The Aphorisms of Kherishdar
M.C.A. Hogarth

nojzel [ noh JZEHL ], (noun) -- touch-points: these are specific zones or parts of the body that require specific permission (either under caste law or by individual permission) to be touched, and include points such as the nape of the neck, the face and the spine. Singular form is nojzeli.
     "I cannot imagine what I have done to deserve such an honor," I said. It had required time to remember to speak first... such was her loveliness. Almost I forgot to permit her words. "Speak, please."
     "You have pleased our master," she said, stunning me. "So he extends a small gift. I am yours for the hour."
     Among us, the fathriked are the most rarified of creatures: decorations, bed-warmers, soul-easers, who by their very existence beautify our lives. Any Ai-Naidari family may take one on, so long as they could afford to keep him or her always. The only honorable way to be quit of one is to give him or her away to another family with the wherewithal to maintain one... which is why almost all of them work above the Wall of Birth.
     A fathrikedi's time was incredibly precious. My liege-lord was more than pleased with me to have sent me one of his decorations. Certainly I had never expected such an opportunity, which is why I said, "I... am not sure what to request."
     She lifted her eyes then. "Is an indulgence permitted?"
     "Yes, of course."
     "May your works be viewed?"
     I waved her to her feet and watched as she walked the perimeter of the studio, studying the displayed calligraphy... her grace as much an art as the pieces I'd hung.
     When at last she returned to her knees before me, I said, "Have you some insight, then?"
     "Forgiveness," she murmured. "Permission is requested to touch the arms of the Calligrapher, from elbow to fingertip, on both sides."
     She asked no small intimacy, requesting the hands with the arms. But I was both curious and bewildered, so I retired to the window-seat and beckoned her into the sunlight. Rolling up my sleeves and tying them, I offered my arms. "You are allowed."
     The first touch of her fingertips on my inner arm sent a quiver through my body. Since the death of my wife, I had permitted very few such liberties, and had taken neither bed-partner nor touch-partner. Her massage would have been exquisite even had I been accustomed to such things... but I was not, and for that hour I drifted in sunlit bliss, fed by the loveliness of her movements, the tenderness of her touch and the warmth of the morning. I did not understand until she had finished that she had been easing cramps as well as offering comfort, having divined from the detail level in my work that I might need it.
     "There is some time yet," I said, when she withdrew her hands. "Stay. Rest."
     She kneeled at my feet then, without touching, and together we enjoyed the quiet and the light.
     Long after she'd left I felt her in my fingertips, and felt renewed joy at the rules that made touch and trust so intimately linked. I would remember her hands on mine for months... and so I painted.
     There is nothing so precious as the touch of another.


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© 2007, M. C. A. Hogarth