Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan continued to sit in the small bamboo grove, enjoying each other’s warmth, only occasionally speaking up when something caught their attention. In that way, the rest of the afternoon went by and the sun went down.
Zhang Shi Lan sighed, sitting up straight on Yu Huang Rong’s lap and looking at him. “I’m afraid we’ll have to separate now. Otherwise, we’ll really draw attention.”
Yu Huang Rong gave a lazy hum. He knew that Zhang Shi Lan was right but he didn’t like it at all. If he could, he’d like to stay like this forever. Unfortunately … He also sighed and let go of the scholar’s waist. “We should get up before the servants come and look for us. If somebody asks, let’s just say we were talking and forgot about the time. I’m sure a scholar like you would have a lot to say.”
Zhang Shi Lan loved. “I’m sure General Yu would also have a lot to say. Aren’t there many stories of your time in the war you could tell me?”
Yu Huang Rong thought of the advice that Luan Xin and the captain of the secret guards had given him. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t mind telling you. It’s just that … I’m feeling a bit depressed thinking about it. I guess I don’t want to burden you with that?”
Zhang Shi Lan cupped his cheeks and leaned down again, kissing his forehead. “Whether you’re feeling happy or sad, I’ll always be there to listen to you. So don’t think about if it might upset me. If it is important to you, then I’d like to know.”
Yu Huang Rong looked up at Zhang Shi Lan in a daze. “Shi Lan, what happened to the person that was shyly looking the other way whenever I spoke up in your company? How come you’re suddenly so …”
Zhang Shi Lan blushed and indeed looked away, reverting to his old behavior.
Yu Huang Rong laughed and got up, pulling him back into his arms. “Don’t do that! It stunned me just now but I’m very happy. If I could, I’d make you do that kind of thing all the time.” He also leaned down and pecked Zhang Shi Lan’s cheek.
Zhang Shi Lan pushed the General’s hand off his hips and stepped back. “General Yu, how can you do that? If somebody saw us …” He shook his head and turned around, walking down the path leading through the bamboo grove. When he heard Yu Huang Rong follow behind, he spoke up again. “Being shy with you … It’s not that I wouldn’t dare at all.
“Yu Huang Rong, as a man of the military you might look down on a scholar like me. You might think that I’m frail and not much better than a woman but I’m also a man. Being shy when I’m secretly in love with you … It is something forbidden and something that I fear you might find burdensome if you ever find out, so naturally, I haven’t shown it. But since we’ve cleared this up and I confessed that you like you, why should I still hold back? If I did, then wouldn’t I lose out?”
Yu Huang Rong gave a gentle smile. “You would certainly look lose out. But … I don’t look down on you. You chose another way of life. I also think that scholars are very important. There was no way I would have wanted to go it but I come from a military family anyway.
“My father and grandfather were both important figures in the war. If I had said that I wanted to become a scholar, they would have beaten me up until I said that I want to go to the military. It’s different for you. Your father is a minister. You started to learn these things from early on and you were probably interested in it too. So what’s wrong with that? It’s merely … a different choice. Nothing better or worse about it.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “It’s good if you see it that way.” He didn’t know what else to say and the two of them once again fell quiet.
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but glance at the General. Even though he didn’t feel shy anymore now that they had confessed their feelings and even spent this afternoon together in proximity, he still didn’t know how to treat him. This afternoon, it had been easy. Whatever crossed his mind, it was enough. With their bodies so close together, that was also a way to spend time. Basking in that feeling of finally acquiring the person they loved, that was something they could enjoy together. But now when walking down the road, not knowing whether somebody was around that might overhear the conversation and with the light dwindling, it was hard to say. Just what should they do?
Yu Huang Rong took a step to the side, his hand brushing Zhang Shi Lan’s. He inclined his head and lowered his voice. “I love you.”
Zhang Shi Lan glanced up and found the General giving a bright smile. He couldn’t help but requite it. “Aren’t you afraid somebody might hear?”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “I would know if somebody was close by. And the type of person that is able to come close enough and overhear us if we whisper like that, I’m afraid there’s no way to guard against them anyway. But if there was such a person around, then I’d rather worry about the life of our Emperor than anybody finding out about our clandestine love affair.” He bridged the last gap between them and kissed Zhang Shi Lan’s cheek again. “Indulge me a little. We only have a bit more time left.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “Well, we’ll still go home afterward. If he walked together …”
“I’m afraid that wouldn’t be too practical. Let’s wait in the main house. I’ll have somebody call my servant over with the carriage. I’ll bring you home afterward.”
