Chapter 746: Afterward
A spring day much, much later.
Inside beautiful Hangzhou, a young man rode on a large horse with many servants and guards behind him in a large array. This young man rode by the banks of West Lake with the hanging willows. Occasionally, he raised a hand to brush aside the willow branches in front of his face with a slight smile, but there was no affectation of carefreeness. On the contrary, he emanated a sense of courteousness and indescribable confidence.
Travel barges floated by on the lake, but there were no beautiful women of legends waving their red sleeves. A housekeeper-like person beside this young man said laughingly in a high voice, “Everyone says there are many beautiful women in West Lake, why don’t we see any?”
The young man on the large horse furrowed his brows slightly, probably feeling that the housekeeper’s words were not in keeping with his station. A martial-looking man on another horse said coldly, “Baoyue Brothel is open all under heaven. Presently, there is someone fishing every day on West Lake, so who still dares to conduct business on the lake?”
These words were strange and carried a glimmer of unsuppressed coldness.
Presently, the Qing Kingdom was still the most powerful country in the world. Although Jingdou’s Overwatch Council had been changed and even the position of Director had been removed, the Emperor’s surveillance of local governance had reached a strictness that had never been seen before. Relying on the abundance of the national treasury, and learning from a certain person, he massively raised the salaries of officials. Although it couldn’t completely put an end to tyranny in small towns, surely no one dared to take over the entire West Lake in such a distinguished and flourishing place as Hangzhou?
The young man on the large horse furrowed his brows slightly and looked at the commoners in the distance who avoided him. He noticed their clothing and expressions and focused his attention elsewhere.
Many years ago, the Qing Emperor wanted to invade North. Unexpectedly, when war was a touch away from breaking out, a shocking change happened within the Royal Palace in Jingdou. The Qing Kingdom traitor, Fan Xian, entered the Palace to assassinate the Emperor, who, unluckily, fell victim and died. When this matter got out, the world was shocked and the Qing Kingdom was rocked with instability. The Qing Iron Riders who had pushed their attack to the foot of Nanjing had no choice but to disperse the troops and retreat, giving up, for nothing, the wonderful meal they had already swallowed. Later, they still took over a large piece of Northern Qi territory.
The Qing invasion of the North was thus delayed. After the new Emperor tidied up the imperial court, nurtured his trusted aids, and made the millions of Qing people invest their confidence into him, the matter of a Northern invasion was still not brought to the table. It seemed that it would be delayed forever.
Northern Qi had not let down its guard because of the instability in the South. Under the Northern Qi Emperor’s meticulous governance, Northern Qi thrived and flourished. After a messy war, it gradually recovered its strength. If this stalemate continued, the next time the Qing Kingdom invaded the North, it would probably be particularly difficult.
As for the details of the assassination that shocked the entire world, all those who knew of the details, including the Qing court, kept it a tight secret. They only nailed Fan Xian to the pillar of humiliation as quickly as possible.
As for this, no one questioned it. After all, the new Emperor was the Emperor’s own son. Although everyone in the world knew that His Majesty had brotherly affection with Fan Xian, and a friendship of student and teacher, he could not absolve Fan Xian of the crime of killing his father.
What everyone found strange was why the Qing court did not connect this shocking event with Northern Qi or Dongyi and use the anger of the nation to attack, straightforwardly carrying out the Northern invasion to the end. On the contrary, purposely or not, the Qing court removed Northern Qi and Dongyi from this matter.
No one knew that the young man on the large horse was the present day Emperor of the Qing Kingdom. Naturally, no one recognized the martial ace at his side as the foremost ace in the Qing Kingdom at the moment, the deputy head of the Bureau of Military Affairs, Ye Wan.
If the Northern Qi people caught wind of this information and knew that the Qing Emperor and Ye Wan had both appeared in Hangzhou, far away from Jingdou, they would probably send out a large number of killers to try their luck. After all, if the Qing Emperor and Ye Wan died at the same time, the Qing Kingdom’s strength would at least be reduced by half.
