Fu Chai is growing impatient. Gou Jian stands silently at meal times and watches him eat. Gou Jian walks silent a pace behind him- with a guard on each side keeping their hands on their swords and their eyes on Gou Jian- and listens to his conversation. Gou Jian's eyes are on him always, dark, silent and watchful. Fu Chai would like to believe this close scrutiny represents an interest on Gou Jian's part, or at least the caution of a prisoner towards the man who can have him killed tomorrow. But he has his doubts.
For in the evenings Gou Jian converses with him easily, referring to his new servile status just enough to make it seem a sort of joke between them. Gou Jian is a king playing at being a servant.
And isn't that what I wanted?
No, not quite. Gou Jian is Fu Chai's prisoner. Fu Chai could kill Gou Jian if he wanted to. Gou Jian should show some awareness of that in his attitude, and he doesn't.
"There's the pride of the stiff-necked princes of Yue," Wu Zi Xu tells him. "He bears himself as king of Yue still. He'll never submit, Majesty, and you'll never make him submit, either to the facts or to yourself."
"He bears himself as king of Yue because he is king of Yue," Fu Chai says. "Even you address him as that."
"To remind him how far he's fallen. A proper man would end his life rather than live with the disgrace of serving his country's enemy."
"Why do you think I'm the enemy of Yue?"
"Because Yue is the enemy of your Majesty. They killed your father. Perhaps you had forgotten?"
Fu Chai ignores the jab. "I remember. They killed my father in Yue. What was my father doing in Yue to be killed there?"
Wu Zi Xu frowns at him as if he's demented.
"My father attacked their country. Should the men of Yue have held their hands when the king of Wu crossed their borders? That's not how it's usually done in war."
Fu Chai raises a hand as if conceding a point. "Fine, fine. You say they shouldn't have killed my father when he invaded them because it's wrong to kill invading kings. So there, my lord Chancellor, you have the reason I didn't kill Gou Jian when he invaded us."
"Where did Your Majesty get these insane notions from? This comes of having Gou Jian by you all the time. He poisons your Majesty with his thoughts--"
"Do you think so? Cast your mind back a little. It was my father and my brother who wanted war with Yue. I tried to negotiate peace. Where was the enemy of Yue then?"
Wu Zi Xu takes a deep breath. "Your Majesty tried to deal fairly with traitors, and they betrayed your Majesty. Gou Jian talked of peace to cover his preparations for war. He can't be trusted. He's proved that, again and again. Why will your Majesty not *see* this?"
"Wu talked peace while we prepared for war as well. We entertained Yue's ambassador- eventually, when you permitted it, Chancellor- and built ourselves a navy in the meantime. What reason did Gou Jian have to trust us? Prince Lei had already used my sister-in-law's flight as an excuse to wring land from them and grind their pride in the dust. Wu is a tiger to Yue. I think we should stop being tigers."
"Your Majesty has no desire to gain the hegemony for Wu?" Wu Zi Xu asks in a very polite and distinct fashion.
"Every desire. That's why I want Yue behind me when I head north. Supporting me with men and troops and guarding my back, not turned into a wasteland full of starving people who curse my name-- and ally themselves with any strong man who promises to bring me down. Heaven listens to the wretched and punishes the outrageous, Chancellor."
Wu Zi Xu clenches his hands. His mouth is tight with anger but he keeps himself from saying whatever it is that agitates him so. Then he lets loose a long breath.
"Very well, your Majesty. Your Majesty is determined to pursue a phantom. Your old councillor will keep his peace from now on."
"On this subject, yes, perhaps you should. We'll never agree. However, We wish to hear your advice on another matter."
"Whichever way I may serve your Majesty," Wu Zi Xu says, making a point of the impatience in his voice.
"I want Gou Jian alive. A number of people want him dead. Which do you think would be most effective- issuing a proclamation that no one is to lift a hand against him and his, on pain of death? Or bringing his generals back to guard him?"
Wu Zi Xu's lips lengthen. He looks at Fu Chai's genial expression with a banked fury that makes Fu Chai smile more broadly. The Chancellor pauses, cocks his head and regards his king.
"Bring his generals back," Wu Zi Xu says, "and keep them by him. With them under guard in turn, of course."
It's Fu Chai's turn for thin lipped anger. But he nods and waves dismissal, and when his chancellor has gone, gets up and paces.
Of course he understands Wu Zi Xu's thoughts. He grew up in the great man's shadow. Of course he can't make Gou Jian out so easily. The two of them are still strangers. For a moment he wishes he could change them over- be as familiar with Gou Jian's thinking as he is with Wu Zi Xu's and have that deep mind at work in his service. And play chess with the Chancellor and try to read Wu Zi Xu's purposes therefrom.
And then wonders, with a stab of disquiet, whether he doesn't do that very thing. The chancellor has always kept things from him, and his reasons for doing so never ring quite right in Fu Chai's ears. Gou Jian is his enemy, open and declared, whom Fu Chai thinks might turn into something else. Wu Zi Xu is his councillor, the faithful servant and friend of Wu-- but not, Fu Chai begins to think, always or necessarily the faithful servant and friend of Fu Chai.