Zhang Shi Lan returned home in a carriage of the Yu family, still beaming with happiness. Now that he knew what the letter was about, he rushed to inform his father. Needless to say, Mister Zhang was just as elated. He had always known that his son didn’t want to have a position at court but he had felt that just staying at home would be a waste of Zhang Shi Lan’s talent. He couldn’t really see a chance of him getting into the Academy though. It wasn’t easy to be invited and there was no way to use connections. Otherwise, he would have long tried to make this possible for him.
Now, that wasn’t important anymore though. His son had managed to be invited all on his own. Ah, he should go and tell everyone! Now, he finally understood why other men were constantly bragging about it when their son’s achieved something. When the news was this good, the information just had to be shared. It was impossible to contain the happiness just inside yourself.
“You should go and tell your mother.”
“Mn.” Zhang Shi Lan nodded and then went over to where Madam Zhang was currently drinking tea and complaining to her maid about what a disappointment those marriage candidates for her son were.
Zhang Shi Lan smiled and then put the letter down in front of her. “Have a look at this, mother. Maybe it’ll make you feel happier.”
“Oh? What is it?” Madam Zhang picked up the letter, her expression lighting up further the more she read. “Ah! I can’t believe it! Isn’t that what you always wanted?”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded, leaning down when his mother leaped to her feet to hug him.
“Ah, my dear son, I always knew you’d be able to get this position! You were always so studious, always willing to learn. Nobody deserves this more than my son.”
Zhang Shi Lan laughed. “Alright, alright, don’t praise me too much. I might grow conceited.”
“Aiya, you! I’d like to see the day when you get conceited! You should be a little more arrogant. Haven’t you had achievements as well?”
“It’s nothing much. I always just tried to make you and father proud and otherwise followed my heart.”
“Yes, yes, yes. You never made trouble for us. It’s good you have such a heart.” She patted his chest and then looked at the letter again, beaming. “I have to go and tell everyone.”
Zhang Shi Lan laughed again. “Don’t do that. What will people think?”
“They’ll think that my son is excellent. Ah, I have to pay a visit to that horrible Madam Ming. She was always bragging to me about how her son was so great, getting a position at court. Wasn’t it just because her cousin works in the Ministry of Rites? He had connections and used them. Her son is too dumb to have managed that on his own.”
“You shouldn’t say that. Maybe he had hidden talents.”
“Hmph. A hidden stash of gold maybe. It’s bribery, I tell you! My son though …” She looked at the letter again, her happiness not waning in the least. “Mn, I should take this over right now.”
“You should better put it away and make sure we can keep it as a memento. When I start working there next week, everybody will find out anyway. Why should you go and demean yourself by loudly proclaiming it?”
Madam Zhang sighed. “It’s still my son who knows best. Here you go. You keep the letter. It’s your own achievement.”
“Thank you, mother.” Zhang Shi Lan took the letter and left.
His mother indeed didn’t go and gossip and his father calmed down after a while as well, feeling that it wouldn’t be appropriate to brag about his son. The family couldn’t help but want to celebrate a little though so they organized a small feast just for the people of their house, letting the servants join in.
While the Zhangs were happy, an aura of gloom hung over Yu Huang Rong’s head. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy for Zhang Shi Lan. No, he really was. If he could, he would even let next week happen sooner so that Zhang Shi Lan could realize his wishes as soon as possible. Unfortunately … there was one thing that wasn’t as good.
Yu Huang Rong sighed and finally went out, riding to the palace. He went to Luan Xin’s study once again but this time, he wasn’t in a rush. He felt that taking a moment longer would be a good thing.
When Luan Xin looked up from the documents he was working on together with She Ning, he put down the brush at once. “What happened?”
Yu Huang Rong sat down opposite him and sighed. “Whatever. Give me some wine first.”
Luan Xin hesitated. Judging from Yu Huang Rong’s expression, there had to be pretty bad news. Could it be that his lover had cheated on him? He felt a moment of glee only to be hit by his guilty conscience right afterward. Alright, he was angry that Yu Huang Rong had fallen in love with somebody else this easily even though he had had a crush on him for years but he was still his best friend. He should hope for him to find happiness. And anyway, as far as She Ning had told him that Zhang Shi Lan was the proper type. He would rather die than to cheat on his lover.
