Over the past few days, news had gone around a number of the great houses of the capital that the palace was preparing to marry off Miss Lin to the baseborn son of the Fan family from far-off Danzhou. When the news arrived, Miss Lin was mortified. She caught a chill during the night, coughing up blood and worsening her already poor health. Ye Ling'er was residing with her brother in Dingzhou; when she heard the news, she rushed back to the capital, and that was where Fan Xian saw her, outside the city gates.
A few days later, a rumor spread through the capital that the baseborn son of the Fan family had already arrived in the capital, and that he was just like Fan Sizhe – an arrogant and aggressive playboy. The news filled Ye Ling'er with rage. The day before, she had gone to see Miss Lin and found her to be rather bashful. She asked her some questions, and although she never got an answer, she guessed that Miss Lin had fallen in love with someone.
She could not bear to see the young woman so broken-hearted, so she went to find her father and ask if he could intercede at the palace and convince them to break off the engagement. She had not expected the question to make her father quite so angry. With no other options, she invited Fan Ruoruo to visit her at the family manor, hoping to see whether there was any way the engagement could be called off. She had always known that the chances were slim, but it was still worth trying, using up all of the sisterly goodwill that they shared.
Ye Ling'er looked at the mild-mannered Rou Jia, then at Fan Ruoruo's seemingly tranquil expression. She had finally realized that Miss Ruoruo, always so indifferent to her good reputation, had quite some backbone to her. When Fan Ruoruo suggested to her that she introduce Miss Lin to a skilled physician, Ye Ling’er muttered weakly, "It's no use."
Fan Ruoruo was not willing to drop the matter. She smiled. "If you truly feel so deeply for her, what harm would it do to let a famous doctor see her?"
"The imperial physicians have had no luck treating her. This famous doctor you speak of..." Ye Ling'er held herself back. She did want to appear disdainful in front of the princess. "The doctor is a student of Master Gui," Fan Ruoruo explained politely.
Ye Ling'er made sound of approval. Her eyes shone, and she pulled Fan Ruoruo's hand toward her. "I shall ask her if it is possible."
Finishing their chat, the three girls went back inside the pavilion. When the other girls saw the calm expressions on those two, they assumed that the matter had been dealt with, and breathed a sigh of relief. By their sides stood servant-girls attending to them and a maidservant who copied the poems they had written before taking them to the other side of the lake.
Some time later, copies of the poems the scholars had written on the other side of the lake came over to them. The ladies glanced through them, occasionally exclaiming in admiration. Fan Ruoruo held her chin in her hands and gazed at the other side of the lake, wondering what they might be thinking. Ye Ling'er curiously accepted the poetry scrolls, and read through from start to finish, but did not see an inscription reading "Fan". "What about young master Fan's poem?" she asked, astonished.
Since they had sent the young man here to make a name for himself, she thought there was no reason for him to hide himself away. The maidservant explained respectfully that Master Fan had not written a poem. Rou Jia glanced at Fan Ruoruo by the side of the railings, and a look of bewilderment passed across her innocent face. She was examining the scene in detail. The girls in the pavilion realized that the battle of words on the other side of the lake was just as pointed as it had been on this side.
Rou Jia smiled sweetly. "Ruoruo, won't you come and see this scholar's poem?"
The women began to chat among themselves. Ruoruo heard that her brother had been humiliated. She turned her head away from the railing, hiding a trace of anger in her tranquil eyes. "Can these people even write poetry?" she said coolly.
Although the women knew that Miss Fan was a skilled poetess, hearing her talk this way was somewhat unexpected. Fan Ruoruo returned, took up her ink-stone and slender brush, and waved her wrist above the paper, writing a few words. After she had finished, she passed it to a maidservant. "Take these verses over there," she instructed her.
The maidservant did as she was told.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake, an uneasy silence had due to Guo Baokun's maligning Fan Xian's status.
Anger flashed in Crown Prince Jing's eyes. This was no way for people to act in the presence of a prince. He clenched his fist gently, wondering whether to teach this fellow a lesson, but when he looked at Fan Xian, he felt that he had the right response, and that it was best not to use his fists.
Count Sinan had made Fan Xian attend the poetry contest for a simple reason – to make himself known and gather some renown so that he could gain the "affections" of the eldest princess. But Fan Xian seemed completely unworried. People around him wondered what on earth he might be thinking. Not long after they had sent their verses to the pavilion, a maidservant came with a response, giving the poem that Miss Fan had wrote to the Crown Prince.
Glancing at it, the Crown Prince's eyes lit up. "Very good!" he exclaimed.
The aide by his side looked it over and nodded his head. "Not bad at all, but..." He felt that this poem, written by a woman, had a slightly abnormal approach. But after considering the relationship between the crown prince's family and the Fan family, he kept silent.
The people around him were curious. They gathered together to see the words, written in small, elegant characters: "In August the lake waters are calm, the vapors and horizon mix together. The steam travels across the Pond of Clouded Dreams, the waves shaking the walls of Danzhou. I wish to cross, but have neither boat nor oar; o wise one, it would be a shame for me to settle down. Sitting, I see an angler, his followers jealous of his fish."
"A fine poem. Miss Fan has truly proven herself." He Zongwei was among the people who crowded around, and the sound of his praise was especially loud, as if he wanted it to reach the other side of the lake. "She writes in such awe of the lake scenery. It is a wonderful comment on nature."
Guo Baokun frowned. "The lake's so small. You can't say that there's steam. What's more, the Pond of Clouded Dreams is in the south, and Danzhou is by the sea. Miss Fan only writes pretty words, but they are quite lacking."
Crown Prince Jing had taken a different meaning from the verse. Wanting to cross with neither boat nor oar, a shame to settle down, sitting and seeing an angler whose followers were jealous of his fish... Though it was vague, it showed the author was not resigned to secrecy, and wanted to take action. It was the pattern of a poem in which the writer wished to offer their services. He turned his head to look at Fan Xian, who sat calmly in a far-off area. He wondered... Perhaps he had written it?
But it was a fine poem, so the people around him all praised it; no one else agreed with Guo Baokun. As the prince pondered, some people had already sent their comments to the other side of the lake, and Miss Fan's explanation had already come back.
"A lake is a body of water, as is the sea. Clouded Dreams reminds one of the East Sea. My brother grew up in Danzhou. His heart is in the rivers and the ocean, so why not use it as one pleases? This poem was written by my brother when he was ten. I have copied it out today for everyone's enjoyment."
They paid no attention to the first part, but they finally understood that this poem was not written by Miss Fan... but by the taciturn Fan Xian!
At that point, the scholars in the garden stopped looking at Fan Xian with contempt and confusion, but were filled with awe. For Fan Xian to write such a poem at ten years old – was he a genius?