The three men sat in the room, silently waiting for the other guests. Up until the last person arrived, Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan hadn’t exchanged even a single word.
Yu Huang Rong’s mood had reached an all-time low and he had trouble not to show it in front of the others. Unfortunately, he had to force himself to hide his true feelings. After all, Madam Yan had put in a lot of effort into inviting only the most sought-after bachelors of Chen country’s capital. One of her guests was even the current emperor’s cousin, Luan Chang Fu. In front of such a person, staying courteous was a must even for him.
Zhang Shi Lan greeted the other guests and then kept himself in the background. Despite the prestige he had gained through his studies, this was hardly enough to be on par with somebody from the royal family or the sons of influential ministers. Thus he only quietly listened and injected a word or two of agreement when he was asked. Other than that … his gaze brushed over General Yu’s profile every now and then.
Ah, he didn’t want to but he couldn’t help it. This might be the last opportunity he had to look at him while he still wasn’t a married man. He felt that … he should make use of it. After all, he already felt guilty now. Wouldn’t it be even worse when there was a Madam Yu Huang Rong standing next to the General, maybe even affectionately clinging to his arm? He definitely couldn’t continue with his shameless behavior by then.
Outside of the room, Xiao Xi and Xiao Jia looked at Madam Yan.
“Madam, should we send the women over to the garden?”
“Not yet. Just get them another cup of tea or something.”
“Ah? But … What are we waiting for? Isn’t this event supposed to let the guests choose one of the women as their future brides? Why should we wait to let them meet?”
“Just let the men bond for a while longer.” Madam Yan peeked through the hole in the door and sighed. “Aiya, that Scholar Zhang is really too timid!”
Xiao Xi knelt down in front of the door and peeked through a whole on the other side of the door. “You’re right, Madam. He’s not talking with the other men at all.”
Xiao Jia raised her brows at them. “Is that so strange? There’s General Yu and even His Majesty’s cousin. I wouldn’t dare to talk to them either.”
Xiao Xi tsked. “That’s different. We’re servants. He’s a renowned scholar! He should have really important things to say, shouldn’t he? Why isn’t he bringing up even one of them?”
“Aiya, what do you know?” Madam Yan raised her hand and hid her smile behind her long sleeves. Her aides were truly too useful! The other men would not be able to hear them but General Yu was a martial artist. There was no way he would miss out on the gossip that was exchanged right in front of the door. Ah, for her plan to succeed, he needed to listen though … She could only hope that mentioning Scholar Zhang early on had secured them his attention.
Xiao Xi and Xiao Jia both looked up at her. “What do you mean, Madam? You don’t think Scholar Zhang has important things to say?”
Madam Yan sighed. Had she praised them too early? “Of course, he has! But he has a sense of propriety too. He wouldn’t talk out of turn.”
“But he doesn’t even say anything if they ask for his opinion.”
“You! How long have you been working in my matchmaking pavilion? You still can’t tell when somebody is being shy?”
“Shy?” The two aides exchanged a glance before they crowded around Madam Yan. “Madam, what would he be shy about? Is there a lady here he likes?”
Madam Yan burst out laughing and had to muffle the sound with her sleeve before the men could notice. “What lady? Haven’t you noticed when he goes silent? Pay some more attention!”
“Oh.” The two aides went back to their side of the door, peeking through the holes. They could only see Zhang Shi Lan’s back but it was enough to observe him.
Just then, one of the other men leaned over to him. He was the son of one of the high-ranking ministers of the court. “Scholar Zhang, in that regard … may I ask for your opinion?”
Zhang Shi Lan smiled gently. “I doubt there is much I can add that would be of interest to Young Master Mo.”
“Aiya, but young ladies these days love the scholarly type. Or don’t you think that is the case?”
Zhang Shi Lan’s gaze flickered to the figure of General Yu once more but he didn’t dare to utter his true thoughts. His heart calmed down when he saw that General Yu wasn’t paying attention to him and he turned back to that Young Master Mo and cupped his fists. “In my humble opinion, Young Master Mo is right that a scholar might have a good standing in the eyes of a young woman. But rather than that being because of his occupation as a scholar I could imagine this to be because of him seeming accomplished.”
“Accomplished?” Qian Mu Qing who had recovered from the previous shock couldn’t help but repeat his words and carefully inched closer again. He peeked at General Yu though to make sure he didn’t accidentally upset him again. “But not every scholar could count as accomplished, right?”
“Mn.” Zhang Shi Lan also glanced over at Yu Huang Rong but the General seemed like he didn’t care at all. He had just picked up his cup and slowly sipped his tea. “That is what I meant when I said that it might not be about them being a scholar. I think that a person would look for a partner that set a goal for themselves and tirelessly worked for that goal, finally achieving it. At that time, they would count as accomplished, whatever that goal originally was.”
Yu Huang Rong put down his cup. This was the longest Zhang Shi Lan had spoken until now and he couldn’t help but wonder if what he had heard just now had merely been the chitchat of women. Maybe this Scholar Zhang just needed some time to get comfortable with people of such high status. He leaned forward on his chair and fixed Zhang Shi Lan with his gaze. “So Scholar Zhang thinks it is commendable regardless of what kind of achievement was made?”
Zhang Shi Lan’s gaze flickered. He looked at Yu Huang Rong and gulped, finally nodding with difficulty. “Mn.” He didn’t add anything.
Yu Huang Rong stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate. Unfortunately, there was nothing. Zhang Shi Lan didn’t seem as if he wanted to speak up again. This … What was going on?
