tiation between father and the Emperor. If you get father to concede, His Majesty won't be too angry."
Fan Xian shook his head. He thought of his father's mood that evening and knew how dedicated his father was to reclaim his mother's former business. Though he didn't know where this dedication had come from, it would be no easy task to get him to renounce this opportunity.
And he didn't want to renounce it either. After all, it was something his mother had left to him personally. Why would he let the royal family benefit from something that belonged to him? According to talk from the palace, after he had married Lin Wan'er, it would take a few years before he was managing things personally. But he wanted to familiarize himself with the process, so Fan Xian now handled the bookstore business. On one hand he was skilled; on the other hand he wanted to prove to people that he also had a head for business.
"Could... could anyone use some more unusual strategies?" asked Fan Ruoruo, anxious.
Fan Xian thought for a while. "Although I've never met the Eldest Princess, and I've never met any of the big players at the palace, I think since she has been managing the business for over a decade, no matter what kind of person she is, she's definitely a clever one. With this bookstore business, if I'm really killed, no matter whether or not it's her doing, a lot of people will look at her for it. The Emperor may not care whether I live or die, but he won't tolerate anyone secretly wrecking his decree. As ruler, his own prestige is top priority, and with me being caught up in this lawsuit, I can't leave the capital. If anyone moves against me while I'm in the capital..."
He shook his head. "It would be really stupid."
Fan Ruoruo looked at him with admiration. "Your analysis is right."
"Don't look at me like that." Fan Xian looked at her grudgingly. "You trust me more and more. I'm not some sort of god. I'm just a normal guy. There are undoubtedly many things that run contrary to our expectations."
Hearing this, Fan Ruoruo felt somewhat worried, but Fan Xian felt fine. After all, Wu Zhu was always hiding somewhere in the shadows, and if someone wanted to move against him, it would only be if Ye Liuyun, currently travelling, had returned to the capital.
At midday, with the escort of a big group of guards including Teng Zijing, Fan Xian rushed to the Fan clan's own private school to see Fan Sizhe. In the classroom, the children of the Fan clan were happily and noisily playing, paying no attention to the old master. Some of the bolder boys were dipping their brushes in ink and spraying it in front of them for a laugh. Not only did they make a mess of the wall, they even got it on the master's clothes.
The old master was ashen-faced, but he knew—in light of their backgrounds—it was no use getting angry with these urchins, even though their parents often warned them to pay attention to the revered master's words. But when they arrived at the private school, the youngsters' faces changed. What's more, they had their vile manservants backing them up, so they messed around endlessly at school, and often got up to no good in the streets.
Fan Xian peeked inside and took a careful look. He found that Fan Sizhe was well-behaved in comparison, sitting at a table in a corner and writing something. The manservants assigned to him by the family were crouched by his side, drinking tea. It looked like he wasn't listening to the teacher's words either, but at least he wasn't doing anything too untoward. He had overestimated his little brother. If something more fun hadn't just caught his attention, perhaps he would end up just even more impudent than the degenerate children in the classroom.
Fan Sizhe called him in. "So this is where you study?" Fan Xian asked calmly.
Fan Sizhe didn't know why he was unhappy. "Yeah, what of it?" he replied angrily.
"You should be taking charge." Fan Xian believed in his leadership ability. What was more, of all the Fan clan today, Count Sinan's manor was the most magnificent, so he should have held a special place among all the children.
Fan Sizhe scratched his head. "They listen to what I say."
"That's good," replied Fan Xian. "You go in, and I'll teach those brats a lesson, get them to listen to the teacher."
"Huh?" Fan Sizhe seemed not to have understood.
"You don't listen to your teacher?" Fan Xian frowned, thinking back to his time in Danzhou. Whether it was Mr. Xixi or Fei Jie, he was always respectful to the utmost. The noise in his ears got louder and more chaotic. Angrily, he chided him. "If you dare act like them, I'll give you a good slap."
Fan Sizhe didn't know why the always-gentle Fan Xian had suddenly become angry with him. He looked at him and howled. "Why would you slap me?"
