The hunting party finally arrived at an open field and the servants rushed about, putting up the tents for His Majesty and the guests, while the soldiers started to patrol the surroundings to make sure that nothing untoward would happen to their emperor and the other important people gathered here.
As for the emperor himself, he retired to his tent, pretending to be in a bad mood while he was actually going over the plan in his mind once again. Even though Yu Huang Rong had repeated that he didn’t want this thing to happen, Luan Xin definitely wouldn’t give up. He knew that this was the best opportunity they would ever get.
Well, if Zhang Shi Lan said the same as Yu Huang Rong, then he might be willing to let the couple have the last word in this matter but he couldn’t believe that that would be the case. After all, hadn’t the two been pining for each other for a long time? That guy would be an idiot if he didn’t use the opportunity now.
The only problem was: How to talk about this with Zhang Shi Lan? Of course, he could send She Ning but if he was honest, he was extremely curious about this person that had managed to snatch his best friend’s heart.
Back then, he had never thought it possible for Yu Huang Rong to fall in love with a man. That had been one of the many reasons why he finally cut off those feelings and decided to be together with She Ning. Of course, there had been other problems as well but this certainly had been a major factor.
Now though, there was a man that had been able to make Yu Huang Rong fall head over heels for him. It challenged Luan Xin’s views of his friend and he certainly wanted to have a look at this person. So there was no way he would leave everything to She Ning. No, he had to take a look and make sure that this person was indeed worthy of his best friend! And, well, maybe he also wanted to look at him and finally think to himself that Yu Huang Rong was an idiot for liking that person more than him.
For the time being, there was nothing he could do though. He waited until everything was prepared and the people had settled down before he made to go out and give his motivational speech. He first pulled She Ning to the side though and told him to point him in Zhang Shi Lan’s direction when they were out there.
She Ning raised his brows. “Why?”
Luan Xin scoffed. “Why the many words? You wouldn’t also be falling in love with that guy, would you?”
She Ning kept quiet at that, slightly infuriating Luan Xin this time.
“You’re really making it sound as if I hit the nail right on the head. Can’t you be a little more considerate of my feelings? I don’t want to lose yet another man to that person.”
She Ning’s gaze also darkened at that. If it was up to him, he certainly didn’t want to be reminded of his lover’s past crush. In fact, this really made him wonder if it was in the past anyway.
Luan Xin stopped in his tracks, half outside the tent and raised his brows. “What? Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”
She Ning tightened his lips, refusing to answer.
Luan Xin looked at him, silently pondering. “I think your gaze is saying ‘Why can’t I be jealous of Yu Huang Rong if you’re jealous of Zhang Shi Lan?’ Well, I’d like to have you know that that is something completely different. I don’t want anything from Yu Huang Rong anymore. I’m just … just curious. I mean what’s so good about that Zhang Shi Lan? How come somebody like Yu Huang Rong actually fell in love? Don’t you also think it’s inconceivable?”
The silence that answered him was taken to be a silent admittance.
“See? That’s what I mean. On the other hand … You really don’t have any reason to be that curious about Yu Huang Rong, do you? I mean, if you compared the two of you, then you’re obviously the better person.”
She Ning looked at him and then finally gave out one of the words that he treated like pearls. “How?”
Luan Yin looked at him in mock surprise. “Oh? Did that pique your interest? Well, I’m not telling.” He swaggered out of the tent, finally arriving at the place where a little banquet had been set up. The guests had already gathered, waiting for his arrival, bowed until Luan Xin waved.
“You may rise.” He sat down and the guests also took their seats. Luan Xin looked around, his gaze lingering on Yu Huang Rong for a moment before searching around for somebody that looked like a young scholar. That person should be really handsome, shouldn’t he? In that case, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick him out. There weren’t that many young scholars anyway, where there?
He glanced over the people but, unfortunately, he still didn’t have any clue just who Zhang Shi Lan might be. Luan Xin sighed to himself, chastising himself that he shouldn’t have invited so many people. He had tried not to be too obvious and had thus invited many of those that had done well in the competition at the Academy, pretending that he was really interested in their achievements and was still looking for some people to give a position to. Most of the scholars also seemed overwhelmed to have received their emperor’s favor and being allowed to be here.
Mn … He felt that none of them should be that Zhang Shi Lan. The person that was able to make Yu Huang Rong’s heart race should be a little more … mature. He didn’t think that Yu Huang Rong would fall for just anyone.
He glanced at She Ning, waiting for him to make true on his promise but his lover looked at him back at him with a deadpan expression. Luan Xin waited but nothing happened. He furrowed his brows, scolding the men inside of his head. So petty! Hadn’t he just joked around a bit? How could She Ning give him the silent treatment at such a time? Even if he told him later on, he might not remember all the people and still wouldn’t know who this Zhang Shi Lan was!
