Two simple words. I wasn’t sure how to feel about them. One one hand, I hadn’t seen Sarah in several months; she’d been off on a quest from the king, and now she was back. On the other hand… yeah. Sarah was back.
It was basically inevitable; I was staying at her place for the foreseeable future afterall. There were three people on this whole world who knew both English and Silva well enough to teach me the latter now that my translation was no longer working. One was currently (and deservedly!) rotting away in a dungeon, and the last time I saw him he had tried to kill me. One had been the one who did this to me in the first place. And the third was Sarah’s mother.
“Drez tegroo, Sarah.” (Hello again.)
She looked at me quizzically and said something that made no sense.
“Toral sil?” (More slowly?)
She looked frustrated, and even more so when she repeated herself and it was clear from my face that I didn’t understand. I couldn’t blame her; I was frustrated too! These last few months had been a nightmare!
I’d been living here, literally a world away from the land of my birth, for years, but this was the first time I’d ever truly felt like a foreigner, the proverbial stranger in a strange land. What a difference communication makes! I’d heard that the term ‘barbarian’ was coined by the ancient Romans (or was it the ancient Greeks?) and it originally meant someone who does not speak a familiar language. The ancient tale of Babel makes the same basic point: people who can’t communicate are unable to work together to build civilization. As I’d like to think of myself as being in the civilization-building business, this represented an immense setback for me!
April wasn’t helping all that much. She sat nearby, just watching, looking faintly amused as I struggled to communicate. Finally she had compassion on me; she turned and explained to her daughter… something. I could only assume it was an overview of what had happened to me. I heard Ryell in there a couple times, and I was able to pick out a few words, but it was still mostly gibberish to me. Sarah looked crestfallen, and she walked over, raising her arms as if to hug me.
I stepped back, holding my hands up. “Tuor rell oka?” (Don’t touch, please?) She appeared to be half-orc today, and green was just not a good color on me.
Sarah pouted, but she took a step back and kept her distance. “Sela trohdurnal leit, Paul.” (I’m extremely sorry.)
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I did something kind of dumb. I looked at her and asked, “Kerafoe trel?” (How did it go?)
Her face brightened, and she started excitedly recounting the details of her trip. Which I understood roughly none at all of, because she spoke too quickly. I shot April a plaintive look, but she just shook her head and silently mouthed a Silva phrase I had already learned well enough to be sick of: You’ll understand when you learn.
Mentally, I understood the impetus behind her cutting me off from English essentially cold turkey. It was the only thing that had finally worked for her, when she found a spell to do to herself what Ryell’s proxy had done to me, in order to learn the language. Turning it on and off just kept distracting her too much. But it still chafed, when people said things in front of me–or, like now, directly to me–and I could almost understand maybe a third of it but I got lost in the details.
Patrick was sitting beside his wife. He kept getting a kick out of all this, looking back and forth between his daughter and me, realizing that I wasn’t getting any of it, and that Sarah didn’t realize that, and I could tell he was trying his best not to snicker. In his own way, he was teaching me just as effectively as his wife, if not more so. A few nights each week we’d hang out together, with the old lute I’d been carrying around for the last few years, and he’d teach me songs. Most of them I already knew how to play, but he taught me the local words, and that helped me build up a sort of translation dictionary in my mind. Which was useful as far as it went, at least. I was learning enough to begin to realize that whatever process was behind my translation had taken some serious liberties with the literal meanings of the words sometimes, in order to make meter and rhyme sound like they worked in English.
Sarah eventually concluded her narrative with an excited “Is that credible?” That’s essentially asking “can you believe it?” except that Silva is a lot less verb-oriented than English.
I looked at her, lost, then turned to April. “Just one thing,” I pleaded. “Is the princess safe?”
Her eyes twinkled as she turned to Sarah and translated the question. Her daughter gasped as she realized I hadn’t understood her tale, her green cheeks flushing a deep blue. Then she repeated the question her mother had asked, and started to giggle uncontrollably. “Aya! Aya!” (Yes! Yes!)
All three of them cracked up. I wondered what the joke was.
I supposed I’d understand when I learned.
* * *
Sarah came up to me a few hours later. “Paul,” she said slowly, hesitantly, “teach… me… English?”
Her pronunciation was slightly off, and it was clear she was repeating sounds her mom had given her, with little in the way of comprehension behind them. But it was also equally clear that she was making a very real and rather bizarre request.
She looked into my eyes and, making sure to speak slowly, she explained. “Al adnoreg sortesel, al nisdor sates.”
It took me a few moments to parse that, because there was something kind of funny about the grammar, but it fell into place quickly enough. She was quoting a bardic proverb: the greatest master is the teacher. In order to successfully teach something to someone else, you have to understand it yourself, on such a deep level that you can communicate the concepts involved and have them make sense to someone who lacks the benefit of the same understanding as you have.
I felt like burying my face in my palms. She was trying to help, but she didn’t realize how much additional stress trying something like that would put upon me. So I tried to beg off. “Nyil sortesan.” (I’m no master.) No way I’d be able to pull that off; there’s a part of the human brain that makes learning new languages easy as a child, but it only works for kids. After that, it’s an extremely difficult task. Both of us were past the age where it atrophies into uselessness, but I had no way of communicating that to her!
Having her back was going to be a bit of a trial, especially without anyone to balance her out. Sarah tended to bring out… weaknesses in me, and I didn’t particularly like that. I wished Aylwyn had been able to stick around longer than the few days she had, but she was a busy woman. And to be honest, I think she’d been a bit uncomfortable. We’d had to travel for a couple of weeks to get here, and we hadn’t been able to talk, about anything. She’d taught me a few really basic things that were essential for traveling together, stuff like “come here,” “go there,” and “wait,” but she didn’t seem to like ordering me around like a trained dog any more than I enjoyed being on the receiving end of it. I don’t know if I’m just projecting or if it was real, but it seemed like she just didn’t like seeing me like this, and that’s why she left so quickly. She’d said she would be back soon, but… that was three months ago.
“Eil agrenn,” she responded. (I’m pleading.) That was actually a lot less strong of a request than it might sound; it’s about equivalent to saying “please” and stretching the E out for a second or two, but less childish.
And if I said no, she would keep at it. And she lived here, so it’s not like I could really avoid her, seeing as how I was kinda stuck here for the moment. Sometimes, you just have to pick your battles. So I asked for pen and paper, hoping she’d get bored with it soon enough.
When she brought them to me, I began to write, one letter at a time, teaching her the names of each. “A, B, C, D…”