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)
More on the little lotus lantern today. This is another short arc, so we’ll be wrapping things up soon.
It feels like I just had a hiatus, but after this arc ends in the next chapter, I’m going to take a one or two week break. I’ll usually translate in bursts and focus on either Memories or this story for an extended period of time, and recently Peony’s just been unlucky and has been getting the short end of the stick. Hopefully, this little break will give me some time to catch up on IRL things as well as edits and translations for upcoming Peony’s chapters.
Compared to the feeble looking scholar, Shao Zi much preferred his energetic and shameless self. Eyes slightly reddened, she carefully pick him up: “Let’s go back inside first.”
In the face of her anxiousness, the scholar did not want her to worry either. Still, her concern felt quite nice since that meant she cared for him after all. Nevertheless, seeing her red eyes stilled his heart; it was not a sight he could truly find much comfort in.
By the time they returned to the tavern, the morning sun had slowly risen. The backyard demons were awake as well. Shaking off the morning dew and stretching, they soon looked at each other and rubbed their chins:
“Where did lao da go last night?”
“Seems like the scholar isn’t here either.”
“Could it be that…what if…”
One after another, everyone raised their heads and peered towards the window to the scholar’s room. They were only poking fun at Shao Zi, but no one expected that she would really hop out of the window. They exclaimed in bewilderment: “Lao da! When did you start having a secret affair with the scholar?!”
Shao Zi rolled her eyes at them: “Careful that I don’t kick you all.”
“But your clothes and hair are all messed up!”
Despite seeing their thieving, wicked smiles, Shao Zi didn’t even have the time to fix her hair before looking to her burrow on the flowerbed. She said: “Last night, we went to the Netherworld. One the way back, we were in a rush and ended up getting blown around by the wind…eh? Azalea jie-jie, where’s my demon’s pill?”
Azalea crouched over and took a gander: “After you bloom, aren’t you supposed to let the demon’s pill absorb the essence of the earth by burying it deep in the ground? Look again. Hold on…Lao da, what are you doing taking your demon’s pill?”1
“The scholar is hurt so I’m taking it to help heal his injuries.”
Cypress Tree ge reminded her: “Make sure you use the appropriate amount, otherwise using too much demon energy will make you lose cultivation.”
“Mn.” Finding it only after much difficulty, Shao Zi popped it in her mouth and instantly felt her energy revitalize. She raised her foot and leapt back inside. As soon as she entered the tavern, she detected a familiar aura. After a observing closely…Gao Ren? She blinked a few times and looked around the house, but she didn’t see him. When she returned to the bed, the scholar was still lying there. His complexion had already recovered some. She leaned over and took a peek. “Scholar, did someone come by just now?”
“Mn, my injuries are all healed. Gao Ren came. Shao Zi…” As he opened his eyes and saw her, it felt as if she had become brighter and more beautiful. He was left with a momentary loss of words.
Shao Zi had no clue. With Gao Ren, she had initially assumed he had left her behind, but it turns out he had an emergency? She happily clapped her hands: “That’s good then. I was originally going to treat you by transferring over some of my demon energy, but it looks like there’s no need.”
The scholar blinked slowly. Transferring demon energy? According to legend, demon energy is transferred through mouth-to-mouth? Seeing her pink, luscious lips, his speech became stilted: “Actually…my injury…isn’t better yet.”
Shao Zi snorted in laughter: “Aren’t you doing very well right now? Plus, Gao Ren is capable of treating even the dragon deity, how wouldn’t he be able to heal you? Alright, you take a rest today, I’ll go open up shop.”
“Shao…” The scholar reached out to grab her, but that beautiful silhouette had already left him. So close, yet worlds apart…Turns out he should have been a bit crueler and let Shao Zi worry some instead of renewing his own spiritual energy. And now those sages would probably find their way over here in no more than two days. Of course, this wasn’t even the main point. The point is that he missed out on the opportunity to kiss Shao Zi!
