Mirrored from Sythyry.
Cleiestis is not the easiest person to understand. Unlike me, she’s not really trying to explain her culture and worlds and experiences to everyone. She’s more concerned with surviving them, herself and her eggs. So Bard and I have prepared a few clues for you.
Here’s one important clue. Her language works by paragraphs, not sentences. The first thing in a (normal) paragraph is the topic of the paragraph. Every other part of the paragraph concerns the topic. (Unless, for some reason, it doesn’t. As with most languages, there are all sorts of exceptions and elaborations.)
After the topic comes the word ýśś̀, which we write as just a dash, “—”.
Nouns and adjectives in the rest of the paragraph mostly describe the topic. Some thought is usually required here for how they describe it. Here’s her first paragraph about herself:
Me — a couatl. A snake of four yards. Avian wings of three yards. Brilliant feathers of three visible and four invisible colors. Charming smile. Elegant ruff. Erotically handsome tailtuft, entirely red.
Me (Cleiestis) is the topic of the paragraph. Everything else in the paragraph is about her.
— is how we separate the topic from the rest of the paragraph.
a couatl. means that she’s a couatl. It helps if you know at least a little about what a couatl is, so the next phrase tells you:
A snake of four yards. means that she is a snake four yards long.
Avian wings of three yards. means that she’s got bird-style wings with a three-yard wingspan. How do we know that “A snake” means she is a snake, and “Avian wings” means that she has avian wings? There’s no actual way to tell, the way she’s phrased it here. You might get the idea because a snake couldn’t also be a pair of wings.
Brilliant feathers of three visible and four invisible colors. Again, she has those feathers.
Neither Bard nor I, nor «Language», can explain what she means by “invisible colors”. Or why that “three visible and four invisible” phrase keeps showing up.
Charming smile. Elegant ruff. Erotically handsome tailtuft, entirely red. She has these too. She seems to think that they are her most important features.
Here are a couple other paragraphs, in less detail.
Me — a wife. Tomolrouc — a couatl. Small for a male. Brilliant feathers of five visible colors. Sweetest eyes anywhere on Gemgaru, and full of love and erotic mischief, and entirely red. Two years of marriage.
She’s a wife. Tomolrouc, by virtue of the — after his name, becomes the topic of some or all of the rest of the paragraph. This is an advanced or unusual way to talk, and indicates some sort of identity, equivalence, or strong relationship between the two subjects: appropriate between wife and husband.
Sentences and Motherhood
Me — To be a mother!!!! The rank, it is not sufficient for mothering, not until the seventh florescence. The Tomolrouc rank, no higher yet. But the junior priestess married lottery! It has seven tickets this year. Mine is drawn fifth. Great joy!
She’s going to be a mother!
Couatl-speech does have full sentences. Usually the subject of sentence is merged with the topic of the paragraph, though. So when she says “The rank”, it gets merged with the topic “me” and really means “My rank”.
Not always, though. “The Tomolrouc rank, no higher yet”. This just says, “Tomolrouc’s rank is not yet higher than [the rank that was just mentioned].” It’s a whole sentence without any reference to the topic of the paragraph! If a couatl is speaking formally, she would start that sentence with the particle h́s̀eé, which means “This is a non-topic-related sentence”. But that sounds pretty stodgy, and is not used in a friendly letter like this.
Oh, and the way couatl parenting works is: couatls live too long and lay too many eggs in a clutch to let everyone be a parent. Couatls of high rank get to be parents. Other couatls participate in a lottery for the chance. Nobody, incidentally, is ever allowed more than one fertile clutch.
There’s a lot of ritual around it (“The lustration of back-feathers. The inquisition of career. The lustration of fresh-picked gemstones. The inquisition of health. The lustration of [untranslateable]! The reverse lustration of cloth. …). Some of this is practical — the inquisitions of career and health, Bard and I think, checks that she has the money and strength to support a clutch of children, and that she knows how she will have a career as a priestess even if she has children. The reverse lustration is a ritualized gift of cloth from the temple to her. Presumably baby couatls are messy.
Princess of Septoulny Swamp
She calls me “Princess of Septoulny Swamp”. This is pretty funny.
My mother’s territory is called Septoulny Swamp. It’s about a square mile. Not a much of a queendom or a princess-dom! (It’s formally part of an actual kingdom, and parts of it belong to a few barons and stuff. The bipeds don’t have much to do with us, and they don’t want our swampy soggy land.)
And I’m not old enough to choose a sex yet. I told Cleiestis I was leaning towards female, so she calls me “princess”.
But I’m nothing like a princess. Bard assures me that, in terrestrial terms, I’m somewhere between a woodsman’s tomboy daughter and a particularly articulate gila monster.
Letter 1: She was warbling about how happy she was to have a chance to have children.
Letter 2: She was bragging about how she was keeping her eggs safe in a bowl of sand for the seven years they will take to hatch. And she was worrying about the very strange scent that came on the eggs without any visible source.
Letter 3: A human hand (we guess) reached up through the sand and snatched away four eggs. Digging up the bowl did not reveal eggs, hand, or any way that they could have come there. (Cleiestis’s world, incidentally, has spidersen, but no humans.) When I got the letter I thought that Cleiestis was overreacting. My mother lays eggs by the dozen. But Bard reminded me that Cleiestis only gets these eggs, ever.
Letter 4: Cleiestis and Tomolrouc moved the remaining eggs to somewhere that they thought was safe, and kept close watch. The hand appeared in the bowl again. Cleiestis tried to bite it, but got her fangs entangled in the hand’s gauntlet. Another hand grabbed her, and dragged her down into the bowl — farther down than the bowl actually goes.