“Luan Xin! I —”
“Stop!” Luan Xin raised a hand and waved in a dismissive manner. “You don’t have to say anything. I already know. You did some awkward sword dance to confess your feelings, that scholar was inexplicably impressed and the two of you left the matchmaker’s to confess your feelings to each other in some hidden bamboo grove before you returned home late at night.”
Yu Huang Rong couldn’t help and gape at his friend. This … How come he already knew everything?! Didn’t this mean that the joke he had made yesterday about being able to notice if somebody came close had suddenly become serious?
He turned to look at the person that was sitting next to Luan Xin, peeling a tangerine. He didn’t need to ask twice what had happened. Obviously, She Ning or one of his people had followed them and reported everything that happened back to Luan Xin.
It seemed he’d have to be more careful in the future. After all, even though Luan Xin and he were on the same side, that didn’t mean that there weren’t other people around that might also be able to sneak up on him. He had been too complacent yesterday.
While Yu Huang Rong pondered his shortcomings, Luan Xin went on to complain. “It’s nice that you found your true love and all and were actually right with your crazy story about him liking you even though he’s afraid of you but I really don’t want you to rub it in my face. So there’s no need to tell me any details. The rundown Ah Ning gave me was enough. More than enough.”
Luan Xin turned to the captain of the secret guards and gave a bright smile. “Ah Ning, just how long does it take to peel one tangerine? I’m starving here.”
She Ning glanced at him but refused to answer or hurry up. It was as if he was silently protesting to his treatment.
Yu Huang Rong felt that he could understand him. This guy was the captain of the secret guards and obviously a rather good one if he was able to sneak up on him and even stay around for long enough to find out what happened in the grove. Why was that type of person subjected to this treatment? Well, anyway, that wasn’t his problem. He went over and plopped down next to Luan Xin. “That’s not it at all. I don’t know what I should do and I need your advice.”
Luan Xin raised his brows and turned back to his friend, ignoring the person that had finally managed to completely peel the tangerine. “My advice? Again? Even after you managed to have the guy confess? Who would’ve thought! Well, then, in my endless graciousness I might be willing to lend you my ear for a few minutes and utter a wise word or two.”
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched. This guy! Did he have to be so pretentious? “Yesterday, we promised each other —”
“Ah! Didn’t I say that I didn’t want any details?”
Yu Huang Rong clicked his tongue. “Could you at least let me finish the sentence? I was going to say that we promised each other to meet up today. But Zhang Shi Lan never contacted me. What do you think went wrong?”
Luan Xin raised his brows and turned to the captain of the secret guards.
She Ning handed over the tangerine before he took out another one from a bowl next to him and started peeling that one. “You didn’t.”
Yu Huang Rong once again shuddered at the hoarse voice. It was probably a good thing that the secret guards never talked much. “What do you mean? I didn’t?”
She Ning glanced at him before he focused on the tangerine again. “You didn’t say today. You promised to meet up but you didn’t say anything about today. And the person you wanted to meet up with is Qian Mu Qing. Today, he was at the matchmaker’s event together with Ming Ru Shui. So even if he had wanted to, he wouldn’t have been able to invite him to go out with you.”
Luan Xin looked from one person to the other and raised his brows. “Wait. I thought your sweetheart was that Scholar Zhang. How come some Qian Mu Qing is related to that now?”
Yu Huang Rong sighed. Well, that explained a lot. At the very least, he didn’t have to be worried anymore. “Well, we figured it might be too obvious if we only went out together so we thought it might be better to invite that person along since he already knows.”
“What? Another person knows? Honestly, who is that even? That guy’s best friend?”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “Some merchant. Nothing special. He somehow figured it out at the matchmaker’s the other day. Well, I guess there are people who are paying a lot more attention than your cousin.”
Luan Xin harrumphed. “Don’t drag my cousin into this. This is about you, your sweetheart, and some other man. Aren’t you worried at all?” He spread his hands in confusion and a tangerine was put onto one of them. Luan Xin’s eyes widened and he looked at it before glancing at the captain of his secret guards. “How come you were this fast this time?”
She Ning didn’t answer and just picked up another one, continuing to peel.
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows. He really felt that he should say something to this but this person wasn’t just his best friend anymore. Questioning the Emperor on what he was doing probably wasn’t a good idea. “Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with his idea. How are we supposed to meet up otherwise?”
Luan Xin harrumphed again. “How? At night, by moonshine. Isn’t that how clandestine love affairs are supposed to be? Honestly, I have no idea why you think it’s a good idea to invite another person to your tryst.”
“That …” Yu Huang Rong shook his head. Ah, whatever. There was no use arguing with this guy. “Well, anyway, I already know now. So I guess I should leave then.”
Luan Xin scoffed. “You’re really just coming here to get some advice for your love life, aren’t you? Didn’t you miss your friend at all? We haven’t seen each other in so long and all you have in your head now is the beauty you fell for.” Luan Xin turned to the captain of the secret guards and propped his elbows up on the table, putting his chin into his hands and slowly inching closer. “Say, Ah Ning, that Scholar Zhang … is he really as beautiful as Yu Huang Rong said?”
She Ning’s hands stopped and he honestly looked at the Emperor. “Not that much.”
Luan Xin’s face lit up. “Isn’t that right? I’m definitely much better looking than him.”
She Ning had already turned his attention back to the tangerine though.
Luan Xin sighed and turned back to his friend. “Anyway, don’t you feel even a little bad? How about drinking a bit with me?”
Yu Huang Rong couldn’t help but shake his head. “Drink with you?” Never mind that they had already drunk a cup when he came here the last time, he wouldn’t want to drink with Luan Xin anyway. “If I remember correctly, you always were a lightweight when it got to drinking. Don’t tell me you can hold your liquor better now.” He snorted, obviously not taking it seriously. “Ah, don’t think too much Xiao Xin. I’m just a little preoccupied right now. After I’ve settled everything with Zhang Shi Lan, I’ll spend lots of time with you.” He nodded at the two people at the desk and then hurried out of the study, leaving the palace again.
He could understand where Luan Xin was coming from but right now, he couldn’t think about anything else but Zhang Shi Lan. Ah, he should really make it up to his friend in the future but sometimes other things just had to have priority.
Back in the study She Ning paused with the tangerine in his hand and glanced up at the person next to him. “Makes me wonder how you fell in love with him.”
Luan Xin absent-mindedly gazed at the door where Yu Huang Rong had just vanished and his lips curled into a smile. “I sometimes wonder too but I guess he was good-looking back then.”
She Ning stared at him silently.
Luan Xin glanced over, his eyes forming small crescents. He reached over with one hand and pinched She Ning’s cheek. “You wouldn’t be jealous, would you? Don’t worry about it. That’s long past. It’s just that …” He sighed and shook his head, lowering his hand and leaning back. “I can’t help but feel a little envious. I never told him because I knew it was impossible. We were both men and I was the crown prince, destined to someday sit on the throne.
“Now, I actually have to find out that he was in love with another man all along. Well, I guess it doesn’t change anything. There are some things you can’t do as the Emperor. There are some other things you can’t do if you’re a General. That’s just how life is.”
“There’s no need to get married. Whether there is a ceremony or not, the only thing that counts is that the heart is true and that you can stay together.”
Luan Xin nodded. “I guess it’s good enough. Well, if I ever have to leave on some official business, let’s run away and get married in secret. How about it?”
She Ning scoffed and grabbed Luan Xin’s hand, putting the fruit into it. “Eat your tangerine.” He let go of that hand and silently picked up another fruit, continuing to peel it for the emperor.