Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: The Mysteries of the Jadeite Language

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, author and mentor
July 26
8:58 PM

The Mysteries of the Jadeite Language

Wildflower loved her diary as much as I thought she would. She opened and closed the front cover over and over again, beholding the image of the regal peacock and the extravagantly-decorated pages. “Do you know what bird that is?” I asked her. When she shook her head, I said, “It’s called a peacock, and the peacock is going to guard your writing for you. You can write anything you want to the peacock, and he’ll be sure to listen and keep it safe.”
 “Thank you, Aidyn!” Wildflower cried, giving the diary a fond hug. “Thank you…I love you, Aidyn!” I glanced at her mother and saw that she smiled at me in approval. My heart melted.
            My job today was to pick blue and yellow flowers for Apple Blossom to put in several little nosegays. Crystalline’s birthday was approaching, and Apple Blossom had given herself the task of decorating for the party. Blue and yellow, she told me, are Crystalline’s favorite colors, and so every decoration from the flowers to the ribbons to the banner followed suit. “Tell Crystalline that I wish her a happy birthday,” I said.
            Apple Blossom sighed. “I wish you could come to the party.”
            “I wish I could too,” I said, “but you don’t need to have me around to have fun. And you can tell me all about it afterwards.”
            As I picked and made idle conversation with Apple Blossom—about the party, her gift for Crystalline (a blue and yellow jeweled necklace, with beads shaped like little frogs), what Apple Blossom had been up to lately, and other subjects—a private corner of my mind still wondered how the Jadeites were so fluent in the English language. I figured now was as good a time to ask as any.
             Apple Blossom’s eyes widened and she let out a little gasp. “Why, I had been wondering all this time how you knew our language!”
            “It’s called the English language,” I told her.
            “We call it the Common language,” she replied, “but I think that what you call it makes it sound prettier—English.” She said the word a few times, as if savoring the sound.
            “The Common language,” I repeated. “Do all Jadeites speak it, then?”
            “I wouldn’t know,” said Apple Blossom. “I’ve never met any other Jadeites outside of my Greenwood.”
            “A princess must excel at handling interpersonal relationships with the outside world,” I told her seriously. “It’s essential to becoming a good queen.”
            “I suppose my mother and father take care of all that,” said Apple Blossom, and then I spotted a roadblock: there was no way that I would be able get any information out of the king and queen. They were still entirely closed off to me, and my little sticky-fingers act hadn’t done a thing to help that. Still, I wasn’t daunted. “Do you have a library anywhere?” I asked.
            Apple Blossom nodded. “There’s the Grand Greenwood Library, and there’s also the royal family’s private collection. Which one would you prefer?”
            This was perfect! “Would I be allowed into your private library?” I asked, though I was sure I already knew the answer. As I expected, Apple Blossom said, “You are if you’re with me.”
            “Will you let me go home and get my notepad first?” I asked. “I like to write down the things I find when I’m in a library.” She nodded. One of these days I’ll remember to bring it with me whenever I go into the Greenwood. When Apple Blossom finished tying the last cream-colored ribbon on the last nosegay, she stood up and said, “All right, I’m ready to go now. Thank you so much for gathering the flowers for me, Aidyn.”
            “It was no problem. I had a lot of fun collecting them,” I said truthfully. Then, after she dropped the nosegays off with a servant woman, the two of us headed back to the magnolia archway. The soldiers trailed behind us until we reached the bridge. I ran home to fetch my notepad, and returned to find Apple Blossom waiting patiently for me, swaying back and forth on her toes. She skipped along behind me as I made my way back to the bridge. We met up with the soldiers again, and Apple Blossom said, “I am taking Aidyn to see the royal literary archives.”
            “I’m sorry, Princess, but that will not be allowed,” said one of the soldiers.”
            “It will be allowed,” Apple Blossom insisted. “I am allowing it!”
            “We cannot allow an outsider to access the royal literary archives, especially not a human. There is too much sensitive information located within.  You may only bring her to the Grand Greenwood Library. The royal archives are off limits.”
