I looked out across Lanarrin, at the huge oaks which cloak the city, wooden buildings and bowers cradled in their branches, and at the delicately-carved marble buildings which sheltered beneath the oaken boughs.
I listened to the singing from the streets below, three Elven women improvising a love song - half music and half conversation.
As a diplomat whose speciality has been dealing with the most brutal races of Illyriad, I can honestly say that I have never seen a place so beautiful in its construction, so refined in its manners, so peaceful in its atmosphere, nor so utterly baffling. Nothing here made any sense.
I attempted to be polite to a servant, and I remarked on the sea of bluebells which carpeted the ground beneath us, and he asked, "Would you go sailing upon that sea, my lord?" I made some evasive answer, unsure what he meant, and he asked me, "Would you not cast your net there?" I could not think what I might net there, so stammered something about butterflies.
He smiled politely, nodded, and backed away. My host informed me that I had 'lost' that conversation. I have no idea how I had lost, nor what I was meant to have said.
I discovered, in the days which followed, that I would frequently have no idea what the Elves were talking about.
Whether musing over obscure philosophy, or engaged in vital diplomacy, or discussing the most mundane chores, they would start speaking in a kind of convoluted rhyme, or would have a dialogue only in quotations from ancient Elven poetry. Sometimes they would start singing as they spoke, and I was told that the notes conveyed meanings separate from, or complementary to, the actual words.
I was told that one skilled in the 'art' of speech might convey four or five meanings with one sentence, in order to keep several discussions open with each phrase. Often this was done to convey deeper meanings, and sometimes it was a kind of game. Then, obtusely, they might abandon meaning altogether, and start speaking nonsense, delighting in the sounds and rhythms of the words alone.
And that was just their speech. Everything for these people was a work of art, to be indulged and enjoyed on any number of levels. For an outsider, of course, this renders the entire city incomprehensible. On another occasion, I remarked on some beautiful carvings; the capitals of marble pillars carved to resemble vine leaves in the most exquisiteness detail.
"Ah," a local woman exclaimed, "but of course you can see how offended the priests were when the sculptor had finished his work!" But of course, I could see nothing of the sort.
In the week I was there, no one threatened or injured me. My life was never in danger. And I have never been so comfortable in lodgings, nor surrounded by such beauty. But I longed to escape. I would rather have been sent to deal with Orcs, again. At least with Orcs, I understand what is going on around me.
When I left, my host presented me with a gift. It was a wooden goblet, carved to show a man in a ship casting a net over three women who swam through a sea of flowers. He smiled politely as he handed it over. The cup was beautiful. But I suspect that it was a joke, at my expense, and that my host was mocking my human ignorance.
This was co-authored by Nicole le Strange and Kevin Hassall. Originally written for the free to play strategy game Illyriad, it is reproduced with their permission.