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The text message came through on Alex’s phone while the professor was remonstrating with the female student, assuring her that personal questions would not be answered and did anyone have any pertinent question concerning the course. Alex glanced at the message which simply read: We’re home! He surreptitiously put the phone back into his pocket as another student raised his hand and asked if they were required to work alone or could they work in groups when designing their own language.
“You may either pair up or work alone. Your choice,” Redelfs said. “Now, if there are no more questions, let us spend some time examining Esperanto, one of the more well-known of the artificial languages in recent history. You may find it of interest to learn that Chairman Mao actually supported the spread of Esperanto in China and encouraged the Chinese people to learn it, recognizing that such a language, not belonging to any one particular nation or people, would truly be universal. Of course, his vision was never fully realized, but it demonstrates the lure of the idea of a single language that all could speak. Esperanto, of course, is heavily influenced in its grammar and syntax by Indo-European languages and is, in fact, very Euro-centric….”
The rest of the class time was spent in examining Esperanto in great detail and Alex, caught up by the professor’s lecture, put aside the question of Elves or worry over his mother, as he took notes and listened with delight at the sound of Redelfs’ voice. By the time the class ended, he was already thinking about how he would create his own language. He smiled to himself at the idea of passing off Sindarin as his own creation just to see what the professor’s reaction would be, but even if he did so, it would be prudent and only fair to have his own language on hand. He thought possibly of teaming up with one of his classmates, but he was too used to going it alone still to find that a comfortable option.
Alex was tempted to remain after class to speak with the Elf, but when most of the other students had the same idea, he decided not to bother. He watched with amusement as Redelfs deflected most of the questions with which the students bombarded him, and it was only as he was leaving that he happened to catch the ellon’s eye. For a split second, something passed between them, and Alex was caught up in a memory that wasn’t a memory. He tried to hold onto it but the moment was fleeting and when Redelfs looked away, it was gone. Alex stood there for a moment wondering what had happened and he left the classroom feeling a bit lightheaded.
He stumbled toward the foyer of the building and found a chair to sit in as he tried to catch his breath. One of his classmates came upon him sitting there. “Hey, Grant, so what do you think of that professor?”
Alex looked up at the young man, trying to remember his name and failing, and shrugged. “He seems okay. A bit long-winded, but I think that’s a job requirement. You have to like the sound of your own voice to become a college professor.” He gave the other student a weak smile and the young man laughed.
“Ain’t that the truth? Well, I’ll be seeing you.”
“Catch you later,” Alex said as the man sauntered off. Alex reached for his bookbag and pulled out a bottle of water, taking a couple of swallows, still feeling strange. What had happened back there? It was as if a door had opened and closed in his mind so suddenly that he could not grasp the image that had come. There was only an impression of having met Redelfs before sometime in the past, but even that was fleeting and he was unsure what it meant.
Shaking off the sense of vertigo, he stood and left the building, intending to return to his apartment for lunch. He had some reading to do for the class as well as an assignment to analyze the grammatical structure of Esperanto based on the handout they’d been given with examples of sentences, but he could do that later. Right now, what he wanted was to hear his mother’s voice, assure himself that she was fine and settling into Edhellond. He walked through the campus and found a secluded place where he could sit and not be bothered by anyone and, pulling out his phone, he called Edhellond.
“Hey, Loren, it’s Alex.”
“Ah, Alex.” He could hear the smile in the Elf’s voice. “Hang on. I’ll get your mother. She’s out in the garden with Celebrían and Elrond. They seemed to have hit it off almost immediately.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Alex said and a moment later he was speaking to Anne who assured him that the flight to Bettles was uneventful. “And Oliver was quite an amusing travel companion,” she said.
“Oliver? Oh, you mean Olórin. I’m glad. So you’re all settled in, then?”
“Yes, and Loren’s insisting on taking me over to the high school tomorrow to speak with someone there about teaching. I’m still not sure about that, but I’ll go, just to be polite. Even if I do agree to stay, I certainly can’t live here. I’d rather have my own place.”
“Well, like Loren says, those are minor details. In the meantime, just relax and enjoy yourself, get to know the Elves better. As far as they’re concerned, you and I are family.”
“So I’ve noticed… Son, are you all right? You sound a bit distracted.”
“No, I’m fine, really. It’s just been a weird couple of days. That termination order and everything is still on my mind. I just wish we knew who sent it and why. Look, I’d better let you get back to your gardening. Say hello to everyone for me and I’ll talk with you later, okay?”
“Yes, of course. Be careful, Art… I mean, Alex.”