The present Emperor of the Qing Kingdom was the Third Prince of the previous Emperor, born of Imperial Consort Yi, Li Chengping. Since he dared to leave Jingdou far behind to come wander around Hangzhou, he did not worry about the issue of safety. First, Ye Wan at his side was one of the few superior ninth-level warriors in the world. Second, there were countless internal court aces hidden all around him. Most importantly, Li Chengping did not believe that there was anyone who could harm him on the banks of West Lake.
“About a decade ago, during the sixth year of the Qing calendar, I stayed in Jiangnan for an entire year.” Li Chengping sat on the large horse. His eyes turned toward the gently gleaming reflection of the waves in sunlight and naturally softened. “Although I stayed longer in the Hua Garden in Suzhou, I also lived for a while in the manor on the banks of West Lake. Thinking of it now, those were the most relaxed days of my life.”
“Your Majesty shoulders the burden of peace under heaven and the hopes of millions of people, naturally, you cannot be as relaxed as in your youth.” Ye Wan spoke evenly. At this time, the two people were on the willowed banks of West Lake and surrounded only by people from the Palace. Pedestrians kept their distance, so there weren’t any taboos in the talk between ruler and official.
Li Chengping heard Ye Wan’s old-fashioned and faintly admonishing words and smiled slightly, not revealing any feeling of irritation. He respected Ye Wan’s loyalty toward him. Plus, Ye Wan had been in martial tutor. Although, even until today, Li Chengping only acknowledged that person he had not seen in a long time as his only teacher.
The group of people continued slowly along the beautiful willow banks of West Lake, heading toward the mountain and breaking the calmness that had gone on for many days. They came to the outside of an elegant courtyard with gray walls and black eaves. Wind rustled through the bamboo.
“It’s been many years since I saw it, but this courtyard has not changed much.”
Li Chengping dismounted the horse with a calm expression. The courtyard door had long been opened in preparation to welcome the Emperor’s plain-clothed visit. Standing in front of the wide-open and still slightly familiar courtyard, the Qing Emperor tidied his clothes and stepped forward.
The manor by West Lake faced the water with its back toward the mountain. It was secluded in the back but did not feel shadowed or damp. The warm wind from the lake wound through the woods and entered this courtyard, making the voices speaking in the study very gentle.
“Teacher, I owe everything these years to your secret support…”
“Teacher, there is something I don’t understand…”
The person the Qing Emperor, Li Chengping, called teacher was silent for a very long time. It was not until very much later that a voice rang out quietly, “Since Your Majesty is here, then stay and rest in West Lake for a while. Jiangnan’s scenery is good, and the climate is good. It’s certainly much better than Jingdou’s blazing heat and chilly winters.”
Li Chengping’s voice was also silent for a very long time before he slowly said, with a hint of faint resentment, “Teacher, I am, at the end of the day, a ruler of a kingdom.”
“Your Majesty, I am very aware of this matter. However, it has been a long time since I was an official of the Qing Kingdom, right?”
“Teacher, you have to give the court an explanation for the palace treasury matter. Presently, the Overwatch Council has already discovered the whereabouts of that village. As the Emperor, I can’t continue playing deaf and mute.”
“Your Majesty, if anyone feels anger about this matter, have him come find me. I have no objection in letting him know who exactly the palace treasury belongs to.”
At this point, the conversation reached a stalemate. The side of the study facing the courtyard had an open glass window. Fan Xian sat beneath the window at a clean table and moved his gaze away from Li Chengping’s face. Narrowing his eyes slightly, he looked at the spray of peach blossoms in the courtyard.
Many years had passed. Fan Xian had disappeared from the world for many years. He had even disappeared from the discussions in tea shops and alleys. There was no need to suspect that, perhaps, many people had already forgotten the Qing court’s immortal poet, powerful official, and, finally, traitor. His appearance did not change much. The shadow of the years were not enough to add any sign of age between his brows. He was just as he always was, except his temperament was increasingly unruffled and calm.
Li Chengping glanced at him and slowly raised the teacup in his hand to take a shallow sip. He did not purposely hide the worry between his brows. Ye Wan, who was standing at the Emperor’s side, narrowed his eyes as he looked at the person who looked like a rich farmer. His brows gradually furrowed together. It had been many years since he saw this person. Although he secretly knew that this person was living comfortably somewhere in the world, Ye Wan still could not accept this truth.
