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)
Yi Mei Tong Qian uses a lot of wordplay by inserting phrases that include the word 神 (shen) which can mean immortal or god as well as spirit or liveliness. It’s a bummer that those sorts of phrases just only translate into mundane things like “calm” or “energetic,” which loses some of the cheekiness. 🙁 I wish there was a way I could better share that element of the story.
Shao Zi was refreshed and full of energy. That vexing matter had finally been resolved. But when she returned through the backyard, the scholar was nowhere in sight. Where did that bugger sneak off to laze around this time? Did he even want the tavern anymore? On the other hand, Gao Ren had already picked a place to sit down, his calm and relaxed aura leaving one feeling at ease.
Shao Zi specially brought out the Mao Jian tea1 that she had kept hidden for a long time, then seeped a pot of it before passing over a cup of tea with a smile: “Gao Ren, drink some tea.”
Gao Ren accepted it amiably, took a sip, then felt a refreshing sensation penetrate his heart and mind. It was clearly just a cup of ordinary tea, ya, was the difference in the person seeping the tea? He smiled: “Weren’t you scared, rescuing the white snake today?”
Thinking back to it, Shao Zi unwittingly felt the sensation of post-traumatic fear. Her complexion paled: “Of course I was scared!”
Looking over at her, he couldn’t help but laugh aloud: “There’s no need to be scared anymore, all has passed.”
Shao Zi thought it through carefully, then sighed in relief: “That’s true.” With a shy expression, she said: “Gao Ren, how about you stay here? I’ll go clean up a room for you, there are three meals provided each day.”
He silently thought about how she sent him glares every day when she served him her cooking. No need to even mention tidying up his room, because even his own blankets were folded by himself. Moreover, when had she ever poured tea for him? The same person truly could lead different lives.2 Hold on. Why was he being jealous of himself for no reason?
Seeing him shake his head, Shao Zi’s heart sunk. But just as she was about to entice him with other delicacies, a voice asked from outside:
“Excuse me, is this place open for stays?”
Shao Zi looked out and saw a delicate and pretty monk wearing old, worn-in robes. There was not much to be said about that, but in his arms was a flower pot. Inside was a yet-to-blossom…orchid cactus (曇花 // tan hua).3
The sky outside had darkened at some point and pitter-patter sounds of a light rain were falling.
The evening rain drizzled non-stop. It was obviously mid-summer, but the sky was not clear. Rain thrummed against the bluestones in front of the tavern. Pedestrians held umbrellas and traversed over the puddles on the ground, leaving everything looking cold and empty.
Shao Zi sprawled over the til. It had been seven days. Other than that monk that has continued to stay at the tavern, there’s been a grand total of six patrons that came in to dine. No one else has spent the night. They’ve made a total of 430 coins, not even amounting to a single liang.4 If things kept going on like this, they won’t even have vegetables to eat. Hearing the pi-li-pa-la of an abacus next to her ears, she crooked her head and watched as the scholar ran it with concentration, asking: “Innkeeper, why do you run the abacus everyday? Obviously, there’s not much to be calculated.”
Slender fingers suddenly paused. The scholar tilted his head to look at her and said: “Don’t you think I look more like an innkeeper this way?”
“…” The Shao Zi who hadn’t eaten meat for four days had no energy to bother with him. Even eating two bowls of rice every meal left her with no sense of contentment; taking just two steps would make her feel like she was going insane from hunger. The absence of meat really made one unhappy, ah. She had sprawled over over the till for half a day, and it seemed that she would continue doing so. She sighed: “When will the sun come out?”
In her boredom, she looked dazedly at the water continuously dripping from the eaves. She yawned and continued watching, but suddenly, a touch of vermillion red fell. Thinking that she saw wrong, she rubbed her eyes, but it became more and more red, the color mixing with the rain and dyeing the ground bright red. Shao Zi got up in an instant: “Innkeeper, it’s raining blood!”
The scholar looked outside, his gaze stilling: “The cinnabar is melting.”
Upon hearing this, Shao Zi left for the backyard without even taking an embrella. From there, she leaped upwards. Indeed, that Pi Xiu had begun to melt. The horns on his head were half gone. She became alarmed; she didn’t even get to experience the might of this formation at least once and it was now disappearing just like that. She reached up to touch the divine beast, but a voice from behind startled her: “Don’t touch it!”
But it was too late, her fingertips were instantly scorched. With a boom, the Pi Xiu turned to cinnabar and rained down, it’s burn making her arms flush bright red, nearly causing her to faint. Seeing the red rain about to cascade onto her face, the scholar swiftly stepped forward, pulling her into his chest. He lifted his arm and fanned away all of the red rain with a flick of a sleeve. A little bit of red rain splattered onto his body, scalding and painful. His brows couldn’t help but wrinkle.
Shao Zi trembled, covering her arms and looking at him: “Are you hurt?”
The scholar looked at the sleeves on her arms that had been mostly burned off, vaguely noticing that her tender arms were burned. Then, he saw her pale complexion. She even asked him whether he was injured first. Truly a silly Shao Zi. He said softly: “No.”
Shao Zi whimpered: “But I am…”
Back inside, the scholar grabbed medicine and gauze. Awkwardly and uncomfortably, he cut her clothing and did his utmost to not touch her injury. Once he cut it, he realized that her injury was more serious than he’d expected. Yet, she was still able to endure it.
