Chapter 64: Poetry
Count Sinan sighed. He knew that this young man was just like his mother; neither was easily persuaded by anyone. A pitying look rose in his eyes. "This marriage was not the Fan family's idea," he said softly, "and it wasn't the Prime Minister's idea either. There are so many different matters involved. It's complicated. If you want to see that girl, you think of a way to do it. I'm not getting involved."
Fan Xian bowed. "As long as you'll allow me to see her," he replied, "I'll find a way, father." When he recalled what he'd heard before, he felt doubt clouding his mind. "If the Prime Minister doesn't agree to the marriage, then what?"
Count Sinan laughed coldly. "As I said, there is a lot of power behind this. It’s beyond his control to object... Don't forget; Miss Lin can't really return to the Lin family. Her status is as the adopted daughter of His Majesty, a princess of the palace."
In the late April weather, Fan Xian felt as if someone had tipped a huge bucket of ice water over him, soaking him from head to toe. He shivered. Finally, he understood - because his own marriage involved the Emperor's decision over who was to manage a vast estate, it truly was not as easy as it seemed on the surface. The real decision-makers behind the scenes were a small group of people hidden deep within the palace.
But he didn't know whether it was the Empress Dowager or the Emperor.
"Why is the Prime Minister opposed?" he asked, frowning.
Count Sinan took a sip of tea and furrowed his brow. It seemed the tea that day was rather bitter. He rubbed his tongue against his teeth, trying to get rid of the astringent taste. "Did I not say before?" he said unclearly.
Fan Xian smiled slightly, pointing out his father's misstep. "Last time, you said that the Prime Minister thought that the Emperor suspected that there might be something behind this marriage. But actually, if the palace agreed to this marriage, what is he still worried about?"
Count Sinan was quiet for a while. Then it came to him, and he smiled as he placed his teacup on the table. "Fine, I shall tell you the truth. The fact is that the Eldest Princess does not want to marry off her daughter to you."
Fan Xian stared blankly. What was going on? Neither father nor mother wanted to marry off their daughter, so what were they doing taking advantage of this mess? He might as well wash his hands of the whole thing and go off to find that girl in white from the noble family. Although this was what he thought, he knew it was best not to say it aloud. Considering that his father had managed to persuade the powers-that-be in the palace, it was clear that in the process, the Fan family had used a lot of its hidden strength.
"So why does the Eldest Princess object?" he asked. "Miss Lin and myself were born under similar circumstances. We're both illegitimate offspring, so why are they acting so high and mighty?" he thought.
"It is rather strange. His Majesty dotes on her, even more than on his own flesh-and-blood daughter. I once brought it up without thinking after we had been drinking. If she were to be married, the Eldest Princess would have to give her power to her husband, the Emperor's son-in-law, so as not to cause trouble with the imperial bloodline." Count Sinan gently stroked his four-inch beard, seemingly content.
Fan Xian spread out his hands and sighed. "So that's how it is. It seems like the Eldest Princess loves power. I don't know why she never married the Prime Minister. Surely she'd be happier raising children and grandchildren with him."
Count Sinan smiled. "To put it simply, it wouldn't do them any good. If the Eldest Princess had married Lin Ruofu, he would have become a member of the nobility, and he would have no way to fulfill his aspirations. He would never have the power he has over the bureaucracy today if he had."
n Xian frowned. He remembered that the son-in-law of the emperor would not be allowed to be both a bureaucrat and a member of the royal family; they could only take a noble title and nothing more.
"If you were to marry Miss Lin, even though her title of "princess" is simply honorary and you would not be considered part of the royal family, there might be issues with your career as an official." Count Sinan saw Fan Xian's frown and thought that he was worried, so he thought it was best to explain this.
Fan Xian stood up and smiled. "We'll see."
"Also, to take next year's imperial exams, you'll have to start studying soon."
Did he really still have to take the imperial exams, competing with all the others? He smiled bitterly and said nothing.
After that, Count Sinan told him that the monthly poetry competition at Crown Prince Jing’s estate was coming up soon, and that he had best prepare for it. When Fan Xian heard this, he wasn't filled with the same fear as being told to write an essay, but when he considered that he might have to fake some more poems like he'd done with the old salt-seller, his head began to ache.
Count Sinan looked at him and smiled. "I know you are a talented poet. In some situations, it is not right to hide your talent too much. Though there are people in the palace assisting your marriage, if you are able to garner a reputation in the capital's literary scene, perhaps the Eldest Princess will warm up to the idea of marrying her daughter off to you."
Fan Xian laughed bitterly in response. It seemed the old man had secretly read the letters he had sent his little sister. The fact that he had written Dream of the Red Chamber was also something he couldn't hide from him. He couldn't help but feel some admiration for the old man's shrewd nature in keeping it secret until now.
There were no Sundays in the realm; even if you worked, you would not be punished by the gods. For the same reason, there were no Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays. In short, there was no clear division between working days and rest days.
Shops were open every day; government ministries were open every day; and it was said that even the Emperor refused to take a day off. But when it came to many sons of the great houses of the capital, every day was a day of leisure.
Sixteen years after the great war, the Kingdom of Northern Wei had been divided and weakened beyond repair. The western barbarians fled far away, their horses eating grass in the mountains. The Emperor had ordered the prince to take a hundred thousand soldiers westward to expand the border; this was also little more than sport.
The Kingdom of Qing was strong in military affairs, but after the Emperor had won his battles, they became fonder of reciting poetry. As it was fashionable among the upper classes, it became even more fashionable among the lower classes. Other sons of noble families had no jobs for the most part. Neither did they have the qualifications to lead troops. They prepared for the imperial examinations, and so they amused themselves in an elegant manner, keeping themselves separate from the lower classes. They read books and discussed them, and read and wrote poetry.
And so the capital was a place where it was fashionable to duel with poetry rather than with weapons.