The two men continued to practice for the performance. The longer they worked on it, the smoother the dance and the accompanying tune became. Yu Huang Rong couldn’t help but feel that this was to be expected. Naturally, he would be able to work well with the person he loved. This was a given!
With the task at hand, Zhang Shi Lan also didn’t feel too awkward talking to this person. And since this might very well be the last time that he would be able to interact with Yu Huang Rong while they were both still unmarried, he also felt that he shouldn’t hold anything back. As long as he didn’t speak about his feelings, this day could be theirs. It was alright for him to imagine that they truly were close and that this wasn’t just something they had done as a task the matchmaker had given them.
Both of them had their own thoughts, letting them interact with each other as if they had known each other for years. Soon enough, the first half of the day had gone by and a knock sounded from the door.
Yu Huang Rong lowered the sword in his hand and Zhang Shi Lan’s hand stilled above the strings of the guqin. The two of them exchanged a glance and turned to the door.
“Come on in.”
Yu Huang Rong said so but he couldn’t help but glare at the person walking in for disturbing his time with Zhang Shi Lan.
The person in question didn’t mind at all. Instead, Madam Yan gave the two of them a brilliant smile. “General Yu, Scholar Zhang, I hope you’ve already managed to make some progress.” She looked at Yu Huang Rong when she said so and smirked, her words laced with a double meaning.
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched but he still answered truthfully. “Some progress was made. I’m sure the women will be awed by our performance later on. Scholar Zhang and I work together perfectly.”
“Is that so?” Madam Yan glanced at Zhang Shi Lan before she motioned behind her. “It’s already midday and with you both training so hard, I thought that you would like some dishes and refreshments to recover some of your strength. Afterward, you should probably take a short rest before the performance starts.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and went back to the table, looking at Zhang Shi Lan when he sat down next to him.
Madam Yan had her two aides and a few servants carry in the dishes and refreshments before she gave the two men another smile. “Since you’ve only chosen a few women, one performance will suffice. We’ll be holding the event at the same venue as four days ago just that the sides will be opposite today. The women will be sitting in the pavilion while you are to perform on the meadow.”
The two men nodded and Madam Yan took her leave, quietly closing the door behind her. She couldn’t help but give a satisfied smile when she turned away and walked back to the study. It seemed her plan was working very well for now. The two had been able to spend a bit more time while having a clear purpose and should have gotten closer. At the very least, Zhang Shi Lan hadn’t seemed like a trembling animal anymore in front of the General. Mn, this was already very good. Now, the question was on how to proceed.
Until here, things had been easy. When she talked to the two of them it had been obvious what was going on, inviting those eight gentlemen together and creating a big splash in the capital hadn’t been a problem either. Even today’s event could still be justified. But from now on, it would be getting troublesome. She didn’t have a problem with helping them behind the scenes but as for creating opportunities to see each other … This depended on themselves. Ah, should she have warned General Yu? But if he managed not to behave like a boor that would already be good enough. She didn’t have much higher hopes right now.
She leaned back, crossed her legs and wiggled her foot. Well, it wasn’t too late yet. Advising General Yu wouldn’t be too difficult. The rest would rely on Scholar Zhang. Knowing him, even though he loved General Yu, he was serious about marriage. He had promised his family so he would continue to earnestly look for a wife even if he wasn’t able to love her.
The two of them had both chosen seven women out of the forty that had been present the other time. It was likely that these were women he could imagine living together with. Since he could only marry one, he would either choose one that would signal interest in him or decide based on his preferences in what he wanted his wife to be like. It was best if he didn’t decide too early so that General Yu could get to know him better. That would also give them time to make a plan.
Looking from that perspective … she had to delay things. Mn, right now, there were several women. Maybe she could schedule individual meetings between them? With how many women the other men had chosen, there might be a lot of those. Thus, she would be able to stretch the time until Zhang Shi Lan and Yu Huang Rong would need to decide on one woman to a few weeks or even months easily.
