Serial, Kherishdar’s Exception, Episode 4: Outrageous

     Slipping out of Qevellen was easy for many reasons. The foremost was that it’s not yet full of children, so no one’s employing any of the ways adults contrive to keep them corralled. That would change, given Farren’s determination: bells on the doors, little half-height gates, chiming curtains. But it’s also easy because it’s such an open house. Kor mentioned it was constructed for the First Servant of Shame, presumably to his specifications, so that might account for its eccentricities… except that given the kind of personality attracted to Shame’s priesthood I would have expected the First Servant to have wanted a cave, not this temple to open spaces and garden views.
      That’s how I escaped: by taking one of the ubiquitous garden paths entirely around the building and to the gate. I had never seen a house this size on such an enormous plot… only in the Temple District would it have been possible, and only in an old house, built when mores were different. Gardens are supposed to be public amenities. I can’t remember the last time I saw a large one that was also gated.
      We were an odd house, and an odd House. Farren has told you those are separate words? Gadare is the building. Eqet is the group of family members. It’s important that you think a little like us, aunera, if you’re to find this story bearable—or even explicable. So remember this, the whimsicality of Qevellen. A House with eight males and one female. What was Thirukedi thinking?
      Maybe I would ask Him.
      I was going there now—to see Him. Walking to center. We say vaesha. To move toward Him, or more abstractly toward civility, or peace, or harmony with others. He had made me osulkedi, and that made Him my lord. Strange thought. Perilous one, after how I’d fallen out with my last lord. At least, I thought, I would not be likely to fall torridly in love with Thirukedi. A woman might like her lovers older than her, but there are limits.
      Surely Qenain had broken me, to have left me with such ideas.
      There are fathriked who find the outdoors distressing. I was never one of them. The spring sunlight on my head, warming the curls that brushed alongside my neck and cheeks… that felt good. The piquancy of late spring flowers gave the air some needed spice, particularly in the Temple district where the breezes carried the powdery, sweet smell of incense. The busyness of it, even here, where there were fewer residences: I loved it. Kherishdar has a rhythm, and I now played a different part of the pattern. I found it invigorating, experiencing those differences. To have been rakadhas, thrust from the caste that had defined me almost all my life, had been painful. But now that I’d been ejected from the process of re-evaluation, I found acclimating to my new state stimulating.
      I digress. You would too, walking through the graciousness of late spring, in the blossom-strewn byways of Kherishdar.
      Farren told you perhaps that the city is separated into wedges—the atan—and that’s true. That’s how we know which Regal Household is responsible for which segment of the city. But the city itself is built in rings, and to walk toward center from the Temple District, one goes through the public parks and plazas devoted to the Trysts, and afterwards into the administrative ring with the great Regal Households, and finally, the point at the center, where Thirukedi dwells. But the parks were an unsettling reminder of the forthcoming Summer Tryst, so I might perhaps be forgiven for being preoccupied when I ascended the steps to Thirukedi’s residence, and there nearly collided with another woman. She was gray-pelted, like me, but a watery color, one that darkened toward the tips of her hair and her ears, like she’d been left in the rain. Even her eyes were a wan yellow, like a piece of amber that had clouded over. I would have found her insipid except she met my gaze with a shocking directness and laughed at the sight of me, and I knew then who she was. Who she could only be.
      “Oh! The Emperor’s newest osulkedi. What a pretty girl you are!” Had I thought her eyes mild? When she leaned toward me I found them bright enough. Sultry, even. I was so busy with them I didn’t see the tap under my chin coming. “How do you like it so far? Or should you have stayed in your first caste, Decoration? You’re certainly decorative enough.”
      I jerked away, offended.
      “Oh, she has opinions, at least!” The woman chuckled. “Good for you, pretty girl.”
      “My name,” I said from between bared teeth, “is Haraa nai’Qevellen-osulkedi, and I don’t care if you’re the Exception. Don’t call me ‘pretty girl.’”
      “Oooh, she figured me out.” A sly grin, as if we were sharing a secret. “Very good! You’re as smart as you look. People rarely are. It’s very disappointing.”
      The nakked at the door weren’t staring at her. I don’t know how. I would have to ask Ajan or Vekken how that worked. How you trained a Guardian not to be outraged by the one Ai-Naidari in all the empire who was allowed to be this offensive.
      “Anyway,” she said. “I’m on my way. Have fun with your master, pretty girl.”
      “He’s your master too,” I growled. “And my name—”
      “—is Haraa, I know, you’ve told me,” she said dismissively. “But I don’t have to call you that. And honestly, you haven’t earned it from me.” More serious, her eyes abruptly grave, almost angry. “Everyone has to earn everything from me, little osulkedi.” Traipsing down the steps now, as lightly as a maiden. “And no man is my master, nor woman either! How lucky I am, am I not, to be so free? I bet you envy me.”
      Shocked, I exclaimed, “I do not!”
      She flung a grin over her shoulder at me. “Why the boots, then, pretty girl? Where do you wish you were going? Far, far away…” She laughed. “Good luck with that. You live here, and trapped, and always will.” And then she passed down the path, back toward the gates.
      Have you ever been angry enough to want to kick something? Goddess, aunera. How she infuriated me! And it was in this mood that I passed into the halls of Thirukedi’s personal temple, trailing my own incense of pique and offense. I wasn’t proud of it, but I had never met the Exception. I’d somehow thought of her as a sad and distant figure, not someone who could flirt at me with her eyes while mocking me with her words.
      It was petty of me, but I thought, as a Servant led me to Him, that at least my pelt and eyes didn’t look like someone had diluted them with too much water.

