Monday, January 26, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: An Answer We Can't Read

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, elf friend
August 2
7:30 PM
An Answer We Can’t Read

There’s no reason to call myself an author anymore. My only claims to such a title are some unremarkable story serials in a magazine, and two novels that outgrew their meager popularity. Except for my diary and my notes about the Jadeites, I’ve become unmotivated to write, only forcing myself to for the sake of keeping the house and keeping out of a Starbucks apron. My human life in general is beginning to pass me by like an old interest that I am outgrowing. I haven’t talked to any of my friends since the jade thief incident, except for the occasional phone call to let them know I’m alive. I haven’t seen or talked with my family since the Fourth of July. The only real human contact I’ve had for the past few weeks has been with my editors and publication team, and I try to keep those conversations as short and quick as possible. Humans, the human experience, and human folly are beginning to bore me when they are not outright infuriating me. I find much better company in the Jadeites, and they are so much more interesting to talk to.
            Crystalline’s birthday party yesterday gave us a break from our research. This morning, Apple Blossom surprised me with a slice of honey cake from the party. We sat on the edge of the Bell’s Rush and ate while Apple Blossom chattered about the party. As I listened to her cheerful account (which she periodically interjected with, “I do wish you could have come, Aidyn”), I noticed that the soldiers were not waiting for us on the other side of the bridge. I wanted to ask, but Apple Blossom was so wrapped up in her story of dancing under arches of peach blossoms and butter cookies with blue and yellow icing that there didn’t seem to be a good time to butt in. Finally, she paused, and I asked, “Where are the soldiers today?”
            “Mother called them off,” Apple Blossom said with a shrug. She took another bite of her own slice of cake.
            Finally! Finally, the queen understood that I was not a threat and that I didn’t need soldiers to keep me in line. There would be no more green beetles clunking around behind us and frightening Wildflower. I was trusted, at least for now, by the queen of the Greenwood, and finally earning this trust made me feel more than ever that my decision had been the right one. It gave me even more of an obligation to protect the Jadeites.
            We finished up our cake and licked the honey and frosting from our fingers. “Thanks again for the cake, Apple Blossom,” I said, feeling as mellow as a fresh glass of pink lemonade. “It was so sweet of you to save me a slice. Now, what sort of work do you have for me today?”
            “No work,” said Apple Blossom. “I’m calling off your work the way that Mother called off the soldiers. You’re free.”
            “Are you sure?” I asked. “I haven’t been working for you for very long.”
            “I’m sure,” she replied. “Let’s go.”
            As we headed into the Greenwood, I thought again about the Jadeites’ inexplicable fluency in the English language. We had gotten sidetracked from the topic I had originally intended to be our main one, but I never really stopped thinking about it. In order to be so fluent in our language, the Jadeites had to have some sort of extended contact with us in the past, and there had to be a reason. I remember how fluent Apple Blossom and Wildflower had been in the language of the mermaids of the Bell’s Rush, who the Jadeites have a very cordial alignment with. Could the Jadeites and humans have had a similar alignment which was broken somehow? And if there are any Jadeites in other countries, do they speak the native languages of those countries?
            “Apple Blossom,” I said, “I think we should be getting back to our language studies.”
            Apple Blossom gave me a mischievous smile. “Now that the soldiers are gone,” she said, “I can get you into the royal archives!”
            “I’d rather not,” I said quickly, as tempting as it sounded. “I have some things that I need to return anyway.
            We stopped for Wildflower on our way to the Grand Greenwood Library. Her mother greeted us at the door, and my heart skipped a beat when she actually smiled at me and said, “Oh, hello, Aidyn.” First the departure of the soldiers, and now this! At the mention of my name, Wildflower appeared at the door, holding her treasured diary and smiling like she had been waiting all morning for me to show up. The three of us set off together.
