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)
Remember how I mentioned early on that Shao Zi et al. are demons (妖 // yāo) that are more like spirits, not the demonic kind? Well, these folks, like the snake spirit, are actual demonic demons (惡魔 // è mó). The meanings behind yao and é mo tend to get lost in translation and simply become demons, which has become the conventional term for both in English. To avoid confusion, I’m translating é mo as devils.
Today, the scholar runs into the unlikely problem of saving his girl from being eaten.
At night, Shao Zi secretly came up again. She peered at the yard filled with her sound-asleep pals, then raised both palms and kept her left foot still whilst drawing a circle on the ground with her right. Upon reciting a spell, a breeze passed through from her palms and dusted across everyone. The cool wind slowly drew them into a dream. Swiftly, the demons transformed into seven little orbs, quietly settling on the ground.
With a shovel in hand, she dug a hole and placed those little orbs inside. She covered it back up with dirt, burying them securely inside. Then, she scattered grass seeds on top. By tomorrow morning, this would become a patch of grass. At the end of all this, perspiration had formed on her forehead.
Before and after tidying up, she fed Da Huang and repeatedly told him to stick with the rice shop uncle next door. The fiendish energy was becoming more and more dense, coming closer and closer to Zhuang Yuan Town. She exhaled deeply, went inside, and wrote a farewell letter to the scholar. Afterwards, she went to the rooftop and took a good look at the Pi Xiu that swayed around at night with its lopsided features, suddenly feeling deeply guilty.
She sat next to it and watched as the dark clouds came closer and closer. Even if the Pi Xiu was of use, the snake spirit had already reported their location. No matter how well hidden she might be, they’d still get targeted.
The dark clouds pressed forth. From the side of her ear, she could already hear the call of thousands of troops and horses as they approached. Shao Zi stood up, her powdery white muslin dress blossoming into the most splendid peony flower in full bloom. Her sleeves fluttered and her eyes pinned directly into the distance as she faced death as a return home.
When the scholar returned to Zhuang Yuang Town, all he felt was that the the sun was shining brilliantly. Early autumn weather was so nice, ah. After landing in the little alley from the skies above, he walked out leisurely and the neighbors all gave him a greeting upon seeing his return. He initially wanted to go to the front doors to give Shao Zi a fright, but upon arriving at the tavern, the doors were shut tight. He blinked, then took a few steps back. It was indeed Tong Fu Tavern.
When the rice shop uncle from next door saw him, he smiled and said: “Innkeeper is back?”
The scholar smiled: “May I ask…how long have these doors been closed?”
“Since the day before yesterday. It was still open those two days after you left, it had been quite lively as well.”
“Thank you.” The scholar turned into the backyard and instantly felt something was wrong. That tall-as-the-sky magnolia tree was nowhere in sight. Normally, when Lady Xin transformed into human form, she would at least place a fake one there, lest someone take notice. Hurriedly entering the tavern, he looked at the flowerbed and saw that there was only a pile of weeds instead.
A faint formation surrounded the tavern. It was similar to the Pi Xiu, but also not quite. He called out for Shao Zi a few times. Her scent faintly emerged from the underbrush and drifted over. He raised a finger slightly, turning the soil over as a few orbs floated. With a sweep of his finger, the spirit orbs shattered with a jolt. Lady Xin and everyone else transformed into human form and landed on the ground, so dizzied that they couldn’t even speak.
The scholar crouched over and asked: “Where’s Shao Zi?”
Chrysanthemum immediately began admonishing: “That dumb Shao Zi! She actually trapped us here so she could go off and send herself to death’s door!”
Fat Bottle Gourd choked out: “Lao da will definitely get beaten to shreds. Why is she so foolish? Isn’t it best if we all face the enemy together? It’s not like we’re afraid of death.”
Azalea sighed: “Lao da is scared about us dying.”
The scholar frowned: “What happened?”
