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

Black Blossom Part 76: Guessing at the Mind of the Master

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 76
A Story of Kherishdar as Translated by M.C.A. Hogarth

      When I spoke, it was for the regrettable sort of words which often break such silences. “If I don’t rise now, I don’t think I’ll be able to move for cramping.”
      “Up, up,” he said. “I’ll put in a bath for you.”
      “Let me come with you,” I said. “I don’t want to be alone.”
      In the bath I watched him at work; the confidence of his movements remained unimpeded by the world-weight, but he was more deliberate than usual. He felt it too, I thought, if not as dearly as I did. The sight of his grace soothed my spirit all the same, just as it was pleasing when he helped me undress; it felt good to be taken care of. I went into the bath and there I reposed, eyes closed, until the steam loosened some of the muscles in my legs and arms and chest.
      It was the latter release that freed me enough to speak. “Tell me. Why you knew they would not be animals.”
      “It is in the books, if you look for it,” Kor said, sitting cross-legged at the edge of the bath.
      “You cannot be serious,” I said, startled. But he was, so I said, “Where?”
      “In the histories describing our first experiences with aunera,” Kor said. At my expression, he said, “I had cause to look, for one of my Corrections was interrupted by one. Afterwards, I did the research.” He smiles, lopsided. “You will find that is often my answer to many things.”
      “I cannot fault a man for seeking the wisdom of books,” I said, thinking of my own long association with the Librarian of the capital. Then, looking up at him again. “But what aren’t you saying, Kor?”
      He sighed and smiled, and it was a very tired smile. “The lord’s male lover… he was the aunerai I saw that day. I suppose it makes sense, for the number of aunera who would be allowed ingress are few and one associated so closely with a nanaukedi lord would be a likely candidate. But it was… a surprise.”
      “Did he recognize you, do you think?” I said, astonished.
      “I don’t know,” Kor said. “How could I? Does he know enough of us to know that I am unusually colored?” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, Farren. What does matter is if you read the books you will learn we did not give the aunera their designations in order to diminish them to the status of animals. We did it to make clear that they stand outside the hierarchy of Kherishdar, that the hierarchy cannot apply to them.”
      “But—” And then I stopped.
      “You understand,” Kor said, no doubt watching my thoughts course over my face. “We cannot assign them a caste in order to speak politely of them in our language, because that would make them a place within our society. We cannot even remand them to the unspoken caste, because even a slave, historically, was an Ai-Naidari with a value within the system: a negative value, perhaps, but you would know as well as I do that the negative space creates a shape.”
      “Yes,” I murmured, lost in the image, and the… well, the alienness of the discussion.
      “The only way to exclude them, then,” Kor finished, “is to speak of them as un-people.”
      “But why would we make that choice?” I said, ears flattening. “Why not just create an alien caste, to which only aliens can belong, and then make rules to govern how they are treated within Kherishdar?”
      “That is a very good question,” Kor said, quiet. “To which I have only one answer.” I looked up at him and he replied, ” ‘We’ did not make that choice, Farren. Thirukedi did.”
      I paused, taken aback. Then said, “What?”
      “It’s very clear in the histories,” Kor said. “After we first met the aunera. Thirukedi told us how we were to speak of them. The decision was handed down directly from Him.”
      I recognized the look on his face: he was waiting for me to pry more out of him. I was unfortunately too intent on having the answers to take him to task for it. “But?”
      “But there are no copies remaining of the proclamation,” Kor said, watching me. “The histories speak of the notice, but do not record the exact wording. They mention it, that is all.”
      I let the steam rising off the water distract me while I considered the implications I could understand… and the ones I could only imagine. At last, I said, “It is perilous to guess at the mind of Civilization.”
      “Yes?” he said, and I did not detect the usual hint of humor that accompanied such questions.
      “But it almost seems as if… He knows something about the aunera we don’t,” I said slowly. “And that, perhaps… in either case… He did not want an irrevocable decision.”
      “It is perilous to guess at the mind of Civilization,” Kor said. “But the servants become like the master. We are His own… perhaps we might dare to guess, now and then, at His thoughts.”
      “And this guessing is how you came to your conclusion,” I said, and paused to give voice to my exasperation. “Kor… must you really do this conversational gambit, with the leading questions? Do you derive some bizarre pleasure from it?”
      I startled a laugh from him; he still seemed tired, but I was proud of that laugh. Vexed at the foible, yes, but proud of the laugh.
      “I am sorry, Farren,” he said when he recovered himself. “It’s hard to curb one’s habits. I am used to drawing people out during Correction, sometimes to lance a wound they cannot reach themselves, and sometimes to lead them toward the answer they need but will not accept without effort. It’s my experience that most people value more the answer they have to work for.”
      I studied his face, becoming so well-known to me, and marked the fatigue in it still, and the shadows in his coronal eyes.
      “You don’t have to be Shame for me,” I said at last.
      “I know,” Kor said, quiet. “And I value that. I equally value that I don’t have to stop myself from being Shame for you. It’s as much a part of me as your art is a part of you, Farren. And yet, fewer people are discomfited at the exercise of your work.”
      I chuckled softly. “I hope you will have less need to Correct me than I have need to paint.”
      “You, need Correction? Rarely, I am guessing,” Kor said with a smile. “But I can’t change the way I react to the world.”
      “Which is as a priest,” I said.
      “Yes.”
      “So what you’re saying,” I murmured, looking up at the ceiling with exaggerated patience, “is that I have committed to a lifetime of your practicing on me.”
      He did not laugh, but his eyes were bright with it, and with the poignancy of his gratitude. “Yes.”
      I like to think that my sigh would have pleased even a jaded audience. I gave it such zest that it made the surface of the water ripple. That won me another laugh, at last.
      “If I promise to pose for you, would that soothe your pain?” he said.
      “More than once,” I said.
      “Regularly,” he promised, solemn.
      “Very well,” I said. “I am appeased. I would demand my first session tonight, but regrettably I am too tired.”
      “I am also,” Kor said, quieter. As he helped me from the bath, he said, “I will check on the others and then return here. And we should eat before we sleep, Farren.”
      “You have an appetite?” I said, accepting the towel from him.
      “Not at all. But we should try.”

***

Honestly, I think this is one of the most leading conversations in the book… I wonder what you all will take away from it. You will note also ties both to the Admonishments and (more subtly) the very first Aphorism. :)

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