Two days later, the carriages had slowly made their way up the mountainside.
The Cang Mountains were unmatched in their majestic brilliance. Centuries before, an emperor had ordered thousands of slaves to dig out a path through the mountains through which carriages could ride, in order to make summer vacations to the mountains more convenient. In fact, not long after wasting tremendous amounts of manpower and resources in the creation of this road, that emperor died while lying with a concubine, and thus he never got to use it.
In the intervening years, the world had seen countless rises, falls, and scatterings. But gradually, this great mountain, close to the capital, had become a garden for the officials and nobility. The previous dynasty had set down many laws, and had instituted a thick atmosphere of nobility to the Cang Mountains that even the cold alpine winds could not blow away.
From then on in the Cang Mountains, it was forbidden to hunt, burn trees to open up land for agriculture, or any of the other things that the common people did. It became simply a vacation spot for the rich. Save for a handful of temples for the ascetics and a few hermits, everywhere else in the Cang Mountains had been bestowed by the palace upon its courtiers, so that they might build villas to temporarily avoid the bitterness of court politics.
The Fan clan villa was on the mountainside, and had been bestowed upon them by the previous emperor half a year before his death. It was surrounded by peace and quiet on all sides. In front of the villa flowed a small brook, and red autumnal leaves drifted down from the summit, floating along its clear waters. By the side of the brook were a patch of yellow flowers. The pavilion stood solitary and quiet. Its silence in the cold autumn sunset, with the occasional shadow of wild geese flying across the heavens, was unspeakably peaceful.
After Fan Xian and his entourage arrived, things soon became livelier. People who had arrived in advance were putting things in order at the villa. Because they did not know how long the young master and mistress and the young lady were going to stay, Fan Manor had prepared plenty of dried game. They had even transferred three singing girls to the mountains, who sang squeakily every day. Perhaps they were trying to scare away the squirrels who had attempted to get through the winter by feeding on their food stores.
"It is truly a wonderful place." Sending a servant off to get a room ready, Fan Xian strolled down to a stone platform in front of the villa. Seeing the clouds and mist float by not far below his feet, and the clear green forests in the distance on the bare mountainside, he couldn't help but sigh.
Lin Wan'er leant on him gently and smiled. "It really is incredible. When I was small I spent a little time in the Cang Mountains, but it wasn't nearly as beautiful and secluded as your family's villa."
"It's our house," Fan Xian corrected her. He then lovingly made sure her coat was done up; the mountains were cold indeed, and he worried for her poor health, and that she might catch cold.
Lin Wan'er giggled. "I see, my dear."
The young couple spent the next days in peace and quiet on the mountain. It was as if they had never known such tranquil happiness. It was a beautiful kind of life that Fan Xian had been separated from for many days, so he seemed to enjoy it to the utmost. If he wasn't taking Wan'er out for walks on the slippery mountain roads, he was standing behind his sister, watching her delicate penmanship. She committed everything about the unimaginably beautiful mountain scene onto paper.
This, at last, was true married life for Fan Xian and Lin Wan'er after their wedding. Over the days, the newlywed couple had gone from love at first sight, to the excitement of meeting separated by a wall, to deeply worried longing, and finally to being able to peacefully enjoy their love together. Thei
r passion was in its final stage, becoming a delicate and enduring fragrance.
Early one morning, Lin Wan'er lazily opened her eyes and unthinkingly moved her arm over, only to find that no one was there. Under their warm and comfortable blanket, she was unsure where her husband had gone.
Lin Wan'er was not startled at all. Ever since they had gone to their bridal chamber, she had known that Fan Xian awoke extremely early every day. She didn't know where he went. Then, before she awoke, he would quietly return to their room.
She had been curious, but when they were staying at Fan Manor, it was inconvenient to do anything about it. Now that they were in the Cang Mountains, with no elders or annoying old wet-nurses about, Lin Wan'er looked around, rose from her bed, and put on her thick cloak and soft shoes. Like a thief, she sneaked out of the door.
She was greeted by a rush of morning mountain wind, so cold it made her shiver. She did not dare tarry, and smiling, she silently walked to the room at the end of the corridor and knocked twice on the door. A sleeping and bleary-eyed Fan Ruoruo heard the noise, and quickly got up to open the door. She had a thin garment draped over her. She rubbed her hands together against the cold. "Wan'er," she said wearily, "it's early, isn't it?"
After Lin Wan'er had arrived at the Cang Mountains, some of the rowdiness that she had always hidden behind her shy and loveable exterior had finally shown itself. She stuck out her tongue and hugged Ruoruo around the waist, then pulled her back to her warm blanket and sighed comfortably.
Fan Ruoruo was not used to sleeping in a bed with other people, so she felt a little strange. Her sister-in-law had turned out to be quite affectionate after all. She hugged Ruoruo, bringing her face close. "Do you know what your brother does early in the mornings?" she asked softly.
