Zhang Shi Lan’s fingers stilled while the last tone of the guqin still echoed in the room. For a moment, he blankly looked at the instrument before he lifted his gaze to General Yu’s face. Directly meeting with the other man’s eyes, Zhang Shi Lan was pulled out of his daze. His eyes widened and his cheeks flushed red. He scrambled to his feet and clasped his hands, bowing his head. “I hope I haven’t offended General Yu.”
Yu Huang Rong didn’t answer. He just looked at this person, his thoughts wandering. Ah, it had been ten years since then. Seeing him almost fall into the Fen Hua River, he hadn’t thought much of it when he rushed to save him. As a soldier stationed in the capital, naturally, it should be his task to help the citizens. If he saw something like this happening, then how could he walk past and pretend not to have seen? Furthermore, it was easy for him to rush over in time and pull him back up. Why shouldn’t do so? Who wouldn’t lend a helping hand in such a situation? He hadn’t thought anything more.
It was only afterward when he took a longer look at his face and when Zhang Shi Lan looked up at him with those soulful eyes that his heart started to thump. It wasn’t love at first sight. No, for him, it had taken a second glance.
At that moment, at the bank of the river, he had only been amused. This type of young boy, he certainly wouldn’t have imagined that somebody like that would take a liking to him. Bringing him home, it had been nothing more than whimsy. He had felt like doing so and did. It felt good to be admired like that. He had relished it. He never would have thought that there would be any lingering feelings afterward.
But then, after seeing that person in the capital several more times, seeing him turn from a boy into a beautiful youth and finally into a young man, his heart hadn’t been able to stay calm. Unfortunately, while his heart that had been indifferent before warmed up and started to long for this person, the one that had originally admired him and maybe entertained some thoughts seemed to have become indifferent instead.
It truly made him think that fate was cruel. Originally, there had been a chance but he hadn’t taken it seriously and only played around. When he was finally willing to take it seriously, the other one didn’t seem interested anymore.
Who could have known that he had gotten it wrong? That Zhang Shi Lan actually still felt for him the same way that he had had on that day? It needed several years and a matchmaker to finally figure that out. He truly felt dumb thinking about it.
Unwittingly, Yu Huang Rong reached out to the person he had kept in his heart for so long and touched his cheek. His thumb gently rubbed the skin above his cheekbone and his fingers fit the curve of his cheek.
Zhang Shi Lan’s face reddened further and he couldn’t help but think back to the words that Qian Mu Qing had said. General Yu … Could it really be he had some fondness for him? But how could that be? Hadn’t it been his unrequited longing all these years? How could the other person suddenly requite his feelings?
He was unable to understand. Still, he didn’t push him away and didn’t speak up to make him stop. He lowered his gaze and just let Yu Huang Rong continue. This moment, it was even more precious than just having the opportunity to be in the same room with him. Even though he knew that nothing could happen between them, he still wanted to experience this for just a moment longer.
Yu Huang Rong leaned in closer, his breath brushing Zhang Shi Lan’s face. He looked at that pair of pink lips and his eyes narrowed. He really … really wanted to bridge the last gap between them and kiss him. He even felt that Zhang Shi Lan wouldn’t push him away. He might allow him to go through with this whim.
But thinking about what Madam Yan had said that this was something that would need time and then also thinking back to that day ten years ago when he had also just followed his whims and what happened afterward, he finally just sighed and leaned back, lowering his hand. “I’m sorry. For a moment … Scholar Zhang’s music can really touch a man’s heart.” He didn’t say anything more and took a step back, turning to the side and taking a deep breath to calm his heart.
Zhang Shi Lan reached up and rubbed his chest. He didn’t know what to say or do. All the thoughts he had had previously, they seemed to have flown away like a flock of birds that had been startled by a loud sound.
It was still Yu Huang Rong who calmed down first and turned back to the other man. Seeing Zhang Shi Lan’s expression, he smiled lightly. “I’m sorry. I’ve startled Scholar Zhang. Let’s not think about it any further. As for the song, I think it’s very suitable. Let’s try it out.” He stepped back further and unsheathed his sword.
