A soldier comes next morning to Gou Jian's little cottage. "King of Yue, henceforth you will go to the palace at sunset to attend the Great Lord through the night, and return home after he has broken his morning fast. I will be back this evening to conduct you there. Be ready!" and he rides off without waiting for a reply.
Gou Jian watches him go, then turns to sit in the sun on the bench outside his house. Ya Yu brings him his morning rice. He nods to the place beside him and she sits down.
"Your Majesty will at least be able to eat his evening meal at the proper hour now," she observes.
"True." He finds a small piece of meat and puts it in his mouth, chewing.
"Majesty, what does the King of Wu mean by this? Does he intend to lay insult on your Majesty after all this time?"
He looks vaguely amused. "You don't call *this*-" he jerks his chin at their tiny house and hempen robes- "an insult?"
"I think the king of Wu meant it as mercy. Compared with what he might have done, surely it is? Has something changed to make him act differently now?"
"Mhh. Nothing's changed abroad. Fu Chai wars on kings who are quite prepared to submit to him. The fact that We're still alive reassures them, exactly as he intended it to. Maybe he grows confident in his successes." His mouth crooks. "But it's more likely something at home. He plays a game for power with his Chancellor and I'm the stakes they play for, even if he denies that's what he does." Ya Yu nods. "Now, if something has changed between those two- if Wu Zi Xu has taken to balking the king, or treating him with coldness- then Fu Chai might well degrade Us in an attempt to appease him."
"Surely he knows--" Ya Yu doesn't finish the sentence.
"He must know. Wu Zi Xu is never satisfied short of his enemy's death. Fu Chai..." He frowns; shakes his head slowly. "Fu Chai thinks well of himself, but he can't possibly believe Wu Zi Xu will ever give in to him where We're concerned."
Ya Yu's hands pick specks of dirt off her robe. "I met the King of Wu only once. I thought him an idealist. The Rites of Zhou, the Way of Heaven- he wants them to be true."
"No. He wants men to see him as one who follows the Rites and the Way. If they interfere with his real desires, out the window they go!"
"Your Majesty understands the mind of a king more clearly than your servant can. But I believe those ideas still have a hold on the King of Wu's soul. When his actions run contrary to their dictates, your Majesty could point that fact out to him and so perhaps check his injustice."
Gou Jian smiles at her. "Is it more unjust to treat Us as a chamber servant than as a groom? Surely it's a step up?"
Ya Yu looks at her hands. "The servants in the King's inner chambers are all women. And eunuchs."
Gou Jian laughs out loud at that. "*That* would be so far from the Rites and the Way that even a king of Wu must balk at it." He puts a hand on Ya Yu's. "That isn't what he's after."
She glances at him sideways. "No," he says to her look, "We don't know what he's after. He probably doesn't know himself. We'll find out eventually."
"If Yue had won the war and the King of Wu survived and become your Majesty's prisoner, what would your Majesty have done with him?"
"What... What indeed?" His eyes flicker over an unseen landscape. "Demanded his complete surrender. Taken sureties from him. Stationed our troops in Wu." He lets loose a breath, exasperated and amused. "Wondered why he couldn't have died properly in battle and not made problems for Us in the first place."
"Would you have defied your counsellors and generals in order to make certain he stayed alive?"
He shifts irritably on the bench. "*I* have no stubborn old counsellor to be brought to heel. I *brought* my father's old counsellor to heel. Fu Chai needs a battleground to try his wits against Wu Zi Xu. I'm it." He looks at her averted face. "Why don't you believe that?"
"Your servant does. But I think there's more to it than that. I spoke much with your Majesty's sister before- before she went back to Wu. The king of Wu's mother died young. It was Ji Wan who was closest to him- like an older sister." She can feel the drop in temperature. She turns her head and looks directly at Gou Jian. "Perhaps the king of Wu's feelings towards our country and... our family aren't as simple as one might think?"
He takes his hand away. He's angry. The mention of his sister always makes him angry. But the King's anger is never as simple as one might think, either.
"We will remember that," he says.