Mistakes in Translation - Chapter 1
Winter, Ninth Week, Black, Mid-Morning
At the White Pine Hall
Over a good mead in front of a roaring fire, the center of the world can be a hotly debated topic that draws from the conversationalists the deepest measure of their prejudices. For Newborn or Duorph or any of the Shades of Elph, the center of the world is more a cultural decision than a geographic measure. By the maps of the known world, the geographic center lies just outside Drake's Nest, the Newborn capital. This supports the Newborn argument both physically and emotionally. It doesn't matter. The Coblans cling fiercely to the idea the center of the world is Coblan Reach lying far to the southeast of Drake's Nest. For the White Elph, the matter is equally resolved. The center of the world is the White Pine Hall.
For more than two thousand years, the White Pine Hall has reigned supreme in the foot hills of the northern reaches of the Dragonback mountains, the segment of that massive range known as the Dragon's Tail. Formed of pines standing over a hundred feet, the hall is not so much a building as a glade protected by the overhanging branches, branches perpetually snow covered.
White Elph weather wards negotiate this state through persistence and an eye for detail. The Storm God, notoriously picky about the effect of weather on his world canvas; matured his appreciation of the effect achieved by the White Elph weather wards gradually so that now, this tiny plot, alone in the known world, is permitted its persistent winter-like climate. Snow always dresses the pines that form the hall, giving physical justification to the title the White Elph apply to their council chamber.
Maintaining the effect requires the combined skills of both weather wards and grovers. Replacement trees are seeded, nurtured, and grown in regular cycles to replenish trees which grow old and die. The timing of the re-growth, the provision of sunlight and nourishment to foster the re-growth reflects centuries of practice. Only the very best practitioners of the weather ward and grover arts are assigned to the maintenance of the White Pine Hall.
What the White Elph are, what they can be, what they will be is determined within these walls and radiated outward to imbue all White Elph with common purpose. The White Pine Hallís frigidity provides the foundation for the other races to explain their perception of White Elph character. In their view White Elph disposition and temperament can be traced to their Council Hall. Like the White Pine Hall, the White Elph who meet there are cold and forbidding.
This cold and forbidding reputation is further enhanced by White Elph physical appearance. A tall race, their tendency toward leanness accentuates a bone structure supporting bodies seemingly too large for the skin covering them. The skinís pallor does little to disguise the frame it surrounds making the White Elph seem animated skeletons.
The White Pine Hall runs as a rectangle north to south, a distance of four hundred feet with the width at an average of fifty feet; the floor of the open-air gathering place gently slopes along north to south axis. Perhaps, back when first constructed, the entire White Elph nation could gather within these walls. If once true, it is no longer possible. All White Elph may wander the Hall during most times, ;when the Council is in session, only the heads of the various Societies actually convene.
The leaders of the two hundred White Elph Societies convene today as they have convened every day for the last year, each Society Head carrying equal voice in the proceedings.. To the north, on the elevated height of the Hall, stands the High Warder, Head of the Warrior Society, by common consent the moderator for these councils of war.
The Society Heads meet today to discuss the progress of campaign to erase the Newborn race from the world pallet.. Why eliminate the Newborn? As well ask why eliminate flies from a mesk. Newborn breed and spread like flies, occupying land once trod only by White Elph. Newborn clear that land to raise crops in flagrant disdain of the natural foods the gods provide. Newborn build bridges over running water.
Add the thought that the Elph Goddess has prophesied a terrible danger is rising against all her Elph children. Only a fool of an Elph would not see the only danger in this world are the Newborn but there are many fools in the other Shades so the White Elph must carry the burden alone. The summary arguments for elimination of the Newborn disease can be enumerated by the least of the White Elph: Newborn have no magic. They have no beauty. They are thieves who refuse to recant their ways. They are a pestilence on the land, a constant irritation to White Elph souls. And the Goddess demands the Newborn race be eliminated.
Having committed themselves to the task, the Council arranged itself to facilitate the undertaking making the High Warder de facto leader of the White Elph societies. She is not commander. Her knowledge of strategy and tactics, proven in the Trials, earned her leadership of the Warrior Society. That leadership, as it does for all the societies, earned her entry into the council but did not earn for her absolute authority over the White Elph nation. Rather, the High Warder occupies a position as moderator during council deliberations. As moderator, she influences and guides the deliberations of war applying, in the process, the strategic and tactical skills her Warrior Society has developed.