            Our first foray into the Jadeite/tree elf language hadn’t really gotten us anywhere. We spent hours flipping through childish alphabet books and tedious dictionaries to find nothing particularly noteworthy. The tree elf language was made up of whispery “shh” and “fff” sounds that reminded me of leaves rustling against eachother in the wind. Apple Blossom could speak it as fluently as she could speak English, and she taught me that “shwehshweh” means “wind” and “fiftha” means “leaf” and “shekru” means “wish” (which explained the “shekrumseh”). The Jadeites did not have their own language. They spoke either tree elf or what they called “common.” I realized now that we hadn’t found anything because we had spent too much time looking up the tree elf language, when we should have been looking for information on the common language and how it came to be.
            The librarian at the Grand Greenwood Library was still cold to me, even when I said my cheerful hello to her and set every one of the books I had signed out on the desk. She glowered at me without saying a word, but she had a smile ready for the princess and Wildflower. Not everybody was ready to open up to me. We found a table, and Wildflower dutifully assisted us in laying out our things. She was rewarded with a flower print ballpoint pen I had lying around in my bag. I set my elbows on the table and clasped my hands under my chin. “Okay,” I said. “Before we start, I have a question. Have the both of you been speaking the common language all of your lives?”
            “Yes,” said Apple Blossom. “When I was little, Mother and Father spoke both common and tree elf to me, so I grew up knowing both.” Wildflower nodded as if to affirm. “I thought everybody was like that,” she said quizzically.
            “Is everybody like that?” I asked her. “Do you know any Jadeites who don’t speak common?” Wildflower shook her head. “Don’t you think it’s strange,” I went on, “that I, a human, can speak the same language as every Jadeite you know?”
            Wildflower shrugged. “I never thought about it. Do you think it’s strange?”
            “I do think it’s strange,” I told her, “and I want to find out why it’s the case. Now, do either of you know anybody—besides me, of course—who can speak common and is not a Jadeite?”
            “Yes,” said Apple Blossom. “I don’t think it would be called the ‘common language’ if we were the only ones to speak it.”
            “That’s a point,” I said. “Well, in the human world, what you call the ‘common language’ is called the ‘English language.’ Not every human speaks it, but most of the ones that do have grown up speaking it and have done so for decades and decades.”
            Apple Blossom interrupted: “Only decades? My tutor says that Jadeites have spoken the common language for as long as they have been around.”
            Apple Blossom had a tutor! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? I knew that she couldn’t have gone to school the way that human children do, and she was way too smart to be completely uneducated. But somehow it had never occurred to me that she had a teacher. What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to talk to this teacher, but I was sure that he or she wouldn’t be too willing to give any information to a human. Still, it was something to consider. “Well,” I went on, “did your tutor ever tell you where it originated?” Apple Blossom shook her head. “That’s what I would like to find out,” I said, “because I have a strong feeling that it has something to do with humans.”
            “Do you really think so?” Apple Blossom asked, her eyes wide. 
            I nodded. “It’s very possible.”
            Apple Blossom practically leapt off of her chair. “I’ll ask the librarian where the common language books are,” she said. She started to run to the front desk, but then caught herself. Wildflower padded over to me and asked, “What do I get to do?”
            “For now, we both get to wait,” I told her.
            “I don’t like waiting,” Wildflower said with a sigh. But she climbed into her seat, folded her hands, and waited quietly until Apple Blossom speedwalked back and fluttered around our table like a happy little butterfly. “I know where all of the common language books are!” she chirped. “Follow me!” We got up and followed her deep into the maze of books. Someday, when I have the time, I will come here just to immerse myself in all that such an enormous collection of books has to offer. I’ll let Apple Blossom read me the stories and fables that her mother and father read to her. 
