The two of them managed to get to Zhang Shi Lan’s chambers without anybody noticing. Zhang Shi Lan heaved a sigh of relief when he closed the door behind them and then turned to Yu Huang Rong. “What were you thinking coming here? It’s dangerous.”
Yu Huang Rong chuckled and stepped closer, pulling him into his arms and interlacing his fingers behind his back. “You’re worrying too much, my dear. I actually was allowed to come here by Madam Yan. She said that from now on, we should see each other more often.”
Zhang Shi Lan raised his brows. “Did she say that?”
Yu Huang Rong nodded earnestly. “I swear!”
“Then did she say that we should see each other in a way where you sneak into the house of my family and where we need to evade all of the servants so nobody finds out that you’re here? Or could it be that she meant we should see each other in another way?”
Yu Huang Rong pursed his lips. “Well … If you put it that way, then it could be that she has meant the latter. But I just couldn’t help but want to be a little more careful today.”
Zhang Shi Lan raised his brows. “Are you sure that you weren’t just thinking that having a clandestine love affair is thrilling so you wanted to try and sneak in?”
Yu Huang Rong clicked his tongue. “You really have a rich imagination. I have no idea how you’d even come up with that.”
Zhang Shi Lan sighed and patted his lover’s chest. “Alright, pretend that I believe you. So what did you come here for?”
“Can’t I just come here to see you? I really missed you.” He leaned down and kissed Zhang Shi Lan’s cheek. “It’s been … about five double-hours since we’ve bid farewell to each other.”
Zhang Shi Lan already wanted to scold him but seeing the look in Yu Huang Rong’s eyes he couldn’t bring himself to do it. His lips curved up into a sweet smile and his gaze softened. “I’ve missed you as well.”
Yu Huang Rong pecked his lips and then finally let go of his waist, taking his hand instead and pulling him to the table to sit down together. “Since you’ve admitted it I guess I should spill the beans now. I’ve already told Madam Yan that we’re a couple now. She told me what we have to keep in mind for now and a few tasks that we should accomplish.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “One of them was to find out more about the women that we met in the second event. As far as I’ve understood, the goal is to discredit them in front of our mothers so they won’t take them into consideration as marriage partners.”
Zhang Shi Lan raised his brows. “That … isn’t that a little vicious?” He wanted to marry Yu Huang Rong but … he didn’t want to ruin anybody else’s life either.
Yu Huang Rong laughed and patted his hand. “I said almost the very same thing to her. Don’t worry, she promised it wouldn’t be affecting the girls’ marriage. She won’t use it in any other way than for convincing our families. So we don’t have to worry about the women. They’ll still find a good spouse somehow.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded, relieved. That was good. To be honest, he wasn’t too sure what he should do if it was any different. He didn’t want to give up on Yu Huang Rong. He didn’t want to be a person that only thought of themselves though. That just … wasn’t him.
Yu Huang Rong could imagine what his lover was thinking about. He squeezed his hand and gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t think the two of us would’ve put our trust in a person like that.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “I believe you. You’ve talked with her a few more times and since your impression was a good one, she should be alright.”
Yu Huang Rong looked up at the ceiling but still nodded. In fact, he wasn’t really sure if he could say that his impression of Madam Yan was a good one but at the very least, he was sure that she wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t morally upright. She definitely worked to her own advantage but that didn’t mean she would do anything to achieve that. Well, considering that she only wanted to set up happy couples, she probably had a good core.
Zhang Shi Lan tugged at his sleeve. “What’s with you? Already somewhere else with your thoughts? Can you at least tell me what the other tasks were so I can think about them already?”
Yu Huang Rong pulled himself out of his thoughts. “Well, the other thing she mentioned was that we should try to make our parents meet with each other so that they can form a good opinion of the other family.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “Right, that might be beneficial.”
“Well, I’ve asked for help on the first task so that shouldn’t be a problem. I guess we can concentrate on this one. I haven’t been able to come up with much though. I think that the autumn hunt might be a good opportunity but it is probably not enough. We’ll need more. Thinking of yesterday, I thought that if we could find something where they can both use their talents so neither of them will be embarrassed while still having something they could focus on together would be good.”
Zhang Shi Lan smiled. “You mean like you and Qian Mu Qing playing weiqi? Isn’t that just because you’ve won? I really wonder if you would still talk like that if you had lost.”
Yu Huang Rong grinned. “How could your husband-to-be ever lose? Obviously, I’m good at everything I do.” He leaned over and kissed Zhang Shi Lan’s cheek. “But in all seriousness, can you think of something? I’m sure Madam Yan will make our mothers meet up in the matchmaking pavilion every now and then but our fathers might be troublesome.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “Indeed. My father’s status isn’t very high so they probably won’t run into each other very often at court. Even if they do … without at least one of them being in the know, we can’t hope that that will help in any way. We would have to orchestrate some meetings where at least one of us is present so that we could steer them in the right direction.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “That’d be difficult for you though, wouldn’t it? You haven’t gotten any position at court as far as I know.”
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. “No, I’m just a free and unfettered scholar.”
Yu Huang Rong pursed his lips and looked at his lover, trying to find out what he thought about this. He didn’t seem unhappy about it but didn’t all men have aspirations? “Would you … like to change that? I mean do you want to have a position at court?”
Zhang Shi Lan sighed. “What should I say to that? Serving the emperor would be an honor, my father would certainly be proud as well but … I’ve never really thought about it. Don’t get me wrong. I love studying and I believe that a Minister’s work is important. I just don’t know if I would the right person to fill such a post.”
“What makes you think so?”
“To a certain degree, it might just be that I’ve seen what it meant for my father. He’s … a little rigid in some regards. If he has his opinion, it’s almost impossible to make him budge. That has gotten him into trouble quite a few times.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at his lover with a complicated expression. “I don’t think you’re like that.” He couldn’t help but worry that what he said might be wrong though. After all, even though he had dreamed of Zhang Shi Lan in the past years, that was the person in his mind. Yes, Zhang Shi Lan was polite but he wasn’t a push-over. There were things he was firm about where he similarly wouldn’t budge. That much he had found out by now.
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. “I don’t know. I believe that sometimes, my father might be too stubborn. I know, I shouldn’t criticize him like this but that’s what I feel. There will be times when … even though you’re right, your stance might still be wrong. Especially in a situation as complicated as that at court.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “I guess I understand what you mean. I haven’t been in the capital for a long time but I grew up with Luan Xin. I’ve seen a few things back when we were younger.”
Zhang Shi Lan raised his brows. “Lu—” His eyes widened and he leaped up, rushing to the door and opening it.
Yu Huang Rong slowly followed him, looking out as well. Nobody was there. Before he could ask, Zhang Shi Lan hurried over to the window and looked out. Yu Huang Rong rubbed the back of his head and followed him, once again taking a look only to find that the courtyard outside was empty. “What’s the matter?”
Zhang Shi Lan still looked uneasy. “You … How could you do that?”
“Say His Majesty’s name!” Zhang Shi Lan only whispered but there was a certain edge to his tone.
Yu Huang Rong just laughed and pulled him back to the table. “Why not? He’s my best friend. It would be strange to call him anything else.”
“But … but he …” Zhang Shi Lan shook his head, not knowing how to continue.
“Relax. It’s nothing much. He doesn’t mind. We’re on very, very good terms. So even if somebody heard me saying his name and reported me, Luan Xi—”
Zhang Shi Lan clasped a hand over his lover’s mouth, looking at him with anger.
Yu Huang Rong raised his brows. Well … maybe his lover was much more similar to his father-in-law than he had thought. Apparently, he didn’t like budging either after he had formed his opinion.