Fan Ruoruo felt her sister-in-law's cold hands on her waist, and wondered if her brother's heart would ache to see them both this way. She quickly caught her cold hands to warm them and spoke brusquely. "You're his wife. Why are you asking me?"
Lin Wan'er laughed. "Your brother is so secretive. Leaving that aside, every evening, when we talk and play chess in the room, where does he go off to? Aren't you curious?"
Hearing her sister-in-law speak this way, the naturally calm Ruoruo also could not help but feel somewhat puzzled. Every morning her brother went out to practice his skills; that she knew. But the past few evenings, her brother had been disappearing for a short while, and she really wasn't sure what he was up to.
"In the mornings he practices his skills, in the evenings... I'm not sure. Ask him."
Lin Wan'er was curious. "Practice his skills? What skills? Can we watch?"
"You are really curious about this."
"Of course." Lin Wan'er's eyes lit up. They looked like the waters of the lake on the summer estate. "It's only normal for a wife to feel curious about what her husband is doing."
Fan Ruoruo realized that this princess sister-in-law really did not have many of the habits of the palace. In some respects, she felt like Wan'er could cause more trouble than she could. She couldn't help but laugh. "On such a cold day, if I were married, I would prefer to stay in bed. If you rush out and my brother sees you and scolds you, then I won't be able to help you."
Lin Wan'er still did not know what Fan Xian looked like when he was angry, but knowing her husband's temperament, she was wary. Suddenly, she laughed. "If you were married? It's autumn, but it appears that our young lady has spring fever."
Whether it was due to the warmth of the two of them under the blanket, or embarrassment, Fan Ruoruo's face went read. "You are incorrigible," she said in a reprimanding tone. She extended her fingers to tickle Lin Wan'er, and Lin Wan'er responded with a yelp and threw a hand at her. The two young women tussled in bed, their youthful girlishness filling the air.
Fan Ruoruo was no match for the new bride's tricks, and panting, she had no choice but to spring up from the bed. She wrapped her sister-in-law up in layers, made sure that the cold mountain air could not reach her neck, and then, relieved, she took her by the hand and led her out of the villa to find her brother.
The sky was warm and bright, and the people in the villa were still going about their early-morning business. No one noticed the two young ladies sneaking around like thieves. A large part of the mountainside was the property of the Fan family, so no one else was there to disturb them. The two girls trod across the autumn dew, carefully making their way through a small path in the forest on the mountainside.
"Are you sure it's here?" Fan Ruoruo frowned. "This mountain is so big, we'd better not get lost."
"Don't worry." Lin Wan'er laughed. "I have an intuition. It's like I can sense where my husband is."
Fan Ruoruo couldn't help but think that all they had to go on was this unreliable intuition, but she noticed that the ground beneath their feet had been trodden on. The trail was quiet; she presumed that, other than her brother, no one else would be so keen to travel this far up the mountain.
Some time later, the two young women gathered some autumn leaves to wipe the dewdrops off their clothing. They passed through a stretch of woods and came to the mountain's edge. Thankfully, Lin Wan'er's health had improved greatly after taking Fei Jie's medicine; otherwise she would not have been able to keep going on. Seeing her sister-in-law's reddened face, Ruoruo lovingly caressed it, and told her that the top button of her cloak had come undone. The two girls looked out ahead.
When they saw it, they were startled. There was a gradual slope, rarely seen in the Cang Mountains. On top of it was a still-green meadow covered in autumn dew, and looking upward, there was a thirty-meter precipice. The slope was uneven, and among the rocks, yellow bamboo pointed toward the sky like swords.
On top of the cliff was a person, wearing only an unlined garment. It was Fan Xian, and by the look of him, he was preparing to jump off!
Seeing this, Lin Wan'er was shocked. She opened her mouth to cry out, to stop Fan Xian from moving. To her surprise, a soft and cold hand was clamped over her mouth.
Fan Ruoruo squinted at her brother on top of the precipice and forced herself to stay calm. "Don't worry." She didn't know whether she had confidence in her judgment.
Fan Xian had already started his descent. He leapt along the rocks, each step finding a safe foothold, and as he descended, his speed increased. He almost collided with the bamboo several times.
But he seemed to have some kind of innate premonition, and was always able to move just in time, or find a good foothold two steps ahead, and glided over the bamboo.
He relied on the powerful zhenqi in his body, and for this valiant control, he relied even more on the influence of Wu Zhu's instinct.
In a flash, his body was a blur, and he made his way through the rocks and bamboo forest to come to a steady stop on top of the meadow. Fan Xian turned his head slightly, and looked at the two girls, flabbergasted. "How did you get here?"
His breathing was not disordered in the least, and the bamboo on the slope swayed gently in his wake.