by Mary Soon Lee
to the horse country that summer.
If you require a target to blame,
blame me. I argued him into it
and would do so again.
Had Xau stayed in Lipoh
he could have coordinated more easily
with his generals,
but to what purpose?
He had warned Tahj of the monster,
had offered his help,
help that Tahj had declined.
Even in hindsight, I believe
it was the correct decision--
the correct military decision--
for Xau to leave Lipoh.
If you pour me a bowl of tea,
I will elaborate.
Xau's alliances were strong,
his main army readied.
Whereas the horse lords,
had never fought alongside others,
and would not have heeded
advice from anyone other
than King Xau himself.
May I remind you of the magnitude
of the Khan's concessions--
Three thousand of the Khan's warriors
incorporated into Xau's cavalry.
Every other horse warrior,
every single horse lord
sworn to fight at Xau's command,
a fealty never offered before or since
in the history of the horse tribes.
A fealty due solely
to their devotion, their love,
for Xau himself.
Even so I had great difficulty
convincing the king to leave.
He never did master detachment:
knowing that the monster lived,
knowing it preyed on others' pain,
he held himself at fault,
hadn't slept through the night
in nearly two months.
Heng had not returned.
Heng? A translator whom Xau
had dispatched to Sumbral
in search of information.
Whether for the particular or the general,
Xau took responsibility.
The one man he'd sent into danger,
and the monster's uncounted victims
whom he had never met,
who were not from his country.
[Archivist's note: at this point Artoch fell
silent. I assumed he had become confused, as
he was prone to do, and left for the day. But
when I returned next morning, Artoch returned
immediately, though briefly, to Heng.]
Heng. Set this down--
Heng, a translator in King Xau's service,
never returned from Sumbral.
Although his body wasn't identified,
he was likely our first casualty
in the Imperial War.
* * *
Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She is writing an epic fantasy in verse about King Xau. The opening poem of the epic, “Interregnum,” won the 2014 Rhysling Award for best long poem, and the first book in the epic (“Crowned,” Dark Renaissance Books, 2015) has been nominated for the Elgin Award. Several poems about King Xau, including “Interregnum,” may be read at http://www.thesignofthedragon.com.Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
From all kinds of places: from reading; from memories; from music; from things I observe when I’m at home, or outdoors, or shopping, or at a museum. It’s unpredictable and often delayed: three dragon poems that I wrote this month were influenced by reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince” two years earlier. Sometimes it’s only much later that I realize the source of a particular idea. For example, the two main countries in my epic fantasy have a Chinese flavor and a Celtic flavor. I had written quite a bit of the epic before I worked out that those countries probably surfaced in my thoughts because my father was Chinese and my mother Irish. I didn’t deliberately plan it that way. When writing a longer piece, ideas unfold as I think about the characters. Of late, I’ve been caught up in the epic fantasy and find myself thinking about it at odd moments--in the middle of the night, or when I’m vacuuming the house, or brushing my teeth.