Chapter 65: The Prince’s Mansion
The poetry contest at Crown Prince Jing's mansion and the Crown Prince's Poetry Competition were two of the hottest social events in the capital. They were held monthly, come rain or shine. Countless poor scholars and starving poets tried their hardest to get in, hoping to set the world ablaze with a single line of poetry and find a way of getting ahead in life.
The crown prince was well-renowned as a wordsmith, and although Crown Prince Jing was the little brother of the Emperor, he was determined to be a rich and idle prince, and so he had little in the way of influence. In contrast, those who had clear goals naturally flocked to the side of the crown prince.
If one could gain the praise of Crown Prince Jing, it was a good way to build a reputation. So at each competition, many guests would gather at the prince's mansion, not far from Shixin Gate. Some came carried in on palanquins, some sat atop carriages, and some walked, but the butler at the gate treated all with equal favor, and after checking their name cards, he would respectfully let them enter.
Fan Xian sat on a palanquin with an unsightly look on his face, alternating between green and deathly pale. From time to time he would cover his mouth, trying to suppress the urge to vomit.
He had chosen the palanquin because it felt appropriate for such a grand literary occasion, and had invited his sister to attend with him. He had spent his whole life by the sea in Danzhou, and the swaying of boats had never made him feel seasick, but this palanquin was making him feel quite queasy. Feeling uneasy, he drew open the curtain on the palanquin. "How much further?" he asked Teng Zijing meekly.
Teng Zijing stifled a smile. "Just past the next crossing," he replied.
Fan Xian grunted in acknowledgement and sat back. His fingers were splayed forth like orchids, and he placed his thumbs and ring fingers together, allowing the zhenqi to slowly release, rinsing out his internal organs and slightly relieving his nausea, but in the end he couldn't stop feeling dizzy.
His eyebrows furrowed as he dealt with both the doubt in his mind and his physical discomfort. His stay in the mansion over the past few days showed him made him feel as though his father had very different ways of thinking, and there were many things that he could not explain. Like, why did he care so much about his illegitimate child? Was it simply out of his father's love for his mother?
He turned his head to look outside the palanquin, separating the thin green curtain and looking at the figures of people on horseback. He knew that although Teng Zijing was fond of him, he was his father's man, and he could not place his faith in him entirely. He sighed. He felt he had to find subordinates he could trust, people like the ghost-like Wu Zhu, people he could order around as he pleased.
Fan Xian very much wanted to know what his mother had done in the capital, and how his father knew her, and... how she had died. This was not borne simply out of pure curiosity and parental affection; he felt that knowing his past was the only way he could control both his present and his future.
Inside the prince's mansion, in front of the gate leading into a garden, a group of scholars bowed humbly to a young man. They could never have imagined that the person welcoming them at the gate at today's poetry contest was Crown Prince Jing himself.
Two small palanquins with green curtains slowly made their way past. Crown Prince Jing gave a slightly impatient salute to the scholars, who seemed overwhelmed by his presence, and moved along to welcome the palanquin. At that moment, the scholars realized that they had committed some kind of faux pas, but did not dare let their emotions show upon their faces. They continued to smile boastfully, and confidently cupped their hands in a salute, ushered to the rear garden
by the butler.
The servants at the gate going to the prince's mansion were somewhat curious about who this guest could be for the crown prince himself to greet them at the gate.
When they saw the young woman in a golden-colored jacket and gauze skirt get out of the palanquin, they finally realized that the young lady of the Fan family had arrived. Considering the relationship between the prince's manor and Fan Manor, the personal friendship between the Crown Prince and Miss Fan, and how rarely she showed her face in public, it was only right that he greet her at the gate.
"Miss Ruoruo." Crown Prince Jing's surname was Li, and his given name was Hongcheng. The gossip in the capital was that he was never seen far from a pleasure house, but standing before Miss Fan, he seemed a bashful and respectful young man.
Fan Ruoruo curtsied, greeted the Crown Prince, and smiled. "And so what did Ruojia choose as a topic today?"
The Crown Prince laughed in response, but his gaze occasionally shifted toward the palanquin behind her. Was he still not going to come out after all that effort? Servants came forward and parted the curtains of the sedan chair in deference... but to their surprise, there was no one inside. The people inside the prince's mansion were taken aback. What was he playing at?
Fan Ruoruo stifled a giggle. "My brother is behind us," she explained.
As they talked, they saw the 16-year-old catch up with them from not far behind, gasping for breath, accompanied by an attendant. The young man wore pale maroon robes with the collar unfastened. He seemed rather frivolous, but combined with his clean face, it made the people around him feel relaxed.
"My apologies, my apologies." Fan Xian cupped his hands and bowed to the crown prince. "The rocking of the palanquin made me feel dizzy," he explained awkwardly, "so I got out and walked. But it's so hot out, so I stopped to drink some winter cherry juice. I'm late, I know."
"Not late at all." Crown Prince Jing looked at this young man who he had only met once before, and felt particular fondness for him. He laughed heartily. "As long as you could come, Brother Fan."
Fan Xian noticed that the crown prince was now calling him by his surname, unlike a few days before. He could not tell what the crown prince meant to show by this. He paused for a moment, and a smile crept across his face. "The winter cherry juice from outside your mansion is far better than what they serve in other places, so naturally I had to try it."
The crown prince smiled. They could have stood there talking all day. With a wave of his hand, he ushered the siblings into the garden.
From his days in Danzhou, Fan Xian knew that his sister was a talented poet. Although her verse tended to be rather melancholy and bound by convention, it was still good poetry. But it was clear that she had little in the way of artistic achievements compared to the princelings and young scholars who attended the poetry contests, and so Fan Ruoruo had little renown as a poet.
So he was very curious how his sister would behave at this sort of gathering, as well as Princess Ruojia, who had caused the leak of Dream of the Red Chamber to be sold by illegal booksellers at dirt-cheap prices.
But as he followed Crown Prince Jing into the rear garden, with its winding corridors and running water, he realized, in a seemingly unconstrained nation such as this, there was still segregation between men and women. The women sat beneath a pavilion on the other side of the lake, with layers of thin white silk hanging from it, swaying in the wind.
Slightly disappointed, he followed the crown prince to the edge of the lake. As he looked at the floating silk in the distance, he couldn't help but think of Stephen Chow, a director and actor who he had loved so much in his past life. He sighed deep in his heart. "It feels like first love."