"What are you talking about!?" said Lin Wan'er, worried and shy. She gritted her teeth. "I am already betrothed to another. And what's more, you can't go sneaking into a girl's bedchamber in the middle of the night, it isn't proper."
"You are betrothed to the Fan family. I know." Fan Xian laughed as he gazed at her.
Lin Wan'er thought back to the first time she saw this youth, and the complicated feelings she had felt as they silently laid eyes on each other. She felt a twinge of heartache. "Since you know, why don't you leave? Do you have a death wish?"
Fan Xian could not tease her any longer. He looked at her with a sincere gaze. "I'm... I'm Fan Xian."
There was a deathly silence for what felt like forever. Fan Xian felt rather awkward, but then he saw a tear fall from the corner of Lin Wan'er's eye. She hurriedly wiped it away. "Please, get a hold of yourself."
Fan Xian laughed bitterly. "I'm telling you the truth. What will make you believe me?"
Lin Wan'er looked on his face, silent for a long while. Finally, she spoke in a low voice. "You are... master Fan?"
Fan Xian nodded, smiling, but her facial expression remained skeptical. At that moment, the moonlight shone through the clouds, illuminating his bright and beautiful face. It sprinkled its faint luster upon the earth, shining through the window and enveloping the pair in its light.
"I am," said Fan Xian quietly.
Lin Wan'er could not believe what she was hearing. Her passion stirred, she could not help but cough, dropping the blade in her hand. "You're the Brute of Fan Manor?"
Fan Xian couldn't stop himself from laughing. He looked at her delicate features and lovingly extended a hand to hold her wrist. He gave her some of his zhenqi, carefully stabilizing her pulse. When he heard the word 'brute', he laughed bitterly. "But I've only been in two fights."
Lin Wan'er slowly began to trust him, and happiness rose in her cheeks. "Are you ten-thousand-miles-in-sorrowful-autumn-always-the-guest?"
Fan Xian continued to laugh. "I wrote that in a hurry... It doesn't count."
Lin Wan'er's eyes slowly began to brighten. "Is it... is it really you?"
Fan Xian was about to lose it. "I came here today with my sister," he said, trying not to cry. "If I weren't Fan Xian, why would my sister have helped a stranger see her future sister-in-law?"
Lin Wan'er agreed, and stifled a smile. But she soon thought of another question. "That time you went to the Temple of Qing," she asked angrily, "were you there just to see me?" When she realized that she had been kept completely in the dark by this young man, she felt furious. When she thought of the pain and worry this awful young man had caused her over the past few days, and all that improper business, she wished that she could... give him a good thrashing.
When Fan Xian saw her expression, he realized what she was thinking and hurriedly explained. "I was there to make a vow to Heaven. Meeting you at the Temple of Qing was a coincidence, honestly. Other than that, this morning was the only time that I've seen you. It's only now that I know who you are, my lady." He beamed as he gazed at Lin Wan'er's beautiful face. "It was fate," he said quietly.
Lin Wan'er lowered her head, bashful, and freed her wrist from Fan Xian's grasp. "Why did you come to see me today with your sister?" she asked in a low voice.
Fan Xian was taken aback. How could he tell her he was getting ready to cure her and then flee his arranged marriage? He dared not say it even at pain of death. "I heard that you were in ill health," he replied gently. "And there was no other way I could see you, so I had to do it in secret... I had no idea that you were that chicken leg girl I met at the temple."
Lin Wan'er groaned. How could he call her something so awful? Fan Xian laughed and pointed at the chicken leg next to them. "Did you want to eat it?"
Lin Wan'er couldn't hold her laughter any longer. "You take it," she replied, "I'm not that hungry."
Suddenly, Fan Xian heard the sound of someone getting out of bed downstairs. It seemed like they were coming up the stairs. He frowned. "Someone's coming."
Lin Wan'er began to panic. Even if he was her future husband, if someone saw him, she would be humiliated. She pushed him away. "You must go, quickly." After having gone through all this trouble in the middle of the night, he was in no mood to leave. Fan Xian smiled slyly and leapt under the covers. The bed was very large, as was the quilt, and the room was pitch black. If anyone came in to look, they would see nothing untoward at all.
