The Aphorisms of Kherishdar
M.C.A. Hogarth

NALURETH
nalureth [ nah lure EHTH], (noun) . emotional capacity; the individual ability to cope with, stretch, give or handle emotional situations, carrying with it the understanding that each person's is different. Emotional health is measured in a person's nalureth.
      The Winter Tryst consumes us all.
      Once a year, from sunrise until sunrise, we shed rank and custom. We wear no House sigils, no caste-marks, no identifying colors. We strip our speech and don our masks, and even the cold is complicit in our celebration, for it inspires the layers of our enigmatic costumes. To the parks we fly, gaily-clad or somber, outrageous in our anonymity. And there we mingle, we dance... and we couple beneath the trees, hoping for Winter's children to enrich our families.
      It had been years since I attended a Winter Tryst, but the gift of the mask compelled me. Early in the evening I found myself in one of the city's parks beneath the colored lanterns.
      "Dance with me," a woman whispered, and obedient, I followed.
      All dances' moves and allowed touches are codified, and the Tryst's are no exception. They are also salacious in the extreme, all the more for never knowing whose hand flowed over one's wrist, whose tail flicked against one's ankle, whose fingers trailed over one's waist. Farmer, merchant, servant and Servant, guardian and noble... anyone might be one's partner.
      And yet that was not why I turned down the first invitation to lie beneath the trees.
      Nor the second.
      The night empurpled and I danced until winded, and still I could not follow the others, nor understand the tangle of feelings that prevented me. All I knew was that when at last I came to a halt, I missed my wife and my daughter more than any breath I labored to draw from the winter air.
      "So quiet."
      I turned my head enough to see an androgynous figure, narrow as a spear. "I am done with dancing," I said.
      "And with the Tryst?"
      "And with the Tryst," I said.
      "Why do I hear a sigh in your voice, my brother?"
      I bowed my head. "I came intending to make the gift, and I withheld it."
      The stranger stepped up to my side, close, very close, and followed my gaze to the revelers. "Did you dance?"
      "The dance is the smallest part of this," I said.
      The other laughed. "Yes. Do you know the largest?"
      "Winter's children--"
      "--are only the end. They are not the reason."
      I glanced at my companion and saw nothing but glitter-white paint and feathers. As if sensing my gaze, the masked countenance turned toward me. "This," the other finished, "is the reason," and drew me into silk-draped arms.
      I heard the swift tattoo of another Ai-Naidari's heart, felt the sough of life's breath against my bare neck, brushed the living warmth of another body fleetingly, oh fleetingly.
      "Now," my companion said, stepping away, "you have made the gift."
      I hesitated, shaken, and the other touched me on the ceramic surface of the mask. "Do not be ashamed of what you give, if it is given freely."
      Even one gifted in aphorisms can be taught. I kissed those fingers and bowed, and wished I could have sought the trees with such a fair spirit.


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© 2007, M. C. A. Hogarth