***

I wonder… do humans have a concept of walking-to-center? The Ai-Naidar want to know.

 




 

Serial, Kherishdar’s Exception, Episode 3: Pride

Part 1: LEJZA (The Trysts)
Chapter 1
Episode 3: Pride

      We were not two months into Qevellen’s creation when Kor found me and said, “If you would not have yourself married, Haraa, I suggest you find some significant pastime outside this House and away from Farren’s sight.”
      It was late spring, and the garden in our new house was in full flower. In the years to come, it would be manicured and tamed… but no one had had time to devote to it yet, and I loved its wildness. The bench I’d chosen was shrouded in the fern-like sprays of cloudsbreath and encircled on one side in brightsheaves, the lilies that the first head of Qenain had brought to the Emperor so long ago. My mind was on her, and Qenain’s former lord… inevitably, given how little time had gone past since he’d been my life. But Kor could not have chosen a better way to shatter my reverie. “Excuse me?”
      “Our head of household,” Kor said, sitting on the bench facing mine across the path, “is very enthusiastic about fulfilling his responsibilities… and the Summer Tryst is approaching. Right now he is very involved with my former Guardians, but now that the matchmaking fever is on him I doubt you will be exempt from his efforts.”
      Yes, there’s a word for that. Emma tells me that I shouldn’t stint on teaching them, and this one might interest, so here it is: theqilare. Not ‘match-make,’ but ‘grasp the pattern of generations.’ We feel very strongly about the importance of theqilare, which is why it would be pointless to try to discourage Farren from his efforts. Besides, I knew a little of him by then, enough to have seen that he was far, far more stubborn than his azjelin. One wouldn’t think it, to contrast Kor’s stern demeanor with Farren’s gentleness. But Farren clung far harder to decisions and ideas, and goddess help anyone who tried to pry his fingers loose.
      “Unless, of course, you are busy,” Kor said mildly when I didn’t answer.
      I raised my eyes to regard him, and this he allowed, as he always did, with supreme self-assurance: Kherishdar’s only priest of Shame, for even among us there are singular powers and he was heir to one of those few mantles. He had always worn his power easily, but having found both ajzelin and lover, he had grown into something somehow harder to live with—and easier. He had been terrifying for his clarity of thought and uncanny insight into the Ai-Naidari heart, and for the fact that you knew, just looking at him, that there was no impediment between the exercise of that talent and your own soul. Now that he was happy and that happiness distracted you from who he was, you sometimes forgot he was also Shame, until he surprised you with some painfully astute observation… like he was now about my idleness, and its probable cause.
      “I suppose it would be useless to deny that I don’t want a husband right now,” I said. “So I won’t. And I’m guessing I am not showing some secret sign of an error that could be Corrected by the application of a spouse, or you wouldn’t be warning me. Yes?”
      His mouth twitched. “It is a great pleasure to be known so well, qirini.”
      ‘Sister,’ that means. I hadn’t heard it from him before and was surprised to find it flattering. “I thank you for telling me, then. Are you heeding your own warning yourself?”
      He chuckled. “Shame is always busy.”
      “Not too busy for a spouse,” I pointed out. “After all, Shame now has time for a lover and an ajzelin.”
      “A lover and an ajzelin are more than enough,” Shame said, and it was Shame speaking now… something about the way his words felt like statements of fact, rather than opinions. An implacability. And, as always, I couldn’t hear it without trying to needle him.
      “And your duty to the generations?”
      “Fulfilled, I hope, by the Winter Tryst,” he said. “Which I have attended since I have been of age.” He lifted a brow. “And you have not. Does it concern you?”
      “The prospect of it?” I shook my head. “I’ve certainly had more lovers than you. A few more, anonymous or not, won’t trouble me.”
      “I didn’t imagine it would,” he said. “But the Tryst is not about taking a lover.”
      I eyed him and folded my arms, the silk of my sleeves hissing over my lap. “Don’t you start, osulkedi.”
      He laughed then, rising. He had a good laugh. It made him more approachable. “Ah, Haraa. How can I, when I have never stopped?” Canting his head, he finished, “Your ishas, no less than mine, can and perhaps should be executed elsewhere.”
      I thought of the Gate-town. “I know.”
      “Will you require escort? Ajan, or one of the others.”
      I smiled at that. “You’d spare me Ajan?”
      “Of course.”
      But something in his eyes, which were too amused: “Because you know I won’t take him.”
      He chuckled softly. “I offered because if you had wanted him, you would have needed him, and I would have given him to you gladly.”
      “But you did know I wouldn’t,” I pressed.
      He smiled at that. “Say rather that I suspected.” At my skeptical look he laughed again. “You are not always easy to predict, Haraa. It’s… refreshing.”
      “For Shame, who knows all,” I said boldly. Because if he had called me sister, I could tease him. “I would have thought it would irritate you.”
      “If it does, I’ll let you know.”
      “Qirini,” I said, tasting the sobriquet.
      “Yes.”
      It was still flattering on consideration. I flicked my ears back casually to hide their tint. “I’ll give your warning all due consideration.” And, smiling too, “If I can do my part to protect you from Farren’s fervor, I will. Because, apparently, an ajzelin and a lover is more than enough work without adding a wife to the mix, for Kherishdar’s sole Shame.”
      He snorted. “Enjoy the day, Haraa.”
      The garden was still beautiful after he left. Maybe more so, for having had him in it to stress the contrasts. He was dark and austere and had an abruptness to his motions that would have given my deportment teachers attacks. Not because he was without grace, but because he managed to have it without the stately finish they taught all fathriked. The memory of it made the sway of the brightsheaves look more genteel, and the garden patches looked wilder for their lack of constraint. Farren might have found the juxtaposition arresting. I found it funny. I was, in fact, smiling.
      Well, that, and twitching, fingers grasping the edge of the bench. The last thing I wanted was a husband. Shemena forfend.
      I rose from the bench, feeling that I had lingered too long in my idleness. Thirukedi had elevated me and given me a task, and in His kindness allowed me time to linger over the absolute disaster that had been my relationship with Jaran, the lord of Qenain now exiled. I still hurt, but I had been studiously ignoring the fact that I would never stop hurting unless I gave myself something to do that didn’t involve the endless examination of those last weeks and what I might have done to change things.
      That I’d been avoiding my duty because doing it would remind me of him… well. I was done with letting ij Qenain have power over me. He had chosen the aunera over me. Over all of Kherishdar. I was proud enough to find that mortifying, and pride can galvanize you into motion and keep you there, when you might otherwise find yourself faltering.