As she saw Fan Xian slide under her blanket, Lin Wan'er was taken aback, but there was nothing else that she could do. She heard someone feel their way up. It was that old nanny who'd had an upset stomach earlier in the day. Bashful and nervous, Lin Wan'er slipped deeper under the blanket, facing her body between Fan Xian and the door, pretending to be fast asleep.
The nanny looked and saw nothing unusual. She grumbled to herself quietly, wondering if she'd been dreaming. Her tiredness returned and she went back downstairs.
Lin Wan'er elbowed Fan Xian. "She's gone," she chided him in a quiet, shy voice. "Now you have to go."
With great difficulty, he kissed her. For the first time, he felt thankful to the old nanny for leaving immediately. "You're tired. You should lie down," he said shamelessly.
Lin Wan'er realized that deep down, her future husband was a rascal. "This is... this is unacceptable!" she said angrily.
Fan Xian laughed darkly. Getting closer to her and smelling her faint scent, his heart was filled with joy. "Why?"
"If... if this ever gets out, how can I face people?" Ashamed, she buried her head in the covers. As she felt the heat of his body behind her, she moved away from it.
Fan Xian sighed. He feared she'd move so far that she'd fall off the edge of the bed. That would be something of a shock. He got up, filled with unsatisfied desires, and sat on the edge of the bed, holding her trembling hand. Lin Wan'er pulled away from his grasp, but couldn't break free. At least he wasn't lying down on the bed; that was a good start.
Fan Xian looked at her as her eyes began to droop. "I'm finding out that I've been lucky all my life," he said quietly.
"Huh?" Lin Wan'er kept her eyes open with curiosity, gazing at him with pupils like two clear pools.
"I fell in love with a girl. But before I even fell in love with her, it turned out that she was my future wife. How is that anything other than lucky?" His fresh and handsome face was filled with joy as he explained.
Lin Wan'er was curious. "If... if..."
Lin Wan'er bit her lower lip and pushed the doubts from her mind.
"There's something else I need to tell you." Fan Xian saw the faint trace of sweat along her forehead, below her fine black hair. His heart ached. "I was serious when I told you about your health today. You need to recuperate. Clear rice porridge and a few vegetables might be easy on the stomach, but it won't help your illness."
She knew, deep down, that the wonderful surprise she had met with today would not last. When she heard him talk, she was immediately reminded of her own illness. At once, she was gloomy again. Filled with rage, her face dimmed, and she spoke with grief. "The imperial physicians have studied it, and they say it is not easy to treat. Although my tuberculosis is not that severe... if we are together some day, I fear I will wear you out."
Fan Xian suddenly fixed her with a serious expression. "Goat milk, chicken legs. If you give me a moment, I'll leave you some of the pills I prescribed you. Take them like I said, and your health will recover."
Lin Wan'er sighed. "The imperial doctors can't treat it. It'll just get worse every year."
Fan Xian laughed. "Of course, my medical expertise isn't as good as the imperial physicians. Even if my teacher was in the city, we'd probably still have to treat you in secret. Your health is what's important. I'm worried that the nobles of the palace won't dare try. Anyway, eat like I've told you. But there's something that the imperial physicians haven't thought of. We need to you build up your strength too. When my teacher returns—he's inspecting the border at the moment, I'm sure he's gathering lots of rare medical herbs—then we'll have a chance to treat your sickness. Diagnosis is only one part of treatment. Medicine is another part. Even though there are a lot of rare medical herbs in the palace, in all honesty, I don't think they're as good as the things in my teacher's collection."
Lin Wan'er listened to his earnest words. She was moved. "You have gone to all this trouble for me, master Fan."
Fan Xian was taken aback. How could she still talk so formally? He did not understand how women thought. Once she had confirmed that the young man in front of her was her future husband, Lin Wan'er's speech had become more reserved. This was the way of women. He was a little confused. He smiled. "You're still calling me master Fan?"
Lin Wan'er was curious. "What should I call you?" Suddenly she realized what he meant, and blushed bashfully. She turned away from him and spoke in a tiny, timid voice. "When we are married, then I shall call you something else."
"What I meant was, you can call me Brother Fan." Fan Xian stifled a laugh.
When Lin Wan'er realized what he meant, she was bashful and annoyed. She wanted to reach out a hand and slap him, but when she remembered that she had only ever met him twice, and he was still a stranger, she stayed her hand, grumbling. Fan Xian gazed at her slender shoulder blades. "When we are married, we will go to the Cang Mountains. It's high above sea level, and there are hot springs. It will be good for your health."
When she heard the word "married", she felt slightly bashful. She nodded her head, though she didn't understand what "sea level" meant. Something else came to her. "Is Master Fei really your teacher?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah." Fan Xian smiled. "I always thought that since Master Fei worked for the Overwatch Council, he was a very secretive man. It turns out that everyone in the capital has heard of him."
Lin Wan'er smiled. "He was highly praised for his service in the wars in the north and the west. Of course he's well-known. But everyone is scared of his poisons, so they hide from him." She looked at Fan Xian's handsome face. "How did Master Fei end up becoming your teacher?" she asked curiously.
Fan Xian shrugged. "Miss Lin, it's a very long and troublesome story, and to this day I'm still not sure I understand it completely. If you marry me, I'm worried that you might get caught up in that trouble too. You will have to think it over."
Lin Wan'er smiled and shook her head. She too knew that behind this marriage was a secret exchange and division of benefits. When she had learned of it, the pressure of the conflict had made her illness worse. But since she had learned that Heaven was keeping an eye out for her after all, and the young son of the Fan family stood before her... she was filled with gratitude to Heaven; what more could she ask for? She recalled the recent scuffle in the capital. "Master Fan, sometimes I truly do not understand. You are the son of Count Sinan, a student of Master Fei of the Overwatch Council, and an accomplished poet... that line, ‘Ten thousand miles in sorrowful autumn, always someone’s guest’, did you really write that?"
Fan Xian did not see any doubt in her face; she simply asked a question. He responded with curiosity. "What's wrong?"
A trace of anger flashed across Lin Wan'er's face. "The Empress Dowager loved that line, but there has been talk in the palace recently. They say that the last four lines were copied from a poet of a previous age." Since she now trusted the young man who stood before him, she felt rather angry.
Fan Xian now realized that the matter of the poetry contest would not be resolved so easily, and that the Guo family's lawsuit had not ceased. He had not expected this criticism, but he had plagiarized Du Fu after all, so he was not angry. Instead, he looked at his fiancée's tired face and felt a twinge of heartache. He patted her hand gently and told her not to talk any more.
"I'll come and see you as often as I can."
"But... if someone discovers you, then what?"
"You're right. I'm still worried that after I get caught, that old pervert will kill whoever found me... It's a problem, and one of these days I'll have to sort it out it with him." Fan Xian's hair stood on end when he thought of the terrible things that could happen.
Lin Wan'er looked at his face, not wanting to close her eyes, but eventually she couldn't escape her tiredness.
The next morning, Lin Wan'er arose, slightly dazed, from her warm blankets. She opened her eyes, rubbed at them, and found that she felt very much at ease. A sweetly-smiling servant girl bowed to her and got ready to help her get out of bed, wash, and dress. At that moment, she remembered what had happened the night before and gave a cry of surprise. "Oh! Is he here?"
"Is who here?" asked the servant girl curiously.
"Did you hear a noise last night?" asked Lin Wan'er, nervous.
"I heard nothing, madam," answered the servant girl earnestly.
Lin Wan'er walked to the window. Her long black hair rested on her shoulders and a thin white gown was draped around her. She looked stunningly beautiful. She looked out of the window, but did not see a trace of that young man. She couldn't help but wonder if it had all been a dream— one that she wished dearly could become reality.
As her imagination ran wild, the servant girl approached her, holding the torn greasy paper wrapping. She smiled slyly. "Madam, you have been eating secretly. When nanny sees this, she will call for the Emperor... Close the window, you don't want to catch a cold."
Lin Wan'er took the oilpaper and realized that she had a number of pills stashed in her belt. Her heart was filled with warmth. She looked out the window at the garden scenery, which seemed just a little greener. She closed the window. It seemed that she could not stop her thoughts of love from opening the window and escaping.