The New Year enjoyed the bounty of the previous year, and was a signal for spring. The New Year festival came once again. It was not delayed, and came with little surprise.
This winter, Fan Xian had not spent most of his time on Cang Mountain. With the addition of all the other events that happened, Wan'er and Ruoruo were frightened into returning to Jingdou as well. Everyone had gathered except for the second Fan son, and so the Fan Manor took the opportunity to celebrate properly.
A thick layer of red confetti lay outside the Manor doors like the carpet at a wedding. The smoke that permeated through the air and was a little pungent but also slightly sweet. The fish and meat from the big and small kitchens made the masters feel that life couldn't be this good. Luckily young master's digestion medicine was very effective…
On the night of the 30th, Fan Xian was in his room with his wife and sister having a difficult conversation. After slightly clearing their confusion, he didn't wait for the two woman to wake from their shock before leading them to the front residence.
A New Year's meal was hurriedly eaten and the family gathered around to play a few rounds of mahjong. Fan Xian was sprawled behind Wan'er, hugging her neck, and occasionally giving out bad advice and successfully losing quite a lot of silver to the two elders. He then carefully chose a few classic jokes from his previous life and finally lessened the strange atmosphere around the table.
The next day was the first day of the year. After the young people struggled awake after counting the New Year in, they went to the hall to give their New Year salute.
Fan Xian did it very seriously. His two knees solidly hit the ground and, in front of everyone's strange gazes, he (calmly, as usual) kowtowed three times towards his father. Bang, bang, bang—three times his forehead came into intimate contact with the ground.
Old master Fan stroked his beard and chuckled lightly, feeling an unspeakable comfort.
After the women left to go make soup balls, the front residence was just left with some single people on the first of the year. Fan Xian walked behind his father and gently rubbed his shoulders. Ever since the rumors had spread, it seemed to have broken a barrier in his heart. Fan Xian no longer held himself behind a veil, and began to show some of the feelings he was meant to have as a son. The distance between father and son seemed to be much closer than before.
The Minister of Revenue, Fan Jian, rested and enjoyed the ministering of his son. He asked, "How is Sizhe over there?"
Fan Xian answered respectfully, "Not bad, Wang Qinian is a clever man."
Fan Jian smiled slightly. "You know lots of people in Northern Qi. As to this point, I am at ease." He suddenly shook his head and said in some confusion. "Speaking of which, it is rather strange. I see that you are very good to northern people, but don't forget: there is an enmity between our countries that cannot be resolved. Sometimes, it is fine to use them, but you cannot completely trust them, and you especially cannot place your final hope in them."
Fan Xian paused, wondering if his father had guessed something. He chuckled and explained himself.
Fan Jian suddenly asked with interest, "Old Fei is treating your injury—how is it now?"
Fan Xian didn't want his father to worry, and so did not tell him about his zhenqi dissipating. He nodded and said, "Almost all better. Another two months of rehabilitation and there should be nothing to worry about."
"It still needs another two months?" Fan Jian furrowed his brows. "Jiangnan cannot compare to Jingdou. The mountains are high, the rivers are deep, and the Emperor is far away. Now that your body is not as good as before, you must be careful in everything you do. Don't do you as have for the last two years, always fighting to be first. Each time you move, you want to send the other to their deaths… but if things can be borne, then bear them for a while. There is no need to rush.
Fan Xian heard the worry in his father's words, but knew his father was also reminding him.
When fighting in the capital, Fan Xian had always been ruthless, bold, and relentless. Even when faced with the Eldest Princess and the Second Prince, he hadn't backed down. Once he reached Jiangnan and faced the high officials there deep in the territory of the area's the prominent families, he had to be more accommodating in how he conducted his business. Although from the perspective of his position, no one could move him, he would no longer have his father and Chen Pingping to rely on, and so needed to take precautions.
Father and son exchanged opinions on what would happen in the new year. They also made a careful analysis of the changes the Eldest Princess might bring to court with her return. Fan Jian reminded Fan Xian that he should pay attention to Hu the Scholar, who would enter the court this year. Fan Xian did not understand what his father meant by specifically bringing up that master scholar, but nevertheless, he fixed the name firmly in his heart.
