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)
Hi all. So instead of posting this chapter then take a break, I took a break then decided to post the chapter. Oops. The good news is, we’ll be back in business next week.
Seeing his appearance remain unchanged, the corner of Shao Zi’s mouth twitched: “Innkeeper, if you keep messing with me, I’ll beat you up! You clean the dishes today!”
The scholar sighed. Whatever, he’ll just wait until the situation with the little flower demon gets resolved and then tell her the truth.
The more demons there are, the more powerful they can be.
Shao Zi understood this principle very well. None of them had ever done this sort of thing of creating a dreamscape and impersonating a mortal, but after a night of discussion, they came up with a rough plan. Even Moneymaking Tree and Chrysanthemum, who were playing dominoes, joined along after hearing them in their excited frenzy.
They planned to set out for the old grandma’s house on the fifteenth day of the sixth lunar month. The little flower lantern, who was the most familiar with the little grandson whom the old granny spoke of, would transform into the little grandson himself. The rest of the demons would then set up a formation outside the house, lest other passing demons scare the little flower lantern back into her original form. It would also keep wandering ghosts from crowding over and whatnot.
Once they arrived at Qing Song (青松 // Pine Tree) Town, the demons waited until it got dark, then divided up their tasks and created the formation. Shao Zi gave her demon’s heart and pill to the little flower lantern to consume and as those two things left her body, she began feeling slightly dizzy. It felt as if she might get blown away by the wind in the night. She told the little flower lantern: “Remember, even though you and me are both demons, we are still different. You must leave within one shi chen and return those things to me, otherwise you won’t be able to handle it and will get indirectly eaten up by me.”
The little flower demon nodded, wanting to say so many more words of gratitude. But she couldn’t seem to say any moving words, so at the end she merely said with earnestly: “Thank you, jie-jie.”
Shao Zi waved her off: “Go on in, we’ll wait for you outside.”
After she went in, the weak Shao Zi’s legs nearly turned to mush. The scholar quietly rushed to support her: “Do you want me to carry you on my back?”
Shao Zi nodded: “No.” Business at the tavern has been good as of late. There was enough money everyday to purchase meat, so much so that she went up two sizes. There was no way that she was going to let the scholar find out how much heavier she’s gotten.
She sprawled against the crack of the doorway, focusing all her attention inside. The little flower lantern, in her disguise as the little grandson, looked quite like the actual thing, ah. Wait…what’s Lady Xin doing there? Pa Pa is there as well! What? Little grandson, what are you saying? This is the wife and that’s the son?
When did they change the script!
In any case, the people inside were overjoyed and harmonious. Even Shao Zi felt comfort from watching. She seemed to think of something all of a sudden, staring at the scholar as she spoke: “Innkeeper, should the old granny’s wish be fulfilled, doesn’t that mean the little flower lantern will die? Wasn’t she created from the old granny’s longing?”
The scholar nodded gently: “Yes.”
Shao Zi was shocked: “Then, then why is the little flower lantern doing this? She’s a demon that came to be through someone’s longing, there’s no way that she doesn’t realize this.”
The scholar sighed softly: “Clearly knowing what the result will be, but still forging ahead and doing it without hesitation. Shao Zi, do you really not understand this?”
Shao Zi fell silent for a long time. That’s right, the tavern might last a hundred years, even five hundred years, but it will eventually fade away one day. Isn’t she continuing to watch over it regardless? At first, Shao Zi thought that the little flower demon’s nagging was borne of her own immaturity. But now that she thought about it, wasn’t the little flower demon just worried that the old granny wouldn’t have her dream fulfilled before passing away? And Shao Zi even thought herself an awesome demon.
She could no longer bear to watch, squatting in front of the door in a daze: “Innkeeper, did I mess up? I personally pushed the little flower lantern onto a path of death.”
“Is the little flower lantern happy? She’s very happy. From her perspective, there’s something she needs to do that is more important than living,” the scholar spoke gently. “There’s no need to blame yourself.”
Still feeling extremely upset, Shao Zi did not nod.
The scholar suddenly breathed a sigh: “During the Lantern Festival, most of the lanterns are prayers for blessings. When lanterns are put out during the the Ghost Festival, they are grieving their loved ones. If the old granny suddenly chopped the bamboo tree after waiting for that many years, personally making a lantern to set in the river during the Ghost Festival, it means that her feelings of longing are that of grief for her deceased grandchild.”
Shao Zi froze. The old granny actually knew this?!1
She immediately wanted to ask why he knew all of this yet did not tell her. But on the other hand, even if he really told her, she would still go to the netherworld, still create a dreamscape, and still lend the little flower lantern her demon’s heart and demon’s pill. Had she known from the start that the old granny knew that her grandson was no longer in this world, she would have been extremely downcast whilst still trying to do all those things. Yet, the scholar was able to hide it all very well, helping her save a lot of heartache. Really just a…dumb scholar.
The sounds of footsteps were coming closer and closer to the wooden doors. The little flower lantern had come outside. Shao Zi was about to speak to her, but when she saw the old granny walk over as well, she hastily pulled the scholar away, dodging to the side to hide.
The elderly person had a kind demeanor. She carried a faint smile as she spoke in quiet voices to the little flower lantern who had transformed as the little grandson.
In a seldom seen moment, Lady Xin and Pa Pa were both quiet and did not mess around. Their eyes even carried a hint of moisture, leaving Shao Zi looking on in amazement.
“No matter where you go in the future, don’t be too stubborn and don’t forget your heart. Be happy with what you have.” The elderly person went on and on, indeed like an elder speaking to a junior.
While hidden in the shadows, Shao Zi continued to watch. The shadows on the grown continued to crisscross, the lines looking even clearer under the moonlight. She suddenly stilled. When she looked up at that elderly person once more, she was even more astonished.
