The group of four walked into the pagoda, the older General Yu and Mister Zhang in the front while Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan walked in the back. Yu Huang Rong looked around and then reached over with a smirk, gripping Zhang Shi Lan’s hand for a moment and squeezing it.
‘I missed you.’ He only mouthed the words, after all, his father was trained in martial arts just like him. Regardless of how much he whispered, his father would be able to understand from this distance.
Zhang Shi Lan smiled but still shook his head and took his hand back. ‘Don’t play around,’ he mouthed back. His gaze stayed indulgent though. Ah, what should he do? He was defenseless against this man’s shamelessness. Even though he wanted to scold him, he still couldn’t use harsh words.
Yu Huang Rong wasn’t bothered by it either. He just grinned like a rogue and then shifted closer. “So … Who is going to be here today? Anybody I know?”
“Mn, quite a few people, actually. Ming Ru Shui will be there, as well as Shen Jian Hong and Qiao Ming. I even heard that His Highness will attend.”
Yu Huang Rong pursed his lips. That Luan Chang Fu? He didn’t care about him!
“Naturally, the most talented scholars of our Chen country will attend as well. I reckon that even if General Yu hasn’t met them before, you should have heard of them.”
Yu Huang Rong sighed. “Zhang Shi Lan …”
Zhang Shi Lan tensed and glanced at their fathers but neither of them seemed to have noticed anything. He glared at Yu Huang Rong but just got a veiled look back that seemed to express much more intimate notions than just his name. Zhang Shi Lan looked away. He shouldn’t talk to this rogue any longer!
The older General Yu looked at them and raised his brows at his son when he saw the other person facing away from him. Yu Huang Rong just shrugged his shoulders though and then reached out again when his father turned back to the front. He interlaced his fingers with Zhang Shi Lan’s and gave a smile. Mn, this gathering wasn’t too bad …
The four of them made their way up to the first floor where the first part of the event would happen. Yu Huang Rong reluctantly let go of Zhang Shi Lan and pretended that nothing had happened. He let his father choose the seats and then sat down next to Zhang Shi Lan in the row behind their fathers. Ah, unfortunately, there were still too many people around.
As much as he hated it, Yu Huang Rong still knew that he couldn’t go overboard today. Not with his father and Minister Zhang around. Thus the two of them only conversed lightly, speaking about some topics that might garner attention that day or the competitions of the previous years.
In the seats in front of them, the older General Yu and Minister Zhang also talked with each other. Yu Huang Rong strained his years to make out just what the topics were. His eyes went wide when he did though. This … How come they were talking about the exact same thing as Zhang Shi Lan and he? He furrowed his brows and then turned to Zhang Shi Lan again. “About His Highness …”
In front of them, his father turned to look at Minister Zhang and opened, “About His Highness…”
Yu Huang Rong stared at his father with his mouth gaping open. What the heck?! Did he have that little to say to a person that had also a position at court that he couldn’t even come up with his own topics? Well, thankfully, he hadn’t tried to compliment Zhang Shi Lan’s good looks. Although …
Yu Huang Rong smirked and continued as if nothing had happened. “I never knew he was interested in this kind of thing. Do you have any impression of his scholarly achievements?”
Zhang Shi Lan made a troubled expression.
In the row in front of them, the older General Yu repeated Yu Huang Rong’s words, slightly rolling his eyes. Couldn’t his son think of any better things to say? Obviously, that Luan Xin was a dandy that didn’t like to use his head and just loved to throw his cousin’s name around and maybe supplement it with a little money. Everybody would know that he didn’t have any scholarly ambitions and probably not that much intellect to speak of. Well, he was probably intelligent in a way related to people though. Anyway, it was a question that was difficult to answer considering Luan Chang Fu’s status. Who would dare to criticize the Emperor’s cousin?
Indeed, Mister Zhang showed an expression that wasn’t any less troubled than his son’s. The two of them naturally didn’t use the same words to answer but it was in the same vein: “Well, His Highness is a very special person. Commenting on his achievements is hardly something I am able to do. It would be better to ask those more knowledgeable than me. I heard that some of the scholars that have taught at the Academy for a long time will be here today to preside over the event. Maybe it’d be better to address this question to them.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded, feeling that his lover had dodged the question rather well.
General Yu also nodded but he couldn’t help and glance at the person next to him. This Minister Zhang seemed like he was easy to get along with but he was also able to judge the situation accordingly. If his son was anything like him, then maybe it really was good that he had the chance to test the two of them today. He really didn’t want his son to be taken advantage of.
Just then, Yu Huang Rong once again spoke up. “I noticed you’re wearing blue today. That really compliments your skin.”
The older General Yu started to repeat. “I noticed you’re wearing blue today —” What? He furrowed his brows, wondering what he just said.
Mister Zhang looked at his robe that was a dark gray with brown embroidery. “What? But I …” He glanced over and found General Yu glaring over his shoulder at the people behind them.
He looked around and found General Yu’s son facing the other direction, his shoulders shaking with laughter. Meanwhile, his own son’s cheeks had flushed red and he was looking away with embarrassment. This … Just what had happened there? He wanted to ask but at the same time, he didn’t dare to.
General Yu continued to glare at his son for a while longer, especially after he saw him laughing like that. This boy! He was doing him a favor with going to a gathering he normally wouldn’t attend and he actually dared to do such a thing! What would Minister Zhang think of him now?!
He turned back to the front, shaking his head. “I was saying I noticed that a lot of the scholars are wearing blue. I was wondering if there was some relevance to that.”
Minister Zhang looked to the front and raised his brows. There were three scholars other than his son who were wearing blue robes. If that could be called a lot … Well, there was no need to bring that up. He’d just keep his thoughts to himself and give some explanation. Thus he nodded. “Well, considering how the color blue represents spring and thus growth, it isn’t …”
The older General Yu nodded along as if he was listening but he couldn’t help but notice that the children behind them had fallen silent. He glanced at Zhang Shi Lan from the corner of his eye only to find him staring at Yu Huang Rong, silently mouthing some words.
‘What were you doing? That’s not helping at all!’
Helping what? General Yu’s brows raised imperceptibly. This whole situation was rather fishy. Actually, when he thought about it, it wasn’t just this day. Would his son really have trouble getting to know people? He was a hero that had just returned from the battlefield! Even if he wasn’t, he’d still be the son of the General’s manor. And furthermore, it wasn’t a secret that he had been friends with the emperor since they were young. There were dozens of people that wanted to befriend him, marry female relatives off to him or even do both!
Originally, he had thought that his son had just wanted to dodge some people or maybe genuinely thought that this Zhang Shi Lan was a good person and thus wanted to become friends. After all, his former best friend was now the emperor. How often would they be able to see each other?
But by now, he knew that that couldn’t be the case. Yu Huang Rong had gone to meet Luan Xin several times since he came back from the battlefield. He had also met up with this Zhang Shi Lan several times. And today, he was behaving slightly differently. Something … seemed to be the matter.
The older General Yu narrowed his eyes and looked from Zhang Shi Lan to Yu Huang Rong and back again. These two … they were obviously planning something. But what could that be? What had gotten them together was …
The General’s eyes widened. Right! They had met at the matchmaking pavilion! Maybe all of this was a plan to ensure that Yu Huang Rong wouldn’t have to marry. After all, he had never wanted to do so. It wouldn’t be impossible. And if he promised this Zhang Shi Lan something worthwhile in return … It might actually be the case.