Yu Huang Rong eagerly absorbed Zhang Shi Lan’s words, his heart feeling so sweet as if it would drip honey when squeezed. Even though Zhang Shi Lan hadn’t said it directly, this had sounded like a love confession.
Yu Huang Rong grabbed the scholar’s hand, barely holding back from interlacing their fingers, and nodded over to the venue. “Let’s go and do it then. I’m looking forward to seeing the result of our hard work.” He paused and his lips curved, his voice unconsciously lowering to a seductive hum. “I’m also looking forward to spending time with you after we’re done here. I’m more than happy that Scholar Zhang is regarding me this highly.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and the two of them separated by just a step, walking over to the venue, their sleeves brushing against each other, rustling with each step. Madam Yan sighed and walked away while shaking her head. These two! You would need to be blind not to see what they were feeling for each other! Were they this eager to expose themselves? Well, it was too late to caution them. She’d leave that for later and just enjoy the show for now. She definitely wouldn’t miss out on seeing what these two had come up with in the morning.
Meanwhile, even though they hadn’t talked about it before, Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan went to the edge of the pond together to greet the women sitting in the pavilion on the other side.
These women had already taken part in the same event yesterday where Luan Chang Fu and Feng Gui Ying had presented their skills so they knew what they could expect and what they couldn’t.
Yesterday, there had been so many of them that they hadn’t been able to fit in the pavilion together. Thus Madam Yan had divided them into groups and made the two men show off their skills several times in a row so that all the women could see for themselves just what these men were capable of.
Naturally, the two men hadn’t been happy. They loathed the idea of performing in front of a group of women in the first place and doing so several times felt like a slap to their faces. Thus the originally not very good shows that lacked a lot in politeness toward the women even in the beginning got worse as time went on.
The women’s expectations were respectively low for today. After all, the men they had performed for the last time were all the most-sought after gentlemen of the capital. Would the others treat them better than His Highness and the Young Master of the Feng family? They doubted it.
But with the proof right in front of their eyes, they couldn’t deny it. It was true! The highly acclaimed General Yu and famed Scholar Zhang were respectfully greeting them before their performance even though there were only a group of women. Their hearts thumped faster. These two men were taking this seriously!
Maybe choosing one of them would be the right thing to do. After all, even though it was nice to have a husband with the highest status, they would only be one of many women and as soon as they lost their husband’s affection, their life would be miserable. But if they were to become the wife of a man that still treated them with respect regardless … Ah, as expected, marrying a gentleman was still the way to go!
Not far away, Xiao Xi and Xiao Jia gave a heartfelt sigh. They knew that Madam Yan was intent on having these two men marry each other. That was such a pity for these women! Two of them could’ve been very happy if they managed to become the wife of either of these men. Now, that was impossible because the General and the Scholar had decided on each other. Ah, it seemed the women would also need to marry each other if they wanted to find a good match.
Well, that wasn’t their problem. They were just here to help Madam Yan with all those miscellaneous tasks that came up so that the people coming to the pavilion could find their other half and get married without trouble. Everything else was the Madam’s task. They wouldn’t even think about it. No, no, it was still better if the Madam did that. Nobody could come up with the kinds of things she thought of anyway.
On the other side of the pond, Yu Huang Rong turned to Zhang Shi Lan and nodded. The scholar smiled and then went over to the desk that had been prepared for him. The guqin had already been placed on top so he could start playing as soon as he was ready.
He took a moment to smooth out his robes and collect his thoughts before he touched the strings.
Yu Huang Rong went to a spot on the opposite side and looked at him. He couldn’t help but hope that Zhang Shi Lan would watch him while he performed. This dance … It wasn’t for any of these women. It was for him. For the person, he had loved for many years. The things he wasn’t able to put into words in front of him … He would express them with his body instead. Maybe … if Zhang Shi Lan saw, he would be able to understand. He could only hope so.
Yu Huang Rong gave a smile and Zhang Shi Lan requited it, his fingers starting to move, the first notes quivering in the air.
Yu Huang Rong took a deep breath and unsheathed his sword in a swift motion. His body paused before he slowly turned, looking out into the distance. With the sword in hand, he moved to the side like walking down a rampart at the border, his body tensed as if he was prepared to fight at a moment’s notice.
He stopped as if he had reached the end of the path and turned, his weapon describing a graceful arc. The whole time, he was gazing at Zhang Shi Lan and the scholar looked back at him in a trance, his hands moving as if on their own accord.
Yu Huang Rong took one step after the other, going back in the other direction on the conceived rampart, his sword moving behind him, making it seem as if he was waiting for that attack that he knew was coming. Still, his thoughts remained on the person left behind. The one still waiting for his return at home.
The tune of the guqin picked up and the sword returned to the front. Yu Huang Rong leaped away from Zhang Shi Lan, his sword striking out as if going for the enemy’s heart.
This time, there was no arduous waiting, no tensed silence. This time, there was only a fierce fight, the sword hitting and slashing, winding through the air as if it had come alive. The invisible enemies it seemed to strike down, with each step he drove them back, further away from what he had sworn himself to protect.
Maybe he was a traitor at heart. He loved his country but more than that, he loved that person he couldn’t forget. He was loyal to the Emperor and he was even more loyal to the crown prince but his heart only belonged to one person.
A last strike and the fierce momentum of the song died down, turning into a solemn lament, making Yu Huang Rong pause once more. The sword didn’t move for a moment and only the guqin sounded while Yu Huang Rong’s gaze lingered on the distant horizon as if to make sure that nobody else was coming, that they had really won, that they had really driven those back that wanted to encroach on their territory and kill those they held dear.
Finally, he turned around, his gaze brushing the ground as if looking at the people lying there, engraving the faces of friend and foe into his mind, carving this memory into his heart, etching it into his soul. This was the war that he had fought with his blood and sweat. This was something he would never be able to forget.
He roamed through that field of death, his sword moving as if giving the last honor to his former brothers. And finally, he stopped once again and raised his eyes to the other side of the meadow.
Once again, their gazes met. Two pairs of dark eyes, two hearts that had cried out for each other for too many years. Time seemed to freeze and neither of them moved. That sword was merely held in those hands. Those strings weren’t plugged any longer. The breeze ruffled their hair, made their sleeves dance to an inaudible tune.
Yu Huang Rong’s lips parted, the words stuck in his throat. He wanted to break the silence but was unable to. Zhang Shi Lan looked back down, his heart fluttering, making the following notes vibrate in the air, the peaceful part of the melody that they had practiced turning into an even sweeter whisper.
Yu Huang Rong closed his eyes and stopped thinking. He moved once again, each step, each movement of the sword bringing him closer to the person occupying his heart until he finally stood in front of him and put down the weapon.
Maybe this was it. Maybe that was the truth behind all of it. For the person he loved, he would pick up the sword and for the person he loved, he would put it down. One day, he would do so. Even if he couldn’t say it yet, this was a promise he made in his heart at this very moment.