"You're so eager to be out with me; aren't you worried that the servant girl might find us?"
"She's a very deep sleeper nowadays. I didn't even use sleeping gas. I reckon she won't wake up."
"But, but... there's always a chance."
"We're watching the stars. Just watching the stars, that's all."
"You think they'll believe you?"
"So what are you planning to do, Wan'er?" Fan Xian snickered as he looked at her face. The moonlight shining on the tent was not particularly bright, so her face was shrouded in darkness. It was particularly beautiful.
Lin Wan'er wrinkled her pretty little nose and gave an exaggerated sigh. "If you were such a pervert that you kidnapped someone in the night, what could I do?"
Fan Xian also sighed. "I'm worried about being so sneaky all the time. If, after we're married, we go into the bedroom and I can never come out, then what would we do?"
Lin Wan'er tutted, worried that his thoughts really had become lecherous. After all, it was the dead of night, the two of them were alone, and if he really wanted to... she would be powerless to resist.
Fan Xian did not know what she was thinking. If he had known that Lin Wan'er was thinking about how she was powerless to resist him, he would have already thrown himself at her. It wasn't a case of it being impossible, simply that he chose not to do it. As Fan Xian saw it, as soon as a woman thought she was powerless to resist, she was already preparing not to resist.
The two lay on the soft mat, covered by the mosquito net, looking up through the canopy through which they could see the night sky. The moon was dim that night, and so the stars were particularly bright, looking down on all the lovers of the world from the dark curtain of night.
Lin Wan'er lay on Fan Xian's chest, and he inhaled her faint scent. Her soft back and buttocks were on his chest and stomach, and with the light summer clothes that the pair were wearing, it was as if no cloth separated the two at all. Any man who did not have a reaction to this, whether he was 16 or 60 years old, had already degenerated to a phase worse than a beast, so Fan Xian nervously drew his arms in tighter to bring the two of them even closer, not leaving even a hair's breadth between them. He felt a bewildering happiness in his chest with each slight touch.
Fan Xian began to perform his magic trick, his right hand leading Wan'er's hand. In an instant, his hand was under the thin garment covering her chest, holding the softness inside.
The tent was completely silent; even the ripples on the water had ceased to make a sound.
A good while later, a bashful sound came from inside the tent, as well as the voice of an enchanted young man. "There are always some things that you cannot believe even when you see them with your own eyes. Truly they are difficult to grasp... very difficult to grasp."
Lin Wan'er's ears went red, she moaned, and turned away to free herself from Fan Xian's clutches. But she could not. She felt that her body had been weakened even further by his enticing. In a moment of desperation, she coughed, and attempted to stiffen in response to the oncoming feeling of weakness. Just as expected, Fan Xian was surprised, and presumed she had caught cold. He hurriedly recited a sutra in an attempt to suppress his desire.
He adjusted her clothing and covered her with a blanket. Lin Wan'er remained shyly clothed, secretly feeling somewhat amused and touched. Worried that he might try again, she turned her eyes to him. "Today... those new things that you made, if you sold them, maybe you'd sell a lot of them?" She was talking about the barbecue ingredients and the tent that they were both in.
Fan Xian felt that his desires were being somewhat thwarted. He sucked in air through his teeth. "You are a majestic princess. What do you care about money? Come on; kiss me again."
Lin Wan'er blushed in panic again. "You
opened a bookshop, and you sell tofu, everyone thinks you're fond of doing business."
Fan Xian didn't really care for making tofu; he much preferred eating it. He forced a smile. "I have to make sure that I can make my own money, and that's how I can do it. In the future, the Emperor will put me in charge of the royal estate, and that's when I can finally relax." After he had come to the capital, he had put all his effort into doing business. That was why he had made connections at Qingyu Hall.
Their passions had at last cooled, and they hugged as they watched the stars and whispered sweet nothings. For some reason, they began to talk about Fan Xian's visit to see the Prime Minister, his future father-in-law.
"How is my father's health?" asked Lin Wan'er, concerned. She rarely saw her father, but she still worried about him greatly. Seeing her mentally-challenged brother that day had made her think of her second brother Lin Gong's untimely death, and her father's lonely hardships. She feared he was greatly hurt, but she was unable to help him even though she was his daughter. It was unacceptable to her.
Fan Xian knew what she was thinking, and comforted her. "He is fine. Once we are married, we’ll show him our devotion to him, and things will be better than they are now... and he really does give his consent for our marriage..."
The pair got quieter and quieter until they were inaudible, vanishing into the silence of the night by the lake. Any arguing about what happened that night would have to wait until the next day.
The next day dawned, and the pair naturally could not stay in the tent, otherwise the guards and the servant girls would know that their mistress had spent the night in a loving embrace with her future husband, and such a thing would cause a great scandal in the capital within the month.
Fan Xian and Lin Wan'er opened their eyes in their own bedchambers, rubbed them, turned over, smiled, pondered on the night that had passed, and feebly stretched out their bodies.
