Intertextual SF: "The Grace of Kings" by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu

Lord Garu, you compare yourself to a weed?” Cogo Yelu frowned.

“Not just any weed, Cogzy. A dandelion is a strong but misunderstood flower.” Remembering his courtship with Jia, Kuni felt his eyes grow warm. “It cannot be defeated: Just when a gardener thinks he has won and eradicated it from his lawn, a rain would bring the yellow florets right back. Yet it’s never arrogant: Its color and fragrance never overwhelm those of another. Immensely practical, its leaves are delicious and medicinal, while its roots loosen hard soils, so that it acts as a pioneer for other more delicate flowers. But best of all, it’s a flower that lives in the soil but dreams of the skies. When its seeds take to the wind, it will go farther and see more than any pampered rose, tulip, or marigold.”

“An exceedingly good comparison,” Cogo said, and drained his cup. “My vision was too limited to not have understood it.”

Mata nodded in agreement and drained his cup as well, suffering silently as the burning liquor numbed his throat.

“Your turn, General Zyndu,” Than prompted.

Mata hesitated. He was not witty or quick on his feet, and he was never good at games like this. But he glanced down and saw the Zyndu coat of arms on his boots, and suddenly he knew what he should say.

He stood up. Though he had been drinking all night, he was steady as an oak. He began to clap his hands steadily to generate a beat, and sang to the tune of an old song of Tunoa:


The ninth day in the ninth month of the year:


By the time I bloom, all others have died.


Cold winds rise in Pan’s streets, wide and austere:


A tempest of gold, an aureal tide.


My glorious fragrance punctures the sky.


Bright-yellow armor surrounds every eye.


With disdainful pride, ten thousand swords spin


To secure the grace of kings, to cleanse sin.


A noble brotherhood, loyal and true.


Who would fear winter when wearing this hue?


“The King of Flowers,” Cogo Yelu said.

Mata nodded.

Kuni had been tapping his finger on the table to follow the beat. He stopped now, reluctantly, as if still savoring the music. “By the time I bloom, all others have died.’ Though lonely and spare, this is a grand and heroic sentiment, befitting the heir of the Marshal of Cocru. The song praises the chrysanthemum without ever mentioning the flower by name. It’s beautiful.”

“The Zyndus have always compared themselves to the chrysanthemum,” Mata said.

Kuni bowed to Mata and drained his cup. The others followed suit.

“But, Kuni,” said Mata, “you have not understood the song completely.”

Kuni looked at him, confused.

“Who says it praises only the chrysanthemum? Does the dandelion not bloom in the same hue, my brother?”

Kuni laughed and clasped arms with Mata. “Brother! Together, who knows how far we will go?”

The eyes of both men glistened in the dim light of the Splendid Urn.

Mata thanked everyone and drank himself. For the first time in his life, he didn’t feel alone in a crowd. He belonged—an unfamiliar but welcome sensation. It surprised him that he found it here, in this dark and sleazy bar, drinking cheap wine and eating bad food, among a group of people he would have considered peasants playing at being lords—like Krima and Shigin—just a few weeks ago.”


In “The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu.



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