How could a traitor who assassinated the previous Emperor still live happily and peacefully on Qing Kingdom territory? This absurd truth made it difficult for Ye Wan to suppress the fire of anger in his heart. However, he knew that this was not the time to act out. He still could not resist saying slowly in a cold voice, “Sir Fan junior, in front of the Emperor, it is best to keep strictly to your place as a subject.”
Fan Xian turned his head and smiled a little but didn’t say anything. He knew what Ye Wan’s personality was like. He also knew his present status in the court, as well as why Ye Wan felt such deep enmity toward him. His place as a subject? If he truly considered himself a subject of the Qing Kingdom, those things would not have happened in the palace back then.
It was not just Ye Wan who had an implacable hatred for Fan Xian. In reality, most of the loyal officials in the Qing court felt a powerful hatred toward the already disappeared Sir Fan junior. In order to placate this hatred, during these few years, the court had banished the Fan clan into the dust and confiscated all of their property. It wasn’t absorbed into the national treasury. Instead, it was handed to King Jing’s manor to manage.
Because the Emperor’s mother was born of Duke Liu’s manor, the Duke’s Alley was not implicated by Fan Xian and most of the Fan clan had already left Jingdou. Their family properties were seized but given to King Jing’s manor. This would be able to shut up most of the officials, but it couldn’t truly hurt Fan Xian.
Fan Xian smiled calmly but with absolute sincerity at Li Chengping and said, “It’s been many years since I saw Your Majesty. Although state affairs are busy, stay for a few more days.”
He completely ignored Ye Wan. This was a kind of self-control, as well as a kind of coldness and confidence.
Li Chengping smiled tartly and said, “Alright, it’s been a long time since I saw Sister Chen and that pair of living treasures.”
Fan Xian also smiled and said, “Shuning and Liang’er are probably practicing calligraphy with Sisi right now. Your Majesty can go ahead. I’ll come after I’ve changed. I’ve very sleepy every day and have just gotten up. It’s truly neglectful of my part.”
The Qing Emperor, Li Chengping, and the famed general of the Qing Kingdom, Ye Wan, walked out of the study like ordinary guests. Fan Xian did not personally accompany them. Such treatment was truly confusing. Li Chengping and Ye Wan maintained their silence and did not show any kind of anger because their conversation in the study earlier had made Fan Xian’s attitude completely clear.
The housekeeper of the Fan manor on West Lake humbly led the way in front. This housekeeper’s appearance was delicate and made one develop feelings of affection and intimacy with a glance. However, there were some acne scars left on his face, which was a pity, but not many people noticed this once his face was filled with a warm and even smile.
Walking about the quiet and beautiful stone path in the manor, Li Chengping looked at the back of the housekeeper in front and suddenly furrowed his brows, feeling that this back looked rather familiar. In particular, the man’s earlier reply was deeply imbued with the style of the court. It made the Qing Emperor think of an unimportant figure.
“Hong Zhu?” Li Chengping furrowed his brows slightly and called probingly.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The housekeeper of the Fan manor froze slightly and turned around quickly, bowing with great respect.
Li Chengping looked at him strangely for a long time. Slowly, he said, “When teacher left Jingdou, he only asked me for you. I never understood it. Who would have thought that you would be able to stay at his side this entire time?”
Countless thoughts suddenly surged in the Emperor’s heart. However, in the Fan manor, he didn’t say anything more. He just waved his hand and allowed Hong Zhu to led them to a side courtyard.
——————————–Boundary Line For the Final Chapter———————————
The Qing Emperor, who was out surveying in plain clothes, did not stay for long on the banks of West Lake. He only stayed for three days. After two more fruitless conversations with Fan Xian, Emperor Li Chengping and Ye Wan left the Fan manor on West Lake and headed in the direction of Suzhou.
Of the entire Qing court, only a few at the very highest level knew that Fan Xian lived in secret by West Lake. Naturally, Xue Qing, still the Governor of Jiangnan Road, knew of this. After Li Chengping took the throne, he made some changes to the governors of the seven Roads, but he didn’t touch Jiangnan Road. First, it was because Jiangnan was truly one of the most important places in the Qing Kingdom. Second, perhaps he had the thought of using someone as powerful as Xue Qing to control Fan Xian, who was living there in secret.
