Instead of working, I have been enjoying myself improving my Ai-Naidari vocabulary. I am in the middle of this when I stumble over a sentence I suddenly realize can’t exist the way I wrote it… or rather, the way the Calligrapher dictated it.
“Wait,” I say to Farren, indignant. “You don’t have a word for decolletage!”
“That is true,” he says, bent over his work desk with a pen in his hand.
“But you used it in Black Blossom to describe where you shouldn’t be staring when Saraeda showed up in her nightgown,” I say, folding my arms and glowering.
“It would have been awkward to explain in your tongue,” he says, blotting the pen on a towel and looking up at me. “You know the word yeles?”
“‘To appraise with sexual intent,’” I recite, obedient.
He nods. “Thus.”
“But you don’t have a word for a woman’s chest,” I say. “I mean, not one that’s separate from a man’s.”
He has resumed outlining in gold whatever it was he was working on. I can see the end of the pen slowly describing an arch. “Do aunera not appraise a man’s chest with sexual intent, sometimes?”
I think of how men can wander around bare-chested, and women can’t. “Ah… no. Not the same way, anyway. Men’s chests are more… um… socially acceptable when bared, in particular because they’re less likely to be appraised with sexual intent. In this culture at least.”
He glances up at me from over the edge of the work table without lifting his head. I can see the little furrows in his brow.
I sigh. “Let’s… just move on. Maybe you can teach me some normal words.”
“For body parts,” I say. “I know some, but I could use some more. Like… hands. Hands are san, I remember. What about fingers?”
“Evne,” he says. “Thus, one finger: evneni.”
I nod, getting out my notebook. “Keep going. Do the hands have parts?”
“Palm,” he says as he works. “That is gov. That is more than one palm. Give me your palm, one palm, is govein.”
I frown. “That’s an irregular singular.”
“There are many for body words,” he says, straightening and setting the pen aside. Capping the ink, he continues, “Since the body words are old, and often involved in legal texts.” He lifts his hands and shows them to me. “These are saneb, the vulerable side of the hands.” Flipping them to show me the backs, “And dolisan, the backs. From the words for vulnerable-front, ebe, and protected-back, doli. These words you can also conjugate to form verbs: to turn to the front, to turn to the back. Or commands, would you be Guardian: turn back! To me!”
Legal terms, I think. Yes, I can remember: there was a time in Ai-Naidari history where touching the wrong part of a person could get you in serious trouble. “Right,” I say. And ask, amused, “Is there a word for tail?”
“Of course,” he says. “Tail, oli. Irregular: that is both one tail and many tails, oli.”
“Oli,” I say, pleased because it’s a fun word to say.
“And the tuft at the end is geva,” he says. “You remember that one.”
“Which is also the hair on your head,” I agree. “So is tail-hair, if you want to refer to it specifically, geva olielu?”
“Geva olinelu,” he corrects. “Hair of the tail. The ‘neh’ sound makes it easier to say.”
“Spine?” I ask, looking at the hastily sketched Ai-Naidari figure I’ve drawn in my book.
“…is gul,” he says. “And bones are hol. Those truly are ancient words. But one bone is still holi. One does not say one has one guli, though, but one gul. The spine is many parts.”
Most of my diagram is unlabeled. “We are going to be here a while,” I observe, ruefully.