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Fan Manor stood on the east side of the city, some distance away from Tianhe Avenue, and out of sight of the imperial palace. This was a place where many high-ranking officials and n.o.bles lived; commoners were rarely seen, and so the streets appeared much quieter. On the cold and cheerless street, a mansion stood every thirty meters. Outside the entrance to each mansion, a stone lion lay peacefully. The dozen or so lions stood guard, staring with what almost looked like a bored expression at the carriage that rolled down the street.
The black carriage pa.s.sed slowly by, drawing little attention from either side of the road. Reaching Fan Manor, it turned with a little difficulty into a side alley, coming to a halt underneath the shade of a tree by the corner gate.
Fan Xian pulled the curtain on the carriage aside. Taking Teng Zijing's hand, he stepped down from the carriage. There was no expression on his face, and as he surveyed his surroundings he gave an almost imperceptible nod.
The wooden gate creaked open, and the servants came out to meet them, looking upon Fan Xian with curious glances, seemingly unsure how to greet him.
Fan Xian smiled and said nothing as he walked through the gate with Teng Zijing. The servants let out a sigh and began to unload the luggage that filled the carriage.
Within the gate, a young manservant waited, bowing as he ushered them in. As they entered, there was a rock garden in the courtyard, with neatly-groomed gra.s.s and a bubbling water feature. It was a most elegant sight, and as the old women saw them arrive, they moved quietly to the side, not uttering a word, remaining neatly in formation.
As they carried on, still yet to reach the inner courtyard, Fan Xian couldn't help but let out a sigh of awe at the sight of all the splendor of this old mansion. It was much, much grander than the estate in Danzhou. With such a grand mansion in one of the most expensive areas of the capital, it seemed that his father was certainly a man of great influence.
Entering such a grand residence as this would make any average ordinary person feel fl.u.s.tered and anxious, not daring to say a word for fear of putting a foot wrong.
But Fan Xian was not any person. He had lived two in two worlds; he had died and been reborn. And so he felt rather more at ease. He was accustomed to his status as a baseborn son, and in keeping with the social att.i.tudes of his previous life, he didn't see anything wrong with it. If anything, he thought his father was the one who ought to be ashamed, so the grandeur of Fan Manor did not perturb him too much.
As he walked along, looking around the manor, he smiled, completely at ease. Although there was perhaps a hint of shyness in his smile, it was a cover and nothing more. As he surveyed the scene, he let out a low whistle of astonishment. As he pa.s.sed by a weeping willow, he stroked its branches with his hand. As he strolled over an arch bridge, he peered at the goldfish that swam in the shallow waters beneath. It appeared that he did as he pleased.
The servants of the manor could not help but look upon his manner with curiosity. So this was the "young master" they had heard so much about. Some of the things they heard were good, some not so much. Either way, it was suggested that this young man had a forceful personality, though it was hard to describe in words.
As they approached the inner courtyard, Teng Zijing spoke in a low voice. "Young master, I am not permitted to go any further. You must enter alone..." He paused for a moment in thought. "Young master, when you speak..." Teng Zijing secretly harbored some admiration how young Fan Xian seemed unaffected by all the trappings of status. He felt he had to say something to the young lad about the power struggles that went on inside Fan Manor, but the words could not leave his lips. It felt impetuou
s to do so, and he had no idea how to word it.
Fan Xian could tell that he was deep in thought. Moved, he clasped his hands respectfully and bowed slightly. "Don't worry, Mister Teng," he said, asking him to make sure his luggage was taken care of, and suggesting that he might call upon him later that evening.
To calmly arrange the day's later affairs at such a moment at this suggested to Teng Zijing that this handsome young man possessed a great maturity. On hearing it, he relaxed slightly and smiled, going off with the young manservant to rest in the courtyard to the side.
A young servant-girl took the place of the young manservant. She was a rather pretty young woman. Fan Xian followed her into the rear courtyard.
A middle aged woman, carrying a bra.s.s basin, walked up to them and curtsied. She washed his face with pleasantly warm water.
Fan Xian remained silent as he washed his hands. He returned the towel and thanked her.
The woman was rather taken aback to hear him thank her. She walked away, somewhat confused.
Fan Xian smiled. "The capital's nothing like Danzhou", he thought. The politeness he'd shown to servant girls was seen as excessive and inappropriate here.
He entered the inner courtyard, but instead of standing in a foyer, he was led into a side door by the servant-girl. The walls around the side door were all painted white, and black eaves protruded slightly from above the pa.s.sageway.
He stood there for a while, but no one came to meet him. He was unsure whether this was intended to put him in his place in the mansion as the Count's baseborn son. He sighed, beginning to feel uneasy. He looked up at the carefully-constructed black eaves. The old manor was a indeed a rather tasteful building.
He was incorrect in his a.s.sumptions, however. The young servant-girl and the old made stood to one side not because they wished to treat him coldly, but because they were aware of his status. They did not dare to approach him. This was partly because they were unsure how to address him, as he was not the son of the Count's legal wife. But it was also because the Count had not yet arrived, and as servants they did not dare to act rashly. Someone had already gone to inform the master of the house.
Fan Xian waited. With a self-deprecating smile, he called over the young servant-girl.
She was quite young, her face delicate and fair. "Young... young ... what is your wish?" She had, at first, wanted to address him as 'young master', but she was unsure if it was appropriate. She stammered, her face turning crimson.
"Bring me a chair," said Fan Xian, giggling at her discomfort.
She followed his orders, carrying in a heavy wooden chair from the hall, which left her slightly out of breath.
Fan Xian drew closer and took hold of the chair, placing it on the ground and smiling slightly. He sat down on it with n.o.ble bearing, and lifted his head to look at the eaves, ignoring the rest of his surroundings.
When she saw him sit on the chair, the servant-girl was shocked. If one's elders are yet to arrive, one should stand with one's hands folded - how could he act so boldly?
The sound of footsteps echoed from the hall, and a light fragrance was carried on the wind. It could make one's heart flutter. Fan Xian turned his head to the side, and saw a n.o.blewoman approaching, a slight smile on her face. She was good-looking, and her eyes were neatly decorated with eyeshadow. She wore a skirt that fluttered around her, and her beauty was sure to turn heads wherever she went. Hers was an air of reserved n.o.bility that suggested that she was not to be trifled with.
Fan Xian let out a sigh and stood up from the chair.
She raised her umber-painted eyebrows and smiled, lighting up the room. "Xian," she said, regarding him from afar. "The journey must have been difficult. Take a seat."
"Good day, stepmother," said Fan Xian, smiling sweetly.