“All right, Glow, time to play the word game!” Rainpace adjusted the weight of his -- rapidly growing-- daughter of nearly two turns, and tapped on a trunk with his free hand. “What’s this called?”
”Tree!” Glow shouted gleefully. She was right at the age when a cub first begins devouring words, and eager to expand her vocabulary.
Rainpace was happy to oblige that hunger. “That’s right, you smart little cub. And what do we call that tree over there?” he asked, guiding his daughter’s attention with a finger to the behemoth where One-Leg sat atop a mighty root, whittling down a new fishing pole.
“Cub Tree!” Without prompting, she pointed out and finished the set. “Momma Tree! Poppa Tree!”
”Very good!” He patted her head, and received an appreciative grin. Rainpace and Chicory both had spent time of late impressing upon their cub the concept that some objects, while the same type of thing, could have names all their own, just like elves did. And he had recently introduced the fact that humans had their own names for everything. “Glow, do you remember what Amber Hunters say when they mean ‘tree’?”
The girl’s upper lip curled, but nothing emerged. A flash of knowing in her eyes made way for confusion. Her brow started to furrow in frustration, but her attentive father was determined to keep her thinking positive.
“You can do it. You know the sounds. Say ih…” The syllable Rainpace produced was almost like a soft cough.
”Ih! Ih! Ih!” he encouraged.
“Eh! Eh! Eh!” A little more coaxing, and Glow worked out how to make the right noise.
That done, he moved to the second sound. “Skuh!”
“Uhm,” was the last of the sounds Rainpace needed to impart.
“Uh... uhh... ah-oooOOOooooOOOOooo!” Glow howled, head craned back far as it would go. She giggled wildly at her own humor.
Rainpace set her down on the ground, and knelt to keep his eyes locked with hers. As much as Glow enjoyed the word game, she was still a very young cub. He knew he had to complete the lesson before his little girl’s attention wandered away entirely to some other distraction. “Close, but shorter. All together now. ih… skuh… uhm.”
A bit of repetition, sound after sound, closer and closer until at last Glow produced the full word; “ih-skum.”
“That’s right! You did it!” he grinned wildly, and rewarded her with a proud, loving embrace.
… which Glow promptly wriggled out of. The little girl turned and ran fast as her legs would take her to One-Leg and any other elf she could find to share her new word with. “Ih-skum! Ih-skum! Ih-skum!”
Rainpace grinned as he watched her go. His plan for her was off to a fine start. From the beginning days of the word hunt, some elves had taken to human language easier than others, and some seemed to have trouble wrapping their heads around it at all. He’d heard One-Leg refer to the task as fishing words of one's brain and putting them in the right order, along with colorful comments that same elves are just better fishers than others. Rainpace had wondered if the cloudy memories of elves in general – which often enough had to be prodded with dreamberries and other tricks – was contributing to the difficulties. Rainpace himself, a word-hunter from the start, still had to stop and think through anything he wanted to say in either of the alien tongues before he said it.
But if an elf started out learning one tongue alongside the other?… From her first lullabies, Glow had been hearing the strange sounds of Painted Face and Amber Hunter both. Mother and father had created simple songs around them for their cub just as more elaborate ones had been made to help the older elves learn. Matching syllables to concepts was still a work in progress, as for any very young cub, but the sounds and rhythms that still evaded some of the elders were already as natural to her as walking.
‘For you, my daughter, the human speech will come as quickly as fish to One-Leg.’