At the same time, Yu Huang Rong also late left the General’s estate. He got onto his horse with a smile that he just couldn’t hold back and rode toward the junction where they were supposed to meet, his thoughts also traveling to the time they had spent with each other in the last two weeks of preparations for the wedding.
Just like Zhang Shi Lan, he felt like that this was the best choice he had ever made. No, in fact, he felt that this wasn’t just a choice he had made. He felt that this was fate at play. The two of them had truly been destined for each other.
When Yu Huang Rong turned the corner and rode toward the junction, the carriage also turned into the same street, making the corners of his lips rise. He urged his horse to go faster and finally, they met at the intersection.
Zhang Shi Lan brushed the curtain aside when the carriage turned and their gazes met. Neither of them said a word. They merely smiled and then continued together, Yu Huang Rong riding next to the carriage.
Soon enough, the Fen Hua river appeared before them. Yu Huang Rong glanced at his lover again, then made his horse run faster and passed the bridge onto the other side. The carriage followed right behind him and finally, they reunited on the other bank of the Fen Hua river and made the rest of their way to Fen Cha lane.
Yu Huang Rong reined in the horse and got down, walking over to the carriage. The curtain was brushed aside from inside and Zhang Shi Lan stooped down to step out. Yu Huang Rong reached up and took his hand, quietly helping him outside.
"How do you feel?"
Zhang Shi Lan raised his head and smiled. "You’re making it sound as if I was grievously injured."
"You are to everyone else. Still, I … I’m nervous. How about you?"
Zhang Shi Lan laughed and squeezed his hand. "I’m happy, nothing else. I’m about to marry the man I have loved for ten years. How else could I feel?"
Yu Huang Rong nodded, his own agitated mood calming down as well. "You’re right. Let’s go inside then. The sooner we do, the sooner I’ll be able to call myself your husband."
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. "And here I thought it would be more important what I would call you … husband."
Yu Huang Rong tensed up and lightly cleared his throat, the speed of his steps picking up. Yes, he couldn’t deny that he very much wanted to be called like that by Zhang Shi Lan as well.
The two of them stepped into the house. Everything had been moved in already, making it indeed seem as if they had lived here for a long time already. It was as if … they were coming home.
Yu Huang Rong looked at Zhang Shi Lan and then carefully escorted him over the doorstep. Their families were already waiting inside. Other than them, there were only a few close friends and … Madam Yan.
Yu Huang Rong’s lips twitched when he saw her but, well, she had played an important role in all of this. He nodded at her but didn’t say anything else and just led Zhang Shi Lan forward to start with the ceremony. He didn’t want to waste a single moment.
Both Madam Yu and Madam Zhang couldn’t help but dab at the corners of their eyes with a handkerchief, trying to hold back their tears. Their sons were actually about to get married. How long had they waited for that?
Zhang Shi Lan gave his mother a reassuring smile while Yu Huang Rong didn’t even notice. He felt as if he was floating. It really was true that he could keep calm in any situation but not when it concerned Zhang Shi Lan. He had trouble not to look at him with every step while he led him forward.
The two of them finally knelt down for the ceremony. Yu Huang Rong conscientiously helped Zhang Shi Lan and then pulled his hand back. He looked at him and then reached out again, gently holding his hand. Anyway, they would soon be a married couple. Why should he hold back now of all times?
Zhang Shi Lan gave him a loving glance. Since his love for Yu Huang Rong had been one of the most widely circulated rumors, nobody felt that it was strange.
The Yu couple couldn’t help but feel that their own son was behaving oddly though. The older General took a long look at him but finally decided that nothing was wrong. Their son was probably just nervous because of the wedding. Thinking of that, he couldn’t help but sigh. His son was a well-known General who had been defending the border for a good ten years. How come he was more nervous than the little scholar next to him?
While everyone had their own thoughts about the matter, the two people in the middle finally started the wedding ceremony under the guidance of an old Minister that Luan Xin had dragged over to preside over the rites.
Yu Huang Rong finally let go of Zhang Shi Lan’s hand and the two of them kowtowed to the heavens, to their parents, and finally, to each other. Their gaze lingered on each other, their hearts thumping loudly. If they could, they would have gotten up and left already, disappearing into their own sweet world. Unfortunately, there were still other motions to go through.
Yu Huang Rong got up and pulled Zhang Shi Lan to his feet, bringing him to worship both their Chen country’s gods and their ancestors. Nobody was with them in the ancestral shrine, so he couldn’t help but grab Zhang Shi Lan’s hands when they knelt down again in front of the plaques. They didn’t look at each other but just kowtowed to the plaques as well.
"Ancestors, let me apologize for making this marriage possible through some dishonorable means." Yu Huang Rong smiled as if he didn’t think much of it.
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head at him, got up and lit up some candles before he returned to the spot next to Yu Huang Rong. "Be serious. It’s both our ancestors."
