Yu Huang Rong took a deep breath and gave a wry smile. “There’s no need to look at me like this. I also know it sounds rather strange. But it’s actually not as hopeless as it sounds.”
Luan Xin snorted. “The man you love is afraid of you. How could that not be hopeless? I mean if he didn’t like you or hadn’t taken note of you — however that would be possible — we could at least try to turn hate into love or find some grand occasion to have you meet.
“But what are we be supposed to do with this? I mean there has to be a reason why he’s afraid of you.” Luan Xin froze and mechanically turned to his friend. Giving Yu Huang Rong a look from head to toe, his lips twitched. “Well, I somehow feel that the situation is even more hopeless than I thought. You’re a general, for Heaven’s sake! You’re … tall and imposing and you reek of blood and whenever you open your mouth, it feels like you’re yelling commands. You’re scowling all the time too. Honestly, what is there to love about you?” He shook his head and put his cup down, turning to the captain of his secret guards. “Ah Ning, I feel like we should open a flask of wine instead. Maybe if he gets drunk, it won’t hurt as much. What do you think?”
She Ning got up and went to find a flask of wine, not bothering to comment.
Yu Huang Rong’s brows drew together. “Could you not mock me like this? It’s really not as bad as you think. He does like me. It’s just that … he’s shy. So he doesn’t dare to talk to me. But he definitely loves me!”
Luan Xin nodded with his brows raised in doubt. “Yeah. I’m sure about that.” His tone suggested that he was sure of something entirely different.
Yu Huang Rong refused to let his friend’s words get him down. “You might think I’m being too optimistic but the matchmaker said the same. Zhang Shi Lan definitely loves me. He just doesn’t dare to admit it … yet.”
Luan Xin’s brows raised even higher. “The matchmaker? Which matchmaker? Are you sure you should trust their words? Aren’t they just doing everything they can to get somebody married?”
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched. Well, he couldn’t deny that he had also thought that Madam Yan was just a money-grubbing charlatan. But by now, he felt that he could trust her. Well, at the very least, he could trust her as far as her benefits were ensured. Luckily, him marrying Zhang Shi Lan was in line with them.
He sighed and leaned over the table. “Xiao Xin, I know this is hard to believe but I’m sure that Zhang Shi Lan likes me. I don’t know how this happened and … you’re probably right about me so I’m not sure why he loves me either but he does. He definitely does. And that is why I can’t just ignore this. I’ve loved this man for many years and I finally have the chance to be with him. If I don’t use it, I would regret this for the rest of my life.”
Luan Xin kept quiet but his expression finally turned serious. Yu Huang Rong had always been someone who liked to joke around as long as he wasn’t training his martial arts. Seeing him with that kind of expression and hearing him say these kinds of words, he was sure that Yu Huang Rong meant everything he had said. Yes, he loved this person. Yes, he was serious about this. He wanted to marry him, he wanted to spend his life with him. As unexpected as this was, it was the truth. And as his best friend, he should help him.
Luan Xin finally nodded. “Alright, I’ll help you as good as I can. I can’t promise anything though. I don’t know that Zhang Shi Lan personally and I doubt it would be a good idea to go and ask anyone about him. So since we can’t inquire about him, we can only try our best and hope that it will help. It might not be enough though. I hope you understand that.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “Whatever you can come up with is already more than I would be able to think of on my own. It’s worth a try.”
Luan Xin nodded and took the flask of wine that She Ning had brought back. He poured all three of them a cup and pushed them over. “Alright, let’s drink a cup. We will definitely make a good plan on how to capture this beauty’s heart for Ah Rong!”
Luan Xin picked up the cup and looked at his best friend. Yu Huang Rong gave a wry smile and picked up his own. Both of them turned to the captain of the secret guards. She Ning had no idea why he was included in this round but he still did as expected and took the cup. The three men silently raised them and gulped down the liquid.
Yu Huang Rong smashed his cup on the table and turned back to Luan Xin. “Alright, what’s the first measure?”
Luan Xin frowned. “The first measure,” he said and carefully placed his cup back down. “The first measure is to not be like that. No smashing your cups! No yelling either. If he’s already frightened by you now, then you need to show him your gentle side.”
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched. So what he had said to his mother wasn’t wrong. A general really had it rough with finding a wife. Even if it was a male wife. He sighed but nodded. “Noted.”
Luan Xin side-eyed him and turned to look at the captain of his secret guards. “Anything you noticed?”
