We continue Black Blossom, the novel that follows The Aphorisms of Kherishdar and The Admonishments of Kherishdar. It is a form of quasi-communal storytelling, as described here. Feel free to ask questions, converse or react as you wish in the comments; the Calligrapher and I are at your disposal, as time permits us both. And don’t fear… your questions are shaping the narrative. Read closely in the future and you may see yourself referred to there.
Black Blossom, Part 65
A Story of Kherishdar as Translated by M.C.A. Hogarth
A shocked silence, like that after a thunderclap.
“W-what?” she said, as if not sure of her own ears.
“Your help,” Shame repeated. “You know the aunera. I need to find them, and your lord, who is in hiding among them.”
She stared at him, and then her ears slowly pinned back. “But if I tell you, you will take him away from me.”
“Fathrikedi,” he said, his voice gentler, “he has already left you.”
Now she did sink to her knees, drooping until her face was hidden by her storm-cloud curls. I felt a piercing pity for her.
“Serapis,” she whispered at last. “The female’s name was Serapis. I never heard the male’s.”
Shame looked down at her head, then turned his back on her and vanished into the adjoining room. I shared a pained glance with Ajan—who to tend to first?—and decided that Kor would take the least harm from being left to himself. I went to one knee alongside the fathrikedi… painfully, noticing the world-weight in my joints at last when I bent.
“He’s right,” she whispered, her eyes covered with one hand. “He’s right. I have lost him.”
To touch her, even though it was my right as her caste-better and her lot as Decoration, seemed cruel in her extremis… so instead, I gently moved the curtain of curls with the side of one hand, just enough that I might see her face, and she might see mine. “It is early yet,” I said after searching for words that might be of some comfort. “We have only just embarked on the solving of this problem, fathrikedi. We might save him yet.”
“Even if we do,” she said, defeated, “he will not love me again. Not the way he did.” She looked at me from the cavernous shadow under her crown of hair, and in that gloom her eyes burned like embers. “You did not know him before the aunera came, osulkedi. He was… oh, he was a fire! He was passion. He was laughter. He was…” She trailed off and laughed, hesitant. “He was… fun! Oh, we had fun. He exercised parts of me that I had forgotten were in me at all. I loved him for that.” She was silent, staring at the floor before her knees, the muscle in her jaw working. Then, low, “That love will never find an answer in him again. He has experienced something… more intense than we had. Something that makes him feel more alive. Everything else will feel pale, as if he is experiencing it through a veil… the way… the way I had been, before I met him.”
I could not help drawing her into my arms, then, and she allowed it… more than allowed it, she pressed into me, hiding her face against my chest. I cupped the back of her skull, startled at the depth of the pity I felt for her, and the grief. Over her head, Ajan looked at me with a countenance too grim for his years. He framed a word with his lips, and I read it off them: rakadhas. Spirit trapped in a caste which no longer suited it. I shuddered. The taint in Qenain had already had power. To think it might have grown so strong that it might cast souls from their caste-ranks…
God of Civilization, preserve us.
“What will I do?” she asked, miserable.
“For now, I think perhaps you should rest,” I said, still holding her. She was so slight in my arms… such a weight of personality for such a little frame, and all that personality dwindled, ashes from once hot fire.
“I have done wrong,” she murmured, uncertain.
“You have been afflicted by the taint of Qenain,” I said. “In a way far more direct than almost anyone else. You have erred, fathrikedi, but only Thirukedi has the wisdom to know what part of your error is your own, and what part of it… situational.”
She smiled a little at that. Then said, “Even now you call me fathrikedi, Calligrapher. Do you still have no name for me?”
I looked down into her face and thought of my pity, of the ruin of her spirit’s calm, and said, “I fear you would not like the names I would give you at this moment.”
“No,” she said after a pause. “No, I would guess not.”
Standing above us, Ajan said, “There is a massage table in the bathing chamber. I could fetch a blanket.”
“That won’t be necessary,” she said, rising. “I will find it myself. Thank you.” Looking directly at Ajan, she said, “I won’t try to escape, penokedi. You need not guard against my flight.”
“You will forgive me if I stand my duty anyway,” Ajan said.
Her lips quirked in a faint smile before she turned and left.
Absent both Shame and Decoration, the room felt emptied of any energy. Ajan and I looked at one another and I sighed, feeling it to the marrow. “Now, the second of the two. I don’t suppose you can tell me any hint of what upset him so?”
“He is my master, osulkedi,” Ajan said, looking down. “I will not betray his confidences.”
And by that, I knew that this was one that cut close to the quick, and deep. I did not press Ajan, then, and straightened, approaching the closed door… where almost I bumped into my quarry, for Shame opened it as I reached for the handle. As I side-stepped clumsily, he said, “Ajan?” And once he had the youth’s attention, handed him a note. “Deliver this to Qenain, and if they have an answer, follow up on it, please.”
“Masuredi,” Ajan said, bowing as he accepted it. “Who shall guard the fathrikedi in my absence?”
Shame narrowed his eyes, considering. “I doubt she’ll leave. But bell the door.”
“Yes, master,” Ajan said, and left, note tucked away and a string of bells still shivering with the motion that had hooked them smoothly over the handle.
“That was…?” I said, looking after the penokedi.
Kor held the bedchamber door open for me, stepping out of my way. “A message for Qenain, asking after who they contact among the aunera to arrange meetings. We might learn from that person how to find this Serapis.”
“And until then,” I said, trailing off.
“We wait,” he said.
I entered the room assigned us as sleeping chamber; it was smaller than Qenain’s, and windowless, something I would ordinarily have found disturbing but welcomed here, where it would block the light of the unfamiliar sun. As was sometimes customary in guest-houses, there was only one bed with a mattress the length of the back wall, so that it might sleep one individual or a family. It was low to the ground and thick with cushions and blankets, making me wonder how cold the colony grew at night. There was a single lamp on a stand, shedding a dim and warm glow that soothed my jangled nerves.
“Why send Ajan?” I said as Kor shut the door behind us.
“Instead of going ourselves?” Kor said. He sat on the corner chair and drew his boot off. “There are times when people find it easier to deal with someone of less notoriety than Shame. My asking would create more questions than Ajan’s.”
“And me?” I asked, watching him.
“You are an anomaly as well, Calligrapher,” Kor said, with a hint of stress on my title. “The arrival of an osulkedi here is not usual. You will incite much more commentary than yet another Guardian. Besides, Ajan is used to being my helpmeet, as are the others at the shrine. They have been my assistants for years, and know how far to push their authority, and when something needs my attention.”
“Mmm,” I said, by way of agreement. When he looked up at last, I said, “So, was it the intimation of your sexual frigidity that closed you off to her, or was it something else I don’t understand yet?”
I am pleased how many of you figured out, alone or by conversing with one another, some of the ramifications of the Decoration’s comments. Soon I shall be issuing global passports!
Anyway, take a deep breath. The next scene is huge and tumultuous, and full of personal secrets. We shall start it… on Monday.
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Mirrored from MCAH Online.