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)
A brief note that the blue (青 // qing) color that often comes up is actually closer to a jade-like blueish-green, similar to a paler cyan, but it’s vague enough of a color that it often gets translated inconsistently in the Chinese-English speaking world. Sometimes it refers to a greener blue, sometimes a bluer blue. For instance, Qing Long is translated as Azure Dragon even though it uses the same qing character as the aforementioned.
When Shao Zi described the color of Gao Ren’s robes in 4.01, she actually said it was a bamboo-like qing, meaning, a greener blue. I won’t be going back and correcting all the instances of qing in past chapters from blue to cyan or greenish blue since it doesn’t affect the story, but just know that there is a theme going on in parts of this chapter 🙂
Shao Zi received it with no suspicions at all: “Scholar, you must be a Daoist priest. Only a Daoist priest would know how to write talismans like this.”
The scholar chuckled, his eyes full of color: “Have you met such a talented Daoist priest before?”
Shao Zi snorted and laughed: “Innkeeper, your skin is getting thicker and thicker.”
Where was his skin thick…If it really was thick, he would already have…laid things out in the open…But if he came forth with the matters of yesteryear, he reckoned that…Thinking about those years past, his nose began twitching faintly again.
Shao Zi was worried about scaring the little flower lantern, so she didn’t take her to the backyard, instead, bringing it back to her room. When she stuck the talisman on the top of the lantern, it immediately change into human form that was curled up on the floor. After a moment of confusion, it came to with a start and leapt up. Shao Zi quickly said: “I’m a good person! Don’t hide!”
The little flower lantern trembled and looked at her, shaking like a sieve: “Don’t…don’t eat me.”
Shao Zi’s lips twitched: “I’m not going to eat you. I just want to ask, did you want to return to the river and continue on floating? If so, I’ll send you. If not…well, you’d best hurry and find a place to go then.”
She shook her head, carefully sizing Shao Zi up and down for a long time before finally asking cautiously: “You really aren’t going to eat me?”
Shao Zi facepalmed: “I obviously look very kind…Also, if I really intended on eating you, the your level of demon energy isn’t even enough to stuff the gaps between my teeth.”
The little flower lantern’s expression changed as she shivered: “Stuffing between the teeth…”
“…” Shao Zi really wanted to toss her out! She should have let Pa Pa come and talk to her; she was so irritated that she was about to flip a table!
The little flower lantern sized her up for a long time before finally saying: “I was originally a piece of bamboo that lived in Granny’s yard for twenty years. One day, Granny crafted me into a lantern and set me into the river during the Ghost Festival. I floated around for a long time and gradually developed a consciousness. I nearly died several times. Yesterday, I came across a toad spirit that wanted to eat me and only escaped with the skin of my teeth. I fainted on the river and when I woke up, all of you were staring at me.”
Only now did Shao Zi understand why looked like she was constantly on the fritz. She crouched down and looked at her: “That old granny’s hope is quite amazing, even just a lantern can gain a demon’s spirit.”
She shook her head: “It’s not that…Granny has a grandson that left home twenty years ago. Before he left, he planted me and said he would return when I was big enough to cast a shade. Since that day, Granny talked to me every single day, be it wind, rain, or shine. On that day of the Ghost Festival, she chopped me down and made me into a lantern.”
Catching on, Shao Zi rubbed her head: “Then what do you plan on doing now?” As soon as she spoke, she saw that the little flower lantern’s bright eyes widened, staring so intently that Shao Zi’s right eye began to palpitate. When the left eye twitches, it’s auspicious. When the right eye twitches, it’s calamity ya..
“Jie-jie, you must be a really powerful demon, right!?”
Shao Zi declared: “No! I’m just someone that does odd jobs at the flowerbed!”
The little flower lantern’s brows twisted: “But they all called you lao da.”
Shao Zi said somberly: “That’s because my surname is Lao and my first name is Da.”
Saying it like this seems…not very convincing at all, ah…Looking at those limpid, bright eyes, she felt the sort of deeply seated guilt that came along with deceiving a child…Shao Zi sighed: “Just say it, what do you want me to do?”
“Thank you, jie-jie!” The little flower lantern inched close. “Jie-jie, help me find Granny’s grandson, won’t you?”
