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Ratama-ratama, doki-doki, tu-tump. They all describe the sound of a heartbeat in different human languages. In Traditional Elven it’s tosch-tosch. In the language that was constructed for the sylvan it’s the same word for “earth.” In any language, it was the sound my heart made when he was nearby.
I was working on my doctorate in Comparative Linguistics when I first saw him. At the time, I found myself practically living in the Grand Tomar Library trying to scratch up narrative fiction in as many languages as I could find. He was an elf…mostly. His blonde hair was a little too dark and the points of his features – his ears, his nose, his cheeks – weren’t quite sharp enough, implying to me that his heritage was more blended than elves usually preferred. He had the bearing of it, at least. There’s a very particular way that those those of us from mixed bloodlines hold ourselves that isn’t quite like either of our parentages. It’s very obvious once you see it the first time.
He took a seat two tables away with a small stack of history books. Over the next few hours, he devoured each of the books before him. I caught a title from a spine. I wasn’t able to discern it completely, but I recognized the characters as High Elven. That little fact spoke volumes.
Traditional Elven was one of the main languages of commerce. You had to speak it to be taken seriously in certain circles. High Elven was another matter, however. Non-elves were, generally, not allowed to touch it. Some of the younger elves didn’t even know how to read it properly. This particular halfie was trying very hard to impress someone.
It was a month or so before I acknowledged that something more than intrigue was making my heart pound when he was within sight. Another few days after that, I acted on it.
“Hi,” I said, standing on the other side of the table from him. I was gambling on the assumption that he actually spoke Illurian Vulgar. It was the closest thing to a universal language in all the worlds, but there was always a grain of uncertainty.
He flashed sea green eyes at me, then back to his book, then back to me.
“Hello?” He decided I was worth it. His accent was different than mine, but that was to be expected.
“Hi, I just… I see you here all the time. lately. I’m Summer.” He peered at me.
“Sounds like a nymph name,” he said less than neutrally.
“Yeah, half on my dad’s side…and you are?”
“Do you want the Common Diminutive or the full Elven name or-you know what-Garrett’s fine.” He waved his hand at me. “Probably couldn’t handle my full name,” he added under his breath. My heart wasn’t quite as fluttery around him, now, but I wasn’t overly offended. I was accustomed to a certain amount of condescension. It was, quite unfortunately, a common side-effect sylvan/non-sylvan interaction.
“I hope I’m not pestering you, but I noticed you were reading a lot of High Elven books. And I was curious, I guess.” He glared at me for a hard minute.
“Yes, I like to read in High Elven.”
“What?” He sneered at me slightly.
“No one ‘likes’ to read in High Elven. It’s unnecessarily complicated and archaic. You only do it when you have to or if you’re an insufferable pedant.” If it was possible, he stared at me even harder.
“What would someone like you know about it?” And his intention was very clear.
“Well I have been researching it for a fairly large portion of my post secondary academic career.” His entire body seemed to melt, and I realized something. “You can’t actually read it, can you?” He huffed and went back to the page he was trying to decipher.
“What’s it to you?” I pulled out a chair and sat across from him. His faltering had made me feel bold.
“I can teach you.” A thick silence hung in the air long enough to make me itch.
“Please?” he pleaded, suddenly very polite. I nodded.
Garrett wasn’t a quick learner. He was stubborn, too, which didn’t help matters. He was only learning the language to prove something to his elven father, a man who only entered his life in any meaningful way when his half-elf mother died. Before then he had lived in a small town in Canada: a country I had to admit to him I only knew of as being the neighbor to a much larger empire. As a teenager, he had been scooped up out of his human home, brought to this world, and tossed headfirst into the elven community. He had been struggling to keep his head above water ever since. We had that in common, at least, trying to prove that we were more than the sum of our parts.
“How do you handle being half?” He asked me one day, the coarseness of his voice slowly fading. “Mom grew up not knowing that she was part elf and did the same with me. I didn’t even know I was something other than human until I was fourteen. I just thought I was a little weird. Then an elf shows up saying I’m his son, and now I’m not worth as much because of that? How can you be so chill about it?”
“I’ve put up with it my whole life. Elves and humans both see ears pointed like mine, and they immediately start talking down to you. So, you kill them with kindness.” His only response was to vaguely look away with an unpleased harrumph.
“Father will be very impressed with you.” It was the first time I had ever seen Garret with anyone else, and his companion was radiantly beautiful. Elves always seemed that way. It was vaguely irritating, actually. I hesitantly approached the table where they were talking in quietly in Elven over a book. When he noticed me, I could see every muscle in Garrett’s body stiffen. His companion looked up. Eyes the color of blue zircon framed by a cornsilk cascade of hair searched my face. They landed pointedly on my ears then settled into gentle annoyance.
“Can we help you?” he asked curtly, switching to Illurian. I glanced at Garrett. His countenance was just short of frenzied, trying to convey apology, embarrassment, and menace all at once. The other elf was glaring, trying to will me away. I waited for Garrett to say something. He didn’t.
“I need that book,” I lied quickly, pointing to a biology text they had pulled.
“It’s written in High Elven.”
“Of this I am aware. Could you please? I’ve got a dissertation to work on.” He arched an eyebrow in incredulity, but handed the book to me nonetheless, ever so quietly murmuring an Elven slur for nymphs under his breathe.
Because a “barefoot maniac” was all I’d ever be to him.
It’s all I would ever be to any of them.
My heart didn’t go ba-thump anymore.