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)
The pronoun situation in this chapter is a bit chaotic because the grandpa spirit doesn’t have a name, but I’ve tried to make it as clear as possible. Hopefully it’s not too confusing!
The maiden’s crying slowly drew to a stop. She choked out: “I’m the daughter of a poor family. The neighbor’s son and I are childhood sweethearts that had an affinity for another. Later on, my father made a fortune as a businessman and forbade me from associating with him. My father also planned to promise me to someone else. Father said that if San-lang could earn place first in the imperial examinations, he would consent to our marriage. However, San-lang did not pass, and the other day, father found someone for me to marry. In two days, I’ll be married off. When San-lang found out, he collapsed with an illness and is now lingering by death’s door. If such is the case, then I no longer want to go on living either.”
He sighed: “So that’s what it is…But it’s really too much of a shame to simply die like this.”
The maiden laughed grimly, full of helplessness: “But what else can be done…”
He fell silent. A matter like this that involved influencing marital fates in the Mortal Realm…was not something he could determine. After a long time, he said with remorse: “I apologize but I cannot help you, maiden.”
That maiden, on the contrary, forcefully smiled to comfort him: “This matter is unrelated to you, no need to feel guilty.”
With that, she slowly stood up and left, her silhouette looking exceptionally miserable. He looked at that maiden and suddenly felt so useless. He could not do anything about someone’s life and death, nor could he do anything to influence one’s marital fate. So he dared not inquire for any news about that maiden, terrified of learning of the aftermath. For instance, if the maiden died and even whether or not San-lang died. Or perhaps, she was faring poorly…In any case, it felt like he had let down her thirty-two consecutive efforts of coming here to pray.
After a long time, a tea stand was erected nearby and there were many who came for idle chit-chat. One conversation unexpectedly landed on a certain maiden of a large household. One person sighed: “That daughter of the Lin Family is pretty and has a good temperament, how did she end up marrying that incompetent son of the Qi Family? He wholly engages in the debaucheries of gluttony, drinking, prostitution, and gambling. What a waste of such a good maiden.”
The other person asked: “Didn’t she refuse to marry at first?”
“It’s said that her mother used suicide to coerce her. And so, the maiden agreed to marry. Who knows from whom that Qi Gong-zi1 heard that the Lin Family’s daughter had an old paramour, but he’s thus treated her so poorly. And after…ai, the maiden went mad.”
His heart thunked. Went…mad?
“I heard that there really was a lover. He went to take the imperial exam, but his name didn’t even make the list, so he fell ill and died at home. What a shame, bringing an end to the two’s livelihoods.”
The more he listened, the more embittered he felt. If he had done something back then, how nice would that have been…But even if he did, there was nothing he could change.
He tried his best to forget about the matter. After a long time, he truly did slowly forget. After all, his days were long. However, he was neither god nor ghost, so he eventually got older as well. After a long, long time, he had become middle-aged.
One day, just as he was humming in little tune in the temple, he suddenly detected an acrid smell. When he looked up, a six or seven year old little boy was urinating on his temple! Furious, he raised his hand and was about to kick up a violent wind, but another passerby came and said: “Child, this Tu Di Gong is very powerful, you really can’t offend him him.”
The boy tidied his trousers. Before he even finished tying them up, he began to ask: “Is he really that powerful?”
That person said: “Of course, this is known far and wide.”
“Then is he capable of doing anything?”
“Mn, mn. Just remember to bring your joss sticks.”
Upon hearing this, he became elated and his face even flushed a little. Since when did he turn into such an awesome Tu Di Gong?
In the afternoon, the boy returned again. He took a few broken and dirty joss sticks out of his pockets and spent a long time trying to ignite them. Then, the boy prayed before him: “Patron Saint, let my mother get well soon.”
He looked at the dirty thing in front of his house with disgust. With his hand, he swatted them away and sent them flying. But a moment later, the boy picked them up and brought them back again. He set them down earnestly: “Let my mother get well soon.”
He leaned to the side and yawned. Once the boy left, he sniffed. This joss stick was taken from another temple, no? Can you be a little more sincere when coming to make a wish?
For several days in a row, the little boy brought the same kind of dirty incense sticks. After he paid respects,2 all he would say was, “Let my mother get better.” Even passersby would laugh at him and say, “Is your mother better yet or not?”
At this point, this commercial street was no longer as busy as it was before. Fewer people passed by, so the amount of joss sticks being offered in worship naturally decreased by a great deal. From time to time, he would reminisce the days where he was teeming with worshippers, the times when he could eat to his fullest each and every day. But even thought there was much less now, he still could not tolerate that boy bringing such inferior goods!
One day, in the middle of the night when he was enjoying a beautiful dream, he was suddenly hit by someone. He woke up with a start and saw that young boy smash a brick in his face. With a “pa” sound, the brick split in half, but not before making a cut in that little hand: “Why didn’t you protect my mother? Aren’t you supposed to be powerful? How come you protect others but you just won’t help my mother?”