“No!” Shao Zi jumped up violently. “Do I look like someone with that much leisurely time!? I’m the backbone of this tavern! Where would I have the time to help you search?”
The little lantern’s eyes grew big. She sniffled softly while tears slowly bloomed in her eyes. Looking at this sight, Shao Zi felt a headache forming: “It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have been mean to you. Don’t cry, don’t cry.”
“Jie-jie, help me find him, okay? I’ve floated around for a year, but I just haven’t been able to find him. Jie-jie‘s powers are so strong, you’ll definitely be able to succeed.”
Shao Zi didn’t want to answer her. The little flower lantern had something she wanted to find, but she herself also had something she wanted to safeguard, ya. While the little flower lantern was wiping away her tears, Shao Zi took advantage of the moment and slipped away. She ran downstairs and saw that that Lin Shui Xian happened to be carrying over a chicken, a smile on her face as she said: “My daddy let me bring this over for Innkeeper to try a taste.”
Seeing the scholar smile at her, Shao Zi really wanted to drag him away. Innkeeper, are you even trying to maintain your reticence? She came over in large strides and received the dish: “Thank you, Innkeeper Lin. We won’t be polite, then.”1
Lin Shui Xian scowled, but it wasn’t appropriate to make a fuss, so she twisted her handkerchief and stormed off. Shao Zi stuck a tongue out at the retreating figure, and when she saw that the scholar was still smiling, she huffed: “You are not allowed to talk to her.”
The scholar was quite pleased, was this…her worrying that he might be stolen away?
Shao Zi then added: “If you fall for her seduction and sell the tavern, then what do we do?”
“…” The scholar became depressed. He really doesn’t want to be jealous of the tavern anymore…
Shao Zi thought the little demon would leave, but who knew that she would keep popping up in front of her every single day? When Shao Zi went to the flowerbed, she followed. When Shao Zi went to the front hall, she followed. When Shao Zi went to bathe, she followed. Did she want to follow her into the latrine as well!?
The demons watched as Shao Zi’s little tail followed about. And at this harmonious and wonderful sight, they pondered thoughtfully and sighed: “Lao da is really experiencing the joys of raising another’s child, ah.”2
Shao Zi: “…”
That night…the demons of the backyard knelt so long that they broke a washboard…3
She was so annoyed that she could hardly stand it anymore, but Shao Zi didn’t have the heart to dropkick her into the skies. The little flower demon looked at her timidly: “Sorry, jie-jie, but if the little grandson doesn’t get found, Granny will soon pass. Her health gets worse and worse every year, but I can’t find…can’t find…Jie-jie, help me.”
Shao Zi breathed a sigh: “Alright, alright, I’ll help you search.”
At this, the little flower lantern finally revealed a grin: “Jie-jie, can you really go to the Netherworld?”
Shao Zi’s face twitched: “Wha, what? The Netherworld?”
She nodded earnestly: “That’s right, the little grandson is dead, but I haven’t been able to find a way to get to the Netherworld. Such luck that I’ve run into jie-jie.”
“…I…” Shao Zi didn’t want to live anymore. What about her seemed like she had the galls to go to the Netherworld? The ghosts there were so scary. Every second there ran one the risk of being lured away by a ghost! Words of rejection were already on the tip of her tongue, but looking at the little demon, she couldn’t bear to speak further. She scratched her head. Gao Ren? But he was as elusive as a ghost…the scholar? Would that be possible…
Shao Zi thought that the scholar would give her some sort of rare talisman, but the scholar threw himself at her and said he would accompany her to the Netherworld! She gave him a doubtful once-over, squeezed his arm, then waved him off somberly: “Innkeeper, you’d best stay and keep an eye on the tavern with Da Huang.”4
Da Huang quickly bounded over, his tail wagging eagerly: “Wang!”5
The scholar: “…”
When night came around and the path to the Netherworld was about to open, Shao Zi began feeling more and more anxious. The Demon Realm and the Netherworld rarely intersected, so there existed a fear that if one party looked at the other the wrong way, there would be a misunderstanding of provocation. There was even a potential danger of being tossed into the ghosts’ jail. So before she headed out, she stood in front the mirror and practiced making some kind, amiable faces.
