"Why would His Majesty show up here?" Fan Ruoruo asked, wiping away sweat with her handkerchief.
Fan Xian smiled uneasily. "This emperor of ours has always lived in secret and ventures out dressed simply. I guessed this a long time ago. How could a man spend year after year in a palace? He must come out sometimes, and it wouldn’t be strange for him to come to Liujing River. I did it find it amusing, though, that Sir Gong Dian did not call him ‘Master Huang’."
Fan Ruoruo chuckled. "How could everything be like your stories? If what you said was true, you should have started a bookstore from the beginning."
Speaking of bookstores, Fan Xian thought of the tofu stand. He asked with a frown, "Ruoruo, what are you going to do in the future?" Fan Ruoruo’s expression turned more serious. In this day and age, once a woman marries, she will dedicate herself to performing wifely duties. Considering Ruoruo’s capabilities, she would most likely not want that.
But they couldn’t plan too much at the moment, so they had to put the matter aside.
After entering the capital, the carriage galloped straight toward Twenty-eight-Li Hill. Despite its name, it was not a large hill, but a famous place to the south of the capital. According to legend, several centuries ago, before the capital reached its current state of grandeur, this Twenty-eight-Li Hill was the last hill one reached before entering the capital. It was named after its exact distance from the last inn on the road to the capital. Traveling this distance would fatigue the men and horses alike, and to them, this small hill appeared to be taller than the great eastern mountains.
Today, this hill had been encompassed within the city walls and was now a street. But its name remained. Qingyu Hall was located there. The carriage parked far away, and the Fan siblings stepped out, walking along the streets. They saw neat rows of various shops, all constructed with cheap timber imported from Lingnan. They were brushed over with a thin coat of paint and their many spots showed. At a glance, they appeared to look back with countless eyes.
Fan Xian was surprised, "Why use those?" He was familiar with this type of timber in his previous life, where they were commonly used in small eateries. Since they reflected natural wood, they gave off a feeling of simplicity and refreshment.
Wang Qinian shook his head; he was no businessman. Fan Ruoruo explained, "This is Qingyu Hall. Each one of these shops are run by a disciple of a great shopkeeper. There are seventeen shopkeepers and seventeen rooms." Fan Xian counted over twenty of those rooms and asked his sister about this, who answered, "With the passing time, some of the shopkeepers got old, so they are beginning to retire. Others have fallen ill."
They walked towards the front and saw a very beautiful mansion with a huge courtyard. Its roof hung over the walls, and by the look of it the courtyard was probably divided into several sections. Fan Xian’s heart stirred as he sensed something familiar. After a brief moment, he remembered that this architecture was the same style as the Taiping Courtyard he saw earlier.
Those shopkeeper’s living quarters were strange. The front gate was not labeled "Qingyu Hall". At the same time, a bodyguard had already sent up a notice. Upon seeing the name on that notice, the gatekeeper knew who the guest was, and very respectfully welcomed them in. Because one shopkeeper was currently helping the Fan household with Danbo Bookstore, there was no need for further formalities.
Just before they were about to enter, an official from the Imperial court who was in charge of Qingyu Hall forced his way over and began to do background checks. Wang Qinian stared at him with cold eyes and dispatched a minor subordinate to deal with the official. Wang Qinian then followed Fan Xian into Qingyu Hall.
The one in charge of Qingyu Hall was also from the Overwatch Council, so he realized he just did something quite redundant.
They entered the hall and were seated and served tea.
Sitting at the main seat was a man in his forties. He had gentle eyes, as if he had learned to become timid after years of pressure. Fan Xian knew, however, that the man was the head shopkeeper of Qingyu Hall, named "Big Ye". Back in the day he was in charge of the most important businesses in the Ye household, despite the boring and worthless image he gave off presently. Fan Xian smiled and said, "I had always thought the head shopkeeper would be advanced in age. Only after this meeting do I see you are still so young."
Ye the head shopkeeper was completely unaware of the reason for Fan Xian’s visit. Even though several decades had passed, and the Ye household was no longer a touchy subject, he had been placed under house arrest in the capital for over a decade. So he was less vigorous, his body had shriveled, and his character was not as passionate as it had once been. The shopkeeper answered with an uneasy smile, "I am but an old man. You sure like to joke around, Young Master Fan."
