While the older General Yu and Minister Zhang left the pagoda, Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but approach the old teacher because of Yu Huang Rong. He cupped his fists and bowed, feeling embarrassment well up inside him. “Teacher Lian.” After all the years in the Academy, he knew very well that Teacher Lian didn’t like it if people approached him with ulterior motives. Whatever he said now, it might make this man feel that he was one of these pesky people that were trying to take advantage of the occasion.
The teacher took a closer look at the person that had stepped up to him this time and his expression lit up with a warm smile. “Ah, if this isn’t Zhang Shi Lan! How have you been for the past few years?”
Zhang Shi Lan lowered his hands, looking at the teacher in surprise. He … remembered him? And he even seemed happy to see him?
Next to him, Yu Huang Rong straightened up. Ah, his lover was obviously the greatest! Even one of these busy Academy teachers that saw thousands of students over the years remembered him. Mn, he could truly be proud of him.
Zhang Shi Lan gave a slight smile and nodded. “I’m doing very well. Thank you, Teacher Lian.”
The old teacher nodded with satisfaction. “I expected nothing less of you. Back then, you were also doing very well in your studies. You should have a good position at court by now.”
Zhang Shi Lan tensed. It was to be expected that teacher Lian would think so. After all, he had taken the last exam of the Academy several years ago. Even though he hadn’t been the best scholar, his results had been decent enough. Even if he couldn’t become a high-ranking minister right off the bat, he should have at least gotten some kind of position and then slowly started to work his way up the ranks. Now that a few years had passed, it was to be expected for him to have gained a foothold at court.
But he hadn’t. The last few years, he might’ve furthered his studies but he had nothing to show for. He was only a single person sitting at home, quietly reading and writing, unable to advance in any direction. If he told teacher Lian that … What would he think of him? Certainly, he’d be disappointed. He would have to feel that all the hours spent on teaching him had been a waste and should have been put into taking care of another child. He really didn’t want to see that kind of expression on his face.
Yu Huang Rong glanced at his lover and felt distraught. Obviously, Zhang Shi Lan wasn’t willing to spill the beans. But if he didn’t, would he ever be able to make his dream come true? Probably not. It couldn’t be easy to get into the Academy and even though it wasn’t fair, one needed connections. Since this old man seemed to like Zhang Shi Lan he might just be the right person to get to help them!
Yu Huang Rong pondered and finally cleared his throat, cupping his fists and bowing to the teacher. “Greetings, Teacher. Actually, Shi Lan isn’t working at court.”
The old teacher raised his brows at this person that dared to interrupt them and took a closer look. Apparently, this young man was slightly older than Zhang Shi Lan. He couldn’t remember him from any of his courses so if he had taken part, he couldn’t have been one of the good students. No wonder that he was impolite enough to interrupt their conversation like that.
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched when he saw the old man’s expression. Obviously, the teacher wasn’t happy with him at all. Well, as long as he was able to help his lover, he could live with it. Anyway, he didn’t need to impress this guy. He already had his own career. Since he cared about Zhang Shi Lan he should help him achieve his own. That was all that counted.
He gave a strained smile and lowered his hands. “Oh, you probably don’t know me. I am Yu Huang Rong, General Yu’s son. I haven’t been in the capital for a long time and Zhang Shi Lan was so kind as to help me out for a bit so … I felt I should also help him when I saw that he was looking troubled.”
The teacher’s brows furrowed but he still glanced at Zhang Shi Lan and took in his embarrassed expression. Well, if he really hadn’t managed to gain a position in court, then that question had indeed put him in a bad spot. Who would want to admit their shortcomings? He didn’t like the way this other young man had dealt with the situation but it was still noble of him to stand up for a benefactor. On account of that, he could probably let this matter slide.
Teacher Lian nodded at Yu Huang Rong noncommittally and then turned back to Zhang Shi Lan. “This is quite the surprise. I would’ve thought that with your talents, you would be able to start your career quite fast. Isn’t your father also working at court? I remember him having an official position when you enrolled. He sometimes stayed and talked about the latest discoveries with some of the other teachers. I think he was well-acquainted with Teacher Hu?”