The manservants gathered around. They were already familiar with Fan Xian, but when they heard that he was going to beat their master, they were eager to protect him. They glared fiercely at Fan Xian, and counting on his familiarity with Sizhe, one manservant began to scold Fan Xian and swear at him.
Fan Xian frowned.
Teng Zijing and the other bodyguards stepped forwards, relentlessly seizing the manservants and giving them a good thrashing. The manservant who had scolded and sworn at him got the worst of it. The men following Fan Xian were direct subordinates of Count Sinan, and so they did not care in the slightest for these manservants, who were lower in rank than they were. Now they were happy to hurt even a minister's son with no trouble. They didn't hesitate to get started.
And that was how the lesson ended. Filled with fear and pain, the manservants looked at Fan Xian and retreated, cowering. And that one manservant's cheeks were red through and through. He howled incessantly.
Fan Xian towered above Sizhe, looking at his scared face, and spoke quietly. "I never said I'd slap you, but if you do something wrong, naturally, I'll slap you. As for why? It's very simple. You can't beat me, and you can't scold me. And you won't dare tell father. If you want to challenge me further by messing up, you'll be looking for trouble."
Seeing that he seemingly did not mean to beat him, Fan Sizhe sighed in relief. Deep down, he was the son of a noble family who didn't care about people below him, and he didn't mind that deeply that Fan Xian had beaten up his servants. Although he had lost some face, sticking with him seemed to have some benefits. He thought about the natural qualities of being a businessman, and found that it was better than offending Fan Xian.
"Go in and establish some order in there. I'll wait for you outside. Didn't you say you wanted to go to the shop?" Having said this, he straightened his sleeves and walked out the door of the school. As the members of the Fan clan waited outside, seeing that earlier sight, they couldn't help but be astonished. Count Sinan's bastard son was truly a formidable sort. He had the impertinence to bully Count Sinan's legitimate son in the light of day. The crowd looked at him with fear.
Fan Xian paid them no mind as he sat outside, waiting on a bench. A little while later he heard the sound of miserable cries from the school, and the unmistakable sound of a face being slapped, and the sound of Fan Sizhe's arrogant voice. "Pull yourselves together! If you dare disrespect our teacher again, I'll give you a good slap!" The words were pretty similar to what Fan Xian had said. It seemed that young master Fan had taken his brother's anger out on his young clanmates.
This time he had certainly disturbed them. The Fan clan manservants who were waiting outside the school heard the cries of pain from their young masters in the schoolhouse. They glared angrily at Fan Xian and rushed inside. Fan Xian worried that Fan Sizhe would be harmed, and signaled to Teng Zijing with his eyes. Teng Zijing led the other bodyguards in after the crowd, and soon after, they came out clutching Fan Sizhe.
Fan Sizhe still wasn't satisfied. He waved his fist and scolded. "Don't worry, don't worry, those guys won't dare misbehave again." And just as he'd said, the servants rushed in to protect their young masters, but did not dare return the blows. It seemed that across the entire Fan clan, Count Sinan's estate held a special position.
After they were beaten, Fan Xian dragged Fan Sizhe into a carriage by the scruff of his neck, leaving the chaos he had singlehandedly created behind them. Next to them, Teng Zijing frowned. "Young master, although there are some in the clan who are more and more unreasonable, there are those whose help we may need at a later juncture. Offending too many people is not necessarily good."
Fan Xian laughed bitterly. "What are you afraid of?" Maybe those clanmates really did have some power, but he was soon going to marry a princess, and the Emperor would be his wife's uncle; what did he have to fear? He could teach those brats a lesson and they couldn't fight back.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked Fan Sizhe.
Fan Sizhe was a bit puzzled. "I beat people up a lot, but it never makes me feel satisfied like it did today. Why is that?" The resentment he had at the lesson his brother had taught him today had dissipated without trace in the course of his own heroic beatings.
"It's very simple. You need a reason to beat people, just like going to war. If you have an honorable reason, then you can beat people up without any mental burden. When our kingdom attacked the Kingdom of Northern Wei, wasn't it because they had violated our borders? Whatever the issue is, it's all the same; we must stand on the side of righteousness. Do you understand what righteousness means?"
"No," Fan Sizhe replied sincerely.