Speaking with a Vastlander: An Interview Prose in The Ocean | World Anvil
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Speaking with a Vastlander: An Interview

It is the midmonth of Jekatto in the 2069th year of the Volcanic Era. I am at the Eddy speaking to the Learned Haftera Djuur. This is an unplanned interview--he happened to be here to speak with the Dancinglight, and agreed to meet with me as well, so I don't have a prepared list. Learned Haftera, once again I wish to tell you how grateful I am that you are taking time from your visit to let me ask questions.
Clarification: My father's brother Nkeba is the modern Water Seekers' new Dancinglight, and happens to be my favorite relative.
Not at all, not at all. The gratitude is mine, Scribe Elan. I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to speak with an Eihlarian in person. You're the first I've met, barring the Dancinglight of course, but he hasn't the time for a casual chat. It is fascinating to me, the multitude of distinct speeches all appearing together on the one island. Tell me, which family vernacular do you speak? I might know a little of it.
  Uh...me? I'm--I'm of the Straibala clan. What do you mean, you might know-  
Straibala? I'm not as familiar with that one.
  W-well, we're a, a sept of the-  
Let me see if I remember this correctly. "Looksied bokka dandon, sikkle on, luxen allzanalls."
  *sharp inhale* Ah... Ah... Please--please stop. Please don't. Learned Haftera, this is--you don't--you can't, you can't just speak any kind of Eihlari, clan Eihlari, without being in that clan. By blood, I mean.  
Oh? I do beg your pardon, that limitation had not been mentioned to me. Very well, could I trouble you to say a little something in your family tongue?
  *gasp* I...I couldn't, no. Really, no, I can't do that. Not to you, you're not--only with someone else from my clan.  
Such as your uncle? If he were here-
  No! He's not of Straibala, he's of Rruend, and he's not even--I mean, even he's not allowed to use Rruend Eihlari. It's the blood, you understand, he has to have the blood, as I said, and he doesn't.  
I fear I'm quite confused now. Your uncle is in a clan, but may not speak its tongue?
  The clan's language is only for the clan's blood. Uncle Nkeba was raised in the Rruend clan, but not born of it.  
He wasn't? I had no idea.
  *exasperated grunt* He's a Water Seeker good enough to be the Dancinglight, of course he can't really be of Rruend. He couldn't be of any Eihlari clan. We don't have the sense for water that it takes.  
Ahhh... Perhaps that explains how faded you are.
  How... What, faded? What do you mean, I'm faded?  
Faint. "Subdued" would perhaps be more accurate. It is difficult for me to describe this, because Oceantongue does not have any direct equivalent for the words I would use. What you call your aura is...flat. Even when you are visibly agitated, as you just were, your aura has very little texture in it.
  Oh, yes, Uncle Nkeba has said something similar.  
And this is true for most Eihlarians?
  It is, yes. Our ancestors were tideriders thousands of years ago, but they were stationed on the island because they had no enjoyment in being on the ocean. It seems that must be related to the fact that Eihlarians today do not react strongly to water.  
A fact I can appreciate since I find it more comfortable to be around you than any Water Seeker with strong ability.
  Really? Is that why you agreed to talk with me?  
As to that--no, I am, as I said, simply fascinated by Eihlarian languages. I am deeply sorry that I have violated a cultural standard. No one ever mentioned that clan tongues are secret; I think it likely that the linguistics school didn't know.
  It isn't that they're secret. It's more that...when I'm at home, speaking our own language, I feel a kind of security, I think. Anyone speaking it back to me must be a member of the family, a blood cousin at least. When I heard it coming from you, it threw me completely out of sorts.  
I assure you I will not do that again.
  Thank you. *pause* *laughter* Well now that that's settled, I should go on with my introduction, shouldn't I? For the record: Learned Haftera Djuur is a vastlander who came to the Cluster Islands more than forty years ago to study Oceantongue and the related languages of the islands. And I'm certain he'll be disappointed that I'm not going to ask him about them.  
You aren't? *pause* I would have to say I am more surprised than disappointed. What questions do you have in mind, in that case?
  Many, but my interest is mostly with Zaiyev.  
