enil [ eh NEEL ], (verb) — see obliquely; to look at something and see not what is obvious to others. A necessary quality for an Exception, but also useful in others who need to solve problems.
I knelt with my head against the floor as above me my uncle recited the litany of my many transgressions. This had become the background noise of my life, as ubiquitous as the hum of conversation in a market. I could no longer count the times I'd been called intractable, disobedient, arrogant.
I was bored.
As the drone of his voice continued, I stared at the wall with the edge of my eye. I'd never been to the shrine of Shame... it was poorly lit. The stone was cold—my own brow told me that—but I couldn't tell what color it was. I wondered what it looked like in the light.
"And that is the length of the matter," my uncle concluded. "I have spent years trying to place her and failed at every turn. I am at my wit's end, osulkedi. I must give her to you or give her up as lost."
"Leave her with me, masirkedi," he answered.
He did. My uncle, that is. The osulkedi, Shame's priest, was still here. He waited. I fidgeted. Finally I couldn't stand it anymore.
"What color are the walls?"
He didn't bridle. He didn't scowl. He didn't act surprised. He just lit a taper and handed it to me. Immediately I went to have a look for myself.
"Oh!" I said, touching it. "It's many-colored. Brown, gray, a little blue..." I traced a gold vein. "Beautiful."
"Let's go for a walk," he said.
It was nice of him to offer. I brushed off my robes and went with him. The sun was wonderful after kneeling on the cold floor. His company was strangely good too. And somehow we ended up at the emperor's residence.
"Don't we need an appointment?" I asked as the Guardians opened the front door for us.
"You don't," he said and led me down the carpeted halls, past the graceful flower arrangements and the perfectly appointed rooms.
Thirukedi, it turned out, was a handsome man. But you didn't notice until you recovered. For some reason, looking at him was difficult. It reminded me of the statues in the temples of Saresh and Kulind, as if decades of other people's reverence could be implied in his body. I was so fascinated I hardly noticed that... well... Shame had brought me to the emperor.
"You're not Correcting me?" I asked before they could speak.
He bowed to me, arms crossed over his chest. Then he turned to Thirukedi and said, "The Exception."
It has been years since Shame named me... years since I broke with my House and society itself. I think of the fifteen-odd years I spent suffering the well-meaning but futile attempts of my family and lords to place me. Fifteen-odd years. Shame had my company for only an afternoon... and even then, I think he'd decided within heart-beats of seeing me.
Years later, I still ask myself.
How did he know?
The Admonishments of Kherishdar.