In the capital, by the side of Shenzheng Way, there stood a house. Wang Qinian had bought the house with 120 taels of silver, and having gone through a few formalities, he was confident that no one could ever find out who its true owner was. Fan Xian frowned as he looked at the two burly men completely tied up in the corner. Their mouths were stuffed with smelly cleaning rags, and their faces were red, with tears rolling down from the corners in their eyes. They could not say anything, and naturally, they were unable to bite down on their tongues to kill themselves.
"Where did they catch them?" asked Fan Xian softly.
The people standing behind Wang Qinian bowed in response. "Three-and-a-half kilometers outside the city, Master Wang discovered their tracks. They tried to argue with us after we blocked their path, but we investigated, and they confessed to their deeds. After you left the capital yesterday, these two followed you. We don't know how it was done, but someone informed them, and we don't know what connection they have to the prince's palace. This chance meeting was suddenly arranged."
Fan Xian frowned. He hadn't ever guessed that such a clue to a plot would appear. It appeared that it was not down to his own brilliance, but to his enemies' stupidity. The capital was a dark place, and everyone had a forked black tail hanging from their buttocks. He also understood that what his subordinate had called investigation undoubtedly involved the use of torture. But since they had confessed, whatever method they used was unimportant.
"Is the person who interrogated them here?" Fan Xian lowered his voice as he asked Wang Qinian. Wang Qinian shook his head. "The less the subordinates know the better, so they have been waiting for their master to carry out the interrogation personally.
Fan Xian nodded. He was pleased with his prudence, but he found himself caught up in his own thoughts. He looked at the two burly men in the corner, and easily observed a number of things from looking in their eyes. They had a look of unswerving determination, but they had not been trained in how to survive under torture. First of all, they could not have been men from the Overwatch Council. Second of all, they could not have been men from the palace. A quick examination showed that they were not eunuchs.
So it was most likely that they were the private forces of the Second Prince. Of course, the Prince at the foot of the mountains was also unable to escape suspicion. At that moment, Fan Xian suddenly recalled something his father Count Sinian had said. When you do not know who your enemy is, you should not be reckless to make an enemy of people - but what should you do when you do know who your enemy is? If he were to discover whether this was the work of the Second Prince, could he really raid the prince's mansion? Fan Xian laughed bitterly. He knew that there were a few things that he could not easily get to the bottom of.
"No use asking." Fan Xian wiped his brow. It was rather stuffy. "Kill them."
"Yes sir." The subordinates were Overwatch Council thugs, so they were not the least bit surprised by this bloody order. They quietly moved forward, pulled out knives for their belts, and plunged them into the stomachs of the men. There was a spluttering sound, and the two burly men flailed their feet recklessly for a moment before their eyes glazed over.
"Bury them well," Fan Xian ordered, with a measure of unaffected grief.
"Yes sir," replied the subordinates.
Leaving the house, they went through the small alleyways of the capital before the two men reached a main street. Wang Qinian walked alongside him, keeping the respectful silence of a subordinate. Fan Xian suddenly spoke. "When will the emissaries from Northern Qi and Dongyi arrive? We should have information on this."
"After they've crossed our border," replied Wang Qinian, "all local authorities will be provided assistance in receiving them. With luck, they should arrive at the beginning of next month."
Fan Xian nodded. "Help me find out who is among them. And furthermore..." he began to mumble to himself. "If it is not considered against the rules, could we trouble the manor to do some digging around among the Northern Qi spies? It would be best to investigate what the baseline for punishment of diplomatic missions is in Northern Qi."
Wang Qinian had heard what the Crown Prince had said before, so he knew that Master Fan wanted to take up a post as a vice envoy. "Yan Ruohai's son Yan Bingyun has already been hiding in Northern Qi for four years, and there have been some results. I imagine it will have some benefits."
"I want as little talk about this as possible after it has happened," Fan Xian reminded him. "Otherwise, if Northern Qi were to find out, I fear that Master Yan's son will be in danger."
Wang Qinian smiled. "Master, you are a commissioner, you know the scope of authority regarding this matter."
Fan Xian also smiled. "Taking responsibility for this sort of thing, the less I know the better."
Wang Qinian looked at his master's delicate face and warm smile and thought back to the killing that had happened in the courtyard before. He could not help but feel a little strange. "Since it would be better not to know," he asked quietly, "then why must we investigate? It seems that there was no need for those two men to die."
