What Lin Wan’er and Ruoruo just saw stunned them speechless. Although the two of them both knew about Fan Xian slaying an eighth-ranked master on Niulan Street, watching him rush down from a cliff was something completely different from their understanding of martial arts.
Precise, composed, powerful—those were the impressions that hit them.
To the elder brother whom she had always admired, Fan Ruoruo yelled out – despite being much calmer than Lin Wan’er, "Xian, how did you do that?"
Fan Xian walked over from the grass. Looking at the two girls, he shook his head while patting theirs. "This is just my daily training." He believed that had they witnessed Wu Zhu’s sheer drop from the cliffs of Danzhou, what he just did would have seemed like nothing.
He then frowned, "What are you doing here so early? There are wild beasts in these mountains."
Fan Ruoruo gave Lin Wan’er a look before replying with a smile: "Sister woke up and you were nowhere to be seen, so she dragged me out to find you. She’s curious about how you train."
Fan Xian looked at his wife, whose face had already turned red from the morning chill. He tapped her on the tip of her nose. Lin Wan’er wasn’t used to such intimate acts in front of Fan Ruoruo, so she shied away. Her mind was still immersed in what she just witnessed—who knew her husband was such an impressive martial artist?
As if seeing right through her, Fan Xian shook his head, "Don’t think too highly of me. Someone once said that I’m above rank four but not enough to be rank six."
Lin Wan’er didn’t really believe that, "I grew up in the palace. I’ve seen plenty of seventh and eighth ranked martial artists. Dear, you are much better than them."
"Really?" Fan Xian grinned, but didn’t take it seriously. He then spoke, a bit troubled. "While Fei Jie’s medicine is working very well, the wind is strong in the mountains, especially in the morning. What are we going to do if you catch a cold?" He tightened Wan’er’s scarf. "I’m used to these daily training sessions. It's my fault for not telling you. But you mustn’t come out like this again."
Fan Ruoruo was happy for them. She silently watched them with a smile. However, Fan Xian turned to her and said coldly, "That applies to you too."
Seeing her brother upset made Ruoruo sad. She said quietly, "I was wrong. From now on I definitely…" She was ready to say she would take good care of Wan’er, while Wan’er was ready to speak on Ruoruo’s behalf, as she was the one who dragged Ruoruo out.
At this moment, however, Fan Xian touched Ruoruo’s cold ears. He said gently, "Your sister is ill, but are you that much healthier? If something were to happen, how would you get married in the future?"
Only now did the two girls realize Fan Xian was upset about the other marriage. Knowing this young man in front of them cared for his wife and sister made them feel exceptionally fortunate.
The truly fortunate one was Fan Xian. Spending days in the mountains almost made him forget about everything in the capital. Every once in a while, Count Sinan would have someone deliver a private letter. And Wang Qinian would take the secret path Fan Xian provided and come to report the events in the capital.
Everything was calm in the capital. The only change that occurred was that Commander Yan Xiaoyi, who shot Fan Xian with an arrow, was transferred to the north as a captain. While the transfer itself was nothing out of the ordinary, it was His Majesty’s warning to Yan Xiaoyi.
The treaty between Qing and Northern Qi went into effect last month, so there were really no opportunities of action for the military forces stationed up north. Despite being a captain, Yan Xiaoyi was rendered ineffective under the current circumstances and could only let his frustration brew silently.
Fan Xian frowned slightly as he read Wang Qinian's letter. Everyone knew Yan Xiaoyi’s sudden rise was due to his nin
th-ranked martial prowess, and also due to Eldest Princess’s help. If the emperor wished to get rid of Eldest Princess, Yan Xiaoyi would be made to remain in the palace so that the Overwatch Council could keep an eye on him more easily. It didn’t make sense for the Bureau of Military Affairs to get involved and promote Yan Xiaoyi to command an entire army.
Fan Xian lightly tapped the desk and shook his head as he realized what this was about. It looked like the emperor still had no intention of making any other moves besides issue a warning for the entire court to see. Apparently, it would become even safer in the capital. But how could a man who held sovereignty for over a decade tolerate the other faction gaining power without any restraint? With His Majesty’s authority, the Overwatch Council’s talents, and the loyalty of the Commander of Defense, it would be extremely simple to take out Eldest Princess and the one prince who had been hiding in the dark.
That was what Fan Xian could not understand; he didn’t know how the emperor could just watch the other faction without concern, instead of act first.