The meetings should also calm down their families since they would see that things were progressing in the right direction. Mn, come to think of it, maybe she should involve their families further at this point too? Those Madams that wanted to see their sons marry a nice woman, were certainly itching to come and involve themselves. Yes, that should be her next step. She should first reassure their families and then draw up the matches. That would pave the way for convincing their families later on and also give General Yu more time to get close to Zhang Shi Lan.
While Madam Yan started planning the meeting with their families, Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan quietly ate. Neither of them said a word as if they had lost the ability to speak as soon as the task at hand was over.
Yu Huang Rong felt as if he was going mad. Hadn’t he just said that there had been progress? How come it suddenly looked as if they went back to the beginning when Zhang Shi Lan hardly even looked at him?! This was vexing!
He looked over at the scholar and watched him silently eat his meal. Ah, he should pay attention! Knowing what his partner liked to eat was very important. In the future, he would be able to lovingly place some of his favorite food in his bowl, making the servants bleed from the eyes just from watching it.
Zhang Shi Lan’s chopsticks paused in the air and he raised his gaze only to meet with Yu Huang Rong’s eyes. The General was looking at him directly, his gaze intense. Zhang Shi Lan involuntarily tensed. “General Yu …” He hadn’t done anything wrong, had he?
“Your favorite food is …”
Zhang Shi Lan’s brows rose. “My … favorite food?” He must have heard him wrong. There was no way General Yu would suddenly ask him something like this.
Strangely enough, Yu Huang Rong nodded. “Isn’t there anything that you like to eat in particular?”
Zhang Shi Lan didn’t know how to answer. Why was General Yu asking something like this? This really was too unexpected. Even though that was the case, he couldn’t just keep quiet. General Yu had already asked twice. If he still didn’t say anything, it would be too impolite. “There … is nothing. Nothing in particular.”
“Nothing?” Yu Huang Rong frowned, seeing his imagination already crumble down. It seemed there would be no romantic scene of pampering the person he loved by giving him his favorite dishes.
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. “I do prefer vegetarian dishes though. But it is more a matter of attitude than taste.”
“Oh.” That wasn’t too specific but Yu Huang Rong still felt that it was good. Actually, he wasn’t too surprised by this answer. Didn’t scholars like to deliberate scriptures and visit the temples and these things? That kind of place would serve vegetarian dishes so it wasn’t too strange he would pick up that kind of habit. “Have some more of this then.” He didn’t think any deeper and just started to heap some vegetables onto Zhang Shi Lan’s bowl, expectantly waiting for him to move his chopsticks again and eat the food that he had given him.
Zhang Shi Lan looked at the person he had always admired and couldn’t help but wonder just what had happened. Had General Yu just given him food? Had this been his original intention and that was why he had asked what he liked to eat? It seemed impossible but he couldn’t find any other explanation.
With his heart thumping loudly, Zhang Shi Lan bowed his head and tried the food.
Yu Huang Rong leaned closer and waited for his verdict as if he had prepared the dishes himself. “And? How is it?”
Zhang Shi Lan wasn’t able to taste anything because of his nervousness but when he glanced up and saw Yu Huang Rong looking at him like this, he nodded his head. Seeing Yu Huang Rong’s expression light up, he couldn’t help but think that he might have found the reason for his strange behavior.
The General hadn’t been in the capital city for a long. He knew almost nobody and with who the people from the last event had been, he might have had some trouble getting close to them. So inviting him to come and see the city with him and now asking about his preferences and giving him food, it was probably his attempt to make friends with him.
Zhang Shi Lan looked at the bowl with the food and couldn’t help but smile. He would never be able to realize his dream and marry this man but being friends … He would be able to do that. It wasn’t impossible. And at the very least, he would still be able to see him.
The only question was: Would he be able to keep his feelings to himself or would he give them away when he stayed too close to this man?