"Although it is better not to know than to know, we still must investigate, and those two still had to die," replied Fan Xian quietly. "Because I must let other people know that I know that they do not want me to know things, those two lives serve as a warning, warning them not to try to manipulate me again. It seems that the incident at Niulan Street did not convince the powers on high to exercise some restraint. The death of my brother-in-law at the foot of the Cang Mountains was the work of Sigu Sword; perhaps they feel I am deceiving them?"
Although the series of "knows" was something of a tongue-twister meaning-wise, the slightly confused Wang Qinian slowly understood his meaning and nodded. Fan Xian's suddenly smiled. "Don't worry about whether I've never seen blood and dead people. You don't know how I grew up."
The following few days were peaceful. The death of those two nameless burly fellows seemed to have been of little importance. But Fan Xian had guessed that the incident would already have started to show its effects. He made occasional visits to Taichang Temple for roll call; occasional visits to Danbo Bookstore to pick up cash; occasional visits to the tofu stand to help out; occasional visits to the Prime Minister's mansion to get in his future father-in-law's good graces; occasional visits to the royal palace to woo his lady; occasional stops home to tell stories to his little sister so she could copy them as books. That was Fan Xian's entire life for those few days.
That night, after he had washed himself and was preparing for bed, he caught sight of a black leather box out of the corner of his eye. He did not know what was inside the box, so naturally he was somewhat curious. But it had been in the same place for a long while, and there had been no sign of the key, so now he was somewhat apathetic about it. Of course, if he knew that Chen Pingping was greatly interested in the box, he would certainly have re-evaluated the box's worth, and would not have thrown it idly in the corner of his room; instead he would have kept it in the hole under his bed, hidden under three layers of iron.
Where was the key? It was as if he heard the voice of Heaven asking him a most important question from deep inside his heart. A cold voice rang in Fan Xian's ears.
"The key is in the palace."
Suddenly, without a sound, a black rod came from nowhere and struck Fan Xian firmly in the spine. There was a thud, and Fan Xian was too late to dodge as he was knocked to the ground. A wave of raw pain coursed down his spine, and he coughed, blowing away some of the dust on the floor in front of him.
"You've gotten soft." There was no emotion in Wu Zhu's voice, but he clearly held some sort of negative attitude toward Fan Xian's behavior.
"Uncle?" Fan Xian had gotten used to this sort of life when he was little, and with some difficulty he rose, circulating the zhenqi in his body to soothe the pain in his spine as he looked at the dark corner. "Uncle," he said in a low voice, unable to stop himself, "I haven't seen you these past few days. I truly feared you were dead."
Wu Zhu showed a slight passion that did not fit his words. Coldly, he took half a step back, and saw through Fan Xian's lie. "I know that you were not worried about me."
Fan Xian laughed, somewhat embarrassed. It was true, he wasn't worried; that weirdo Wu Zhu was a master assassin. He wouldn't get into trouble no matter where he went. But Fan Xian had not seen him in a long time. He had been thinking of him, and he was curious as to where he had been the past few days. Perhaps Wu Zhu had been by his side the whole time, and he didn't know it?
"The key is in the palace," Wu Zhu continued.
The second time he said it, Fan Xian had a sudden realization. He frowned. "So you were looking for the key all that time."
"This belongs to the Lady. I should not have listened to Chen Pingping and left the key in the capital." Wu Zhu's tone remained indifferent, unlike any normal person. "I spent a few days in the palace, and I have found three locations where it could be."
"It's too risky!" Fan Xian howled in a low voice, feeling a slight anger well up deep within his heart. Although Wu Zhu had grandmaster-level strength, the Royal Palace would be more than a match for him. Not only were the guards all experts, but as Fei Jie had pointed out, the most secretive of the four grandmasters was hidden somewhere within the palace. Wu Zhu had risked spending a number of days inside the palace; if he had been discovered, that secretive grandmaster would have naturally engaged him, as well as five hundred knife-wielding guards. Even if Wu Zhu were possessed of truly miraculous skill, there would be no way he'd get out of there alive.
Seeming not to have noticed Fan Xian's anger, Wu Zhu continued to speak in a cold voice. "Do you want the key?"