Shao Zi sniffled and asked: “How come that cinnabar can cause burns?”
“The cinnabar cannot; it’s the formation of that divine beast. If the formation dissolves naturally, it’ll turn back into ordinary cinnabar, but if it is forcibly destroyed, the divine beast will resist. What happened today was the result of that.”
Shao Zi nodded: “But who is breaking the formation?”
The scholar took pause. Without lifting his eyes, he continued focusing on her wound: “Rainwater.”
Shao Zi panicked, shifting her arm just as the scholar was shaking the medicine. It instantly knocked against her wound and a long “ow~~~” came out, her face paling. So anxious that his forehead began perspiring, the scholar said: “Stop moving around.”
Even if he were to poke her, Shao Zi did not dare to move around. She sighed: “If only Gao Ren were here. He could snap his fingers and all would be well.”
The scholar’s lips pursed. He’s doing his best to apply the medicine, ah, but she only remembers Gao Ren. He said: “The injury is from a divine beast, which is typically difficult to recover from. Plus, the rainwater has a dense hostile energy mixed inside. Even if Gao Ren came, he would still have to apply medicine like this so that you can heal.”
Shao Zi hmphed softly: “Innkeeper, it’s not like you’ve ever met Gao Ren. He’s just too awesome.” Then, she lightly coughed twice, “Thank you, Innkeeper, for helping me wrap my wound.”
After being full off eating his own vinegar,5 the scholar finally grinned with slight satisfaction.
“How much longer will the rain come down for? Without any customers, the tavern’s going to shut down, la.” Shao Zi shook her head. “With this rain, there’s no way to go to the hot springs anymore.”
Holding the gauze, the scholar’s hands stilled as he peered at her: “Hot springs?”
Shao Zi nodded: “The blooming season is almost here, going over to Mount Qi’s Yan Ling6 Hot Springs can greatly increase one’s cultivation. But if it keeps raining like this, there will be nothing left.”
Hot springs…hot springs with steaming white vapor…Shao Zi sitting inside…distant thoughts of…the scholar…was about to lose it again…
Shao Zi crooked her head to look at him, then panicked: “Innkeeper! Nosebleed! Nosebleed!”
The scholar covered his nose with one hand, thinking inwardly that, for the sake of Shao Zi’s trip to the hot springs, this rain must quickly be taken care of!
Shao Zi handed a handkerchief over to him. The scholar took it, recovering only after a long moment: “Once the source is found, you will quickly be able to to see cloudless, clear skies for tens of thousands of miles.”
Immediately, Shao Zi looked at him in suspicion: “Innkeeper knows what the cause is?” In an instant, she became furious and turned into a tigress, “You knew and said nothing? Innkeeper, do you even want this tavern anymore?!”
A few beads of sweat dripped down his back…The scholar smiled calmly: “I’m just guessing, Shao Zi, don’t be anxious. Didn’t the visiting patrons say that it didn’t rain at all in the neighboring towns, but once in Zhuang Yuan town, it began raining cats and dogs? So I was thinking, maybe there’s some sort of demon in town. What’s more, the hostile energy in this rain is incredibly harsh, so it is possible that this may not be an ordinary demon.”
At this, Shao Zi’s complexion finally eased and she nodded thoughtfully: “What you’re saying makes sense. Hm, then in a moment I’ll go out to see where the creature is hiding.” Seeing that he finished wrapping the gauze and began reaching for a small scissor, she thought he was going to trim the corners of the fabric. But she did not expect that he would help her trim those nails that had gotten scorched.
The scholar trimmed with utmost care, not hurting her at all while cutting. Shao Zi stared at him for a moment. He lacked Gao Ren’s unfathomable power and didn’t possess a sturdy build like Gao Ren, but how come the more she looked at him, the more pleasing to the eye and reliable he seemed to become? “No one has ever helped me cut my nails.”
The two blades met, trimming off the edge of another damaged nail. The scholar said: “Mn. In the future, I’ll cut them for you.”
Shao Zi stilled for a moment as she felt warmth grow in her heart.
The rain continued coming down. Eventually, tens of days had passed.
The backyard flowerbed was drenched and the demons’ moods were downcast as the huddled in their places, wilting from the onslaught of rain.
Shao Zi took a spade and dug a gutter going outward from the flowerbed. Then, she set up an awning, which finally made things a bit more comfortable. She herself was about to blossom in four to five days, but with this rain, even the hot springs’ water would not be able to offer a good cleansing. It looked like this year’s chance to strengthen in cultivation was going to be a missed opportunity.
Translator’s Note: Last week was definitely a much needed break, but I’m glad to be getting back into Shao Zi and the scholar’s story. It’s a slow build, but the little moments leading up to the romance are undeniably adorable.
- 毛尖茶 // Mao Jian Cha: A type of green tea famous to Henan Province, China.
- 同人不同命 // Tong Ren Bu Tong Ming: Proverb. People in similar conditions could end up with different destinies. The author uses this proverb in a literal sense.
- 曇花: Also known as Queen of the Night or epiphyllum. They only bloom at night and wilt at dawn, each blossom extremely fragrant but only lasting for a single night. This is the same flower mentioned in Crazy Rich Asians.
- 兩 // Liang: Chinese weight-based unit of measurement for money. Some Chinese populations refer to it as a tael.
- Eating vinegar is nomenclature for being jealous.
- Yan Ling means Eye of the Spirit.