The older General Yu didn’t go to the palace immediately. Instead, he first went to retrieve something from his study that he hadn’t looked at for many years. Seeing the small plaque now, he couldn’t help but sigh. The good deeds done by the previous generation didn’t account for much in the face of some hot-blooded youths, it seemed. He really couldn’t understand how it had come so far.
He shook his head and tugged the plaque into his clothes, leaving his manor and heading to the palace. Contrary to Yu Huang Rong who had the habit to barge right in, the older General properly asked for an audience with Luan Xin, giving him ample time to prepare himself.
Inside the palace, Luan Xin looked at She Ning questioningly. “Are you sure you can pull this off convincingly? Yu Bao Tong is our Chen country’s best General. He isn’t easily hoodwinked. If he notices that this isn’t real …”
“Relax.” She Ning didn’t explain himself any further and continued to apply the mixture from the bowl in his hands to Luan Xin’s face. His heart squeezed a little while he did so, making him hesitate for a moment.
With this, Luan Xin looked as if he hadn’t slept much for the last few days. His complexion was wan and there were dark circles under his eyes. He was the personification of somebody who deeply regretted his past actions and wished every second of the day that he could take back the words he had said in anger and retrieve the weapon that had been thrust forward only to realize that it was impossible.
This kind of look … was surprisingly hard to stomach. For all these years, regardless of whether he had to spy, torture, or kill, he had never thought much of it. But seeing Luan Xin like this, She Ning could feel some agitation in his heart. It seemed the indifference he had originally felt toward everything had been slowly whittled away by this person. That … was probably also a form of torture.
She Ning shook his head at himself and then continued, only stopping when he felt that more would indeed alert the General to the fact that something wasn’t quite right. He put down the bowl and nodded. “Done.”
“Mn.” Luan Xin took a bronze mirror and looked at himself, turning his face in all directions. “Well, I can’t see that it’s fake. Let’s hope the General is the same.”
She Ning nodded and stepped back, just quietly watching Luan Xin walk out of his chambers and toward the throne room. He really couldn’t believe that the General would be able to tell. Not only did he trust in his skill, but he also trusted in Luan Xin’s ability. What couldn’t they achieve together?
Luan Xin sat down on the dragon throne, looking at the older General Yu with an unreadable expression. He kept quiet for a moment before he finally sighed. “I can imagine why you came.”
“I’m not sure.” The General smiled wryly. He didn’t have anything to ask. He also didn’t have anything much to say about what had happened. Even though he really wanted to teach this brat a lesson for losing his head over his emotions like that, Luan Xin was still the emperor, after all. He could hardly beat him up, could he?
“Then what did you come for?” Luan Xin’s voice sounded faint as if he could hardly bring himself to say these words.
The old General felt better hearing that. Sure enough, that boy already regretted his rash actions. That was quite good. He might not have to worry about his son and Zhang Shi Lan’s well-being in the future. Although … It was hard to say how Luan Xin would take it when he asked for him to bestow marriage onto Yu Huang Rong.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There already was no way around this. He opened his eyes again and looked at Luan Xin. “Back when it was still your father’s reign, I once saved his life.”
Luan Xin nodded. “I remember. He told me that story over and over again when I was young.” A trace of guilt flashed over his face when he said so and he looked to the side.
“Then did he tell you what he promised me afterward?”
Luan Xin gave a wry smile. “One promise. Whatever it was you wanted, he would make it possible if it was in his power. And if this promise couldn’t be redeemed while he or you were alive, it would be passed down to me and to Yu Huang Rong and to our children if need be.”
The General nodded. “That was indeed what he promised. Let me ask you: Do you intend to honor this promise?”
Luan Xin sighed. “Why say so many words? Just tell me what it is you want, uncle Yu. Since it’s you, I wouldn’t refuse anyway.”
The General only smiled and took out the small plaque that had been given by Luan Xin’s father. If that boy was really to do anything even without this plaque, then he wouldn’t have his son attacked in the first place. Or, well, maybe his goal had been to kill Zhang Shi Lan but even then … That was not the child he knew.
