One day near the end of February, a rumor began to circulate within the political circle in the capital. The Overwatch Council was able to act so swiftly and precisely all due to a blacklist. And that blacklist was provided to the council by this year’s proctor, young Sir Fan who was also known as the "Poet Sage". Supposedly, Sir Fan Xian felt the misery of those diligent scholars and could not tolerate the amount of cheating that had been going on; he was angry at this infringement of justice, which was why he didn’t mind stirring up the political circle, enraging those above him, and obtaining that blacklist.
It was an absurd rumor. With Fan Xian’s legendary wisdom and courage, that list somehow became the darkest slip of paper in the capital, despite not being much of a secret to begin with. Fan Xian was able to recognize the intent of this with one glance; it was a rumor stirred up by those from the eighth bureau of the Overwatch Council.
As soon as the rumor came out, Fan Xian became a thorn in the foot of every official at the Board of Rites. On the other hand, however, his reputation in the eyes of the common people and scholars just increased a step higher. While the Imperial College and Tongwen Institute kept quiet so far, Fan Xian had now firmly become admired by all scholars.
Fan Xian adjusted his clothes and mocked himself. "Isn’t this too new?" He then gently tapped his sister’s face, which was full of worry. "What are you worried about? You brother belongs to the most powerful faction in Qing." His voice was light and his words strange. Ruoruo was only able to understand what he meant on the surface.
Lin Wan’er didn’t hear him speak; not that she would have understood anyway. But she wasn’t worried. With a warm smile, she tied the jade ruyi scepter--given by empress dowager—and some other accessories to her husband’s belt. Pretending to dust them off, she said, "Come back early."
Just as Count Sinan said, Fan Xian was too immature in the way he did things, and he left behind many loose ends. Now that the rumor was out, the entire capital was shocked. All eyes were on Fan Xian. Those behind the cheating case, while they were weary of Fan Xian’s background at first, were now gradually beginning to move. This morning, there were already some young imperial censors suspecting Fan Xian himself was involved in cheating and other immoral deeds.
Fan Xian was getting ready to go out. He had to go to the Ministry of Justice to be interrogated. Even though the cheating case was being investigated by the Overwatch Council, the officials who had suffered by the investigation didn’t want the council to deal with Fan Xian. The Ministry of Justice wasn’t very close with either the Prime Minister or Fan Jian.
Walking out of the courtyard, Sisi greeted him. "Have a good journey, Young Master." Staring at the maidservant whom he hasn’t seen for a while, Fan Xian laughed. "We talked about this when we were younger, saying ‘good journey’ is bad luck." Sisi reconsidered. "Then, Young Master, please don't stay out too long."
"Okay. Make some millet porridge for me. Add some sweet chestnuts from Danzhou. I haven’t eaten something you cooked in so long." Fan Xian suddenly turned to ask, "What’s the progress on the things I told you to copy?"
Recently, Fan Xian didn’t know what to do with Sisi, whom he had grown up with. He didn’t want her to keep being a maidservant in Fan manor, so he asked her to help him copy books. Sisi rarely had a chance to talk to the young master in the past few days, so naturally she was a bit unsettled. Hearing her young master’s question, she answered proudly, "I'm almost done."
"I see. Good." Fan Xian nodded and was on his way. He said to his wife and sister, "See? The maidservant I brought up is different than the rest. Ruoruo, she was much calmer than you are."
Slightly worried, Fan Ruoruo said, "That’s because Sisi doesn't know how seriou
s today is."
Serious indeed. By exposing this case, Fan Xian made many his enemy. Many officials at court wanted to sue him, disregarding their relationship with the Prime Minister and Count Sinan.
Walking out the front gate, the always quiet street was now crowded with people. The officials who had come to apprehend him had troubled expressions on their faces. They stood behind a stone lion, looking like thieves. Outside the gate was Fan Sizhe with a team of guards waving around broomsticks aggressively.
There were also common people who came after hearing that Fan Xian was to be interrogated; they already knew Fan Xian was behind the exposure of the cheating scandal. Being simple folks, they wouldn’t think any deeper than that. To them, Fan Xian was learned and a genuinely good person. They all felt he had been wronged.
Standing at the front gate, Fan Xian looked at the crowd with a smile. Upon discovering most of the people were young scholars, he knew Chen Pingping’s method was taking effect. In a low voice, he said to Teng Zijing, "Where are Shi Chanli and the other three?"
