Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 37
Tao and Shakespeare

For the next three mornings Wufei brought his wooden practice swords to the gym, and for three days Peacecraft ignored him, even asking one of the other security men to act as his spotter during weight training. He paid little attention to him during their daily rides, either, and gave him the silent treatment during the evenings Wufei was on duty.

Wufei bided his time, and gave no sign that he was aware of the intended slight. He was polite and punctual as always, and kept his distance. But he also made a point of performing his own fitness ritual in the gym, rather than the garden, where Peacecraft could see. He did his morning katas, practiced fighting kicks and flips, and even showboated a little, doing one-handed pushups and hand stands. In the evenings when they had played chess, they now faced off silently in the library, each with a book, and the hours crawled by.

Wufei made good use of the time. He redevoted himself to the Tao, and ordered volumes of poetry. Much to his surprise, this attracted Peacecraft's attention one evening. After an hour or so of silence between them on evening, Peacecraft tossed his book aside and wandered to the window overlooking the moonlit garden. His soft slippers and silk dressing gown whispered softly as he moved. As he passed Wufei's chair, he glanced down as if by chance.

"You read Mandarin?"

Wufei removed his reading glasses and looked up. "Yes. Do you?"

"No."

And that was the extent of their conversation. However, the following morning Peacecraft completed his own exercise regime, then walked over to where Wufei sat meditating after his katas.

Wufei was aware of him but gave no sign, instead observing the man from under half-lowered lids. Peacecraft was uncomfortable, uneasy, and perhaps impatient. Yet he did not interrupt Wufei, as he had every right to do under the circumstances. He stood a few feet away, awaiting notice, and Wufei saw him raise his right arm in a characteristic gesture; he'd unconsciously tried to fold his arms, as a man might when waiting for another to finish with something. The scarred stump of his left arm twitched as well, trying to carry out the habit of a lifetime. Peacecraft caught himself and turned away, running his right hand back through his hair instead and Wufei felt an unexpected pang of compassion.

He held his position a moment longer, to preserve the illusion that he had not seen. Then, raising his head, he pressed his palms together before his heart and gave Peacecraft a slight bow, silently concentrating on the deeper meaning of the gesture. "My enlightened self salutes your enlightened self." It was a greeting of respect between equals.

Taken aback by this, Peacecraft returned the gesture in the form of a small stiff bow, in the manner of his people.

"May I be of service?" asked Wufei.

Peacecraft nudged the equipment bag with the toe of his sneaker. "Do you really mean for us to duel with sticks?"

Wufei rose in a single fluid motion, unzipped the bag, and drew out the two modified wooden practice weapons he'd acquired. They were made of oak and carefully weighted, like Japanese bokken, but one was shaped to approximate Wufei's traditional Chinese sword, the other as an OZ military saber like the ones Kushreneda and Peacecraft had carried during the war. Both were single edged weapons, of similar lengths and suitable for sparring.

He presented the saber hilt-first to Peacecraft, who took it without comment. That face betrayed nothing but the usual mask of boredom, but Wufei thought he saw a flash of something more in those intensely blue eyes.

Peacecraft took a few half-hearted practice swings, and then let his arm drop. "What is the point?"

"Some of the finest Wu-Yi sword masters never saw battle," Wufei told him. "The purpose of a warrior is not to kill or to fight, but to perfect himself in body and mind so as to be ready for any situation. The sword is no more than a tool in that pursuit."

Peacecraft considered this, then brought the blade up in a challenge salute. "A worthy philosophy. It would, perhaps, pass the time."

They moved out into the open area of the gym, where Wufei had done his katas. Half a dozen attendants gathered to watch, and Wufei paused, frowning slightly in their direction. "Perhaps you would concentrate better, this first time, without distractions? I, for one, do not perform my art as a spectator sport."

"Leave us," Peacecraft ordered imperiously, as if he did not know that Wufei was offering to spare him potential embarrassment.

He had no doubt that Peacecraft had been an accomplished swordsman before the Libra explosion, but as they faced off, he could see that time, the loss of the arm, and perhaps the amount of regenerated, untried muscle he now had, had seriously impaired his abilities. The man's stance showed style and knowledge, but his balance was still off.

In his place, Wufei would have considered any show of pity or accommodation an insult, so he showed none to Peacecraft as they began. Peacecraft tried to take the offensive but Wufei easily parried and disarmed him with a sharp strike just above Peacecraft's hilt, in a blow that must have jarred the man right up to the shoulder.

