The Aphorisms of Kherishdar
M.C.A. Hogarth


nelijzan [ neh lii JZAHN ], (verb): to deceive, purposefully; to put on a different face for the specific purpose of misleading someone. Derived from "lijzan", masks.
      I knew him for a mask-maker by the design on his sleeve so I was not surprised when he spoke first. The mask-makers sometimes behaved as public servants, several castes above their merchant status. It was perhaps a statement of irony that he used the grammar that indicated he was speaking as one above himself, while still making the transgression.
      "Pardon the interruption," he said. "Do you know where I might buy paint?"
      He must have just arrived to sell masks for the Winter Tryst. It was what they lived for: to make masks for entertainments was nothing. To make masks for the one event a year when all Ai-Naidar mingled in disguise, ignorant of caste and rank... that was a mask-maker's life.
      "I don't know," I said. "I make my own."
      "Ah," he said, ears pricking. "So do I, usually."
      It was a commitment to his art I was ashamed to admit I had not believed a mask-maker capable of. "What are you missing?"
      "Binder," he said. "And pigment for black."
      "What do you use for black?" I asked.
      "Carbon," he said. "For the expensive masks I grind onyx or hematite for a more subtle effect."
      And then there was nothing for it but to invite him to sit and have tea at the table I reserve for clients and discuss the minutia of our craft. When our shadows had stretched wan and thin, he said at last, "I cannot stay, alas. I must find a place to re-supply or I will not be ready for the Tryst."
      I looked at him then. His face was lined, not with poverty, but with austerity. In his eyes I saw something of myself. To be a public servant artist, as I was, required a true calling. But to be a mask-maker and fulfill one of our most unseemly needs, to be reduced to a merchant and a transient merely by association with that need...
      We cherished the children born of the Tryst's anonymous unions, but looked askance at the artisans who made them possible.
      I brought him my bottle of black. He glanced up at me, startled and uncertain. I set it on his palms.
      "Good luck with your work," I said.
      He stood, bowed deep--deeper than required. I considered that gratitude enough... but the following day there was a box on my studio doorstep. The mask inside was a thing of glory: elegant porcelain in white, bisque and sienna with garnets and a single fire opal.
      I thought of the truism, Who loves masks has no soul... and then of another, even deeper: All that is unjust changes in its time.
      I traced the empty eye socket and the black ink that lined it. "Your time will come," I murmured.


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© 2007, M. C. A. Hogarth