A TALE AT BEDTIME, by Mary Soon Lee


Lie still and listen well.

“Yes, Mama, I know,” said Prince Keng.


Before the dragons flew to King Nariz,

before the time of demons,

Batar was the greatest horse lord

who ever rode the eastern plains,

yet he thirsted for more power.

So Batar fell upon the towns.

The lines of his horse archers

stretched a mile wide, six men deep,

and the towns bowed down to Batar

and gave him grain and gold and women,

but that did not content Batar,

so he rode north to Jian-Jian.


“That’s where Papa’s gone.

Because it had an earthquake.”


Shazia nodded. Unbidden,

she thought of Xau waking Keng

before dawn to say goodbye.


Jian-Jian, city of a thousand bells,

and each of the thousand bells rang

as Batar rode up, as the city rulers

prepared to surrender their treasure.

But a sewing-girl, ten years old,

ran up onto the ramparts

and shouted, “Leave us alone!”

Batar laughed and his men laughed.

He fit an arrow to his bowstring

to silence the sewing-girl,

but his horse turned under him

and galloped away from Jian-Jian.

And all the horses in Batar’s army

turned likewise and galloped away.


(Xau hadn’t woken their baby daughter,

but he had lifted the blanket

and kissed her toes.)


Next morning Batar returned

with the full might of his army.

Before the city rulers could surrender,

the sewing-girl ran onto the ramparts

and shouted at Batar, “Leave us alone!”

And Batar’s horse lay down under him

so suddenly that Batar fell off,

and all the horses of his army

lay down likewise.


“Like Papa in the battle

when the enemy horses stopped.”

Shazia nodded.


Batar was the greatest horse lord

who ever rode the eastern plains,

great enough to recognize an equal.

He stood up, bowed to the girl,

led his army away,

and never again troubled Jian-Jian.


Keng yawned. “When will Papa be back?”

“I don’t know. Close your eyes.”

Shazia didn’t finish the story,

didn’t tell Keng how the rulers

of Jian-Jian waited a month

in case Batar should return,

then drove the girl from the city.


She kissed Keng on the forehead,

tucked the blanket about him,

and tried not to think of Xau.


Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. “A Tale at Bedtime” is part of the author’s epic fantasy in verse, and first appeared in her book “Crowned” (Dark Renaissance Books, June 2015). Several other poems from the epic may be read at her website, Sign of the Dragon.

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