Amidst the sound of hooves, Li Chengping’s expression was calm. He was silent for a long time when he suddenly said, “When teacher first took Hong Zhu from the Palace, I had thought the rumors were true and Hong Zhu was the head eunuch that teacher hated the most and was a bit reluctant to give him up. Now, I find out that Hong Zhu was actually his all along.”
Li Chengping’s brows furrowed slightly. He changed from calling Fan Xian teacher to a direct reference. Presumably, the exposure of Hong Zhu’s identity made the nominally most powerful Emperor in the world feel a glimmer of unease and anger.
“Who would have thought that he had hidden so many people in the palace? No wonder he was able to go in and out of the palace without a problem and nothing happening in the palace could be kept from him. Even father eventually fell to his hands.”
Ye Wan remained silent to the side. He wished the Emperor would order the court to carry out the most absolute attack on the Fan faction hidden in the darkness. However, the changes these years made Ye Wan clearly sense the influence Sir Fan junior, who had nominally returned home to live in seclusion, had on the Qing Kingdom and the world. In the present situation, it was impossible to completely be purged of him.
Li Chengping on the large horse suddenly let out a sigh and said, “I know what you want to say, there is no need to say it. I have learned from him ever since my youth. I know what kind of person my teacher is. Mother will also not allow me to have any other thoughts.”
Li Chengping turned his head to glance at Ye Wan and thought to himself that he was probably the loyal official most capable of assisting him. As for his teacher, how could he assist him? Li Chengping only asked that he didn’t create any major trouble, that was enough.
Was there some dissatisfaction? Not really. Li Chengping had been sitting on the throne for a long time now, but there was still remnants of the fear, terror, gratefulness, and worship that he felt in his childhood toward Fan Xian. This kind of emotion was complicated. His gaze now was also very complicated as it looked through the trees by the side of the road to the beautiful spring scenery of the southeast. Slowly, he said, “Without teacher, it would be impossible for me to sit on this throne.”
Other than the civil officials in court who still felt a powerful killing intent toward Fan Xian’s name, the people under heaven did not actually feel much anger toward Fan Xian. On the objects common among the people, on the foot of stools, in large rooms, everywhere there was a large “Hang” character carved into it, the “Hang” of Hangzhou Conference.
Life by West Lake was very comfortable. Fan Xian had already had many years of peaceful life. However, the peace of this year’s spring had been disturbed by the Emperor’s sudden visit. His heart had also seemed to have come out of the calm and undisturbed realm. In the morning Li Chengping left, he ignored the fresh dew and began to wander through the garden.
His son and daughter had grown up and had long begun their learning. Presently, they were working hard in practicing their calligraphy every day with Sisi. Back in Danzhou, Sisi had helped Fan Xian copy a great deal of the “Story of the Stone.” Her regular script was very beautiful. Fan Xian was not worried, just a bit tender-hearted that the children had to rise so early.
Lin Wan’er approached from behind him and put a thin jacket over his body, saying, “Careful, you’ll catch a cold.”
“How late did you play mahjong until last night?” Fan Xian glanced at her mischievously and asked in a teasing voice. Sisi was responsible for the children’s studies. Other than occasionally looking at Hangzhou Conference’s accounts, Lin Wan’er had nothing else to do, so she had invested her limited life into the boundless business of mahjong and never seemed to tire of it.
“The skill level in this family is not very good. We just played a few rounds before stopping.” Lin Wan’er replied with a smile. She was a young woman in her 20s, but her speech and smile still carried sunshine and gentleness. Her large eyes were still innocent.
“Wait until my brother gets home. Watch as he deals with you,” Fan Xian said with a smile.
“Speaking of Sizhe, Fish Guts came back yesterday with a verbal message from father. At the time, His Majesty was talking with you. I was worried that this matter would be urgent, so I didn’t disturb you.”
