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
6 Jul 2020

And they all knew about it.
By: Stephen O'Donnell
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Stephen O'Donnell's “Last Orders in the Green Lane.”
Landing feels like getting off a trampoline, / The weightlessness fading to muscle memory
By: Thomas White
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Thomas White's “After.”
Issue 30 Jun 2020
By: Carlie St. George
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Janelle C. Shane
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Issue 22 Jun 2020
By: Neha Maqsood
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Neha Maqsood
Issue 15 Jun 2020
By: Remy Reed Pincumbe
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Preston Grassmann
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 8 Jun 2020
By: Kathleen Jennings
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Keaton Bennett
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Jun 2020
By: Sheree Renée Thomas
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Maggie Damken
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Issue 1 Jun 2020
By: Jessica P. Wick
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Strange Horizons
Issue 25 May 2020
By: Dana Wilde
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 18 May 2020
By: Johnny Compton
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jong-Ki Lim
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 May 2020
By: Gabriela Santiago
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Ashley Bao
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 4 May 2020
By: Vida Cruz
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Raimo Kangasniemi
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Load More
%d bloggers like this: