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 friends, it’s time for a new arc. The Mid-Autumn Festival is featured in today’s chapter, which is perfect timing because I’ve been eating lots of mooncake recently. This year’s holiday isn’t until September 24th, but my family has a habit of buying them as soon as they hit the shelves every year.
I also added a new tab in the navigation called Bookshelf. It’s a list of some novels I’ve read as well as some brief thoughts on them. Of course, I’d write out whole essays of thoughts on these stories if I had the time, but alas, this is the best I can do at the oment. If you have any books to recommend, let me know because I’m always looking for something new to read 🙂
After Shao Zi left the room, she did not return to the flowerbed. Instead, she hid inside her room and pressed a finger against her lips. Why was it that when she gave that kiss, her heartbeat began thudding like a chiming bell? And then…she wanted to do it again.
She stretched a bit and prepared to go downstairs and open up shop. Her not being snatched away this time around to be turned into soup was all due to the scholar’s efforts. And now, they could continue watching over the tavern. With that in mind, her spirits lifted once more.
She opened only one door before hearing a bustling of noise. Following the direction of the noise, she looked to the side and an elderly man with a stall set up by the doorpost. Surrounding him was seven or eight children, repeatedly shouting in glee. Shao Zi took a closer look and saw that the elderly man sat on a small stool, a large wicker basket on either side of him. On the left was a geomantic compass (羅盤 // luo pan), its surface filled with drawings with a needle sitting at the center. On the right was a syrup with steam faintly emitting from it; she could even smell traces of its sweetness.
What caught her attention the most was the smooth stone slate placed in front of the elderly man. She watched as the elderly man held a spoon in his right hand and scooped the syrup out as if it were a paintbrush in his hands. He poured the syrup on the stone slate with quick, fluid motions. In an instant, it formed the shape of a rooster. Then with his left hand, he swiftly picked up a thin wooden stick and poked it through. Once he scraped it up, it turned into three dimensional candied art.
Shao Zi looked on in marvel. That old man’s artistic ability was really something, ya. She patted herself, really wanting some candied art that she could eat as well.
She went there and looked at the old man from straight on; it was an ordinary elderly person. Shao Zi peered at the turntable and it just so happened to have a drawing of a phoenix. She inwardly prayed: Let my spin land on that phoenix, the phoenix. With a light flick of her finger, that needle spun four our five times, landing right on the drawing that her heart sought after. She was so giddy that she started jumping.
When she took the candied art back and went to the til, the scholar had already come down. At once, Shao Zi proudly held it up for him to see: “Innkeeper, let’s eat this phoenix together.”
The scholar froze for a moment, then quickly smiled: “Alright.” When she passed it over, he lowered his head and took a bite, savoring the sugar in his mouth. Indeed, that sweetness reached his heart and lungs. He looked outside and saw the thin silhouette of the elderly man’s backside as he focused on the movements of his hand, looking calm and steady…
It also made one feel calm and steady.
The fifteenth day of the eight lunar month. A full moon, lanterns alight. The fragrance of osmanthus fluttered about.
But on this day of reunions, business in the tavern was slow. Outside, the streets were filled with liveliness and activity. Shao Zi both enjoyed and disdained holidays like this.1
The night of the full moon just so happened to be an exceptionally good time for absorbing the essence of the moonlight. Right after the skies turned dark, Lady Xin and the rest of the troupe went off to moonbathe. Shao Zi sprawled over the till and looked outside. That candied art man was still here, and it was flurrying with quite a bit of activity. Next to her ear, the pi-li-pa-la of abacus beads sounded. She craned her head over; once again, the scholar was settling accounts. Long, slender, and pale fingers tapped against the black abacus beads. While she watched, her voice fluctuated as she yawned: “Innkeeper, let’s eat dinner.”
The scholar’s finger paused, then he smiled: “Sure. Shall we go for a stroll after eating?”
Shao Zi squeezed his arm: “Innkeeper, you’re not a demon, what do you want to join us demons for? I’m going to the rooftop to bask with the Pi Xiu in a bit.”
