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After the killing on Niulan Street, Fan Xian had a number of things on his mind. Teng Zijing had already left for the countryside to recuperate, and it was unclear whether he might be left handicapped. The families of the three dead guards had received sufficient financial compensation, and even the relevant court departments had issued them an order of commendation. The guards were buried in the tombs of the Fan Clan, just outside the capital; if Fan Xian were allowed to leave the city, he naturally would have gone and paid tribute.
The b.l.o.o.d.y incident had taught him that surviving in this world was no easy task, and it was not enough to simply invite guests to banquets. So he needed to have control of forces that belonged directly to him, such as w.a.n.g Qinian, Fan Sizhe, and his own martial arts training.
Now he had changed the period he spent meditating in the capital from midday to evening. Often half-awake, he felt that the zhenqi at the xueshan point in his spine was like a body of warm water, comfortably rinsing out every part of his body. It seemed almost as if the volume and concentration of his zhenqi had increased to
The fact that he had been able to kill an eighth-level master alongside two female a.s.sa.s.sins seemed almost inconceivable to him. He had checked the zhenqi circulation of Teng Zijing and discovered that there was no one in the world who trained in the way that he did. This realization had not made him feel panicked in the slightest. Since he could kill an eighth-level master with his slender dagger and his hidden crossbow, it showed that his zhenqi was extremely useful.
He was different from others who had trained in martial arts in this world. He did not hold to the idea that levels of ranking were insurmountable—the big guy's b.l.o.o.d.y guts sprayed out along the floor had shown him that. If you were ferocious and prepared enough, would the five grandmasters even pose a threat?
But he had not begun on the second badao scroll. His gaze fell on the box tossed into a nook in the corner of the room. After he had come to the capital, he had seemingly forgotten about this item that his mother had left him. It seemed that he would have to go find a key at some point.
Si Lili, a key player in the a.s.sa.s.sination attempt, was still on her way to the city after having been arrested, but a decree had flashed across the city as quick as lightning. The decree was issued from deep within the palace. It regarded Fan Xian. In the current context, the content of the decree seemed highly unusual.
"In accordance with the will of Heaven, His Majesty the Emperor thus decrees..." He watched the court eunuch's lips flap as he spoke, but he could not make any sense of what he was saying, as the proclamation was written in highly formal cla.s.sical language. Kneeling in the lobby of Fan Manor, Fan Xian feared that the eunuch's spittle would land on his face, and watched uneasily as it pooled on the green floor tiles below him. The imperial proclamation was finally read aloud in its entirety, and under Lady Liu's instruction, Fan Xian did what was expected of him by the rules, calling out "may His Majesty live ten thousand years!", thanking him again, and taking the proclamation from the eunuch. With no anger at all, Lady Liu handed the eunuch a banknote worth a sum of silver, and, satisfied, he departed.
"Where do I put this thing?" Fan Xian asked Lady Liu, clasping the edict in his hands. "I can't hold on to it forever."
Lady Liu laughed and took it from him. "We receive a lot of proclamations at the manor. But you can't just call it 'this thing'. There's a special room in the manor where we store them." Over the past few days, there had been what seemed like an odd harmony between Fan Xian and Lady Liu. It was a product of the circ.u.mstances they found themselves in, but neither knew how long it
"To tell you the truth, I've studied the cla.s.sics, but I couldn't make heads or tails of what that the eunuch said." Back in his bedroom, Fan Xian redressed the wound on his shoulder. He looked at his sister, sitting at the desk next to him, who wore something that looked like a smile, yet was not.
"Eunuch Dai is from Tiaozhou in the south. His accent is so thick it's hard to tell what he's saying. But these sorts of proclamations have come to the manor a lot over the past few years, so I can understand what they're talking about."
"What does it say?" asked Fan Xian, worried. "Why is it addressed to me?"
Fan Ruoruo pursed her lips and smiled, choosing not to respond directly. "The palace has bestowed many rewards upon our house in the past decade or so. Although father hasn't risen in the ranks, Sizhe and I, and even Lady Liu, have received our own t.i.tles. Now it looks like they have granted you a t.i.tle too."
Fan Xian knew that Fan Sizhe, despite being n.o.body of any stature, had received a t.i.tle usually given to cavalry officers. But when it came to himself, he couldn't help but feel curious. "But I still haven't been made a legitimate child of the family. Even if the palace wanted to give me a t.i.tle, there aren’t any that they could give to me."
"That's correct. That's why the proclamation talks about you killing enemy spies and so on, and your services to the country, and gives you the t.i.tle of Functionary of Taichang Temple."
"Functionary of Taichang Temple?" Fan Xian sounded very surprised. Taichang Temple was a temple where people offered sacrifices to their ancestors, and although functionary was only an eighth-level official position, they could enter the Temple of Qing as they pleased. Since he had met Lin Wan'er, he had often guessed at the ident.i.ty of the n.o.bles who were worshipping at the Temple of Qing. Since they were Wan'er's elders, and Wan'er had grown up in the palace, it seemed that the n.o.ble had been someone from the palace. He couldn't be sure whether it was the Empress or the Eldest Princess. In the past few days that he had visited Wan'er, she had seemed particularly worried about the power struggles that would occur after their marriage, so he took pains not to ask her anything about it.
