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The Qing Kingdom had entered an age of prosperity. The past ten years had seen fine weather for crops, and peace and stability for the people. The nation had the wisest ruler in its history, who received a great many accolades for his management of state affairs. But strangely, it also had the most corrupt bureaucracy in its history, and its most wicked Prime Minister.

This was Prime Minister Lin Ruofu. Lin Ruofu was born in poverty - he was by no means the son of a noble family. He entered the bureaucracy after passing the imperial exams, starting as an evaluator in Suzhou before being transferred to the capital to work as an administrator for palace affairs. He later moved on to being responsible for the imperial army, before returning to lead the Overwatch Council in the capital. He also held a degree from the elite Hanlin Academy, and during the last government reforms, he was responsible for specific affairs of the six departments, rising from an assistant minister to minister in the Ministry of Appointments, before rising to head of the bureaucracy. He was subordinate to only the Emperor, with thousands of people underneath him in his role as Prime Minister.

People who paid cautious attention to the posts he had held discovered that he had he had experience with civilian affairs, military affairs, literature, and the Auditors. Although his career had had ups and downs, he had experience in every area of the bureaucracy, and had made slow but steady progress climbing the ranks throughout his life.

There were rumors that Lin Ruofu was not trusted within the palace. His ability to move throughout the complex bureaucracy despite his lack of deep connections left many feeling astonished.

The Prime Minister seemed a principled man on the outside, but his exterior hid a treacherous spirit, and he accepted countless bribes. His plotting and scheming within the bureaucracy and the nobility had caught the ire of many people, and so he was loved neither by officials or by the common people.

But his efforts over the past decade had granted him a control over the bureaucracy that could not be toppled. Occasionally an official would accuse him of misconduct, but lacking any concrete evidence they would have no choice but to drop the subject. The upstanding officials of the capital hated him to the bone, but did not dare to cross him.

Only the Emperor could strip him of his power or his life - every official knew this. Only the Director of the Overwatch Council could spit in his face. No one else among the nation's most powerful people had the courage.

And when the Director had spat at him in the street, he was fined three years' salary; the punishment was personally ordered by the Emperor.



People found that the Emperor's trust in his Prime Minister would never waver. Officials who considered themselves uncorrupt began to despair. No one could have foreseen that, at that moment, a scandal would emerge in the newspaper, accusing the Prime Minister of having fathered an illegitimate daughter.

In noble houses, it was normal for the master of the house to have a number of concubines; to only have one woman was seen as rather embarrassing. But parentage and etiquette were seen as extremely important in society. Everyone knew that the Prime Minister was cunning and ruthless, but he had always appeared uncorrupted. To have an illegitimate daughter outside one's household showed a great lack of morals. And that daughter was now a teenager. She was not permitted to live within his manor; she lived outside, alone. It was proof that, when he came to fatherhood, he lacked even the slightest compassion.

Because the news had come from the imperial palace, it caused a great stir within the capital. People debated whether the Prime Minister had angered His Majesty, and whether the Emperor was preparing to replace him with someone else. The imperial censor Master Tai later gathered a petition on the matter.

To everyone's surprise, the Emperor personally intervened to put an end to the matter. The affair gradually settled down, but the Prime Minister's illegitimate daughter became the center of attention.


Fan Xian laughed bitterly. He never would have thought that he and his bride-to-be would have so much in common. At that moment, the silence outside was broken. They both knew who had returned home. They looked at each other, unsure what to say. Fan Xian gave her a look that suggested they go outside. Fan Ruoruo nodded slightly.

Candles were lit, but the sky was yet to darken, which made their flames seem much weaker.

In the hall was a table laid with a sumptuous variety of dishes. Five people sat around it, with a number of servant girls attending to their needs. Fan Xian realized that Lady Liu was no ordinary concubine. She did not wait for the master of the house to eat first, but sat by the side of the middle-aged man, her face calm and composed.

Is that middle-aged man really my father? Fan Xian couldn't help but furrow his brow, and pleasant-looking wrinkles spread across his forehead.

Count Sinan had a stern, average-looking face, with a four-inch beard on his chin in keeping with the current style. He seemed quite a serious man, not given to humor.

Calmly finishing his meal, Count Sinan walked away, and Fan Xian followed him to the library.

This was the first time he had ever been alone with his "father". He smiled. He wasn't particularly emotional about it - deep in his heart, he had never seen the man as his own flesh and blood.

Count Sinan looked at the young man before him, noting his delicate complexion. He looked thoughtful, and after a long while, he finally spoke. "You look just like your mother."

Fan Xian had no response - he had never seen his mother. He had many questions for the man who stood in front of him, but he knew it was not his place to ask first.

"How has it been in Danzhou?" Count Sinan looked at him, his face betraying a hint of exhaustion, and yet still carrying traces of the beauty he possessed in his prime.

"It's been alright."

"I believe you already got Teng Zijing to tell you why I have summoned you to the capital when you were on your way here."


"Do you feel wronged?"

"No," Fan Xian smiled. "I just took a ride to the capital. I never said I agreed to marry Miss Lin."

There was a deathly silence in the library as soon as he said it. "Do you know what marriage means?" asked Count Sinan coolly, eventually breaking the silence.

"Other than continuing the family line, it means the Fan family has a chance at currying favor at the palace?"

Fan Xian's response was in jest, but he had no love for his father. Logically, he knew he should have remaiined dispassionate. But his father treated his own son's marriage as merely a political allegiance. Although he understood and accepted it, that did not mean that he wasn't angry - just that over the past few days, he had managed to hide his anger well.

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