Alex blinked, unsure how he felt at the moment, hearing his mother call him by his new name. “I will,” he said huskily, his voice tight with emotion. “Love you.” He ended the call before she could respond and sat there for a few minutes, trying to gather his thoughts, get his emotions under control. After about five minutes he got up and headed back home.
Anne stared at the phone for a moment as Alex ended the call before she could express her own love for him.
“Everything all right?”
She looked up to see Glorfindel standing there, a concerned expression on his face. “I think so. He sounded… I don’t know, distracted or something. I wish he wasn’t so far away and by himself. I worry for him.”
“As do we all,” Glorfindel said gently. “But Alex is a big boy and he can take care of himself. I wouldn’t worry too much.”
“But I’m his mother,” Anne said with a tight smile. “I’m supposed to worry. It’s in the job description.”
Glorfindel grinned. “Yes, so I’m told. Well, I spoke with Olórin a while ago and I’ve been assured that someone is keeping an eye on Alex. Doesn’t mean that they will interfere with whatever happens to him, only that they will see to it that he is… um… spiritually protected, I guess you could say.”
“Thank you,” Anne said. “Well, I’d better get back to the garden. Kelly wants to do some transplanting and I think Elrod is taking measurements for the pond you want to put in.”
Glorfindel nodded. “We want to transform part of the garden into a watermead. We’ll need to get it in before the snow flies.”
“With such a short growing season, though, it almost doesn’t seem worth it.”
“But we’re Elves, Anne,” Glorfindel said with a smile as the two made their way out the back. “Even in winter, we are quite capable of nurturing the plants that thrive in this climate.”
Anne nodded and pulled on the gardening gloves she had left by the door before going in to speak with her son, waving at Celebrían who was kneeling beside several pots as she transplanted some flowers around one of the trees. “Well, I’d better get to work and earn my keep.”
“You’re our guest, Anne,” Glorfindel assured her. “You don’t have to earn anything, but I’m glad you’re willing to help around the place. We’ve been here for almost three years but it’s still a work in progress.”
Anne smiled. “I’ve lived in my house for nearly forty years, and it’s still not where I want it to be. At least you have a lot of time to get it just the way you want it.” With that, she left him to join Celebrían. Glorfindel watched the two women for a few moments before returning to the house and his own work.
Alex’s linguistics class met three days a week. Wednesday, they continued to examine Esperanto, comparing it with some of the actual languages from which it was derived.
“Esperanto is what is known as an a posteriori language,” Redelfs explained at one point. “That means that the vocabulary is based on existing languages, either as a variation of a language, for instance, a form of Latin that is uninflected, or as a mixture of various languages. An a priori language, on the other hand, is one where the vocabulary is not based on any existing language, past or present. If any of you have seen Avatar, the language spoken by the Na’vi was created without any effort to borrow from any language spoken by us, which makes sense, since the Na’vi are aliens who have never had any contact with humans, so why should their language sound even remotely like any of ours?”
Alex raised his hand then. “You say vocabulary, but what about syntax and all that? Why isn’t that a factor when deciding if a language is a priori or a posteriori?”
“Very good, Mr. Grant,” the professor said with a slight smile. “If you think about it, and remember what you’ve learned in your other classes, you will see that syntax, the way we order a sentence, takes many, but highly limiting, forms throughout the world’s languages. English has a subject-verb-object preference, while Welsh, right next door, is a verb-subject-object language and Japanese, definitely not next door, is a subject-object-verb language.” The students chuckled at the professor’s levity.
“The object-verb-subject form is very, very rare, though it does exist, and then we have languages that are free-form and any order is permissible,” Redelfs continued. “So when you are designing your language, you have to keep that in mind and decide how you want to structure the language, but it’s vocabulary that defines a conlang as either a priori or a posteriori. The latter type will be easier to create and I highly recommend it for your first go-round. So now that we’ve looked a little at Esperanto, let’s look at Na’vi to see why it’s considered an a priori language.” He began handing out several sheets on which were examples of the Na’vi language, including phonology, morphology and syntax and the rest of the class time was spent in analysis.
Afterwards, Alex remained seated while the other students filed out. Redelfs was putting away his notes and erasing the board. When he turned from the board and saw Alex, he went still, his expression going blank, yet his eyes were dark and full of emotion and Alex shivered slightly, not sure what he saw in them. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Grant?” Redelfs asked tonelessly.
“Le edhel ar im adan,” Alex said softly, watching the professor’s reaction to him speaking a language he should not know.
