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Whether Fan Xian wanted it or not, he was showered with congratulations. Perhaps they were seeking a rare opportunity to get closer to Minister Fan, or perhaps they knew that the Emperor had granted Fan Xian the t.i.tle of Functionary of Taichang Temple and that someone in the palace was soon to be married. So they came from every department of the bureaucracy to gain face, all sending their subordinates with messages of congratulations. Even the estates of the princes sent people bearing gifts. Dongchuan Road was filled with sedan chairs, and the sound of praise sprang up everywhere, with gift boxes quickly filling up the drawing room.
The people on the street gathered round and watched in astonishment. For this much activity to be going on in a bookshop, this Fan Xian—a master of the pen and the sword—must have been a rare individual indeed, they thought. And the best part of the opening was that from that point on, Danbo Bookstore would never again be hara.s.sed by those shady figures from the criminal underworld, and rarely would there be troubles with officials either.
Fan Xian watched the situation calmly, cupping his hands in greeting to the customers, knowing that most of them had come for his father's sake. Fortunately, the bookstore itself was much too narrow, and the customers were not of great importance, so they only stayed for a brief chat, explained which house they represented, and went on their way. After those people left, there was still some doubt. Why were the members of the magnificent Fan family engaging in such a business? They must have known that it wasn't particularly prestigious work.
At that moment, Li Hongcheng, Crown Prince Jing, finally arrived. The people on the street who were aware of his ident.i.ty all saluted him, and he returned it with warmth and none of the arrogance of a relative of the Emperor. His face was like the spring winds, and he looked particularly cultured.
"That Danbo Bookstore sure is something," said a couple of people on the street, curious as they watched him enter the store.
"Prince Jing's estate and the Fan family have always had good relations, didn't you know?" came the reply.
Seeing that he had arrived, Fan Xian felt slightly worried. He was gentle as a spring breeze, yet willing to compete with the Second Prince. What kind of person was the Second Prince? He smiled and shook his head and tried to get the whole thing out of his head. He stepped outside to greet him. He still wanted to have a simpler friendly relationship with Li Hongcheng.
After they had both gone inside the quiet store, Li Hongcheng looked at the decor and gasped in admiration. "It looks like you've spent quite a lot."
"Just 1,700 taels of silver," said Fan Xian, pouring him a cup of tea. "It's a small business, certainly not something that would catch the Crown Prince's eye."
Li Hongcheng accepted the tea, shaking his head. "The Fan family is skilled at making money. Every court bureaucrat knows that. It's just that Count Sinan makes money for the royal family, while you're making your own money. It's not the same at all."
Fan Xian laughed. "When you're making money, you always have to pay taxes to the state. Even if you keep some for yourself, you can't let it go to waste in your hands. If you go out and spend it, and you care about other people's businesses, then other people's businesses will do well. And the state will receive more in taxes. So no matter what sort of business it is, as long as it earns money, that money ultimately goes to the royal family, and ultimately goes back to the common people."
Li Hongcheng was a little confused, but it seemed like he understood. "That's quite a claim," he said in admiration, "but it seems to make a lot of sense. The state has always honored agriculture and restrained commerce, so I'm curious as to why you would engage in such
a business. Perhaps you have no intention of following an official career."
Fan Xian felt embarra.s.sed. In his previous life, before he had fallen ill, he had tried and failed his political economy exam a number of times. It was just idle chatter. Why did it now make a lot of sense? He suddenly stopped and changed the topic. "All right, no more talk of official careers. I've only written two works of doggerel, it's not like I'm preparing to give up straight after taking the imperial examinations."
Li Hongcheng had long been perturbed by Fan Xian's strength of character. He finally took out his fan in front of him again and began fanning his neck. He smiled. "If what you wrote was doggerel, how will the people at the Imperial College survive? Look, there must be a number of students outside who want to pay their respects to the poet Fan Xian. If it weren't for your family's servants blocking the way, it wouldn't be nearly so quiet in here."
Fan Xian looked anxious. "Those students from the Imperial College, some of them are old enough to be my grandpa, but they're still called students. It's really difficult to bear."
Li Hongcheng laughed and pointed his fan at him as he spoke. "Look at your face; so worried. Even if I'm teasing you, you always take it so seriously. You really are an interesting fellow."
Fan Xian rolled his eyes. What was interesting about him? "This time I must trouble the prince with a request," he said. "When may I visit your mansion and pay my respects to your father?" Li Hongcheng was taken aback. But then he realized that the young man did not know that he had already met his father. He smiled and decided not to mention it, preparing for the joke that he would later play on Fan Xian. "Whenever you'd like to visit. You don't need to have my permission."
Li Hongcheng, Crown Prince Jing, had always felt that Fan Xian seemed much older than his sixteen years suggested. It wasn't that he didn't care how he was perceived by others, but at the very least he was always exceptionally calm. He had always wanted to break that calmness. He clapped his hands together suddenly. "That's right, I forgot to congratulate you."
