The Aphorisms of
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
"Ah," he said, ears pricking. "So do
It was a commitment to his art I was
ashamed to admit I had not believed a mask-maker capable of. "What are you
"Binder," he said. "And pigment for
"What do you use for black?" I
"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
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