Yu Huang Rong finally left the house of the Zhangs in a complicated mood. On the one hand, he felt guilty about tricking these good people into believing their son had been hurt grievously, on the other hand, he was elated that their plan had worked even better than expected. If he could, he would have liked to run over to the matchmaking pavilion to boast in front of Madam Yan. He still had to return home before he could do that though.
Thus he pulled up the hood of his cloak again and then rushed his horse through the streets of the capital, back to the estate of his family. When the servants saw him return, they were much less flustered than the one at the Zhang family’s estate. He opened the back door, let him in and then closed the door with a look around to make sure that nobody had been following. Afterward, he went to inform the older General Yu that his son had returned.
When Yu Huang Rong stepped into his room, steps already sounded down the corridor. He turned and saw his father with a grim expression.
“What happened between Luan Xin and you?”
Yu Huang Rong looked away. This part was probably the most difficult. Mister and Madam Zhang would never be able to imagine that their son could lie to them just based on his temperament. And with Mister Zhang’s own stance, he disliked thinking about court intrigues. He also didn’t know much about the relationship between Yu Huang Rong and the emperor so he wouldn’t be able to guess that there was more about this than what met the eye. His own father was different though.
Seeing that his son didn’t want to answer, the older General Yu furrowed his brows. “What? Don’t tell me you’ve lost your ability to speak! Just what has happened between the two of you for him to go this far?!” He pushed the door close behind him and rushed toward Yu Huang Rong, grabbing him by the lapel. “You tell me clearly now!”
Yu Huang Rong sighed and forced himself to think back to the day when he had found out about Luan Xin’s feelings, when the angry tiffs from the previous weeks suddenly started to make sense. “Even if I told you, I’m afraid you wouldn’t believe it.”
“What not believe it? My son’s best friend already tried to kill him. What else will I not believe? Speak!”
Yu Huang Rong reached up and plugged his father’s hands off, before walking over to the table and heavily taking a seat. “I’m not even sure where to begin.”
His father just stared at him. Obviously, he wasn’t willing to give him any more time.
Yu Huang Rong sighed. Well, even if he stalled even longer, he still wouldn’t get around this. There was something he had to get out before that though. He leaned back and then looked at his father. “Madam Zhang asked me to marry her son as compensation.”
The General stared at him in a daze. Naturally, he had also heard the rumors. Thinking about it, he had felt that there might be some truth to it. After all, Zhang Shi Lan and his son had gotten along well since the day they met. When he saw them together at the Academy, they had also seemed very close. It was not impossible for that lad to be smitten with his son.
He looked at Yu Huang Rong again, trying to be objective. Most likely … his son should have the ability to make somebody fall in love like that? He was an accomplished General who had earned his reputation with hard work, he had a good family, was good-looking, and before this whole fiasco, he had even had a good relationship with the emperor. What more could one expect of a man? The women in the matchmaking pavilion seemed to have been interested if he believed what his wife had excitedly told him some weeks prior. So if a man was interested in other men, then why shouldn’t Yu Huang Rong be the recipient of his affections? It sounded quite plausible.
The General sat down opposite his son and nodded gravely. “You owe him. If … if you think you can do it, you should do so. If you can’t treat him as your wife, then maybe it would be better to explain to him and find another way to compensate him.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at his father in a daze. This simple? Shouldn’t his old man put up more of a fight against this?
“What?” The older General furrowed his brows. “That Zhang Shi Lan is a good child. He sincerely loves you but you almost got him killed. Don’t tell me you think it would be alright to push him away now.”
“No, that …” Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “Actually, I think the same. In fact, I already promised his parents when I brought him back.”
The General raised his brows, the fleeting feeling that something was wrong emerging. Why would his son decide on this so fast? Shouldn’t he have talked about it with them first? And anyway, as long as he and Luan Xin didn’t make up, he wouldn’t be able to marry at all. He still needed the emperor’s consent for that.