Fan Xian was taken aback. He wasn't sure what he had to be congratulated about.
Li Honcheng stood up. "Congratulations on being named Functionary of Taichang Temple. It is wonderful news. We should have some celebratory drinks."
Fan Xian laughed. "I would have thought you'd have known about it much earlier."
"Before it was just a rumor in the palace, but it wasn't the truth just then, so it didn't count."
It wasn't clear what Li Hongcheng was thinking. He suddenly frowned. At that moment he suddenly recalled something. He and the Second Prince had always a.s.sumed that the Fan family would not want to help either of them, nor would they support them, but his own side had overlooked an important issue. After Fan Xian was married, his wife would be the illegitimate daughter of the Prime Minister. It wasn't impossible... he slowly shifted his gaze.
"Si Lili has returned to the capital in custody," he suddenly said in a quiet voice. "Perhaps she can find out who those people from Northern Qi were colluding with."
Fan Xian hadn't thought that the Crown Prince was capable of thinking of so much so quickly. He was somewhat taken aback. He faked a smile. "I'm merely an ant. I would prefer that the n.o.bles in the palace did not pay attention to me."
Li Hongcheng looked at him, knowing that this was not completely true. But he did not want to lay the matter bare. He smiled. "In short, much like that business with beating Guo Baokun, if there's ever anything you need me to do, don't hesitate to ask."
"Of course," replied Fan Xian humbly. Something else occurred to him and he changed the subject. "I was planning on opening a tofu store in the south of the city, would you be interested?"
Li Hongcheng was sipping his tea, and he almost swallowed it all. Battered and exhausted, he rearranged his clothes. "A tofu store might make a little money," he said happily. "A bookstore at least leaves you with the dregs of a literary reputation."
Fan Xian laughed and took no notice of him. He'd see how the prince felt when he could get fresh soy milk delivered to his manor. In Danzhou, he ate plenty of tofu, but because eating habits were different on the coast, soy milk was rarely consumed. After he had come to the capital, he drank it a few times, but always felt that there were too many dregs in it. He didn't know whether it was a question of craftsmanship or something else, so he had decided to improve on it.
Later that evening, Fan Sizhe got out of school and snuck through the back door. The last time he had been taught a lesson by Fan Xian, he had taught the same lesson to his cla.s.smates at school, and he felt good about it. So he didn't find going to school quite as arduous. But today was the opening of the bookshop, and everything from choosing the location to choosing the paper, employing the storekeeper and setting the prices, had all been his responsibility. He couldn't help but feel nervous, so he went as soon as he could.
When he entered the bookstore, he groaned that he had not been able to see the busy scene during the day, then he stuck his head into the accountant's office. Fan Xian sipped tea as he waited for him. After a while, Fan Sizhe strolled out, looking confused and innocent.
"What's wrong?" asked Fan Xian, surprised.
Fan Sizhe hemmed and hawed for a long while. Finally, he took a long breath and cursed. "We made even more money than we thought!"
"Huh? Is that so?" Fan Xian had imagined that on their first day, business would be decent, but he never thought it'd be like this. He looked at the accounting papers that his brother handed him, and his heart couldn't help but flutter. Leaving aside the 80 sets they'd sold of the edited version of Story of the Stone, the bustling crowds of scholars had even brought a number of historical cla.s.sics from Wansong Hall.
Fan Xian counted it up on his fingers... Doing business definitely gave one a sense of accomplishment.
"At today's opening, there were a lot of people we have connections with who came to flatter us. From now on it naturally won't be as good," Fan Xian warned Fan Sizhe. Looking at him, he clearly had dollar signs in his eyes.
Fan Sizhe swallowed some spittle, and looked at his older brother with an envious glare. "I know that. But you can sit in the bookstore every day. I have to sneak around. I'm really jealous."
Fan Xian couldn't help but laugh. "You really like being a businessman that much? Father's t.i.tle will pa.s.s on to you. You'd best study hard. One day all of the royal family's money will be your responsibility."
"Then I'd have to become Minister of Revenue." Fan Sizhe's face was gloomy. "Father came third out of all the exam entrants, but he's still only an a.s.sistant minister. Everyone knows that that old high official has been lying about for years, but the royal court still won't promote father. As for me... at best, I might do okay in the exams, but I'm afraid that I won't even be able to get that far."
Fan Xian looked at his little brother, somewhat surprised. The boy might be unbearably stubborn at times, but he was unexpectedly shrewd when it came to the way he looked at things. He thought for a while. "If you love doing business, then do it. I'll talk to father."
Fan Sizhe looked at him with joy which suddenly turned to anxiety. "But what about mother?"
Fan Xian suddenly thought of Lady Liu, who he had not thought about in a while. Though Fan Manor seemed joyous and harmonious, who knew how much longer that would last?