In front of the door, the two aides sucked in a breath. “It’s actually General Yu! He immediately fell silent when the General spoke up.”
“Yes, yes. Could it be …”
“He’s afraid of him?”
They both turned to Madam Yan for confirmation only to be rapped on the head.
“What afraid? He’s clearly in love and doesn’t dare to speak up in front of his sweetheart!”
“Ah? With … with General Yu?!”
Inside the room, Yu Huang Rong tensed unwittingly. Zhang Shi Lan was … in love … with him? If that was true, then …
While his thoughts went haywire, another one of the guests turned to Zhang Shi Lan. Just like that Young Master Mo, he was the son of a high-ranking minister but his father’s standing was even higher and his mother’s family also held several high positions at court, making him the most important person in the room after Luan Chang Fu and Yu Huang Rong. But contrary to Young Master Mo who could be described as a modest, maybe even down-to-earth person, he was the type of man that would let others know about his importance with every word he said.
“Scholar Zhang, you’re saying this as if it was so easy. But how do you explain how the women would know what a man’s goal is? You can’t be thinking that the men would talk about it openly, can you? And a woman certainly wouldn’t be able to figure it out on her own.” Feng Gui Ying snorted. Just the thought was ridiculous! As expected, these scholars were just a bunch of useless people who talked all day but didn’t know how the real world worked. This Zhang Shi Lan wasn’t an exception. If anything, he was even worse than the usual scholar. He probably also believed in things like righteousness and incorruptibility.
Zhang Shi Lan glanced at the General again. When he saw him occupied with his own thoughts, he nodded. “Young Master Feng is certainly right that a man wouldn’t talk that openly about his goals. But I’d say that this goal might still be perceived. For example …” He looked at the men in the circle and his gaze finally settled on Qian Mu Qing. He certainly wouldn’t dare to comment on somebody above his own status so that left only him. All the other men were associated with high-ranking ministers or even the royal family. “Would Mister Qian mind me theorizing a bit?”
“Oh, no, please go ahead!” Qian Mu Qing waved his concerns away. He liked listening to this scholar and he did believe that there would be truth to his words. If it could help him find the most suitable wife, then he would be a fool to pass up this opportunity to serve as Zhang Shi Lan’s example.
Zhang Shi Lan smiled at him gratefully. He didn’t know how to better illustrate his thoughts than with using one of the present men as an example. “It is known that the Qian family has consisted of businessmen for several generations. Based on that, one could infer that Mister Qian would likely pursue such a career as well.
“Now, Mister Qian has made efforts to broaden the scope of his family’s business early on. One might assume he would have the goal of doing business outside of the capital that spans at least the surrounding regions. With Mister Qian doing business in the whole Chen country, he … should be called a very accomplished man. Certainly what somebody searching for a spouse would take into consideration.
“These things can be seen from his background, as well as his behavior. Even if the woman herself wasn’t able to see through them, she wouldn’t decide on her marriage alone. There would be her family and the matchmaker who would all offer advice to her. Furthermore, I’m sure that a woman would start paying attention to these things early on and not wait until right before her marriage so by the time she wants to get married, she would likely have some candidates in mind and be able to judge whether they are accomplished or not.”
Before Feng Gui Ying could refute him again, Yu Huang Rong got up and strode over from the other side of the room with his cup of tea in hand. He didn’t care about that Feng Gui Ying’s opinion at all and what those women were thinking or not wasn’t important to him either but he was very much interested in figuring Zhang Shi Lan’s mind out.
One time might be a coincidence. He had to make sure he was right before he took the next step. He couldn’t jump to conclusions or it would just end in disappointment like when he had thought he saw Zhang Shi Lan blush at his sight before. He stopped in front of the scholar and looked into his eyes. “What about me then?”
“General Yu …” Zhang Shi Lan looked at him, then glanced away. Finally, his gaze flickered back, only to lower to the ground. “You —”
“Aiya!” Luan Chang Fu tsked. “What are you even asking him for? It’s obvious for you! You’ve always been in the military. What could your goal be if not becoming a General? Even I can tell at a glance.” He turned to Zhang Shi Lan and raised his brows. “I’m right, Scholar Zhang, am I not?”
“Mn.” Zhang Shi Lan hurried to nod, keeping his gaze to the ground.
Luan Chang Fu opened his fan with a laugh. “My goal was always to become the most intelligent, most handsome man of the capital. Would you say that goal was achieved?” He waved his fan, making a few strands of his hair flutter lightly behind his back.
Outside of the door, Xiao Xi and Xiao Jia covered their mouths with their hands. “Whoa! He’s really so handsome!”
“And he figured that out so fast! He really is a genius!”
Madam Yan rolled her eyes at the two lovestruck fools. “Isn’t that guy’s only accomplishment to be born into the royal family? He’s nothing more than a rich second-generation kid.”
“Ah?” Her two aides looked up but Madam Yan just waved.
“Never mind that. Those men should have sated their curiosity about each other by now and Scholar Zhang won’t dare to talk with General Yu even if we gave him another year in there. Just go and send the women over to the garden.”
“Oh.” The two aides hurried away to prepare the next stage of the plan.
Madam Yan continued to watch the proceedings inside the room. It was a pity that she was right. Zhang Shi Lan didn’t dare to talk with General Yu while General Yu didn’t know how to approach him even now that he had figured out what was going on.
Aiya, these two … It would need a lot of work to get them together. That much was for sure.