Fan Xian never imagiend that his grandmother could have sent Sisi all the way from Danzhou to the capital. He was happy to see the young woman he had spent so many peaceful years with. But he was also somewhat pained and unsure of what to do. His grandmother's thinking was clear: get him to take Sisi into their house. And looking at Sisi, he reckoned that she would not choose any other solution.
"Come in and rest." Fan Xian did his utmost to seem gentle.
But Sisi still felt that the young master before her seemed to have become something of a stranger. After all, Fan Xian had been through too many trials and struggles within the capital; other than his steady temperament, there was something else about his manner that she couldn't put a finger on.
Seeing Sisi's slightly uneasy face, Fan Xian laughed. "This girl, what is she thinking? Once we've eaten and drunk our fill, I'll show you around the capital."
"I have come to serve you, master," said Sisi, seemingly aggrieved. "Not for you to serve me, sir."
Such frankness - this really was the woman he had grown up with. Direct in her words and actions, nothing like the servant girls of Fan Manor in the capital, who did not dare to show even the slightest emotion before him, let alone refute any of his ideas.
Fan Xian walked forward and gently patted her slightly gaunt cheek, smiling. "Very well, I shall let you serve. Even if you're just making copies of books and grinding down inksticks, you had best wash first. Being all sweaty, reading books at night with the incense burning, you'll add a vinegar smell to the air."
The Kingdom of Qing did not have the story of Fang Xuanling's mistress drinking vinegar to demonstrate her convictions, so no one thought of this comment as clever. Fan Xian could not help but regret that he was casting pearls before swine.
Sisi, slightly embarrassed, saluted once more, and was led off by a servant girl to wash. The servant girls had quickly noticed that this woman was not the same as them, and so they were especially courteous.
"Who is that woman Sisi?"
Devoid of the jealousy that Fan Xian had been expecting, Lin Wan'er's face was full of curiosity. She smiled. "I heard you say a while back that there was a servant-girl in Danzhou who was even more hardworking than Si Qi. Today I finally meet her."
The Kingdom of Qing was, after all, part of a world that regarded men as superior to women. Although Lin Wan'er was a princess, she seemed not to have much in the way of opinions and sensitivities. Besides, even if Fan Xian were to take a concubine, what would the illustrious princess have to be jealous of? Fan Xian laughed. It was lucky that this business had nothing to do with him. Otherwise he risked provoking the dissatisfaction of his little tiger. Did he want his arms ripped off?
"Marriage is the tomb of love," said Fan Xian casually. "So we must keep moving, lest we become zombies."
Lin Wan'er looked anxious, her mouth sunken. "I can't stand the cold," she said miserably.
"The snow of the Cang Mountains is great. Autumn and winter there are wonderful." Fan Xian smiled at his wife. Like some kind of travel agent, he tried to entice her. "The medicine my teacher gave you is extremely effective, and the imperial physicians were surprised after taking your pulse. But places high above sea level will be very good for your health."
Lin Wan'er cocked her head and leaned against his chest, rubbing against it. "I still don't understand what 'sea-level' means," she said softly.
"It's how high a place is above the sea." Fan Xian felt that his explanation was somewhat awkward.
"I still don't understand," said Lin Wan'er, pained. "If I don't want to go, is that ok? I'm afraid of climbing mountains, and of the cold."
"Look how round your face has become now," he said, somewhat annoyed. "A bit more movement won't be bad for you at all."
er struggled out of his embrace, angered. "Last night, you said you liked me a little bit plump!"
Fan Xian narrowly avoided bursting into laughter, but managed to keep a straight face. "With the lights out, of course it's fine to be a little plump... but in the light of day... it's still better to be thin."
Lin Wan'er gave an angry harrumph, and walked briskly out into the corridor. Fan Xian quickly followed after, but didn't look at her face. He just walked forward a few steps. "I love your body, don't you know that?" he said quietly.
In the palace in autumn, it was still as if the summer wind blew through it. Lin Wan'er's face was hot, and in a moment her face reddened. She stepped forward, grabbed Fan Xian's hand, and lowered her head. "There are so many people attending to us, and you still have no shame."
The two were now in the palace, followed by a thrall of ladies-in-waiting and palace eunuchs, who all kept their heads lowered and stayed at a distance from Fan Xian and Lin Wan'er. It seemed that they had not heard what the two were talking about.
Fan Xian was still facing forward. He smiled. "Dear, you must learn from your husband how to do many surprising things without a change in your demeanor."
There was a subtext to his words that Wan'er did not understand. This was the first time the pair had entered the palace since their wedding. The palace concubines had come to see Lin Wan'er and clutched her to their breasts, crying out and giving them gifts. Fan Xian was not going to refuse, but seeing how the concubines loved Lin Wan'er so dearly, he could not help but feel scared. His wife's parents' home was the palace; if one day they were to have a falling out, he might meet a tragic end. The Emperor had four sons - one Crown Prince and three princes - in one sense, this was proof that he was no womanizer.
Another fortunate thing was that none of the concubines of the palace had given birth to a princess. So Lin Wan'er, who had grown up in the palace, was naturally beloved by all the concubines.
