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)
The scholar is such a simp when it comes to his favorite little peony. I love it. This is the make-up chapter for me not posting last Tuesday.
After the monk left town, the rain stopped and the skies cleared. Shao Zi took away the canopy covering the backyard and the demons got up to stretch, each wishing they could eat up the sun to warm their bodies.
In the afternoon, she counted up the days. It was nearly time to head over for a soak in the hot springs. Shao Zi said: “Innkeeper, I want to take five days off.”
The scholar paused: “Hot springs?”
“Ah…I don’t know why, but recently, my whole body’s been sore down to the bone. It must be been the rain’s doing. I want to go take a soak as well and relax my muscles.”
Shao Zi didn’t even give it a second thought: “If we both go, who’s going to keep an eye on the tavern? No, that won’t do.”
All thanks to the intervening of this third-wheel called the tavern, the rejected scholar was extremely, extremely, extremely unhappy! He could only watch with his own eyes Shao Zi cheerfully heading to the spirit springs while he waited at the tavern. Thinking about the fair and fresh-faced Shao Zi sitting by herself in the steaming hot springs and swimming round and around, he touched his nose…Ah, he was even more unhappy!
Five days later, dawn, the morning sun buds in the sky.
The scholar returned from collecting the morning dew and was just about to begin simmering a “great replenishment tonic” for Shao Zi. As soon as he entered the tavern, he caught a whiff of a faint floral fragrance. His footsteps stilled. Shao Zi was back.
He walked towards the backyard. Just as he entered, he saw that the peony blossom had bloomed.
Morning dew hung off fresh, verdant leaves. The warmth of sunshine poured down ambiguously like concentrated pieces of colored glaze. Large petals overlapped one another, so fair that butterflies began crowding all about. As white as the purest mountaintop snow, it was full of pink freshness and was as intoxicating1 as peach blossom wine.2 At the center was silky gold stamens. The three colors reflected a splendorous glow, drawing one into drunken stupor.
Walking closer with light steps, he bent over and admired in detail. Truly akin to a beauty of the heavens. Where could something like this even be found among mere mortals? An early summer breeze swept by gently, brushing against a leaf and pressing ever so lightly against his lips. Heartstrings buzzing, he couldn’t help but take pause. In the end, he smiled faintly and said: “The brightest brocade is inferior; even delicate peach blossoms cannot compare.”3
Upon hearing someone knock at the front hall, he truly couldn’t bear to leave. But should he not go over when there were patrons, he reckoned that she would start glaring at him again. The scholar smiled helplessly before finally getting up to leave.
As soon as he left, a bunch of demons popped out from the yard and continued to stretch their bodies and soak in the sunlight.”
Pa Pa leaned across the wall and asked: “What does ‘the brightest brocade is inferior; even delicate peach blossoms cannot compare‘ mean?”
The never-been educated demons fell silent…collectively shrugging in lament: “No clue.”
After these heartfelt sighs, the demons saw Shao Zi sitting by the flowerbed in a daze. They inched closer and said: “Lao da, there’s no need to think so hard over the meaning of those words, is there? It’s not like you’re a studious demon, ya.”
Shao Zi touched her face and asked them with utmost seriousness: “Just now…did that dumb scholar kiss my forehead?”
Pa Pa raised a hand: “Lao da, what are you doing touching your face after the scholar kissed your forehead?”
Shao Zi froze for a moment. That’s right…what was she doing touching her face…it’s almost as if…her face was a little hot?
Azalea looked at her suspiciously: “Lao da, you haven’t fallen for the scholar, have you?”
Shao Zi cried indignantly: “The type I like is the tall, handsome, and forthright type like Gao Ren! The scholar runs off at the sight of wind! He’s not reliable at all.”
In the end, she stood up to pat away the dust on her butt. May as well go off and make herself busy—this gang of daft demons simply knew nothing about love! How could they even begin to understand how much she admired Gao Ren!