Fan Jian lightly patted the steady young hands on his shoulder; he smiled slightly and said, "It seems like the Emperor really is going to hand the Overwatch Council to you. In the coming days when you are on the Council, he will have to find someone in court who matches you in name and position. This is simply preparing for the future."
When Hu the Scholar had led a change in the style of writing, he had been just a young man in his early twenties. Now he was almost 40 years old, and his literary name flourished in the south. Before Fan Xian was born, there was no one who could compare to him. However, this dear friend hadn't had any luck this year in court, and had been wandering around Qi Street. He had a lofty position, but no true power, and now he had entered the capital as a palace secretary and could be considered important in the court.
Fan Xian shook his head as he smiled. He didn't plan on interfering much in court politics, and would certainly not provoke Hu the Scholar. He figured Hu the Scholar wouldn't purposely bother him either.
Father and son chatted for a bit longer until Fan Xian remembered that the family still had to honor their ancestors, and so he asked a probing question.
Fan Jian turned his head and glanced at his son before sighing and shaking his head. He knew in his heart it was a rare thing for this child to have this intention. Although he could express his true intentions, he, himself, could not have his name enter the family tree. After all, he still had to consider the face of the one in the palace.
Fan Xian was only testing, and seeing his father's direct response, that there wasn't any possibility, he knew that it was just wishful thinking on his part. In his heart, he felt a bit upset.
The morning sun shined warmly onto the Fan family garden. Almost everyone, including Minister Shang, Lady Liu, and Ruoruo had already gone to the estate where the Fan clan ancestral temple was. Even a large portion of the stewards, old maids, and serving girls had gone. At this moment, there were not many people left in the front and back residences, and it seemed unusually quiet.
"I know you want to go," Wan'er sat at his side and comforted him quietly.
Fan Xian was reading a book. The Danbo Bookstore had just printed the first batch of the "Anthology of Zhuang's Critiques." Fan Xian had given the book its name, and Fan Xian had also written the inscription. According to the seventh Ye, the sales had been very good. The profits had come in much faster than expected, particularly since the Northern Qi court ordered 10,000 copies at once. This had caused Fan Xian's wallet to swell again.
Hearing the tone in his wife's voice, he smiled slightly and raised his head. He casually put the book aside and hummed. "What? Are you worried I'll take it too hard?"
Wan'er laughed, "How come you're not worried I won't take it too hard?"
Fan Xian stretched his arms and enveloped her in his embrace; putting his shoulder near her cold cheeks, he asked with concern, "How have you been feeling?"
Wan'er misunderstood his question and the face on his shoulder was slightly sad. "Still nothing."
Fan Xian laughed and said, "Who cares about the unborn girl? I was just asking how you were. When Sir Fei treats me, he uses the same methods as treating a cow. At this point, I'm starting to doubt his skills."
"Everything is fine." Wan'er thought for a bit and asked curiously, "Why is it a girl?"
"A girl is good. She won't need to stand in court and battle every day," Fan Xian said with a smile. His way of thinking was, of course, very different from the people in this world.
Wan'er pulled away a bit from Fan Xian and pointed to her heart. She laughed and said, "Being a girl is also not good. I married a husband, and I don't even know who he is exactly… it doesn't feel good in here."
Fan Xian's hand bluntly stretched towards his wife's soft chest, and he said seriously, "Let me see if this problem is serious or not."
Wife and husband laughed together, but were not able to completely throw this matter off. Wan'er said slowly, "Who would have thought that… you're…my cousin."
"Is that not good?" Fan Xian smiled slightly and said, "Sister Lin, let's hear you say brother Fan."
Wan'er spat, "Bah! You're not Baoyu."
Fan Xian thought about it and agreed; he was much prettier than Jia Baoyu. An idea flashed through his head, and he walked out of the room. Wan'er did not know where he went and was very curious. As expected, Fan Xian came back into the room shortly, only… he was wearing rags that not even servants often wore!
Wan'er looked at this beggar costume and couldn't stop herself from bursting into laughter.
Fan Xian's eyes were opened wide as was his mouth, and he said with silliness, "Cousin—hahahaha—I've finally waited for yer teh come!"
Wan'er froze, thinking her husband had suddenly gone crazy. Was it really that funny to call her "cousin?" She hesitantly asked, "Cousin?"
Fan Xian laughed foolishly, "Ah, I'm yer cousin, seventh Hong ah…"
Lin Wan'er was stunned. Hearing her husband use the Jiaozhou accent to spout a bunch of nonsense, she didn't know how to reply for quite a while. Seeing her reaction, Fan Xian became discouraged, and lowered his head like a defeated soldier. He went out to change his clothes back.
"Husband, before… what were you doing?"
"Dongchen Xijiu Imitation Show," Fan Xian said with a pained expression.
"Show… S-H-O-W. It's what people in the south often call… don't ask anymore, just pretend I was being stupid."
Fan Xian's acting ability was actually very good. Since being reborn into this world, he had acted as an innocent child, a god of poetry, and a playboy. Acting had always been his forte. If this weren't the case, he wouldn't have had the confidence in the palace, in the little tower, to act with real feeling and character to fool that Emperor, whose depths could not be measured.
But people always needed a rest, and so when he was with those closest to him, he didn't hide much. Like when he was with his wife and his sister. After his past was exposed, although Wan'er had been stunned, she had gradually accepted the truth. As for her husband suddenly becoming her cousin, that became the romanticism of cementing old ties with marriage.
As for Ruoruo, her brother had suddenly become someone without any blood relation to her, and was having trouble accepting this. Thus, the little lady of the Fan family was, intentionally or not, avoiding Fan Xian. As if she wasn't sure how to face her older brother anymore.
She was ill at ease, and couldn't even focus in Fei Jie's class. Of course, the Manor didn't dare to let her go to the Imperial Academy of Medicine to discuss matters of life and death with the old doctors.
"Ruoruo just hasn't thought it through," Wan'er comforted.
Fan Xian laughed bitterly, "Am I not still her brother? This kind of thing can't change." He closed his eyes and rested for a moment before saying, "After I leave, if things are peaceful over there, I will bring you over. As for my sister, I suspect she will also leave the capital soon."
Lin Wan'er was very happy to hear this; she leaned on his shoulder and said, "I've heard the water is good in Jiangnan, and that all the animals and people born there are like those in paintings. I've never been far from home. I'll have to really enjoy myself this time."
Fan Xian teased her, "Are you preparing to see handsome men?"
Lin Wan'er couldn't stand this kind of joking; her round cheeks immediately flushed red and she curled her hands into fists and beat them on Fan Xian's body.
Fan Xian laughed and caught her small fists. His face became serious and he said, "When the Eldest Princess returns to the capital, you must go visit at some point."
Hearing that, all sorts of feelings welled up in Lin Wan'er's heart and she suffered various sorrows. She didn't know how to sort out this connection. Fan Xian comforted her, "I know this is difficult, but you'll have to learn eventually. Tear this matter in two. The relationships are completely unrelated. Keep each matter to itself."
This problem couldn't be solved with comfort or persuasion. Fan Xian understood this and could do nothing but drop the conversation. On the contrary, Wan'er forced herself to cheer up and started to worry about the palace treasury matter for him. "Husband, even if you take all the shopkeepers from Qingyu Hall with you, I'm afraid you still won't be able to take charge of the palace treasury in the shortest amount of time. After all, Mother has managed it for so many years, many of the officials in Jiangnan look to her for direction."
She hesitated for a while, then said seriously, "Especially since you are taking old people from the Ye family to Jiangnan, it will easily cause discussion in the court and among the people…"
Fan Xian nodded and said calmly, "I know that too, but this must be done. All these years, the shopkeepers have all been helping various manors run their businesses. I don't completely know what they are thinking, whether or not they can trust me… it's just that without them, I wouldn't know what to do about the problems with the palace treasury. The reason why the court has been keeping a close eye on them all these years is because they understand the palace treasury manufacturing processes. These secrets are the most important of court secrets, and the court would not allow this knowledge to flow to Northern Qi or Dongyi City… for each business in the palace treasury, the production needs specialized support. This is what saved their lives."
Lin Wan'er was silent for a while then said quietly, "It looks like these shopkeepers move freely in the capital, but in reality, someone follows them around at all times. If there are signs that they have revealed their secrets, the person following them will immediately kill them."
Fan Xian was a little bit surprised. "This is a guess. Only, I don't know where those people are from. I've check in the Council, but the Overwatch Council is only responsible for the outer circle. I couldn't find the people responsible for killing them."
"They're from the palace." Lin Wan'er looked worried as she spoke. "I expect they will go with you to Jiangnan."
"Servants of the eunuchs?" Fan Xian smiled comfortingly. Since entering the capital, he'd had good relations with eunuchs and officials. No matter which palace, or which eunuch, they all considered Commissioner Fan a close friend.
"Let's stop worrying about these things." He thought about it for a bit, then said, "Although the matter of the palace treasury has not begun, it has mostly been decided… that stone-headed royal brother of yours probably doesn't have much of a chance. The battle between the princes probably won't surface again for another few years. This, I think, is what the Emperor is most grateful to me for, even though he doesn't say it."
Lin Wan'er sighed, and looked at her husband in a daze. A moment later she said slowly, "Don't oversimplify things. From what I can see, the Emperor just doesn't like his sons causing a ruckus. As to what he's really thinking, who really knows? Take the second royal brother for example. Even though he's currently under house-arrest, who knows whether or not he'll make a comeback in the future?"
Fan Xian felt a chill as he listened to his wife continue her analysis.
"The Emperor is a very special person." Lin Wan'er's eyes were opened wide, and they revealed an intelligence and cunning that seemed completely different from their normal shine. "He is an Emperor who crawled out of his own blood and fire. His most distinguishing characteristic is self-confidence, extreme self-confidence. He doesn't believe that there exists someone who could truly rock his position and so the battle between the princes is just an annoyance to him, a disturbance for a father to see his own flesh and blood hurting each other. I don't think he actually cares about the title the Crown Prince has. As to who will take the throne, it's actually all up to what he thinks, how the princes will behave in the coming years.
"The Emperor doesn't even care about all this," Lin Wan'er continued in a quiet voice. "Uncle is healthy, and he isn't very old either. He believes he can still live for many years. He's never considered the issue of inheritance. His mind is still on the world, he still has lofty ambitions."
Fan Xian's temple throbbed and he furrowed his brows. "The Emperor… does he still want to go to war?"
"It's hard to say." Lin Wan'er was still a woman, and did not like matters of war. She slowly said, "This decades-long peace has already been very strange. Currently, Xi Hu does not dare to come east and the Nanyue issue has been settled; the Emperor is just waiting for you to bring the palace treasury back to the fold so that people of Jiangnan will gradually settle down. Once there is sufficient silver and grain in the national treasury, I'm afraid he will send out troops again."
"Depends on the intensity and range," Fan Xian said. "The most important factor is the level of battle. If it's like last year's small battles and riots, then there's nothing much to worry about."
"Worry?" Lin Wan'er laughed. "This matter is for the Emperor and the Bureau of Military Affairs to worry about. You are about to head to Jiangnan, so stop worrying. Even if the Overwatch Council joins the battle, it'll be for the Third Bureau to deal with."
Fan Xian smiled and didn't argue. If the Emperor of the Qing Kingdom was preparing to start the Second World War, it would be up to him to dissuade him from that idea. If intellectual arguments wouldn't work, then he would have to try brute force.
Lin Wan'er didn't know he was thinking treasonous things, and continued her line of thought: "Logically speaking, the Crown Prince should be the one to the take the throne. But, as you know, the Emperor has always disliked the empress, so this matter is open to change. Other than the Great Prince, everyone has a chance. Even if the Third Prince is only eight, nine years old… although all of the court knows your trip down to Jiangnan is a different kind of exile, the Emperor is allowing you to take the Third Prince. This matter is a bit strange. You must investigate it, Husband."
Fan Xian nodded and still didn't say anything. He listened seriously to his wife's words; he knew that Wan'er was worried about his departure from the capital, and that's why she had broken precedent to say so much.
"The empress dowager likes the Crown Prince and the Second Prince equally. But the old woman dislikes the Great Prince the most, and she also doesn't like the Third Prince." Lin Wan'er was quietly revealing all the secrets in the palace. "Although the empress doesn't have much power, she's always been close with Mother."
Fan Xian listened intently to the politics of the Qing Kingdom harem, and interrupted to ask, "Why doesn't she like the Third Prince?"
Lin Wan'er stole a glance out the window and said hesitantly, "Probably because of his connection to the master… you know that Yi Guipin is close with our family."
"Wan'er, in your opinion, what should I do when I go to Jiangnan?" Fan Xian asked her seriously.
Lin Wan'er answered very candidly, "Be strict with the Third Prince, but also keep your distance. Be professional as a teacher. You can't let the empress dowager think that you've purposely instilled something into him. You should also do your investigating quickly. Do not drag it out—the longer you drag it, out the worse it will be for you. Mother has more than just the Second Prince and the Imperial Censorate at court."
Fan Xian was startled.
Lin Wan'er struggled with herself for a while before saying quietly, "Perhaps everyone believes that she was only close with the eastern palace because she was acting as a smokescreen to hide the Second Prince. But, Husband, you must be on guard. Perhaps, one day, the Crown Prince will fall towards her again."
Fan Xian was silent for a bit, then became dejected. The ways of this world had forced his own wife into this pitiful position. He accepted that the eastern palace would not watch him grow up—this was related to the hatred back then. But he hadn't expected for the Eldest Princess to have really used her money well, for her to have a foot in each boat, and for her to be a two-timing master.
Thinking of this amusing mother-in-law, Fan Xian couldn't help smiling.
The first day of the year was full of ancestor worship.
The second day, a horde of officials from the capital came to pay a New Year call.
The third day, the whole Fan family ran away and hid in King Jing's manor to get together. Fan Xian and Heir Hong awkwardly spoke about the past.
The fourth day, Ren Shao'an and Xin Qiwu hosted a banquet together for Fan Xian as a farewell gesture.
The fifth day, the father and son of the Yan family visited the Fan manor. After Yan Ruohai had quit his position, he'd taken up playing Go and played against the Minister until dark. Fan Xian and Yan Bingyun talked in secret in the small study until dark.
The sixth day was filled with a visit to Chen Garden.
The seventh day, tens of thousands of people in Jingdou were out. It was very lively; the chickens didn't crow, the dogs didn't bite, and the streets were full of young girls running around. Fan Xian took his wife, sister, Ruo Jia, and Ye Ling'er to run wild in the capital; they had lots of fun.
The eighth day, at noon, the Duke Manor sent an invitation. At dusk, the Fan clan gathered and Fan Xian was the focal point of the feast.
After the 15th, Fan Xian left the capital. A line of people came to the pier in the south of the city. This river was named the "Wei River," and the Liujing River emptied into it. The Wei River ran south for hundreds of miles before entering the Yangtze River. Down the Yangtze River was the city much wealthier than Jingdou, Jiangnan.
Fan Xian—as he had agreed with the Emperor—told others he was going to Danzhou to visit his grandmother, and that he would then would proceed to Jiangnan. This back and forth, in most outsiders' calculations, meant that it would be at least March before he reached Suzhou. No one expected that he would arrive earlier.
Fan Xian didn't allow for anyone come to send him off when he left the capital. This included the officials he was friendly with in the Council, and the officials at court. Unexpectedly, the students of the Imperial Academy had caught wind of this news, and had all come to the pier.
Fan Xian hadn't worked for long in the Imperial Academy, but he had always been very friendly. Last year, during the spring examinations, he had spent vast amounts of silver to sort out living arrangements for countless poor students, and had also lifted the veil on the spring examination corruption case. He had opened the eyes of students everywhere. Poetry in front of the palaces, exchanging gifts, and other such matters all added together to place him in an admired and beloved position in the scholars' hearts. His reputation was excellent.
When he'd entered the Overwatch Council as the commissioner, he'd had to deal with many cases of bribery. After rectifying the problem, he'd begun to use methods that were shed in light, and so had not lost his brilliance to the darkness of the Overwatch Council.