***

Into the story, directly.

 




 

Ai-Naidar Meta-Conversations: To Live (with Nuance)

“Your language has too much nuance.”

This complaint wins me a sardonic look from Haraa, who is sitting on the windowseat with her books spread over her lap. But that’s fine. I can handle sardonic looks… it’s why I came out with this comment in front of her instead of the Calligrapher, or Shame, whose responses would have been far harder to handle.

“So what,” she drawls, “has you so confused this time, aunerai?”

“’Life,’” I say. “Is as. Why can’t I just conjugate that to get the verb?”

“Because it would be ugly,” she says dismissively.

“But you can conjugate other nouns to get the verb form!”

“But living is a lot more complicated.” She puts a bookmark in her journal—a kadkabini, because naturally I have the word for something esoteric, like “bookmark”, but not something as basic as “to live”—and leans over the closed book, brows lifted. “So go ahead. Ask.”

“How do you say it?” I ask.

“It depends.”

I try not to put my head in my hands. She grins.

“The words for having,” she says. “We combine those with the word for life to derive ‘to live’. And we use them accordingly.”

“You have five words for ‘to have’,” I mutter.

“Yep,” she says, leaning back, amused.

“So? Explain?”

Astemin,” she says. “That’s living like you’re creating your life, with intent.”

“Naturally,” I say. “You would have a word for that.”

“The astonishing thing is that you don’t,” she says. “Astemir, though, that’s to live like you’ve earned it. Something you say of people you admire, who’ve done good things.”

“But not made them,” I said. “I would have thought you would value making-as-value.”

“We do,” she says, cheerful. “Farren both lives-through-making, and has reached the point of living-through-earning.”

I really do put my head in my hands. “Don’t tell me there are another three words for living.”

“You’re in luck, there’s only one more. Asim, to live by being given your life as Divine duty and gift. That’s where most of us are.”

I look up, squinting. “But there’s no asimai…?”

“No one lives just because they exist,” she says. “Living’s not like being pretty or smart, something you’re born with. If you’re born at all, you’re already living because you’ve received a gift, from your parents who made you. There’s no…” She waves a hand. “No living in a convenient vacuum, where you get to deny that your existence doesn’t rely on other people.”

“Of course,” I mutter. “So… asim, astemin, and astemir.” I cock my head. “Astemshe?”

“Only,” she says, “if someone who is about to kill you stays his hand.” She grinned. “Kind of an ancient and bizarre construct, but I won’t say it hasn’t been used.”

“How do people even speak your language,” I say, resigned.

“If they’re you, badly.”