Day/Theme: Weds Feb.4 - But to hear the mermaids singing
Series: Woxin Changdan AU cont'd
Character/Pairing: Bo Pi, Fan Li
Bo Pi has Fan Li brought from his distant barracks once again. The clean clothes he gave him last time are soiled from daily wear, and his hair is still bound back with a strip of cloth. Bo Pi offers him the usual food and drink and watches while he consumes them with gusto.
Finished, Fan Li thanks him with casual grace, and sits back.
"Now, how about offering me a bath?"
"Naturally. I assumed you'd want to take the edge off your appetite first." Bo Pi gestures to a servant, who goes off to make the preparations.
"Thank you." Fan Li surveys his dirty nails.
"You know, you can change your present situation any time you want to," Bo Pi reminds him. "I hope you've reconsidered my previous offer."
"A king's councillor must be prepared to endure hardship in his service," Fan Li says happily. "All the more so when his king has been defeated."
"Perhaps that defeat is a sign that he serves the wrong king."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps he just gave his king the wrong advice."
"And did you?" Bo Pi asks, smiling as if they share a joke.
"I must have. The king was defeated, was he not?"
Bo Pi sighs. "Fan Li, your loyalty to Gou Jian does you credit. But if you're really attached to your king, the best way to help him is to help mine."
"Really attached?" His tone manages to suggest insult where the words carry none.
Bo Pi is not one to be upset by sneers. He gives Fan Li a calm look. "You enjoy Gou Jian's favour as I enjoyed King Helu's. I think I know what that involves."
"No," Fan Li says, and looks away. "I don't think you do."
"Kings want what they want. One must give it to them. The alternative-" Bo Pi's lips flatten in brief sour memory-- "is to find oneself without a country, or dead."
"You could have gone back to Chu after the invasion," Fan Li reminds him.
"And served the same king who threw you out?" Bo Pi snorts his amusement: "Helu was the safer bet. Energy, ambition, ability. And his son has the same qualities. Master Fan, I'm not asking for much. Just let me present you to the King so you can form your own opinion of him."
"Bo Pi, think what you're asking of me. If this last battle had gone differently-- if your king were now prisoner in Yue-- would *you* come crawling to Gou Jian with offers of service?" He pauses. "You would, wouldn't you?"
"Yes I would. To secure his comfort and maybe his release, and my comfort and my own, why not?"
"Release? Fu Chai will never release the king of Yue. Wu Zi Xu won't let him."
"Wu Zi Xu is an old man, and the king is young."
"Kings want what they want, and Fu Chai wants to be king as his father was, not the Chancellor's biddable godson. I give it a year or two, and then..."
Fan Li considers. "You may be right. But meanwhile my king's life hangs by a thread."
"All the more reason to use what talent you have to keep him safe."
"Go to work for the conqueror of Yue. You know my king will see that as betrayal?"
"Does your king know as little of you as that?"
Fan Li flinches before he can stop himself. "Bo Pi---." He looks down at his hands, thoughts churning.
"Bo Pi," he says at last. "You ought to understand my position. If we were in Xi or Jin it might be different. But these southerners-- We're foreigners in their country, always. Kings make use of us, they listen to our advice and follow our strategy, and sometimes we bring them victory and prestige and then they reward us with riches and honour. But do these kings trust us, ever, in their hearts? I don't think they do."
Bo Pi sits back and looks at his young compatriot. "Helu trusted Wu Zi Xu. Fu Chai trusts me. Do you mean 'kings' or do you mean 'Gou Jian'? What are your fears telling you, Master Fan?"
Fan Li looks at him a long moment.
"I think they're telling me that it's Fan Li who's failed to trust his king."
Bo Pi throws up his hands. "I would hope you're not a total fool. No, you can't place your trust in kings. I did-- Wu Zi Xu's father did-- and look what happened. I'm not talking about loyalty. You can be loyal all your life. But you can't give your whole heart to any one person. You have to keep something apart for yourself."
Fan Li's eyes are sad. He says, more to himself than Bo Pi, "I don't think the King of Yue will let me keep something for myself."
Bo Pi looses a breath of pure vexation. "What *is* all this?" he demands. "Why-- What is it about Gou Jian that makes *everyone* fall in love with him??"
Fan Li sits up, all melancholy vanished. "Everyone? Now who do you mean by that?"
Bo Pi looks away, hiding confusion. "You-- Wen Zhong-- men of learning and sense." He turns back, on the attack. "You can't trust Gou Jian an inch. Heaven knows I rarely ever agree with the Chancellor, but he's right on that point. I can understand backing Gou Jian for his talents and trusting to his luck, but surely you can see that it's insane to let it go any further than that."
Silence. Fan Li seems to be looking inward. "Yes," he says, at last. "Yes, you're right about that." He smiles at Bo Pi, all urbane self-possession again. "Recommend me to your king, Minister, and Fan Li will see what poor use his talents can be put to."
"Good!" Bo Pi in turn becomes all sunshine. "I'm very glad you've come to this decision."
"Not at all. My grateful thanks for your all your kindness. And, Minister--"
"But of course."
Bo Pi purses his lips as he watches the servants usher Fan Li out. A calculated gamble, but one he thinks will pan out. Fan Li has brains, and Fu Chai is more likely to appreciate his advice than Gou Jian ever did. Fan Li has looks too, and charm if he chooses to employ it. Most of all, Fan Li is a courtier, a young courtier, and so the proper object of a king's attention. Bo Pi knows a little of Fan Li's family; he's heard the early stories of his wildness. Variable, changeable, a pursuer of women and lover of wine. He tried once to free himself of the King of Yue, and failed. But now-- away from Gou Jian's fascination, with a career opening before him in Wu, and Bo Pi to help with the natural desire of a young man to enjoy himself-- Bo Pi gives a swift lopsided smile. Yes, everything looks set for fair sailing.
As Bo Pi's servants scrub Fan Li's back, Fan Li turns his thoughts inwards. Everyone? Now who is it that the minister has observed yielding to Gou Jian's fascination, and why is he so worried by it? Fan Li is quite certain he knows, and his heart sinks.
Surely the king knows what he's doing. He remembers a few passages from their own history. No, it's not sure at all. The Great Lord may be walking into a tiger pit, all the while thinking he stands on solid ground. I can only try, once again, to pull him back from the edge. Or else--- He grimaces. Or else, this time, throw myself in first.