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Even Teng Zijing was somewhat gloomy. Even though he was substantially weaker than the Guo family bodyguard, the blow the young master had struck had caused him to lose face rather badly.
Suddenly, he had a fleeting thought of the comical scene that had transpired earlier - the young master could see such a complicated situation so clearly, and... though that blow had seemed chaotic, the angle of it, the accuracy, and the power behind it had led to such a frightful result. He looked at Fan Xian with reverence and admiration in his gaze.
Watched by everyone in the vicinity, the Fan clan attempted to leave the restaurant. The door to a private room opened, and a number of people came out, who had come to see what the noise was, seemingly having heard all the commotion outside. Among them was someone with a high and noble air, wearing beautiful clothing. When he saw Fan Ruoruo, his eyes shone. He approached them and bowed. "Ruoruo," he said, "it is so rare to see you out and about."
He was handsome, with thick eyebrows and bright eyes, a straight nose and thin lips - an attractive man indeed.
Fan Ruoruo bowed in response, slightly surprised. "I did not expect to see you here either, Crown Prince." She hurriedly introduced him to Fan Xian, who had not realized that this was Crown Prince Jing, heir of the royal house that his own family was closely acquainted with. The two exchanged pleasantries.
The House of Jing and the House of Fan had a friendly relationship, and so when Fan Ruoruo introduced Fan Xian, the Crown Prince guessed immediately who he was, and he couldn't help but feel somewhat surprised.
He saw that Fan Xian was neither servile nor overbearing in his words, and sensed an unspeakable self-confidence in him beneath the surface. And yet he found that the youth's gentle smile put him at ease.
At that moment, Guo Baokun came over to greet the Crown Prince, and a member of the restaurant staff came to whisper an explanation of the clash between the Guo and Fan families into the Crown Prince's ear. On hearing this, the Crown Prince seemed quite intrigued. "It seems you have objections with the scholars," he said to Fan Xian.
"Anyone who can read can be a scholar," replied Fan Xian, bowing to the Crown Prince. He did not care for the hierarchy of this society, nor did he believe that reading a few essays made you superior to the common people. "I have read many books myself. It is not that I have a problem with academia... it's just..."
He smiled. "It's just these so-called geniuses I have a problem with."
As he said this, the people in the restaurant fixed him with curious expressions, wondering what this skilled fighter and son of the noble house would say next. Even the Crown Prince looked at him with great interest. "And why do you despise these scholars?"
The Crown Prince remained polite, but due to Fan Xian's illegitimate parentage, he did not make reference to the name of his clan.
Fan Xian understood the rules of this society, and was not angry in the slightest. "The reason I have a problem with them is that I feel that deception is a common practice nowadays," he explained, smiling. "It seems one only has to spend all their time in a tavern to become a genius. They spend more time painting their faces than they do reading books. It is not beneficial to the nation to let them squabble among one another."
Though his words were harsh, they were not cruel, and were almost light-hearted.
The Crown Prince laughed, and so did the people in the restaurant. It seemed to have eased matters somewhat. As everyone else saw it, the young master of the Fan family had come out of nowhere, and seemed to be quite friendly with the Crown Prince. Guo Baokun was Fan Xian's rival neither in fighting nor in words, and so he had to drop the subject.
Crown Prince Jing invited Fan Xian to drink with him. Making the excuse that he had to return home, Fan Xian tactfully declined, but agreed that they would do so at a later date, and all of the Fan family left the restaurant.
Just they were about to climb onto the carriage, He Zongwei caught up with them. He looked Fan Xian in the eyes, and thanked him sincerely.
"What are you thinking me for?" asked Fan Xian, smiling.
"I've always considered myself one of them," he replied, laughing, "and today you showed their boasting for what it was. Now I know that I just liked the idea of being one of them. Deep down, I still can't get away from those clichés."
Fan Xian frowned. This person seemed rather quick to change his mind.
Even though he didn't care for this seemingly-honest scholar, the fight had after all been a result of him defending the "author" of Dream of the Red Chamber. "Everyone has their weaknesses," he explained with a smile. "It's just that sometimes you have to press on regardless. Sometimes scholars can be small men underneath those fur-lined gowns. I was talking nonsense back there myself, I hope you don't mind."
"Small men under fur-lined gowns?" He Zongwei thought on this, and he seemed to have realized something. He bowed deeply to Fan Ruoruo, who stood next to Fan Xian, and returned to the restaurant without looking back.
Fan Xian saw that the dark-skinned scholar's face was slightly reddened, and he realized what had happened. He looked at his sister with a mocking smile. She remained expressionless, as the scholar had never approached them at all.
He knew that He Zongwei's love for her was unrequited, and he had little sympathy. As he saw it, the husband that his little sister would find did not necessarily have to be well-renowned, but he definitely had to be someone she liked.
After Fan Xian left, Guo Baokun, He Zongwei and the rest of the table were left ashen-faced, and they also slinked out of the restaurant. Quiet returned to the third floor of the restaurant, save for the patrons discussing the business that had just transpired with that young man from Fan Manor. They had never heard of such a person being part of the family of Count Sinan, and they all guessed that he must have been a cousin of Miss Fan Ruoruo.
Crown Prince Jing knew of Fan Xian's identity, but he could not tell the people outside his private room. He slowly emptied a glass of wine, and sighed. "They all say that the Crown Prince is fond of literature, and deals only with the great and the good. Today it seems clear that the none of those people have any kind of decency."
An advisor by his side thought for a while before responding. "He Zongwei is a student of Zeng Wenxiang. He will be among those who take the imperial examinations next year. I do not know what he is like."
Crown Prince Jing shook his head. "He Zongwei has talent, but his disposition..." He had overheard some of the talk from outside, and had remembered their discussions on strength of character. He laughed. "He lacks strength of character."
The advisor laughed too. "Count Sinan has hidden his illegitimate son away for so many years. It is interesting indeed."
Crown Prince Jing waved the fan in his hand, and prepared to mutter some words of praise, when he suddenly recalled Fan Xian's words of mockery. He placed the fan on the table and smiled. "Guo Baokun wields his father's power. He is also on good terms with the Crown Prince. So do not attach much importance to Fan Manor. It must have been difficult for those slow-witted types to survive for so long."