Once in the carriage, Fan Xian said, "We shouldn’t abuse our over the people." Touching the snuff bottle in his pocket, he let out a chuckle. "But bullying such dishonest businessmen once in a while isn’t bad."
Wang Qiannan smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes blossoming like a chrysanthemum—the man was over forty years old, after all. He explained, "He wasn’t exactly dishonest. The snuff bottle is worth a bit over three hundred at most. We gave him four hundred, that’s not really bullying."
"Oh?" Fan Xian looked at Wang Qiannian in surprise. "You can see the value in these antiques, Sir Wang. You really must know a lot about this line of business to be able to have such an eye for the pricing.
Wang Qiannian laughed, "Your Highness, did you forget what I did for a living before joining the Council?"
Realizing, Fan Xian laughed too.
"So you picked it up from your time as a lone thief."
Wang Qiannian answered, "When I was smuggling stolen goods back and forth, I didn’t dare ask for assistance, so I had to develop a good eye for these things.." With an antique expert like him, no wonder Fan Xian was able to obtain the snuff bottle at that price.
When they returned to Fan Manor, Wang Qiannian’s men dispersed, leaving Fan Xian in the hands of his own protection force. It was at that time that the line-pulled screen fan Fan Xian had ordered previously arrived as well. As the servants hurried to take in the order, the accountant said to Fan Xian, with a pained expression, "These are nice, but it’s too expensive. Young Master, you bought five of them, and that’s difficult to explain to My Lady."
Lady Liu happened to walk in and heard the accountant. She looked at Fan Xian and nodded, "Record the purchase."
Fan Xian gave a faint smile and greeted his aunt. The relationship between the two of them was quite awkward at the moment; it couldn’t be called close, but there wasn’t enough of a grudge to make them full-fledged enemies.
Fan Xian was troubled by something. "Aunt, I bought them to cool the house. They would be amazing in the main hall. How come no one else uses them?"
Lady Liu smiled and shook her head. "You’ll understand soon enough. Who could afford them at that price? Summer is only so long, it wouldn’t be much more expensive if you dug an icehouse."
Fan Xian was sharp and understood immediately. "This is… the treasury’s business?" Lady Liu nodded. Fan Xian sighed and exclaimed, "How could it possibly be this expensive?" At this level of craftsmanship, anyone can learn how to make them. How come there’s no one else selling them?"
Lady Liu chuckled, "While no one has said anything about it, everyone knows that the emperor sponsors the inner treasury. Would anyone dare to copy it? With just a single word, the Overwatch Council could frame you with anything and have you i
mprisoned or exiled."
Fan Xian shook his head in displeasure. Lady Liu asked out of curiosity, "Why buy five at once?" Fan Xian explained in a gentle manner, "One for the flower hall, one in you and Father’s bedroom. As for the other three: one for King Jing, one for the prime minister… and the last one for the duke."
In Lady Liu’s family, her mother’s side was one of the great clans in the capital. Three generations ago, there had been a duke. Whenever the word "duke" was mentioned in the Fan household, it was in reference to Grand Duke Liu Heng.
Lady Liu was slightly taken aback, not expecting the youth to be so considerate. It was even more surprising that he had made the first move to offer a benevolent gesture. She didn’t know how to respond and only gave an unfocused smiled before taking her leave.
In fact, it was by chance that Fan Xian thought to improve the relationship between Lady Liu and the Liu household; if he wanted Fan Sizhe to stand firmly by his side, there was sure to be some family quarrel that he would want to avoid, and Lady Liu might… once again do something that would prevent the two sides from coming to terms.
Such small gestures couldn’t achieve that in one go, so he had to take it one step at a time. Fan Xian was sure Lady Liu’s heart was in three pieces, with one piece belonging to Count Sinan, and one with Fan Sizhe. As long as he could maximize the benefits between the two, she would not complain too much. As for the assassination attempt when he was twelve years old…
Fan Xian forced down his emotions with a frown and convinced himself that his true enemies were the empress and the eldest princess.
