The Aphorisms of
nesthae [ nehs THAY ], (noun) -- exception; has unsavory
connotations: ghost, demon, outside, unlike. Not quite alien, but
The woman stood next to a shaft of sunlight,
hands tucked into her sleeves and tail lying on the rolled silk hem of her
robes. I could not see her House sigil; her stole had fallen inside her
over-robe. By her clothing she was above the Wall of Birth, so I waited
for her to speak.
"I am planning to commission a copy of the
Book of Exceptions. I would like you to pen a sample page for me."
"Of course," I said in Abased. She had not
given me her name but it seemed inappropriate to call her
, the polite term for one whose
--caste-rank--is unknown to you. I couldn't say why. Her eyes
drifted out the window as I said, "When shall the sample be ready for
She met my gaze. Startled, I had no time
to drop my eyes.
"Five days," she said, and left me stunned
in my studio.
I rearranged my schedule to accomodate her
request. While only a fraction of the size of the multi-volume Book of
Precedents, a commission to craft a Book of Exceptions would require a
significant investment of time and materials. And it was rare: most Houses
kept their Books for generations. Save in rare cases, new ones were
commissioned only to replace those lost, destroyed or too old to consult.
All calligraphers had iskad
most frequently requested books: a "soul" of the book, a copy naked of all
embellishments, containing merely the text with annotations on the
traditional illuminations and letter treatments. It was typical to choose
the first page of the Book of Exceptions as one's sample, wherein it was
discussed that the book's purpose was to explain the few times when an
Ai-Naidari might act in ways other than those described in the Book of
Precedents. I brought the iskadi
to my slanted desk, propping it on
the stand and preparing my paints and my finest vellum.
Just before my pen touched skin, I saw her
gaze. Her eyes drifting to the window, ignoring all my scrolls, my books.
Her eyes meeting mine so directly. Her eyes, and the thing I'd seen in
them, like a poem, unnameable but as sharp as a gasp.
I took the Book from the stand and walked
its pages slowly, slowly... until I reached the final section, the one
that explained that the Book of Exceptions had been written in the ink of
tears shed by the Exception, the one Ai-Naidari in every generation whose
soul had no caste-rank. Who floated always beyond society, able to
criticize it... and never to know its comforts.
With ink near as colorless as water, I
transcribed the first line: To be parted from society is to suffer.
When she returned to award
me the commission, she asked, "How did you know me?"
I remembered the poem of her sorrow and
said, "How could I not?"
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© 2007, M. C. A. Hogarth