In the stables,
King Xau found himself again,
or found the man
he might have been
if he had never been crowned,
never gone to war,
never led other men
to their deaths.
Half an hour at a time
squeezed between meetings
and training exercises,
the stables secured by his guards.
Only Khyert, once his stableboy,
inside to watch him groom Micha
or Pica or Narson or Romer,
to sit beside him
on a hay bale,
breathing leather, manure, dust,
the scent of the horses.
Xau's words already spent
on rice farmers, ministers,
ambassadors, advisors;
on irrigation, taxation,
alliances, strategy,
so that sometimes
he had no more
than a handful of words
for the boy--
Khyert, younger even than Xau,
turned fifteen that autumn.
But sometimes they spoke
at length about the horses,
both Xau's own mounts
and the others in the stable,
about the condition of the pastures,
the chafing of a girth,
a horse off its feed,
while Khyert rubbed oil
into the saddles,
asking nothing of Xau,
then or later.
Xau listened
more than he spoke,
received more than he gave,
though he asked nothing of boy or horses
beyond their company,
but boy and horses alike offering him,
unasked and without restriction,
their hearts.
First published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review;
reprinted in "Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon, Book 1"