The Aphorisms of
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.
. Unlike. Alien.
"What follows?" a priest asked me from
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.
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