Fu Chai sleeps soundly with Gou Jian beside him. The last thing he sees at night is Gou Jian kneeling by the bedside: Gou Jian's white homespun robe, Gou Jian's black hair, Gou Jian's dark eyes shadowy in the flickering light of the lamp. It gives Fu Chai a sense of peace, of accomplishment. 'Where I want him,' he thinks in obscure content, and closes his eyes.
But one night he can't sleep. A fitful wind blows through the palace, hinting at storms to come. Fu Chai calls for another covering, calls for warmed wine. He turns his head from side to side on the pillow and then gives up. 'Have them bring the board,' he says to Gou Jian. The king of Yue places the stones as he used to and they play a match. And another, and another. Fu Chai's heavy eyes watch Gou Jian's hands placing the stones. Thin fingers with tapering nails, the knuckles small and square, putting each stone down precisely.
Fu Chai jerks a little, looks up.
'Will the Great Lord begin?'
'Ah.' Odd. He'd always thought Gou Jian had thin lips, the mouth of a man bent single-minded on his goal. The moustache hides so much. In fact Gou Jian's lower lip is full and soft, vulnerable, the mouth of a sensualist--
Fu Chai blinks. Fuzzy-headed, wool-gathering. Gou Jian's eyes are watching him. Polite, quizzical, not vulnerable at all. Fu Chai starts to smile, opens his mouth to make a joke of it, stops. If you smile at Gou Jian, Gou Jian at once withdraws, a snail pulling in its horns and curling up in its shell. Fu Chai looks at his captive, really looks for the first time.
He's the enemy, he thinks. Wu Zi Xu is right. This man wants to bring down my kingdom. What do I think I'm doing?
He looks down at the stones.
'Do you ever get the feeling that we're being played with, the two of us, the same as these stones?'
A startled movement. 'No.'
'Well *I* do.' He slaps the board and the stones go jumping. 'I can feel other men's hands putting me into position, other men's wills telling me how to move. And those hands and wills belong to dead men. The living I can fight, but the dead-- they're invisible, all around me, and their weight is everywhere. Fighting them is like catching hold of water. It drives Us mad.' He glares at Gou Jian. 'Tell me you don't know what We're talking about. Go ahead.'
Gou Jian's eyes shift away. The sensual lips purse painfully. He says nothing. His silence is the sweetest thing Fu Chai has ever heard.
Fu Chai sighs, happy and suddenly tired. He puts his arms on the disarranged board and leans forward. 'We won't have it,' he tells Gou Jian, friendly. 'We'll change it. My chancellor can fight Us and you can fight Us-- and you will; We know how both of you work-- but it's going to be different. I won't be anyone's pawn.' He leans back and waves at the board. 'Take these away. We'll sleep now.'
Gou Jian picks up the pieces and the board. He stops, just a moment, before retiring. He gives Fu Chai a look-- hooded, inscrutable, but somewhere very far down, Fu Chai thinks, he seems... could it be, hopeful?