There was silence in the hall for a moment. For a long time, neither of the two said a word. Ye the shopkeeper was shocked. The treasury? He had once been personally responsible for it... The Lady had left them everything—how many years had passed in which they were unable to get anywhere near it? But how could the royal court allow people such as them to approach it again?
Seemingly having guessed what he was thinking, Fan Xian smiled. "I have seen the decree summoning you to the capital. It doesn't allow you to invest in commercial activities. But no one said anything about not permitting you to take over the duties of the House of Ye."
For these shopkeepers of Qingyu Hall, it was extremely tempting. Taking over the management of the estates of the princes and controlling all of the copper mines and saltbeds from afar would not be sufficient to display their true talent. And the treasury... As the shopkeepers of Qingyu Hall saw it, it had always been theirs to take care of! It was unbearable watching the Eldest Princess squander everything that the Lady had left them over the years. Every time they thought about it, these specialist "professional managers" were filled with so much hatred it made them gnash their teeth.
The invitation that Master Fan had issued represented the view of Fan Manor, and Fan Manor had a special relationship with His Majesty... Could it be that His Majesty had come round to the idea?
Fan Xian stood up and smiled. "It was just a proposal. There is still plenty of time. You may think it over as you wish, Big Ye."
Having said his piece, there was nothing more to discuss. Having waited for Fan Ruoruo to return from her boring stroll, the delegation from Fan Manor took their leave. Big Ye the head shopkeeper respectfully saw them off. As he watched them climb aboard their carriage, he wiped the cold sweat from his brow.
Fan Xian's head suddenly poked out from inside the carriage. His handsome face was as brilliant as sunshine. "Big Ye!" he yelled in a loud voice. "If you come round to the idea, invite us over for a chat. I shall bring some of the dried meats that my younger brother brought as a gesture of goodwill."Big Ye heard his shouting. He had assumed that Master Fan would bring up the delicate matter of managing property in front of everyone, and he was filled with a sudden fright. After he heard what Fan actually said, he felt at ease. He knew that Fan Xian was reminding him that if he wanted to accept his conditions, he would also have to act as the younger Fan brother's teacher in return.
But there were a few things that Big Ye did not understand, like why he had to pay respect to his teacher with dried meats. He frowned, and then thought about how many years prior, either the ninth Ye or the twenty-third Ye had brought dried meat... Now, why had ninth Ye or twenty-third Ye brought dried meat? He clapped his hand to his head and returned to Qingyu Hall, saddened that his powers of memory had seemingly faded.
Returning to the manor in a carriage, Fan Xian felt rather tired. He was not the sort of person who liked plotting, but for the sake of himself, the Fan family, and a great many other people, there were some things that he had to do. In his plan, the property of the Ye family had to be slowly transferred to the second brother. After all, he had a talent for business, though it wasn't as good as that brat's. As for the rest... he had to wait and see.
At that moment, he finally understood what Master Fei had said to him in Danzhou.
"Your family's affairs are far more complicated than you could even imagine. It involves not only your own life, but the lives of a great many others, so you must take great caution. As you grow up over the years, you must learn to protect yourself. It is the only way that you will have the power to protect others in the future."
"In the future... who will I have to protect?" Fan Xian had asked, filled with doubts.
Fei Jie had laughed, and tapped his nose. "People like myself. Those who have strong attachments to you."
So there were things that Fan Xian had to do, so that he could finally protect... people like Ruoruo and Wan'er; people in the Fan family who already had strong attachments to him. At the same time, he wanted to make life a little easier for the old ladies of Qingyu Hall. Of course, at that moment, he still did not imagine that there would come a day where those old freaks Fei Jie and Chen Pingping would also require his protection.
For the young master Fan to visit Qingyu Hall was a matter of great importance, at least in the eyes of the great many people carrying the Ye family name. Business was at an end, after all. Although these shopkeepers had earned a great amount of money for the estates of the princes, they were still considered unworthy of appearing in public. So when Big Ye told the others the purpose of master Fan's visit—someone with even the slightest status had personally come to visit Qingyu Hall, and have secret discussions in the rear garden—some of those sitting around the round table were shocked, while others began to reminisce about their glory days. Some went pale thinking of the ruthless goings-on inside the palace.
"We need not over-think it. Master Fan has already had the courage to bring us this proposition, so he will undoubtedly think of a way to persuade the palace." Big Ye looked at the other members of the council and frowned. "To see how everyone feels, the five of us shall vote. According to the old customs, each man has one vote, and I have two. Old Six is currently doing business at Fan Manor, so I invite him to provide us with his opinion."
The other shopkeepers cast a glance at seventh Ye of Danbo Bookstore. He lowered his head in thought for a while, then spoke. "The relationship between master Fan and his younger brother is much better than we imagined, and master Fan seems to live a simple life, but in truth his ambitions are lofty. Everyone knows that he has now made a name for himself in the capital. I see him going about his business every day. It appears he does not seem to care in the same way about the property of Count Sinan. And he spends his days in contact with formidable characters such as Crown Prince Jing."
Big Ye nodded. "It is early yet, but we must be prepared as soon as possible."
Some of the council members held opposing views. "And what of the risk? We were lucky to save our own lives, and we have lived happily enough these past few years."
