The guests of the trip formed groups and then entered the forest one after the other. The emperor actually stayed at the camp, unwilling to step out of his tent again after he had announced the beginning of the first hunt.
Well, news of his argument with General Yu had already spread so nobody was too surprised at this. In fact, the guests were quite happy that he didn’t come. Otherwise, they would really need to watch what they said and did so as to not become a scapegoat for him to vent his anger.
Zhang Shi Lan used the excuse that he didn’t understand too much about hunting himself and asked Yu Huang Rong to take care of him on the grounds of their friendship. He even did so in front of several people to make sure that everybody would know that they had been together when the ambush happened.
The bystanders weren’t able not to look. They watched as the General’s expression that had still been stormy turned a bit better until he finally nodded his head. It truly made them feel that the relationship between the General and this young scholar was quite close. Seeing this, they couldn’t help but inquire what was going on with this and finally, almost everybody knew that Yu Huang Rong had also visited the Academy a while ago together with Zhang Shi Lan. Ah, the fact that Zhang Shi Lan had been chosen to receive a position at the Academy was spread as well. All things considered, it could be said that their plan was well underway.
Thus the two of them entered the forest together, their thoughts on the future.
When they were a little further in the forest, Zhang Shi Lan held the reins of his horse and looked around warily. He couldn’t help but give a light sigh. “I said that before to have a good excuse to speak to you but to be honest, it’s not completely wrong. I really don’t know much about hunting.”
Yu Huang Rong reached over and patted his arm, the seemingly bad mood nowhere in sight. “Don’t worry about it. Actually, if this was a real hunt, it would be enough if you just sat on the horse and followed me. I can hunt enough to make sure that the two of us won’t lose face.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded his head. “That’s good then. I don’t want to make this even more difficult.”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “You wouldn’t. This is —” He suddenly stopped speaking and sat up straight, his brows furring together while his gaze darted around.
Zhang Shi Lan didn’t dare to speak but couldn’t help and lean forward, trying to get a clearer look at Yu Huang Rong’s face. Had something happened? His expression really looked grave. “Huang Rong?”
Yu Huang Rong unsheathed his weapon and glanced at him. “They’re here.” He tightened his grip around his sword and steered his horse closer to Zhang Shi Lan. He could hardly believe that they were really there already. Who would’ve thought that they would act so soon? But, well, this was in line with giving Zhang Shi Lan a little more time to rest after this incident while the rumors spread. He probably shouldn’t have been this surprised. Still, it made him feel a little ill at ease. Even if they were only pretending to get ambushed, the kind of feeling of several men closing in on them with the intent to kill wasn’t nice at all.
A moment later, a few figures clad in black rushed at Yu Huang Rong with their weapons drawn.
Yu Huang Rong furrowed his brows and deflected a few of their blows, directing his horse in front of Zhang Shi Lan so nothing would happen to him. They didn’t know if anybody was close by and had to make this look convincing.
Seeing that Yu Huang Rong was trying to shield Zhang Shi Lan behind him, the masked men seemed as if they wanted to take advantage of this. One of them rushed over to Zhang Shi Lan, pretending to want to kill him off so that Yu Huang Rong had to turn to the side.
He scoffed and then reached over, grabbing the reins of Zhang Shi Lan’s horse and tugged while he spurred his horse into galloping further down the way.
The men rushed after them, one of them giving a harsh whistle. Shadows moved at the sides of the path. A rope was drawn across the past and Yu Huang Rong could only stop the horses with a harsh tug. The animals barely reacted in time but Zhang Shi Lan was still thrown off, landing on the ground with a thud. He groaned, clutching his chest and trying to breathe.
“Zhang Shi Lan!” Yu Huang Rong looked over, his expression panicked. This time, he didn’t need to act. He really was afraid the Zhang Shi Lan might’ve gotten hurt or would get wounded because of the fight. Never mind the people attacking them, what if he was trampled on by the horses?
Not thinking any further, he jumped down from his own horse and rushed over, defending against the men’s blows on one hand while he rushed to pull up Zhang Shi Lan on the other. He pushed him to the side afterward, giving him an intense look. “You stay there! I’ll try to hold them off.”
Zhang Shi Lan reached out as if he didn’t want to let him go. “Huang Rong!” His voice trembled, making Yu Huang Rong’s gaze even fiercer. He turned back to the masked men and raised his weapon, once again jumping back into the fight.
The masked men surrounded Yu Huang Rong, attacking him from all sides. Cold sweat coated Yu Huang Rong’s brow and he wondered if this was really just a staged ambush or if this was a serious fight. Did they really have to pretend to this degree? He was hardly able to defend against attacks!
Zhang Shi Lan also felt that things looked much more terrifying than they should. His whole body trembled and he didn’t dare to take his eyes off Yu Huang Rong’s figure for even the blink of an eye.
Seeing some of the weapons strike him, tearing at his armor and even grazing the skin below the fabric, a fearful sound escaped his lips. Was this really just a staged ambush? He saw one of the men raising his weapon and rushing at Yu Huang Rong from behind.
He stopped thinking. “Huang Rong!” He called out again and rushed over, throwing himself forward to shield the man he loved from this blow.
Something struck his back, making him collide with Yu Huang Rong and push him to the ground. Yu Huang Rong groaned and then wrapped an arm around Zhang Shi Lan’s waist, rolling to the side and then leaping up to his feet. He wanted to push him to the side again, telling him to stay there and not get involved, but when he let go of him, Zhang Shi Lan almost fell to the ground again. Yu Huang Rong rushed to pick him back up, deflecting the blows of the masked men once more while he couldn’t help and glance to the side.
His hand was coated in blood.
Yu Huang Rong’s eyes widened and he sped up, trying to throw off these men and get Zhang Shi Lan to safety. He knew that Luan Xin’s men should’ve prepared something to make this look right but he wasn’t sure. Right now, he wasn’t sure anymore.
He remembered how he had found out that Luan Xin had liked him and how Zhang Shi Lan had told them about that emperor who had turned against a subject that had been loyal to him for generations. His heart couldn’t help but shake and a sliver of doubt emerged in his mind. It couldn’t be … It couldn’t be that Zhang Shi Lan had been right, could it? But then …
He couldn’t think about it. He couldn’t do anything either. He could only defend and hope that somebody would come to help soon. Indeed, soon enough, the sound of hooves got closer and an angry yell sounded when the people coming over saw the scene. They spurred on their horses and arrived at the scene shortly, rushing at the masked men and driving them off.
Yu Huang Rong didn’t bother about them anymore. He threw his weapon away and then gently lowered Zhang Shi Lan to the ground, pressing him up against his chest. “Shi Lan. Shi Lan!” He shook his shoulder and patted his cheek but Zhang Shi Lan didn’t say anything. In fact, he didn’t even open his eyes. The color had already drained from his face and he seemed unconscious.
Fear tightly gripped Yu Huang Rong’s heart and he turned Zhang Shi Lan around, wanting to look at the injury on his back. Seeing the blood that had dyed all of Zhang Shi Lan’s back red, his hands trembled. The fabric was torn as if he had really been struck. But with all the blood around, he could hardly make out if there was indeed a deep gash below or not.
“General Yu! What happened?”
Somebody rushed over and knelt down beside him but Yu Huang Rong didn’t pay him any mind. He just looked at Zhang Shi Lan, his whole body seemingly about to freeze. He took a shaky breath and then picked him up again, rushing over to his horse and getting into the saddle. “You hold on, Shi Lan. I’ll get you a physician!” With that, he sped off, leaving the people that had come to save them behind with a lot of questions on their minds.