Gao Ren cleaned it up and re-dressed the gauze, Shao Zi once again felt like Gao Ren’s name was not for nothing.2
The dragon deity mustered up his energy, suddenly feeling that his blood had been stimulated and was circulating throughout his body, relaxing his muscles and joints: “My thanks to…”
“Ahem.” Gao Ren smiled with narrowed eyes. “You’ll recover in two days.”
The dragon deity paused, then spoke no more. The little white snake helped him put on his robes. As Shao Zi was about to leave with the used water, the floral scent of demon energy wafted in through the windowsill. She looked over and saw that Lady Xin had rushed in, anxiously speaking: “Off in the distance, there are two spiritual energies moving in towards town. There’s an ocean scent, so it’s probably the Dragon Clan and the Mermen.”
The little white snake’s complexion changed: “What if we get discovered?”
Shao Zi replied: “The divine beast is here, so they won’t be able to detect your auras.”
Lady Xin hesitated: “Lao da…even if that can’t detect of Big Black and Little White’s auras, you captured those four bu dao ong and brought them back. If they follow their scent here and find that it just so happens to disappear at the tavern…” She swallowed hard. “Anyone with a brain will know that something seems off about our tavern, right?”
Shao Zi paused, how could she forget that! Her intent was to bring back those mermen and dragons, hiding them away so that they couldn’t go back and report. She didn’t expect to draw other people over. No wonder there was no movement these past few days. And now, large armies were suddenly invading.
The dragon deity stood up, his voice steady: “The past several days have been an inconvenience to the maiden, I will go talk to them.”
The little white snake grabbed him, scowling: “You’re injured. What if the first to come are the Mermen? And didn’t the Dragon Clan elders say they were going to hold you accountable for the crime of abandoning the Dragon Clan? Let’s escape together, can we?”
The dragon deity was silent for a moment: “With my physical state, we won’t be able to escape. I will go meet them, you return to the Serpent Clan.”
“The clansmen are afraid of provocation, they haven’t want me since a long time ago…” The little white snake wiped her nose, feeling wronged. “I’m not afraid of death, don’t leave me behind.”
The dragon deity released a silent sigh, rubbing her head: “Then we’ll counter soldiers with arms and stop floods with earthen weirs.”3
The little white snake nodded and became happy again. Shao Zi thought solemnly that this little maiden’s expressions changed faster than flipping a book. In a blink of an eye, she was fine. Simply too easy to coax. Then, she thought about the situation from another angle. Two groups of men and cavalry were on their way. Even if she drove them away, the matter of her hiding away the mermen and dragons would still be exposed. It was better to risk their lives and fight. In the confines of the Pi Xiu formation, her demon power was limitless.
Outside the room, Gao Ren said: “Little Dragon…Oh, um, Dragon Deity’s spiritual power hasn’t been restored so it’s not suitable to entertain a fight. Let’s go cast a formation outside of town and redirect the two groups of men and cavalry elsewhere so they bypass the town. By the time they realize, two days will have already passed. At that time, the dragon deity and the little snake will have left long ago.”
- 粽子 // Zong Zi: Glutinous rice dish that’s wrapped in bamboo leaves. Similar to Vietnames banh gio, but bigger.
- Recall that the scholar messed with Shao Zi by saying his name was Gao Ren, which also means expert and was what she had initially been calling him.
- 兵來將擋水來土掩: Metaphor. Fig. To adopt different measures depending on the situation.