"I'm Fan Sizhe," the boy said, "the young master of the Fan family." He looked Fan Xian in the eyes. "Hmph. So you're the bastard."
He heard a faint sound, and tried to catch sight Lady Liu in the corner of his eye. To his surprise, she had already left, and he wasn't sure where she'd gone. It seemed she had intentionally allowed her son to come in and annoy him, overturning his efforts to remain calm. In any case, if he acted inappropriately, there was the excuse that Sizhe was still young and unaware of how he should behave.
A strange smile crept across Fan Xian's face. He was already aware when he left Danzhou that the Count's heir was a bad-tempered, rude, and unreasonable young boy. For his father's sake, Fan Xian decided that he would commit himself to educating his 'little brother'... to prevent him from committing some grave offence and bringing the house of Fan into disrepute.
But taking on this task was more than he had bargained for.
"Give me your hand," said Ruoruo, coldly. As she said this, she pulled out a ruler.
"Why?" mumbled Fan Sizhe. His face was filled with fear, and yet he still obediently extended his hand.
Two solid whacks later, Fan Sizhe's hand was left with two red marks. Tears began to well up in his eyes, but he gritted his teeth and tried to keep them back. "But sis, he is a bast..."
Before the word could leave his mouth, Ruoruo had already brought the ruler down on his hand again, her expression completely unchanged.
Fan Xian realized that the coldness of his sister's manner, in the eyes of most people, would seem rather repressed.
"First of all, you are to call him ‘older brother’. Second of all, you understand our family's status, so you shall not make such awful remarks. Third of all, if you will not respect your elder brother, then you will be punished."
Fan Ruoruo spoke coldly. The way she gripped the ruler in her hand reminded Fan Xian of a kindergarten teacher - gentle on the outside, but ferociously strict on the inside.
Fan Sizhe looked Fan Xian resolutely in the eyes, pressed his lips together tight, and ran away towards the rear courtyard.
"Every time, he runs crying to mama," sighed Fan Ruoruo.
"I was wondering what he was about to say."
"He'll think twice before saying it again."
"It's quite funny to watch you be so strict with him."
"I don't think there's anything funny about discipline, brother."
"Why do you carry a ruler to hit him with?"
"Father gave me the authority to discipline him."
"It seems I was mistaken in my analysis of how the world works."
"You mean, in terms of male authority?"
"Uh-huh. There's still the question of distribution of power in the household."
"It seems that I now hold a little power."
"But don't forget, that kind of power is completely dependent on that man's whims."
"Brother, you should not forget that 'that man', as you call him, is our father."
Their quick-fire question-and-answer session at an end, Fan Xian and Fan Ruoruo smiled at each other. They were truly happy to be in each other's company, with no one else around. Fan Ruoruo let her guard down and allowed herself to laugh; it seemed her happiness was difficult to restrain.
Fan Xian was the same. Perhaps because they had exchanged so many letters, they were able to have a conversation on each other's intellectual level. When they had started to write to each other, Fan Ruoruo was still young. To an extent, her view of people and of the world had been deeply yet imperceptibly shaped by Fan Xian's influence.
They had not seen each other in ten years, so it would have been natural to feel like strangers to each other. But as they sensed the bond that had developed between them, it soon brought them closer together. It was as if the two siblings had never been apart but had seen each other every day; as if they were long-standing intellectual confidants and close friends.
In their relationship, Fan Ruoruo saw Fan Xian as a kind of tutor, and Fan Xian saw her as his student and his junior. They had a subtle mutual understanding.
Fan Xian smiled. "It seems like you have a good life here," he said to her in a low voice. "I suppose I don't need to worry."
Fan Ruoruo lowered her head. "I have missed your counsel, brother," she said quietly.
"Oh?" Fan Xian smiled shyly. Had the last chapter he wrote and sent to her had an effect? It wouldn't be right to ask so directly.
"Lady Liu has been happy with herself recently," she said coldly, calling her by her name. Even though she and Fan Xian were the only two people in the hall, the atmosphere had clearly gotten colder.
Fan Xian paused for a moment in thought. "Even though I was far away in Danzhou, I knew about the Liu family's position in the capital. You shouldn't disrespect her."
"I won't." Fan Ruoruo's eyelids drooped, and her eyelashes hung beautifully on her pale skin.
Fan Xian gazed at her with a slight smile. It was his good fortune to find someone who understood him in this world, even if it was someone that he had taught himself.
"Did you receive my letter?" he asked softly.
"Mm." Fan Ruoruo smiled, and the coldness left her face. "I saw it in my room the other night. It scared me, I thought some awful person had left it there. But then I saw the handwriting and I realized it was you."
Fan Xian shrugged. Relying on Wu Zhu's abilities to deliver a letter was truly a waste of his talent.
No one had entered the room to interrupt their conversation. Fan Xian was happy for that. He took a sip of his tea. "You probably don't know why I'm in the capital," he said firmly.
Fan Ruoruo lifted her head and looked at her brother with a smile that didn't seem quite like a smile should.
Fan Xian felt somewhat embarrassed by her gaze. "What is it?" he mumbled.
Fan Xian gave a sigh that seemed almost mocking, then smiled. "I think most people know why you're here. I believe the children of the capital's noble houses are quite curious. Count Sinan must have big plans for his illegitimate son, if he's going to summon him to the capital."
"Eh?" Fan Xian was taken aback. "I thought father brought me here in secret. How come everybody knows? There can't be that many people in the capital who know who I am. Why is everyone so curious about me?"
"Because you're here to be married." Fan Ruoruo laughed. "The bride father has arranged for you is quite well-known."
Fan Xian frowned. Although he didn't necessarily want to marry her, he was still rather concerned over what his bride might be like. "Do you know her?"
"My future sister-in-law is a daughter of the Lin family." Fan Ruoruo's eyes shone. "Not only do I know her, I believe the whole capital knows her."
"What Lin family? Why is this girl so famous?" Fan Xian raised his eyebrows.
"Brother, although you were far away in Danzhou, I know that the imperial household sent you a letter about it. Grandmother should have a copy of it." Fan Ruoruo laughed.
Fan Xian thought back and slapped his palm to his forehead in realization. "You mean the Lin family, as in the family of the Prime Minister, Lin Ruofu? She's the illegitimate daughter from that great scandal he was caught up in?"