Pa Pa wiped his tears: “After Innkeeper left, a snake spirit came along and said she was going to offer lao da to the ill-ridden Devil’s Lord. We captured her, but she said everyone in the Devil’s Realm already knew of this matter. In the end, lao da trapped us here, probably so she could go fight the battle herself.”
The scholar scanned the yard but found no trace of the snake spirit. He stood up and said: “Take good care of the tavern, I’ll go get Shao Zi.”
As soon as he finished speaking, he leapt into the skies. Seeing that crimson red…lopsided Pi Xiu, his heart was uneasy. Two days had already past since she left. If they ate her as is, he feared that Shao Zi was already sitting inside the King of Devils’ stomach. But if they had really eaten her, he would puncture the king’s stomach, find Shao Zi’s soul, then bring her back to raise for however many thousands of years. Eventually, he would be able to reconstruct her soul. But he really hoped this was not the case. It would be best if he didn’t have to slaughter the King of Devils.
The entrance to the Devil’s Realm was hidden somewhere in the mortal world. The scholar entered a small grove then quickly walked towards a tree before striking its branch. With this jostle, he had already entered the devil’s realm.
Devils are borne of the heart.1 So as long as evils of the heart existed, devils themselves could multiple in number. Thus, anyone in the other five realms whose hearts carried particularly strong evils could come here and come across fiends that possessed an appearance no different from themselves. But some small differences do exist. Devils had more malice. Only if they reached nirvana and were reborn after becoming a devil could they possess kindness. Thus, it was extremely dangerous here and outsiders were typically unwilling to step foot in this realm.
The scholar took out the obscuring umbrella and crossed the River of Bones, traveling atop a blue iris flower. He lifted up the umbrella and peered in all four directions, then began flying in the direction where the hostile energy was the strongest.
There were few passersby on the streets; occasionally, small family businesses could be seen. The scholar looked for the source of the hostile energy and, sure enough, it was the grand hall of the ruling clan. After just one glance, he concealed himself and walked inside.
The palace halls seemed to be in celebration of something or another. Even from the palace gates did he begin seeing seeing crowds of devils dancing chaotically, lasting all the way until he came across a five meter tall cauldron sitting in the grand hall. The firewood underneath it was alight, the water inside bubbling noisily. His brows furrowed. Fortunately, he didn’t detect the floral scent of peony. But from the looks of it, that was soon to come…
He looked to the side and took a whiff. There was indeed a lovely scent of peony blossoms. Followed the direction of the smell, he made a turn at a winding corridor and sighed inexplicably. Such was a group of fiends that were truly unafraid of trouble; they turned this place into a maze. After several more turns, a thin layer of sweat began forming on his forehead. He couldn’t confirm if that cauldron in the grand hall was for cooking Shao Zi or not. What if they were cooking her somewhere else?
While he worked quickly to search, he could not ascertain the exact location despite being able to vaguely detect it. The muddy energy in the Devil’s Realm was simply too strong. After much difficulty, he finally felt the assail of that floral scent. When he was certain which room it was, he disregarded the servant girl standing guard by the doorway and stepped straight through the doorway. But who would have thought that this was an indoor bath? The water was clear, the bath filled with petals. Of course, this wasn’t the main point…
The main point was that Shao Zi was bathing inside. She was even humming a happy song. Amidst the haze was a partially exposed, silky bosom. As the water rippled, the petals floated back and forth, rising up and sinking down.
The scholar: “…”
This must be the heavens making up for the him regrettably not joining Shao Zi to soak in the hot springs!
Just as Shao Zi was soaking comfortably, her nose suddenly stilled. She calmed down and looked ahead, probing: “Innkeeper?”
With that, a figure appear before her. The lean backside was crouched, clutching an umbrella while muttering: “Heaven is dark, earth is golden; the cosmos is vast and diffuse…Cold follows warmth in due cycle; in autumn, food is gathered for winter. Extra days complete the year, tuning harmonizes the yin and yang…“2
What the heck was this nonsense? Shao Zi frowned, swam over and extended her dripping, slender, and jade-like hand,3 tugging on the corner of his robes: “Dumb Scholar.”