As for the rumors concerning his past—they were extraordinary to speak of. Scholars often considered themselves above mortal concerns, and did not take honor from their families. However, when they learned that the poet Sir Fan junior, the giant among dwarves, had such a glorious and brilliant background, they hadn't felt an iota of hatred—instead, they developed a sense of respect!
So what he was an official? Who cared he was a merchant? The head of these scholars was a prince!
On the pier, every professor and student felt a sense of regret at his parting. For a while, the pier was filled with voices and was very lively. Finally, Fan Xian drank three cups of wine in a row to sufficiently return each person's feelings of affection. The scene was very lively and brilliant; news of it would likely spread like wildfire through the court and public.
Having finally persuaded the crowd to leave, Fan Xian gently held Wan'er's hands and carefully entreated countless words to her. Once again, he told her that when it was springtime, he would have someone bring her to him. Only this stopped Wan'er's tears. Wan'er watched the leaving scholars in the distance, and suddenly giggled, "Did you tell them?"
Fan Xian flushed a little despite his thick skin, and he explained, "I'm fulfilling their glorious wishes."
He turned his head to see his sister hiding behind their family's serving girls and women with her head down and silent. She could not come to the front even though she was clearly trying to hide tears. Seeing the girl's huddled form, Fan Xian, for some reason, felt a great anger overtake him. He pushed aside the people who had come to send him off, and stood in front of Ruoruo. "Why are you crying?!" he yelled loudly.
Fan Ruoruo hadn't expected her brother to come directly to her. She jumped in fright and quickly wiped away the tear tracks on her cheeks, and stuttered, "No—no—no reason."
She suddenly thought, Older brother has never been this fierce before. Why is he so fierce today? In the end, he isn't my true bother—this is surely why he isn't as kind to me as before. Thinking this, the usually-elegant girl couldn't stop the tears falling from her eyes; but she also stubbornly bit her lip. There was a sense of tragedy around her.
Seeing his sister like this, Fan Xian's anger turned into a smile, a full-toothed smile, and he didn't know what to do. The people beside them quickly moved away, not daring to stay beside these two masters of the Fan Manor. Fortunately, Wan'er came at this moment and embraced Ruoruo, quietly comforting her. She said that Fan Xian wasn't feeling happy about leaving the capital, and that was why he was acting a bit fierce. Only after this did Ruoruo gradually calm down.
Fan Xian was ferocious because he couldn't stand to see his sister hurt or purposely avoiding him; he'd been suppressing his anger for the past few days. Seeing that his sister still stared at him with lingering fear, he internally sighed and said in a much gentler voice, "Me being fierce to you is the way it should be. I'm your big brother, you're my little sister. If I weren't fierce towards you, then you should be hurt."
Ruoruo was a very clever person, and instantly understood the implication here. If her brother did not consider her his sister, then why would he be fierce towards her in front of all these people? Having thought through this matter, a trace of joy appeared between her brows and she said to Fan Xian, "But—but—but—seeing Brother leave for a long journey, it's difficult not to be sad." She raised her face and spoke righteously. "Why are you being so mean?"
Fan Xian finally laughed. He knew his sister had worked through their issue, and his heart was comforted.
"Young master, if you don't leave, you'll miss the time!"
On board the ship next to the pier, Sisi stood with her hands on her hips and yelled loudly. Fan Xian had to bring some close company on his trip to Jiangnan. Sisi had been following him since Danzhou, and was naturally his first choice. This girl, after leaving Fan Manor, acted as if it were the time in Danzhou, and her entire person seemed brighter.
Wan'er watched her yelling and couldn't help smiling. "Husband, you've really spoiled that girl."
Fan Xian laughed, then quietly said a few words in his sister's ear about urgent matters that would soon make their way into Jingdou. Then he scandalized everyone present by pulling Wan'er into his embrace and kissing her hard. After, with a wave of his sleeve, he boarded the ship on the riverbank.
It was exactly like the saying, "I'll wave my sleeve and take all of the silver with me."
Sir Fan junior's departure from the capital became a source of conversation for the people in Jingdou. Whether it was in restaurants and tea houses, or manor houses, everyone was talking about this matter.