May Fortune's favor rest with those who yet live. Such a tragic and inexplicable occurrence. I had been reassured frequently early in my time there that it was impossible for volcanoes to erupt without warning.
  Learned Haftera... *long pause* Were you not aware that those eruptions were deliberate?  
I was aware that someone claimed responsibility, but that struck me as too ridiculous to be true. Are you telling me that was not a false claim?
  It certainly was not. The previous decades saw eruptions of volcanoes that should have been dormant, and it was after Zaiyev that Kezlaf revealed his part in all of them.
Clarification: Kezlaf created a weapon called the Eruptor that could be injected into a volcano and destabilize the magma chamber with a shock wave.
*shocked silence* That...is astounding to me. That anyone could ruin a place like Zaiyev intentionally...
  I'm rather astounded myself that you didn't know. Your biographical brief states that you were on Galtern at the time. Weren't people talking about it?  
Most likely they were, but I was quite busy in reconstructing the precursor language. With the loss of Zaiyev, I immediately proceeded to rebuilding the dialector data banks, and from there returned home to study the chok.
  To study the- What did you say? Cluck? You wanted to put chicken talk into the dialectors?  
No, no...the chok. Fascinating creatures, clearly intelligent. They live in the waters near the Long Coast, collecting and trading objects in and around cities and nearby islands. The name we call them by comes from the sound they make. Their outer shell grows constantly, and any dead pieces that flake off they collect and scrape together as their means of audible communication.
  ...I don't think I've ever heard of them.  
You would not have. Their range does not extend into the eastern ocean. You would know if you had seen a traveling swarm. They join themselves together at the edges to form-
Clarification: Learned Haftera later wrote a description of a chok swarm and allowed me to publish it.
  Ah--I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Learned Haftera, I truly hate having to interrupt you. I would dearly love to hear more about these chalks, but I'm afraid I do need to return to the subject I had in mind when we sat down.  
Of course. You are gathering information on Zaiyev, I understand.
  Yes, exactly. I've spoken with the former Dancinglight of course, but she was very young when the eruptions occurred. You were accredited at Zaiyev as an adult, and I'd like to know about your experiences there.  
It was a difficult beginning, I must admit. When I arrived, I was inordinately proud of the amount of Oceantongue I had learned, but immediately discovered how insufficient that was. Thanks be to Fortune, they allowed me to study an art before beginning a subject, which gave me time to gain a more useful vocabulary base.
  What art did you choose?  
*laughter* They attempted to direct me toward drawing, thinking that it would be easier for me while I gained confidence in speaking, but I chose music. What better way is there to absorb the sounds of a language than by singing it?
  Oh! That reminds me--do you know the song about giants?  
I beg your pardon?
  About giants, how they steal children but also don't. It starts out "Treamans wolsai hud hiaraws woldag afar jeuthes..."  
*stunned silence* The Song of Journey? How ever did you learn the Song of Journey in Valdian?
  From Ve, of course. He repeats it all the time, and he isn't particular about who he says it in front of, so I thought it must be all right. It seems to do for him what meditation does for us.  
From who?!
  Ve. Uncle Nkeba's friend who's also from the vastland--I'm sure you must have had plenty to talk about with him.  
I have met no other vastlander here. And you say his name is...what was that?
  You talked to Uncle Nkeba and didn't meet Ve? That's very strange. Ve is so protective, he never leaves him alone if he can help it. At any rate, he said it's a song he learned when he was young, and I wondered if you might also know it.
Clarification: Ve has appointed himself my uncle's bodyguard, and will not explain why.
Know the Song of Journey? It would be hard to find anyone on the vastland who doesn't. In its entirety, it is the history of how we came to the world. Very much like your story of the one who came out of death, but with the advantage of being true.
  Oh. *pause* Then...do you mean... *longer pause* S-so...this river in the song, that went downhill and then uphill...?  
  You're expecting me to believe that really happened?  
Not only did but does. In fact the lower regions of Valdei are kept fertile by a different river that also flows in two directions.
  Learned Haftera, I can't tell if you are joking with me.
Clarification: It seems he is not joking. The reports from the vastland outpost appear to confirm that the Heartbeat River does indeed change direction.