Fish Guts was the black-clothed Tiger Guard who had followed the retired Minister of Revenue, Fan Jian, for many years. He was the most trustworthy subordinate of the Fan clan. Hearing these words, Fan Xian’s brows furrowed. He asked, “Is something the matter with father’s side?”
“Nothing major. He just wants us to return to Danzhou in a while. Grandmother misses you. Sizhe will be going back from Shangjing and will probably not have time to come to Hangzhou first,” Lin Wan’er quietly said.
“Then let’s go back. Sizhe, that kid…” For some reason, he sighed and said to Wan’er with a smile, “I had imagined a beautiful future initially. I thought that once the Third Prince was the Emperor, Sizhe could return to the capital and might even be another Minister of Revenue in the future and be able to help the Third Prince. However, he is my younger brother. He’ll probably never appear in Jingdou again.”
“Don’t worry about those things. Fish Guts also brought a question from father. How exactly should the Ten Family Village be dealt with?”
“Slowly, according to the plan.” Fan Xian’s smiled gradually faded. Calmly and strictly, he said, “Since the court already knows, then why bother hiding too much? The Third Prince still speaks as he did before, still as endlessly and dishonestly. He is clearly very worried but refuses to speak explicitly. Since this is the case, I cannot say too much either.”
“Speaking of the Emperor, your attitude toward him these two days has been very problematic. Did you not notice Ye Wan’s face?” Lin Wan’er asked with a smile. “Although the relationship between you two is not that of normal ruler and subject, he is, after all, the Emperor. You have to at least make a superficial effort.”
Fan Xian laughed out loud and stroked Wan’er’s head. After a moment of silence, he seriously said, “I’ve spent half my life to get to the point where I kneel to no one. I cannot make him an exception.”
In the world at present, regardless of whether it was the Emperor in Northern Qi or the Emperor in the Qing Kingdom, Fan Xian did not have to kneel in front of either of them. On the contrary, if he did kneel, these two Emperors would probably become suspicious.
“The Third Prince is grown. He should have some of his own ideas.” The husband and wife walked into the depths of the bamboo forest toward the protruding white stone in the distance. As they walked, Fan Xian continued to speak. The corners of his lips rose involuntarily into a complicated smile. “Last year, Lao Da was chased out of the palace by him because of me. Lao Da being able to keep his life is already the Third Prince giving me face.”
“Hou Jichang has also been promoted by him to use.” Fan Xian went through the bamboo forest and stood in front of the while built with white rocks. “This is not acceptable.”
Although his words were simple, they revealed a glimmer of strength that did not suffer questioning. Lin Wan’er stared in a daze at his profile, but she did not think her husband’s words, which interfered in court politics, were unbelievable. In the years following the Qing Emperor’s death, the forces related to Fan Xian had all been razed and dispersed by the court. Those who were truly aware of the situation knew that once Fan Xian wanted to, he still could call upon a powerful force.
“Although Lao Wang has backed out, Zi Yue is still working in the capital. I’ll give this matter to him to handle.”
“Haven’t you always wanted to not be involved in the Jingdou court? Why are doing this, this time? Are you not worried about angering the Emperor?” Lin Wan’er asked.
“This matter involves Jichang. This is the Emperor trying to anger me. As for matters of the court, I have no right to interfere in it. If he tries to test my bottom line step by step, I don’t mind moving my bottom line further forward,” Fan Xian said looking at his wife. “I know the Third Prince better than you, none of the Li sons are all that simple.”
After saying this, he turned his head to look quietly at the protrusion made of white stone. It was actually a tomb, Chen Pingping’s tomb. It had been set by him on the side of West Lake where there were green mountains and beautiful waters.
After the Qing Emperor, there was no one in the world who could challenge Fan Xian. Even Li Chengping could not. Fan Xian’s strength was too wide, too dispersed, and spread out under heaven. Even the all mighty Qing Emperor had no choice but to be bound by Fan Xian and have a battle between themselves, much less Li Chengping of today.
Fan Xian had the world’s biggest money house in his hand and the loyalty of the remaining eight ninth-level aces of the Sword Hut. He still had countless spies and loyal subordinates in the palace treasury. Xia Qifei controlled the Ming family and was still the biggest royal merchant in the Qing Kingdom. In Northern Qi, Fan Sizhe’s business was still the largest receiver of the smuggling from the palace treasury, and the little princess in the Northern Qi Royal Palace was his own daughter.