As she reached the front hall, she could already hear the sounds of the abacus. Coming to a standstill, she leaned against the back of the door and peeked her head over. What she saw was the scholar with his head down and attention focused, his long and slender fingers moving across the black abacus beads. Shao Zi shrunk her head back, shaking her head vigorously. What was going on with this sensation of enjoyment that came from watching? She rubbed her chin. Could it be that using an abacus could make someone appear more handsome?
While she was in deep contemplation, she heard the oriole-like chirp of a female voice carry over: “Innkeeper is quite good at using the abacus, ya. It’s a shame that the tavern isn’t busy like a marketplace, only a few bills can be counted every day.”
Shao Zi peered over and saw a maiden standing before the tavern, her laughter beautiful like the trembling sprigs of flowers.4 Upon taking a closer look, wasn’t this woman, Lin Shui Xian, the daughter of the fat innkeeper of Jin Xiu Tavern across the street?
Lin Shui Xian5 leaned closer and said with a peculiar air: “Ai, let me tell you, my dad wants to buy this tavern of yours and turn it into Jin Xiu Tavern No. 2. You’ll still be the innkeeper so half of the profit will go to you. And because any losses will be my dad’s, there won’t be no risk or pressure, oh.”6
Just as Shao Zi was about to go on a bender from hearing this, she saw the scholar smile gently: “The maiden’s kindness is appreciated, but I have no plans to do this.”
Lin Shui Xian stared: “Why? It’s obviously a great offer.”
The scholar didn’t need to think at all: “The name sounds bad.”
Shao Zi smiled secretly, the innkeeper isn’t too shabby himself! Tong Fu Tavern still sounds the best! Her mood instantly lifted and she hummed a little tune as she headed to the kitchen to grab a basket, preparing to go off and buy some ingredients. When she entered the kitchen, she saw the gang gathered outside, buzzing with chatter as if they had witnessed something fun. Wanting to see the hubbub herself, she leapt out the window and nudged a head aside. What she saw as a little maiden squatting on the ground, cradling her head and shaking. With a closer look, it turned out it was a little demon.
She propped her hands on her hips and said: “Tell me the truth. Where did you all kidnap this little demon from?”
Pa Pa raised his hand once again: “Reporting to lao da, just now, a shiny object was flowing down the stream in the back. I scooped it up and found out that it’s a lotus lantern. While I was thinking about how to dry it and light it up, it transformed.”
Shao Zi tilted her head and looked at her, lotus lanterns…aren’t these lights the ones set off in rivers by those longing for their loved ones during the Ghost Festival (中元節 // Zhong Yuan Jie)? How was something with such weak demon energy able to transform into a human? Seeing that her mood was pretty good, she spoke gently: “Where are you trying to go? I’ll take you back to the river, is that okay?”
The lantern7 trembled so fiercely she could not reply. When Shao Zi touched her head, she suddenly looked up; her eyes grew big, her face paled, and then she fainted from fright!
A huge commotion erupted in the backyard:
“Oh no! Lao da scared someone to death!”
“Enough, all of you! She fainted on her own, alright!”
“Lao da‘s so scary, she really won’t be able to get married like this.”
Hearing the fuss coming out of the backyard, the scholar chuckled, then sighed. There’s simply too many demons coming and going at this tavern, why not just rename it to Demon’s Tavern?
Just as the idea of changing Tong Fu Tavern’s name to Demon’s Tavern sprouted in the scholar’s mind, he saw Shao Zi bring over a lotus lantern the size of a palm. He couldn’t help but laugh: “The Ghost Festival hasn’t come yet, how come you’ve dug that out?”
He said that it was dug out because the lantern was already a bit dilapidated. But in reality, its demon demon energy was quite weak, so it must not have been long since it’s taken on a form.