The Second Prince, who had been placed under house arrest, was listening to the reports of his strategist while sighing, "The bastard finally left."
The strategist without a strategy said viciously, "Lucky for him he left quickly. Otherwise, we would have skinned him to sate Your Highness's hate."
The Second Prince was hunched in his chair, scooping up frozen custard to eat. Hearing this, he furrowed his brows and didn't speak for a long time. His smile was self-deprecating as he slowly said, "No wonder people always say that Commissioner Fan and I look similar. It turns out there is a real reason involved… But similarities aside, I'm not his opponent. You all know this best."
He jumped down from the chair and looked at the free sky outside the yard. A sweet smile appeared on his face. "This bastard finally left… It feels great. It's like someone took away the venomous snake behind me."
One hundred miles outside of Jingdou was an unnecessarily long procession slowly making its way west. The woman from the Xinyang palace was currently on her way back to the capital. She didn't know that her son-in-law had also chosen this day to escape Jingdou. As for her kind gesture and attempt at negotiation, Fan Xian couldn't avoid it fast enough.
One mile outside the city, in the Temple of Qin, there was a very tall pile of dry firewood burning merrily in the middle of a desolate field. The fire was very hot, and the material being burned cracked and popped.
The Emperor, with his hands clasped behind his back, watched the fire burn with cold eyes. He watched the body in the fire gradually become black smoke. Behind his back, the Great Qing Priest maintained the calm of an ascetic monk, but fear showed in his eyes.
Outside the Temple of Qing, the eunuch Hong Zhu was talking on and off with the guards. He was being transferred to the empress's palace tomorrow to be the head eunuch; today was his last time serving the Emperor.
A few days later on the Wei River, Fan Xian stood at the head of the boat in deep silence. The chill on the surface of the river washed over him, but could not push past the expensive coat on his body.
He had left the capital, yet the reports continued to come in without end. The Eldest Princess had sent many advanced guards into the capital, and had also instructed her old servant to bring many local Xinyang goods to the Fan Manor. These were for Wan'er. It seemed that after her failed assassination attempts, she'd finally acknowledged Fan Xian's power, and was beginning to rebuild her relationship with her daughter.
These were details, not part of Chen Pingping's teachings of keeping the world under his eye.
What really interested Fan Xian was the message that the Great Qing Priest had finally returned to Qing after many years, but because he had used all his Essential Blood in the south during ascetic training, he had fallen ill and died. At the same time, he learned that Hong Zhu had been transferred to the empress's palace as the head eunuch. He was happy as well as a little disappointed.
His student, Shi Chanli, used his hand to cover his eyes, protecting them from the chilly river wind. He came to his side to report, "Teacher, earlier the captain said that at our current speed, we'll be able to reach Yingzhou tomorrow. In another few days we will enter Jiangnan's territory."
They had switched out their boat at a secret Overwatch Council dock not far from the capital. The boat they were currently on was a navy ship that had been refitted for common use.
Going against the river wind, the picturesque lakes and mountains of Jiangnan could be faintly seen. Fan Xian looked slightly startled. He nodded, and then smiled. "Xiao Shi, although the beauties of Jiangnan are waiting your embrace, don't be too rushed."
Shi Chanli became embarrassed. The Baoyue Brothel was expanding to Jiangnan, and that was why he and Sang Wen had to come. Sang Wen could wait until March, but as Fan Xian's student, Shi Chanli couldn't stay behind that long. When he thought of the friends and classmates he'd met in Tongfu Tavern all those years ago, and how they were now officials in Jiangnan, he didn't feel good about his transition into being the owner of a famous brothel.
Traveling in the cold of winter on the river was indeed irritating. Sang Wen had the luck of being kept back by Director Chen—Shi Chanli hadn't had such good luck. He had been ordered out of the palace by his own father, not allowed to wait until the warmth of spring.
The Third Prince shakily lifted the thick curtains on the boat and looked at Fan Xian. "Siye, sir, it's time to eat." Fan Xian had the right to teach princes because he still had the identity of an Imperial Academy Siye, and so the Third Prince referred to him as such.
Fan Xian turned his head and looked at the child of eight or nine. His smile was chilling. "So has Your Highness finished your homework?"