December 5: glorious eyes that smile and burn
Sometimes Wen Zhong finds it necessary to state the obvious, and state it many times, because the obvious seems never to have occurred to a lot of people. It's odd that Fan Li should be such a one, since his junior colleague sees so many things that others don't. But here Wen Zhong is, telling Fan Li that the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east.
"We're advisors. It's our work. What we do. Counselling kings on the best policy, helping them govern their countries. Leading their armies, in your case. It's a noble career, the best career open to a gentleman."
"Is it?" Fan Li asks, looking at his wine cup.
"Yes." Wen Zhong sighs in exasperation at Fan Li's perversity. "What greater work can there be than bringing prosperity to a country?"
"To a country that's not ours."
Wen Zhong sighs. Wen Zhong shrugs. "It wasn't our fate to serve the King of Chu. But fate was kind, leading us to the King of Yue. Neither of us would have prospered at home."
"In fact both of us would have been dead in very short order."
"Yet you still have regrets about not serving in Chu?"
"I have no regrets about not serving the king of my homeland. Chu isn't worthy of my talents. Or yours," Fan Li adds in generous afterthought. "But face facts. Kings are children at heart. Is it fitting for men like us to expend our talents as nurse-maids to infants? Powerful and capricious infants, who hold the lives of half a million men in their hands and will crush them as easily as a child does a quail's egg?"
Wen Zhong frowns. "I grant you the point for many kings. The king of Chu, the king of Wu, the king of Jin. They need the guidance of adults. But our king is no child."
"No," Fan Li says gloomily into his cup. "He's a cat. He eats men from the head downwards, and so delicately that his meals never even think to object."
This time Fan Li has gone too far. Affronted to the depths of his soul, Wen Zhong opens his mouth in protest. And stops.
The King of Yue... He had no expectations of the king of Yue. A dangerous element, a stranger to civil behaviour, one who would peremptorily snatch an ambassador away from service to his proper master and drag him back to his own Great Hall. Wen Zhong would never kneel to such a one. Wen Zhong knows his duty, which is to return to Chu and pay the penalty for his failure. Perfectly aware of the facts of his position and quite certain of what is what, he walks into Yue's Great Hall determined to deal with this unmannerly interruption as quickly as possible. Atop the dais is a man in black who looks down at him with eyes that know everything there is to know about Wen Zhong and a crooking smile that promises-- that promises--
Wen Zhong had no idea what it promised, but suddenly it seemed the most sensible thing in the world to kneel and swear his life-long loyalty to the king of Yue. The odd thing is that it still seems sensible to him now. He looks at Fan Li, and opens his mouth and closes his mouth and opens his mouth again. But for once in his life Wen Zhong, who sees the hearts of others and plays them like an instrument, who sees the world as it is without fear or hope, who is invincible thereby and knows it, cannot find the words to speak at all.