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by Mary Soon Lee

On the night of the half moon,
the scarred king went
to King Donal's tent
and, waking him from sleep,
led him to the hillside
where waited the wild horses.

Hundreds of horses,
the light of the waxing moon
glinting in their sidewards glance;
the smell, heat, breath of them.
Donal a veteran of many battles,
blooded, bold, brave,
yet an emptiness to his stomach
as if he were falling.

He stood by King Xau
as a stocky, large-headed horse
came right up to them,
inhaled Xau's scent,
lowered its large head
at Xau's touch.

"Will you help us?"
Xau asked the horse.
"Will you follow King Donal?
Will you carry his soldiers?"

The horse swung its head round
to sniff Donal's breath,
nickered once.

And one after another
the horses came up
and Xau spoke to them
and laid his scarred hands on them,
and all the while Donal's heart pounded
as if he had run for miles.

When the last horse moved away,
the two men stood, side by side,
the hill below them
covered in horses.

Donal turned to Xau,
the younger king trembling now,
though he had shown no sign
of cold or strain earlier.
"Are you all right?"

A pause before Xau said, "Yes,"
and then, haltingly,
"Do not spend their lives lightly."

Donal nodded,
and in that singular night,
one more strangeness:
a sudden disconcerting impression
that Xau was receding further
and further from him--
he reached for Xau's shoulder,
reassuringly solid,
let go again.

And Donal the Red King
pledged then his sword,
his blood, his men
to the scarred king;
shadow and darkness behind them,
shadow and darkness ahead.

* * *

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She has won the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award for her poems about King Xau, which together form the epic fantasy "The Sign of the Dragon." A dozen poems from the epic may be read at

What do you think is the most important aspect of a fantasy poem?

I am drawn to work that moves me emotionally, and that is what matters most to me, whether in poetry or prose, fantasy or science fiction or mainstream works. The first fantasy poem to seize my heart, back when I was about seven years old, was Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” That poem still moves me. Although a fantasy element is a prerequisite for a poem to be defined as fantasy, that aspect is less important to me than the poem’s emotion. (N.B. I have a broad definition of fantasy that encompasses works such as Ellen Kushner’s “Swordspoint,” a novel that reads and feels like fantasy, but contains no magic beyond the beauty of the writing and the invention of a secondary world setting.)