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but worry at that. “Wouldn’t that expose —”
Yu Huang Rong grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Nothing of the like. It would be much stranger if we went somewhere and bid our farewell in secret. This is an outing between two gentlemen, two friends, two people who met at an event at the matchmaker’s and struck up a friendship while looking for a wife. Nothing more. Not for the time being.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “Yes, you’re right. I shouldn’t worry too much.”
“No, it’s good if you do. I’m afraid I might not worry enough in that regard. I wouldn’t mind if people found out. Honestly, if not because Madam Yan already warned me about this, I might have just gone to your family and asked to marry you. I’m just that type of person. — A reckless fool when in love.”
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but laugh. “General Yu must be taking me for a fool. You’re a General. You’ve been in the war for so long, commanding lots and lots of soldiers. I can’t even imagine how many men that where. You’ve devised strategies and fought back our enemies. That kind of person, could it really be somebody this impatient? Aren’t you just using that as an excuse?”
Yu Huang Rong grinned. “You’re really smart. You’re figuring out all the loopholes I left somewhere. But, in all honesty, I am a little impatient. Not in the war, I guess but if it comes to my feelings … You can’t imagine how I’ve wanted to go and talk to you. Whenever I came to the capital and saw you somewhere, I thought that maybe this was the day. I really wanted to. In the end, I never did. I was afraid. I thought that it wasn’t the right time. I honestly thought that the right time had already passed and that it was my fault.”
Zhang Shi Lan squeezed his hand. “Well, that’s nothing you have to worry about anymore. Let’s not be impatient now, yes?”
“I know.” He sighed and faced the front again. “We’ll just arrange a meeting with that Qian Mu Qing and then we’ll continue to see. At the very least, we should wait until we do anything more until we have Madam Yan’s approval.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and the two of them fell quiet again, walking the rest of the way in silence.
When they reached the main house, Yu Huang Rong motioned for Zhang Shi Lan to sit down at one of the tables. Meanwhile, he went to one of the servants, asking him to send a message to the General’s manor to come and pick them up. The servant hurried away and Yu Huang Rong returned to Zhang Shi Lan’s side.
There were still a few people sitting in the main house and servants were still walking around, taking orders and delivering dishes or some tidying up for when the store closed up. Yu Huang Rong sat down next to Zhang Shi Lan and sighed. Right now, he really felt impatient. He wanted to reach over and take Zhang Shi Lan’s hand, maybe even give him another kiss. At the very least, he wanted to be able to tell him something sweet. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. There were too many prying eyes, too many curious ears. He couldn’t do any of the things you wanted and it was getting on his nerves.
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but smile when he saw his expression. “I still have to thank General Yu for today. It truly was a day with many surprises. Even though we don’t know yet what the event at Madam Yan’s will bring in regard to our marriages, I do feel that it was already worth it for letting me get to know General Yu better. It truly was an honor for me.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at him and his eyes narrowed. This Zhang Shi Lan … He was actually such a sly fox. Saying something that would mean one thing to the others and another to them, he really was good at that. It seemed he’d have to look out in the future just what his beloved was saying. Otherwise, who knew what kind of thing would slip his attention. “It’s my honor. It truly isn’t too easy for men of the military to return to the capital after such a long time. Scholar Zhang has made things easy for me. I’m grateful for your help.”
“General Yu is praising me too much. I’m sure there are a lot of people that admire General Yu just as much as I do. It is my pleasure to have been allowed to accompany you for so long.”
Yu Huang Rong looked away and took a deep breath. Damn. Who would have thought that this kind of polite talk could be so enticing? If Zhang Shi Lan went on like this, he might have trouble holding back. At the very least, he already had a bit of trouble hiding his reaction.
He shifted on the chair, repositioning his arm so that his long sleeve hid the bulge below his robe. Ah, this was too embarrassing! Zhang Shi Lan was certainly able to hold back much better than him. Now, he was the one who would have to worry whether the other man would look down on him.
Zhang Shi Lan gave him a curious gaze when he saw him shift like that. He didn’t understand what was going on but Yu Huang Rong’s expression told him that it was better not to ask. He just faced the other direction and gave a smile. “I haven’t been here in a long time. This truly is a place that holds precious memories.”
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows and closed his eyes. One more word and he really wouldn’t be able to hold back. Was Zhang Shi Lan doing this on purpose?!