Seeing the blade glinting in the sun that fell through the windows, Zhang Shi Lan pulled himself out of his thoughts. Right, they were still at the matchmaker’s. He couldn’t willfully indulge in his thoughts. He had to clear his head and concentrate on the task at hand. He sat down again and his hands return to the strings. “Then I will try not to let General Yu down.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. Honestly, there was no way this person could let him down. He smiled and went a few steps back, creating more distance between them. He didn’t want to get too close to Zhang Shi Lan with the sword in hand. This gentle scholar … How could he be forced to be faced with a weapon? Yu Huang Rong nodded at Zhang Shi Lan, signifying that he was prepared.
The scholar nodded back and turned to the guqin, raising his hands once more. Yes, he shouldn’t think too much. General Yu wasn’t the kind of man that would judge someone just because they made one blunder. He was a man that was willing to forgive and wouldn’t refuse to allow somebody a second chance.
His hands moved and the haunting tune sounded in the chamber once again.
Yu Huang Rong closed his eyes and his body started to move as if on its own. He really didn’t know much about dances but this type of sword dance could also be used to train so he wasn’t completely unfamiliar with it. Whether it was suited for entertainment … He didn’t know. But it was alright as long as Zhang Shi Lan and he would have something else linking them.
Zhang Shi Lan didn’t dare to look up at first. He concentrated on the notes, making sure that he played exactly like the time before. If he didn’t, then how would General Yu know how to perform? If they wanted to make sure that this performance wouldn’t embarrass both of them, then they had to practice this diligently.
After a while, he couldn’t hold himself back though. This was the man he loved. Naturally, he also wanted to see just how well General Yu was able to do such a sword dance. The sight in front of him … Zhang Shi Lan didn’t have words for it.
The General still hadn’t opened his eyes. It was as if he didn’t need to see the room to know where exactly everything was. Neither his outstretched arm nor the sword in his other hand ever touched the furniture. Whether he turned slowly or gracefully moved his arms or moved this weapon in a fast strike, it always seemed as if he was the one controlling everything around him. There was nothing that could break his focus, that could surprise him and make him leave his way. This truly … was the man he had fallen in love with.
He continued to play the song without consciously thinking about it and only noticed when he finally reached the end. The last note sounded, vibrating in the air. The sword that had been raised to the front was slowly pulled back and sheathed. Those dark eyes opened and looked at Zhang Shi Lan, the expression unreadable.
The two men looked at each other in silence. Even the last string stopped vibrating, returning complete silence to the room. Birds tweeted outside but the two men didn’t know what to say. They could only look at each other, both keeping to their own thoughts.
In the end, Yu Huang Rong forced a smile onto his lips. “So? What is Scholar Zhang’s evaluation? Did I pass your scrutiny?”
Zhang Shi Lan tensed and hurriedly looked away. His scrutiny … General Yu wasn’t scolding him for looking all the time, was he? “You … General Yu seemed …”
“Now too accustomed to this?” He laughed. “I can’t deny that this is the first time for me to do this type of sword dance to somebody playing the guqin this beautifully. Well, we still have quite a bit of time. Let’s try again.” He unsheathed his sword again and this time went down on one knee.
Before, he had only played around a bit, testing some things he thought might be fitting for the music. In the end, this was for entertainment. He couldn’t ignore that and only focus on the sword. He wasn’t too worried though. Zhang Shi Lan had managed to incorporate the feeling that he had had in the war so he would be able to manage to dance to this. He waited for Zhang Shi Lan to start playing but nothing happened. Yu Huang Rong blinked his eyes and looked over. The scholar was sitting at the table motionlessly, his face a little pale.
Yu Huang Rong got up and sheathed his sword, walking over in a hurry. “Is something wrong?” He took Zhang Shi Lan’s wrist without waiting for his reply and felt for his pulse. No, it seemed everything was alright.
Zhang Shi Lan scrambled to his feet and looked up at the taller men. “General Yu, I —” he stopped himself and looked down again. What was even doing? Whether General Yu misunderstood him or not, what would it change?
Yu Huang Rong examined his face and finally reached out to brush back a strand of hair. “What is it? It couldn’t be you’re worrying too much again, could it?” He lowered his voice and his tone sounded unbelievable familiar as if the two of them had known each other for a long time.
Zhang Shi Lan blushed and finally nodded. “That has to be it. General Yu is right. I shouldn’t think so much. Let’s just try again.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and patted Zhang Shi Lan’s hand before going back to his position. The scholar … Yes, he did indeed think a little too much about things. If he would only follow his emotions, this would certainly be much easier. But, well, not all hope was lost yet. At the very least, the fact that he thought so much also meant that his opinion was very important to him and that was already a lot, wasn’t it?