“The young master has returned!” A male servant’s voice rang out.
Everyone stopped whatever they were doing immediately and prepared for lunch. On the large table in the hall, Fan Xian sat opposite the Old Madam. In between them, there were around seven to eight dishes.
The atmosphere was rather strange; the servants who were not doing anything were all staring at Fan Xian’s chopsticks and did not go to the back garden to eat. A few of the servant girls who were younger were also drooling secretly. They must be hungry.
This was the Count’s Manor’s unspoken rule. Under Fan Xian’s insistence and after having the Old Madam’s silent consent, everyone was already used to it. In the Manor, as long as young master Fan Xian was eating, it was mandatory for him to try and approve of every single dish before anyone else were allowed to eat.
No one knew why the adorable and kind young master would have such an outrageous thought. One time, the Eldest servant girl Dong-er, whom Fan Xian was closest to, tried the dishes before Fan Xian and thought it tasted rather plain. After she was chased out viciously by Fan Xian, everyone knew that this young master also had some shameless traits typical of a spoilt noble brat.
Moreover, when Miss Dong-er tearfully left, the Old Madam of the Manor only stared coldly from one side and did not say a single word.
The only sounds in the entire room came from the soft sounds of chewing and the slurping of soup by Fan Xian; everyone else was quietly waiting at a corner with their hands clasped at their side. Like most big households, the leftovers of the master would be sent to servants as a reward for those below him – that was why, the portions Fan Xian eats were not a lot. He only took a mouthful with his chopstick per dish.
He ate slowly and deliberately, his slender lips rippling gently like two clear lights melding and splitting.
The Manor’s Old Madam’s hands were caressing a statue, muttering a prayer silently.
After a long while, Fan Xian finally finished tasting all the dishes. Smiling sweetly with his eyes shining brightly, he pointed at the dish of stir-fried bamboo shoots (清炒竹篙 was used, 竹 meant bamboo, while篙 meant wormwood… hmmm… ~MCM) and instructed the servants, “This is my favourite dish.”
The servants breathed a sigh of relief and hurriedly prepared more rice. Those who did not have anything to do could finally go to the back garden to eat as well. There were also other servants who went back to the kitchen and brought the remaining stir-fried bamboo shoots to the hall, placing it in front of Fan Xian.
“Grandma, please enjoy.”
Fan Xian stood up and respectfully bowed to the Old Madam. After receiving the bowl of rice in his hands, he placed it politely in front of the Old Madam. As for himself, he held his bowl of rice and continuously took the stir-fried bamboo shoots from the plate. Stuffing himself, a trace of a smile flashed across his eyes. This was a smile that seemed out of place on his pretty face; it was as if he finally found something that he had been searching for a long time.
The servant girls who were looking at the smile on the twelve year old boy thought back to the tight slap on Housekeeper Zhou’s face in the morning. Their hearts chilled unprecedentedly.
“I’m bringing this to eat in my room.”
Fan Xian informed the servant girls beside him and carried off the plate of stir-fried bamboo with a bowl of rice towards the direction of his bedchambers. The Old Madam was still in the midst of eating; it was extremely disrespectful for someone who was younger to simply leave the hall. However, the Old Madam did not say anything.
Back in his room, he retrieved some emetic powder and ingested it immediately. Stuffing his finger into his throat, he dug and wiggled furiously. Finally, the half-digested food particles were vomited out steadily. He took a few of the pills he had concocted for himself from the drawer and washed it down with cool water. Infusing his body with inner energy, he found nothing wrong with it; only then did he calmed down.
Eyeing the plate of stir-fried bamboo shoots, he laughed dryly and collapsed on the toilet bowl behind his bed. The dish was laced with a poison favoured by the secret agents of the Empire’s Bureau of Investigation known as the “Cat Button”.
“Cat Button” was a fruit growing on the Southern Islands that greatly resembled tangerines. It was a beautiful fruit that grew from an oddly spicy-smelling flower. Its toxicity was limited only to the meat of the fruit.
Because the juice of the Cat Button was mixed into the dish, it did not alter the colour of the dish. There was nothing distinct about the smell of the fruit; in fact, the fragrance of the dish was enhanced by its addition. That was why the agents of the Empire’s Bureau of Investigation often used it to silence others. After the poison had entered the stomach, the effects would occur at night. The person would die of seizures that strongly resemble signs of having contracted a deadly virus (What kind of flu kills by seizures, bro… ~MCM). It was difficult to determine the true cause of death.
Fei Jie was the leading Expert of concocting poisons in the Empire’s Bureau of Investigation and Fan Xian was his disciple. Naturally, he deduced its taste from the first mouthful of the stir-fried bamboo. While the Cat Button did not have any distinct odor, its only flaw was the slightly bitter taste. The assassin who did the poisoning actually thought to mix the Cat Button juice into the already bitter bamboo shoots. This person is pretty good.
Fan Xian did not immediately left to take the antidote because he did not want to worry the Old Madam. Right now, though, he was slightly regretting his bravado. If he did not realize it was Cat Button and thought it was just another fast-acting poison, he might already be dead now.
After Fei Jie’s warning, he had always been very cautious when eating or drinking. He was afraid that the Mistress in the Main Manor would attempt to poison him, which explained the strange setting before eating like before. He was not afraid that he would die because he had taken the poison. Rather, he was more afraid that the servants would die because of the poison. That was why he insists that he tried every dish first. This was exactly like the eunuchs who were in charge of testing the food in the old days.
Although Fan Xian regarded his own life as more important than anyone else’s, he was not willing to let any innocent die because of him.
Sighting the young master in the kitchen, the servant hurriedly stood up and carried a stool for him to sit on. Smiling, he asked, “Young master, are you still hungry? Do you want some more?”
Fan Xian giggled. “The stir-fried bamboo was really good.”
“I’m glad that it suits the young master’s tastes.” The chef at the side was laughed heartily. (The dialogue when translated directly was “As long as it suits the young master’s tastes” but I’m not sure it sounds right. ~MCM)
“Yea, it was really fresh. When was it bought?” Fan Xian asked carefully while nodding profusely.
“It was bought in the morning. That’s why it’s really fresh.”
“Oh! Were there people from outside the manor who came into the kitchen today?”
“Old Ha who usually send the vegetables was sick. His nephew came instead.”
“Mmm, I have nothing else to ask. I’ll be off then.” Fan Xian sneaked a piece of smoked meat from the plate brought over by the chef. Chewing abashedly, he smiled and said, “Please don’t tell Grandma that I came to the kitchen to snack.”
Looking at the young boy who left the kitchen, the servants began to gossip. They were praising the baseborn child for being very kind and polite and did not have a single bad habit typical of other noble youths…… With the exception of the strict rule during mealtimes, of course.
In a claustrophobic alleyway in Danzhou port, Fan Xian’s fingers hooked onto the back wall of a certain building. With a heft of his arms, he scaled the wall like a lemur. This was the house of the person who sends vegetables, Old Ha.
The Manor only had a little over ten people. With the exception of a few changes in the servant girls, the rest were mostly locals. After all these years, they were not really worth suspecting. Although he has met the vegetable-sending Old Ha before, he knew something was queer the minute he heard he had fallen ill.
Old Ha’s room was pitch-black, yet, in Fan Xian’s eyes, it was clear as day. As he silently stalked the room, his nose picked up the metallic odor of blood.