Fan Xian called over Wang Qinian and introduced him. "This is the second time we have met. I mentioned Teng Zijing to you before. You should get to know each other. He saved my life." Hearing this, patches of red appeared on Teng Zijing's dark face, and he waved his hand dismissively. "Young Master, you speak too kindly. You were the one to actually save my life that day."
Wang Qinian cupped his hands in salute and smiled, saying nothing. Much like Teng Zijing, he was very satisfied with the situation. Not only had he successfully returned to the Overwatch Council, but even more crucially, his salary had risen considerably. He had been granted a personal audience with the Director. He had never received this sort of treatment in all the years since he had taken up his position. Although Master Fan was an eighth-level Functionary of Taichang Temple, he carried the token of a commissioner - apart from the team he was in command of, only Mu Tie and the jailer knew of this; no one else was aware. Having this secret authority in his hands made him feel comfortable.
They ate game meat for dinner. Teng Zijing had said that there was little good food around the estate, but as the grease swirled in the boiling pot, the meat, accompanied by some tender green vegetables for soup, was utterly delicious. Even Fan Sizhe's appetite was satisfied, and he wolfed it down as if no one was watching. Fan Xian looked at him with amusement as he popped a chunk of meat into his mouth. The meat was extraordinarily tender, but there was a clear layer between the skin and the tendons that was extremely chewy. Full of praise, he couldn't help but ask, "is this muntjac deer or what?"
Teng Zijing's wife called over from one side. Hearing Fan Xian's question, she quickly responded: "It's moose meat."
Hearing this, Fan Xian was surprised. He placed his chopsticks in front of him, seemingly having forgotten about them, and within a moment, he recalled a memory from many years ago, before he even arrived in Danzhou. He was lying on his sick bed, thinking constantly about how he had wanted to eat moose, and the good-looking nurse had poked fun at his odd desires - in his old life, Fan Shen had never eaten moose, he only knew that it was a game meat that country people loved to eat. The memory had seemingly returned afresh. Fan Xian had not thought about his old life for a long while. But unexpectedly, today's moose meat had dredged up long-hidden feelings.
Fan Ruoruo ate small bites as she sat by his side. When she saw the strange look on her brother's face, she was worried. "What is it?" she asked.
Fan Xian immediately snapped out of it. He smiled. "It's nothing." He turned to ask Teng Zijing whether they made dried meat from the game they caught in the mountains. After Teng Zijing confirmed it, he happily asked if he could help him get hold of a few pounds of the stuff to bring back to the capital. Teng Zijing never thought that the food prepared that day would be so in line with the young master's tastes. He was also very happy.
Fan Xian took up his wine goblet and drank a round along with the others at the table. He smiled. "Master Teng, your wound is still yet to heal fully; you shouldn't drink too much." Sitting to his side, Fan Ruoruo looked at her brother and smiled. It seemed like she was ashamed of him. Fan Xian knew that his sister was trying to guess at what he was thinking. Apart from wanting to eat it himself, he was bringing dried meat back to the capital mainly because he wanted to give some to the ravenous Wan'er. Having eaten his dinner, Fan Sizhe - rather oddly - retired to his room to continue looking at the accounts. Fan Xian truly did not know what was so enjoyable about accounting, and how this little tyrant, at 12 or 13 years of age, had suddenly wrested control of temper and developed an infatuation with dry and boring numbers. "To each his own," he sighed, and let him go.
Refusing Teng Zijing's request to accompany him on his crutches, he led Fan Ruoruo out of the courtyard and into a furrow of the fields, looking at the round moon which seemed to float unmoving above a gap in the distant hills. Above their heads, the trees rustled, though he did not know what sort of trees they were. It was a beautiful scene.
"I dream of past lives and doubt whether it is a dream; some work themselves to the bone while some grow rich." Fan Xian was thinking about the memory of his past life that had arisen. Finding himself sighing with regret, he unthinkingly recited two sentences. "Man's time is finite, and he is but a passing guest through one hundred generations. Heaven and earth and all things are as a guest-house, and life is but a long dream. Sometimes I wonder whether I am still lying in that bed, dreaming a dream from which I cannot awaken."
He sighed, knowing that his sister probably could not understand what he was talking about. However, he had forgotten the transcendent sentiments hidden within the poet Li Bai's words, and the power that they could have on a young woman. Sure enough, Fan Ruoruo's eyes sparkled.
