(ETA: why one shouldn't do research. Had to check the DVDs for a reasonable neighbouring country, found myself on the last disk, watched the last ep even though I know better, am now dehydrated.)
The Domestic Tiger
The women undress Fu Chai, wash his torso in warm water, wrap him in his sleeping gown. One unfastens his coronet and Fu Chai's loosened hair tumbles past his shoulders. Another comes with the comb and takes a lock in her delicate fingers. The king raises a hand to stop her.
"Gou Jian. Comb Our hair."
The king of Yue comes forward in silence, in silence accepts the comb from the waiting woman, in silence runs it through the thick strong hair. Fu Chai sighs contentedly. Shortly thereafter his shoulders relax, his eyes close, and he leans back a little in his chair. Gou Jian works steadily, gently teasing out the small snags and kinks as he listens to Fu Chai's breath. He's practically purring.
"Good," Fu Chai says, "that's good. Don't stop." He says, eyes still closed, "If you were going to conquer Chu, how would you do it?"
I wouldn't. I'd start with Cai. "We are the king of Wu's servant. We do the things a servant does, such as combing the Great Lord's hair. We are not the king of Wu's advisor."
Fu Chai sighs, in annoyance this time, eyes snapping open. "Very well. Shall we make you our advisor as well as our servant?"
"And why not?"
Gou Jian says, without inflection, "You ask the enemy of Wu to advise its king on policy?"
Fu Chai's eyebrows go up. "*Are* you the enemy of Wu?"
The question catches Gou Jian off-balance, but he answers at once. "We waged war on your country. What do you call that?"
Fu Chai says slowly, "Policy, perhaps? You didn't trust Wu not to attack you, so you attacked first. It made sense under the circumstances. We might have done the same." He turns to look, unsmiling, into Gou Jian's eyes. "But now you know Us better. We are not the enemy of Yue. You wouldn't be here if We were."
Gou Jian has the sensation of seeing the sun rise in the west. When a man sees the sun rise in the west he's either too fuddled to know where he is or the world has gone mad. He drags the sun firmly back into the east again--
"If the Chancellor heard what your Majesty has just proposed, our life and the lives of all our people here would be worth nothing."
"You think We cannot protect you from our Chancellor?"
"Must We answer that question?"
"Gou Jian, you are insolent!"
"Fu Chai," Gou Jian says deliberately, "you are unintelligent."
The world hangs in balance. What he can see of Fu Chai's face has the frozen look of a man who's been run through. Then the eyes narrow again, the lips turn up at the corner, Fu Chai's shoulders go down. Fu Chai sits, smiling at nothing. Gou Jian waits.
"You see," the king says to the world in general, "I know which of my women work for the Chancellor--" He waves behind him: "It's the one on the right there, and the little attendant with the mole; and which for Bo Pi-- that'd be the one on the left, and my chief bath attendant. And the one in the outer hallway with the round face, she's Wang Sun Luo's. Anything We say here gets reported back to them. So now We say, if anything regrettable should happen to our guests from Yue, and most especially to our royal servant, and We are shamed before the king of Zhou to whom We swore to guarantee the king of Yue's safety, the fault will lie with our ministers whose duty it was to maintain the honour of Wu. Their deaths will not be sufficient to wipe out the stain." He turns his head again and gives Gou Jian a creamy look. "Good enough?"
Gou Jian takes a deep breath.
"We are still the king of Wu's servant," he points out, "and We have never been any man's advisor."
"Good, good. Then you may remain our servant. And go on combing our hair; you do it very well." Gou Jian picks up another strand of hair. "Now tell us, if you were the king of Wu, how would you go about conquering Chu?"
"We wouldn't. We would begin with Cai."