M. C. A. Hogarth (haikujaguar) wrote,

Black Blossom Part 72: We Cross the Street.

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 72
A Story of Kherishdar as Translated by M.C.A. Hogarth

      The four of us broke our fast and made ready for the meeting with the aunerai Serapis who would, I desperately hoped, finally reveal the source of the maien of House Qenain (and with it the lord himself, that we might remand him to Thirukedi). When we had done, we left the tea-house and passed again into the foreign sunlight with its too-exact light, brilliant and cruel. My eyes watered as I mounted my beast, and they were watering still when I realized my companions were in brief conference, which, when I heard its aim, caused me to interrupt: “She can ride with me.”
      Kor and Ajan looked at one another, and then the former said, “Very well,” with every evidence of trust that the issue had been resolved. That is how Haraa came to ride behind me on my beast as we headed down the street, and such a procession we made…! Kor on his dark mount, dramatic in a black and white made all the more extreme by the too-harsh light; his faithful lover-Guardian in smoldering browns, riding at his flank as was proper both as penokedi and as beloved… and myself. Gods and ancestors only knew what I looked like: a middle-aged man much weary in sinew and joint with a fathrikedi far above his ability to maintain tucked against his back. I wondered if aunera had the custom of fathriked, and if so, if their Public Servants could casually afford to keep one. I wondered if they would find it strange that three of us were clothed and one of us not. I wondered if they would ask for another demonstration of the fathrikedi’s purpose, as Haraa had said they’d requested in the past…
      “This is not where I expected to be right now,” she said, breaking into my thoughts. The touch we had shared during her distress and the massage had made her hands feel familial, and to feel them no longer troubled me as much as it had when first we met. I thought again of how many ways a pot might break and be mended by an artist of sufficient insight and felt renewed wonder at Thirukedi’s ways.
      “I am entirely sure none of us expected to be here now,” I said.
      “I’m surprised Shame didn’t send me back, or leave me at the tea-house,” Haraa said.
      I huffed a soft laugh. “And if he had, fathrikedi… would you have stayed there? Or would you have waited a sufficiency of time after our departure… and then snuck off after us?”
      “Well…” she said, drawing the word out.
      I smiled and patted the arm she had around my waist. “One does not pour oil into a basket.”
      She seemed to smile and pressed her cheek against the back of my shoulder, and thus we crossed the street onto foreigner’s soil.
      I suppose I expected the world to change hue, or cast… or for the sound of the beasts’ hooves to somehow change timbre. Some of you might find that notion histrionic, but in truth, it did feel different on the aunerai side: the shape and placement of the buildings broke the Gate-wind, scattering its coolth and changing the quality of the air and the sound of things moving in it. The temperature seemed more stifling. And the colors were different: the unremitting pale gray stain of the walls reflected the light too brashly. There were few trees; there were no gardens; it looked altogether too business-like, as if there was no room set aside to breathe or relax or do anything other than… well, whatever it was the aunera wished to accomplish by being here. There was a sense of terrifying, single-minded purpose to the place. And everywhere there were aunera, without the gray cloaks which shrouded them when they walked in Kherishdar proper. So strange, the aunera: shorter and denser and so varied in build…! And in demeanor, even more so; even the way they walked was so… individual. Some of them stared at us. Others ignored us. Some glanced at us and moved on. To know the reaction of one aunerai was to know nothing, for the next would act differently.
      None of them approached us, as I imagined they should have at the sight of such a large incursion of Ai-Naidar on their side of the Gate-town. No Guardians came and asked us for credentials. No dignitaries arrived to greet us formally and ask us our aims. I found the whole thing disorienting, and entirely bewildering. It was fortunate indeed I was not in charge of our sortie.
      “Do you know where we are to go?” Shame asked his penokedi—for we were all fully our roles now, armor against this place’s brutality, and there was very little of Kor or Ajan to be seen in their demeanors.
      “Yes,” he answered. “I know the way.”
      We followed him, then, to a building that was very much like the rest; I suppose he found it so easily partially because the entire complex was laid out on a grid, and each building was labeled. One felt the alien perspective deeply: that purpose was to be imposed on the landscape, which was to be forced into submission. You speak much of your discomfort with our culture, aunera, that it requires obedience so frequently… perhaps it is because you yourselves brook no denial when you enforce your own wills. Among us we say that right conduct is due to every Ai-Naidari, because there is always someone above us, and someone below. For you, there seems to be some resentment that this might be so. You do not want to be the one below… only the one above.
      This was my impression, anyway, and I derived it from your architecture and landscaping. Perhaps that was unfair, but I am an artist, and art speaks more clearly to me than any other language.
      “Here,” Ajan said, stopping before one of the unremarkable buildings. “We are expected here.”
      “Are you sure?” I asked, staring up at it.
      Ajan pointed at the sign alongside the door. “That is the right sigil.”
      Together we looked at the building, each nursing his or her own disquiet.
      “Is there some protocol?” Kor asked at last.
      “The scheduler said there was no set procedure for this particular aunerai,” Ajan said, looking down the street. There were aunera in the area, but as before none of them seemed surprised by our presence. They acted almost as if we were one township of mixed population, rather than two separate townships that must be guarded against one another. I said so, in fact, stumbling over my words in my attempt to make sense of it out loud.
      “Yes,” Shame said, eyes narrowed. “I find that a very interesting choice.”
      I wondered if he could glean some insight into the mind of an alien in the same way he could an Ai-Naidari, and could not decide whether I found the notion disturbing or expected.
      “Well,” Ajan said, dismounting, “there is no use waiting.”
      “But there should be… more people,” I protested. “There should be Guardians. And Servants. There should be more… more fanfare. We are visiting Ai-Naidar…!”
      Ajan did not reply to that, only opened the door for us.
      The moment we stepped inside, I knew we had made a mistake. This was not a place for receiving foreigners. The floors and walls were bare, the furniture utilitarian, and the room itself barely large enough for all of us. In it was a single narrow desk with a chair; behind that desk, the wall was a sheet of glass looking into a place exposed, nothing but racks and racks of wires and sleek metal boxes. My impression was of nothing but gray, white, black, and more gray. It was a place drained of any living color, until the aunerai rose from behind the desk. It, at least, was done in shades of peach and apricot and pale pink, with brown spiraling hairs an ornament to its head.
      It was also male.

***

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Tags: ai-naidar, black blossom, serial, writing
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