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"Very well. You're showing your anger at last." The corners of Count Sinan's mouth curled into a slow smile. "From what I heard of you in Danzhou, I assumed that you were not prone to anger. My child, you are only sixteen. If you suppress your emotions, it will cause you no end of pain."

"So what?" Fan Xian fixed his father with an odd look, and made up his mind. "There's something I need to tell you first, father."

"And what would that be?"

"I... I'm not going to let you control me." Fan Xian's speech was blunt.

"I have no desire to control you... even though... you are my son." Count Sinan looked into Fan Xian's eyes coldly, as if he were searching for the slight panic behind his calm demeanor. "But we must forge this alliance to the Prime Minister's family through marriage. I am not going to debate this with you."

Fan Xian lowered his head in a moment of thought, then raised it again with a smile brimming with self-confidence and perserverance. "You can try."

Count Sinan seemed somewhat angered. He gripped the armrest of his chair tightly, the exertion making prominent his blue veins. After some time, he composed himself. "What is it about this that do you not understand?" he said coolly. "The Lin family's daughter is a gentle, considerate girl, educated and well-mannered. It would be a good match... and our family does not need to cement its status through marriage. Does someone as insignificant as Lin Ruofu really matter to us?"

Fan Xian was felt somewhat surprised. His father seemed genuine... but if he really saw the Prime Minister as insignificant, then why did he want his son to marry into the Lin family? Was it simply because the young Miss Lin really was that wonderful? Fan Xian couldn't believe it, no matter what.

Fan Xian frowned. "Why does it have to be her?"

Count Sinan gave a slight smile. "Because Miss Lin's mother is the Eldest Princess, the younger sister of His Majesty. The Eldest Princess has never married, but she has managed business for the imperial household in secret, providing no end of money for the nation and the royal family."

Fan Xian was shocked. To think that his yet-unseen bride-to be was the daughter of the Eldest Princess! And that the Prime Minister and the Eldest Princess had had an affair... even multiple affairs? No wonder the Prime Minister had climbed his way up the ladder so easily... he was quite the lothario after all.

There were surely only a few people in the entire nation who knew of this secret... were it not for his father's close and lifelong friendship with the Emperor, he would not have known either. Fan Xian suddenly realized that this secret was not something that his father should have divulged to him.

Count Sinan smiled. "Make no mistake, this should never leave these walls. If you speak of it, you'll be put to death. So if it ever reaches your ears, you are to act as if you never heard it. I am telling you the the royal family's secrets because I want you to be prepared. I don't want you to ruin your relationship with Miss Lin when you meet her."



Fan Xian suddenly recalled something that Wu Zhu had told him. His face fell, and he sighed. "The royal business that the Eldest Princess has been managing... was it once the Ye family's business?"

"Correct." There was a trace of tenderness in Count Sinan's eyes - admiration for this young man before him, able to see through things and get to the truth so easily.

"Miss Lin is the Eldest Princess's only child, and the Emperor has long allowed the Eldest Princess to manage the royal household's business. So whoever marries her, becoming the Eldest Princess's son-in-law, is likely to become the master of the royal family's business."

The long explanation had left Count Sinan somewhat tired, but he deep down, he felt a twinge of excitement. He pushed himself up from the chair and gazed at Fan Xian, emphasizing every word. "That business belonged to your mother, so you're only taking back what belonged to you!"



There was a deathly silence.

"Father, I'm in awe of your plans." Fan Xian bowed to his father. "Even though Miss Lin is not a princess, she is of royal standing - do you really think we can take back mother's business this way? It feels somewhat arrogant to me."

"Of course, I have tricks up my sleeve. Do not forget that I am an official in the Treasury. I also manage financial affairs." Count Sinan smiled, finding himself more and more appreciative of his son's ability to keep a cool head. "There's something else I must tell you. That old thief Lin Ruofu has little control over the matter, but he has some doubts about this marriage. I hope that you will soon make yourself well-regarded within the capital."

"Why?" Fan Xian had some doubts. Although Lin Ruofu was Prime Minister and head of the bureaucracy, he was fully aware that the Fan family was held in high regard in the capital. Surely he should be pleased about his daughter making such a powerful allegiance - why would he oppose it? In terms of status, the young lady was roughly on a level with Fan Xian - they were born in the same circumstances.

"Everyone has their own positions," explained the Count, coldly. "Different people will see things differently. The Fan clan is one of the capital's great houses. Lin Ruofu is head of the bureaucracy. It is of great significance for the two families to be secretly connected by marriage. Lin Ruofu has misgivings because he fears that His Majesty will doubt his intentions. He also fears that his young subordinates in the bureaucracy will be disloyal as a result."

Fan Xian sighed, and smiled self-effacingly. "I gave it a lot of thought on my way here, but it sounds like it's your way or the highway."

"That's right. So you had best find a way to get Miss Lin to approve of you." The Count laughed. "But what does 'my way or the highway' mean?"

"I misspoke." Fan Xian pursed his lips and smiled, changing the subject. "Father, there's something I have always wanted to know, but I don't know if can ask you."

"Go ahead."

"Never mind. It's getting late. I'd best go to bed." He didn't know why, but he couldn't find the words. He decided to ask something else instead. "I'm still new to the capital, would you mind if Teng Zijing could accompany me?"

"Teng Zijing would make a good guide, but he is not the greatest of fighters..." Count Sinan frowned. "I shall assign you a bodyguard. The capital can be a treachorous place."

Fan Xian smiled. "No need, we've been through a lot together. I'm used to him. No need to change him for someone else."

After some more light conversation, Fan Xian saw that it was late and bade his father good night. The servant girls had been waiting for him the whole time, and when he left the room, they escorted him through the twisting corridors to his bedchamber.

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