He nearly burst into anger, but the boy suddenly began to cry: “Give my mother back…give my mother back to me…”
That crying sounded too miserable and even listening to it left a bitter taste. So he withdrew his hand. Whatever. He won’t make a fuss with the boy. He turned around and went back inside, but then he thought, did this boy have some hidden secrets? Huh. Whatever. This was just a little creature, after a few dozen years, he would die anyways. There was nothing that could be done to help.
With that, he went back inside.
A few days later, that tea stand nearby that had been erected over twenty years ago was suddenly torn down. As he looked upon banner with the large “Tea” written on it, he suddenly remembered how when it first opened, it was quite bustling. Passersby were aplenty, people stood shoulder to shoulder. And for some reason, he suddenly thought of that maiden of the Lin Family…
Some time ago, there was also a devout person who had come to offer joss sticks. It was not so different from the young boy. The only difference was, the joss sticks that one person used were of quality while the other used inferior ones. But regardless of what kind was used, he was able to offer no help. He thought about it for a long time before finally seeking out the boy’s scent and flying in that direction.
Even if he couldn’t help, at least he would be able to feel a sense of ease.
When he found the location, it couldn’t even…be considered a house, no? Everything was dilapidated and tattered. When he pushed the door open, it simply fell to the ground. He brushed off the dust that fell on him and stepped inside. There wasn’t even a table here. He looked everywhere before finally finding the boy curled up in a corner. The boy was already emaciated beyond belief, as if just tugging on his arm could cause it to fall off.
The boy’s expression was vacant. After studying him for a long time, he suddenly smiled: “Father, you’re finally back…”
He froze. The boy added: “But Mother is already dead…Why are you back only now?”
As soon as he said that, tears as big as beans began rolling from the boy’s sunken eyes. Those tears were like magma, burning hot enough to make him tremble him. He inexplicably held the boy to himself while steadying his voice: “Father is back, do not be scared.”
In a mere instant, he began hearing joy and contentment emerge from that voice. Just one sentence could make him this happy? Looking at these dilapidated walls, he suddenly realized why this boy would always offer those shoddy joss sticks. It was because he couldn’t even afford to buy any…
“Do not be scared, Father will take you to buy some delicious food for you.”
He held this weak body in his arms, but just as he stepped out the door, a sharp beam of light swept by. He held his breath and looked down at the boy, who already…stopped moving.
An intense sort of pain that could not be put to words rushed forth. Once more, he thought of that long-forgotten maiden of the Lin Family.
Though he was not at fault, he felt that he…could have done something to help. But he did nothing at all and simply watched as they walked towards a dead end.
He returned to the little temple dispiritedly. Those dirty joss sticks stained with muddied water were still there. He thought of the young boy’s words, then thought of the Lin Family daughter’s words. They believed in him; that was why they made wishes to him…But he did nothing at all, he did not even offer the slightest bit of sympathy. He stared at those joss sticks, then picked them up and blew on them, igniting them. Upon smelling their faint fragrance, he suddenly felt that these joss sticks were quite superior.
A long, long time passed again. One day, an old woman took a fork in the road and entered this desolate land. She spotted the debris of a little temple and came over to pay respects: “My wicked daughter-in-law kicked me out ago. I beg Tu Di Gong to offer blessings and let her treat this good mother-in-law a little better.”
But a moment later, a puff of smoke wafted out of the temple, winding around her. Then, an elderly voice said next to her ears: “As you wish. Enter the dream…”
The old woman looked up and saw that she was already at the steps of her home. Her son and daughter and law were smiling at her, calling out: “Mother, the food is ready, come on home.”
She froze. As she hesitated, she was suddenly pushed forward by someone. She stepped into the mist, and the voice that spoke remained just as bewitching:
“Enter the dream.”
With those three words, the dreamscape suddenly collapsed. The scene before Shao Zi’s eyes suddenly changed again.
Just watching this made her feel the extreme misery within the old candied art man’s heart.
In a wink, her cheeks suddenly felt cool. She was crying. But before Shao Zi could raise her hand and wipe at them, a warm hand was already at her face, wiping away the cool tears. She looked up and saw the scholar’s warm gaze. There were no words, only a calmed heart.
- 公子 // Gong Zi: Usually used to address young gentlemen. Speaking more strictly, it’s actually a form of address for noblemen’s sons.
- 拜拜 // Bai Bai: His action was actually a bai bai. It’s basically a normal Buddhist or Daoist prayer position where your palms are brought together in front of you. At temples, people will also hold joss sticks between their fingers when praying to the god they’re seeking help from. Praying usually includes three bows from the either waist, shoulders, or head and up, or even just moving the hands, but this depends on the person’s preference. In some rituals, people also do this facing the opposite sky of the temple to pray to the sky god or at specific areas of the temple before finally putting the sticks in the incense holder. People who go to pray will often bring food as sacrifice, which is treated as “sustenance” for the god.