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Prince Keng came down the mountain alone,
and they descended upon him:
his father’s advisors,
his father’s guards,
his own guards—

      —“Where is your father?”
      —“Where is the king?”
      —“What happened?”
      —“What happened?!”

And Keng, a boy of eight,
his head full of fire,
of the dragon he’d seen,
the dragon who’d told him
she chewed up princes and spat out kings—
Keng said, “I cannot say.”

Because he could not,
because the dragon
had stopped his tongue
from speaking of her,
but they didn’t know that
and they repeated their questions
until Keng, exhausted, worried,
said, “I cannot say. I’m sorry.
I’d say if I could. I can’t.”

A pause.

Then Captain Li nodded,
said to the others, “Let him be.”

Keng stood,
his stomach hollow,
his father still up the mountain.
With her, the dragon.
And it was all Keng’s fault,
because Papa wouldn’t have gone
up there in the first place
except for Keng’s sake—

“Prince Keng, are you hungry?”
asked Dao, one of his father’s guards,
Dao who knew more riddles than anyone,
Dao who had used one of his free days
to take Keng carp-fishing.

Keng nodded.

Dao led him back
to the mountain fastness,
sat him down in the kitchen,
fetched a bowl of dumpling soup,
said, firmly, “Your father will be fine.”

Which Dao could not have known:
Dao who hadn’t seen the dragon,
how her flame turned snow to steam,
hadn’t smelled the ash of her breath—
the dragon who might as easily
chew up a king
as a prince—

Still, it helped, a little.
And next morning, Keng’s father
came down the mountain.
Unburnt. Unhurt.

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She has won the Rhysling Award and been nominated for the Elgin Award for her poems about King Xau. “Crowned,” the first part of Xau’s story, may be purchased from Amazon at

She has an antiquated website at