Daylight had yet to break through fully as he left the flower boat. The Crown Prince was still sleeping with Yuan Meng in his room, so Fan Xian decided not to call after him. The reason he had left so quickly was because he had only just come to the capital. It was not proper to visit prostitutes, and furthermore, he presumed that the Guo family would soon come to raise a fuss, so he got ready to return to Fan Manor and watch the proceeding scene.
He had not really done anything with Lili the previous night. It was not because he was some kind of Daoist master, but simply because, psychologically and physically, he had developed an obsession with cleanliness that had ruined the mood. He found it difficult to be with a woman who had been touched by another man, and in his previous life, he had seen plenty of notices about preventing sexually transmitted diseases, so he was scared of catching one. There were no condoms in this world, so while there may have been no harm in visiting a brothel, actually doing something there would no doubt have its dangers.
But this didn’t all happen without a consequence. Fan Xian looked at the unsightly bulge in his pants and sighed mournfully. He had some regrets from when he was in Danzhou, and one of them was that nothing had ever developed between him and Sisi. When the sedan chair reached the corner gate of Fan Manor, the three servants and their master quietly called for the gate to be opened, and slipped inside, telling the guard at the gate not to say anything. When the guard saw Master Teng and the young master from Danzhou, he did not dare intervene, and simply went back to sleep.
Fan Xian crawled into bed to catch up on sleep. When he woke up, morning had broken. Putting on his wooden clogs, he walked to the front courtyard. When he heard a loud racket, he guessed what might have happened, and feigned a puzzled expression.
It was said that that morning, the city magistrate Mei Zhili was napping in his study when he unexpectedly heard the sound of a drum. He was rather annoyed, and wondered what sort of hooligans would dare to interrupt his slumber. But there were court rules he dared not neglect, and so he made his way to the court where, after a bout of yelling, he was presented with an accusation.
When Mei Zhili read the paper the accusation was written on, his heart skipped a beat. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were ordinary people. The plaintiff was Guo Baokun, a man of some renown, the only son of Guo You, Director of the Board of Rites and now an editor at the palace. The defendant was Fan Xian, son of Fan Jian, assistant minister of
the Treasury. Fan Xian was accused of stopping Guo Baokun in the street the previous night, starting a fight, and assaulting an official of the court.
When he saw their two surnames on the paper, Mei Zhili was rather worried. The royal court was divided into two factions. One faction supported the Crown Prince; the other faction was secretive, but was secretly headed by the Second Prince. Guo You, Director of the Board of Rites, had been the Crown Prince's teacher, so naturally he took the side of the Crown Prince. Although Treasury minister Fan Jian did not outwardly pick a side, he had always had good relations with King Jing, and Crown Prince Jing was the Second Prince that the other faction supported.
The case was simple, but it was not a good case. He feared that he might provoke the wrath of either the Crown Prince or the Second Prince. As he pondered, he secretly cursed Fan Xian, this young man who had no sense of what was important. Fan Xian had begun to make a name for himself in the capital; the bureaucrats all knew he was the illegitimate son of Count Sinan, raised in Danzhou. He spent all this time in Danzhou, thought Mei Zhili, but as soon as he gets to the capital, he gets into a fight in the street. How am I supposed to deal with this?
But the accusation was very clear, with human testimony and material evidence. There was no way he could put it off. He looked at the paper and frowned. He sent off a secretary to Count Sinan's estate to apprehend the defendant, and then secretly sent an attendant to the Treasury to let Minister Fan know as soon as possible..
Fan Xian saw that a city bailiff had been dispatched to apprehend him. He wanted to know, considering that the Fan family and the royal household such a close relationship, on what grounds he was being detained. So, taking up their clubs, the manor guards got ready to loyally defend their master, preparing to pounce like tigers on the put-upon bailiffs.
At the gate to Fan Manor, the bailiffs were also at their wits' end. They argued that it was their master's wish to apprehend the defendant, that the staff of Fan Manor were always so overbearing, and that they had to take the defendant before the court.
Fan Xian smiled and got ready to answer to their calls. Unexpectedly, he heard the yell of a youngster's voice. "Where did you thugs come from? Come on, take me on!" The person who dared to threaten government workers, of course, was not any of the servants, but the hot-headed young Fan Sizhe.
When the guards heard the young master's words, they bellowed and lifted up their clubs as they valiantly moved forward, but remembering that their adverseries were government workers, they did not actually beat them, instead simply pounding the ground to scare them. At this point, the bailiffs were feeling exasperated. . They knew it was best not to provoke their opponents, so they did not bring out iron chains for those crude young men, and instead fled in unexpected and miserable retreat.
"What's all this noise?" At that moment, Lady Liu walked elegantly out, looked at the bailiffs, and frowned. She ordered them to come in and have tea, and looked at Fan Xian uneasily.
Fan Xian shrugged his shoulders innocently.
In the reception pavilion, a handful of bailiffs sat, uneasily looking at the countess. Due to their status, they would not usually receive this sort of treatment. They also understood the stately Fan family were treating them so courteously for a particular reason, which is why they sipped their tea rather uneasily. They were small fry; if someone in the Fan family were to get angry with them, how would they ever survive in the capital?
Trying to get a clear picture of the situation, Lady Liu frowned as she asked questions. "This cannot be right. Our eldest returned from the poetry contest at Prince Jing's manor, then came straight home to study. Niulan Street is far away from Fan Manor. How could he have beaten up the son of the Guo family?"
The bailiff responded with some unease, "Master Guo identified him personally, and what's more... was Master Fan really here yesterday?" he said with some disbelief.
Lady Liu's gentle gaze turned to daggers, and she fixed the bailiff with a ruthless glare. "Are you calling the House of Fan liars?"
The bailiff's heart skipped a beat, and he immediately stopped talking. But he couldn't retreat either; after all, the plaintiff was waiting in the court. Fan Xian sat quietly to one side, somewhat astonished. He did not know why Lady Liu was sticking up for him. In fact, he did not understand the noble families of the era. No matter how fierce the conflict within the family, if an enemy came from outside, then these clans would always put aside their differences and close ranks.
Lady Liu took a sip of her tea. She knew that these bailiffs had no choice, and it was no use pressing them on it. She smiled slightly. "Is what the Guo family calls 'assault' really assault? All things are governed by human emotions. Must we really respond to such an accusation? Even if we are not a rich house, we have our dignity within the capital. I am curious: who was it that brought this accusation to the court?"
"It was a butler of the Guo family," replied the bailiff hurriedly. If the Fan family aren't rich, he thought, then nobody in the capital is.
As soon as she heard that it was merely the butler who had brought the accusation, she raised her eyebrows sharply. She pounded the table. "They have the butler bring the accusation," she scolded, "and yet they want us to respond in person? What sort of logic is that? Was it not Master Guo who was beaten? How so? Since he wishes to levy such an accusation, he can levy it in person. Otherwise one of these days, I shall send my butler to lodge the accusation that Guo Baokun is a bully who terrorizes men and accosts women, and regardless of whether my accusation has merit, you shall get him to go to court and answer for it!"
And as she finished her tirade, she called in a loud voice: "Butler Xu!"
Butler Xu tactfully and knowingly stood to attention. "Yes, Mistress?"
"Tell Mr Zheng to write out a dozen lawsuits," she said coolly, "and starting tomorrow, we will take one to the city hall each day. If it doesn't scare the Guo family, it will at least tire them out." She almost seemed to smile as she turned to the bailiff. "Mr Zheng is our counsel, but I hear that some years ago he was also a legal adviser to your master's family. I'm sure it will be no problem for him to file the lawsuits."
Regardless of whether it scares or tires out the Guo family, thought the bailiff, it'll certainly scare or tire out the city hall. He had no choice but to beg for forgiveness. "Madam, I humbly beg of you, please forgive me... we have no choice in this matter."
After her long tirade, Lady Liu's mouth felt somewhat dry. She reached out her hand to grasp her teacup, but found that Fan Xian was already holding it out to her, smiling. They exchanged glances, and swiftly looked away.
The bailiff held out his hands, begging for mercy. "What is your decision, my lady?"
Lady Liu muttered to herself. She knew this matter had to come to an end, and they had spent too much time on it. "The matter of this assault has not been determined."
Fan Xian butted in. "There was no 'assault'."
"We at Fan Manor do not understand why the Guo family wishes to do us such an injustice," continued Lady Liu.
Fan Xian was deep in thought. "A few days ago, we got into an argument at a restaurant. Master Guo was somewhat humiliated, so perhaps this is all my fault."
"Is that so?" said Lady Liu. "Perhaps it is your fault, but... would Master Guo harbor such a grudge as to falsely accuse you?"
Fan Xian frowned. "It looks that way," he replied.