Ning fei, who had been under house arrest for many years in the palace, had been brought to Dongyi. Traveling with her was the Great wangfei, Ma Suosuo, and the young lady of Governor Wang’s household, Wang Tong’er. When the Great Prince had returned to the capital to see the Emperor the year before last, everything had been as usual. Although the Dongyi of today had submitted to the Qing Kingdom in name, in reality, it was still like an independent kingdom governed together by the Great Prince and Fan Xian.
Wang Tong’er moved Prince Heqing’s manor to Dongyi, so Wang Zhikun could no longer continue in the position of Yanjing Governor. Commander Ye Zhong, injured by the Shadow and saddened by the Emperor’s death, barely managed to maintain order in the Qing court for a while during the chaos in the Qing Kingdom before he retired and left. Following the retirement of those two elders, a movement of the new replacing the old began in the Qing military. Ye Wan officially stood on the stage of Jingdou beside the Emperor’s dragon robe. This movement of the new replacing the old could not be completed in a short amount of time.
Other than the reasons outlined above, Fan Xian was able to be on an equal, even a superior, level to the Emperors of the world mostly because of his past and the powerful martial support he possessed.
The people close to Fan Xian wove a large net. One link locked with the next. Regardless of who wanted to hurt him or one of the links, they would probably be met with an attack from Fan Xian. Everyone knew of Fan Xian’s strength and Fan Xian’s heartlessness, which was why the world at present was at peace.
Fan Xian looked quietly at Chen Pingping’s tomb, at the white jade stone soaked with dew, and was silent. It had been a few days since he had come here to see the old cripple. If the Third Prince had not brought up some thoughts of the past, perhaps he wouldn’t have come now either.
Presently, Fan Xian’s life was very good. The lives of his subordinates, family, and friends were also very good. Shi Chanli and Sang Wen had already married. The guest that had once suffered Fan Xian’s beating in Baoyue Brothel had disappeared without a trace. Living in the world, everything seemed perfect. There was nothing he desired.
The more this was so, the more he felt that Chen Pingping in the tomb was lonely. Although the white jade outside completely covered the old man’s innate darkness, it could not warm Fan Xian’s heart in the slightest.
There was no tombstone for Chen Pingping’s grave. There was just a poem carved into the rock to the side. It read:
He once sailed Danzhou alone
To tutor and support his kin.
How could a single family rise above the rest,
Who then would pity the people of the land?
He led the Black Knights in a charge of 3,000 li,
Guarding the Council alone and white-haired for 20 years.
Pity not this old man for his health, instead,
Greet him with a smile for his heroic life.
Each time Fan Xian sensed his superiority in the world, his calmness after the death of the Emperor, and stopped to read this poem, he would always think of many things from the past. The final strike that actually brought down the Emperor was not the rainbow in the Palace or his attack. It was, perhaps, the silent endurance from many years ago, as well as the old cripple’s final betrayal.
It was that strike that finally made the Qing Emperor expose the ugly injury of many years and walk down from the altar to become a mortal man, thus giving those who came after so many opportunities.
Fan Xian was silent for a long time. He picked a small yellow flower from the bamboo forest to the side and gently placed it on the grave. He then turned and left.
———————————Boundary Line for My Pain——————————————–
Life in West Lake was leisurely and free, and there wasn’t much worth writing about. The only thing that made Fan Xian unhappy was that, for the sake of the people he looked after, it seemed that he could only retreat but not hide. Even his idea to cross the sea to seek out the true land of the West could not be realized within a short amount of time.
After all, if he left this land, who knew how much chaos there would be? This wasn’t narcissism or arrogance. It was the remnants of those who came before and the encounters of today that created such a dazzling but helpless situation.
During the years he lived in West Lake, the only interlude was probably Fan Wujiu’s assassination attempt. This last remaining person of the Second Prince’s Eight Generals had silently endured for many years to get revenge for the Second Prince and his colleagues. He had even thrown in his lot with He Zongwei. Unexpectedly, he had been caught by Fan Xian. The Overwatch Council did not kill him. Instead, they exiled him as per Fan Xian’s instructions. Unexpectedly, he found another opportunity on the banks of West Lake to attempt an assassination.
Of course, Fan Xian did not die, but he also didn’t kill the other person. Perhaps it was because he felt that life was too boring or because he respected the stubbornness that he did not do something, even though one knew it was not doable.
There were singing girls who had just begun to dance. Beautiful voices echoed in Fan garden. All of Fan Xian’s family sat around the courtyard eating fruits and nuts, chatting, watching the dancing, and listening to the singing. The older of the singing girls from Chen Garden were allowed to choose from the subordinates of the Council who had left to get married to. The few that were left in Fan Garden had just reached 16. They were very young and inexperienced but willing to stay by West Lake to play.
Looking at the young dancing girls, Fan Xian could not help but sigh in admiration at the old cripple’s keen gaze. When Chen Pingping left the capital, these girls were probably only 10 years old. How could Chen Pingping see that they were destined to be beauties?
The person singing was Sang Wen’s younger sister. This girl who had been singing for Chen Pingping for a long time seemed to not be in a good mood. She would only stay in Fan Garden and occasionally compose some beautiful songs.
“A spring day in the fourth year of the Qing calendar, Teng Zijing sat in the street and drew a few circles without speaking. His heart was sorrowful. He wondered how the young man in the Duke’s manor could be so beautiful?”
With the start of the song, Sisi, who was sitting by Fan Xian’s side, sprayed out a mouthful of tea. Lin Wan’er also couldn’t resist laughing and hammering on Fan Xian’s shoulder thinking that in this garden, only he could write such absurd lyrics.
Teng Zijing and his family sitting by the front gates looked at each other. In particular, the graying Teng Zijing could not resist stroking his cane and thinking that the young master was too mean. When he had gone to Danzhou to pick him up? How could he have not been scared and on edge? Who would have known that the beautiful young boy would become like this?
Fan Xian slanted his gaze and evaluated Teng Zijing’s embarrassed expression. Feeling his mood improve greatly, joy grew out of his pride. Quietly, he thought to himself, You bastard, refuse to improve and absolutely refused to be an official, only willing to stay in the manor. Otherwise, if you went and became a provincial official and I had the county province changed to Baling, would it not be the production of a great work?
The Sang girl seemed to not sense anything and continued to sing properly with the utmost seriousness. It was as if she wanted to sing some person’s funny life from beginning to end using a sorrowful tone.
It was almost late spring. On the precipice outside Danzhou, Fan Xian held Shuning’s soft hand and stood at the edge of the precipice, looking at the familiar ocean.
Shuning looked at her slightly worried father and asked in a clear and young voice, “Father, you didn’t seem to like Aunt Sang’s song. Should I sing one for you?”
“Sure, how about ‘Over the Rainbow’. I’ve taught it to you before.”
Awkwardly, Shuning said, “But foreign languages are hard to learn. Uncle looked for a long time in Dongyi and still hasn’t found a teacher.”
Fan Xian smiled and said, “Then we won’t sing it.”
He looked at his daughter by his side. For some reason, he suddenly remembered that kid in Danzhou many years ago and the Emperor’s words before he died. He was silent and somewhat missed his sister, whose whereabouts he didn’t know of.
“Don’t always follow me.” The icy-faced young lady of the Fan family was dressed as a doctor with a medicinal chest on her back as she walked through a remote mountain side. She looked at Li Hongcheng behind her, looking like a tramp, and coldly said, “Rou Jia has already had her second child. As the uncle, are you not going back? Besides, it’s not like you don’t know what King Jing is thinking.”
Li Hongcheng took the straw hat from his head and fanned himself. Looking at Fan Ruoruo by the tree, he smiled roguishly and said, “If father wants children, he can go have them himself. I don’t have time for that.”
“How much longer are you going to follow me for?” Fan Ruoruo gritted her teeth and looked angrily at him.
“I’ve already followed you for five years, what’s another five?” King Jing’s heir, Li Hongcheng said with a smile as he led a thin horse, which was even more tired than he was, away.