The General’s brows furrowed together once again. “You wouldn’t have promised because you’re sure that Luan Xin won’t agree, would you?”
Yu Huang Rong stared at his father, wondering if he should be peeved that his father actually thought so lowly of him. “I didn’t. Although I can imagine that Ah Xin won’t be happy either …” He trailed off, his gaze once again becoming distant.
His father’s brows furrowed together even tighter and he finally reached over, tightly grabbing his son’s arm. No wonder he had felt that something was wrong. This brat had been evading responsibility and not told him what was up when he asked! “You tell me what happened between you now. Don’t try to stall any longer.”
Yu Huang Rong coughed and tried to take back his arm but his father wouldn’t let go, holding onto him with a death grip.
Yu Huang Rong sighed and stopped his futile struggle. “What can I say? Your son has more charm than you probably would have thought. Even after I went to the matchmaking pavilion, I still couldn’t find a wife. But somehow, even without trying, there’s a row of male suitors now. It almost makes me think that it might be fate. Say, father, do you think Luan Xin would be willing to let me have a concubine if I became part of his harem?”
The old General stared at his son, his face blank. Come again? His son … in Luan Xin’s harem? Why would he … He suddenly remembered how that boy would cling to his son when they were younger, always look at him with such adoration. Don’t tell him …
He let go of Yu Huang Rong’s arm and leaned back, staring off in a daze. Ah, he felt like he should go and drink for a night. Maybe after he woke up tomorrow morning, the world would be like he knew them again. He really couldn’t stand this any longer!
“Are you trying to tell me that Luan Xin also fell in love with you?”
Yu Huang Rong tightened his lips. If this had just been a part of their plan without an ounce of truth to it, he might have caved under this gaze. But knowing that this was not entirely wrong, he felt justified giving his father a look that said he also had a hard time believing it. “I think he might have known about Zhang Shi Lan’s feelings. That was probably why …” He sighed and shook his head.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but he called Zhang Shi Lan into his tent the day before that … accident happened. I don’t know what exactly they talked about but I guess it should have been this. Who knows what Zhang Shi Lan said to make him lose his calm so much?” Yu Huang Rong shook his head again.
“You see this is why I agreed immediately when the Zhangs asked me to marry their son: It actually was my fault. If it was just because Zhang Shi Lan tried to help me when the fight broke out, I might not have done it. At the very least, I would have considered other possibilities first. But this whole ambush came about because of these feelings. Actually, I’m not even sure if Luan Xin wanted to have me killed or Zhang Shi Lan. Since that’s the case … shouldn’t I pay him back by making that one wish come true?
“Anyway, I won’t be the one who gets the short end of the stick. I’ll still be one of the Generals of our Chen country, I will still be the heir to my family, able to marry a woman at the side. If anything, it’s Zhang Shi Lan himself who will have to suffer. What will people say about him after he marries into our family?”
The older General nodded. “That’s true.”
“So you see: It’s not that I did this without thinking. I just feel that it’s the right thing to do. I’ll just have to go and convince Luan Xin to let go of this grudge. Even if he goes after somebody, that somebody should be me, right?” He got up and made to go, but his father once again grabbed his arm tightly.
“No, I understand that speaking to Luan Xin is a must. But not like this. We’ve already decided what to do. The Zhangs are also willing. Just … just let me go and talk to him. Even if he can’t hold back his feelings when faced with you, he’ll continue to respect me as his Elder. Let us take advantage of that.”
“No but. It’s the safest thing to do. I definitely can’t let my only child die because of something this stupid.”
Yu Huang Rong looked at his father and finally sighed. “Fine. If you’ll be more at ease doing it this way, then let’s do that. I still think that I should talk to him myself.”
“You can. Just a bit later. I first want to see how he’s doing.” The older General let go of his son’s arm and then patted his shoulder. Yes, he just wanted to see how Luan Xin was holding up. If that child sincerely regretted his choice, then there was hope. If he didn’t … it might be better to send his son back to the border. At the very least, it would be an honorable death if he died there.