What Xau Remembered

Not the Ritan court,
nor the twenty-foot-tall mural
round the banquet chamber;
not the Ritan princesses dancing,
nor his own queen's laughter;
but a glint of light,
a hand yanking his shoulder,
the bench toppling,
floor knocking the air from him,
so that he lay sideways, unable to breathe,
staring at pastry crumbs on polished planks
for several dazed seconds
before he understood
why two of his guards
were covering him with their bodies,
why a third guard--
Shang, his youngest guard--
sat on the floor,
an arrow wedged in his chest.
Not the Ritan soldiers
taking down the assassin,
nor the guests being
cleared from the room;
not the Ritan king
promising vengeance,
nor his own queen
checking him for injury;
but Tsung, the captain of his guards,
saying to Shang, "You're dying. You did well,"
and then the uncounted minutes
when he and Tsung knelt either side of Shang,
trying to ease him when he coughed,
but no help possible,
blood puddling on the floor,
and how the young guard's fingers
clutched at Xau's like a child's
as his lips went blue.

First published in Uppagus;
reprinted in "Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon, Book 1"