"My match," Wufei said, stepping back into starting position to let Peacecraft retrieve his weapon.

Peacecraft's jaw was set as he took his stance again. He was more cautious this time, letting Wufei open the offensive and meeting his rush with a respectable defense. But Wufei was far quicker and once again got under his guard and disarmed him, this time finishing with what would have been a killing slash across Peacecraft's belly. He pulled the blow, so as not to hurt him, merely drawing the edge of his blade lightly across the man's unprotected midriff.

"Your match again," Peacecraft rasped.

They faced off a third time, with the same result. This time Peacecraft let his anger show as he ignored the fallen weapon. "Is this what you wanted?" he growled hoarsely. "To show me who the superior swordsman is? You have proven your point. I am finished."

He turned to go, but Wufei threw down his own weapon with a clatter. "You accuse me of dishonorable intent. What sort of dog would measure himself against a man at such a disadvantage, so honorably suffered?"

"Honorably?" Peacecraft spat the word out.

"You forget, I was there. The com channels were open and I heard your last words to Yuy, as you broke off your fight with him to attempt to explode the Libra's engines. At the final moment, you took the most honorable action, at the risk of your own life. So yes, your wounds are honorable ones, to be overcome, perhaps, but never scorned. I did not wish to embarrass you by treating you like a cripple. Only by giving you my best can you achieve yours."

"Indeed?" Peacecraft was skeptical. "Is this the way of Wu-Yi masters?"

"Yes, and the way of all honorable warriors."

Peacecraft's cold mask was firmly back in place, but he picked up the fallen saber and raised it again. "Very well, then. Show me your best."

They went at it for nearly an hour that day, and Wufei purposefully gave no quarter. By the end Peacecraft was badly winded and had bruises on his arm, ribs, and back. Wufei's only concession had been to carefully avoid striking the stump of his left arm, although he did observe it as they fought.

It was a bit disturbing, watching that tapered stump move. The skin was shiny and striated with darkened scar tissue. But there was working muscle there, and Wufei could tell that Peacecraft was unconsciously moving it, as he would have if the arm were whole. It did him no good this way, of course. The lack of balance became glaringly obvious in this context and Peacecraft seemed to have made little adjustment for it in the way he moved.

"Enough!" Peacecraft declared at last. He saluted Wufei, then tossed the dented wooden saber and strode off.

But the following morning they sparred again, and the next and with each session Peacecraft's impatience with himself became more evident. Toward the end of their fourth session together Wufei scored a flat bladed hit on his belly again and Peacecraft lost his temper. With a muttered curse and blazing eyes, he tossed the blade away and stalked from the room. Wufei sighed, gathered his equipment, and went to shower.

+

Peacecraft appeared more morose than ever that evening as they sat by the library fire.

Wufei read stoically, until the other man rose and began to pace. He tried to ignore it, but it was impossible. Laying his book and reading glasses aside, he followed the man with his eyes until Peacecraft noticed him watching.

"You have something to say?" he snapped, tugging irritably at the sash of his dressing gown.

"You are frustrated," Wufei observed.

Peacecraft let out a harsh, husky laugh. "And how am I to feel, little Chang?"

'Ah, back to that, are we?' Wufei thought, but refused to be drawn. Instead, he folded his hands and recited,

"'A good warrior is not bellicose,
A good fighter does not anger,
A good conqueror does not contest his enemy,
One who is good at using others puts himself below them.
This is called integrity without competition,
This is called using others,
This is called parity with heaven.
The pinnacle of the ancients.'
"

Peacecraft had stopped pacing. "You know the Tao. They kept up with the old culture, on L-5?"

"Some did. I was a student before the war."

Peacecraft turned to gaze out at the darkened garden. "Let me guess. Tactics? Military History?"

"No." Wufei turned back to his book, but watched the man from the corner of one eye. Peacecraft was still restless, perhaps even curious, but trying very hard not to show it. He went to the tall window and breathed on the windowpane, drawing little designs with one finger like a bored child.

Wufei offered nothing, no opening, and no encouragement. Let the proud fellow speak to him, if he wanted entertainment.

"Engineering of some sort?" Peacecraft murmured after a moment.

Wufei fought back a smirk. "No."

"Mathematics, then."

"No."