"There is not that much risk to it. After all, over the past years, I presume that opinion in the palace has softened toward us. We have never left the capital, and our lives remain in the hands of the royal court." Another man shook his head. "We are merely merchants. We cannot rebel, so what is there to fear? Alas, how I long to take charge of such matters again. It excites me to imagine it. We have had so little to boast of for so many years... and I was the one among us who had the most to boast about."
This utterance seemed to have stirred up beautiful memories for everyone. They all laughed. "The Lady always did say you liked to blow your own horn," scolded one of them.
"I am not you," he said, distressed. "I used to prefer blowing bubbles at the soapworks."
Big Ye smiled. He held up his hand to silence their neverending chatter. "Does anyone have anything to add?" he asked.
The first person who had raised objections stopped laughing. "First I wish to confirm whether this is authorized by the palace," he said coolly. "Then I shall go along with it. Although we all wish to go back to the way things were for our house, our safety is still our first priority. The Lady once said that as long as we had our health, then we would be fine."
Big Ye frowned. "Fan Manor had a great relationship with the Ye family at that time. Over the years, the Overwatch Council and Count Sinan have continued to take care of us. I presume that Count Sinan does not wish to deceive us."
The cold-faced councillor spoke. "Do not forget; the Li family also had a great relationship with us at that time. Were we not also deceived by them?"
Li was the surname of the ruling dynasty. The House of Li was the royal house. When he said it, the hidden room in the rear garden of Qingyu Hall went silent, and the faces of the men around the table all took on uneasy expressions.
Convening the elders of the House of Ye was a risky matter, so Fan Xian had only made a small step toward it, and had done it under the pretense of hiring a tutor for Fan Sizhe. It was assumed that not many people would take note of such a matter. After all, he did not know how long it would be before he took control of the treasury. Before taking control, he had to make sure that he had the power to do so. Before he could make sure of that, he had to go along with His Majesty's commands.
His Majesty's conditions for taking control of the royal purse were simple—whoever married Lin Wan'er would take control of the treasury. He did not know why the Emperor loved his fiancée so dearly, but as he had chosen to accept the marriage, he had naturally also chosen to accept the struggle that came before the marriage.
First, he had another struggle to face.
Functionary of Taichang Temple was a ceremonial post, similar to an honorary title, in order to bestow a more elegant official title upon the future son-in-law of the Emperor. It was only an eighth-rank minor position, but it was prestigious enough. At first, the custom in the Kingdom of Qing was to confer upon them a sixth-rank position as a chamberlain at the Academy of Combined Learning, but they later discovered that many sons-in-law of the Emperor could not take on the burden of composing poetry, so the custom was changed and they were granted the position of a functionary. In the previous dynasty, functionaries had been called "functionary-sergeants". When it came to being in charge of a temple, the imperial household presumed that sons-in-law of the Emperor would always be unable to compose poetry, and it would be fine if they could simply hum a few bars of a tune, so the rule was thusly set.
Although it was a ceremonial post, it was still necessary to report to Taichang Temple. So, early one morning, a grumpy Fan Xian climbed into the family carriage and hurried to the entrace to Taichang Temple. A fourth-level official of Taichang Temple was already standing there to greet him. This show of extravagance made Fan Xian feel overwhelmed by favor from his superior. He hurriedly dismounted the carriage to affectionately greet the official. After exchanging pleasantries with the officials of Taichang Temple, he finally entered the office, and sat in a small room, listening to the officials explain his duties to him.
The official who had greeted him had been hand-picked by the Prime Minister, so his warmth toward Fan Xian was understandable. But this official, and a number of other bureaucrats in the royal court, still could not understand something—in marrying the illegitimate daughter of the Prime Minister to the illegitimate son of the Fan family, why was everything being done according to palace customs?
Perhaps His Majesty was too fond of the Lin and Fan families, but in the eyes of many officials, the Emperor had acted far too willfully, and those who knew of Miss Lin's true identity would say nothing of the matter—even at pain of death.
Fan Xian had originally presumed that he was tone-deaf and would inevitably commit some kind of faux pas. He had never imagined that when he sat idly about one morning, his belly full of warm tea, he would discover that his colleagues were much the same as him, clasping a couple of newspapers issued from the palace. Feeling somewhat bloated from all the tea he had drunk, he sighed, and learned that the others also took a newspaper with them to visit the latrines.
The newspapers were full of gossip, talking about how Chen Pingping had returned to the capital. The palace editors did not dare say a word about the story of the Director and his first love. Hiking up his pants as he left the latrine, he unthinkingly stuffed the newspaper in his underwear, and suddenly realized something that made him burst into laughter. This was a habit of stealing newspapers that he'd gotten into as he'd grown up in Danzhou. The money that he had stashed away relied on this method of raking in cash.
He was returning to drink more tea when he suddenly heard joyous shouting from inside the room. "Victory! Victory! May Heaven preserve the great Kingdom of Qing!"
His heart skipped a beat. He realized that in the struggle between the imperial household and the Kingdom of Northern Qi, with the imperial household's victory in the small skirmishes occuring throughout some of the vassal kingdoms, it was possible that some land had come under the scope of the Qing Kingdom's power.