This is no joke, Scribe Elan. Perhaps you might settle your doubt by examining the reports from your Valdian outpost? I am certain at least one of them has the Song of Journey written in full, both in its original script and translated into Oceantongue.
  It does? I'd never realized. You're right, I should look at those. Do you know where I can find them?  
I presume the Dancinglight would be able to get you access to them.
  I hope so. It seems to me that sort of thing should be more widely available.  
It may simply be a matter of looking for it. I don't think the reports were ever meant to be confidential.
  *groan* Of course not. The same way that tiderider logs aren't secret, but tracking them down has been endlessly frustrating. I wish it would occur to groups who keep records that those records might be interesting to someone outside of the group! *deep breath* I apologize, this is neither the time nor the place for me to air complaints. Thank you for your recommendation. I'll look up those reports as soon as I'm able.  
If I may make a suggestion, have you considered compiling a list of useful sources as you find them?
  Oh, you may trust I have that list. What I wish existed is a compilation of what's in the sources, neatly organized and easy to find.  
If that's what you want, it's likely you will have to create it for yourself.
  That's what I'm doing, at least on the subject of Water Seekers. You may not know that Eihlarians owe the old Seekers a great debt. To this day we honor the help they gave us, but despite that we still understand very little about what they were like. It certainly doesn't help that it's been more than sixty years since the last visit they made to Eihlari. There aren't many people left who remember meeting them at all. The goal of my project is to create a full and accurate description of the old Seekers as well as the new, to fight the false assumptions and misunderstandings about them.  
I've never met any Water Seekers. How does it serve to ask me about Zaiyev?
  A great many Water Seekers were Zaiyeve. Have you noticed that Formal Eihlari is closest to Zaiyevi Oceantongue? We learned it from them in order to have a language that everyone on the island could understand.  
I had noticed. I did not realize that was through the Water Seekers.
  As I said, they gave us a great deal. Two languages, a process for justice, a system of education, and that's only the beginning of the list. I want to make sure that the old Seekers aren't forgotten, and the new Seekers aren't misrepresented. That's why they're letting me stay at the Eddy. In exchange for that, I'm to distribute the final project to the Cluster Islands as well as Eihlari.  
But your uncle speaks for the Seekers, doesn't he? Why would he place conditions upon your work?
  He may be my uncle, but to the rest of the islands he's the Dancinglight. And one thing we learned from the Seekers is that there are situations where it's counterproductive to grant clan members privilege simply because they're of the clan.  
Speaking of which... Scribe Elan, I think more than the Water Seekers would benefit from a project like this.
  What do you mean?  
Think of the error I made at the beginning of the interview. My dialector will translate my words into any language, but it can't tell me which language is appropriate to use. Now imagine a resource made publicly available to all islands which is, at a minimum, a list of what actions to take or to avoid when meeting with someone from another culture. A tradition translator, you might call it.
  Well, that sounds... Hm.  
Do you disagree?
  No, no. That's not what I meant. It just strikes me as such a sensible idea that it must have already been done. Tideriders have been running trade between the islands for upward of two thousand years--they'd have to have that kind of knowledge already, even if they never wrote it down. I would think that once air-wave sets became common, islanders would also need a resource like that. So where is it?  
Perhaps lost, if it truly was compiled in the first place. The subject could well have been of great interest on Zaiyev.
  But that would mean starting from shell anyway. *exhale* Learned Haftera, I can't deny that I'm excited by the thought. But what you're suggesting is on the scale of an accreditation thesis. I'm still working on my apprenticeship.  
But you will be working toward accreditation afterward, yes?
  Well...yes. And you're right, there's no reason not to lay the groundwork for it now. So I'm convinced. After this interview I'll see what there is in the recovered archives.  
You need not wait. Suppose I arrange to extend my stay here? I have no particular timeline, and it would give you the opportunity to prepare questions to ask me, as well as time to make your other inquiries.
  You're willing to do that?  
  Then I accept your offer. Shall we talk again the day after tomorrow?  
I would be delighted to do so.
  Learned Haftera, I am extremely grateful for this conversation. I look forward to speaking with you again. End recording.


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