The Aphorisms of Kherishdar
M.C.A. Hogarth

KHERISHDAR
qerish [ care IHSH ], noun -- all that is worth knowing/encompassing (deprecated; exists now only as part of the word for the Ai-Naidari empire, "Kherishdar," a compound formed from root 'qerish' and 'udar', society or nation).
      Though each noble might support a different temple, there is a shrine to the medar, the ancestors, in every district. I had come there as was my custom each month to burn amber incense, in particular for my father whom I much missed; there in the sepia shadows, close and dim, I often felt his touch and was transported.
      So low was the lighting in the shrine that my eyes watered when I stepped out of it and found a great crowd in the street; I tarried at the shrine's threshold until my vision cleared. The foremost figure in the tableau was a regal, elegantly dressed in russet and citron yellow. Surrounding him his Guardians were as spare as swords in gray with sashes in his colors. Still, a regal alone was no cause for such a throng, and I had to work to find that cause: a single figure shrouded in a gray cloak, who turned a stranger's face to our sun.
      Aunerai. Unlike. Alien.
      "What follows?" a priest asked me from behind.
      I moved aside so he could look and replied as caste-equal. "An aunerai, it seems."
      "They approach," the priest said, sounding surprised. I stepped away and bowed to the passing entourage.
      Said the regal, "Our guest has little experience with our customs, and wonders at this shrine. May he enter?"
      "Of course," the priest said, Abased, though his ears flicked backward in uncertainty. "Be welcome."
      I watched the regal escort the alien into the shrine, all the Guardians following save the two who took position outside the arched door. Though it was not a perfect courtesy to interrupt their watch, I could not resist addressing one.
      "A difficult duty?"
      He did not glance at me, but his tone was congenial. "Easy enough. The aunerai has traded honestly with our lord for some time, and was invited here as reward."       "Ah!" I said. "To be so long acquainted with us, and now at last to see the treasures of Kherishdar. Truly he must be humbled by such a gift."
      "He seems to be," the Guardian replied. "For now."
      Of course, a Guardian is always thinking of the time his training might be needed. And yet I had to ask, "Do you think he will do something rash?"
      "One hopes not," the Guardian said. "But if he becomes covetous, then he will see the other hand of the empire." His fingers, so casually resting on the steel pommel of his sword, flexed.
      I left the temple district, with its spiced breeze redolent with incense, and returned to my studio. There I looked at my work, hanging on the walls... at the wealth represented by my books and the raw materials of my trade, often ground from gemstones and precious ores. I felt their value as I uncapped my paint and dipped a brush, but as I worked my frisson of unease dissipated. I was no Historian, but I had listened to the stories of those who'd made unwise assumptions about the seeming decadence of Kherishdar.
     Behind a long-lived prosperity there waits a never-sleeping sword.
     Not all empires die.


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© 2007, M. C. A. Hogarth