When Zhang Shi Lan returned to the banquet, he was immediately met with Yu Huang Rong’s probing gaze. Well, he could imagine what the reason for that was but he wouldn’t make it so easy for him. Even though what he had told the emperor just now was the truth, he still wasn’t happy with the way Yu Huang Rong had wanted to decide for him. Maybe it was petty but he felt that he might as well let Yu Huang Rong wonder a while longer if things were alright between them or not.
Since the two of them sat on different sides and quite a bit apart from each other, there was no way for Yu Huang Rong to approach him easily. And anyway, with all the people around, it was would have been difficult to ask him clearly what had happened. After all, they couldn’t risk that anybody would find out.
The banquet continued for several hours before the first guests finally started to leave. As soon as Yu Huang Rong notice that a handful of seats were empty, he shot up himself, telling his father that he would already leave. Anyway, he had never had any patience with these kinds of things so it wasn’t surprising to anyone.
He rushed away, waiting in the distance for Zhang Shi Lan to come over. When he looked back … His lover was still sitting at his table. He was even amicably chatting with the scholar next to him, calmly sipping his tea as if nothing had happened.
Yu Huang Rong’s face fell. What was he supposed to do now? He rubbed his face and paced up and down but it wasn’t like he could go over and drag him away. He also couldn’t be like Luan Xin and have one of the servants go and fetch ‘Scholar Zhang’ for him. If he did, wouldn’t somebody start talking? The servants could have quite the loose mouths. He had already experienced that in the past when Luan Xin and he had been young. Thus Yu Huang Rong could only continue to pace up and down, waiting until Zhang Shi Lan was finally willing to leave his seat.
Zhang Shi Lan got up an hour later. He had considered continuing to sit there for another hour or two but he could already imagine that Yu Huang Rong wasn’t doing too well. And anyway, even though he didn’t agree with what he had done, he also understood that Yu Huang Rong had tried to think on his behalf. He just needed to make him understand that that wasn’t what he should do in the future. That was all he wanted. An hour should be enough to achieve that.
Zhang Shi Lan left the venue and then went over to where Yu Huang Rong was looking at the ground with his brows knitted together. “General Yu, what a surprise to meet you.”
Yu Huang Rong looked up at the familiar voice, a glimmer of a guilty conscience flashing through his eyes. “You … Luan Xin wanted to see you?”
Zhang Shi Lan stepped closer and nodded. “That was the case.”
“Then …” Yu Huang Rong rubbed his neck and carefully glanced at Zhang Shi Lan’s expression. From the moment they saw each other again until now he still had no idea just what might’ve happened. Had Luan Xin told him or hadn’t he? But if he hadn’t, what had they talked about? Well, he could only ask. There was no other way, regardless of how awkward it was. “What did he say?”
Zhang Shi Lan looked toward the emperor’s tent and sighed. “Nothing much.”
“Mn. It really wasn’t much. Although I do have to say that His Majesty is truly able to make one see things in a different light with just a few words.”
Yu Huang Rong tensed. “Is he? Then what did he say?”
Zhang Shi Lan gave him a long look that obviously made Yu Huang Rong’s hair stand on end. “He talked about you.”
Yu Huang Rong tensed even further. “That …” His gaze darted around and he gulped. Right now, he really regretted not taking Luan Xin’s advice and telling Zhang Shi Lan himself. That would be a lot better as if he found out this way. Ah, in the future, he would think things through more thoroughly!
Zhang Shi Lan raised a hand and cupped his own cheek. “Ah, who’d think that you had been right? I have really been competing with His Majesty for the same man. That makes me feel so … inadequate. Is it really possible that I won against that lofty person?”
“Huh?” Yu Huang Rong’s gaze moved back to Zhang Shi Lan’s face and finally found a small smile on his lips. This … Was he teasing him? Then … “Didn’t he … Didn’t he say anything else?”
“Why? Is there something he should have told me?”
Yu Huang Rong looked away, feeling ill at ease. Should he tell him? Well, if Luan Xin hadn’t told him … Ah, but even then, he couldn’t keep it to himself. Hadn’t he seen just now that that wasn’t the way to go?
He closed his eyes and gave a sigh. He had already made a mistake. Instead of waiting for it to come out or get even worse, he might as well confess. “I thought he might. I told him that I wanted to call off the plan.”
Yu Huang Rong sighed. Zhang Shi Lan being so calm could only mean that Luan Xin had indeed told him. All that he wanted to hear right now was this explanation as to why. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve gone and talked to you instead. It’s just … I was afraid. I didn’t want to be the reason you can’t have the future you want to have. So I thought that it’s better if you get into the Academy right now and we marry sometime later.”
“You know that’s idiotic, don’t you?”
“I …” Yu Huang Rong looked away. “Do you really think so? You can’t have both.”
“Indeed. But what made you think the Academy was more important to me?”
Yu Huang Rong turned back to him, loathing the fact that there were other people close by so that he couldn’t pull him into his arms. “But the Academy is your dream.”
“You are also my dream. And didn’t we already talk about the fact that there are other options than to get a position at the Academy? There is no other option for my marriage though. So don’t take that away from me. And … if something like this happens again, just talk to me.”
“I will.” Yu Huang Rong nodded earnestly and then peered into Zhang Shi Lan’s face. “Are you angry?”
Zhang Shi Lan sighed. “Not angry. Just … I’m a little disappointed. I thought we were past this. Don’t you trust me?”
“I do. I …” Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “I made a mistake.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “As long as you know.”
Yu Huang Rong didn’t seem to know what to say to that. He did understand but he might not have if not for Luan Xin calling Zhang Shi Lan over. That was probably the bigger mistake than his original decision of not telling Zhang Shi Lan.
Zhang Shi Lan sighed at his gaze, looked around and then stepped closer, giving him a short kiss on the cheek before he stepped back. “Don’t think too much. Even though we’ve loved one another for a long time, we’ve only been together for a few short months. It is to be expected that not everything will go well. We’ll have the rest of our lives to figure out how to go about these things.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “That’s also true. Then … tomorrow …”
“We’ll do everything as planned.”
“Mn. Very well.” Yu Huang Rong straightened up and the two of them bid farewell, each returning to their own tents, their thoughts already on the following day when the grand act they had planned would finally commence.