The performances came to an end several hours later and the men looked at the chests below their seats.
Luan Chang Fu raised his brows, took the heap of wooden slips and shoved all of them inside with a chuckle. “It might be difficult this way for Madam Yan but I certainly can’t be expected to decide this soon, can I? What about you lot? Which ones did you choose?” He turned to Feng Gui Ying next to him and waved his fan.
Feng Gui Ying smiled and put a handful of slips into the chest. “I think I recognized some of the women. There are several real gems among them. It would be a pity to waste time on any of the others. Of course, if Your Highness decides on one of them, I won’t make things difficult.”
“Haha, that’s a given, that’s a given.” Luan Chang Fu didn’t dwell on it and turned to Ming Ru Shui. “What about you? I saw you eying some of them more closely. Don’t tell me your eyes are so sharp that you could see everyone clearly.”
Ming Ru Shui shook his head. “No, I … I have some interest in music so I listened more closely to the ones who played an instrument. I also considered what Scholar Zhang said before. If they really displayed a musical skill because they like me, then I should at least give them a chance.” He turned to the other side and nodded at Zhang Shi Lan. Having a wife that shared his interest in music wouldn’t be bad. Sure, he would also like a beautiful wife but to him, that was secondary.
Luan Chang Fu sighed and turned to Zhang Shi Lan. “Now you see what you did? The poor guy believed you to this degree!”
Feng Gui Ying nodded. “True, ah! You should take responsibility if he ends up with some talented but hideous woman. And what about yourself? Whom did you choose? I didn’t see anyone exhibit any scholarly talents.” He laughed but Zhang Shi Lan just smiled.
“Young Master Feng is naturally right. It would be hard in this setup to display anything like that. I merely chose from the general impression I had on them. I am somebody who likes his surroundings to be quiet. I wouldn’t want quarrels in my household so I chose the women I thought might have a gentle temperament.”
Feng Gui Ying couldn’t help but snort. “A gentle temperament? They’re all from good families! Which one wouldn’t have that? So Scholar Zhang actually chose all of them too? You wouldn’t believe that you’re on the same level as His Highness, would you?” He glanced at Luan Chang Fu but the prince didn’t seem to mind the implications.
“Ah, Scholar Zhang also wants to have all options available. It’s not that strange. Madam Yan really made it too hard for us this time.” Luan Chang Fu just turned to the person next to Zhang Shi Lan. “What about you, General Yu?”
“Mn? Oh, I …” Yu Huang Rong pushed a few slips into the chest and smiled at Feng Gui Ying. “I haven’t been back to the capital for long so I don’t know much about the women or customs here. I merely chose the same ones that Scholar Zhang. I believe he has good taste.” His smirk got more pronounced, making Feng Gui Ying tense.
He deeply felt that … he had somehow offended this General today. Don’t tell him … Yu Huang Rong and that insufferable know-it-all Zhang Shi Lan were friends somehow?! Shit. In that case, he had really made a blunder today. He had thought that Zhang Shi Lan wouldn’t have any way to fight back if he made things difficult for him but it seemed he hadn’t paid enough attention. Now that he thought about it … it had been General Yu who brought up Zhang Shi Lan’s opinion again and saved him from embarrassment. He should have understood at that moment. Ah, well, there might still be opportunities to turn the situation around again. After all, General Yu really hadn’t been back for long. There would be ways to let him know that other allies would be more beneficial.
The other people waited to be asked about their choices but Luan Chang Fu didn’t even seem to think about them. He was looking around while waving his fan. “I bet Madam Yan should be here any moment. I am curious about what her next step will be. This event was rather strange but it sure was a novelty. Maybe she’ll have some more surprises in store for us?”
At this time, Madam Yan was indeed on her way back to the pavilion next to the pond while her two aides led the women away, leaving the eight men alone in the silence of the garden for a moment.
Zhang Shi Lan glanced at the person next to him for what might be the last time today before he lowered his gaze. Ah, this wasn’t too bad. Whatever the future would bring, he had another day, another memory, that he could hold dear. He would be able to think back to this. How they had sat next to each other, how they looked at each other and … even talked to each other for a moment. Now, he didn’t have any regrets left, did he?
Madam Yan reached the pavilion and folded her hands in front of her body with a smile. “I hope you had an enjoyable afternoon.”