Once the yin energy outside got heavier, Shao Zi stepped out to take a look. Sure enough, she saw that the yaksha had begun their patrol. The road to the Netherworld had opened.
She took a deep breath, lifting her leg to begin her downward flight. But just as she stepped forward, a light force grabbed onto her arm. She craned her neck and her eyes instantly brightened: “Gao Ren!”
Upon seeing her beautiful her face that held bits of pleasant surprise along with an expression that screamed, “you’ve finally come,” then thinking about how she had offloaded him onto Da Huang earlier, he was about to start eating sour vinegar.6
If he was eating the vinegar of the tavern, so be it. But having to eat his own vinegar left him feeling simply too aggrieved.
He smiled: “I’ll accompany you to the Netherworld.”
Shao Zi froze: “The Netherworld is very dangerous. Compared to demons, they have far more enmity with immortals. Gao Ren…you’re an immortal, right?”
Gao Ren nodded: “Yes…but also not quite…It’s fine, bringing along an umbrella will be enough.”
Once he finished, he pulled out an umbrella from behind. Shao Zi had no clue as to where he fished it out from. The umbrella instantly popped open, but it was just an ordinary paper umbrella. There was an ink wash painting on the paper—a mountain in the background and water in the foreground, along with inked bamboo that gathered to form a forest. Lightly painted strokes of ink brushed across to form branches while darker blacks turned into leaves. The nodes of the bamboo leaves were clear and distinct. A faint stream of water flowed through the bamboo forest, bridging together the near and far. The brushstrokes were simple and concise, full of form and spirit.
“This obscuring umbrella can change our auras so that we blend in with the Netherworld.” He lowered his eyes and gazed lightly upon her as he gently reached out and said softly, “Come underneath the umbrella.”
Shao Zi looked at him: “Gao Ren, you’re quite nervous…Looks like the Netherworld is indeed a very dangerous place.”
Gao Ren burst into laughter: “So it’s best that we hurry over and hurry back. As soon as we find the little grandson’s soul, we’ll return.”
Shao Zi nodded, but then felt that something was off: “How do you know about the little grandson? Also, the matter of me going to the Netherworld…” As she thought it over, the stirrings of spring seemed to rise and she blushed. “So you’re actually always around, but only come out when I come across difficulties.”
Gao Ren pressed his lips together and did not reply. Then, he began to worry again. What if she started interpreting the scholar’s physical uselessness as him not caring about her?
The umbrella was not big. As Gao Ren held it up, Shao Zi stood very close to him, so close that she could feel his breathing. When she looked up, she saw the lines of his face were taut. Even his body was tense. She could not help but think that Gao Ren must be quite nervous after all.
The two began their charge towards the street. Just as it seemed like they were about to collide with that bluestone road, a white light cracked open and they suddenly fell into what looked like a sea of red spider lilies.
Translator’s Note: Poor Shao Zi is like a rave mom. She’s just trying to live her best life but has unwittingly fallen into the role of taking care of all the little ones running around like headless chickens. Meanwhile, the scholar is off at the side like a lovesick child plucking at flower petals and repeating, “she loves me, she loves me not.”
Reminder that lantern in Chinese is called hua deng, which is literally flowering light/lantern. They’re technically just calling her little lantern (xiao hua deng), but I thought it would match the story better if it was translated as little flower lantern 🙂
- Similar to the concept of “burdening” someone. This is a gracious way of accepting someone’s goodwill, but can also come off as sarcastic depending on the delivery.
- The author uses the term, xi dang niang (喜當娘), which is a female-version parody of the phrase, xi dang die (喜當爹). The latter is internet slang that derived from reoccurring internet posts of men who have finally gotten their dream girl, except she’s already pregnant with another man’s child. In their desperation, they take over as dad and help raise the child. People will often jokingly comment, “Congratulations for becoming a father” (xi dang die).
- Apparently kneeling on a washboard exists as a punishment for kids…
- Da Huang is the resident dog at the tavern from Chapter 1.06.
- Onomatopoeia for dog barking.
- 吃酸醋 // Chi Suan Cu: Slang for getting jealous. The author usually uses “eating vinegar” in the text, but I typically just translate it as “jealous” for flow.