            We reached a shelf full of uninteresting looking texts bound in brown, grey, and tan. Apple Blossom began plucking books off of the shelf and handing them to me and Wildflower. The books were dull, mostly thick, and had nothing-special covers. They seemed awfully tedious, and I wondered if Apple Blossom would even be able to read them. Thankfully, we only collected six of them before Apple Blossom said, “Let’s go,” and led us back to the table. They had schoolbook-like titles such as “Everything to Know about Speaking Common,” “The Mastering of the Common Language,” and “The Common Alphabet, A to Z (with A and Z written in English).” It was all pretty drab, and I wasn’t sure why we needed such books. But then we came across the biggest and thickest of the six; if the others were like schoolbooks, then this was like a small college textbook. Apple Blossom eloquently read the title off to me: “The Common Language: its Fundamentals, Principles, and Background.”
            I slammed my hand down on the thick black book. “Bingo!”
            Apple Blossom and Wildflower looked at me curiously. “What does that mean?” asked Wildflower.
            “It means I’ve found what we need,” I told her. “We’re going to start with this book.” I opened it up and passed it to Apple Blossom. “Find the table of contents, please.”
            Apple Blossom found them and scanned them with her eyes, passing her finger over each bulletpoint. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she began to rapidly turn the pages. “Hey!” I exclaimed. “What’s up? What did you find?” She didn’t answer me until she found the page she was looking for and flipped it open. “Here we are!” she cried. “Chapter Two: Origins and Early Use.”
            “That’s only on chapter two?” I blurted out a bit too loudly, and quickly clapped my hand over my mouth. “I thought we would have to really dig for it,” I said more quietly. “Well, go on and start reading.” I armed myself with my notepad.
            But Apple Blossom sighed and shook her head. “I’m not sure if I can read this,” she lamented. “There are too many big words.”
            “You have to try,” I said. “Please just sound them out.”
            “I can’t,” she insisted. “There are too many syllables. We’ll be here all day and night if I try to read these big words! Besides, I have no idea what they mean. This is a grown-up book.”
            I had to force myself not to bury my face in my palms and scream. We had found what we needed, it hadn’t even taken as long as I expected it to, and she was backing down because the words were too big? She couldn’t even attempt to sound them out? Just how advanced could these words be? I hoped she wasn’t only using the size of the words as an excuse to blow off the project, but at the same time I was sure that was Apple Blossom’s way.
            We had our answer, and we couldn’t even read it. Suddenly, I began to wonder why it even mattered. Why did we even need to know how humans and Jadeites are connected? It wouldn’t make any difference if we did know; I wasn’t publishing the book, and my friendship with Apple Blossom would certainly not be affected. My arrival used to mean games and Greenwood exploration and other fun things, but now it signaled long days spent in a stuffy old library, working hard reading and searching for tedious books, taking notes…it had been a while since Apple Blossom and I had played together without any work attached to it.
            “Research is cancelled for tomorrow,” I said impulsively.
            “What?” Apple Blossom’s eyes were wide and her lips formed an O.
            “I said there will be no research tomorrow,” I clarified. “In fact, you’re dismissed for today.”
            “Is this because I can’t read that big book?” Apple Blossom asked, and her face fell. “I’m sorry, Aidyn! I’ll find somebody who can read it, I promise!”
            “Don’t worry about it, dear,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. “It’s not about the book. I’m just so sick of research! I’m sick of work! I realized that this is an answer that we just don’t need to find! Maybe we weren’t meant to know.”
            “I think we were meant to know,” said Apple Blossom. “Me too,” Wildflower chimed in.
            “Well, it wouldn’t change anything if we did know,” I insisted, “and I miss the days when I would come here and we would just play together without all of this extra work attached to it. I miss the days when you were only my friends, and not my research grunts. So, all I want for us to do now is get out of this old library and go for a swim in the Bell’s Rush again. Do you think we can do that?”   
            Apple Blossom smiled at me. “Yes,” she said, “I think we can."
               We gathered our things, put the books away, and left the Grand Greenwood Library. But I noticed as we were heading out that Apple Blossom was signing out that big, black book. There was just no suppressing her insatiable curiosity.