Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The crowd understood the situation after Song Shiren spoke. Gathered here were people from the capital who worked night shifts. After being questioned by Song Shiren, all of them admitted to having seen the Fan family carriage head west yesterday after leaving Jing Palace, without returning to the Mansion, only discreetly returning to Fan Mansion in the middle of the night.
Fan Xian observed the situation before him with slightly narrowed eyes. He was quite impressed by how capable the Guo family was at finding so many witnesses in merely half a day. Seeing Fan Xian’s lack of concern, Zheng Tu began to panic. He whispered in a low voice, "Whatever you do, don’t admit anything. Just say that the Guo family bribed them with money."
Fan Xian replied with a sigh, "It’s true that Guo Baokun has been assaulted and hurt terribly. Why would he go through all the trouble and money just to frame me? It’s doesn’t make sense." Zheng Tu stalled, as he had not expected young master to think in the perspective of their opponent.
Just then, Song Shiren’s lips curled into a sneer as he looked at Fan Xian, "Wasn’t Mr. Fan at home last night? Why is it that there are many witnesses who say otherwise? Dare I ask Mr. Fan what he was doing in the middle of the night that required so much discretion?"
The capital's magistrate, Mei Zhili, glanced at Fan Xian, and wondered how he would respond.
A heavy silence permeated the court.
Fan Xian exhaled. His face was tinged with embarrassment, as if his secret had been revealed. He answered quietly, "Last night… I was at Drunken Immortal Tavern."
Everyone knew what kind of place Drunken Immortal Tavern was. It was perfectly understandable to have wanted to be discreet about spending the night at a brothel. The crowd responded with "oohs" and laughed and as some people made fun of Fan Xian. On the other hand, Mei Zhili seemed relieved by this explanation. However, a smile remained on Song Shiren’s face as he questioned in a direct manner, "Drunken Immortal Tavern? Does Mr. Fan have someone who can back this up?"
"Si Lili can vouch for me." Fan Xian replied awkwardly.
Song Shiren paused before he spoke mockingly, "Is that so? But… Miss Si Lili has left the capital this morning to travel to Suzhou. What a perfect coincidence, one might think that someone was afraid she might say something she shouldn’t."
Fan Xian lifted his head and stared at Song Shiren. Only then did he realize that Guo family has somehow forced Miss Si Lili out of the capital. It looked like they came prepared. After seeing Fan Xian’s speechless state, Song Shiren knew exactly what he had to do. He bowed at Mei Zhili, "Everything is quite obvious now. Mr. Fan had beaten someone and admitted to it after. Please arrest this criminal and decided on his punishment."
Zheng Tu, who had been quiet for a while, suddenly spoke up, "What a magnificent conclusion. Just because my master was out late at night, he is being charged with such a serious crime?"
Song Shiren pressed further, "Then why did you say beforehand that he was in the mansion for the duration of the whole night when he was out?"
Zheng Tu responded in an instant, "Visiting prostitutes is not exactly a reputable thing to say so we had no choice before but to…" Song Shiren’s laughter cut him off. "Visiting prostitutes? So tell me, where is the prostitute?"
He waved his arms in the air and bellowed, "Mr. Guo and Mr. Fan had an argument just the o
ther day and Mr. Guo was attacked yesterday. The attacker was arrogant and claimed to be Fan Xian. Mr. Fan did not return to Fan mansion at the time of the attack and he can’t account to where he was. The obvious truth lies right in front of your eyes. Who do you say the culprit is?"
Mei Zhili regarded the lawyer coldly. Did he really think that he could end the case even if he actually cracked it? Did he not realize that this was not a normal court case? It looked like he overestimated the famous lawyer.
Mei Zhili turned and questioned Fan Xian, "Do you have evidence to prove where you were last night?"
Fan Xian thought about it and laughed. "Actually… Prince Jing came as well. Does he count as a witness?"
If Prince Jing was getting dragged into the case then there was no way Mei Zhili was going to continue to judge the case. His face darkened as he called in the people at his side and whispered something to them. He then announced that he was wrapping up the case for today.
Fan Xian was to remain in the capital at all times. Naturally, the Guo family was not happy, but they couldn’t do anything, as their opponent’s witness was an important figure. They could only further discuss their tactics in the meantime. Realizing the boring ending to the dull argument, the crowd left after a collection of disappointed sighs.
As Fan Xian and Zheng Tu exited the courthouse, they were surprised to see Song Shiren awaiting them.
"Mr. Fan." Song Shiren bowed with a smile.
Fan Xian returned the bow even though he has no idea what Song Shiren was up to.
Song Shiren spoke softly, "I am indebted to the Guo family. It was not by my choice to cause any offence. My apologies." Fan Xian suddenly remembered something, "Is Miss Si Lili really leaving the capital?"
"Yes." Having left the courtroom, Song Shiren treated Fan Xian with utmost respect. Fan Xian stared into his eyes and asked, "Was it your doing, or was it the Guo family?" Song Shiren was surprised as he replied, "I thought it was Mr. Fan who forced her to leave the capital… so you were really at the Drunken Immortal Tavern last night?"
Fan Xian spoke bitterly, "Do you really think I attacked Guo Baokun?" Despite the fact that the case had wrapped up for the day, there was no end to the debate. After some more discussion, Song Shiren turned and left on his ride.
Fan Xian watched as he left and said curiously, "What’s the use of treating me nicely after offending me?"
"Song Shiren is a clever man." Zheng Tu laughed and shook his head as he spoke quietly, "Young Master, you never told me that you went drinking with Prince Jing. Song Shiren's tactics nearly gave me the fright of my life."
Fan Xian laughed, "Everyone knows that the courtroom is merely a stage. Why are you getting nervous over nothing?"
Zheng Tu shook his head and sighed, "It doesn’t matter how this situation plays; we’ve already greatly offended Guo family."
"Whatever we do we’ll offend someone. We might as well practice on someone who deserves to be offended."
"Young Master, your... fake name and the prostitute's name... It'll only take a day for them to spread around the capital."
"That was my intention. I can only hope for the best."
"I’m quite impressed."
"You're too modest."
Deep within the palace grounds, the sun shone on yellow glass tiles which emitted a golden glow. The intimidating bright red high walls created a feeling of imprisonment. In the garden, a kind-looking old lady listened to the female officials talk, her eyes half-closed. Waiting next to her were two noble ladies, and they were by a stone table covered with exotic fruits and vegetables. One of the women looked quite proper, eyes like a phoenix and bright red lips, and she seemed to have complete control of her expression. She peeled a fruit and carefully fed it to the old lady.
"It’s you, dear queen?" The old lady opened her eyes as the fruits were delivered to her. She smiled and continued, "You should leave these things to the younger ones. You rule the palace, the mother of the nation. Why are you doing this?"
The lady laughed warmly and said, "I'm only carrying out my filial duties."
It turned out that this lady was the queen of the country and the old lady she was serving was the emperor's mother, who used to be Queen Cheng and was now the empress dowager. So, who was other lady who’s able to sit next to the queen?
"Alright, you need not stay." The empress dowager then spoke to the maids, "You may leave now."
The maids left with the exception of two older housemaids. Empress dowager closed her eye to rest as she asked, "What do you think of the poem we heard, the one written by the young boy Fan Xian?"
The queen smiled and said, "I don’t understand the art of literature, but I did think that the poem sounded good."
The empress dowager chuckled, "’Good’ doesn’t even describe it. Let’s not even mention how happy the poem made the audience, let’s talk about the poem as heard from the visitor from afar… How could it have been the work of a regular scholar…? It’s just…" Seeing empress dowager at a loss for words, the queen asked, "It’s just what?"
Empress dowager exhaled and continued, "It’s just that every line overflows with sorrow. How could someone so young express bitter sorrow with such maturity? It feels like he is an unfortunate child."
Upon hearing this, the lady who had remained silent the whole time suddenly burst into tears. The queen was quick to comfort her, "The empress dowager isn’t serious. Anyways, if the young boy Fan Xian was truly unfortunate, that could easily be fixed with a wave of the empress dowager’s finger."
Empress dowager disliked the crying and she spoke with a displeased expression, "I have given birth to three children. I don’t need to bring up the emperor. Li Zhi mucks around all the time, but at least he knows to live life freely. And you, you've been crying constantly for the last 10 years yet you still don't understand... It's such a..." She couldn't continue with the harsh words, as after all, her daughter had led a bitter life and had no one to rely on.
The lady continued to sob as she spoke, "My child is already unfortunate, yet the emperor, my own brother, has arranged for her to marry someone from the Fan family, who is even more unfortunate. How are we supposed to live our lives? What will happen to Chen'er if her illness does not improve?" The fragile, sobbing lady was Fan Xian's potential mother-in-law - the unmarried elder princess!
The empress dowager could no longer hold her anger back, and she scolded her. "The cause of her illness had to do with you, her mother, not doing what was necessary to help her. How could you have to audacity to complain! What's wrong with the Fan family's child? He travelled all the way from Danzhou without a complaint just to boost her blessings. Even if he was a poor child with no reputation, you should not disregard the Fan family's efforts for our emperor."
The maids were long gone and only two old housemaids stood by the sides, their faces serious and oblivious to the conversation.
The empress dowager was so angry that her breaths became heavy and frequent. The queen lifted he hand to comfort her, but empress dowager pushed it away. She calmed down a little before speaking again, "Anyways, Chen'er has got to get married someday. It's not as if she would have had a good life for sure if she married a government official. That Fan... Fan what?"
The queen quickly reminded her, "Fan Xian."
"That’s right, Fan Xian. You’ve heard already that he’s a talented child and fit for Chen’er. We’re not doing any wrong towards her." The dowager sighed a couple times before continuing, "What’s more, the emperor has already approved of this marriage, so what use is it crying to me?"