“I still don’t see what you are so worked up about.”
Jim ran his fingers through his tussled sandy-brown hair and frowned as he looked past his wife’s shoulder toward the fiery platter of the sun as it began its nightly blending with the horizon and sea. An hour past meal time and she was still stuck on that one insignificant word.
“Liz, I know you think you have found something but you’re just tired. Every translator in the guild before us agrees.” He grabbed a tattered lexicon and turned its brittle pages with the care of a mother holding her newborn for the first time. “See – ‘to stand in place, to remain fixed.’ It’s as plain as that cute slip of a nose sitting on your face.”
Elizabeth smiled, giving a brief hint she might be ready to relent for the night. Her next words shattered that illusion. “But in this context that doesn’t make any sense. First off, this word is not the operative word in the sentence. It exists as a unifier for the main verbs. And then there’s the fact its tense indicates an action that starts and never stops. Add to that it’s in an active rather than a passive word.”
Tense, mood, and voice – grammar. It was enough to give anyone not of the guild a headache. But, like Elizabeth, Jim was of the guild. As was his father and his father’s father as far back as records existed. On Haven words were everything. After all, words were all her inhabitants had to connect them to those who had left so long ago. Those who had warned them of a fearful world beyond the horizon where nation warred against nation and evil wore the disguise of acceptability. Those whose failure to return cemented the council’s decision to never seek what was beyond where the sun rose and set.
Jim knelt, lost in his wife’s crystal blue eyes and then followed their gaze to the quill pen she still held hovering above her papers. And then … he saw what she did. Neither voiced their thoughts. There was no need. Years of partnership in the near solitude of putting pen to paper had developed means of communication far more effective than the spoken word.
“But …” Jim hushed as Elizabeth placed a finger to his lips.
“I know husband,” she whispered, “We must bring this before the assembly.”
Jim had never liked speaking in public and he knew his Liz would be far more effective. Indeed she held her own before the gathered members of the guild and the assembly.
“As the entire guild knows, it is usually the small words and phrases that give us the most problem. They seem so simple but that is the catch. They are very common words that everyone in the culture of that language would understand. It is the mundane little words that take the longest to correctly translate.”
Heads nodded and murmurs of approval sounded. For the people of Haven, the only thing simple about them was their dress. This was a culture of thoughts and ideas. Language, syntax and idioms were intertwined in conversations with the same casualness one might use when speaking of the weather.
Someone asked, “So what is the word?”
Elizabeth looked toward Jim, her expression imploring him to take the lead.
Catching her cue he stood. “It’s not just the word that is bothersome but its context and usage. The word, if we understand it correctly, implies something we should have always been doing but assumed we either should or could not.”
Another cried out, “Give the translation. We will obey.”
“But you don’t even know what the Master said yet,” Jim cautioned.
“If the Master said it we will obey.” The reply came from a hundred lips at almost the same moment.
Jim sensed the time for caution was past. How could he tell them their peaceful world was about to be shattered by such a small thing as one word? How would they even follow-through if they accepted its meaning? Beyond the place where the sun met the sea were things none of them could imagine. Powerful, fearsome, terrible things. Places where evil ruled with weapons none of them could possibly defeat. But the Master’s words were greater than whatever was out there. Somehow, someway, they would follow those who had never returned.
He swallowed and then changed their insulated, peaceful world forever. It only took one word.
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