            Apple Blossom must have forgotten that I still had a reputation as a thief. She must also have forgotten that she isn’t a queen yet, because she put her hands on her hips, pushed out her chin, and said with a queenly scowl, “I order you to allow Aidyn into the royal literary archives.”
            “The orders of your mother and father surpass yours, I’m afraid,” said the soldier. “It is not to be permitted, and that’s the end of that!” Apple Blossom opened her mouth to say something else, but I spoke up: “Then perhaps you can tell me where else I can get the information I’m looking for?”
            “Why would you need any information?” the soldier asked rather nastily. I could tell that Apple Blossom didn’t appreciate his tone, but before she could say anything I rushed on: “Well, if a human is going to be frolicking around in your world at all, wouldn’t you prefer that human to be appropriately knowledgeable about it, so that they may show the proper respects? Or would you rather have a completely ignorant outsider just bumbling around the place?”
            “I’d rather ensure that certain information remains safely in our hands,” said the stubborn soldier, “and doesn’t just get passed along to any outsider we decide to invite in. I ask you again, what kind of information would you possibly need?”
            “Well, as you can hear right now, the two of us happen to speak the same language,” I said. “I’d like to read up on why that’s the case—the history and origins of the Jadeite language, and its relation to the languages of outsiders. Now, how dangerous could information like that really be?”
            “You don’t need to get into the royal archives to find information like that,” said the soldier, softening a little. “The Grand Greenwood should be just fine. If it isn’t, then I don’t really know what to tell you.” “That will be fine,” I conceded, “so long as I can find what I’m looking for. Thank you for clearing all of that up, sir.” I nodded to him and took Apple Blossom’s hand. “If it isn’t,” Apple Blossom said to the soldier, “then we’ll have to go into the royal archives. I want to know too!”
            I looked at her. “You do?” She nodded. “Why do you want to know?” I asked.
            “I just do,” she answered, but her eyes darted from place to place. There was something that she wasn’t telling me, and I think the reason for that was that she didn’t want the soldiers to hear. I nodded to show that I understood. “Show me the way to the library, then.”
            “It’s this way,” she said, letting go of my hand. “Follow me!” She darted ahead like a fox; she wanted to get away from the soldiers. I did my best to keep up with her, calling “Hey! Slow down!” to keep the soldiers from growing suspicious. I knew she wouldn’t really slow down. We ran and ran until we made it out of the soldiers’ sight. Apple Blossom took both of my hands, stood up on tiptoe, and whispered to me. “I can’t tell you everything until we get to the library,” she said. “It will be easier for us to talk privately then. But…” She looked around to make sure that the soldiers had not yet caught up. “I’ve always wondered if…if perhaps the Jadeites and humans have some sort of connection.” “What kind of connection?” I asked, but she wouldn’t tell me more. The sound of heavy footsteps indicated that the soldiers were catching up to us. She took my hand again, and we walked the rest of the way to the library. She was silent, and I decided to follow suit. The soldiers’ emerald-green helmets hid whatever reaction they may have had to Apple Blossom’s impulsive little run.
            I expected the Grand Greenwood Library to be a towering, sprawling compound carved out of the same jade stone as the palace. What it really was, though, was a tall but very plain box carved out of thick tree bark. Moss grew on the roof and at the little cubbyholes that were meant to be windows. Fat grey mushrooms grew on both sides of the bark door. It seemed anything but grand, but still I was filled with anticipation. My plentiful experience with libraries told me that the tiniest, dinkiest, plainest libraries so often held the most wonderful collections of books you could find. Apple Blossom led me inside and the soldiers took their places by the entrance. It was a relief to me that they wouldn’t be following us inside, even if they would be peering into the windows to keep tabs on me.
            I was right! The Grand Greenwood Library was one amazing wall-to-wall maze of books of every size, color, and thickness; books bound in snakeskin dyed red and green and blue, books with covers made from polished tree bark, books tied together with jade-colored ribbons, tiny books written on the delicate petals of flowers. It was paradise, and my only disappointment was that they were all written in a language that I couldn’t read. “You’re going to have to be my translator,” I told Apple Blossom.