She Ning shook his head.
Luan Xin sighed. “Exactly this! What’s with men like you? Can’t you react a little bit more emotionally? Just nodding once, just saying one word. The person in question here is a scholar! A person who is learned and acclaimed in the field of literature. Don’t you think he’d like to hear some flowery words?”
Yu Huang Rong nodded slowly. That was entirely in line with how he had gotten to know Zhang Shi Lan yesterday. He hadn’t talked much when it was just the two of them but when he was asked by the other men, he had indeed talked quite a lot. Maybe if he was able to engage him in a debate, Zhang Shi Lan would forget sooner or later that he was afraid. As long as he had a subject that interested him, his passion might override his fear of him.
Yu Huang Rong’s eyes narrowed in contemplation. “That’s not bad but what to talk about that will allow me not to look stupid?”
Luan Xin couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “What? You think it will work to cover that up? You shouldn’t even try. He’s a scholar. Even if you managed to seem intelligent once or maybe even twice, you won’t be able to do so for the rest of your life if you really manage to marry him. Better be honest with him.”
She Ning nodded in agreement. Pretending brought a person nowhere.
Yu Huang Rong sighed. Unfortunately, his friend was right. “But then what should I do? Is there really nothing I can talk to him about?”
Luan Xin pursed his lips and poured himself another cup of wine. “It’s difficult. It’s to be expected that the scholarly themes wouldn’t be suitable for you while he’s very knowledgeable about that. It would be best if you could get him to talk about it.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. Yes, getting Zhang Shi Lan to talk would indeed be favorable. After all, he could happily listen to his voice for several hours. He wouldn’t feel bored all, regardless of what the subject would be. “You’re right. It’s just that he doesn’t really dare to speak up in my presence. Getting him to talk about something at length would be even more difficult.”
“Hm.” Luan Xin didn’t know what to do either.
Beside them, She Ning’s eyes narrowed. “War.” His hoarse hoarse voice made Yu Huang Rong shudder.
Luan Xin merely turned to him and raised his brows. “What do you mean?”
She Ning furrowed his brows. The emperor obviously knew exactly what he meant but refused to show it. This wasn’t the first time they had gotten to this point but at least today, he could accept it. After all, there was still an outsider with them. He turned to look at Yu Huang Rong and repeated himself. “War. His Majesty already said that you should be honest. Since you don’t know about scholarly themes, just talk about what you know.”
Yu Huang Rong raised his brows. “How could I talk with him about war? He’s already afraid of me. If I tell him how I severed the heads of some enemy soldier, wouldn’t he feel even more disgusted?”
Luan Xin sighed. “So the only thing you can talk about is how you cut off heads? Tell him about something sentimental! Like … How you missed the capital with the people who are important to you, how you did everything you could just to make sure they would stay safe, how you lost some comrades that started out with you there, how you mourned their loss … That kind of thing.”
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows. It was easy to say for Luan Xin. He hadn’t been there. He had stayed in the capital, inside the palace and only heard reports every now and then. To him, the soldiers were nameless masses. While to him who had fought on the battlefield with them, those faces were edged into his mind. He remembered them. How they had looked, what they had talked about, their names, sometimes even their families.
Could he really use that to woo Zhang Shi Lan? Even though he wanted to win over the beauty, it felt wrong. He didn’t want to use those that had fallen for the country. He just couldn’t do that. They didn’t deserve to be treated that way.
Seeing his expression, Luan Xin sighed. Even though they hadn’t seen each other for several years, he still understood this person without words. “Ah Rong, you of all people should know that you can’t have everything. You have to decide what’s more important to you.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. Yes, he had to decide. It was just … this was a decision he didn’t want to make.
In the end, he could only sigh and thank the other two men before he left the palace. They had already found something he could do. Now, it was time for him to see if he wanted to give it a try and where that would lead him. He could hardly expect them to do that for him too.
Thus Yu Huang Rong withdrew from the General’s manor for the next two days, secluding himself at a hidden place under the excuse of wanting to train his martial skills so he wouldn’t get rusty. After all, he would likely need to return to the battlefield after the new year. He couldn’t take it easy and let his partner become a widow shortly after the wedding, could he?
Actually, Yu Huang Rong used this time to think things through. He thought of everything that had happened on the battlefield these last few years, he thought of the first time he had seen Zhang Shi Lan and the few times he had managed to get a peek of him when he returned home to the capital for a visit. Ah, this truly wasn’t easy.