have eased matters somewhat. As everyone else saw it, the young master of the Fan family had come out of nowhere, and seemed to be quite friendly with the Crown Prince. Guo Baokun was Fan Xian's rival neither in fighting nor in words, and so he had to drop the subject.
Crown Prince Jing invited Fan Xian to drink with him. Making the excuse that he had to return home, Fan Xian tactfully declined, but agreed that they would do so at a later date, and all of the Fan family left the restaurant.
Just they were about to climb onto the carriage, He Zongwei caught up with them. He looked Fan Xian in the eyes, and thanked him sincerely.
"What are you thinking me for?" asked Fan Xian, smiling.
"I've always considered myself one of them," he replied, laughing, "and today you showed their boasting for what it was. Now I know that I just liked the idea of being one of them. Deep down, I still can't get away from those clichés."
Fan Xian frowned. This person seemed rather quick to change his mind.
Even though he didn't care for this seemingly-honest scholar, the fight had after all been a result of him defending the "author" of Dream of the Red Chamber. "Everyone has their weaknesses," he explained with a smile. "It's just that sometimes you have to press on regardless. Sometimes scholars can be small men underneath those fur-lined gowns. I was talking nonsense back there myself, I hope you don't mind."
"Small men under fur-lined gowns?" He Zongwei thought on this, and he seemed to have realized something. He bowed deeply to Fan Ruoruo, who stood next to Fan Xian, and returned to the restaurant without looking back.
Fan Xian saw that the dark-skinned scholar's face was slightly reddened, and he realized what had happened. He looked at his sister with a mocking smile. She remained expressionless, as the scholar had never approached them at all.
He knew that He Zongwei's love for her was unrequited, and he had little sympathy. As he saw it, the husband that his little sister would find did not necessarily have to be well-renowned, but he definitely had to be someone she liked.
After Fan Xian left, Guo Baokun, He Zongwei and the rest of the table were left ashen-faced, and they also slinked out of the restaurant. Quiet returned to the third floor of the restaurant, save for the patrons discussing the business that had just transpired with that young man from Fan Manor. They had never heard of such a person being part of the family of Count Sinan, and they all guessed that he must have been a cousin of Miss Fan Ruoruo.
Crown Prince Jing knew of Fan Xian's identity, but he could not tell the people outside his private room. He slowly emptied a glass of wine, and sighed. "They all say that the Crown Prince is fond of literature, and deals only with the great and the good. Today it seems clear that the none of those people have any kind of decency."
An advisor by his side thought for a while before responding. "He Zongwei is a student of Zeng Wenxiang. He will be among those who take the imperial examinations next year. I do not know what he is like."
Crown Prince Jing shook his head. "He Zongwei has talent, but his disposition..." He had overheard some of the talk from outside, and had remembered their discussions on strength of character. He laughed. "He lacks strength of character."
The advisor laughed too. "Count Sinan has hidden his illegitimate son away for so many years. It is interesting indeed."
Crown Prince Jing waved the fan in his hand, and prepared to mutter some words of praise, when he suddenly recalled Fan Xian's words of mockery. He placed the fan on the table and smiled. "Guo Baokun wields his father's power. He is also on good terms with the Crown Prince. So do not attach much importance to Fan Manor. It must have been difficult for those slow-witted types to survive for so long."