The emperor’s expression had turned dark, making the guests feel that they had to tread carefully. They tensed up, making sure that nothing was off about their expressions. Rumor had it that the emperor could get quite snappy if you met him while he was in the wrong mood. Nobody wanted to become the victim of his poisonous today.
Seeing this, Luan Xin smiled to himself. Well, he still didn’t know who Zhang Shi Lan was but this also wasn’t bad. That way, he at least wouldn’t have to say too much. “Thank you for coming to my small autumn hunt. I have invited some more people this year to show my appreciation for the continued hard work of the Academy. I hope that the ones who have been here previously will take care of these young, promising scholars that will certainly be our Chen country’s future pillars. Now, I don’t want to waste too many words. Let’s eat first and tomorrow, we’ll start with the hunt.”
There were some hushed conversations afterward, as well as some congratulations, especially for those mentioned, young scholars. Since His Majesty was paying attention to them, the people present felt that they should do the same and maybe gain some benefit that way.
Luan Xin listened in on the conversations, trying to figure out which scholar was the one he was looking for. He didn’t manage to do so though. Somehow, he didn’t manage to catch the names from any conversation. What was going on here? Could it be that Yu Huang Rong had told his sweetheart not to come at all?!
Just when he wanted to address his best friend, She Ning took a flask of wine from a servant and then knelt down next to Luan Xin, pouring him a drink. “It’s the one in the green robe.” He positioned the flask so that it pointed in the direction where Zhang Shi Lan sat, prompting Luan Xin to look over.
The person that he saw … Luan Xin’s expression blanked. He couldn’t help but stare at this person and feel that he somewhat understood why Yu Huang Rong had fallen in love. This person was actually not sitting with those other young scholars since he had already left the Academy a few years ago and had only attended the competition since it was open to all scholars. Thus, he seemed more mature than the others which only helped to highlight his beauty. Not even mentioning that, his bearing was also very good. There was a certain elegance to the way he moved, that would certainly be able to mesmerize quite a few men.
Luan Xin looked away and raised the cup, silently drinking. Alright, he wasn’t happy about this. It did make him understand why Yu Huang Rong would choose that person over him but he still wasn’t happy. If he could look at him and feel that there was one way in which he was better than this person, then he could just scold Yu Huang Rong for not having good taste and be done with it. But unfortunately, he understood very well why Yu Huang Rong felt this way. This sucked.
Next to him, She Ning glanced at his face before he lowered his gaze and left. He also wasn’t happy with this. Regardless of what Luan Xin had said before, he also knew that this crush of his had been deeper than his lover wanted to acknowledge. Naturally, he wasn’t happy seeing that other person. It did highlight how he himself was just the second choice.
Yu Huang Rong also noticed the small exchange over at his best friend’s table and couldn’t help but look over at Zhang Shi Lan. His own lover didn’t seem to have noticed anything and was just silently conversing with the person sitting next to him who happened to be a slightly older scholar as well.
Yu Huang Rong smiled to himself and retrieved his gaze. Ah, he could only hope that this would be enough to sate Luan Xin’s curiosity. He actually didn’t want his friend to get too close to Zhang Shi Lan. Who knew what kind of embarrassing stories he’d pull out otherwise?
Yu Huang Rong tried to imagine that and couldn’t help but grin. Well, most likely, Zhang Shi Lan wouldn’t mind. He might even be intrigued when he heard this kind of thing. So maybe he should look forward to it if Luan Xin really tried something?
Before he could make up his mind about it, Luan Xin already got up and left the venue, returning to his own tent. Between finding out more about Zhang Shi Lan and calming down his own lover, he knew what was more important. Thus, he went after She Ning, trying to speak some words of love to set things right. “Didn’t I say before that I was curious? There is no reason to be angry, is there? I only love you.”
She Ning kept quiet but instead looked at Luan Xin with a complicated expression. “Are you being honest with yourself?”
Luan Xin sighed. “I really don’t know why you’re going on and on about this. Didn’t I already give you my answer?”
She Ning closed his eyes. “It would help if what you said and what you did weren’t two completely different things.”
Luan Xin stepped closer and leaned against She Ning’s back, resting his head on his shoulder. “It would be good if I wasn’t feeling two completely different things. I’m angry at him. I still see him as my best friend though. So what is it that I actually think? If you can figure it out, please tell me.”
She Ning kept quiet. He didn’t know if he could understand. Although he normally knew what Luan Xin meant and things weren’t going too bad for them, he failed when it came to this topic. Maybe he was too involved himself to be able to think clearly?
“Please believe me that I do love you. I don’t know what it is with Yu Huang Rong. It doesn’t change my feelings for you though. I’m sure of that. What should I do for you to believe me?”
She Ning sighed. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. Let’s just get this over with. After the two of them get married, things might be easier for us as well.”
Luan Xin nodded. “Alright.” He let go of She Ning and stepped away, clearing his throat before he turned to the flap of the tent. “Somebody call Scholar Zhang, Zhang Shi Lan, over.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”