Chapter 50: What is Strength?
Teng Zijing rushed up the stairs. As he looked upon the scene, he frowned, and whispered something into Fan Xian's ear. Fan Xian finally realized that this was the somewhat-renowned palace scholar Guo Baokun - the only son of Guo You, Director of the Board of Rites.
After the gloomy-looking young man caught sight of Fan Ruoruo, the expression on his face filled Fan Xian with loathing. "I wondered which family could have such powerful children. So you are the offspring of Count Sinan."
Count Sinan was a favorite of the Emperor, but he was only an assistant minister - a fourth-rank title. And the average son of an official would be unaware of the power that the Fan family held in secret.
Fan Xian had no desire to inflame matters further. After all, Fan Sizhe had started it, and no matter what anyone said, it seemed that he was a fan of Dream of the Red Chamber - but he could not help but frown upon hearing this clear attempt at provocation.
Guo Baokun was a high-ranking official and a scholar within the palace. He was on good terms with the Crown Prince, and so he had grown up to be an arrogant, condescending type. As soon as he laid eyes upon the allegedly cold-hearted Fan Ruoruo, he was filled with wicked urges. "How amusing. All the insignificant inhabitants of Fan Manor see fit to throw their weight around. Truly a disgrace to the educated classes."
In keeping with his self-proclaimed scholarly air, he flipped open the folding fan in his hand with a confident and nimble energy.
The group of scholars sat beside him, worried that they had offended Count Sinan and were unsure what to do. When they heard Guo Baokun's words, they immediately agreed, and rushed to label them as bullies, not even considering for a moment that they might have been in the wrong.
Only He Zongwei, who had kicked off the incident, was silent.
"Educated?" Seeing that his opponent had no desire to let matters lie, Fan Xian could not help but adopt a tone of mockery. "If a scholar does not study, he will not gain knowledge; if he has no ambition, he cannot become a scholar. You call yourselves geniuses, but you don't even bother to attend school. You run to the first tavern you find to get drunk instead. What sort of ambition is that? You call yourselves 'educated'?"
Other than Guo Baokun, the others at the table were also all gifted scholars; when they heard Fan Xian's words they were bewildered.
One scholar chided him. "Don't think you can get away with such impudent language just because you're the Fan family!"
Fan Xian frowned slightly. He didn't think that he and his siblings were completely in the right, but when he looked at the faces of these scholars, he couldn't help but feel disgust. "You say we use our power to take advantage of people," he said, "I can't comment on that. You all sit at that table, drinking with the sons of high officials, not afraid of power and boasting of your own virtue. I'm truly in awe."
As they realized the meaning behind his calm words, some of the people in the building began to stop talking. The people who sat with Guo Baokun were angered, and were ready to get into a full-blown dispute. Guo Baokun waved his fan, preparing to teach these youngsters a lesson.
But Fan Xian was an odd type. On the surface, he was gentle, but if he was unhappy, he liked to make others unhappy. He did not like to give his opponent the chance to retort; he preferred to end things with one blow.
So he did not wait for the official's son to open his mouth, but pointed at the fan that Guo Baokun held in his hand and smiled. "When I first came to the capital," he said, "I saw how young people would amuse themselves all day, all skin and bones, fanning themselves. Is that really strength of character? If that's what you call strength, then I'd rather not study at all."
Guo Baokun came in
and out of the imperial palace as he pleased. He was a friend of the Crown Prince. Who would dare to speak to him this way? He slammed his fan down on the table, speechless and shaking with rage.
The current ruling Kingdom of Qing prized affairs of culture as well as political and military achievements. Young scholars could be found throughout the capital, and in this tavern, a great many of the guests were scholars. Among those scholars... who didn't wield a fan?
Hearing Fan Xian speak so mockingly of strength of character, not only were the table of people sitting with He Zongwei suddenly angered - even the other people on the third floor stood up.
Fan Xian had never had much tolerance for these so-called gifted scholars. As he had lived in two worlds, he was generally unconstrained in his behavior, and so he let slip a remark. But seeing the unusual atmosphere in the restaurant, he finally realized that he had angered a number of people. But he wasn't afraid. He smiled, and bowed to them all, cupping his fist in his hand as a sign of respect.
They weren't sure why, but when they saw the brilliant smile on the young man's face, the angry scholars felt their anger recede.
But Guo Baokun remained enraged, and threw his fan upon the table with gritted teeth, signalling that he wished to fight.
Scholars tend to disparage each other with words, and they were surrounded by the sons of high officials and great families, so a dangerous atmosphere began to rise.
Teng Zijing fixed the Guo family's bodyguard with a cold stare, and prepared to defend his master.
With the sound of two blows, the two men collided with each other. Their fists flew, and the enfeebled scholars in the restaurant cried out in surprise.
Heroic struggles within the capital were always fought to the death by servants. Masters stood to the side as if watching some sort of game, rarely affected by the fight themselves.
But Fan Xian was completely different to the sons of the nobility. When Teng Zijing and the Guo family bodyguard came to blows, he quietly slipped behind them. Finding an opportune space and moment, he extended a clenched fist.
With an echoing smack, what the onlookers expected to be a bitter and drawn-out fight was brought to an abrupt end.
Fan Xian retracted his right hand, and stood in his original space, beaming, as if he had never moved.
The Guo family bodyguard was crouched on the floor. The bridge of his nose was broken by the blow, and blood gushed out along with tears.
Fan Xian was very satisfied with the results of the blow. Master Fei had taught him well. Breaking the bone in that place caused such pain that even a ninth-level master would be unable to bear it.
Guo Baokun looked at his strong family bodyguard, brought to the floor like a dog by a single punch. He turned pale with fear, and pointed at Fan Xian, his voice trembling. "You... you bullies!"
Fan Xian looked at him and shook his head. He felt somewhat confused. Fighting was something you should do by yourself, he thought. He wasn't some sort of hooligan. He took Ruoruo's hand and walked downstairs, confident that he was in the right. He never imagined that what he had done could be such a violation of the customs of this world.