There was no shadow of the old granny on the ground!
In her bewilderment, she forgot to hide herself. The elderly person’s line of sight happened to turn in her direction. With a faint smile, she nodded to Shao Zi.
Shao Zi froze. How could the old granny see her? Only then did she detect that something was off. When she looked at the energy on the elderly person, it finally occurred to her that the old granny had already left the mortal world!
Perhaps, though the old granny’s behavior seemed normal, her desires were too strong. It could very well be that she did not realize she was no longer of this world. Her thoughts and hopes were concentrated on seeing the return of her little grandson who had left home for twenty years. Her desires were no weaker than those of the little flower lantern.2
She breathed a sigh, concerned that, with the little flower lantern as an exception, Lady Xin and Pa Pa had already made the realization.
“Granny, next year, I’ll come see you again.”
The little flower lantern was as innocent as ever, her eyes so joyful that they could move others. The elderly person smiled faintly, her voice calm: “Good, good. Granny will grow this yard to the brim with your favorite bamboo and await your return.
For some reason, Shao Zi noticed her look slightly startled, nodding only after a long time had passed: “Mn…”
Deep into the night, it was time for the little flower lantern and the demons to leave. After walking a ways away, Shao Zi turned around. All she saw was the elderly person continue to look in this direction from the little alleyway. The little lantern hanging over flickered faintly, as if calling over loved ones who had never returned. But, the little grandson will never know that there was a loved one waiting for him.
While holding the little flower lantern’s hands and walking a distance, Shao Zi remained quiet. The little flower lantern suddenly spoke up, her voice revealing an unspeakable sadness: “Granny…knows I’m not the little grandson. She knows.”
Shao Zi stilled: “How does Granny know?”
“Because Granny once said, the bamboo is the little grandson. As long as the little grandson returns, she will no longer grow any. But she just told me, who was disguised as the little grandson, that should continue to grow bamboo. If she really believed that I was the little grandson, why would she continue growing them?”
Shao Zi sighed quietly and rubbed her head: “Little Flower Lantern, do you know that…Granny is already no longer part of this world…”
She eyes widened suddenly and she stared at Shao Zi.
Shao Zi paused for a moment, then said: “Granny doesn’t know that she’s passed away, either, so she’s continued waiting for her grandchild to come home. But regardless of whether you’re real or not, just now, Granny was very happy regardless.”
“Granny…” The little flower lantern bit her lip, then shook her head. “Wait, the reason I came to be was through Granny’s longing. If she’s not here, how is it that I’m here?”
From the side, the scholar said: “You were borne of Granny’s desires, but you live because of your own desires. From today onwards, you’ll no longer be a lotus lantern that carries the longing of others, but a real demon with your own heart. In the future, you’ll come across more challenges, but you’ll also be happier because your heart will be your own.”
She stilled, her little hand settling on her chest. She…actually turned into a real demon.
Born because of Granny, living on because of herself.
Tears welled in her eyes, her heart touched. After today, she must work three times as hard and meld together those two desires, then cultivate into a bigger, more powerful demon.
The little flower lantern returned the demon’s heart and demon’s pill. Not long after, she said farewell to the demons of the tavern. She would return to the river that Granny originally set off in, determined to continue drifting to places afar.
The demons came to send her off and could not help but squeeze her thin and weak shoulders. Even Cypress Tree ge clicked his tongue and said: “Little demon, your powers are so weak and you might get eaten at any given time. You may as well just come back and live at the tavern with us.”
Pa Pa chimed in as well: “Yeah, and you’re so timid, where could you even go?”
The little flower lantern shook her head, offering thanks to each of them. Her little face was no longer melancholic and was instead one of relief: “I was born in a river and grew up in a river. Even though drifting and wandering has a lot of hardships, to be able to meet many people and see many things might be better for cultivation.”
The scholar smiled: “Such a brave little maiden, one day you’ll be very mighty.”
The little flower lantern laughed, bereft of the frailty they saw when they first encountered her. When she transformed into a lantern, she was no longer a dilapidated bamboo lantern. She was bright and dazzling to the eyes, resplendent enough to blind one’s eyes.
Shao Zi carried her in her hands, then placed her into the water. Following along with the current, the little flower lantern floated further and further away. A moment later, all that remained was a bright dot on the river’s surface that slowly disappeared.
The inky darkness of the night had already begun to dissipate as the horizon slowly brightened. Shao Zi stood next to the scholar. Detecting a warmth, she subconsciously looked over and saw a bright, handsome face slowly illuminate under the morning sun. It seemed steady, reliable, and unusually outstanding.
For some reason, just looking at it made one feel at ease…
Translator’s Note: I kind of hoped that the little lantern would stay with the backyard gang 🙁
So I actually had some gripes with this chapter. The reveal that the grandmother knew about her grandson being deceased felt disjointed here since we already knew from the last chapter that she received a letter about it, which in turn made Shao Zi’s revelation in this chapter seem kind of silly. But this issue is actually a result of the story’s editing. The flashback sequences in each of the arcs are actually all side stories from the web novel version that got incorporated into the main text.
This inclusion works well in fleshing out the characters and making readers care more about the passing demons and visitors of the tavern…but the caveat is that some of them, like the one in this arc, are inserted very clumsily (read: a lazy copy + paste), which causes other elements of the plot to lose the intended impact.
- There’s some weird continuity here. I added some clarification and commentary in the T/N.
- Ghosts are supposed to leave the mortal world after a certain amount of time (typically 49 days in Daoism and Buddhism, which is also the usual mourning period for the deceased), after which they go on to reincarnate. Those who remain are said to have have worldly attachments that prevent them from letting go. Other instances like Yun Chang’s arcs are fantastical flukes.