Fan Xian immediately realized he had made a mistake. He looked distressed, and prepared to explain that what he had said was all the work of the official Li Bai, but he suddenly remembered how Sizhe had mocked him in broad daylight. He sighed quietly and did away with what other people might have seen as an affectation, but what he saw as a natural movement. He also knew that his little sister would not believe what he was saying. After all, the Overwatch Council had arrested a number of poets like Xin Qiji, but there was no salt-peddler among them who could write verse, so he might as well hug Ruoruo tight and look at the moon with her.
Although Fan Xian had lived in this world for over a decade and a half, he still retained a unique disposition. This disposition was not in harmony with this world, but it was of great benefit to him in matters between men and women and bodily contact. As he hugged his little sister, of course, he had not a trace of the thoughts that pass between men and women; his was simply a feeling of pure fraternal love. But as Fan Ruoruo was held in his embrace, she felt a warmth and a slight bashfulness, and she naturally forgot what she was going to ask him about.
In the distance, two members of the Overwatch Council stood as straight as rock drills underneath a tree as they kept their charges safe.
"We must be up early tomorrow, I have matters to take care of in the capital." Fan Xian sniffed his little sister's hair and discovered the faint scent of orchids. "What did you use?" he asked curiously.
Fan Ruoruo was embarrassed. She didn't know whether to respond to her brother. "I washed it with pear blossoms. Does it bother you?"
Girls rarely washed their hair in this world, which didn’t leave a pleasant smell - and that had been the case when he had slept together with Si Lili underneath that quilt, when it had been covered up by strong perfume. Since Fan Xian had come to the capital, he had brazenly demanded that Fan Ruoruo and Lin Wan'er wash their hair frequently, and had presented them with the plans for a showerhead he had come up with in Danzhou. Ruoruo and Wan'er were unable to say no to him, and so they did so. They never thought the effect would be so distinct; unexpectedly, it spread widely to other households outside Fan Manor and the imperial palace. Now, even Lady Liu washed her hair frequently.
"Father should be very pleased," he said, hinting at something, before going on to respond to Ruoruo's words. "It should be quiet in the capital in the early morning. There's somewhere I want to go and I want you to come with me, without anybody else following us."
Knowing that her brother trusted her, Fan Ruoruo was quite moved.
"Tomorrow we must visit Qingyu Hall," continued Fan Xian. "Shopkeeper Ye told me that it has been quiet in the capital as of late, so it is a good time to take a look." The shopkeeper at Qingyu Hall enjoyed a well-deserved reputation. Fan Sizhe had prepared the business accounts, and with Shopkeeper Ye's special business maneuvering, business at Danbo Bookstore had been getting stronger and stronger. Relying on the family's own capital, and official backing, it had put all of the nearby bookstores out of business within two months, and was slowly beginning to make inroads in the neighboring county.
Fan Ruoruo suddenly recalled a certain matter. "Is that tofu stand open?" she asked. "The Crown Prince was very happy with the soy milk you sent him every day. If he runs out one day, won't he urge you to open it?"
Fan Xian smiled. "I will soon become someone who makes 100,000 pieces of silver a day, so why should I bother with tofu?" Of course, this was a joke. "I will deal with it when I have time," he continued. "Anyway, you've nothing keeping you right now, you should take care of it yourself." As he saw it, there was no reason why the daughter of a great house should not show her face in public, and it was no use bringing up the idea of running a tofu stand, but he felt that for Ruoruo to simply read books and write poetry every day might leave her with little else but book smarts.
Fan Ruoruo felt a little awkward, but she agreed.
Fan Xian recalled an important matter, and frowned. His hands grasped his little sister's shoulders as he spoke sincerely. "Ruoruo, in my eyes you are only a girl of fifteen and it is too early for you to marry. But the common practice in the capital is not good. Even a young man like me has been forced to take a wife. You must take care not to attract too many wandering eyes, like He Zongwei’s, the guy who comes to the manor every day. I can chase them off with a broom, but if you are married off to someone not worthy of you, then what can we do?"
"Since you want to marry," he said sincerely, "you must take care of yourself, and marry someone good, someone who you like, and set to it sooner rather than later, before you are betrothed. There is a lot of danger in betrothals, and not everyone in this world has the good luck that Wan'er and I have had. I have faith that you'll be able to stand up to whatever Father and your mother demand of you, but if... if it's a decree from the palace, then what? We have no choice but to protect our family's position."
Listening to her brother's words, Fan Ruoruo first felt bashful, and then laughed at his decision to blow his own trumpet. But when he mentioned the palace, she felt worried. It wasn't that she was not aware that at her age; a girl from the family of an official was likely to be married off... but after spending every day with her brother, she felt that all the men of this world would always be rather boring. How could she ever find a sweetheart of her own?