Having been passed over for a Pi Xiu with lopsided eyes, the scholar suffered a great blow. In the end, he said placidly: “Tao Tie is still there, he’ll eat you up.”
Shao Zi’s back instantly chilled and cold sweat dripped downwards. Thinking about being swallowed and then spat out again by that giant head, she quickly decided that it was better to go out for a stroll with the scholar: “Then I’ll go cook.”
Shao Zi thought that the scholar’s help would make an even bigger mess of things, but once she finished washing the vegetables, she saw that the pan was already warming up. She began stirring, but just as she was about to praise that he fared well in starting the fire in the furnace, she touched the bottom of the pot and it broke…She blinked and looked down the gaping hole, only to see blazing scarlet fires. Her face twitched:
“Innkeeper! Is it really okay to use samādhi sacred fire like this?!”
Having inexplicably taken a loss in this large pan, Shao Zi was incredibly pained. Despite the scholar treating her to a bowl of soup filled with twenty meatballs, it was still not enough to make up for it. The scholar saw her bulging cheeks and pushed his own bowl over to her: “Shao Zi, eat more.”
“Next time, you’re not allowed to take even half a step into the kitchen.” Shao Zi pushed a bowl back over to him: “Innkeeper, eat more.”
Only after he saw that she was not angry anymore did the scholar take a pair of chopsticks and take some meatballs. After two bites, he saw her charming brows pinch together again. He asked: “What’s wrong?”
Shao Zi looked at his bowl with a strange expression, then looked at her own. Wu…that bowl seems to be the one she ate out of already…she pushed the wrong one…With a dry cough, she said: “Nothing.” Then, she said solemnly: “Don’t forget to bring a large pan back.”
The scholar nearly choked on an entire meatball. He said with difficulty: “Tomorrow, I’ll take the cart out to buy one, yes?”
Carrying a huge pan on his back and walking with Shao Zi…This kind of scene did not seem very wonderful at all.
“We still have to open up shop tomorrow morning, ya.”
“Then how will you moonbathe?”
Shao Zi pondered for a moment: “Then I’ll just go back to the tavern for that.”
The scholar resigned himself to his fate; in the midst of this mid-autumn scenery, while the young masters of other households all held the hands of young maidens, he hauled a gigantic pan back to the tavern.
By the time he lugged the pan onto the stove, Shao Zi was already no where in sight. Following her scent, he looked up and saw her sitting atop the roof.
When he went up, that lovely person sat beside the lopsided Pi Xiu while the giant head swayed back and forth. Seems like it had not eaten her. The scholar leapt forward and landed softly beside her. Seeing her holding a bowl and occasionally sipping the light yellow water inside, his nose twitched and he smiled: “Osmanthus.”
Shao Zi chuckled as passed it over to him: “Take a sip, the rice shop uncle next door gave it to me. It’s quite delectable.”
The scholar looked at the bowl. Shao Zi drank from this before! Quickly lowering his head and pressing his lips to the rim, he took a sip. But it instantly began burning as it entered his stomach, so much so that he fell into a daze, staring at her: “Wi…wine?”2
Shao Zi nodded: “Yeah, osmanthus wine. Admiring the moon and drinking osmanthus wine during the Mid-Autumn Festival is something all families do…Innkeeper, what’s with you?”
The scholar pinched the space between his brows: “I…can’t touch alcohol.”
“Can’t touch…what happens if you touch it?”
The scholar sighed: “It would be great if I knew. One year, I went to a banquet in the Immortal Realm and accidentally mistook qing jiu (wine) as tea. And then…when I woke up the next morning, I realized that I became a wanted person in the Immortal Realm. It turns out that I gave every single person at the banquet a beating…Another year, the Eastern Sea Dragon King (東海龍王 // Dong Hai Long Wang)3 had a son and invited me to his celebration, and I accidentally had a sip. When I woke up the next day, I realized that I became a wanted person again. Only when cries came out of the palace hall did I find out that I took the child and snatched him back to the palace hall…Yi?4 Shao Zi, why are you sitting so far?”
Shao Zi hugged the bowl and looked at him with vigilance: “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and find out that you’ve eaten me!”
