Scene: Prince Keng sitting on a rock.
The dragon enters, flying down.
DRAGON Good morning, Princeling. Have you come to
admire my magnificence?
KENG My father sent me. He said you would teach me
to be king.
DRAGON Your father? Your father is your greatest
threat aside from me.
The dragon menaces the boy, who holds his place.
DRAGON Good. You’re brave. You’ll make a fine king.
Now go away.
KENG That’s all? Don’t you have advice for me?
DRAGON An excellent habit for a king, thinking.
You should try it more often.
KENG [Kneeling] Please. Teach me what a king
DRAGON A king should know that he cannot know
all he should know. Men’s lives are
KENG Then teach me what I most need to know.
DRAGON I tried to do so. Perhaps you weren’t
KENG You said men’s lives are short. That my
father is my greatest threat–why? Why is
he a threat?
DRAGON Because men will measure you against him,
and find you lacking. No matter how hard
you try, his reputation will outmatch you
as the tiger outmatches the rabbit.
KENG That would be true of anybody you chose as
king. No one can equal him.
DRAGON No one? As for you, if you ever take the
throne, I advise you to begin badly.
Quickly quash people’s hopes. Then any
mistakes you make will be no more than they
expect, and any successes will appear the
KENG If I am king, I will do the best I can.
From the beginning.
KENG But you just said I should begin badly–
DRAGON Indeed. And I may argue the merits of that
at a later date. What pleased me is that
you didn’t blindly agree. However wise his
advisors, a king should weigh their words
for himself. And so ends your first lesson.
You may come back tomorrow.
Keng bows, turns to leave, turns back.
KENG What would you have done if I’d left when
you first told me to go?
DRAGON Eaten you.
–Mary Soon Lee
Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She is working on an epic fantasy in verse, the first book of which has been nominated for the Elgin Award (“Crowned,” Dark Renaissance Books, 2015). The opening poem, “Interregnum,” won the 2014 Rhysling Award for best long poem.
Editor’s Image Note: Picture courtesy tumblr.com (artist unknown)