Fan Xian went quiet. He realized why Wu Zhu had come there today. He was a man who lurked in the shadows. If it wasn't a matter he needed to share with him, Fan Xian doubted that he would ever see him; he would simply remain in the shadows to protect him. And Wu Zhu had come to talk about the key not because he wanted Fan Xian's opinion, but because he needed him to be part of it.
But... if Wu Zhu was trying to get hold of something this difficult, then how could Fan Xian even help at all? "What do you need me to do?" Fan Xian asked as he pondered.
"Those three locations in the palace are not easy to enter," said Wu Zhu without a hint of emotion.
Fan Xian was curious, and asked Wu Zhu where these locations were.
"Xingqing Palace, Hanguang Hall, and Guangxin Palace."
Fan Xian was taken aback, and laughed bitterly. These were the most tightly-guarded locations in the palace grounds, the living quarters of the Emperor, the Empress Dowager, and the Eldest Princess. Not only were they the most difficult-to-enter locations in the palace grounds, they were practically the most difficult-to-enter locations in all the world.
"I want you to think of a way to get the eunuch named Hong Sixiang outside the palace for a time."
Fan Xian frowned. "Eunuch Hong? He is the leader of the palace eunuchs, he has served three different emperors, and I heard that he has been in the palace since the founding of the nation. His powers are deep, but if you're going to the palace to steal the key, then why do you need me to trick him into leaving the palace? What's the link between those two things?" He suddenly understood something, and lifted his head in surprise to look at the black cloth that surrounded Wu Zhu's face. He spoke with a trembling voice. "Are you telling me that Eunuch Hong is the one they talk about, the most secretive grandmaster?"
Fei Jie had said that of the four grandmasters, one was Sigu Sword in Dongyi, one was Ku He in Northern Qi, and one was Ye Liuyun, with his Liuyun sanshou, in the Kingdom of Qing; there was one other who was also a man of the Kingdom of Qing, but no one knew who he was. Even the Overwatch Council, with all of their power, was only able to ascertain that whoever this person was, they were hiding within the royal palace of the Kingdom of Qing.
Wu Zhu shook his head. "I don't know. I have never fought him. But I know that within the palace right now, the one who would discover me the easiest would be the Eunuch Hong Sixiang."
Fan Xian nodded. In his heart, he was still full of respect for Wu Zhu. Old Eunuch Hong had to be the unmeasurably powerful person hidden in the palace. If even Wu Zhu were scared of the consequences, perhaps Eunuch Hong's identity as a grandmaster was already on the verge of being revealed.
In his cold nature, he had even attacked Ye Liuyun, but had failed to kill him. Naturally he could not fear any grandmaster from that day on, but that last time it was in order to hide his connection with Fan Xian. This time it was in order to steal the key, so the style would be somewhat different.
Fan Xian pondered over the latest plans, and considered the coming emissaries from Northern Qi and Dongyi; he could not think of a way to build a relationship with the head of the court eunuchs deep within the palace. It was not convenient to ask for his father to step in - he would have to explain a number of things that he did not wish to explain. Suddenly his eyes lit up. "Wan'er should have a clear understanding of things inside the palace. She has grown up inside the palace for her entire life and only moved out at the beginning of this year. I'll go by her way tomorrow."
Wu Zhu "looked" at him, not making a comment, before he spoke coldly. "I just need you to get Hong Sixiang outside the palace for a while. As for how you do it, that is your business."
Fan Xian shrugged. "Uncle, you always give me the hardest tasks."
It was a joke, and having not spoken to Wu Zhu for some time, it seemed that he had forgotten that Wu Zhu did not have much of a sense of humor. "So, I will attack Hong Sixiang," replied Wu Zhu sincerely, "and whether or not I succeed in killing him, it is likely that I will be able to delay him for six hours. You will enter the palace and find the key."
It was as if a burning hot meteorite had fallen from the sky directly onto Fan Xian's foot. He moved quickly to speak, extremely gently and respectfully. "It is just stealing something. Don't take the risk of challenging Hong Sixiang. I will try to contact him."
After Wu Zhu left, Fan Xian finally realized that he had no way to find him. If he did manage to arrange everything, then how would he tell Wu Zhu? He laid back down on his bed. When he looked at the box again, something was different. If the key had to be hidden in a secret place within the palace, whatever was inside the box had to be something extremely important or extremely terrifying.
Something like a map of the border defenses, a list of high-ranking spies from the Overwatch Council his mother had singlehandedly established, or... a map to the Ye family treasure?
Fan Xian found himself unable to sleep. He stood up, and moved the box under his bed with his foot. It seemed to him that it would be safer this way.
His face serene, Fan Xian came to Ruoruo's bedchamber and asked if she could find him a needle and thread to sew some a seam in some clothing. She obliged. She took out a few small needles from a box and gave them to him, feeling rather curious about it. She looked him in the eye. "This is for embroidery. Have you torn your clothing, brother? It'd be best if you gave it to a servant-girl to take care of."
Fan Xian laughed. "It's a bit more complicated than clothing." He thought for a moment. "Don't let anyone know that you've given me these three needles."
Fan Ruoruo nodded, confused.
The wedding was approaching, and Fan Manor had begun to prepare for it. There were a number of odd things about Fan Xian and Lin Wan'er's marriage, so all customs were revised. At the very least, they were not the same as other pairings of princess and Emperor's-son-in-law, where the royal family arranged a mansion for the Emperor's son-in-law; after all, Lin Wan'er's status as princess had always only ever been in effect within the palace. If it had been done within the capital, there may have been some gossip.
The newlyweds' residence was near Count Sinan's manor. It was just some empty land that Count Sinan had been preparing since the beginning of the year, and so they had already erected a sumptuous mansion. The rear gardens of the two compounds were connected by a door, so the two manors were linked as one. But the compound in which Fan Xian would live after he was married faced out onto a different street.
Over those few days, the manor was quiet. The workers had already downed tools; the trees and the rock gardens had also been taken care of a long time ago, and had grown out in the open. Because there was no one there in such a large mansion, the silence was deafening, and no one wanted to stay in it for long.
A black shadow floated across. It was Fan Xian, quietly making his way through the courtyard, holding a chunk of tofu in his right hand, and clasping three needles between the four fingers of his left hand. He found a secluded area, and carefully placed the tofu chunk among the branches of the willow tree. He had improved the tofu, making it extremely soft, so when he placed it in the swaying spot, it seemed like it could fall out at any moment.
Fan Xian closed his eyes, and slowly summoned the powerful zhenqi out of his dantian point, routing it through the crown of his head and into the xueshan point at the back of his waist. He formed one large and one small channel for the zhenqi, allowing his whole being to sink into silence, without a single errant thought.
The sound of the wind arose, and his whole being became part of the wind, blowing between the willow branches, softly touching it, his feet valiantly preventing him from leaning forward. There was a sudden noise. Relying on his control of his body, he leapt back.
It was like a crafty fish teasing the dumbfounded angler's hook.
Some time later, he walked slowly forward with his hands behind his back, squinting as he looked at the block of tofu in the branches of the willow tree. Three needles stuck out of the tofu, trembling slightly. In a flash, he quickly thrust the needles into the tofu, cutting it into three cubes. According to Fan Xian's understanding of the human body, if this trick were used to kill someone, it would most likely be extremely effective. Satisfied, he retrieved the pins.
After Niulan Street, he had been searching for ways to best arm himself. Wu Zhu's weapon was a cudgel; whether it was a wooden staff or a simple rock drill, in Wu Zhu's hands it was a deadly weapon. This was the state of things, and Fan Xian was clearly aware that when it came to himself, an easily-handled weapon could save his life many times over.
In truth, he very much liked the slender dagger he kept in his boot. Whether it was in Danzhou or on Niulan Street, the precious and sharp dagger had already helped him out twice. But in certain palace, it was not possible to have a dagger to hand - such as the palace.
And Fan Xian knew, since the key was inside the palace, it was possible that in the end he would have to make like the heroes of the wuxia novels of his previous life and rush in headfirst. Wu Zhu's rod and his words from the day before had irritated him, and he set himself to it with renewed fervor. He looked at how the dawn's light glinted off the needles between his fingers, and he couldn't help but frown as he wondered - what sort of poison would be most appropriate to smear them with?
After setting his goal, he did everything with much more enthusiasm. So on one pitch-black night, Fan Xian excitedly stole into Lin Wan'er's bedchamber. Wan'er could not help but feel happily surprised. After all, it had not been that long since their vacation. After a moment of affection, Fan Xian casually brought up matters in the palace.
Lin Wan'er had grown up in the palace. She was quite familiar with the people inside the palace, and was not curious as to why her fiancée had taken a sudden interest. She assumed that he was worried about the custom of entering the palace to pay his respects, so she consoled him. "The Empress has always been very nice to me. And the Emperor is not fond of femininity, so he isn't like that Emperor of Northern Qi who died a while ago, where his six palaces were all filled with beautiful women. Apart from the Empress, there is the prince's birth mother, Ning the Talented, and the Second Prince's birth mother, Concubine Shu. There is the third son's mother, Yi Guipin, and some other concubines who you won't need to pay respects to."
Fan Xian imagined that the concubines naturally would not want to offend her birth mother, the Eldest Princess, who was doted on by the Empress Dowager and controlled the royal purse. He shifted in the bed to make his embrace of Wan'er more comfortable. "Why is the prince's birth mother only 'Talented'?"
"Ning the scholar is from Dongyi. The Emperor brought her back from his first military expedition to the north. I've heard that His Majesty was wounded on the battlefield, and Ning the scholar tended to him night and day, so His Majesty freed her from her bondage as a slave and brought her to the palace, and she gave birth to the prince. But she is not from the Kingdom of Qing, and although she saved the Emperor's life, and gave birth to his eldest son, there was still no way for her to win the favor of the Empress Dowager, so naturally she could not become Empress. And she was an imperial consort, but ten years ago it seemed like something happened in the palace, and His Majesty was very angry, and stripped her of her position, so she dropped to the rank of "Talented".
Fan Xian was slightly surprised. The struggle in the palace was just as complicated as he had imagined. Lin Wan'er sighed and continued. "Fortunately, the great prince is now in the west excelling in military pursuits, so Ning the Talented can keep finally her position. She seems to understand a great many things, and is now content in the palace. In truth, I used to run over to her palace to play, but for those two years I didn't so much."
Fan Xian asked about some of the other inner secrets of the palace, and Lin Wan'er was happy to hell him in full detail. Finally, Fan Xian got to the crux of his questioning. "I've heard that the head eunuch, Eunuch Hong, is extremely powerful within the palace," he said casually.
"That's right." Lin Wan'er was not a little tiger that night, but a small kitten in his arms. He gently caressed her face. "Eunuch Hong has been in the palace since the founding of the nation, when he was a manservant. When the first Emperor was on the throne, he trusted Eunuch Hong immensely. Now he is still in a fifth-level position as head of the palace eunuchs, but his responsibilities are not as great now that he is older. Basically, he is being kept in the palace by the Empress Dowager."
"Kept in the palace by the Empress Dowager?" Fan Xian had a sudden recollection of the history of his old world.
"What?" Lin Wan'er asked curiously, blinking.
Fan Xian took hold of her nose and smiled. "Nothing. So if I want to have a good relationship with the palace, I'll have to be on good terms with Eunuch Hong."
"There's no point," explained Lin Wan'er. "The old eunuch just strolls around the palace, he's not in charge of anything."
Fan Xian could not say a word of his plans to the girl in his arms, so he just smiled. "When should I announce that I am coming to visit the palace?"
Lin Wan'er was both bashful and teasing. "In a few days, I suppose. Why? Are you nervous?"
"Of course I'm nervous. I'm taking such a wonderful princess away from them, who wouldn't be nervous?"
Silence gradually fell on the upstairs room of the pavilion in the palace grounds. As he watched his fiancée drift off to sleep in his arms, Fan Xian sighed. Whatever else came up in his life, he hoped that he could deal with it well enough.
The next day, he went to Taichang Temple for the morning roll call, and Ren the official quietly took him to one side and spoke to him quietly. "Do you know what this is about?"
Fan Xian looked at the 34-year-old man, who seemed to have aged handsomely, and played dumb. "What is it?"
Ren sighed. "Honglu Temple sent out a letter today, asking you to transfer there." Honglu Temple was especially in charge of receiving foreign guests, and handling matters between countries. Fan Xian was surprised, and realized that the matter that the Crown Prince had spoken of had started. He clasped his hands in salute. "Master Ren, why do they want me to transfer there? I have hardly been at Taichang Temple for more than a few weeks."
Master Ren frowned. "Master Fan, do you not have a relationship with the prince's estate?"
Fan Xian knew that he was asking about his father, and he shook his head. "You know that my father always had very little contact with the palace, and even less with the ministers with the cabinet."
