And debate politics they did until I finally arrived at something that remotely resembled action.
31_days Woxin AU
Title: Mexican standoff
Day/Theme: August 21: when you open up your wings to speak
Character/Pairing: Gou Jian, Fu Chai
"Wage peace?" Fu Chai snorts. "Wage *peace*? And how do you go about doing that?"
"How do you treat a wounded man?" Gou Jian counters. "A soldier bleeding after a battle? Send him under the surgeon's knife? Give him strong purgatives? March him straightaway onto a new battlefield?"
"What's that got to do with it?" Fu Chai waves the question away, frowning annoyance. "The best thing for the wounded is rest-- if they can get it."
"Exactly. Rest and good food. The land is wounded, you're right about that. So you must let it rest from battle. Dismiss the levied troops. Send them back to their farms to plant crops. See to it that the people are well-fed so that women bear healthy children and those children grow up strong. Rear animals to nourish the soil with their dung. Store grain against lean times and distribute it to the poor and weak before giving it to the rich and strong." Fu Chai is looking bored at these time-worn admonitions. "Then you can lend to other nations in need," Gou Jian says abruptly, "so you have allies during your own hard times."
"A strong nation doesn't need allies." Fu Chai's voice is solid with certainty.
"That's what the north thinks. You just told me what comes of that. Each nation strives to be the most powerful, each tries to dominate the others, and the only result is to weaken them all. Do you truly believe Wu is strong enough to do without friends? One year of bad harvests, one year of plague, and Wu will be a withered gourd that falls from the vine. Even now, Chu is worth three of you--"
"Wu defeated Chu--!"
"Because the kings of Chu are arrogant and suspicious and drive their best advisors away. How would Wu have fared if Wu Zi Xu had stayed in his homeland?"
"He didn't. The question is meaningless."
"How will Wu fare now, when the king of Chu has an advisor equal to Wu Zi Xu?"
"He does?" Fu Chai sits up straight.
"He does for all you know. Even the weather isn't sure to be favourable two years running. Don't count on kings to be fools for two generations in a row."
"The kings of Chu have been fools for three," Fu Chai says, smug.
"And you're determined to follow their example. We'll save our breath from now on. Good day to you, king of Wu." He stands up.
"Sit down," Fu Chai barks. Gou Jian looks at him, lips thin with distaste under his moustache.
"We are not as arrogant as the king of Chu," Fu Chai tells him, holding on to his temper. "We heed the advice of men of talent, even when they're foreigners." Gou Jian says nothing. "Even when they're our enemy. Strengthen Wu, you say. Make it prosperous. But what good is our prosperity without power among the nations?"
"What good?" Gou Jian says, seating himself again. "Your people are happy and no one starves within your borders. That's not enough?"
"Not when people starve outside our borders because their rulers are idiots. Certainly not when prosperity draws the greedy eyes of other nations to our riches. A warlike attitude from us will guarantee their respect."
"It will guarantee their fear. 'Wu is warlike and mighty-- how long before it sends its army to our lands?'"
"We've done our best to allay those fears. 'Wu conquered Yue but the country was unharmed. Its temple still stands and its king remains alive.' The kings may fear our coming, but the people who suffer beneath them will be glad of it."
Gou Jian shifts in impatience. "You still don't see it. You can't see it. Your father's son through and through-- you have to subjugate, you have to wage war, you can't just leave other nations alone. If you want to be a virtuous ruler there's a much better way to go about it. And it doesn't kill people and burn crops."
"We're glad to hear it. What?"
"Draw men of peace to your side."
"Trade," Gou Jian says, clearly near the end of his patience. "Learning. Prosperity. Gold, then, if you want it in those terms. Draw foreign merchants to you as you draw foreign scholars. They're the ones who'll build your country's wealth." He gets up and starts to pace. "That canal you're digging to send your troops to the north-- why not actually use it for trade as you claim to do? Send your grain north, bring their products south. Get a reputation for generosity and their craftsmen and metalworkers will come as well. It's not just advisors that one can import from foreign courts. And unlike advisors, craftsmen take apprentices, so the art is passed on to your own people."
"Attract foreigners to us." Fu Chai lip purse. "Draw them to our country. Dazzle them with promises, welcome them warmly, use them for our own ends."
Gou Jian gives him an inquiring look, head tilted sideways.
"Like a whore angling for clients." Fu Chai makes a decided gesture. "Not likely!"
An odd pause. Then Gou Jian shrugs.
"Has the Great Lord any further use for his servant?"
Fu Chai opens his mouth and closes it again. He's not about to let Gou Jian evade him again.
"You attacked our country. Where was your peace then?"
"We were trying to ensure it. But of course--" Gou Jian seats himself across from Fu Chai once more and leans towards him, "--we hadn't learned the wisdom of adversity then. We didn't know what happens when Heaven turns its face from kings. Now we do. But if the Great Lord doesn't care to learn from the experience of others--" He smiles suddenly-- smiles for no reason at all, warm and friendly. Fu Chai feels disoriented, as if discovering that all this time he'd been having a different conversation entirely.
"If we don't--?"
The smile vanishes. Fu Chai is looking into the cold narrow black eyes of an adversary.
"Heaven may well teach him as it did us."