INHERITANCE, by Mary Soon Lee
High above, the dragon watched
the king and his young son
approach through deepening snow.
Flew down when they drew close.
Her laughter boomed from the rocks
like an anvil dropped on granite.
“Back again, Xau? And bringing
your princeling with you?”
King Xau knelt, weaponless, crownless.
He bowed so far forward
that his hair brushed snow.
“Thank you for coming.”
“Oh, get up off your knees.
I take it this is sufficient?
That you just wanted to show
your son my magnificence?”
Xau stood. He placed his hand
on his son’s shoulder. “Sufficient,
but it would be preferable if you
explained matters to him.”
“You want me to frighten him?”
The dragon turned her head sideways
and flamed hugely,
sending steam from the snow.
“Not to frighten him. To warn him.”
The dragon made an explosive sound
that might have been a snort.
“In eleven hundred years,
I have never done so.”
Xau stared at her levelly.
“We would tell Keng ourself,
but you laid an oath on us
that we cannot break.”
The dragon flamed again.
Heat stung the two humans.
moved right beside his father.
“Very well,” said the dragon.
“Since you once rid me of a demon
that fouled my thoughts,
I will tell him.”
She turned her golden eyes to Keng.
“Princeling, your father wishes you to know
that I chew up princes and spit out kings.
Keng took six steps forward,
so close he could have touched her.
He trembled, but held his head up
and looked straight at her.
“Well enough,” she said. “To clarify:
when your father dies, his steward
will send you here. If I deem you adequate,
you will become the new king.
“If not, I will eat you,
and the steward will send me
another prince to sample.
“What happens,” said Keng,
“if you run out of princes?”
The anvil boomed from the rocks again.
“When the king’s sons are gone,
they send brothers, cousins, uncles.
Occasionally princesses. More questions?”
“No,” said Keng.
After a moment, he added, “Thank you.”
The dragon burped, her breath ash,
and looked back to Xau.
“Are you troubled by your past?
Are you planning to die soon?”
“Not planning on it,” said Xau.
“But death may come anyhow.”
“I asked two questions.”
Darker gold surfaced
in the dragon’s eyes.
“You answered only one.”
Xau said nothing.
“We will talk more,” said the dragon.
“First I will take your son’s oath
then he can walk back by himself–
oh, don’t bleat at me! He’ll be fine.”
Then the dragon took Keng’s oath
and the boy went down the mountain alone.
As for what the dragon said to the king
and what he said to her
in the day and night that followed,
that is no one else’s business.
Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. “Inheritance” is part of the author’s epic fantasy in verse, The Sign of the Dragon. The first book of this epic (“Crowned,” Dark Renaissance Books) appeared in 2015. Several poems from the epic, including her Rhysling-Award-winning poem “Interregnum,” may be read at her website.