(if that ain’t one of the best chapter names, then I don’t know what is ~SirFreezus)
There would always be a few lines in the letters betraying a few worries unbecoming of someone who was Fan Ruo-Ruo’s age. It might have been because of the other mistresses becoming brazen after the Eldest Wife’s death. As the Count was usually busy with official work, she must have been alone in the Capital most of the time. She must have gotten a lot of trouble from the mistresses who had recently given birth to a son.
Picking up his brush, he dabbed a little ink with it thoughtfully and began his reply. He wrote in a very veiled manner, telling his sister to try to spend more time with the Count. Also, she should act adorably and delicate in front of their Father and not grumble. Occasionally though, she should appear melancholic.
Incidentally, she must not be soft in front of the mistress and her arrogant step-brother. The good are always bullied; in order to ensure she does not get bullied, she should at least show that she will not tolerate any nonsense from them.
Also, she should be nice to the servants in her house, especially the butlers who serve the Count personally. Looking at them with puppy dog eyes and expressing her admiration of them should do the trick.
Finally, she should try to offend the mistress and be hurt. Afterwards, she should attempt to find a way to let the Master know about that incident. All males have a natural instinct to protect, least of all if that person happens to be his own daughter. Under these circumstances, the Count would definitely reminisce of his wife and care more for the daughter she left for him.
However, such family politics should be practiced with restraints. Fan Xian hinted subtly in his letter (the above 4 paragraphs were not written out explicitly, merely subtly hinted at in his letter ~MCM), thinking that if Ruo-Ruo would understand what he was getting at if she was smart enough. His only concern was whether the techniques he had learnt from period novels would be useful.
He restlessly waited for a reply, afraid that the ideas that he blindly came out with would cause problems for an eleven year old girl.
After two months, Fan Ruo-Ruo’s reply came. He was uncertain if it was because the techniques were successful or that there was no mistreatment by the step-mother in the first place; it was obvious that his sister was very happy recently.
In the letter, though, Fan Ruo-Ruo expressed her inability to understand why she should be nicer to the servants in the house. It was only then that Fan Xian realized that, in such a hierarchical society, not everyone view social relations like he does. Thus, he sent another letter with a few anecdotes to explain the idea that the act of respecting not only pleases others; it is also beneficial to oneself.
Originally, Fan Xian wanted to copy a few novella of The Decameron (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decameron ~MCM) from memory into the letter to the Capital. The critics back in the previous world were full of praise for Giovanni Boccacio’s exposition on love and social and gender equality. After deliberating though, Fan Xian remembered that there were plenty of explicit parts within The Decameron and dismissed the idea.
This particular episode was only a small part of Fan Xian’s life. Yet, he has become rather enthusiastic about it, almost as if the life of the little girl in the Capital has become a quintessential part of his happiness.
Although Fan Ruo-Ruo was young, she was able to sense that her brother faraway in Danzhou was different from the average child. The letters were thus exchanged between these two brothers and sisters who differ greatly in their psychological age. It was obvious that Fan Ruo-Ruo began to be influenced by Fan Xian – her prose began to become more matured compared to the average girl. Her view of the world has also slightly changed.
There were kites in spring, carps in summer, blue jays in autumn and geese in winter. As the letters went back and forth, so too did the days roll by.
Whenever Fan Xian wrote a letter to Fan Ruo-Ruo, he would shake his head and laugh drily. His wrist was in a bad shape for the past few years; if it was not swollen, it would hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. There were times when he could not even raise his right hand, so he wrote it with his left. When Fan Ruo-Ruo received the letter in the Capital, she would marvel at his careful handwriting. The handwriting of her next letter would be different.
This happened because of that night a year ago.
After Old Fei left, Little Fan Xian was very lonely. One night, he stealthily sneaked through the dog-hole and came to the strange grocery store that was seldom open for business. He found the back door easily, being familiar with the place. Retrieving a key from the thick grass in the corner of the stone stairway, he unlocked and entered.
It was pitch-black within the grocery shop up until Fan Xian entered from the back door. A single lamp was lit, allowing a weak light into the room. Fan Xian sniffed, easily identifying the rice wine that was prepared for him by Five-Bamboo. Smiling sweetly, he helped himself to a bowl of it.
Five-Bamboo did not drink. Fan Xian has also never seen him eat, so he was used to it. It was a typical scene of a person drinking, the only curious part of this was that the person who drank like a heroic vagrant (hobo heh heh ~MCM) was only a young boy. Whoever stumbled upon such a scene would be dazed.
However, Five-Bamboo was surprisingly liberal about Fan Xian’s drinking. He never showed any intention of stopping him and would even prepare a few cold dishes to complement the wine for the young master.
Although it was only rice wine, it was still possible to become tipsy after a drinking too much. Fan Xian narrowed his adorably drunk eyes (I have no idea… ~MCM) and looked at that expressionless face that does not seemed to have age. “Uncle, how are you able to remain the same after all these years? It’s like you’re unable to age.”
“Looks like being one of the continent’s strongest fighters allows you to have eternal youth…… But, didn’t you say you have never practised inner energy?” he continued his monologue.
“Uncle, how many truly powerful figures are there in this world? What’s their level?”
“Levels? What’re they?” The drunken brat had absolutely no idea what he was spouting. (Not quite sure about this part. 漏洞 was used here, meaning he had exposed something unwittingly. I might re-evaluate this at a later date. ~MCM)
“What’s your level?”
“What about the idiot in Eastern Yi who practices the Four Gu Sword Techniques? What’s his level then?”
“Also level zero?”
“What about that Head of something-something-something, Liu Yun? What’s his level?”
“Still level zero?”
Throughout the entire conversation, the only one speaking was Fan Xian. In the end, he chortled and said, “Then that won’t do, I also have to train until my level is zero.”
The blind Five-Bamboo was methodically and firmly chopping the radish into fine shreds. His blade was swift, but it would only touch the top of the wooden board before coming back up again. (For those who have cooked or nosed through kitchens, you would notice that the chopping board would be full of scratches and sometimes even deep cuts. That’s from chopping too fast and hard. This guy has the blade barely touching the board. This guy puts Gordon Ramsay to shame. ~MCM) His precision was at a terrifying level; the radish shreds were consistent in thickness, flawless and beautifully decked unto the chopping board like crystals. It was as if it was measured and chopped by a machine.
Five-Bamboo raised his head, hesitating slightly before walking to Fan Xian’s side and shoving the vegetable knife in his hands.