"That is so." Ren nodded his head. Count Sinan was famously stubborn. He had made use of his special relationship with the Emperor as they had grown up together. Even the Prime Minister did not understand how he had always remained neural toward the various princes. He thought for a moment. "I have heard that it was a suggestion of the prince's estate to allow you to participate in these negotiations."
Fan Xian did not know how to respond. He could only continue to feign confusion. "What negotiations?
"Emissaries from Northern Qi have come to discuss the aftermath of the war among the vassal states along the northern border, things such as deliberating boundaries, compensation for losses, and so on. And emissaries from Dongyi have come to discuss the matter of the murder of the Prime Minister's second son at the foot of the Cang Mountains. I have heard that they have brought a lot of silver and beautiful women with them. These so-called negotiations are really the royal court haggling prices with these two parties."
Ren the official, surnamed Ren, given name Shao'an, was a disciple of the Prime Minister, so he naturally treated Fan Xian as someone on his own side. "If matters are dealt with well," he carefully warned him, "it will be nothing more than gilding the lily. In any case, the officers and soldiers have followed their orders, and have already attacked those territories. But if they are not dealt with well, and they do not bring the Emperor the benefits that he was expecting, then they would be extremely inappropriate. And as for Dongyi, in the matter of the second son's death, if you are too soft, then it will not be received well by the Prime Minister. But since the royal court has permitted Dongyi to send emissaries, it shows that the royal court does not wish to pursue this matter too diligently, and would simply like to get something out of it... after all, Sigu Sword is still in the city of Dongyi."
Fan Xian frowned. These matters were complicated indeed. Ren carried on, speaking with sympathy. "Your status is unique. You and the Prime Minister will soon be father and son-in-law. If you follow the will of the Emperor, you will lose the favor of your father-in-law. So this is a very difficult situation, and you must tread carefully."
Fan Xian was taken aback as he pondered the critical components of this matter. He clasped his hands in a grateful gesture. "When I entered the bureaucracy, I did not know that things would be so profound... this matter is so complicated, and I am only an eighth-level functionary. Even if Honglu Temple requests that I transfer there, I fear that my lowly words will carry little weight, so it is best that I remain honest and say nothing."
Ren the official shook his head and sighed. "You will be a vice envoy, and you will find yourself blown by winds in all directions, with a great many eyes on you."
"Why would people be looking at me?" thought Fan Xian. He smiled. "You have put a great amount of thought into this. Everything should be fine."
Ren had indeed put a lot of thought in this. Although he did not know why the prince's palace had appointed him as a vice envoy, it was either a case of favoritism, or that they wanted to see him follow his father-in-law's will and lose the favor of the Emperor. In short, Fan Xian had already sufficiently prepared his skills, and did not feel any dread about it. In the afternoon, an official palanquin was dispatched to transport him. It travelled along the bluestone road, and in no time at all the palanquin had reached Honglu Temple.
Honglu Temple was equivalent to a diplomatic mission, and officials of Honglu Temple were equivalent to ministers of foreign affairs. In his previous life, fan Xian believed very much in a certain phrase: "A weak state has no diplomacy". The Kingdom of Qing was the strongest in all the land, and Honglu Temple had become a government office of high status and of ill-gotten gains. Thick cypress trees were all around, and the warm summer heat did not seep into the offices. Fan Xian sat quietly in seating area of the silent hall, listening to the conversations of the superiors above him.
The conversation he heard was the Honglu Temple official Xin Qiwu - the Northern Qi and Dongyi emissaries had come to officially present their diplomatic credentials. The frank and established official of the Kingdom of Qing did not feel that this was a desperately serious matter, so the master official of Honglu Temple was still at home asleep. The people who took care of such matters were just fourth-level officials.
"Master Fan, the royal court has seen fit to appoint you as a vice envoy; firstly on account of your good reputation, secondly on account of your connection to matters regarding Northern Qi. But you are not experienced in such matters, so do not worry, you will learn in due course." Xin Qiwu knew that the handsome young man beneath him had a strong and solid background, so he was courteous in his speech.
"That is so. Master Fan is well-known throughout the capital. It is truly a waste of his talent to take notice of Honglu Temple and these foreign nationals." A number of officials looked at Fan Xian and attempted to flatter him, not showing their true intentions. At the same time they feared that this nobleman's son's contributions could be jumping the gun. They could not prevent their awkward expressions.
 "Talented" was a ranking for concubines in the Tang dynasty – it was the fifth rank out of nine.