Chapter 67: By the Lakeside
By the side of the lake stood a pavilion, in which half a dozen women sat under a canopy of thin white silk. Some were eating fruit, looking at the people chatting by the other side of the lake. Some furrowed their brows as they held their brushes, trying to come up with something. Looking at their luxurious and respectable clothing, it could be assumed that they were the daughters of the capital's bureaucrat families. Among them was one girl who wore a light yellow skintight corset. Her eyes were exceptionally bright, like the semi-translucent jade brought across the western sea. This was Ye Ling'er, the girl who Fan Xian had caught a glimpse of outside the city walls; the only daughter of the head of the city garrison.
Ye Ling'er's gaze flitted over to the other side of the lake, and she turned to look at Fan Ruoruo. "Ruoruo, is that shameful member of your family here today?" she asked.
When she heard her comment, Fan Ruoruo was filled with an unnamable anger. She placed her brush on the table. "Ye Ling'er, your tongue is usually as sharp as your family's weapons... It's fine to have some edge to you, but what soy-sauce seller have you been visiting to have such an acidity to your words today?"
When the ladies in the pavilion heard this, there was a sudden silence. They did not expect such language from the mild-mannered daughter of the Fan family.
For some reason, Ye Ling'er felt a thorough dislike for the illegitimate son of the Fan family, so her words were rather uncouth. Hearing gentle Fan Ruoruo speak to her so brusquely, she harrumphed angrily, but she could not find the words to reply.
Rou Jia sat by Fan Ruoruo's side, grinding an ink stick. Listening to the two women's conversation, she giggled. "You're both usually rather wonderful. Why is it that you're so acrimonious today?" Rou Jia was the youngest of the women, but also possessed the highest status. She had the calmest temperament, and so her words cleared the air.
"Who knows why Miss Fan is the way she is today?" grunted Ye Ling'er.
Fan Ruoruo smiled, suppressing her anger. She fluttered her long eyelashes. Although she was the daughter of an official, and had a reputation of being a talented girl, they were ultimately all sixteen-year-old girls – how much emotion could one bear? "If we are speaking of brothers, it is best not to be rude."
Ye Ling'er laughed coldly. "How have I been rude? Don't tell me that the person who came with you today has been adopted into the family and added to the records of the Fan clan?"
Fan Ruoruo was exceptionally bright, and she knew that Ye Ling'er was taking her anger over some other issue out on her brother. She smiled coldly and did not respond; instead, she got up to leave the pavilion. For some reason, Ye Ling'er followed. Rou Jia called after them softly, but she wasn't sure what was going on. The women in the pavilion did not know which person Ye Ling'er was referring to, and they couldn't understand why the two girls had suddenly gotten angry, so they were quite confused.
The other girls didn’t follow them out of the pavilion. Fan Ruoruo was able to speak more directly. She fixed Ye Ling'er with a dark look. "You are on good terms with Miss Lin. That is your business. If she does not wish to be married to my brother, that is her business. If you continue to be so impertinent toward my brother, you will not blame me if I decide I no longer care for our friendship."
Ye Ling'er frowned and scrunched up her nose, looking rather pretty as she did so. "Yesterday, you came to my manor," she grumbled, "and I told you that Chen'er does not wish to marry your brother. I wanted you to go home and say so. But instead you bring him to the prince's mansion. Don't think I don't know what your family is planning. Maybe you've decided to use this poetry contest as an opportunity to make a name for yoursel
ves, and..." she stopped talking, and angrily straightened her sleeves.
Fan Ruoruo saw the mood that she was in and sighed to herself. It seemed that the girls saw things as her brother said they would. "Who did you want me to talk to?" she asked. "My father or my brother? You know full well that in families such as ours, marriage isn't something we have any say over."
Ye Ling'er thought on what she had said. "...Or you could get your brother to leave the capital," she said, a faint hint of hope in her voice.
Fan Ruoruo frowned at her. Ye Ling'er's words were laughably absurd. Ruoruo's brother had had quite some influence on her, and so she appeared much more mature. But Ye Ling'er was still a clueless young noblewoman. "Let's not talk of marriage anymore."
Ye Ling'er looked at her and smiled. "What is your brother's status? And Miss Lin's?"
Fan Ruoruo smiled. "My brother has a father but no mother; Miss Lin has no mother or father. Status? Those are their statuses."
Although Miss Lin was the illegitimate daughter of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister did not dare acknowledge her, nor could he. And her mother's identity was even more of an unspeakable secret in the Kingdom of Qing – thus it was best to say that she had neither mother nor father.
Ye Ling'er seemingly could not imagine what Fan Ruoruo was saying beneath her smile. Unexpectedly caustic, her lips trembling, she spoke in a low and fierce voice. "Do you think this marriage is set in stone? Who knows what might happen?"
Fan Ruoruo felt a twinge of fear, but a gentle smile remained on her face. She walked slowly forward, pulling closer to Ye Ling'er, suppressing her feelings with all her might. "Perhaps you do not understand who my brother is. I advise you not to do anything inappropriate. As for the marriage... I don't consider it completely determined either. Perhaps when my brother meets with Miss Lin, whom you love so dearly, he may wish to leave the capital at once."
Though Ye Ling'er's family was known for its martial prowess, she was unimposing before this weak girl. "You presume your brother will dare to be so choosy toward Chen'er?"
Fan Ruoruo sighed. She spoke with the same manner that Fan Xian sometimes adopted himself. "I don't understand. This is a matter between the Fan family and Miss Lin. Why are you so concerned?"
Ye Ling'er thought for a while. "You know Miss Lin is in poor health," she said quietly. "So why is it necessary to go against her wishes and marry her off to someone she doesn't want to marry?"
Her words tugged at Fan Ruoruo's heartstrings. What young girl did not yearn for love? What young girl did not wish to marry a man of her own choosing? Putting herself in her shoes, Fan Ruoruo felt some pity for the girl, who had no power over her own love life. But... "First of all, the matter has been decided by the authorities. Secondly, it all depends on my brother's opinion. There's nothing I can do, Miss Ye."
She smiled as she said the last few words.
At that moment, concerned by the fight between the two girls, Rou Jia stepped out to find them. Seeing that all seemed well, she let out a sigh of relief. "Come back inside," she said sweetly.
Fan Ruoruo suddenly seemed at ease. "Miss Ye," she said gently, "I have heard that your friend is in ill health. My father happens to know a fine doctor. Would it be convenient for him to pay her a house visit?"