The wrongs done to Yue, the wrongs done to Yue's king, the wrongs done to Yue's royal family-- in a word, the wrongs done to him, are no longer to be borne. Angry and violent, Wu has violated the balance; arrogant and greedy, Wu has transgressed against the Way of Heaven. Gou Jian takes the field, but not with the insolent pride of his adversary. With cold resignation, for he knows how many of the men here won't return; with cold outrage that they've been forced into these straits; above all with cold determination, for now there's no other way to keep Yue safe from Wu's overweening desire for conquest.
His army marches forth as it did before, to secure his borders against the ravening wolves on the other side.
His army is defeated. Heaven is not with Gou Jian. Heaven has chosen Wu.
And here by the banks of a river running with blood, with snow flying between them, Gou Jian looks into the face of the man who saw it all beforehand and hears the voice of truth, simple and direct.
"Was my Majesty incompetent?"
"Was my Majesty a fool?
Sweat begins on his forehead, in spite of the cold. The truth is growing clear before his eyes, and in a minute he'll see the shape it wears.
"Should my Majesty die to make amends to his people?"
And now he comes to the final question. He opens slow lips.
"Did I betray my country?"
Yes. He doesn't need to be told now how he did it, but Fan Li must say it anyway so that the truth can be heard aloud. Angry and violent, Gou Jian began a war of revenge he couldn't win. Arrogant and greedy, Gou Jian reached his hand to take what wasn't his. Gou Jian violated the Way of Heaven and now the whole land bears Heaven's punishment of his overweening desire for conquest.
He puts up his sword. He looks in silence at the kneeling man who has just urged him to do the impossible, the unthinkable. In silence he turns and mounts his horse, and his generals watch him in silence, and in silence the blowing snow settles on Fan Li's hair, and in Fan Li's beard, and melts on Fan Li's face like tears. Gou Jian's pride and ambition blow away from him on the cold wind that scatters snow on the winter land of Yue.
"Maybe some day you can be my counsellor again," he says, and turns his horse's head for the long ride back to his city and the nothing that waits for him there.