"You have me at a disadvantage," Peacecraft rasped. It was hard to read the tone of that damaged voice. Wufei wasn't certain if he heard amusement or impatience. "If I could read the title of that book you are pretending to be so engrossed in, I might have a better chance."

"You could just ask me." Wufei glanced up and caught the other man watching him.

Peacecraft looked a little startled. A faint pink tinge rose in his pale cheeks and he looked away, back at the garden. "Very well. What did you study, Chang?"

No "little" this time, Wufei noted. "Philosophy and poetry. Practitioners of Wu-Yi hold the arts in great esteem, as well as combat."

Peacecraft nodded slowly. "Our training at the Academy was much the same. Tell me, do you find any comfort in poetry now?"

"Sometimes. Do you?"

It was difficult in profile to tell if Peacecraft smiled or grimaced at that. "I understand certain poems better now than I did when I was younger." He paused, and when he spoke again, reciting, there was no mistaking the bitterness in his voice. "'Those who have crossed with direct eyes, to death's other kingdom remember us--if at all--not as lost violent souls, but only as the hollow men, the stuffed men.' That's 20th century, Thomas Stearns Eliot."

Wufei did not recognize the verse or the poet, but supposed Peacecraft was thinking of Kushreneda, and all the others who had found warrior's deaths, while the rest of them lived on uselessly. It was a good poem.

"'When I was young I learned fencing'" he quoted,
"'And was better at it than General Crooked Castle.
My spirit was high as the rolling clouds
And my fame resounded beyond the world.
I took my sword to the desert sands,
I watered my horse at the Nine Moors.
My flags and banners flapped in the wind,
And nothing was heard but the song of my drums.
War and its travels have made me sad,
And a fierce anger burns within me.
It's thinking of how I've wasted my time
That makes this fury tear my heart.' Yuan Chi. Third century.
"

Peacecraft let out another hoarse laugh. "How very apt. Will you give me another?"

Wufei nodded. "Keep off your thoughts from things that are past and done;
For thinking of the past wakes regret and pain.
Keep off your thoughts from thinking what will happen;
To think of the future fills one with dismay.
Better by day to sit like a sack in your chair;
Better by night to lie a stone in your bed.
When food comes, then open your mouth;
When sleep comes, then close your eyes.' Po-Chi-i. Eighth century.
"

That won him an unmistakable scowl. "Offering advice again, little Chang? Then I must counter with Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him?
"'Be thou wise as thou art cruel; do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;
Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express
The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so;-
As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
No news but health from their physicians know;-
For, if I should despair, I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee:
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.'
"

Wufei stood and bowed. "I meant no offense. It was a poem I have been meditating on for my own enlightenment over the past few days, and it simply sprang to mind. It's late and I've wearied you. I will leave you to your own thoughts."

He started for the door, but Peacecraft surprised him. "A moment, Chang. Perhaps one more? Your recitation is natural and pleasing, regardless of the theme. One more, for me to meditate upon?"

"Very well. 'Chastised at evening, the night knew my tears.
Happiness as far from my hand as the faint blue glimmer of Earth.
But now the morning has turned,
Gleaming on the white stones in the garden,
Glancing from the polished blades in the sword rack.
How can I cling to sorrow with the smell of breakfast on the air
And my teacher waiting?' A poet of no account, second century After Colony.
"

Peacecraft arched one fine pale brow, then bowed slightly with perhaps just the hint of a smile. "Thank you. The poet shows some skill. Good night, Chang."

Wufei bowed. "Peacecraft."

He turned to go, only to be stopped again by the sound a heavy sigh.

"I wonder, Chang-?" Peacecraft paused, then sighed again. Again Wufei saw him make the sad, fruitless attempt at crossing his arms. "That name does not sit comfortably on me. Not anymore. Would you do me the favor, in private, of addressing me as Zechs?"

"That is your given name." Wufei would never have considered being so familiar.

But Peacecraft regarded him rather sadly. "I am no one's superior and all my friends are either dead or cut off from me. I would count it as a particular kindness to hear it at least from you, who knew me as the man I was. One name is as good as another, isn't it?"

Wufei concentrated a moment, then quoted,
"'Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immeditate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.' Othello, Act three, scene three, sixteenth century.
"

"Touche! I bow to your scholarship. But all the more reason I would be Zechs rather than Milliardo."

"As you will. Good night--Zechs Merquise."

"Good night, Chang."


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