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 86
A Story of Kherishdar as Translated by M.C.A. Hogarth
So I was not there for the pathos of the work to save Ajan’s life; I am glad, in retrospect, for from what I heard later I may have lost years of my life to the terror of it. But it is true that aunerai medicine is better than ours, for as strange as it seems you have more time to effect repairs on your bodies if they are traumatically wounded than we do, and this interval you have spent hundreds of years and much art and science on widening.
Nor was I there for the other intervention, the political one, in which the lord of Qenain and the lady of the colony atani saved the lives of the Guardians who had shot Ajan, for ordinarily their lives would have been forfeit for the misuse of the weapons they had been granted… if in fact the lady had had the opportunity to punish them at all. They might have been unable to live with what they had done and made restitution in the most final way a tortured conscience can conceive. But between the lord and lady and the aunerai administrator, they were saved, though never again did they stand Gate duty with rifles at their backs: not because they were found untrustworthy, but because the sight of the weapons forevermore sickened them and they refused any duty that required their carriage.
But all this I did not know until many interminable hours later, for I had done my work so well that no one remembered that I was not there to be informed of how it went. Lacking any direction of my own, I repaired to the tea-house and sat in it over a single bowl of tea that quickly grew tepid and then cold, for I sent the proprietor away to spare her the weariness of my long vigil. The afternoon wore on and the brutal evening fell, and still I heard no word, and I despaired. I could not even lance that despair with my art, for my trunk had been sent ahead of us, and taken with it all my materials. The need to draw was a physical pain in my fingers, in my heart.
The first I knew of any of what transpired was when Kor stumbled into the tea-house, and to his knees at my side, and collapsed there, head in my lap, weeping.
“Oh, no, no,” I whispered. “Don’t tell me…”
“They saved him,” he said into my lap, his great chest heaving. “They saved him, only just, but they did it. It was so close.” And then he relapsed into his paroxysms, and I bent close over him, covering him.
Aunera, I had seen him in his sickness, and in his brittle withdrawal; had seen his uncertainty and his guilt. I had not yet seen him weep. And seeing it finished something in my heart, filled some hole in it with the fierce need to protect him, who in all Kherishdar needed the least protection, and yet was as vulnerable as the smallest child given the right provocation. I pressed my nose to his hair and rested one hand on his arm; the other I spread on his back. Had someone burst into the room then with ill intent, I would have died to shield him… as I would have before. But before, I would not have fought.
For a brief instant, I had a shattering insight into the hearts of Guardians. I said a prayer of thanks for Ajan’s life and gathered my ajzelin closer. I held him thus until his back ceased to lurch beneath my palm, until his breathing slowed. Until at last he drew in a long breath and sighed it out against my thigh, pressing his eyes into it. I stroked his hair, soothing the last of the tremors away.
“So close, Farren,” he said again, at last, voice ragged.
“Too close,” I surmised.
He shook his head. “Ordinarily I would say no; he is a Guardian. I welcomed him into my arms knowing that risk. But this…” He sat back on his heels and looked up at me, his body composed but his eyes rimmed in red. “His leap was a death sentence. Even now, he looks so wan… but they sent me away. He needs time to recover from the surgery.”
“Surgery,” I whispered. “Surgery does not stop certain death.”
“It does among the aunera,” Kor said, and rested his head against my thigh, exhaustion dragging the yoke of his shoulders toward the earth.
I set my long hand on his head again, and this he accepted without response; by that I knew how depleted he was.
The lord returned next, pausing at the sight of us, for we had not moved for nearly an hour and some sense of that timelessness remained about us.
“Osulked,” he said at last, though he addressed me only. “The Guardians have been excused, and are in the hands of those who might heal them. The lady and I, and the administrator of the human colony, have come to an agreement on the matter.”
“Was it explained, then, what the stranger intended?” I asked, my speech formal and Abased.
“It was,” he said. “The stranger is Lenore Serapis’s brother, and does not approve of her… obsession… for Kherishdar and the Ai-Naidar. He had not known she was leaving—she chose not to tell him—but he discovered it and came to stop her from making the journey. She explained that it was not her choice to make, that we had compelled it of her and of Administrator Clarke. This incensed her brother, who considers her his to protect, and he accused me of tainting her with our ideas, and filling her with inappropriate desires.”
The lord recounted this with a mask of a face, but I knew better; his straight recitation was a rebuke to us, leaving us with no distraction from the realization that the aunera no less than the Ai-Naidar consider aliens capable of spreading taint to their kind.
“Was he attacking you, then?” I asked.
“It was not his intention,” the lord said. “He was simply… over-excited.”
“And this you and the lady of the colony atani have decided to accept?” I said.
“To do otherwise would require us to bring yet another aunerai to Kherishdar,” the lord said. “Shall we try the aunera for crimes committed against us, and admit that they are people who can do so?”
I flicked my ears back, stung by the criticism, and said, “One does not try an animal for crimes committed against people, nanaukedi.”
“No,” the lord said. “One has them slain. Do you suppose that would be acceptable to the humans here?”
“Perhaps they should not assault the Ai-Naidar, did they not wish to be shot,” I said.
“Perhaps we should not be so quick to assume they deserve shooting,” the lord said. He sighed and covered his face with his hands a moment. “Osulkedi,” he said, and then more intimately as he looked at me again, “Calligrapher. You know the word avjz, do you not?”
Shocked, I could not respond. Then I answered, “From stories.”
“It is a real word to them, Calligrapher,” the lord said. “A modern word. They use it often. They have committed it frequently, and there are several still on-going on their homeworld. Do you understand? What for us is ancient and unspeakable history is no such thing for them. It is a valid answer to a problem.”
“They would not dare,” I whispered. “We would crush them.”
“I believe we would, for that they would underestimate us, hiding so much of what we are capable of,” he said. “But many of us would die to prove that supremacy. To dismiss humans as animals is cruel to them as individuals, osulkedi… it is also dangerous to us as a civilization.”
“And you have loved them,” I said, quiet, torn between revulsion and grief.
“I do love them,” the lord said. “But they are not like us.” He inclined his head and said, “I will go to my rooms to await word of our departure.”
As he left, I did the unthinkable and interrupted him after he had dismissed me. “Nanaukedi… you call them human.”
“It is what they call themselves,” he said, and was engulfed by the shadowed stairwell. That in itself was a sort of poem, one my fingers longed to commit to paper: the withdrawal of the lord of Qenain from the presence of other Ai-Naidar, and from any hope of remaining.
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Mirrored from MCAH Online.