The Aphorisms of Kherishdar
M.C.A. Hogarth

NESTHAE

nesthae [ nehs THAY ], (noun) -- exception; has unsavory connotations: ghost, demon, outside, unlike. Not quite alien, but contra-societal.
     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 duinikedi, the polite term for one whose hhaza--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 you?"
      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 for the 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