Zhang Shi Lan hesitated but finally nodded. “Yes, my father does have a position at court and I think he and Teacher Hu both visited the Academy together back then. They have held contact over the years.” He didn’t dare to say anything else. Teacher Lian hadn’t asked directly and he could hardly say what had made him not pursue a career at court, could he? Getting into the Academy wasn’t that easy. He didn’t have enough of a reputation to justify asking for one.
Yu Huang Rong clicked his tongue when he saw that Zhang Shi Lan was still not willing to say anymore. Hadn’t he already created an opportunity for him? Why wasn’t he using it? Did he really have to get involved even more? He waited for Zhang Shi Lan to indicate how he wanted to proceed but there was nothing. He just passively waited.
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows and then turned back to the teacher. He’d be damned if he let Zhang Shi Lan walk out of this pagoda today without achieving anything! “Actually, Shi Lan told me that he doesn’t like the atmosphere at court too much. He’d much rather like to focus on his own studies and maybe teach others to make sure knowledge is preserved.”
Zhang Shi Lan’s cheeks flushed and his hand twitched in the direction of Yu Huang Rong’s sleeve. “Huang Rong, this …” He understood why Yu Huang Rong was doing this and he was happy that his lover was willing to support him but this just wasn’t the way. He knew Teacher Lian well from his time in the Academy and this sort of talk would only make the Teacher look down on him. “We shouldn’t disturb Teacher Lian any longer.”
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows. “If you’re like this, how will you ever get into the Academy? Since you want to be a scholar for the rest of your life just admit to it!”
Teacher Lian looked from one person to the other, wondering how things had come to this.
Zhang Shi Lan’s expression fell further and he could only rush to cup his fists and bow. “I’m sorry. It was our please to be able to exchange a few words with Teacher Lian but we’ve taken up a lot of your time already and you will have many things to do on such a day. Please excuse us, Teacher Lian.” He didn’t wait for a response and just grabbed Yu Huang Rong’s arm, dragging him away with a burning face. He let go of his sleeve when they reached the top of the stairs but still hurried forward.
Yu Huang Rong stopped and looked from Zhang Shi Lan’s figure that seemed to flee as if the ground had caught fire back to where the old man stood. Apparently, he had done something wrong?
Yu Huang Rong cursed under his breath and rubbed his forehead. He was an idiot. This was neither the court nor the military. This was the world of scholars, a place that Zhang Shi Lan knew well. If it was that easy to gain a foothold, he would have done that long ago. How arrogant of him to think he would be able to solve a problem for his lover! Maybe he had even made matters worse.
He shook his head at himself and then slowly followed Zhang Shi Lan into the lower floor. When he reached the foot of the stairs, he couldn’t see him around though. Zhang Shi Lan had already left the building. Yu Huang Rong sighed and went outside, looking for him.
He didn’t need long. Zhang Shi Lan had only walked a few meters and stood below a pagoda tree, looking up at the treetop. Yu Huang Rong went over and stopped behind him, hesitating on what to do. He wanted to pull him into his arms to console him but they weren’t alone. He couldn’t come up with any words though.
Zhang Shi Lan took a deep breath and shook his head. “You don’t have to be. You only wanted to help.”
“But I made trouble. Maybe I … even ruined a chance for you.”
Zhang Shi Lan sighed and turned around, forcing a smile. “Things like that happen. Anyway, it’s not like he was about to invite me to take up a position in the Academy so you’ve ruined nothing. You just … tried to help but couldn’t achieve your goal. That’s just how it is.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at the ground, still trying to find something to say.
Zhang Shi Lan stepped forward and grasped his hand. He glanced around to make sure that nobody was there before he leaned forward and kissed Yu Huang Rong’s cheek. “Don’t worry anymore.” He rubbed his cheek and then stepped back, motioning to the buildings deeper on the Academy’s grounds. “Well, there’s still the competition ongoing. Where do you want to go? Any field you’re interested in?”