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Sweaty after a bout the young prince towels his body,

sprawls against the wall of a tennis court. His body seems

his own. He is seventeen, loves exercise,

apples, and has just discovered order

in the frets of a guitar and the disorder

his spirit leans towards where hair sweeps upward

and a tender neck’s laid bare. All this

is normal.

Miles away,

his body is the site of negotiations. Old men in furs

have laid it out between them, a treaty

is tied to the royal member as, by proxy, it is annexed, with no compliance

on his part (it is, so far as he knows, off

in a goosegirl’s placket) to the crib of a ten months’ orphan, the Staatsholder

of nine dependencies.

Somewhere peasants

work in the prince’s groin, sleep off the day’s work in its shade.

They will speak the same patois when they go back

to dealing with horizons, but their heads

have passed under harsher laws. In a trench twelve pikemen

curse white, blow on a fist as night creeps over

the edge of a boy’s body much like theirs and also forfeit.

These lives go other ways

than the documents intended. The young prince

will swell with evil fluids not drained off, his infanta

be occupied by three foreign husbands; she will never know his tongue.

One of that band of pikemen, every hair

on his head ablaze with firelight, every louse in his shirt assured of

its sweat, will get his wish. He will climb on out

of the blood of battle, eat, in a fiery sunset,

a late crust among shadows

that peck round a harvest blade, and whistling an old song, track

to its source among ferns the stream

that mutters in his head and never once says ‘history’.

But that is another story. Passed from mouth

to mouth and not set down, it covers the facts, has a beginning and has survived

its middle. Why shouldn’t it end well?

By David Malouf

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