Forked Tongues

I was among the first to adopt the language of the new emperor. Thankfully, I’ve always been good with mimicry and logic games.

I recognized the distinctive habits of the phrasing, the patterns of the grammar. I clapped with delight as he repeated phrases like the chorus of a well-loved song.

Not that mastering it was easy. I’m as close to fluent as anyone now, but you should have seen me in the middle of absorbing it, all those long nights in the library, wrestling with wild connotations. Yes, I endured the puzzles that wreck every translator.

Naturally, my process necessitated scaling the mountains of cultural context they load into small spaces. Every language does this: just a few marks on a page conceal looming leviathans of meaning.

And now I spin his gurgles into tapestries of substance. When my people protest his abuses, they feel the full extent of his disregard. They comprehend the reasons he gives them. And that’s my reward.

They may spit on me when I venture out for bread, but as I rewrite our epics in the emperor’s tongue, they must, somehow — deep in their bitter hearts — know that the texts I produce are not intended for them.

No, I write for their children, and more so, their grandchildren — the ones who will learn this language as their own.

My people will live out their lives, swapping betrayal for flittering favor, groveling in the muck of paranoid fear, but they’ll know… they must know… that through my work, our stories — if not our language — will live on.

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