Fan Ruoruo did not say anything and lowered the silk curtain on her straw hat as she headed toward the village in the mountain where white smoke was rising. She thought occasionally to herself that she had grown used to his bastard following her, so he could continue following her.
Fan Xian’s hand held Shuning. His finger touched a row of warm beads. Lowering his head to look, only then did he discover that it was the string of red jewels Haitang had given his daughter many years ago. Seeing the object reminded him of the person. Fan Xian involuntarily paused for a moment.
“When will Aunt Duoduo come to see me again?” Fan Shuning asked thoughtfully. Clearly, she possessed thinking more mature than her age. Seeing her father’s mood, she immediately guessed what he was thinking. In any case, neither of her mothers were there, so no one would care.
Fan Xian smiled and said, “When she’s tired of the grasslands, she’ll come to see you.”
Haitang had returned to the grasslands. No one knew when she would return. What about the Northern Qi Emperor and Si Lili? And that little girl in the Palace called Hong Doufan? He heard that next year, Hong Doufan would be formally granted the title of Princess. However, the Northern Qi Emperor had still not had a son, so there was talk in court. He wondered how the female Emperor was going to deal with it.
Surely she wouldn’t come to him again to borrow his seed? Fan Xian certainly would not object to such a sacrifice. Thinking of the scene in the Sword Hut and in the carriage, his gaze softened. “Shuning, do you want to go to Shangjing? Then, we’ll go to the grasslands. Once you’re older, we’ll go out to see.”
“OK!” Shuning cried out excitedly.
Fan Xian’s gaze landed on the surface of the ocean beneath the precipice. Suddenly, he saw a boat heading into the port. On the deck in front, he could faintly see a person holding a green banner. He stood amidst the ferocious wind, very much at ease.
Thirteenth Wang had arrived. Fan Xian’s body froze slightly. His eyes grew moist as a boundless sense of gratitude grew in his heart. Since Thirteenth Wang had returned from the North, Uncle Wu Zhu, who had been recovering on Dong Mountain, should also be back any day. Fan Xian had truly missed that piece of black cloth.
In order to hide his tears in front of his daughter, Fan Xian turned his body and looked at Danzhou on the other side of the ocean. He looked at the homes inside and thought of the time he had spent here as well as his life after he left and involuntarily fell silent.
He saw many things in Danzhou in the distance. Dong’er was no longer selling tofu, but Da Bao was sitting outside their home and using his eyes to admire the women. That junk shop was still closed. There were no clothes hanging out to dry on the platform that was slightly exposed to the salty sea wind, and there was no one yelling about the rain because it was indeed not raining.
Many people had left, but still many people stayed. Many things had changed, but there were many things that had not changed.
Fan Xian sat down and held his daughter in his arms, rocking gently. Shuning narrowed her eyes and looked at the bubbles and gradually approaching boat. Suddenly, she asked, “Father, what kind of person was grandmother?”
Fan Xian paused slightly and didn’t understand the question for a while. In his mind, Ye Qingmei was still a clever and beautiful young woman who had walked out of a fairyland. She was that yellow robe in the picture. He had not realized that the young woman, Ye Qingmei, had become, at this moment, the grandmother his daughter spoke of.
“She was an immortal who sneaked into the mortal world to play,” Fan Xian said teasingly to his daughter. “After she was done playing, she went back. It was impossible to find her in the mortal world ever again.”
Fan Shuning giggled and said, “You’re lying, father. Other people say you are an immortal poet. If grandmother returned to the sky, why don’t you go back?”
Fan Xian scratched his head and suddenly thought of the name the Emperor had given him many years ago. With a smile, he said, “Perhaps it’s because she and I have very different thoughts. I am just a useless common person. Regardless of what foreign land I go to, it doesn’t make much difference.”
The sea breeze drifted over his face and wiped away the slightly embarrassed smile he was going to give. After a moment of silence, he quietly said, “My life is probably… Since I have come, I will stay [JW1].”
Father and daughter looked at each other with a smile and faced toward the ocean. Spring had come, and the flowers were in bloom.
[JW1] An Zhi is both Fan Xian’s other name and means “to stay.” Hence, he thinks of the name the Emperor gave him earlier.