Regardless, after ensuring it would be safe in the capital, Fan Xian started to relax. But at the same time there was a sense of regret. He had waged that propaganda battle because he was left with no other choice; he didn’t know what His Majesty was capable of and therefore dared not wait. In the end, he only helplessly alleviated the standoff.
The struggle between Fan Xian and Eldest Princess shouldn’t have been so significant. When they traded blows in secret, Fan Xian came out on top every single time. With Eldest Princess’s temperament, should she ever get the opportunity to rise up, she would most definitely not forgive Fan Xian. If His Majesty was willing to play this dangerous game from beginning to end, how should Fan Xian respond?
Killing Eldest Princess seemed to be the most logical method, but that would involve many other issues. First of all, could Wu Zhu guarantee to not leave behind any evidence after killing the princess? Such insolent provocation against the royal family would likely incur His Majesty’s wrath. Second of all, Eldest Princess was still the mother of Fan Xian’s wife. If she were to die by his hands, how would he and Wan’er live together once she found out? The death of Fan Xian’s second brother-in-law was already lodged in Fan Xian’s heart like a thorn.
Lastly, and most importantly, neither Fan Xian nor Wu Zhu could guarantee Eldest Princess’s death. She had already returned to her own fief. Who knew how many skilled masters were over there? As for the sniper rifle… Fan Xian dared not use it; he feared it would remind all the nobles in the capital of the deaths of those two successors years ago and make them remember the name Ye Qingmei.
Fan Xian peered outside at the early snow on Cang Mountain. Tonight, sparse snowflakes were already falling, making the mountain estate gracefully solemn. He sighed and burned the letters from his father and Wang Qinian before walking out. Since that rainy autumn night, he vowed to bury the truths involving his mother in his heart, until someday when he gained true control over everything.
Between the hallways, in the main room, a heater basket was burning, making the surrounding area as warm as spring. The manor had sent over three singing girls; Lin Wan’er and Fan Ruoruo asked them to play cards together. As the game only needed four people at a time, the one left out was asked to help keep score. Fan Xian walked over smiling. The three song girls hurriedly stood up to salute him. Even the young maidservant who was preparing the bed in the inner room came out to salute the young master.
With a wave of his hand, Fan Xian told them to continue what they were doing. He then sat between Ruoruo and Wan’er and said, "If Sizhe was here, he’d have you both crying."
Lin Wan’er smiled at the remark, "I played him once in the manor. I didn’t lose much."
Fan Xian didn’t believe that Fan Sizhe, with his twisted and stubborn calculation abilities, could not win against Wan’er. Fan Ruoruo confirmed what she said. "She's not lying. That night, Sizhe only won two stacks of coins."
Fan Xian’s eyes brightened, "I didn’t think Wan’er was so formidable."
"There wasn’t much to do in the palace. All the Ladies enjoyed playing cards," Lin Wan’er said with a grin. "You should know that when those palace women start calculating, each is shrewder than the one before them. Naturally, it was the same with playing cards. Having lived in the palace all those years, of course I’m no pushover."
With a somewhat apologetic smile, Fan Xian said, "I see, I see."
The other servants were all drinking and chatting in the side yards. Stepping over the bits of snow on the stone slabs, Fan Xian walked outside. The area behind him was dimly lit by candles, and echoed with the faint noises of Mahjong tiles and the excited voices of the girls. Suddenly, he remembered how Stephen Chow, playing Tang Bohu, might have also experienced such a scene in the movie Flirting Scholar. But Tang Bohu was very miserable, while Fan Xian was very fortunate; there was a huge difference.
Wan’er and Ruoruo both knew he would venture outside every night. But after seeing him train this morning, both of them obediently didn’t ask him about anything and accepted it as a fact.
Bracing the light snow, Fan Xian went up the secret path, straight into the depths of the bamboo forest. He only stopped when he reached the bottom of the cliffs next to the plum blossom trees.
This was the most secluded place in Cang Mountain. Very casually, Fan Xian reached out his hand—Wu Zhu’s hand reached down as if descending from Heaven—and the two hands grasped together. By alternating their strength, Fan Xian "floated" up to the peak. Here, he could see far and wide, while staying relatively safe from view.
Under the moonlight, the snowy Cang Mountains were silently beautiful. Fan Xian received a black, cold metal object from Wu Zhu. He laid on the ground, and took aim at the rocks in the snow far in the distance.