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)
Sorry for the lack of a Tuesday update. I was really swamped, for one. And I also just…didn’t love this arc, which made editing it such slog. There’s a high chance that there might be typos still 🙁
I recommend listening to Mao Bu Yi’s Unsullied when reading this chapter to make it a vibe. There may also be an extra chapter this Sunday to make up for this week.
From underneath the blanket came sounds of crying. He peeled back the quilt and could not help but be taken aback.
Qing Qing wore her usual palace garb of light blue, but the clothes had become torn and everything before him was marred with bloodstains. Her cheeks and neck were bruised with blue. When he raised his hand to touch, she ducked away, her voice shaking: “Da ren, please go back.”
He stood frozen in place. The palace maid from just now had already entered and pulled him out of the room, shutting the door tightly behind her. He asked with a start: “What is going on here?”
The palace maid fell silent for a brief moment, then her voice emerged so quietly that her words were nearly indiscernible: “Yesterday, she ran into the crown prince…and was forcibly taken into the room…He took away…her purity.”
His chest instantly felt stuffy and the palace maid raised a hand to wipe away her tears: “The crown prince has a violent temper. The amount of palace workers who’ve been flogged to death by him is no small number. Three years ago, a palace worker resisted and scratched his face, causing an injury. In the end, thirty-seven members of their family…were killed in one night’s time.”
He was stunned: “He killed so many people then went on living so unbridled even to this day?”
She laughed bitterly: “The crown prince ah…he’s the crown prince, how could His Majesty so easily punish him at will?”
“What about the law?”
“The the law is determined by the Son of Heaven,1 who would dare to get involved?”
For a long moment, he remained still. The palace maid sighed and pushed the door open to go inside. But as soon as she stepped inside, she shrieked. He immediately followed and saw that the navy blue bedding was covered in blood, so red that it was painful to the eyes. He strode forward with quick steps. This moment was the first time he realized that, he too, was capable of trembling.
He reached out, grasping onto Qing Qing’s hand that was dripping with blood. He shouted: “Hurry and find an imperial physician!”
The palace maid nearly wept out: “An imperial physician will not come and a regular doctor is not allowed to enter. Without a token, there’s no way to leave the palace, either.”2
An ache filled his chest. Though this was a dream, he still felt the acuteness of yesteryear’s pain.
He held Qing Qing and ran out, going directly to the Imperial Hospital.
Qing Qing curled into his arms, her eyes unfocused: “Da ren…”
“Da ren…” She spoke quietly. In this low voice, she continued to repeat it over and over again.
The low sound gradually tapered until it was completely…gone.
The body in his arms cooled very quickly. As someone who ordinarily lived as comfortably as a prince, running such a long distance while holding someone quickly left him spent. Staggering in the snow, he nearly dropped her.
“Qing Qing…” In a stupor, he stared at the her whose complexion was void of color. He called out once more, but she would never respond again.
The skies were filled with the fluttering of snowflakes, the piercing cold of winter slowly embedding itself into his bones. Numbed by the frost, his mind was as blank as snow, leaving him incapable of rendering another sound.
“Da ren, the camellias in the courtyard have bloomed.”
“Da ren, the night is cold. How about I bring over another stove?”
“Da ren…Da ren…”
He spat out a mouthful of blood. It was as if a sword had pierced into his very heart. The skies and earth were dark and gloomy, completely absent of light.
Scarlet red splattered on the snow-laden ground like shattered bits of falling safflower. Though the scholar and Shao Zi could see and hear everything, they were not privy to the monk’s private thoughts. Still, these emotions and this scene made them feel as if this anguish had fallen upon themselves. And in a blur, the setting in the dream had left the the snowy landscape and returned to his room.
He had no idea how many nightmares he’s had; his mouth, parched. A palace maid came in and poured tea. He took a sip and asked hoarsely: “Any news?”
The palace maid spoke quietly: “Not guilty.”
The teacup in his hand fell to the ground and shattered. He looked at her in bewilderment. Recently, he had been compiling proof of the crown prince’s crimes. It was incriminating enough to let him die a hundred times over. But after taking so many lives, he was found as not guilty? His voice became even more hoarse: “The court will not take action?”
“Yes, the Sacred One had them withdraw their petitions.”
For a long time, he was baffled. Then, he suddenly laughed, the sound filled with disappointment and despair.”
“Alright, not guilty…it really turned out to be not guilty. Even taking thirty-seven human lives in one night could be considered not guilty. Where has this Yin Country’s laws gone off to?”
With this call of “da ren,” he was once again reminded of Qing Qing. He raised his hand, his voice trembling: “Light the stove. It’s cold.”
The cold of that winter’s day persisted until now. Every time he was cold, he thought of Qing Qing.