This High Warder's true name is Needle. In this assemblage, she is known as Elphen Hope, a war name assumed during the dedication ceremony that launched the White Elph army at the Treebreak Forest. In High Elphese, her war name is rendered Shewang.
Elphen Hope's voice, as it carries to the two hundred society heads, is a clear, precise soprano, flowing over her audience with accustomed confidence. She plays her sense of composition and semantic nuance in harmony with her understanding of the mood of her audience to produce a ballad that lulls the senses, melodically removing doubt and concern from the hearts of that audience while simultaneously filling those hearts with pride and confidence in White Elph prosecution of the war.
"We have this day", she sings, "pushed the last Duorph from the Treebreak Forest. We have emerged on the Treebreak's southern flank to engage a handful of Newborn who seek to delay our advance to Drake's Nest. A day to gather our cavalry, another day to act and we will dispose of this nuisance defense in the Vale and then continue our march to Drake's Nest."
Muttered discussion greets this announcement. The society heads are relieved at news of the removal of the Duorph from the Treebreak Forest, the Duorph resistance more formidable than the head of the Warrior Society had predicted. Each day the Duorph held out, nagging
doubts rose in the minds of the society heads, doubts the Warrior devoted much-begrudged time and energy to expel. If the Duorph posed more of a threat than she predicted, the only course of action was to eliminate the threat. Were they going to change their plans? Were they going to decide this was all a bad idea because a few Duorph had not cooperated with their grand strategy? There were times when Elphen Hope despaired of the common sense of the society heads.
This meeting seems doomed to becoming another such time. The idea of a delaying force of Newborn where there ought not to be such a force generates another spate of puzzlement within the council. They are not stupid people. The vast majority of these Elph have fought in one war or another. They well know the vagaries of battle. Still, Elphen Hope had not prepared them for a defensive force in Vale.
Noting this undercurrent rippling before her, Elphen Hope elects to wade its waters. "This Newborn group - I cannot name it a force - is composed of cotton farmers from the Vale. They have no training, no discipline to match our cavalry. It is a small matter which may even now be disposed of."
Disdain drips in her song as she dismisses the Newborn of the Vale but, as she turns to the topic she truly wishes to discuss, the disdain turns to anger, the iron in her voice reflecting a respect she does not wish to admit. Hatred spews from her black eyes strong enough to lend a physical reality to her emotion. Her hatred becomes a cloud flowing over the heads of the societies. The hatred knits her silver eyebrows into a furrow as it makes its way from Elphen Hope's face into the Hall, drawing the too-taught skin of her forehead into tiny ridges which lower her silver hair onto that brow. The hatred rides her words as she tosses them into the council like stones into a pond, the splashing and ripples of the hate lapping against the emotions of the society heads leaving each damp with the High Warder's passion. Her calculated fury draws flinching response from the audience.
"The Duorph Jiwhadaren has escaped." she thunders, her ballad now a bitter lament. "We have slain all but three of the Duorph Seers. Just three remain but that tiny trio includes the Jiwhadaren."
The High Warder pauses The silence which envelopes the Hall, built of the interrupted breath of two hundred Elph, is apt response to her news. The council knows, as Elphen Hope knows, Duorph Seers are responsible for the prolonged siege of the Treebreak Forest. In strength of arms, the Duorph should have been little match for the numbers the White Elph had thrown against them. A modicum of Duorph resistance had been expected, accounted for, incorporated into White Elph war plans. According to those plans, the White Elph army should - at this moment -be in control of the Treebreak Forest, long past the Vale, and hounding the gates of Drake's Nest.
The Duorph resistance produced a different reality. Duorph Seers devised a guerrilla campaign that extended the siege, delaying the White Elph in the TreeBreak Forest by weeks where it should have been days, weeks that allowed Garren N'Drake to gather his defenses. It is not so much Garren's opportunity for reinforcement nor is it the laughable defense of the Vale, it is the continued existence of the Duorph seers and their impact on White Elph plans that dominates the frustration behind the High Warder's words.
As this council convened, the army had verified that three Seers remained at large. Should they reach Garren, the task the White Elph had set themselves would grow ever more expensive. Seers cannot know everything. Seers cannot prevent Garren's defeat. But, witness the resistance in the Treebreak Forest, Seers can raise the price of victory by ten fold or more. Seers cannot be tolerated.