The scholar laughed, a smile filling his eyes. At once, threads of charm began overflowing, so much that even Shao Zi couldn’t look straight. No, something was wrong! She turned around to crawl away. Right now, even that giant head was safer than him. Just as she lifted her hand, her body instantly warmed and she was lifted by someone. Her four limbs were tightly enveloped, nearly crushing her to death. Eyes wide, she looked at the scholar who was within reaching distance, her throat hoarse and bitter.
The scholar stared at her and said: “I’m sorry.”
Shao Zi wanted to cry. Usually when “I’m sorry” was said out of the blue, the next moment was usually some sort of violent slaughtering or the words “You, go die” being spat out, right?
The scholar burrowed his head in the crevice of her neck, his warm breath scattering next to her ear: “I’m sorry, back then I should have left you in a safe place.”
“…You, you let go first okay….” Shao Zi only felt her wrists being gripped by him to the point of pain. This facade of the scholar, one that was capable of giving others a sense of oppression, left her reeling in fear. Right now, his martial arts skill was the same as when he transformed into Gao Ren. However, though she knew Gao Ren wouldn’t hurt her, the scholar of this moment was not the same. It felt as if he could crush her at will, like crushing an ant. She felt no sense of safety, only a numbing oppression. She trembled, “Don’t be like this, hurry and wake up, I’ll make you sobering soup, okay?”
The scholar stared faintly at her, only feeling that the person beneath him was so enticingly beautiful. He lowered his head and kissed her eyes, lightly kissing away those tears. Then, he kissed from the tip of her nose to her lips, a soft tongue entering and entangling within. Her warm lips still carried remnants of sweet osmanthus fragrance, and he pressed even deeper. Pressing down those struggling hands and feet, he didn’t allow her even the slightest bit of movement. Suddenly, the taste of blood entered his mouth; she had bitten him, but he paid no mind.
Sensing the person below him quiver with more and more intensity, the scholar’s senses recovered slightly. Moving his lips away, he saw the her who was so upset that she was crying. His heart was deeply unsettled and he lifted a hand to wipe away her tears. But he just didn’t want to let go for fear that if he did, she would leave.
Shao Zi’s eyes were hazy with tears, so terrified that she hated him: “I’m never going to acknowledge you again.”
The scholar’s gaze froze. It seemed that he had done something wrong, but he did not know what wrongs he committed.
The demons were returning from moonbathing and were going to return by ways of the rooftops, but as Lady Xin hopped onto the top of Jin Xiu Tavern and saw the scene opposite to them, she instantly gulped: “Cover Pa Pa’s eyes!”
Pa Pa hadn’t yet reacted before Fat Bottle Gourd scooped him into his round, giant belly, blocking his site…and his breathing…
The demons crouched there, watching pensively. The more they saw, the more they felt that something was wrong. How come they could hear vague sounds of lao da crying? What’s more? The cries sounded rather miserable. Cypress Tree ge rubbed his chin: “The situation seems a little off, ya.”
“Keep observing, if we ruin something for them, the scholar will definitely slap us into the skies.”
Upon hearing Azalea’s reminder, the demons shuddered uncontrollably.
Translator’s Note: The scholar does a bad.
- It’s the Mid-Autumn Festival, the one night of year where the moon is the biggest. It’s a harvest festival, but it’s also a time where families gather to do things like admire the moon while drinking tea and admiring mooncakes together. The full moon represents unity and “complete” or “full” family. Traditionally, there are also street festivals where people can shop and kids can guess riddles to win toys and lanterns.
- Alcohol or “jiu” in Chinese is usually translated as wine, but it’s typically distilled and not the same as the grape varieties in the western world that have lower alcohol content. Osmanthus wine is a sweeter and weakened form of white wine aka “bai jiu” and can have up to 20% ABV. Bai jiu itself has 35-60% ABV and said to have similarities with whiskey.
- Prominent mythological character featured in both Journey to the West (ft. Sun Wu Kong) and Investiture of the Gods (ft. Ne Zha). Also known by his name, Ao Guang.
- 咦 // Yi: Denotes surprise.