Yu Huang Rong nodded. "I’m sure they’ll understand. The two of us … Even though we plotted to make it happen, I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked out if it wasn’t supposed to be. We … we were meant to be with each other. I’m sure of that."
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. "Then let me apologize as well. I actually pretended to be injured and made my parents worry. I’ll also have to lie to my in-laws. To be honest, I’m embarrassed thinking about it. I hope the ancestors can forgive me. From now on, I’ll make sure to live honestly again."
Yu Huang Rong chucked and reached over, taking his hand. "It’s all my fault. I made that deal with Madam Yan. You’re just the poor person that got roped in."
"I was willingly roped in so I could get married to you. If you’re at fault, then I’m as well. And even if I wasn’t: Since we’re married now, every good thing and every bad thing will be carried by the two of us. Isn’t that right?"
"Mn, it’s right." Yu Huang Rong leaned over and kissed his cheeks before he turned back to the plaques and kowtowed again. "Asking the ancestors to give their blessings."
Zhang Shi Lan watched his lover with a smile and then also kowtowed again. Finally, the two of them got up and returned to the hall, their hands still linked.
Seeing them so close, Madam and Mister Zhang heaved a sigh of relief. They didn’t know if this would hold but if it could, that would be for the best. They didn’t want their son to suffer in this relationship.
Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan went over to the two couples and then served them both a cup of tea each. Anyway, Yu Huang Rong had asked that Zhang Shi Lan wouldn’t be treated like a bride marrying into his family. Even though he did technically marry into his family, he had stressed more than once that he wasn’t some woman and shouldn’t be treated as such. He had already done him wrong when he wanted to decide things in his stead. Now, he had learned his mistake and wouldn’t try to do it instead. Thus, the marriage ceremony could only be changed a bit.
Their parents accepted the cups but Mister Zhang couldn’t help but size Yu Huang Rong up again. Ah, if only he could make sure that his son would be happy in this marriage … For the first time in his life, he really wanted to try giving bribery or maybe blackmail a chance. It seemed that a parent was truly able to do anything for their child. Well, he still hoped it wouldn’t need to come to that.
Meanwhile, the two children once again got up, sharing a look.
Yu Huang Rong cleared his throat and then turned to the few guests they had invited. "Let’s start with the banquet then." He motioned at the servants and everyone was led to their seats before the dishes were brought out.
Yu Huang Rong took Zhang Shi Lan’s hand as well and led him to their seats. "Let’s get this over with fast."
Zhang Shi Lan glanced over and his lips curled into a teasing smile. "Oh? Actually, I wanted to savor the taste."
Yu Huang Rong looked at the dishes on the table between them and tightened his lips. Alright, those were all delicacies but … was that really better than retiring to their room and sealing the deal? He had already held back for two weeks! Why was he still being tortured so much? Yu Huang Rong deflated, his expression like a child that had the newly-acquired candy stolen.
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but laugh. He tried to hide it behind the long red sleeve but his eyes above curved into small crescents, making it even more obvious.
Yu Huang Rong didn’t know what to say. Was his lover delighted in his misfortune? Or had he missed a joke? "You …"
Zhang Shi Lan just laughed again and then lowered his sleeve, picking up a cup and pouring his soon-to-be husband a cup of tea. "I want to savor the first night of being newly-weds for as long as possible so my husband will need to eat well so that he has a lot of energy to stay awake." He pushed the cup closer to Yu Huang Rong, then picked up a pastry and held it in front of him. "How about it?"
Yu Huang Rong took a deep breath and leaned forward, taking a bite of the pastry. He glanced at Zhang Shi Lan while he did so and lowered his voice. "No need to worry about what I eat. I assure you that I’m able to stay awake the whole night. You aren’t marrying a General for nothing."
Zhang Shi Lan took back the rest of the pastry, eating it unabashedly. "I do hope so. Your mighty image in my mind would collapse if you couldn’t make true on that promise. Who would I worship as my hero then?"
Yu Huang Rong’s gaze turned gentle. "You’re teasing me."
"Mn. Maybe I am." Zhang Shi Lan poured himself a cup as well and hid his smile behind it.
At one of the other tables, Madam Yu smiled as well when she saw what was happening between the two. She leaned closer to her husband. "It seems they’re getting along quite well."
The older General nodded, a thoughtful expression in his eyes. "It sure seems that way." Almost as if … this wedding hadn’t just been a way for Yu Huang Rong to repay Zhang Shi Lan for saving his life but also something their own son wished for. Well, if that was the case …
He picked up his chopsticks and bowed his head to eat. These children were happy with each other and there wasn’t any threat to his son’s life anymore. Whatever the whole truth behind the matter was, this was already very good. He wouldn’t ask about the rest. Maybe one day, Yu Huang Rong would tell him himself.