In the manor of the prime minister, Lin Ruofu gently held a snuff bottle. He said lightly, "Seems to be made of high-quality emerald. The cap is intricately fitted. While the inside of it is painted, the artwork is excellent, if not a bit excessive." Yuan Hongdao listened and knew what the prime minister meant. "The groom has come to visit his future father-in-law while bearing gifts; that’s how it should be."
Lin Ruofu smiled and stood up. He unraveled the scroll on the table, revealing a painting. That painting, too, depicted an old fisherman fishing by a river that disappeared into the horizon. The rest of the painting depicted a snowy scene. Next to the painting was a poem.
"Over one thousand mountains, there are no birds in flight; on a myriad of paths, there are no footprints in sight." Reading the poem, Lin Ruofu exclaimed, "The painting is ordinary, and the calligraphy isn’t anything extraordinary, but the poem itself is very nice. I’ve heard of Fan Xian’s reputation when it comes to poetry, and I can now see it’s well deserved. But do you still think this is what a groom like him should be doing, with a poem like this?"
Yuan Hongdao smiled uneasily and thought about how strange this Fan Xian was. Lin Ruofu had recently lost his eldest son; he hadn’t yet returned to his old self, and for some reason, Fan Xian decided to give him such a depressing painting and poem. Yuan Hongdao fell silent for a moment before something caught his eye. "Your Highness, look here." He pointed at something on the painting.
Right between the mountains, some fine ink lines were forking out, barely visible, like new grass blades wanting to rise up underneath the snow with the coming of spring.
"A touch of green in the chilling river and snowy cliff." Yuan Hongdao explained while smiling.
In response to the barely visible shoots of grass, Lin Ruofu’s expressions gradually softened. "Looks like you’ve taken a liking to this Fan Xian also."
Yuan Hongdao didn’t refute it, and laughed. "He has an excellent background, excellent education, and an excellent nature."
"Sounds like he’s the perfect person to you?" Lin Ruofu smiled before continuing, "If Chen’er can live a good life after being married to him, all is well." He suddenly lowered his voice, "but regarding that incident, can you really confirm it."
Yuan Hongdao replied seriously, "The incident beneath the Cang Mountains has been confirmed. Fei Jian is currently negotiating in Dongyi City."
"Ah." Lin Ruofu half-closed his eyes. "I thought as much. I actually don’t care about Fan Xian’s background and education, only his nature and methods. It would be the best if he has a good nature but merciless methods of action. This way, once I die, the Lin household and my only son and daughter will be protected."
After Lin Gong’s death, the prime minister was truly disheartened. His eldest son was mentally challenged, while he hadn’t seen his daughter for years. On top of that, he still thought of the officials and relatives who relied on him. Who Lin Wan’er was to be married to was the decision of utmost importance.
"How are things going outside?" Lin Ruofu asked gently.
"Very good, better than we imagined, Your Highness."
"Why is the sky blue?"
"Because the sea is blue."
"Why is the sea blue?"
"Because once light enters the water, it becomes blue… uh, don’t listen to me, I’ve not studied that topic and was sprouting nonsense."
"Why is the pond clear and not blue?"
"Because the water is too shallow?"
"Eh?" In the garden, Lin Wan’er’s big brother sat on a rattan chair, his chubby frame seemed to take up all the space the chair had to offer. He asked Fan Xian with curiosity, his gaze showing a child-like innocence, although occasionally they would appear sluggish.
Fan Xian knew the eldest son of the prime minister was not healthy, but he hadn’t expected him to be mentally challenged. For reasons unknown to Fan Xian, the prime minister still hadn’t come to greet him. Hanging around the back garden, he ran across his elder brother-in-law, and could only chat along. Fan Xian secretly laughed to himself, wondering if this chubby, mentally-challenged child would get angry and beat him.
"What’s your name?" Fan Xian asked his brother-in-law with a smile. After chatting for a while, Fan Xian discovered him to only be slow to react to things, like a small child. His silliness was a bit cute, cuter than the accountant Fan Sizhe at least.
Fan Xian’s brother-in-law twisted his lips, his fat cheeks making his face appear even rounder. "My name is Big Bao; my little brother is Little Bao. Little Bao hasn’t been home in a long time."
Fan Xian was shaken upon hearing this. He thought of the late Lin Gong. The next instant, he had no idea what to say to his brother-in-law in front of him.