Hearing Fan Xian’s sigh, the gardener asked out of curiosity, "Young sir, what’s troubling you?"
"The royal manor is holding a poetry gathering. It’s very boring." Fan Xian blinked. To him, this gardener was but a servant. There was no way a mere servant would be interested in poetry.
As Fan Xian expected, the gardener nodded his head. "Composing poetry is for people with too much free time. You can’t make a living out of it. They really are a bunch of stupid pigs."
Fan Xian was taken aback for an instant, thinking, "Didn’t he just insult himself too?" He then changed his mind and let out a hearty laugh. "Stupid pigs indeed." He finally realized something. With a wave of his hand, they didn’t bring up poetry again.
After the poetry gathering ended, all the guests went back. As for what happened after that, nobody in the capital knew until the following day.
That night, King Jing’s household was having its usual dinner. The Crown Prince got ready to go to the Drunken Immortal Tavern to indulge himself, but was called back by the housekeeper. He sat uncomfortably at the dinner table and, along with his sister, waited to be reprimanded by their father.
King Jing sat at the head of the table. Amazingly, he was that old gardener who was chatting with Fan Xian that afternoon in the garden. Looking at his ever-indulgent son, a wave of anger came over him. King Jing exploded. "You stupid pig! You waste all your days in those places!"
Crown Prince Li Hongcheng knew "stupid pig" was his father’s catchphrase. Without getting upset, he smiled sheepishly. "What has caused you to become so angry today?"
King Jing gave a "Humph" in reply and ceased his outburst. He then asked, "You held another one of those poetry gatherings today?"
Li Hongcheng was surprised for a moment and answered affirmatively with another sheepish smile. He knew his father wasn’t very fond of those scholarly events. But in order for him to gather talented scholars for the second prince, they were necessary. Unexpectedly, King Jing didn’t get angry. Instead, he asked, "During today’s poetry gathering, there was a kid wearing chestnut-colored clothes. Who was that?"
There were so many visitors, how could Li Hongcheng remember all of them?
King Jing frowned. After thinking about the boy’s notable features for a long time, he finally said, "He was very pretty, like a girl."
Li Hongcheng let out a chuckle. He knew whom his father was referring to. He answered immediately, "That must be the one from Fan Manor."
King Jing raised his eyebrows in surprise, revealing a trace of viciousness. "What?" he shouted. "You mean that’s Fan Jian’s son? The one in Danzhou? I’ll be damned. To think he sired such a good-looking son, even though he himself isn’t much to look at!"
Princess Ruo Jia blushed in embarrassment as she listened to her father spew out profanity. But at the same time, she was curious. Just what kind of person was the man who was so revered by Ruoruo? Li Hongcheng looked at his father with some anger, thinking it was good that there were no servants around. However, he quickly changed his mind, as the servants should already be used to King Jing’s vocabulary. He quickly asked, "Why do you ask about him, father?"
"Why?" King Jing grunted a few times in annoyance. When he met the clueless Fan Xian that afternoon, he thought the boy looked familiar, but wasn’t able to recall anything. Fan Xian disliked the poetry gatherings, but he listened to King Jing talk about gardening for so long. For that, King Jing took a liking to the boy. But King Jing never expected that pretty boy would turn out to be Fan Jian’s son. As anger swelled up in his heart, he kept on going. "You should learn from him… What’s his name?"
"You should learn from that Fan Xian. He may not have the proper pedigree, but he does have a good eye for things." King Jing continued to educate his son. "That Fan Xian could talk for hours with a gardener. And then there’s you, who puts so much attention on his own background. You must know that boasting is very inappropriate for what you are currently doing."
Crown Prince Li Hongcheng knew his deal with the second prince couldn’t fool his father who, while appearing coarse on the outside, was extremely wise. The prince hurriedly agreed in response. After the meal, the crown prince readied himself to go read in the study room so as to please his father. However, King Jing abruptly asked, "Weren’t you planning on going to Drunken Immortal Tavern before?"
Drunken Immortal Tavern wasn’t an eatery, but a brothel. The prince got nervous and began to express his unwillingness in a panic. King Jing stared him in the eye and chided, "You’re a man. If you want to do something, go do it. Don’t be so unaccountable." After he finished talking, King Jing called someone over and kicked out the prince.
Li Hongcheng sat in Drunken Immortal Tavern with Miss Yuan Meng—the most popular entertainer in the capital—in his arms. But his mind was elsewhere, thinking chillingly about why his father had acted so differently today.
Late at night, at King Jing’s estate, King Jing cursed as he drank. "That rotten scoundrel. Visiting whorehouses used to be his favorite pastime. How in the world did he make such a good-looking son? I’m making my own son do the same so I’ll get a handsome grandson."
Temporarily putting aside King Jing forcing his own son to seek out prostitutes, Fan Xian went back to his sedan chair soon after the poetry gathering dispersed and met up with Teng Zijing and a few guards. There was plenty of chatter among the guests regarding Fan Xian’s poem. Seeing the sedan chair of Fan Manor, a few scholars came up to bid farewell. In return, Fan Xian hurriedly came down and sent them off with a smile. He also ordered a few guards to escort Ruoruo back.
Before Ruoruo got up to her sedan chair, she nodded towards Fan Xian, who knew "it" had been arranged properly. Suddenly feeling refreshed, he began to plan for that evening.
"Guo Baokun must be living in Shang Shu Manor. He goes to the palace once every three days. He claims to be a compiler, but in truth, he is the prince’s reading partner."
Something made Fan Xian frown. "The prince still needs a reading partner? How old is he?"
"The prince is the son of the empress. He is the third youngest among the royal siblings. He is eighteen."
Fan Xian laughed. "He’s an 18-year-old adult. What does he need a reading partner for?"
"He likes slacking off," Teng Zijing said, smiling bitterly. "So he’s flagrantly found some people to keep him entertained."
"And the emperor doesn’t care?"
"That… I am not certain."
Ever since that incident at the restaurant, Fan Xian was worried that Guo Baokun wouldn’t let things go and would be scheming. So he ordered Teng Zijing to gather some intelligence, including the places Guo Baokun often visited and the route he took to return home.
During today’s poetry gathering, that Guo fellow had made some barbed remarks. As kind as Fan Xian was, all he could do was keep a fake smile as anger burned deep inside him. Only now did Fan Xian realize that he had subconsciously ordered Teng Zijing to gather intelligence so that he could harass Guo, not because he was worried of being harassed himself.