“Wait, wait a moment…wait for me to finish reciting the whole text…You, you go and put on some clothes first. Cold follows warmth in due cycle; in autumn, food is gathered for winter…Oh wait, I said that already. Start over…Heaven is dark, earth is golden…”
“…” Shao Zi was extremely suspicious of whether or not the scholar really was Gao Ren! The two were clearly completely different. With no other choice, she could only get out of the water and find her clothes.
Hearing the splashes of water, the petty little man inside the scholar’s heart leapt out and goaded: Take a peek, just one peek! A fair and pristine Shao Zi is right behind you. Are you still a man?!
“Oh, no…Sun and moon wax and wane, the stars fixed in their constellations…”
Before he could finish reciting, he saw that Shao Zi was crouched in front of him. There were still a few beads of water hanging off her silky soft face. He really could not…keep it together…
Seeing him turn painfully to the side, she gave his arm a poke: “Are you here to save me?”
Only then did the scholar remember the business he was here for. He nodded somberly, forcing himself to calm down: “Yes.”
With a “heh heh,” Shao Zi laughed and said: “But you didn’t need to do that at all. You see? I’ve eaten and drank well. They give me meat to eat every day and have taken good care of me. I’m actually embarrassed. I want to leave but they just won’t let me go, they insist on me staying longer.”
“Dummy,” the scholar laughed bitterly. “They’re doing this to fatten you up so they can eat you. When I came over from the grand hall just now, there was a feast and a huge cauldron placed there.”
Shao Zi came to a sudden pause, trembled, then grabbed his arm with incomparable seriousness: “Innkeeper, let’s hurry and go back!”
Once more, he came into contact with that soft body…The number of charming ghostesses and goddesses he’s seen could rival the age of Heaven and Earth, yet he was able to remain unmoved towards each and every one of them. It just had to be Shao Zi that he could not look directly at. Indeed, this was the result of the sins from back then.
“Innkeeper, snap out of it.”
Seeing as the Shao Zi was about to rush out the door, the scholar quickly held her back: “There’s someone by the door, let’s jump out from the window.”
“Okay!” Shao Zi threw down this word and immediately jumped out the open window. The moment her feet were about to leave the ground, it felt as if someone tugged her back by the leg. With a “pu-tong,” she slammed face down into the ground so painfully that she howled in pain.
The scholar didn’t expect that she would be this inept. He helped her up, and that delicate nose was all red! Even her cheek was bruised! As he massaged the spot for her, he came a sudden stop; only after tapping her forehead with his fingertip did he come to a realization: “The King of Devils sealed your demon power.”
Shao Zi said with a bitter expression: “Then what do we do?”
“It’ll take a day or two for the effects to wear off. Come, take the obscuring umbrella.”
Translator’s Note: Was anyone reminded of the scene in Surf’s Up where the chicken thinks he’s being worshipped and given the hot tub treatment by the native penguins, but they’re actually trying to cook and eat him? Yeah, that’s what I was thinking when I was translating Shao Zi’s lines.
Has anyone else caught on to the little hints that Yi Mei Tong Qian has been dropping in regards to the scholar? Now that his Gao Ren identity has been uncovered, there’s much more to come.
- 魔由心生: A concept describing, when the heart is borne, evils like worries and desires naturally come to life. When the heart is destroyed, these evils go away. In essence, tvery good has an evil that exists in parallel.
- He’s reciting verses from the Thousand Character Classic (千字文 // qian zi wen), a poem used as a primer for teaching little kids Chinese. Kids basically have to copy lines over and over to practice writing. There are 1,000 words in the poem, each used only once and broken into four line stanzas. More information and translations can be found at China Sage.
- Attributing jade to physical features is akin to calling someone’s skin fair and white.