Well, whatever it was, he felt that he shouldn’t let Yu Huang Rong touch any alcohol. “Ah Rong, tomorrow is the autumn hunt. Even though that ambush is just an act we’re putting on, you should still be there with all your thoughts. One lapse of attention could be troublesome. So it’s better not to drink.”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “Never mind about that.”
Luan Xin looked at She Ning for an answer but this time, the captain of his secret guards could only shake his head. He also didn’t know what had happened. It was no wonder: He might have had people check the situation of Yu Huang Rong because he knew about Luan Xin’s feelings for him but Zhang Shi Lan was only interesting to him if Luan Xin wanted to know about him. He didn’t bother about his matters when Luan Xin showed no interest so his men weren’t investigating the ongoings on the Zhangs’ side.
Luan Xin sighed and finally waved for She Ning to get a flask. Whatever. One shouldn’t be too much.
Yu Huang Rong picked the jar up but ignored the bowl that She Ning had placed next to it. He pulled off the lid and then just took a big gulp before he lowered it again.
Luan Xin’s brows furrowed. “So what happened? You’re looking awful.”
“Shi Lan …”
Luan Xin tensed. Don’t tell him something had really happened?
“Shi Lan was invited to take up a position at the Academy. It’s … it’s always been his dream.”
“That … sounds good to me?” Don’t tell him his open-minded best friend had turned into the type of asshole that wouldn’t let the man he loved have a career of his own? He observed him but couldn’t imagine that that was the case. No, if it was about that, he’d be angry, not depressed. “What’s the problem with it?”
“They want him to go over in five days.”
Yu Huang Rong took another gulp of wine and closed his eyes. “Tomorrow is the ambush. Even though he won’t be injured for real, he wouldn’t be able to leave the house for at least four weeks. Who can say if the Academy wouldn’t retract their invitation by then?”
“So you’re worried about his future?” Well, that sounded more like him.
Yu Huang Rong sighed. “I’m not worried. I … I know that … there’ll be trouble. Shi Lan, he …” He took a shaky breath and grabbed the jar with both hands as if he could find some support from it. “He happily told me that this was his life’s wish and that he felt so blessed to not only be able to pursue the career he always wanted but that he also found his true love. I … I’m just afraid he won’t be able to have both.” He opened his eyes and picked up the jar again, continuing to drink.
Luan Xin glanced at She Ning, unsure what to say. This was indeed not an ideal situation.
She Ning pondered and finally tried to comfort Yu Huang Rong. “I wouldn’t worry too much. His Majesty can tell the Academy to wait for him.”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “You don’t know him in the way I do. If that happened, he’d reject it. He’s just that type of person. He doesn’t want anything for free. He wants to gain it through his own work, his own reputation. He might even feel offended if it happened and refuse to ever work at the Academy, then that’d always stand between us. No, there’s … there’s no way around it.” He sighed again and stood up, clutching the jar to his chest. He turned to She Ning and nodded. “Thank you for all your help but I’m afraid we can’t go through with the plan for tomorrow.”
Luan Xin looked at his friend blankly when he walked out before he finally leaped to his feet. “Are you fucking serious, Yu Huang Rong?! We’ve planned everything and you’re supposed to get married this year! If we don’t do it tomorrow, then when do you want to do it instead?!”
Yu Huang Rong hung his head, silently clenching his hands into fists. “There’s the spring hunt next year as well,” he whispered and then continued to leave.
Luan Xin didn’t bother to call out again. “This idiot.” He sat down next to She Ning, his chest heaving. “What the fuck is he thinking?!”
“He wants to do right by the person he loves.”
“Yeah, I bet he wants to! But has he ever asked that Zhang Shi Lan what he wants?”
“I doubt it.”
“See? That’s what I mean. You can always make a career out of something but sometimes, there’s no second chance for love.”
She Ning glanced at Luan Xin, keeping quiet while Luan Xin tried to calm down. “Anyway, the autumn hunt takes a while. He’d only have to appear at the Academy after everyone comes back. Until then, there’ll be opportunities for us to speak about this with Zhang Shi Lan. If he thinks the same, we can try and help them find a way to stall their marriages until next year. If he wants to go through with it … Yu Huang Rong’s part in this plan is far less important than Zhang Shi Lan’s. My men can keep him occupied enough for an accident to occur.”
Luan Xin looked at him, finally giving a nod. “You’re right. Let’s do that then. This idiot will ruin his own happiness if we don’t get involved.”