So what was the meaning behind all this? Fan Xian frowned as he pondered. If that person could persuade the Emperor to make such a proclamation, they wanted to point out what had happened that day at the Temple of Qing. So what was the idea behind it? Was it a show of goodwill? Or a show of force?
Fan Ruoruo looked at his pained face, deep in thought, and eventually could not stop herself from laughing out loud. "Xian," she said, pointing at him, "what's got you in such a muddle? Functionary of Taichang Temple... it's a t.i.tle that is always bestowed on anyone who becomes the Emperor's son-in-law by marrying a princess."
Fan Xian suddenly realized and laughed, somewhat embarra.s.sed. It seemed that the wedding was finally confirmed. Due to his injuries, it had been a while since he had been to the palace. No doubt Wan'er was worried about him after the incident—could that have made her illness worse? He suddenly felt bewildered; how could someone so exceptionally smart have the mother and father that they had?
"I asked you if you would help me by going there yesterday. Did you deliver my letter?" he asked, trying to suppress the unease he felt.
"I did," she replied serenely. "She listened to your words, and persuaded that older servant girl. Now she eats well every day, and her health is improving. When she heard about the attack, she was rather worried, but yesterday she was too busy, and Ye Ling'er was there too, so she didn't have a chance to write a letter to you."
Fan Xian sighed and said nothing. Fan Ruoruo was the person who understood him most in this world, and when she heard him sigh she knew he was troubled.
"Romeo and Juliet." When Ruoruo was young, she had listened to her brother tell her their story of love, and had always remembered it. She smiled as she encouraged him. "You once said that people have to be brave enough to seek happiness."
Fan Xian was greatly moved, and embraced his little sister tightly. He could feel her shoulder bones jutting out of her skinny frame as he patted her on the back. "Don't worry," he said, "those two died after one of them drank poison and the other stabbed herself. But I'm an expert in poison and knives, so it'll be different."
"Are you hurt?" As she watched the young man climb through the window, Lin Wan'er felt a twinge of heartache as she let him lie on her bed. "You're still coming here and doing this," she grumbled, "with your health the way it is?"
"I'm worried that you're worried about me," said Fan Xian, anxious.
Lin Wan'er felt warmth fill her heart when she heard of his worries. She got rid of the tea in her teacup and steeped some fresh tea for him to drink. She spoke quietly as he raised the cup to his lips. "I understand what you mean. I've been looking after my health the past few days. You should be looking after yours too."
Fan Xian held the cup in his hands and waved away the rising cloud of steam. "How can a princess wait on someone?"
Lin Wan'er bit her bottom lip. "If you annoy me again I shall chase you out."
"Are you really willing to part with me?" Fan Xian gazed at her, grinning slyly.
"I have decided after we're married we'll go to the villa in the Cang Mountains and spend the winter there." Fan Xian leaned on the bed, gazing at his fiancée's face, which was filled with worry for him. He smiled. "It'll be good for your health, and before that, I believe Fei Jie will have returned to the capital."
"Don't just think about me alone." Lin Wan'er bit her bottom lip, her white teeth cutely complementing the red of her lips. "If that sort of thing happens again, what will you do?"
Fan Xian had already forgotten the exact number of times that he had stolen into her bedchamber. The guards in the manor were truly awful. They had not discovered him even once, and had no idea that the couple was already quite so familiar with one another. Fan Xian was proud enough of that. Just think of the other, smaller imperial palaces—had there been anyone in history who could sneak into them as well as he had?
"What else is going to happen? The Northern Qi aren't idiots. Since they've already played their hand in this manner, there's no way that the palace will be fooled by them again."
"I'm worried that there's someone in the palace who will target you, feeling confident that they can use the a.s.sa.s.sination attempt by Northern Qi as pretense," said Lin Wan'er, worried.
Fan Xian knew that his fiancée was a smart girl, and that she had grown up in the palace. Even though the Empress was fond of him, it was a complicated situation they found themselves in, so he was sure that she knew more about palace affairs than he did. When he heard her say this, he smiled and lifted up her soft chin, rubbing it with his fingers. "Don't worry. I'm firmly convinced that I'm the luckiest person in the world."
Feeling him tickle her chin, such an intimate gesture made her feel both happy and nervous. Patches of red suddenly bloomed on her snow-white cheeks, and she immediately pushed away his hand. "n.o.body can rely on luck all their life," she said, a little uneasy.
Fan Xian loved it when she looked so bashful. "I was lucky enough to have you," he said, teasing her. "Is having me... important?" Lin Wan'er drooped her head a little. From this angle, the fluttering of her long eyelashes suggested that she was rather nervous.
"Very important." Fan Xian embraced her. He wasn't an expert in words of love, so he felt a little nervous, and he awkwardly tried to search for her lips.
As Lin Wan'er allowed herself to be embraced, and his masculine scent filled her nostrils, she couldn't help but feel weak. She leaned into his chest and turned her head. "Who could want to kill you?" she said quietly.
This fortuitous turning of her head evaded Fan Xian's stolen kiss. Fan Xian wasn't resentful at all, and when he heard the question, he felt a slight chill. He held her close, feeling her soft skin, his hands involuntarily stroking her back. "Don't worry."