Today we have a special guest post, in addition to the start of the Week 4 Giveaway (which opens up later today). Without further rambling, I give you a rather fascinating note from Sophie Wereley (and…friends?).
Hello, good people of the internet!
I sat down to write my entry for Octoblerfest, expecting to spend some time chatting about how Elise is an incredibly talented writer, caring friend, and supportive and discerning editor. I had this whole thing planned out, okay, and then last night someone knocked on my bedroom window.
I chalked this up to the fact that I was probably about to be home-invaded and robbed. But after I spent several minutes cowering inside my bedroom closet, I still hadn’t been robbed, so I crept out, peeled the curtains away from the glass, and looked outside. No one was there, but someone – or something – had left a package on the windowsill.
When I opened it, I found a packet made of freshly cut leaves. There was writing across the leaves. It took several tries for me to get used to the hand(?)writing, but once I had read a few pages, I realized that I was holding an extraordinary tome, because the language was all in Ancient High Badger.
Ancient High Badger is rarely used these days. Although all badgers learn it in their youth, it is only ever spoken on noteworthy occasions. There is no known written Ancient High Badger. The orthography is all based on English, for reasons that will become clear shortly, but it was easy enough to realize what I was reading thanks to a series of the highly ceremonial phrases in the first paragraph. I had to share this with you, and I know you’ll see why.
To make it easier for you all to read, I’ve transcribed it here, making some minor orthographic adjustments.
We are not human. We are badgers. Many moontimes ago, we lived in sad and small homes with no stories. But Human Elise came and showed us words, sentences, and longer bits of writing. This story of Human Elise and the Words-Heart-Pouch* is passed from den to den, under^ winter and more winter, until right now.**
*This is a combination of the construction of “heart-pouch” in Ancient High Badger, which is literally translated as, “The burrow on the inside in which to keep love and dreams”, and an infix of what appears to be a vestigial form of the Middle Badger term “verbugrub”, which means “tasty idea.”
^Badgers spend winter underground in hibernation, so they generally conceive of it as a physical place to avoid (and/or get under) rather than as the passage of time.
**This phraseology, starting with “passed from den to den…” through “until right now” is the traditional Ancient High Badger marker of an Epic Tail.)
Human Elise and the Words-Heart-Pouch
Long before badgers had words, there were grubs to eat, streams to drink, flowers to flomp on, and slush to sniff. We did not know that the slush was full of words. We only knew that writers of Good and True spirit would leave the scent of Trying Very Hard and Reading the Guidelines on the pages of their stories.
Still the badgers were sad, because our wondrous noses could detect that something else was on the pages of slush. The stories were there, held from us because we had no way of knowing words.
Then came Human Elise with the Words-Heart-Pouch.
Human Elise was taller than a badger, but not as tall as a tree, because humans are not as tall as a tree.
Human Elise was broader than a badger, but not as broad as a river, because humans are not as broad as a river.
Human Elise was stronger than a badger, but not as strong as twenty really angry badgers, because humans are not as strong as twenty really angry badgers.^^
But Human Elise was good and kind, and had the scent of Trying Very Very Hard and Reading ALL the Guidelines upon her, and she sometimes had cookies too, which were pretty good even if they weren’t grubs.
Human Elise walked across the field of slush with strides of glory, already a champion of words, returned to the land of Shimmer from conquests abroad. As she walked, she saw in the field, sniffing with his button nose, a distraught badger child. In her wisdom and kindness, Human Elise stopped alongside him, and addressed him in the old way.
“Dear badger, I boop my nose at ye,” said Human Elise. “Wherefore do you stand, paws turned in, tail down?”
“Dear Human Elise, I boop my nose at ye,” said the badger. “Alas, I stand, paws turned in, tail down, because I cannot read the words on the slush. And though I know this piece of slush is Good and True, for the scent of Trying Very Hard and Reading the Guidelines is alighted upon it, I will never know the musk of it, the underbellytruth of the thing, the secrets of its one itchy spot where the paws cannot reach.”
Human Elise saw the creature’s sadness and pulled from her pack-of-the-back a red pouch tied up in golden thread. And from the red pouch she pulled a long, raven pen and a small vial of ink.
“Dear badger, I will write on your spirit the knowledge of words, and then will you and all your denfolk know the words on the slush, and see more than the scent of Trying Very Hard and Reading the Guidelines***. You will see each story, and know the musk of it, the underbellytruth of the thing, and the secrets of its one itchy spot where the paws cannot reach. But know that for each story that is strong of the scent of Trying Very Hard and Reading the Guidelines, there is another that is not so strong. And know that words can be used for Good and True purposes, but also for Nefarious and Pretty Douchey^^^ ones.”
Human Elise said all this, and then offered the badger a choice: “If you would do this, and have the words written upon your spirit, then you would know all the good words, and the bad ones, too. Would you have this?”
And the badger said, “I’m not sure that’s how literacy works, Human Elise.”
Human Elise laughed like the wind in newly-awakened spring leaves, gazed fondly at the child, and replied, “But I am a Theodore Sturgeon Award Finalist.”
And did the badger’s eyes grow large, for now he understood that the bargain could be made true. He ran to his denfolk and told them of Human Elise and her offer.
The badgers thought and sniffed and ran in little circles, and they saw that her bargain was good.
The badger child went back to the slush fields and stood before Human Elise.
“Human Elise, we thank you for your offer. We would like to know words for all of their secret itchy spots, even the ones that are Pretty Douchey, if this means we may also know stories.”
Human Elise uncapped her raven pen, and with three mighty strokes, she wrote the knowledge of words upon the spirit of the badger, and too on all his denfolk.
Then did the badger look upon the fields of slush and understand: there were thousands of tales, each containing an entire universe.
It was true what Human Elise had said. Soon after she gave the badgers the understanding of words, they came to see that not all words were Good and True. But it was never too high a price, to stumble across some that were Nefarious and Pretty Douchey, because now the badgers had the strength of a spirit full of words, and a heart-pouch full of stories.
Translator’s Notes (cont):
^^I’m honestly not sure how they decided on this unit of measurement?
***For some reason this legend is very invested in Reading the Guidelines.
^^^The phrase “pretty douchey” in Ancient High Badger can be traced to the time shortly after the Floofy Ear Nation chose as its First Paw the retired general Puty Doozh, a badger who quickly made a name for himself by hoarding grubs, tripping people as they walked down steep pathways, and peeing on everyone’s shoes.
Sophie Wereley is a writer living on the outskirts of Washington, DC. She has a soft spot for feral cats and a great admiration for guerrilla gardeners. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Intergalactic Medicine Show. You can find her all over the web, including on Twitter (@sayitwhirly) and her blog.