21. Mir Flasug
If Maevyn had a quick ear before, it was nothing to the new speed at which she learned. Grushak seemed determined to knock the words, the right words, into her. His methods were simple. He didn't shout at her, not much anyway, but the wrong answer always earned a clout, and if she repeated a mistake he had corrected her on previously he would send her sprawling.
Grushak never forgot her mistakes. Maevyn learned not to repeat them.
The first few lessons were little more than beatings. He didn't just want the right words out of her, he wanted the right sounds. She didn't roll her Rs to suit him and when she tried he thought she was being funny. "Are you trying to make me laugh or something?" he demanded after the third or fourth time she had picked herself up. "Say it again. Rakothas rogtar rujat kil raushatas varanat. You won't get the meaning right if you don't say it right." A protest that she didn't know what the words meant only landed her on the ground again. It didn't matter if she knew the sense of what she saying, a towering Grushak informed her. That would come later. What mattered now was getting the sounds.
His methods were brutal, but they provided compelling incentive. Between the two of them they soon isolated all of the arbitrary word assignations Mushog had taught her, which Grushak proceeded to drill out of her both painfully and thoroughly. It wasn't just Mushog who had misinformed her. Grymawk had apparently thrown in a few "jokes" of his own, probably out of exasperation for her plaguing him, and other times his explanations had been lazy or unreflective. And then there were those times that Grushak just plain disagreed, as with the word for eggs.
"Not vo, voz. Say it right."
"Voz," she said.
"But vo is right," argued Grymawk, who had been listening in. "At least other folk say it that way."
"Maybe in that backwood shithole you came from, but that don't make it right," said Grushak.
Grymawk folded his arms across his chest. "Since when is your shithole better than my shithole?" He looked ridiculous at that moment, a small goblin challenging a much larger Orc. Grushak said nothing, only looked at him, and after a minute or two Grymawk's gaze dropped. "It's only a little difference of region," he muttered.
Grushak placed his hand against the back of Maevyn's head, pushing it a little as he spoke to give his words emphasis, as if she were a puppet nodding. "I'm teaching her so she says it right, and to make her more useful, and so she's not offending my ears in the process." She tried to duck out from under him but he grabbed her hair and jerked it to make her settle.
"Proper Mordor-speak, hmm?" Nazluk was skeptical. "You'll never pull that off, Grushak."
"He might do, if her brains don't turn to jelly first from all the knocks he's giving her," said Rukshash.
Grushak laughed shortly. "Those? Those are barely love taps. She knows I could hit her harder, don't you, Brat."
"Hombaur kurvanug," she spat, pushing his hand away.
"Hear that? Perfect pitch too. Said it just right that time, she did," he cooed, ruffling her hair with a sadistic smile. There was that about their little lessons: he didn't seem to care what she called him or what angry insults came out of her mouth, so long as she said it in Orkish. And pronounced it properly, of course.
He was a generous teacher to be sure: generous with his words and with his corrections. In fact, he was so generous with the latter that it sometimes left her punch-drunk. "Enough," he growled during one lesson, when she began to slur her speech. "Go now, before I lose my temper." She staggered in the general direction of the tree where Leni waited for her. The Elf girl helped her lie down and pressed a damp rag against her forehead to soothe the ache behind her temples, ignoring how Maevyn pushed at her weakly to make her stop.
"Enough," Maevyn muttered, "enough…"
"Enough," Leni agreed quietly. She lowered the rag but remained by Maevyn's side for as long as she was permitted, until she was called her away. Then Maevyn lay alone with her strange waking dreams, dreams in which a little boy said taunting things in Orkish and waved a red ribbon in his hand.
"So come and get it, Maggot! It's what you wanted, isn't it?"
"…what you wanted," a familiar voice was saying.
"What," Maevyn mumbled stupidly, turning her face up out of the furs.
"I said, you have what you wanted now, do you not." The Elf girl was sitting with her legs drawn under her, her hands folded in her lap. She wasn't looking at Maevyn. "You wanted a teacher, is what I meant. And now you have one."
"Didn't want him," said Maevyn tiredly, laying her head down again. "Or Mushog, or any of them. Wanted you."
"No." Leni shook her head. "I understand some of their speech, it is true, but not so well as that."
"Enough so you could've helped me. Why, Leni? Why didn't you help me? You're a good teacher, I know you are. It wouldn't've been hard for you."
"Not hard?" Leni said in a strangled voice. She became very still.
It was only then that Maevyn noticed and felt some weary measure of surprise at how quiet it had become. There were no Orkish voices to be heard, only the familiar rumbling of their snores. It had been fetching nigh to evening when Grushak gave her his lesson: dinner must have come and gone with no one waking her. Now it was night and Maevyn could barely make out Leni's slender form beside her in the darkness.
"You cannot understand," the other girl said softly into the silence. "They have forced you, it is true, but they have not forced you as they have me. What they have done—they have taken so much of me. My freedom, my body, my own Elven speech. If they wanted to make me use theirs I would not be able to fight them. But not of my own choice, Maevyn. I will not do this thing that you are doing. I will not take their tongue in my mouth."
"That's not what I'm doing," Maevyn protested. "It's only words…"
"Their words," said Leni. "Their will. Their way." She fell quiet and when she spoke again the forcefulness was gone from her voice. Now she only sounded sad. "I know what it is you think. You believe speech is a tool, a weapon. That you can use the power of their own words against them, to fight with them and to win. But it is more than that. You cannot use their speech and think to remain unchanged."
This chapter is meant as a companion piece for the earlier chapter Flasug, when Maevyn first started trying to learn Orkish. Mir Flasug = "Talking Good," or "Speaking Well" if you prefer.
Rakothas rogtar rujat kil raushatas varanat. "The gruesome guard watched the newly clouded sky."
Hombaur kurvanug. "Fucking asshole."
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