Fan Xian frowned, and a calmness unusual for someone his age appeared on his face. His expression was nothing like that of any normal teenager who had just been told who they were going to be married to. "I’m curious about who my bride will be," he said softly.
He was 16 years old, and he knew that among influential officials and powerful families, marriage was discussed as a part of the agenda. Even after all these years, his father hadn’t forgotten about his illegitimate son, and so this day was inevitable. However it seemed rather rushed, and he couldn't understand why.
"I am…not sure either," replied Teng Zijing. "But I have heard that the young lady of that family is good and virtuous, and that people say many good things about her in the capital."
His cautious explanation only made Fan Xian more suspicious. He was unsure why high-ranking officials would wish to marry off their daughters to an illegitimate son with no status, even if his parents were, secretly, extremely well-renowned people.
Seeing his facial expression, Teng Zijing eventually spoke. "The only thing is that the young lady's health is not good. She recently became ill, so it is rather urgent..."
Fan Xian had a sudden realization: he was a gift for the family of the sick girl. He couldn't help but shake his head and smile bitterly.
Teng Zijing studied the expression on his face and found that the young master was neither furious nor sorrowful. If anything he seemed calmer. He was to be married off to a dying girl - surely he should be at least somewhat angry?
Fan Xian had nothing to be angry about; he had seen this plot too many times before in his previous life, and getting angry wouldn't help matters. He felt a touch of sympathy for this girl, who was in her sickbed in the capital, forced into a marriage to some man she had never met just because of her failing health.
And what about him? Fan Xian was not easily depressed; he had always been somewhat chauvinistic, feeling that when it came to matters between men and women, it was always women who got the worst of it, and men who took advantage. He had always wanted to get married and have children in this world. If he happened to find a good woman, wouldn't that be all the better? Anyway, he had yet to arrive in the capital, so there was no need to flee straight away - he though it a good idea to investigate the matter first.
He just had to wait and see.
Would she be pretty? Cute? Is she like a lolita?
"Young master," asked Teng Zijing carefully, "why..."
"Why am I not angry?" Fan Xian smiled at him. "First, my going to the capital doesn't mean I agreed to getting married. Second, if I accept this marriage, it means that I like this girl. Third, even if she is confined to her sickbed, I don't think that it's anything to be embarrassed about. Fourth... perhaps you didn't know this, but I am quite a good doctor."
Teng Zijing was taken aback. This four-point explanation had confused him, particularly the last part - was the young master really a medical expert? But he still did not think that the young master's wedding could turn so easily from tragedy to happiness. The young lady's family situation was by no means a simple one. Even the imperial physicians could not treat her illness; how could the young master do so?
Before their carriage had stopped, Teng Zijing stepped out and climbed onto the first carriage, leaving Fan Xian by himself. The journey was a lonely one. He pulled back the curtain of the carriage and allowed the wind to caress his face. Squinting slightly, he looked at the scenery as it hurtled past and the flagstones set upon the road. It felt like a series of endless pictures being displayed over and over again.
It looked just like it had when he had come to this world 16 years ago.
It was a late April day. The grass that surrounded the capital had been trimmed, and the orioles had been startled by people out on nature walks. There were only two rows of green willows along the side of the moat, swaying gracefully, proudly observing the people who had come to the city from all over the world.
A convoy of three carriages approached from afar and joined the line along the road that was waiting to enter the city.
The curtain of the carriage was lifted, and out came a clean face with a brilliant smile. He looked at the city walls and the peaceful happy faces of the people around him. He breathed in deeply. "So this is what the capital is like."
The face, of course, belonged to Fan Xian. After weeks of difficult travel, they had all finally arrived in the capital. On the road, he had observed the unfamiliar sights of the Kingdom of Qing with great interest, finally fulfilling his own wanderlust, and having gotten to know Teng Zijing and his bodyguards, he had become closer to them.
Fan Xian was a loveable teenager who always had a smile on his face. A person like that finds it easy to make people happy.
Teng Zijing took hold of his arm and helped him step down from the carriage.
When his feet touched the road, Fan Xian rotated his ankles slightly, letting the soles of his cloth shoes touch as much of the ground as possible. It was if he was trying to feel whether the ground in the capital was different.
A great many people were trying to enter the capital, and security was tight, so the line was long. The waiting left Fan Xian rather bored. He pointed at the city before him, and chatted idly with Teng Zijing. He figured that the Count had not sent a large team of people to collect him because his status was not particularly great.
As they chatted, there was a sudden disturbance in the crowd behind them, and the people parted to create a wide path through. A squadron of cavalry rode silently and quickly through toward the city gate without stopping.
On the horse in the front was a young woman wearing a light-colored jacket and skirt. She had on a white deerskin hat that looked very attractive on her in the bright spring air.
Her eyebrows were indigo, like the color of distant mountains, and her eyes were clear and bright. She was quite beautiful, though she seemed worried as she sat on the horse. It seemed that she was in a hurry to return to the city; something must have happened.
Fan Xian stood by the side of the road, smiling as he observed the riders rushing past. "It seems there are many beautiful women in the capital," he said in admiration. He couldn't help but wonder what his 'wife' looked like.
Standing on the side of the road, Teng Zijing coughed lightly.
Fan Xian was only giving a compliment, he hadn't forgotten his manners - what was there to be nervous about? "It seems the capital is not as uptight as I thought," he said with a smile. "That girl was wearing a skirt while she was riding a horse, and nobody said a thing about it."
Teng Zijing laughed bitterly. "The woman who went passed us was the daughter of the master of the garrison," he explained. "Nobody would dare say anything to her."
"Oh," said Fan Xian, standing on top of the carriage to get a better look at the city gate. When the riders reached the gate, they did not wait in line at all. Presenting a token, they entered the city.
When it came time for Fan Xian to enter the city, he studied the guard's expression. It remained neutral, which was a part of his job.. When he looked back at the carriage, he realized why.
There were none of the markings of the Fan family on any of the carriages. It seemed that the capital would not be welcoming him with any great fanfare.