Shao Zi shut the door and glanced over to the door of her room, hesitating before eventually deciding to walk over. When she went inside, the little flower lantern’s demon energy in the room was incredibly weak, much harder to detect than two days ago. She walked over with light footsteps and leaned over to look at the increasingly dilapidated lantern; she couldn’t bear to call her. But just as she was about to leave, Shao Zi saw the lantern transform into a human. The little flower lantern bore a wan complexion, but brightened upon seeing Shao Zi: “Jie-jie, did you find the little grandson?”
“Yes…but…” Shao Zi wanted to send her over to the flowerbed. At least there was some complementary demon energy there that would help her feel more comfortable. “The little grandson has already drank Old Lady Meng’s soup and gone off to reincarnate, I wasn’t able to bring him back.”
The little flower demon froze, her hands and feet suddenly turning clammy: “What do we do…Granny’s health is so poor, she can’t wait much longer. I’ve been too scared to go back and tell her that the little grandson had already died for fear that she can’t accept it. I originally wanted to find his soul and bring him back for one last meeting so that Granny won’t feel any regret in her heart.”
As she became sadder and sadder, she nearly started crying again. Shao Zi gently rubbed her head as she continued to speak softly.”
“That year, the little grandson was going to follow his mother and father off to live somewhere far away, but he couldn’t bear to leave his grandmother, so he planted me in the backyard and told Grandma to treat it as if it were himself. Should she miss him, just talk to the bamboo. He’d come back very soon.”
“I was originally from a spiritual hot spring. Once I slowly developed a consciousness, I would listen to Granny talk every day, and from that, learned some things and gradually became a learned person. Day after day, year after year. I don’t know how much time passed, but I began developing a spiritual form. Even though I couldn’t transform into a human, I could come out of the bamboo. When the sun came down every day and Granny finished eating her evening meal, she would bring a stool over and chat. She would talk about that day’s happenings. While she talked, she would smile; as she continued, she would wipe away tears.”
“I thought it was strange. Why hadn’t the little grandson come back to see Granny?”
“And another ten years passed. I was floating around in the yard when someone rode to the front door on horseback. I crawled onto the rooftop to look and saw someone hand a letter to Granny. After she read it, she went back inside the house. A few days later, I suddenly saw Granny come outside. With a knife in one hand, she chopped me down, sliced my branches, and pared me into several parts. She even cut herself a few times in the process.”
“Because I had left the earth and had no spiritual energy, I slowly lost consciousness. I don’t know how much time passed, but I suddenly heard Granny’s voice again as she called out ‘Lian Hua’er, Lian Hua’er,2 help me find me grandson. Tell him that Grandma is thinking about him.'”
“When I opened my eyes again, I found that I had taken a form again and it was in the shape of a lotus lantern. Granny took me to the river and found a flat area. After reminiscing for a while, Granny gently placed me into the river and even said ‘You must find my little grandson…Tell him Granny misses him.'”
And in that instant, a sense of longing slowly surged forth, blooming in her mind. She suddenly remembered how she came to be.
Those days of yearning had slowly converged, and once she was turned into a lotus lantern, that longing reached a pinnacle and finally let her take on a form. She was not a bamboo spirit, nor was she a lotus demon. She was made from the feelings of a mortal being. Creatures like her were the weakest. Once those thoughts of longing disappeared, she would die.
Except, she remembered that that she had to help Granny find the little grandson. In a way, her life force came from two people. The old granny and the little grandson. It was now time for her to repay them.
Floating along this path, she hid from one creature after another.
Even though she had lost count of how many times she narrowly escaped death, she still had yet to find the little grandson.
One month, three months, one year…
It was about to be the Ghost Festival and her spiritual energy had not weakened further, which meant that Granny was still thinking about her grandson, still waiting for her to bring the little grandson back.
“Shao Zi jie-jie.” The little flower lantern’s mood had reached an extreme low. “My life was given to me by Granny, so I can feel that Granny’s destiny is reaching its end. All I want is to bring the little grandson to go see her before she passes away. But now…I can’t even that accomplish that simple wish.”
Shao Zi rubbed her head: “I’ll bring you to the flowerbed first. Stay with the other ge-ge and jie-jie, otherwise your demon energy is going to exhaust itself.”