Shao Zi placed the lantern on the table then took a clean cloth and began wiping at it: “This is clearly a little demon, and a ridiculously timid one at that. I touched it with just one finger and she fainted from fright.” Then, she raised her head and looked at him. “Innkeeper, do I look that scary?”
The scholar looked away, unable to look at that luminous sight straight-on: “No, no-not scary.”
Shao Zi relaxed and nodded, carefully wiping the lantern clean. This lantern was made with bamboo; its craftsmanship was not particularly fine and the thickness of the bamboo’s surface was cut unevenly throughout. The flower petals decorating it were not made meticulously, nor were they very good-looking. However, the thin hoops binding them together were made with utmost effort. The maker of the lantern might be a novice. She could see why the lotus lantern would turn into a little demon; its surface was full of longing. When the state of longing reaches a pinnacle, it develops into a demon. Thinking up to this point, Shao Zi thought, how did she herself develop a spirit? All she knew was that by the time she developed awareness, she was already in the mountains.
In her periphery, she saw two individuals walk in from the outside. Shao Zi quickly set down the rag and walked up to ask: “Does the patron wish to stay the night or stop for a meal?”
That person’s figure was tall and robust, Shao Zi even had to look up to talk to him. Thankfully, among the demons, there were quite a few that were this tall, so seeing a mortal of this height wasn’t much of a surprise. The man’s brows wrinkled and he scanned the interior of the room, asking: “Miss, I’m looking for a person. Have you seen a male who always seems to love wearing blue garments and, from one glance, seems like a bad person is also exceptionally lazy?”
Shao Zi shook her head: “No.”
She did know one person who loved wearing blue garments…Gao Ren, no? Every time, he wore blue robes that fluttered about like a fairy. But nothing about Gao Ren was exceptionally lazy, so clearly that wasn’t him.
That person frowned, muttering, “I clearly sensed him, how could it be false,” before leaving. Shao Zi shook her head and turned around to face the til, “Innkeeper, we do need a sign asking for payment when making inquiries after all…Innkeeper?”
Only after being called did he straighten up from behind the cabinets. His hand held a single copper coin8 as he sighed: “When did this get dropped? How careless.”
As he spoke, he looked at that black-garbed person who had left, his face twitching slightly. Seems like a bad person…exceptionally lazy. Don’t slander his image in front of Shao Zi, okay!? Then he looked at his person. He had clearly hidden his spiritual aura very well…but he quickly remembered, it may be that he had recently appeared as Gao Ren too frequently. Looks like he must continue to be the scholar.
The scholar came back to his senses and smiled faintly: “Mn?”
Shao Zi asked: “What do I do if she won’t transform again? I need to ask her if she wants to be sent back to the river. It’s not like she can keep staying at the tavern.”
The scholar took a gander and grabbed a piece of paper. He made some scribbles with a pen before handing it to her: “Stick this on the lantern.”
- Author uses 妖嬈 (yao rao), a phrase for enchantment or alluring as it pertains to women and, of course, utilizes yao, the word for demon.
- Peach blossoms are a metaphor for love as well as a person’s prospective love interest(s).
- 艷艷錦不如，夭夭桃未可: A line from Tang Dynasty poet, Yuan Zhen’s poem, Red Peony. The poem is pretty much an ode to peonies and uses analogizes it with a young maiden’s beauty.
- 花枝亂顫: Trembling flower sprigs. This is a metaphor for the appearance of a beautiful woman when she laughs.
- 林水仙 // Lin Shui Xian: Lin means wood/forest and is also a surname. Shui Xian means water goddess/fairy and is the Chinese term for the Chinese sacred lily.
- 哦 // O: Friendly interjection that signifies casual or close relations.
- 花燈 // Hua Deng: As mentioned in 2.01, hua deng means lantern, but hua is the same word as flower so hua deng literally means flowering light. So, the lotus lantern isn’t a flower demon, but she also kind of is.
- Yi Mei Tong Qian (一枚銅錢) in Chinese means one copper coin, heh.