"Young Master, as per your orders, they’re under the secret protection of Council agents. Sir Wang Qinian suggested that they be sent to King Jing so that those rotten officials at court wouldn’t frame you. In my humble view, Young Master wouldn’t want to link anything to Crown Prince Jing, so I refused."
Fan Xian looked at Teng Zijing in surprise; the bodyguard had foreseen a scenario Fan Xian hadn’t. Sending those four to King Jing appeared to be a safe move, but in the eyes of the Eastern Palace, this case would no longer be about Fan Xian’s sense of justice and His Majesty’s wishes, but rather wanting to support the Second Prince and defeat the Crown Prince. If that happened, Fan Xian’s relationship with the Eastern Palace would be torn beyond repair.
Seeing Fan Xian walk out made the crowd of scholars burst out in cheers. They rushed forward, shouting their firm admiration and support.
Fan Xian smiled and waved, like a superstar from his former life. He said quietly to Teng Zijing, "Scholars are too naïve; that's their biggest problem."
Teng Zijing chuckled and said nothing. Fan Xian suddenly laughed too. "If the opportunity arises in the future, will you become an official outside the capital? With some hard work, I think I can guarantee you a sixth or seventh-rank."
Teng Zijing was shocked. While he had read some books, he had been a bodyguard all his life. Why did Young Master Fan bring up becoming an official? He then immediately realized that the Young Master probably wanted to have trustworthy subordinates in various counties of Qing. He replied, "If you wish it."
"If I wish?" Fan Xian laughed, "It's a shame there’s no Baling county in Qing."
Fan Xian’s face was flawless. His smile was like sunshine, or a gentle breeze in spring. It calmed the hearts of all the scholars present. As the "Poet Sage", this was what he should look like.
Fan Xian then rubbed Fan Sizhe’s head, and told him to not cause a ruckus. Finally, he greeted the officials from the Ministry of Justice and boarded his carriage.
The crowd gradually thinned. The scholars chased after the carriage. No one noticed another heavily guarded carriage departing from Fan Manor. That carriage was headed toward the palace, and in it sat Lin Wan’er. She had planned it out with Fan Xian last night. Today, she would go to the palace and explain things to everyone there in order to mediate a bit.
Fan Xian, meanwhile, walked to the main hall of the Ministry of Justice. The hall was a bit shaded, with wind rushing in. Despite it being spring, Fan Xian felt chilly. Even so, he smiled and saluted the three men sitting high above him, "It is an honor to see you again, my lords."
The spring examination cheating scandal was a major incident, and Fan Xian was heavily involved. Besides the Director of the Ministry of Justice, two high-ranking officials from the Supreme Court and the censorate also came. On both sides of the hall were the officials from the thirteen branches of the ministry. Together, they were a terrifying sight.
Fan Xian frowned when he received no reply to his greeting. A while later, there was the call to order. Director Han Zhiwei asked coldly, "You who are standing there; are you the fifth-ranked Fan Xian from Imperial College?"
Fan Xian was far from the newborn calf that had just entered the capital and responded to everything with a smile. He gave the director a look and replied blandly, "Yes, I am."
"You are summoned here today to answer some questions regarding the spring examination."
Fan Xian chuckled. "From my knowledge, the cheating scandal is being taken care of by the Overwatch Council. I didn’t know the Ministry of Justice was also involved."
Hearing such a disrespectful comment, the three officials became angry. They knew the one standing before them was a big character—backed by a prime minister and a high minister. He had also won the hearts of the scholars because of this scandal. This Director Han Zhiwei of the Ministry of Justice always emphasized being just and impartial. He very much detested such spoiled fronts. "I am carrying out Imperial orders. Do not try to evade our questions."
Fan Xian shook his head, "I am not trying to evade anything. I really don’t know why I have been summoned here. If it’s about the details of the case, I must apologize in advance. The Overwatch Council set strict orders that I not disclose any details of the case before it’s concluded."
The vice-minister of the Supreme Court chortled. "You won't even answer the Imperial court?"
"The Overwatch Council is a part of the Imperial court, and the Ministry of Justice is another part of the Imperial court." Fan Xian sighed. "You all must know that this case involves many people. I really don’t know how to handle it. It’s not explained in Qing’s lawbook either."