So she brought her to the flowerbed and let Lady Xin take care of her. And when she opened up shop, the streets outside were already bustling. She tidied up the front hall and sat behind the till. Gazing outside, she fell deep into her thoughts. Obviously, this was just a little demon that was scared of even this gang of demons. Moreover, her demon power wasn’t even that high. So how was she able to rein in her fear and float around for an entire year just to look for the little grandson?
As she was engrossed in her thoughts, another person appeared next to her. She turned her head and jumped in surprise: “Innkeeper, why are you covered in dark, yin energy? Did you come across the god of plagues?”
“Oh…” The scholar was weak and without strength. In the end, he said solemnly, “Actually, I really haven’t recovered yet…”
“Innkeeper, stop messing around. You were fine just now.” Seeing people come over, Shao Zi quickly stood up. “Does the patron wish to stay the night or stop for a meal?”
The scholar: “…” He really was sick, it was lovesickness!
Customers came in waves and waves. By the time the rush ended, it was already past noon. Shao Zi made some dishes and picked several vegetables for the scholar: “Innkeeper, eat more and grow some more meat.”
“Mn.” Heart undulating, the scholar asked, “What do you plan to do about the little demon? Even if you have the goodwill to keep her at the tavern, she may not want to stay.”
Her charming brows pinched together: “I thought it over in detail just now. Since the little flower demon’s followed the old granny for twenty years, then let the little flower lantern pass herself off as the little grandson. This may be possible. Otherwise, I don’t have any other ideas.”
The scholar said: “But her demon power isn’t even strong enough for her to change into someone else. If it was you, this would be possible, but you might be seen through immediately.”
Shao Zi’s brows furrowed as she pondered some more: “What if I give lend her both my demon’s heart and demon’s pill?”
The scholar nodded: “That would work.”
“But if I give her both these things, I won’t be able to fight even a mortal.”
The scholar chuckled: “I’ll protect you.”
Shao Zi felt a warmth in her heart. Though he wasn’t very powerful and could exhaust his strength just from escaping the Netherworld, it was clear that he was still very reliable. She nodded slightly: “Mn.” Once she finished eating, she remembered something else. “Innkeeper, after Gao Ren healed your injuries, did he leave without saying anything at all?”
“Oh…I still haven’t thanked him.”
“Shao Zi,” the scholar said seriously, “I’m actually Gao Ren.”
Shao Zi almost burst into laughter: “Alrighty, Innkeeper, you and Gao Ren are obviously not of the same cadence.”
The scholar felt helpless: “What’s different?”
“Everything’s different.” Shao Zi looked at him and mulled it over. “Okay, then you change for me to see.”
The scholar quickly set down his chopsticks, but he saw the sages float over from the doorway, then float on over to take a gander inside. He held his forehead and covered his face, only lifting his head once that stream of energy went away.
Translator’s Note: This chapter really struck a chord with me. One of the things I like about Yi Mei Tong Qian’s writing is that though it leans towards lighthearted comedy, there are still heartfelt moments that help ground the story. Reading about the grandmother and her grandchild took me back to my memories of my own grandfather, who lived in Taiwan whereas I grew up stateside. I miss him so much, but unfortunately, time waits for no one. So any lost time that could have been spent together is exactly what it is—lost. If you have living grandparents, make sure to send them your love and honor the time you have with them. ❤️
Also, I can’t speak with confidence regarding current traditions in China, but in Taiwanese culture, lotuses symbolize purity and rebirth while paper lotuses in particular are associated with the deceased. One of the funeral traditions is to fold yellow paper made of bamboo into lotus flowers as a means of paying respect to the deceased as they navigate their way from the physical to what’s beyond. The lotuses are placed in the coffin and burned during cremation in order to send off the soul as they travel to ji le shi jie (極樂世界), which means “World of Ultimate Bliss,” which derives from Buddhism and is also known as “Western Heaven” (西天 // xi tian).
- This is a thing in Chinese folklore. Spiritual creatures have a spiritual pill that exists separate from their being, which they funnel their cultivation and power into.
- 蓮花 // Lian Hua: Means lotus flower. ‘Er‘ is a diminutive suffix added to a name that denotes affection or intimacy, usually for someone younger.