He stands, a boy with hands that tremble,
in a courtyard slicked by rain
and blood, and tosses maple seeds
in the air to spiral onto the stones.
Something greasy marks the slates,
as if they too were once alive
and ready to spring up or fall -- but any memory
of that has been crushed out of them
and they lie and wait for time
to grind them to dust.
He is the good son, and doesn't look
at the bodies that dangle by bony wrists
from the top of the gate. He is the good
son, and someday he will walk
the battlements of this castle
as its lord. But until that day,
he bows with the rest, and watches,
and hides from sharp knives in the night.
His mother taught him--
The boy squeezes his eyelids tight,
remembering red wells
too deep to bring up tears. He feels
a seed land on his foot
and jumps back. Magpies dart
around the castle's banners
and shriek at the knights
who ride in and ride out.
In a weak moment, the boy counts--
one body, two, a dozen
and he wonders if their ghosts
remember him, or if they
have gone too far to recall
their stolen lives.
This is the mathematics of power:
adding the dead,
dividing the living,
multiplying the sorrows.
Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Crow
Jennifer Crow's work has appeared in numerous genre magazines, including Talebones, Frisson, and Dreams and Nightmares. When not writing, she reads obsessively, bakes cookies, and hunts for Devonian-era fossils.