He submitted several positions, searched the Ministry of Justice’s Da Li Temple,3 and sought an audience the Sacred One several times. One time after another, he was rejected…while the crown prince continued to live free from the law.
He sighed softly.
Shao Zi watched as the young monk laid his golden Buddhist robes to rest and put down his staff before leaving the Imperial Palace, treading across the snow with a lonely and desolate silhouette. She couldn’t help but sigh as well. And in an instant, the great hall of the Imperial Palace disappeared; the wind and snow was no more. The dreamscape that the monk wanted to show them had come to an end.
Shao Zi was silent. Initially, she did not think that a monk working in cahoots with a strange demonic creature could be good news. But the ability to control this strange creature whilst not getting manipulated himself meant that his heart was not like that of ordinary mortals. But she never surmised that he would have such a past.
The monk, who had recollected all these memories hundreds of thousands of times over, did not seem too shaken. The resolve in the depths of his eyes remained unchanged. He recited a few more lines of scripture, then continued speaking: “I traveled across land and sea, hoping to seek out Buddha in the Western Paradise. When I trekked across a ravine, I had a mishap, fell off the precipice of a cliff, and came across this orchid cactus demon that had only been written about in ancient texts. So I took it out of the valley and used it to kill many individuals who committed sins yet led unbridled lives. Buddhism dictates that people may not kill, but in the eyes of this poor monk, this is a type of salvation.”
Shao Zi breathed a sigh. In order to pursue the justice he sought out and realize a world of untainted pureness, he discarded the glorious position of imperial teacher and took to the life of an ascetic monk. But after thinking it over in detail, she still shook her head: “In these Six Realms, you are but one person. How could you truly rid the Six Realms of sin and cleanse it of its impurity? Though the law has its loopholes and will occasionally get hoodwinked by petty individuals, it is still important.”
The monk bowed slightly, his voice calm: “While the Benefactor’s words are not wrong, this poor monk will use his remaining years to bring salvation to the people of this world to the best of his abilities. If one person, so be it. If two people, then so be it. As long as the law remains a work in progress, my pursuit of Buddhism will never stop.”
At once, Shao Zi felt a deep sense of veneration. She quickly rose: “I’ll go buy meat. Wait, no, I’ll go make you a Buddha’s Delight!”4
The monk pressed his palms together piously and serenely: “Thank you, Benefactor.”
The monk’s body was that of a mortal’s. Once he ate the alms dishes filled with Shao Zi’s spiritual energy, his internal injuries quickly recovered. When Shao Zi got up at dawn, the rain was still coming down. After she sent water to the monk’s room, he left the tavern again. That day, once she wiped down the furniture in the main hall and went to the market, she found out that Great Official Song had suddenly passed. Shao Zi fell silent for a moment, knowing that this was the monk’s doing.
At noon, the monk thanked the scholar and Shao Zi, then prepared to take the orchid cactus and move on to the next town. When he left, the rain was pitter-pattering as per usual. The monk held an umbrella up with one hand and the orchid cactus in the other, bringing his desires along with him.
Shao Zi stood at the front doors to send him off. Every time a guest left, she would feel an inexplicable sense of loss. Taverns, right? There were always people coming and going.
One joss stick’s worth of time later,5 the rain gradually trickled to a stop. When she looked up, the dark clouds that had obstructed the skies for just about half a month finally cleared up. All the living creatures recovered, the gloomy haze dispersed, and a rainbow hung high across the horizon.
Translator’s Notes: It’s easy to turn a blind eye to injustice when it feels far away. But when the same tragedy befalls loved ones, keeping up the pretense of normalcy becomes an impossible task.
Not sure how I feel about the monk’s personal brand of justice-serving (read: I don’t like it at all), but alas. In a way, the monk is also giving up his chance at Nirvana by latching onto the hope of bringing “justice” to the world. It would’ve been interesting to see the scholar’s take, since he was against it at the outset.
One thing I do like is the way Yi Mei Tong Qian wraps up some of her arcs by painting a bittersweet image for readers to imagine.
- Referring to the emperor. The emperor is said have the Mandate of Heaven.
- Ordinary palace servants cannot be treated by imperial physicians.
- 大理寺 // Da Li Shi: Ancient Chinese criminal court dealing with prison sentences; it was the highest level judicial system in the nation.
- 羅漢齋 // Luo Han Zhai: A vegetarian stir fry dish that is referred to as Buddha’s Delight among English-speakers, traditionally enjoyed by monks. Luo han refers to someone who has left behind their earthly desires and concerns and attained Nirvana; transliteration for the Sanskrit word, arhat. There also a group of eighteen individuals referred to as luo han who were followers of Buddha that followed the Eightfold Path and reached enlightenment. Zhai means alms.
- About 20-30 minutes.