“Excuse me? What did you just say?” Redelfs asked, blinking in surprise.
“Redelfs. That’s pretty unusual,” Alex said, ignoring the question.
The Elf shrugged, composed once again. “While Grant is not unusual at all.”
Now it was Alex’s turn to blink, wondering what the implications of that statement might be. He put that thought aside as he stood up. “I will see you Friday, Professor. Good day.”
“Good day to you, Mr. Grant.”
Alex walked out of the classroom, feeling a little shaky. Redelfs had actually paled when Alex had spoken the Sindarin sentence and there had been something in his gaze, some dark and dangerous thing that Alex had glimpsed, if only for a second, which had frightened him on a deep, primordial level, before Redelfs had recovered himself, evincing confusion rather than shock. He debated about telling Loren or perhaps Gwyn. The latter worked in the Bursar’s office. It was possible that he had even met the professor, but if he had, he would have certainly told someone. If he, Alex, could recognize an Elf when he saw one, it stood to reason that Gwyn would, too.
He decided that he would need more intel on the guy before he went to Loren or anyone else. Without thinking, he pulled out his phone and began punching in numbers, stopping before he completed the call when he realized he was punching in the number for a contact, one of his controllers, actually, the one who usually got him the information he needed when on an assignment. He stood there, blinking at the phone in his hand. It had been such an automatic thing. Suddenly, he’d been in intel-mode as if he were on an assignment and the easy way in which he had fallen into the role scared him for some reason and he found himself gasping for breath, recognizing that he was on the verge of hyperventilating.
“Hey, man, are you okay?”
Alex looked around to see a couple of students whom he did not know standing there with looks of concern on their faces. Seeing them seemed to pull Alex out of whatever state he had been in and he was able to get his breathing under control. “Yeah, sorry. Asthma. Forgot my inhaler.”
“Do you live far?” one of the students asked solicitously.
“Over at the Garden Apartments. I’m on my way there now. I’m okay. I’ll just walk slowly. I’m in no hurry. Thanks for your concern.”
The students looked dubious but Alex smiled and waved as he walked away. As soon as his back was turned, though, the smile fled and, his phone still in his hand, he speed-dialed a different number.
“Ron, it’s Alex. Man, I need help.”
“Alex? What’s wrong? Is it about the termination order? Have you heard more from whoever sent it to you?”
“No. It’s something else. I found myself automatically phoning one of my former contacts in the Agency, one of my controllers who usually provided me with intel on a case.”
“And why were you phoning him?”
“My professor… he intrigues me and I felt I wanted to learn more about him. I didn’t even think about it. I was halfway through the number before I realized what I was doing.”
“And that scares you.” It was a statement more than it was a question.
“Damn right!” Alex exclaimed. “Suddenly I’m treating one of my professors like he’s a target? How long is it going to take for me to not fall into spy-mode at the drop of a hat?”
“Alex, calm down. It’s not even been a whole year since you left the Game. It’s going to take time for you to get clean, so to speak. You must have patience.”
“Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue,” Alex quipped. “Ambrose Bierce said that, in case you’re wondering.”
“Nevertheless, you must practice patience, Alex,” Vorondur said, “and try not to despair too much. You’ve come a long way in a short time and there are bound to be minor and not so minor setbacks along the way. That you stopped yourself from completing the call can be seen as a victory of sorts. Hang on to that thought, if nothing else.”
“Sorry. I don’t know why I freaked out over it.”
“You thought all that was behind you, and it is, but not completely,” Vorondur replied in an understanding tone. “You did well to call me about it. So the professor intrigues you, does he? Any particular reason?”
“Ah, not really. He’s a good lecturer, very interesting and informative. I really don’t know why I felt I needed to know more about him. Crazy, isn’t it? It’s like I’m suspicious of everyone or something.”
“A hazard of your trade, but as time goes on, I think you won’t see people in that light and just accept them for what they are without any ulterior motives.”
“Yeah, maybe. Okay. I’d better let you get back to whatever you were doing. Sorry if I interrupted you.”
“You are not an interruption, Alex. You’re one of my patients. I will speak with you later, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Love to everyone.” He closed down his phone and continued on his way to his apartment.
And in Wiseman, Vorondur stared at his phone, mentally analyzing the conversation with Alex, wondering what the child was hiding. He considered calling Glorfindel and telling him about it, but dismissed the thought almost before it was formulated. Alex had called him as his therapist and not as a friend lending a willing ear. He would respect the Mortal’s confidence for the moment. Putting his phone down, he returned to his laptop, closing down the file he’d been working on and opening another, the one he kept on Alex Grant, transcribing the gist of the conversation he’d had with him and his thoughts on it.