Fan Xian chuckled. "Let’s get to the point. I came here today to offer my gratitude. Thanks to the seventh shopkeeper, the bookstore has been flourishing. Secondly, I wanted to see what Qingyu Hall is like."
The head shopkeeper smiled, "Since you spent money to hire one of us, it’s only natural that we earn more money for you in return. If we didn’t know how to make a business lucrative, we’d have perished in the capital long ago." When he talked about earning money, the head shopkeeper couldn’t hide his pride and former glory.
In his mind, Fan Xian praised the shopkeeper. That was how someone taught by his mom should compose themselves. Fan Xian then saluted the shopkeeper, "In truth, I came here today to trouble you specifically regarding something unexpected."
The head shopkeeper was greatly surprised. If it was only for business, one of Fan Xian’s status would never visit in person. Could he be planning something? Head Shopkeeper Ye was concerned for the lives of his fellow shopkeepers and their families, so he refused with great difficulty. "The Imperial court has given the order that we cannot leave the capital. We really can’t offer much help."
Fan Xian laughed, "I know that. I’m asking you to be someone’s teacher. To my knowledge, in these years there are several members of the treasury that were taught here. I work pretty well with your seventh shopkeeper, so I wanted to recommend a student."
"Who, if I may ask?"
Fan Xian smiled without saying a word. Understanding the gesture, the head shopkeeper said, "You’ve traveled far. How about I let my wife accompany Miss Fan for a stroll in the garden?" He looked at Fan Xian with a smile, "Our yard is nothing extraordinary, but it was designed by the house owner. It is worth a look."
Fan Ruoruo understood as well. She smiled and followed the shopkeeper’s wife out to the garden. Wang Qinian and the others were ordered to leave by Fan Xian. Seeing this level of secrecy, the head shopkeeper couldn’t help but feel alarmed. Who was it that wanted to come here to study business?
"Fan Sizhe, my younger brother," Fan Xian took a sip of tea, "You must have heard of him."
The head shopkeeper Ye was secretly stunned by what he heard. Though there was no apparent conflict between the two Fan sons, Count Sinan’s heritage was at stake. How could a son of that status be willing to learn to do business? Could Fan Xian be taking advantage of this in order to make Fan Sizhe ineligible from receiving an inheritance…? That would be much too absurd; much too improper.
Fan Xian didn’t realize the head shopkeeper would be thinking this much into it. "My younger brother takes great joy in doing business, but he has only been keeping up due to his innate abilities and his love for the trade. He really lacks the ability to accomplish anything major. I hope you will be able to bless him with your knowledge."
The head shopkeeper immediately shook his head. As timid as he had become, he didn’t want to partake in such matters. "Minister Fan is in charge of land tax. That is the biggest business there is. How could we, the miniscule Qingyu Hall, dare to teach the Younger Master?"
Fan Xian was a bit disappointed, but he didn’t fret. With his plan, this teacher would have nowhere to run. He sat quietly and slowly adjusted the zhenqi in his xueshan. He closed his eyes and made sure no one was eavesdropping. Only after all that did he lower his voice and said, "There’s another thing. If you’re willing to listen, I’m willing to tell you."
Seeing Fan Xian being this secretive made the head shopkeeper laugh. He knew even if he wouldn’t listen, Fan Xian would tell him regardless. Just as expected, Fan Xian smiled. "I am the Functionary of Taichang Temple."
The head shopkeeper was a bit confused that Fan Xian said this out of nowhere, but he offered his congratulations anyway, since he knew this Young Master would soon become an esteemed individual. However, Fan Xian followed up with: "I am to marry the daughter of the Ye household." He knew that, despite having been under house arrest in the capital for over ten years, this shopkeeper must have had many channels for receiving secret information in the past.
Just as he thought, the head shopkeeper’s expression changed dramatically. He stared straight into Fan Xian’s eyes and asked coldly, "What are you trying to say?"
Fan Xian answered nonchalantly, "In two years at the latest, I will be able to take over the palace treasury… but I know I still lack the power. Father’s authority is on the national level, but what I need are resources from the palace, so my father can’t help me much with that. So, I…" Looking back at the head shopkeeper’s eyes, Fan Xian emphasized each one of his words, "…need help. I need… your help."