Madam Yan turned to welcome the scholar but part of her attention still lingered on General Yu’s carriage. Sure enough, that guy didn’t tell his servants to leave. He just sat there in his carriage, watching as the scholar approached her. A certain someone probably had a problem with the fact that this scholar was visiting a matchmaker.
When she imagined General Yu’s dissatisfied face, Madam Yan smiled even more brightly at her new guest. "Scholar Zhang, welcome to my small house. It’s a pleasure to meet you. What may I do for you?"
Zhang Shi Lan gazed at her and then raised his head to look at the plaque above the door. It simply read 'matchmaker' as if this main house wasn’t as important as the pavilion behind it. Well, rumor had it that those that were taken to the pavilion were guaranteed to find their match here while those who weren’t might be turned away. It wasn’t wrong to describe the pavilion at the bank of the Fen Hua river as the heart of this establishment.
Zhang Shi Lan cupped his fists in greeting. "Madam Yan. I … heard that you are the matchmaker here in our Chen country’s capital that is the most successful in finding a match for your customers that allowed for a long-lasting, happy relationship. I was also told that you wouldn’t give your blessing to a wedding that was only held for the benefit of two families. I was wondering … if Madam Yan would be able to find such a match for me."
Madam Yan raised her brows. What a romantic! The timing was suspicious though, as was the sad look in his eyes. This wouldn’t be a case of going to the matchmaker because of having his heart broken by the love of his life going to that same matchmaker and the information spreading everywhere in the capital, would it?
She glanced at the carriage that still hadn’t left before motioning at the house. "Why don’t you follow me to the pavilion? We can talk about everything in detail there."
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and followed her into the house. His gaze didn’t waver and he faced to the front with his head held high. Maybe this was the elegance of a scholar but it faintly reminded her of the appearance of a man that was walking to the site of his execution. Aiya, what was it with men and marriages today? Couldn’t they trust in her skills a bit?
On the square, General Yu finally knocked on the wall of the carriage. "Let’s go."
"Oh." The carriage started to move and rolled down the street, back toward the General’s manor. The person inside wasn’t happy though. Never mind this marriage that he didn’t want. Right now, he felt that there was no point to any of this and that this beautiful capital city of their Chen country was the worst place to be at. He might as well return to the battlefield and fight. Whether or not he lost his life … Was there anyone who would truly care?
Meanwhile, Zhang Shi Lan followed Madam Yan to the matchmaking pavilion behind the main house. Most of the women on the other side of the river had dispersed after the General left but the more obstinate ones or those with too much time on their hands still stayed behind in the hope of receiving a few more bits of juicy gossip. Right now, each of them congratulated herself to this wise decision.
"Isn’t that the scholar Zhang Shi Lan?"
"Yes, yes, I think so too. Just look at that simple yet elegant robe! That’s exactly the style he prefers to wear."
"But what is he doing at the matchmaking pavilion? I heard he came of age five years ago but refused to get married because he wanted to further his studies. How come he’s suddenly here?"
"Yes, how come two of the most sought-after bachelors suddenly visit the matchmaking pavilion shortly after each other? Is some god smiling upon us womenfolk? Eh, don’t you have a daughter that recently came of age? Does Madam Yan know about her yet?"
Some of the women rushed away to recommend their own families while those without daughters continued to watch. Ah, what a pity that the river was too broad to hear what they were saying! It would be best if they could stroll around on the other bank to catch at least one of the words this gentleman said! Maybe they had some distant relative that fit his tastes?!
In the pavilion, Madam Yan poured her guest a cup of tea. "I hope Scholar Zhang doesn’t mind sitting in the pavilion. I thought you must be spending a lot of time in your study. A change of pace shouldn’t be bad, should it?"
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. "Mn. I hope I didn’t come at an inopportune time. I heard on my way here that … General Yu … also visited your pavilion."
Madam Yan took note of the slight gap between his words and poured herself a cup of tea too. So now they finally got to what this scholar really wanted to know. She should give him some hope first so that he would open up. "Well, it is true. I already suspected that this wouldn’t stay a secret for long."
"Oh." Zhang Shi Lan nodded and lowered his gaze. So it really was true. Well, that had been him who stepped into that carriage, hadn’t it? Why had he still hoped that things would turn out differently? This affection … it was a pointless one. Unfortunately, even though he knew that, he couldn’t make his heart stop beating faster at that man’s sight. He was hopeless like that.
Madam Yan picked up her cup and looked over to the other side of the river. "Ah, I shouldn’t talk about my guests but … I feel Scholar Zhang is an especially trustworthy man so I don’t mind saying a word or two that couldn’t be entrusted to anyone else."
"Ah?" Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. "This … You are being too kind, Madam Yan. I am but a simple scholar. I don’t deserve such high praises." Especially not if it concerned General Yu. He really … wanted to know very much. His gaze dimmed and he put his cup down, not tasting the sweet blossom tea any longer.
"Aiya. It’s not much of a secret anyway. The General has been away for so long and the battlefields are dangerous. His family must be getting anxious so they sent him here. As for the General himself …" She calmly sipped her tea, watching the person opposite her tense.
Zhang Shi Lan wanted to know more but he knew he shouldn’t ask. That would really be prying into the General’s affairs. But just the thought that this might not be what General Yu himself wanted … His heart couldn’t help but thump hopefully.
He grabbed the teacup to hide his anxiety and forced himself to smile. "General Yu isn’t that young anymore. Getting married … is expected. He … His family probably wants him to marry soon. Who knows when he’ll have to leave again?"
"Mn. Precisely so. One can never know with a man from the military. Then again there are also important posts in the capital or close by. A married man might not be sent to fight at the border anymore. It’ll depend on what His Majesty deems best."
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and they stopped talking. Who would dare surmise what the emperor was thinking?
"So …" Madam Yan swirled the tea in her cup. "About your marriage … Does Scholar Zhang have a person in mind?"
"Ah?" Was this what a matchmaker normally asked? Zhang Shi Lan’s thoughts couldn’t help but return to General Yu. Yes, if it was merely up to his own whims, then that would be the person he married. Unfortunately, they were bound by customs and their families’ wishes. How could this fantasy ever come true?
"Well, like a person you’d instantly marry if a wedding was brought up. It doesn’t need to be someone you could actually marry but if we find out what you admire in that person, it might help with finding a suitable match for you."
"I see." Zhang Shi Lan smiled at her. How he would love to talk about these forbidden feelings just once! Unfortunately, he couldn’t. If somebody found out, wouldn’t it just bring trouble? To him, to his family … maybe even to General Yu. He couldn’t risk that. The scholar gave a light sigh and shook his head with regret. "I’m afraid … there is no such person."
Madam Yan smiled back. Oh? Then why is there such a wistful expression on your face? These two men … getting them to admit to their feelings might be the hardest part about this. It seemed she’d have to facilitate some opportunities for them to meet until they were unable to deny it any longer. Before they were at that point, there was no use in doing anything else.