Luan Chang Fu sighed. “We had. But it would have been so much more enjoyable if you had let us see the women up close. It was so difficult to choose among them.”
Madam Yan eyed the chest next to him and continued to smile. “I can imagine.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at the person next to him and cleared his throat. “Then … how will things proceed from here on out?” Would there be more events where they would come together? Or … would this officially be the last time?
Madam Yan motioned at the chests. “My aides will come to collect the boxes in a bit. Afterward, we will write down the names of the women you chose and will arrange another row of meetings. These will allow you to get to know them better.” She eyed Luan Chang Fu’s box once again and her lips curled up further. She hadn’t been able to see what the men did but knowing this guy, he had probably shoved all the wooden slips in there. She’d really like to see how he would cope with the next event.
“It will take some time to prepare for the next round so expect to hear from us in a day or two.”
Feng Gui Ying raised his brows. “I hope there won’t be such … surprises as today again.”
“I am not sure what Young Master Feng is talking about. Were the women’s talents not up to par?”
Feng Gui Ying frowned. How did a mere matchmaker dare to talk back to him?! “I was talking about their appearance!”
“What about it? Didn’t I say I invited the most talented and most beautiful women of our capital? Does Young Master Feng think my words weren’t true?”
Luan Chang Fu chuckled. “Aiya, Madam Yan certainly said the truth. I’ll be waiting for the next part of your event. Now, if you’d excuse me. I’m an important man. I have important things to do.” He got up, nodded at her and left, his servants joining him halfway.
Feng Gui Ying frowned in displeasure but still got up. “I will also take my leave. Farewell, Madam Yan.” He nodded and left.
The other men also bid their farewell, leaving only Qian Mu Qing, Zhang Shi Lan, and Yu Huang Rong.
Qian Mu Qing nodded at Madam Yan and turned to Zhang Shi Lan. “Scholar Zhang, I …” He once again broke out in cold sweat when General Yu glared at him but he forced himself to gulp and clenched his fists. The General wouldn’t dare to do anything to him in broad daylight, would he? “Uh, I …”
“Mister Qian, are you alright?” Zhang Shi Lan inclined his head. “You’re looking rather pale.”
“Ah, mn …” Qian Mu Qing cleared his throat and nodded. “Yes, yes, it’s … everything is alright. I just wanted to ask if … you would like to … spend some more time together. I … enjoyed listening to your thoughts greatly.”
“Of course. Would you like me to accompany you home? Maybe it would be better if you weren’t alone right now.”
“Ah, thank you. If you wouldn’t mind …”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and stood up, turning to Madam Yan. “Madam Yan. Thank you for your effort. It was an enjoyable day.”
“I’m glad Scholar Zhang is satisfied.”
Zhang Shi Lan smiled. He turned to leave but hesitated. In the end, he faced Yu Huang Rong and bowed. “General Yu.”
“Scholar Zhang.” Yu Huang Rong watched him turn around and leave with Qian Mu Qing. His heart felt heavy. How come another man could leave with him just like that while he stood here alone and had to watch him leave?
He sighed in regret but then straightened up. It couldn’t go on like this! What marriage? What offspring? He didn’t even know if he would return after he went back to the battlefield next year. Why should he marry a wife? No, he’d much rather spend the bit of time he might still have with the person he loved. Even if his family didn’t understand … He had done so much for their Chen country. Shouldn’t he deserve at least this bit of happiness?
He turned to the matchmaker and smiled. “Madam Yan, I also thank you for this day. It was … truly eye-opening. In fact, there is something I’d like to discuss with you regarding this.”
“Oh?” Madam Yan raised her brows, her smile growing even more pronounced. So this guy had finally decided to open up and talk about his true wishes? Well, it was about time he did. She couldn’t do magic, after all. “I have a feeling this is something we should discuss in the other pavilion.”
General Yu’s lips twitched. “Since it’s better for business?”
“Since superstitious people believe that’s the place where I’m working my magic and making sure that a happy couple will get married soon.”
“So it’s about the pavilion.” Yu Huang Rong nodded slowly and followed her back to the front of the garden.
Madam Yan continued to smile. She motioned at the seat and sat down with General Yu. “In fact, it’s not about the pavilion. It’s about somebody deciding on what they really want. So, why don’t you tell me about your decision, General Yu?”