On Friday, Professor Redelfs spoke about how one starts to create a language. “Let us assume you are creating an a posteriori language and you have decided to create a language that is a mixture of Welsh and Latin. Now, we know that Welsh did borrow from Latin to some extent. That was inevitable given the length of time the Romans occupied Britannia. We even see this in personal names from Arthurian legends. Kai, for instance, is obviously a corruption of Gaius and even Arthur may possibly be derived from Artorius. So, while there are a number of ways to approach this, perhaps the first thing that you have to decide, besides your language’s name, is its phonology. You need to compare the two sound systems, see which sounds are shared or at least approximate and which are unique to one or the other. Obviously, the shared sounds would survive into the new language but the unique ones may not or some will and some won’t. So, here are the phonological charts for Latin and Welsh.”
He fiddled with his laptop and then they saw two charts side-by-side on the screen behind the professor’s desk. “We’ll look at consonants first. What do you notice about them?”
Alex raised his hand. “Welsh seems to utilize all the voiceless fricatives, while Latin only uses three of them.”
“Yes, that’s right. The labial ‘f’, the aveolar ‘s’, including its voiced counterpart, and the glottal ‘h’ are the only fricatives shared between these two languages. So, if we were to design a chart for our new language, and we’ll call it Neo-Cymry for the sake of argument, we would most likely have these three sounds. Now let’s take a look at the other fricatives. One thing you have to realize is that, as with all languages, there are dialects and in Welsh there are distinct, though mutually comprehensible dialects in the north and in the south and these dialects do not utilize all these sounds, but all of them are found in the language as a whole. So, what we have to decide at this point is from which language will we derive the bulk of our vocabulary, because that will determine, for the most part, which sounds are most likely to be used.”
He paused for a moment and smiled. “Let’s have a show of hands. How many think we should derive the vocabulary from Welsh?”
Alex raised his hand as did a couple of others. Frankly, he had no clue about the language, but he’d studied Latin in high school and found it rather boring. Welsh sounded exotic. But the majority of the students opted for Latin. Redelfs, when he took the count, smiled even more. “Cowards,” he said lightly and there were a few embarrassed chuckles from the students.
“Fine, then,” Redelfs said briskly. “We’ll use Latin for our vocabulary, but in that case, we’ll use Welsh syntax just to make it interesting. Welsh is a V-S-O language but Latin, being inflected, is less strict in its word order. So, if we have a verb-subject-object order that is strictly adhered to, then it’s reasonable to assume that inflexions were dropped and ….”
By the time the class ended, they had decided on the sound system for Neo-Cymry, which did utilize a few of the sounds of Welsh not found in Latin, particularly the fricatives, and some basic grammar. Their assignment over the weekend was for them each to create some vocabulary and simple sentences.
“Work on this on your own rather than in pairs,” Redelfs said. “Let’s see how similar or different everyone’s vocabulary is. To make it simple, assume that the Neo-Cymric society is primarily agrarian with only a couple of cities. One is the capitol and the other is a port. Choose vocabulary that would be typical for that type of society. Try to come up with a mix of nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and the like, then make some simple sentences, at least three, preferably more if you can. Remember, Neo-Cymry is non-inflective, so decide how it deals with prepositions and verb declensions. Have a good weekend.”
Everyone got up to leave, chattering to one another about the assignment or their plans for the weekend. Alex remained where he was, watching the Elf gather his things together. As the last student filed out, closing the door behind her, Redelfs, never looking up, said, “Yes, Mr. Grant. What can I do for you?” His tone was one of resignation, as if he were tired of the cat-and-mouse game they seemed to be playing with one another.
“I just want to let you know that I may be away for a couple of days soon. I have some family business back East that I have to take care of. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be gone, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you know. I will most likely miss a Friday and a Monday class.”
Redelfs looked up then. “I appreciate you letting me know, Mr. Grant. Thank you. Perhaps one of your fellow classmates can record the lectures for you so you don’t miss too much. I will give you a week after your return to hand in any assignments I might give while you’re away.”
Alex nodded as he stood. “Not a problem. Have a good weekend, Professor.”
“And you, Mr. Grant.”
Alex walked out of the class, well aware of the Elf’s gaze upon him, resisting the urge to turn around and confront him with the fact that Alex knew he was an Elf.
Le edhel ar im adan: (Sindarin) ‘Thou art an Elf and I am a Man’.
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