The king of Yue looks at his conqueror with exhaustion, not so much resigned as indifferent. Fu Chai holds his life in his hands but the king of Yue doesn't care about that. He cares about his country, and once his country's existence is guaranteed- as Fu Chai does guarantee it- the king of Yue is perfectly content to die. Which is fine: which is proper and praiseworthy in a king, in a defeated king whose overweening ambition has received its proper rebuke from Heaven and whose life is forfeit in consequence.
But not this king, not at this time. Everything in Fu Chai revolts at the notion.
All his life he's been checked and confined, the youngest son and the son of a concubine; all his life he's been held back by the wishes and the power of others. He can feel it still, that sensation of the collar around his neck by which he's led about, tugged this way or that at other people's will, and jerked harshly into line when he tries to go his own way. When he thinks of executing Gou Jian, the enemy of Wu, Fu Chai feels the collar tighten so straitly he can scarcely breathe. Why or how, he doesn't understand, but the thing he knows as certainly as he knows his own name is that Gou Jian must live
Outside the closed doors a shadow paces back and forth, blocking the light. Fu Chai's chancellor, yelling for Gou Jian's death. Fu Chai's father's chancellor, doing things the way he did in King Helu's day, and insisting that Fu Chai also must do things the way his father did.
But I am not my father. I will be a greater king than he, and I'll do it by following *my* ideas. That's how I won the war and that's how I'll win the peace-- the one thing my father could never do.
Here at his feet- or rather, here a long way below his feet- sprawls the defeated king of Yue, brought to this as the end of an inexorable process that began, not with either of them, but with Fu Chai's father and brother. That's what galls. It's not Fu Chai's own deeds and desires that made this happen but the high-handed caprices of others. Fu Chai wasn't consulted. Fu Chai would have done it differently. Fu Chai is obscurely angry that he's still expected to act as the pawn of two dead men to accomplish a purpose he never desired.
We could have been united; we could have been brother kingdoms; the heir of Wu would have been the son of my brother and the son of his sister and nephew to both of us. Whose fault is it, Father mine, that that bright future vanished and our countries were brought to war with each other?
Righteousness is not with Wu in this, even though this last attack came from Yue. Righteousness was not with King Helu or Prince Lei. Righteousness is with Fu Chai, and that's why Fu Chai sits here and not any of his brothers. But to be righteous one must behave righteously, and there are always obstacles to that. One of them stalks outside the doors. That he will deal with. The other lies down there, past hope and past caring. That one... will require more careful handling.
"So what are you going to do with Us?" the king of Yue wants to know.
"Come back to Wu with me," Fu Chai says. "Be my servant."
Gou Jian sits up slowly. "Your... servant?
"I've taken a vow not to sleep with any of my concubines until you're dead," Fu Chai explains blandly. "But here you are, alive. That makes for dull evenings. You can at least keep me entertained through them."
"Entertained," Gou Jian says without expression.
"You play chess, surely?"
Gou Jian nods.
"There then!" Fu Chai slaps the stone seat with a happy smile. "We can play chess together!"
"We are to become... your servant?"
"Does 'chamber gentleman' sound better?" Fu Chai asks. "'Aide'? 'Valet'? "
Gou Jian's lips move with no sound. The dark eyes look up at Fu Chai as if to pierce the shadows between them. He says one word.
Fu Chai catches himself. He could tell him why. He wants to tell him why. He wants very much to speak the outrage and indignation that's in his heart, to perhaps the only person who can understand what he's saying. Instinct seals his lips. The pale face below him still belongs, more than half, to the other side of the river; it's still weighted by the heavy marks of regret, resignation and death. If Fu Chai's stirred a glowing coal of curiosity in him- a small redness shining through the grey ash of Gou Jian's bitter weariness- he dares not risk putting it out by too strong measures. Breathe gently, let it grow slowly into flame-- let it call his adversary back from the places he's gone to so that in time Fu Chai may find himself with---
---with what, he doesn't know, and is half-afraid to guess.
"Because," he says, "it is Our will so to do. King of Yue, do you consent? Come to Our kingdom in a week, with your wife and chief generals, and serve Us as We require. Do this and your temple will remain standing, your fields will rest unburned, your people will still be citizens of Yue under the guidance of whatever ministers you leave to govern them. Yue will acknowledge our sovereignty but will stay independent of Wu. Fail in this and We will turn our armies loose on your country. What do you say?"
"Your servant," is what he says.
Fu Chai nods. No more than this, his instincts say, no more openness than this, the man is a soldier and a king and must believe that a soldier and a king is who he speaks to, one who won't hesitate to do him harm. He's quick- he'll grab any opening he's given and use it against you. And he mustn't, not yet.
Gou Jian looks down. Looks away to the side. Who does he speak to, who does he consult, as his eyes search the shadows? Too far away to tell. He turns back, looks up at Fu Chai.
"Very well." He shrugs, all but. "In a week's time We will see you in Wu." He turns.
Gou Jian looks back.
"Shouldn't you yield me your sword in token of submission?" Fu Chai says, a friendly suggestion.
Gou Jian's head arches infinitisimally. He regards Fu Chai from under his brows and down his nose: which should be impossible, when Fu Chai is sitting fifteen feet above him, but Gou Jian manages it with no difficulty at all.
"Your servant needs his sword," he says politely, "for use in his master's service." Turns, and walks down the length of the hall to where Fu Chai loses sight of him in the sudden light that bursts through the opening doors.
Which is as nothing to the light of gladness that bursts open then in Fu Chai's heart, to his own immense astonishment.