Everyone arose from their beds and ate at separate tables, the servant girls busying themselves incessantly. Lin Wan'er sat at the round table, gently feeding Dabao some thin congee with vegetables, not even shooting a glance at Fan Xian. On the other side, Fan Xian giggled as he blew the steam off his younger sister's bowl, the two seemingly sharing a moment of sibling closeness.
Fan Xian and Lin Wan'er did not look at each other, but the mood that the two of them were in seemed to resonate, making the whole hall begin to feel somewhat happier. Sensitive Ye Ling'er and clever Fan Ruoruo shared a suspicious glance with each other, and looked away with quiet, mutual understanding.
It was still early, and after they had eaten breakfast, Fan Xian got ready to go into the woods to find a secluded place to exercise, keeping up the training he needed to do every day. To his surprise, Ye Ling'er strolled up to him looking resolute, clasped her hands in salute, and asked for his guidance.
After Ye Ling'er had returned to her manor and told her father of what had happened that day in the palace grounds, Ye Zhong had thought carefully for a while, then expressed admiration for Fan Xian, saying that the way that Fan Xian had avoided those assassins and disemboweled Cheng Jushu was quite out of the ordinary. Hearing her father's words, Ye Ling'er finally felt some acceptance of Fan Xian, but she hung onto the martial concepts of the Ye family, and wanted to find an opportunity to ask Fan Xian for his guidance.
This attempt to seek guidance really proved that Ye Ling'er had not been convinced.
Fan Xian rarely trained with other people. At the beginning, in Danzhou, he had simply been a pitiful figure, beaten senseless by Wu Zhu. And so he could help but feel surprisingly happy about being qualified to give guidance to a seventh-level master like Ye Ling'er. It wasn't really guidance in a true sense; Wu Zhu had not been a great teacher, and so he was not a great teacher either. He simply spoke of how one should extend one's fist and how one should conserve one's strength; he was starting from the obvious, and had no way to consummate such things into a complete theory.
His so-called little tricks had become a set of techniques to kill people, but it was not easy to teach them to others, especially to a pretty young girl with eyes like green jade. And Fan Xian was not being entirely sincere, so Ye Ling'er could not study the essence of Wu Zhu's killing techniques, but she did make some progress.
Fan Xian smiled. Now he could finally see Ye Liuyun's sanshou clearly and in its entirety. It turned out that a simple pair of hands could turn out to be a serious attack style. Even if it was Ye Ling'er who was performing it, it had a power that could smash the wind and kill gods. If Ye Zhong or Ye Liuyun had performed it personally, it was possible that the Coffin Breaker Technique was powerful enough to smash gravestones, and their sanshou could make the opponent's body as stiff as a board, unable to dodge them!
With a heavy blow, Fan Xian was convinced of the flexibility of Ye Ling'er's body. He smiled at the thin-waisted young girl, and saw something unusual about her gaze. Ye Ling'er took no notice of his gaze, otherwise it might suddenly provoke her wrath. Yet she was deeply shocked by how Fan Xian perfectly matched her in movement and power.
In short, it was a meeting of equals.
Sometime later, a cry of pain came from the woods. Fan Xian came out rubbing at his wrist, and then Ye Ling'er came out holding her bloody nose, finally completely sincere.
In truth, for the people of this world, everyday life was like a current account. One could only make one step after another, repeating every day. It was hard to avoid being bored. But power and riches could occasionally bring about some new figures on the ledger. Fan Xian had sent Dabao and Fan Sizhe off to the mountains to ride horses and shoot arrows. They had guards protecting them and servant girls attending them, and so there was nothing to worry about.
At that moment in the villa, there was only one man left, as well as the three girls - Wan'er, Ruoruo, and Ye Ling'er.
Sitting in the hall, sipping tea and listening to music and watching good-looking young girls singing in low voices, Fan Xian smiled. Power was truly a good thing. If a lord wanted to hear music, then he could call for people from the capital to come and sing. The girl was a genuine singer, and thanks to her fine voice she strolled leisurely between the houses of the princes and the nobility, as well as the noble and virtuous.
At that moment, Fan Xian finally realized how it felt to be a man of the Kingdom of Qing. He had to strive for power and riches for himself and for those around him if he wanted to make sure his life remained happy, peaceful, and not reduced to the level of frontier horse thieves and coolies who worked in the brick kilns. Or perhaps there were some things that were worth giving up.
He was a selfish person, and he often reminded himself of that fact. In front of the mountain hall, the singing girl Sang Wen's voice was crisp and clear, and it mixed with the wind and penetrated through the hall, reverberating throughout the rafters.
"The villages live through the winter, frost from the north and south of the creek settles on my boots, and trees cover the isolated peak. From whence comes the fragrance in these cold winds? I suddenly come across silk sleeves and petticoats. I sober up, trembling, awoken from my dream, the sound of the flute is melancholy, the spring is long gone, the moonlight faint and yellow."
 The chapter title comes from the song Sang Wen sings, a Yuan dynasty tune named "Seeking Plum Blossoms, to the tune of ‘Immortals’".