He waved the plaque. “I want you to allow Yu Huang Rong to marry Zhang Shi Lan.”
Luan Xin’s expression turned blank on its own this time. Allow them to marry? Now? Wasn’t that supposed to happen after he decreed the marriage on his own? Shouldn’t they first discuss his emotional state and why he had wanted to kill Yu Huang Rong? Shouldn’t uncle Yu first try to make sure that he wouldn’t try to kill his son again?
Seeing Luan Xin’s expression, the old General sighed. “Can you really not accept him being with somebody else? Xiao Xin, Ah Rong owes this boy. His parents have asked for them to marry. And you should know that even if Yu Huang Rong liked you back, you still couldn’t be together.”
Luan Xin tensed. “You … You know?”
The old General sighed again. “I know, yes. So … what about that marriage?”
Luan Xin kept quiet for a while but then sighed. “Fine. I’ll go and write an edict. Since Ah Rong has already promised … What else can I say?” He got up.
The General held out the plaque to him but Luan Xin shook his head.
“Don’t bother about it, uncle Yu. Didn’t I already say? If it’s you, then I don’t expect anything in return. You keep that plaque. I’ll write the edict. In the end, it was my fault anyway. I shouldn’t have done that. I also know now.”
The old General’s expression softened and he put the plaque away with a nod. Looking back at the years of friendship he and Luan Xin’s father had shared and how the two boys had grown up together, he also hoped that they would be able to get over this and go back to how things had been before. But he understood that things wouldn’t be so easy. It wasn’t clear yet whom Luan Xin had wanted to have killed and regardless of who it was, the trust between them had been broken. To mend this … It might be impossible.
Finally, Luan Xin returned with the edict in hand. He walked over and personally handed it to the General, giving a weak smile. “That … how is Ah Rong now?”
The old General reached out and took the edict before taking a long look at Luan Xin’s face. Ah, the boy really looked unwell … “He’s alright. He wasn’t hurt. It’s only that Zhang Shi Lan …”
Luan Xin nodded. “I’ll think about what to do on that front.”
The General smiled wryly but didn’t say anything. They both knew that Zhang Shi Lan’s family might not be happy to have anything more to do with the emperor. If they could, they might even want to leave the capital city. Well, with Mister Zhang’s position and his son’s marriage with Yu Huang Rong, that would be impossible.
Luan Xin cleared his throat. “That … Then can you talk to Ah Rong for me, uncle Yu?” Luan Xin tried to call upon as much of a guilty conscience as he could when he looked at the General. Honestly, he was the person in this whole drama that had gotten the shortest end of the stick. Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan would end up being married but he? People would whisper about him being a tyrannic ruler and an untrustworthy person and he might not even be able to see his best friend to complain since they were supposed to be at loggerheads. Why had nobody taken that into consideration?
General Yu watched his expression that was somewhere between guilt and indignation, wondering just what this boy was thinking. Could it be that it was that difficult for him to lower himself to ask for this favor? He sighed and then reached out, patting Luan Xin’s shoulder. “Aiya, if your father was still here, he might beat you up for this. Anyway, you’re young. Yu Huang Rong wasn’t hurt and that Zhang Shi Lan will live. Just promise me that you won’t be hot-headed again in the future. Your seat isn’t one where you can get emotional like that. You have to keep a calm mind all the time, even if it’s hard. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
Luan Xin nodded very honestly, making the Elder satisfied.
“Alright. Since you’ve promised I’ll talk to Ah Rong. Give him a bit of time though. This isn’t easy for him either.”
“I know.” Although he’d tell She Ning to teach him a lesson if that guy didn’t appear in front of his doorstep in the next three days to thank him profusely. He was petty enough for that.
General Yu nodded and then motioned to the door, raising the edict in his hand. “I guess I’ll go and bring that home then. You’ll have the Zhang family informed?”
“Mn. Naturally, uncle Yu.” Luan Xin showed his best behavior and even walked the old General to the door, waving after him when he left. Then he turned around and sighed deeply. Finally, this part of the act was over. Now, they only needed to hold the wedding ceremony and then, things would finally return to normal.