In which our heroes experience the language barrier.
Gregs heart rate was perfectly normal, and his face was blank, and he wasn’t sweating, or breathing fast, but he knew, despite this, that he was excited. Of course it was Dryads, it just made so much sense that they would be working with trolls; one was a culture of giant herbivores, which revolved entirely around apples, and one was a race of sentient apple trees. It was just too perfect; he couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been tried before.
And the best thing was that dryads could not only understand human languages, they could speak them too. He had been hoping that there was a Goatman on board, but this was even better.
He stepped forward and began to speak.
He spoke wonderfully; he was eloquent, concise, he remembered everything and said it perfectly. He told the Dryads of their quest and their trials so far, he asked for their help, and he did it so skillfully that when he was done, the last strains of his words hung in the air like music, and it was like the whole universe would gladly bend to help them.
There was a long silence.
Then one of the Dryads made a sound like a grizzly bear with laryngitis snoring into a tin can.
There was another long, and more uncomfortable, silence, and it began to dawn on Greg that there is a huge gap between being able to learn a language and actually learning it.
Greg tried to turn to the people behind him without actually turning his head, “Did either of you catch what language that was?”
“I don’t know”, said Tony Tony, “Turkish?”
“It’s Dryadish, the native language of the Dryads”, pointed out Free Flower
“Oh”, said Greg, in dull surprise, “Can you speak Dryadish?”
Free Flower shook her head, and Greg realized he had asked the wrong question.
“Can you understand Dryadish?”
Free Flower shook her head again. Damn, thought Greg.
He turned back to the Dryads and pointed to himself, “Greg”, he said, slowly and loudly. No one did anything for so long that Greg considered repeating himself, but then one of the younger looking Dryads pointed to herself and made a noise like a man tobogganing down a pebble mountain while playing a frantic drum solo.
Undiscouraged Greg began to restate his speech from before, through the medium of improvised sign language. He was even slightly put out when Tony Tony interrupted him by saying, “I bet Clare could speak Dryadish.”
Greg let the image of one of his reporters fill his mind. Clare, he thought, tall woman, slim, willowy. For the first time in his entire life he attempted to apply that adjective to a woman, and found it fitted perfectly. A suspicion began to form in his mind, “She’s not, you know, half Dryad, is she?”
“Quarter, actually. It was her Maternal grandfather”
Greg tried to wrap his head around the logistics of this new information; as much as Dryads looked like women, they were clearly still trees; Rough bark and all. “Her father must have been an interesting man”, he concluded, resolving to think the matter through at a more opportune time. “Can I borrow your phone, Tony Tony?”
Apparently he could, since Tony Tony handed it over. Greg dialed the number he had memorized ten years ago.
It was a familiar voice that answered, “Hello, Daily Soap Box, How May I Direct Your Call?”
“Hello Sandra, its Greg here.”
“Ah Evening, Boss”, pause, “How Did You Know It Was Me?”
“Lucky guess, listen I need to talk to Clare”
“Putting You Through Now, Boss”
There was ringing, and then.
Click-“Sir, is that you?”
“It’s me, listen, can you speak Dryadish?”
“A little, Sir. What my mum taught me”
“Thank gods. I need you to translate for me”
“I’m ready sir”
He told her what he wanted to say, and she burst out laughing. It wasn’t the reaction he had been expecting.
“What’s the matter?”
“Sir that will never work; Dryads are nature’s businessmen, they won’t even understand what you’re asking them. Dryads don’t grant favors, it always has to be a deal, a trade.”
Greg nodded; he knew he didn’t have much to trade. “Tell them that I’m lord Redfox’s natural born son”
Even through several hundred kilometers and a radio connection, Greg could still feel Clare’s eyes boggling, “Are you?”
“Just tell them that”
Clare giggled, “All right, but if you’re lying to them, then you had better hope that they don’t find you out. Sir.”
“Thanks for the tip Clare, are you ready?”
“Sure thing sir, hold the phone up for them”
Greg did so. A sound like a tap-dancing avalanche began to emanate from the phone.
Five minutes later they were in another locked room, but the others didn’t seem to mind much. “Look they have beds!” cried out Tony Tony, happy to the point of tears, “and a real life bathroom!”
Greg left him to it, he wanted to wash as well but he decided it could wait a while. He noticed that Free Flower had walked straight to the window and was watching out.
Greg realized that he was glad Free Flower was there, she had recognized the Dryadish when neither he nor Tony Tony could. In spite of his initial misgivings he was beginning to suspect that she would be a valuable asset.
He joined her at the window ledge, “Where did you learn to recognize Dryadish?” he asked
“I’ve been around”, Said Free Flower, and that seemed to be it. She didn’t volunteer any more information, and Greg didn’t push the issue. Together they watched as the sun set and the dragons grew restless.