            “I will,” she said, “but I want us to talk first.” She took my hand and led me over to a table. We sat down, and she leaned in to whisper to me. “I’ve always wondered if the Jadeites and humans were connected somehow,” she said, “but all I knew about humans was what I learned from the stories: that they were tall, thick-bodied creatures with two big legs and two long arms and hair on the tops of their heads like we have. I’ve seen several drawings and illustrations that went along with those stories, and they showed that humans have five long fingers (she wiggled her fingers then), wear clothes made out of colored fabrics, they have two coin-sized eyes, long, dark hair, and two pink, rosebud-shaped lips—those drawings looked so much like larger, dark-haired Jadeites!
            “And then I met you, Aidyn. I had been longing to meet a human, because I wanted to see what they were really like, and if we were as similar as the pictures made us out to be. The taggers told my father that they had found and tagged a human near the gates, and I was so excited to think that I had finally gotten my wish! At the same time, I was scared, because I knew the stories and I didn’t know you would turn out to be so kind and friendly. In fact, I never could have anticipated that! But then I finally got to meet you, and you were just as similar to my people as I had thought! Not only that, but you knew our language! I knew then that I had to be right; the humans are Jadeites really are connected!” She folded her arms on the table. “The fact that you feel the same way means we have similar minds, too, and that’s another sign that we’re connected. So, now we’re going to be a team. Together, the two of us are going to find out just what that connection is!”
            So there was the real reason Apple Blossom was so attached to me. The two of us are alike, much more alike than any of her people would be willing to admit, and Apple Blossom had looked beyond the preconceived notions of the Jadeites to be able to see that. I had seen it too, and it had made me wonder, but it wasn’t until now that the wonder had increased to the point that I just had to know. I have to know!
            “When do we start?” I asked.
            “We start right now!”
            Apple Blossom led me through the maze of books and read off the titles of any that sounded important: “The Tree Elf Alphabet” (there were at least ten of these, but we only took three), “Tree Elves, Their Origins, and Their Ways,” “The Era of the Early Jadeites,” “A Tree Elf Dictionary,” and more. We returned to the table with ever-growing piles of books, and I realized that there was just no way that two of us to do this on our own. “What we need,” I said, as I stared down the mini mountain of books, “is a good research team.”
            “What do you mean?” asked Apple Blossom.
            “It would take eons to read all of these books by ourselves,” I said, “and that’s without all the note-taking, fact-checking, collecting, investigating, sorting, filing, reviewing, revising, and further reading. Research isn’t just reading books, Apple Blossom. Researching a topic takes a lot of work, time, and patience, especially if it’s a topic that’s never really been covered before, or is covered very rarely.”
            “Oh.” Apple Blossom rested her cheek against the palm of her hand. “We’ve really got our work cut out for us, then.”
            “Yes we do,” I said. “That’s why we need to organize a group, so we can split the work up and give everybody a share of tasks to do.” I tapped my pen against my chin. “Do you think that your friends would want to help us out?”
            “Of course they would!” Apple Blossom chirped, jumping out of her seat (though still remembering to use her quiet library voice). “They would love to! In fact, we can go ask them right now!”
            “We can ask them tomorrow,” I said. “For now, let’s put all these books back where we found them.”
            “I’d like to take a few of them,” said Apple Blossom. “I want to start doing some reading on my own.”
            “Suit yourself.” I gathered up an armful.
            “Do I have to take notes?” she asked.
            “You don’t have to,” I told her, “but it would help you remember what you learned and what you thought was most important.”
            She nodded and selected four books from the mini mountain, which was then promptly dismantled and returned to the shelves. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remember the exact shelf locations for every book. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble for the librarians to rearrange them all.
           We stayed at the library for the rest of the day, while Apple Blossom picked out some choice Jadeite myths, fables, and fairy tales to read to me (the story of the wish-granting “shekrumseh,” which means “little wish giver” in the tree elf language, was one of them). I noticed that she had chosen to leave out any stories about humans…