Lin Wan'er had become accustomed to the palace. Naturally, she had none of Fan Xian's cautious nervousness when he first entered the palace, but instead, she felt like she was playing around in one's own rear garden. Fan Xian was influenced by this, and as the Eldest Princess who he avoided most had already returned to her fiefdom in Xinyang, he was able to relax, and followed her all around the palace. Fan Xian had brought up the matter of the vacation to the Cang Mountains to the Empress when he had met with her, and received her approval.
But Wan'er still feared the cold. However, Fan Xian had his heart set on it, especially as next year, the prisoner exchange between the Kingdom of Qing and Northern Qi was set to officially begin.
The Overwatch Council had informed him through Wang Qinian, and it seemed that he was somewhat implicated in the matter, so he needed to be somewhere calm to sort out a few things and prepare.
But, unfortunately, on this visit to the palace, they had not seen Wan'er's uncle, the Emperor. Lin Wan'er was somewhat disappointed. Fan Xian's calm face hid other emotions.
A fleet of carriages rumbled out of Fan Manor. Today, Prime Minister Lin had come to send off his beloved daughter, so the scene seemed increasingly grand. The passers-by on the street gesticulated as they watched the procession. After all, a few days earlier the wedding between the Fan and Lin families was held, and the wedding scene had surprised half of the capital. They had not expected that a few days later, the "immortal poet" son of the Fan family would be causing a stir yet again.
"Why would you leave the capital after you got married?" asked an old man in the crowd, frowning with his hands behind his back. "Young people these days, they have their family's money behind them, and all they know is leisure. I heard that Master Fan is now an academician of the Imperial College. Why is he going to the Cang Mountains?"
"Look, don't you understand?" a young man next to him mocked. "Master Fan calls this a honeymoon. He's picked some place quiet to go."
"What's a honeymoon?" asked a spirited older lady.
"It means that life is sweet as honey," said another person who clearly had some distant relationship to the Fan family. "I don't know. It's a word that Master Fan invented."
The older lady was annoyed. "Such an odd word. What's the point of it? Whether the moon is honeyed or not, since they're staying someplace quiet for several days, I'm sure they'll have a peaceful, happy, plump baby."
Sitting to his left in the carriage on its way out of the capital, Lin Wan'er was wrapped inside her fur coat like a kitten. She looked at Fan Xian with a smile on her face. Her eyes shined like spring water. To her left was the gentle and respectful Fan Ruoruo, peeling an orange, carefully scraping the white pith from the fruit, and placing the segments between Fan Xian's lips.
Fan Xian had his eyes half-closed, but when he caught a glimpse of Lin Wan'er's expression, he couldn't help but frown. "It is now autumn. How can you be so afraid of the cold?"
Lin Wan'er laughed, climbed up next to him and opened her mouth, which made Fan Xian's heart flutter. But instead he heard her say to Ruoruo: "Dear sister, please hand me an orange."
Fan Ruoruo smiled. "Sister-in-law, you cannot eat oranges in your condition. It will cause heat."
Lin Wan'er looked miserable. "Bother."
Fan Xian really did not understand how his wife and his sister addressed each other. "One calls the other 'sister', the other 'sister-in-law'. What sort of way is that to address one another?"
Lin Wan'er stuck out her tongue. "I had gotten used to calling her 'sister' before." Fan Ruoruo also couldn't help but laugh and pointed her finger at her brother's nose. "Before you were married, brother, you told me to call her 'sister-in-law', so I also got used to calling her that."
Fan Xian could only shake his head. The coach warmed up, and was heading up the mountain roads out of the capital, so they were getting sleepy. Lin Wan'er gradually leaned on Fan Xian's shoulder. Ruoruo also rested her head against the carriage siding.
The carriage suddenly rocked, waking up Wan'er, who was leaning on Fan Xian's shoulder. She rubbed her eyes. "Are we there yet?"
"That quickly?" Fan Xian laughed and shook his head. "The cottage in the Cang Mountains is nothing like the pavilion in the palace, but it's on the mountainside. It will take at least three days' travel from the capital."
"We left the capital so quickly after the wedding," said Lin Wan'er calmly. "Other than to help me recover, what was the reason for this?"
Fan Xian knew he could not hide this from her, and he hadn't prepared to, so he smiled. "Those two half-brothers of yours send people to our manor every day. I'm afraid of them. So of course I'm going to hide. Standing in line at this moment – no matter which side I stood on – would be a silly thing to do."
 Fang Xuanling, a Tang scholar, was offered a beautiful woman as a concubine by the Emperor, but his wife refused. The Emperor issued an ultimatum: either allow him to take a concubine, or drink a cup of poison wine. She chose the poison, but unbeknownst to her, he served her only a cup of vinegar. Respectful of her will, the Emperor rescinded his offer. "Drinking vinegar" became a metaphor for jealousy in Chinese.
 In traditional Chinese medicine, certain foods are considered to be "hot" or "cold", and imbalances of "hot" and "cold" in the body can cause problems with one’s health.