"Of all the clans of Duorph, we can assume the most able was guided by the Jiwhadaren. In the western Treebreak", the High Warder chants, her words a litany of fact she presents with cold acceptance, "the Duorph were the most skilled, the most canny, the most deadly. It was there we paid most dearly for the scourge of the Treebreak. In the western Treebreak, one Seer escaped up into the Dragonback Mountains. That Seer must surely be the Jiwhadaren.
"Two other Seers escaped south; assumed to be en route to Drake's Nest. We will deal with them when we catch up to them but the most dangerous, the Jiwhadaren roams the Dragonback. He must be stopped. He cannot be allowed to circle down to Drake's Nest."
A question rises tentatively from the midst of the White Pine Hall as to the basis of this certainty. Perhaps it is some other Seer. Elphen Hope answers the question with ill-concealed impatience, reiterating the argument just presented. Surely, the most capable resistance had to come from the mind of the most capable Seer. The most capable resistance had been in the West. "A" plus "B" must equal "C". The High Warder's logic is convincing as much to herself as to her audience. Backed by the respect automatically accorded the Head of the Warrior Society, buttressed by her previous successes in analyzing the course of the war, her argument forges agreement within the council.
Agreement on the nature of the problem makes devising a solution a simple matter. A hunting party will be dispatched, their only prey the lone Duorph Seer, their only task elimination of that threat. Composition of the hunting party is not seriously disputed. At Elphen Hope's suggestion, it will be drawn from the Societies of Warriors, Weather Wards, Hunters, Time Riders, and Linguists. Two Elph from each of the selected Societies will be commissioned.
If the council had the ability to include a White Elph Seer, they would do so. Inclusion of a Seer would frame successful completion of the hunting party's task with an aura of greater certainty but, of all the races of the world, only the Duorph produce Seers. The Warriors selected for this execution squad must offset the Seer's talent but that is what Warriors are trained to do, employ strategies and tactics to foil the enemy's strengths, exploit the enemy's weakness. A Seer's services would be helpful; lack of that service is not critical. Even lacking that talent; this expedition could only be successful.
Satisfied that what can be accomplished has been, Elphen Hope ends the session. Society heads drift from the hall in twos and threes talking as they leave of the victory in the Treebreak Forest, of the impudence of the cotton farmers in the Vale, of the Duorph Seers. There is little evidence of concern or apprehension in their talk; there is little elation. There is calculation and purpose. T
As the High Warder strides from the White Pine Hall, Elphen Hope is thankful this meeting went as planned, that no one thought to question the progress of the war, of the discrepancy between plan and execution, of the cost already paid. She does not relish enumerating the statistics of this war. Of the thirty-five thousand White Elph soldiers committed to the field at the beginning of this campaign, two thousand and more fell to Duorph arrows. Another fifteen hundred took wounds which removed them from the enterprise. Thirty-five hundred casualties inflicted by less than three thousand Duorph.
How many Duorph lived to tell the tale? No one knew for certain although commanders in the field estimate there may be close to a thousand Duorph running south to Drake's Nest. What the White Elph Warriors did know was that whatever number of Duorph had escaped, that number included three Seers. That was the most damaging statistic of all.
Statistics, though, are two sided. Elphen Hope can also recite the numbers of Newborn that can be expected to defend Drake's Nest. The Newborn, rapid breeders though they are, cannot raise more than twenty thousand defenders for their beloved king. Of that number, maybe ten percent are already committed to the laughable delaying action being disposed of in the Vale. Ten percent of Garren's assets are locked in the Vale and those farmers are doomed. They will not survive to aid in the defense of Drake's Nest.
A thousand soldiers at most - five hundred or so more likely - from each of the other Shades of Elph could bring the force gathering in Drake's Nest to near twenty-two thousand, a force too strong for thirty thousand White Elph to lay siege against, a thought that does not dismay the High Warder. Garren N'Drake is about to receive another unwelcome surprise. The Coblan army is marching from the south, from the base of the Great Barrier Mountains. The balance of forces will be weighted, weighted as the White Elph need and plan. The pestilence that is Garren N'Drake and his insufferable Newborn race will be removed; the blight on the world they constitute will be eliminated; the cloth of the world will be returned to the glory it had known before Newborn stained its fabric.