They met him in the castle corridor, blocking his way so he was forced to stop his restless pacing.
"Gouen, enough of this. What takes you from your wonted habits so?"
He regarded his two older brothers in close-face silence. "Heart-ache," he said at last, "and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to--"
"It is?" Goukou blinked, as puzzled Goushou asked, "What heartache?"
"The oppressor's wrong," Gouen said darkly, "the proud man's contumely--"
Goukou's eyebrows flew up. "*Wrong*? And just how have I wronged you?"
"The pangs of disprized love--" their brother continued, unheeding.
Goushou drew in his breath sharply.
"The spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes--"
Goukou and Goushou exchanged glances.
"You have a grievance against your brothers, so much is clear. There's something in your soul over which your melancholy sits on brood. Speak plainly; tell us the source and head of your distemper."
"No other than the main," Gouen said, indifferent. "My brother's death and your o'er-hasty disposal of his heir."
Goushou's ruddy face went palest peony-colour. "You grudge me my son?" he said in a voice that threatened.
"Never, upon my word. How should I, the least of us four brothers-- ah no: that is no more: us *three*, grudge an uncle-father the consolation of his nephew-son?"
"You are insolent!"
"Why then, I am sorry for't. But Third Brother will be sorrier still when he returns and finds his heir taken from him."
"Yet you yourself said nothing 'gainst the plan when first it was proposed, that Goushou should make Goujun's son his own."
"'Tis not my place to speak against my brother's counsel. But now this canker, grief, growing by what it feeds on, eats at my heart and bids fair well to break it."
"We did what's best to buttress our four realms," Goukou sighed. "Your thoughtful fellow-feeling for your brother shows well in you, but kingly policy must ever oversway our private wills."
"That will was strangely slow to show its face," Goushou said, voice tight. "He made no opposition then or after: but when I won as friend the man on whom he'd set his own eye, then did he grow moody and so proceeded to these sullen dumps."
"You wrong me," Gouen said, frost in his voice. "I do not grudge you possession of the flower that grows upon the heights of Tsao'meikang. Earthy and gross, how should one as I consort with such a fine and airy spirit?"
"A dragon of the slender slanting rain declares himself too much of flesh for love? You mean, what right have *I*, who am of flame, to touch and parch that tender budding branch!"
"And *has* my brother parched him with his touch?" Gouen countered, sardonic. "Has Pipang's genius withered and grown sere? Or does it flourish like a jasmine vine, to put forth perfumed flowers of new verse?"
"I dare declare it does, and that the sage suffers no harm from being near my warmth. Will you deny it?"
"Have I not said as much, and only now? First Brother, you see how Second Brother wrongs me? I speak him fair, answer his arguments, and in return receive but bitter words. Causeless, his jealousy turns his heart from me--"
"I, jealous? Causeless? Gouen, this is too much! First Brother, the youngest turns his heart from *me*, and in his envy charges me with mischief!"
"Peace, the two of you," Goukou said, and sighed again. "Envy and jealousy indeed I see, but not what either of you will declare."
Goushou looked puzzled; Gouen raised a doubtful eyebrow.
"You two were once of sweetest harmony," Goukou said without inflection. Gouen looked down, conscious; Goushou still met his brother's eyes, but his colour rose. "Gouen succoured you when you were in need," Goukou said to him, "but now your heart has settled on another. You turn your mind from him, need him no more: a harsh requital of his tender love."
Goushou looked stricken. "Gouen, is this so?"
Gouen clenched his hands. "First brother--" he said, his voice too high; and swallowed hard, until he had mastered his breathing and his rage. "I am the youngest here, but not a child who cries because his gran'fer goes from him. I did my duty to my older brother, as one who bears a hurt man on his back until his wound is healed. Think you that I repine, now that my brother walks on his own again?"
"Why yes," Goukou said flatly. "Yes, I do. Your nearest brother chose the path of death; the second found himself another friend; myself have ceased to treat you as a child and bade you take your place as younger to me. These changes not being greatly to your liking, you fall into this doleful melancholy. And so I will undo all that I may; favour and indulge you as before, chide your brother for his unkindness to you, and so return you to your wonted cheer."
"You wrong our brother's pride and feelings both," Goushou protested. "He's man and father both these many years. But I too wronged him- in my joy forgetting his sorrow and the deepness of his loss. Forgive me, Gouen--"
"I cannot heal your grief, but I am sorry my lightness added to the woes you bear."
Gouen looked at him helplessly. Our older brother plays you as a flute: most jocundly you sing to his instruction, piping the note his fingers bid you sound. Can you not see it?
He turned back to his oldest brother.
"I will be conformable to the high king's wishes, and reconcile with my second brother. 'Tis true, his care and love of me since childhood softens the treatment I have had of--" He stopped.
"Of me?" Goukou said.
"Of harsh fate and the wrongs done to our race," Gouen said, flat. "Dear brother," he added to Goushou, "forgive my anger and my moodiness. The fault was mine and nothing of you own."
"Will you then company my rest today?"
"And gladly. Let us go."
"First brother, may we take our leave of you?" Goushou asked, unusually punctilious.
Goukou nodded. Goushou held his eyes a moment too long before bowing and turning to go, arm linked with Gouen's.
He knows; they both know; but it is no matter. The outward semblance alters what's within. Let Gouen leave off acting of his grudge-- either his melancholy dissipates, or else its burden eases from his soul. He sighed. This coil will last but for a little space. A century or five, and all is well. When Goujun is returned, all will be well.