'For now we see as through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.'
Gou Jian returns just after dawn. Ya Yu has water heated and tea made. She washes his face and neck, takes off his shoes and washes his feet. Gou Jian sips his tea, eyes closed. She dries him with another cloth and reaches for his shoes.
"Leave them," he says. He stands and removes his cape. "The day will be hot." He turns to the little inner room where their sleeping pallets lie, and she follows to cover the window with what spare clothing she has and drapes Gou Jian's cape over the doorway to block the day's light and heat. Gou Jian stretches out and she sits beside him. Most days he falls asleep with her hand in his, but today he puts his arms beneath his head and stares up at the ceiling.
"He issued the edict to gain our surrender," he says, with a fierceness the fact scarcely seems to warrant. "Otherwise we would never have done it. He'd have wasted his army's time trying to secure Yue, his own time trying to oust us from whatever country we took shelter in-- He could never leave Yue as long as we were alive and free and able to make trouble. And he's itching to attack the north. He wanted his rear secured. That's the reason he kept us alive."
Ya Yu waits to see what this is about.
"He placed us next to him to taunt Wu Zi Xu, or so we thought. To serve notice to him that the king was going to be his own man from now on. But he's more subtle than I'd ever have imagined. He's doing it to force Wu Zi Xu's hand-- to make him kill us outright. Fu Chai keeps us close by his side, he keeps us alone with him at night, so the Chancellor will think we're pouring poison into his ear. He knows Wu Zi Xu won't put up with that-- can't afford to. Not now that he's asking our advice on policy." He looses an angry breath. "And when we're dead, no matter by whose hand, Fu Chai will execute Wu Zi Xu for not stopping it."
"He will?" Ya Yu says in shock.
"He said as much this evening, in hearing of the Chancellor's spies." He snorts, unamused. "And Bo Pi's too. I wonder if he's thinking of doing away with him as well? Probably not. It's the Chancellor he wants to be rid of-- probably always has. Having him alive is like having his father's hand still on the reins. Fu Chai can't do what he wants, and he chafes to be free." He pauses, and Ya Yu can guess what he's thinking. The situation wasn't so very different for them, not so long ago.
Gou Jian's voice turns thoughtful. "Wu Zi Xu's prestige among the nations is such that Fu Chai must have a good reason for his death. Otherwise he risks censure, possibly even from Zhou itself. But if Wu Zi Xu is guilty of shaming the king of Wu, of breaking the king's oath to Zhou, who will blame Fu Chai then? And so he kills two birds with one stone. Yue is his, and there's no one here to block his path."
"Surely the Chancellor will see that danger too, and hold his hand?"
"Of course he'll see it. He's not a fool. But he may well think it worth his life to have us dead at last." He snorts again. "He finds me more terrible than I do myself-- a man with no shame and no honour, who became the servant of his enemy to save his own skin."
"To save his land and people and the temple of his ancestors."
"How convenient that that was part of the bargain. No matter. We don't care what people think of us. We care about staying alive. That may not be possible any longer. But if we're going to die, we'll see that Fu Chai dies with us."
Ya Yu nods. "Your Majesty's reasoning is sound. But your Majesty is wrong."
"If the king was like his chancellor, then yes, he might plan something this devious. But he's not. His mind works differently--"
Gou Jian sits up in fury. "He wants people to believe his mind works differently! There's no difference between them! He thinks like Wu Zi Xu does, that men are all fools who'll believe any nonsense if it's what they want to hear. He thinks us no better than a woman, who'll swallow his sweet words and his bare-faced lies! 'We are not the enemy of Yue!' And you'd believe that! Where is your sense?!"
Ya Yu is used to her husband's rages. "Your pardon. Your servant is only a woman who knows nothing of statecraft."
Gou Jian looks at her, breathing heavily. "You still want to believe him. You still think Fu Chai can be trusted." He spits out the last word.
Ya Yu looks down and doesn't answer.
"Well, what?! Tell us your reasons!"
"Your Majesty was pleased when Fu Chai became king."
"Better him than any of his brothers!"
"But Fu Chai came seeking to make peace with Yue."
"He sought to delude us-- asking for peace while preparing for war."
Ya Yu sighs. "Majesty, why did Yue lose the war?"
"Heaven was not with us."
"Why was Heaven not with Yue?"
"Because--" He stops abruptly, realizing the answer will give her the game. And says it anyway. "Because we began the war with Wu. We invaded them. But we had to! Wu would have invaded us sooner or later. Fu Chai is ambitious. He wants to bring down Chu! How can he do that with Yue unconquered at his back!"
"He could do it with his brother king of Yue guarding his rear."
"We are *not* his brother!" He hunches away from her, puts his arms on his lap and stares at the floor. Ya Yu lets him work it out himself. Gou Jian breathes impatience. "Is that what he wants? Brothers? How can he think it?"
"It wasn't Fu Chai who bullied Yue. It wasn't Fu Chai who wronged our family. Fu Chai was always different from his father and brothers. Your Majesty says he's determined to be his own man, in spite of the Chancellor, in spite of the unhappiness between our countries. If the king of Wu is sincere and your Majesty throws his overtures back in his face, Heaven will go on keeping its face turned from Yue."
"If Fu Chai is sincere!" Gou Jian throws up his hands. "Would a sincere man play with us as he does? Would he be so whimsical, so capricious, so unconventional? Making us his servant-- commanding us to serve in his bedchamber-- trying to keep us off-balance-- is that sincerity?" he roars.
Ya Yu looks at him. Her lips twitch, her chest tightens. She can't help herself: she puts her hands over her face and doubles up in an agony of silent laughter.
She gasps, chokes down her mirth, and lifts a flushed wet face.
"Majesty-- oh, your Majesty. Forgive your servant." Laughter grabs at her lips again.
He's confused more than angry. He shakes his head a little in impatience. She takes a deep breath.
"Does your Majesty recall the means he used to persuade Ling Gu Fu over to his side?"
"And Fan Li? And Wen Zhong? And--"
He holds up a hand, his mouth working to find an answer. There isn't one and they both know it. He flings himself down on his back, laughing silently to himself.
"Ya Yu," he says, "ohh, Ya Yu. Here, lie beside us." She curls up next to him. It's time he was asleep; the day is getting on. He turns on his side to hold her and his breathing begins to change. She thinks he's finally gone when he says into her shoulder, "Is *that* what he thinks he's doing?"