Size / / /

CONTENT WARNING:


Cold,
that first night in the horse country,
autumn on the way,
but Li didn't put up his tent.
Laid down on the grass,
rolled in a blanket.
Stared up at the stars,
waiting in case the wild horses came,
sent, somehow, by King Xau.
 
Woke at dawn.
No wild horses.
His king, his friend, dead.
 
Li put the pack saddle and bags
onto Narson, mounted Kuan.
Rode on into the steppe,
pushing the thought of Xau away.
Nothing more that day
than wind-stirred grass,
the rhythm of the horse beneath him,
a hawk overhead.
 
On the second night he drank
a bottle of rice wine.
Found no comfort in it.
Woke up stiff, chilled.
Saddled the horses.
Rode, the grasslands extending
as if without limit.
 
At times,
the memory of Xau unstoppable.
The king's broken body,
the king struggling to speak,
telling Li not to blame himself,
but the fault Li's, the failure Li's,
Li who had been captain
of the king's guards.
 
Li shouted out as he rode,
shouted for forgiveness, for a sign,
for the wild horses to come.
Nothing.
 
On the fourth day
he saw smoke in the distance,
an encampment of horse warriors.
Li wanted no company,
turned his horses aside.
 
When it rained at night,
he set up the tent,
otherwise he slept on the ground.
He took care of the horses
and little else,
subsisted on dried meat and nuts,
his hair tangled, greasy,
his clothes grimy.
 
One night in his tent,
over the sound of rain,
a pounding of hooves.
Li bolted outside.
 
"Li, give me a hand, will you?"
 
Gan. Gan who had been a king's guard once.
Gan and two horses.
Only Gan.
 
Li unsaddled one of the horses,
carried Gan's bags into the tent.
Gan came in after him, dripping wet.
A long fumbling delay
while Gan lit a lamp.
 
Li blinked back brightness.
 
"You look rough," said Gan,
foraging in a saddlebag.
He pulled out a bruised pear,
gave it to Li. "Here. Eat something,
then I'll get you cleaned up."
 
The bruised pear in Li's hands.
He stared down at it.
 
"Eat, Captain," said Gan.
 
"I'm not captain anymore.
I stepped down."
Another way Li had failed Xau,
by refusing Keng, Xau's son.
 
"You'll always be Xau's captain," said Gan.
"And he wants you safe."
 
"Wanted," corrected Li.
 
"Wants," said Gan. "I didn't know
how I was going to find you,
but once I crossed the Guang Yun river
the horses led me straight to you."
 
The patter of rain, Gan watching him.
Li turned Gan's words over,
trying to find in them
the proof he needed.
 
Tears streamed down Li's face.
He took a bite of pear.


Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. Her book, Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for each element of the periodic table, was published by Ten Speed Press in October 2019. She has a website at http://www.marysoonlee.com and tweets at @MarySoonLee.
Current Issue
21 Sep 2020

The day the last qawwal was killed, my childhood city, already known for its lethal silence, for its censorship of words, for its refusal to listen, went into a deep deep quiet.
By: Aqdas Aftab
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Aqdas Aftab's “Quiet.”
You like that every single word, image, and idea in my poetry has meaning and is put there for a reason, so when you ask about the plant in my poem and need to know more about it. . .
By: David Clink
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents David Clink's “Back Story.”
Wednesday: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer 
Friday: The Supernova Era by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen 
Issue 14 Sep 2020
By: Fargo Tbakhi
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jenny Blackford
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 7 Sep 2020
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Bethany Powell
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Bethany Powell
Issue 31 Aug 2020
By: R.B. Lemberg
By: Julia Rios
By: Sonya Taaffe
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: R.B. Lemberg
Podcast read by: Julia Rios
Podcast read by: Sonya Taaffe
Issue 24 Aug 2020
By: Leslie J. Anderson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Leslie J. Anderson
Issue 17 Aug 2020
By: Emma Törzs
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liz Adair
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 10 Aug 2020
By: Anya Johanna DeNiro
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Laura Cranehill
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 3 Aug 2020
By: Christine Lucas
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Christine Lucas
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Krishnakumar Sankaran
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Krishnakumar Sankaran
Issue 20 Jul 2020
By: Ranylt Richildis
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: JD Fox
By: JD Fox
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: JD Fox
17 Jul 2020
Strange Horizons is now accepting fiction submissions for our Mexico Special issue, which will be published at the end of November 2020!
17 Jul 2020
Strange Horizons lanza su convocatoria en busca textos narrativos para su Especial de México, que se publicará a finales de noviembre de 2020!
Load More
%d bloggers like this: