« Back
Generated: Aug 10, 2019 10:58 PM
Post last updated: Aug 10, 2019 10:58 PM
where dragons fear to tread
a story of the second age
Permalink Eye

This is a long stretch of beautiful countryside, rolling hills and ancient tall trees and deer and rabbits and babbling brooks and everything.

 

Its most distinctive feature is a road. The road is the width of two wagons, laid with neat cobblestones, heavily trafficked - one can see six wagons on it right now, going in both directions - but not worn down in the slightest anywhere. Every hundred and twenty human paces there's a marker with an inscription in three languages. 

Permalink Eye

Whatever just happened did not exactly knock the wind out of May but it seems psychologically similar enough that she's gonna... sit here and see if anybody hops out of a wagon to see if she's all right, before she gets up and starts walking.

She's less confident in this decision but simultaneously less confident in all other possible decisions after inspecting the three languages and not recognizing any of them.

Permalink Eye

A wagon stops after a couple of minutes. 

The person who jumps out is - very short, and very very hairy, and wearing clothing made out of more metal than there's really a case for putting in clothing if you are not about to have a medieval battle. It's possible they're in fact about to have a medieval battle -- they're armed -- but the body language is friendly.

Unintelligible question?

Permalink Eye

"Hi, do you speak English?"

Permalink Eye

- unintelligible question in a different language?

Permalink Eye

"Parlez-vous Français?"

Permalink Eye

Nope. Gesture one way down the road, then the other way down the road?

Permalink Eye

Is "helpless shrug" a useful answer?

Permalink Eye

From his - their? - the person's reaction it is perhaps not the most useful of answers.

 

They hesitate a minute, then pull out a notebook and draw a map. It's not a very well-drawn map. It has mountains on one end and a big elaborate city under the mountains and a scribbly city at the entrance to the mountains. It has a road. It has an ocean at the other corner.

Mountain? Ocean?

Permalink Eye

Headshake. Does that even translate?

Permalink Eye

Someone else comes out of the wagon. They have a quick conversation that involves some gesturing at Mabel.

Mabel, wagon?

Permalink Eye

Her prospects of surviving in this strange place without engaging with civilization at all are not great and this seems like a friendly enough example of civilization so far. Mabel wagon, yes.

Permalink Eye

They seem cheerful about this. The back of their wagon is big enough for a human, even though the seating area at the front is really not. It's carrying barrels of probably-fish-by-the-smell. They appear to be normal barrels but they're somehow cold to the touch.

 

They make no particular effort to talk to her.

Permalink Eye

That is reasonable, since they do not share a language. She will find someone more interested in being a language tutor sooner or later. Maybe the barrels are magic; these people could be some sort of critter. Doesn't explain where she is, though.

Permalink Eye

Her wagon is quicker-travelling than most of the wagons and pulls up to a little rest stop on the side of the road about half an hour later. 

There are three other people here. They look much closer to human, but not all the way there; taller, more symmetrical, elaborately dressed. They're singing an elaborate three-part song while some short hairy people swap out their horses.

The riders in Mabel's wagon walk up to one and ask a question. They turn and stare at Mabel intently.

 

Permalink Eye

"...hi. Do you speak English?"

Permalink Eye

They look disappointed. One of them says something to the short hairy people. Whatever it is, it delights them - one claps.

 

They know a couple more not-English languages they can try on her?

Permalink Eye

Nope. Sorry tall pretty people. She will attempt "parlez-vous Français" again but without much optimism.

Permalink Eye

Nope.

 

Everyone seems bemused by this but not especially alarmed.

 

Horses are swapped out and her wagon keeps on going.

Permalink Eye

Okay then!

Permalink Eye

It's a very idyllic countryside. Her hosts play a dice game, with unfamiliar metal coins as stakes. 

It's apparent after a little while that they're headed up towards the mountains. It's apparent a little while after that that there's a city at the end of the road, full of grey stone towers.

Permalink Eye

Pretty.

She's not sure she'd describe it as unearthly per se, but it does seem - less than Earthish.

Permalink Eye

The wagon stops outside the walls of the city, which are very elaborately artistic up close and clearly don't serve much of a purpose beyond that, as they're easy to hop over and some children can be noticed doing it. Other hairy bearded people come to unload the barrels of fish. There's some pointing at Mabel. There is fetching of a local tall-person, and then - a fair bit of haggling and pointing at Mabel.

Eventually the tall-person is persuaded to pay quite a few of the unfamiliar metal coins.

Permalink Eye

...May is going to very charitably assume that she has not just been sold, what with the general lack of coercion she has experienced here, but she does eye this transaction dubiously.

Permalink Eye

Smiling tall person thinks that she should come with him!

Permalink Eye

Surrrrre, smiling tall we're-going-to-assume-not-a-slave-trader.

Permalink Eye

The city has winding stone-paved streets and lots of buildings, all of them pretty and all of them according to the same theme; either the whole place was one person's artistic vision or these peoples' tastes are very uniform. There are greenhouses and workshops and a market, though tall person seems to be trying to skirt those in favor of back streets which are more likely to contain painters, short hairy people, cats, and children. He smiles at her encouragingly every once in a while. They're headed towards the center of this town.

Permalink Eye

She's gonna bolt if she sees anybody chained up or being displayed on a block or anything like that. Till then she follows the guy, occasionally tripping on the stones.

Permalink Eye

Eventually they reach a side door of a building. It's not locked, though the plants growing over the entrance suggest it is used very infrequently, and he has to cut them away with a knife before opening it.

Encouraging smile!

Permalink Eye

Yes, you have this much benefit of the doubt, tall dude. In goes May.

Permalink Eye

It's a little auditorium with benches and desks and podiums up on a small informal stage and a chalkboard for writing. It's full of people. They all turn to look at her, delightedly. 

"Do you speak English?" asks the tall guy very carefully in an uncanny imitation of May's voice.

Permalink Eye

 


"Yes. Do you?"

Permalink Eye

 

The audience listens raptly and takes furious notes.

"Yes, do you?" he repeats after a second.

Permalink Eye

"- are you trying to learn Eng- is this some kind of linguistics department -" She sighs and heads for the chalkboard, looking for a clear space.

Permalink Eye

The chalkboard has only a little bit of writing in the corner, in an unfamiliar alphabet. 

"are you trying to learn Eng - is this some kind of linguistics department?" chants the whole room very softly.

Permalink Eye

May writes the alphabet, upper and lower case each in columns. She recites it. Then she sings it for good measure. Then she starts spelling things out, including "Do you speak English?" and going on from there.

Permalink Eye

Her audience diligently takes notes and echoes her softly when she says things.

Permalink Eye

She guesses she is teaching the aliens or whatever they are English now. She gets kind of into it; she does numbers, and points at various sets of people to explain one of those pronoun charts they use in French class to conjugate verbs and then conjugates some verbs for them.

Permalink Eye

It's not actually very long before they're asking halting questions, both for the linguistic content - "you are here, I am there?" and for the, well, explanation of what is going on.

"You are of far?"

"Did your horse become lost?"

"Were you trying to come here?"

Permalink Eye

"I am from very far away! I do not have a horse. I was not trying to come here."

Permalink Eye

"Where were you going?

Permalink Eye

"I wasn't going anywhere! I was sitting in one place, far away."

Permalink Eye

"Is it common where you are from to - end up places without going anywhere?"

Permalink Eye

"It is not."

Permalink Eye

"Is it common where you are from that humans cannot interact with osanwë?"

Permalink Eye

"Osanwë?"

Permalink Eye

"Edhel - like us - we talk without sound. Humans can normally hear us, and we can hear them."

Permalink Eye

"Humans where I'm from don't do that! Maybe I can learn how."

Permalink Eye

"Humans don't do it but humans can hear it and we can hear them, typically."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I never met any Edhels before today." Since she is no longer writing on the chalkboard, she pulls her sandwich out of her backpack. It is in a plastic bag. Chomp.

Permalink Eye

They want the words for plastic and for sandwich!

Permalink Eye

She will teach them the words for plastic and for sandwich!

Permalink Eye

As they get more vocabulary words it becomes clear that this group of people -- the most progressive linguistics guild of Ost-in-Edhil, which is the capital city of the nation of Eregion, they tell her -- is internally divided over their priorities; in particular some of them really want to know all the words in the English language and some of them really want to know everything she does about electricity, computers, combustion engines, and the manufacture of plastics, and one guy really wants to know how societies run by humans work. The first two groups settle on alternating, while the one guy tries to come up with technology or linguistics questions that get at what he's actually curious about.

Does she know any of the properties of the metal used in the machines that manufacture her clothing?

What's the etymology of 'etymology'?

How do zippers work?

How much dialectical variation is there among speakers of English? Is all English mutually intelligible?

What sorts of materials can cars run on?

What technology does her society use for people to give input on the functioning of the government?

Permalink Eye

She is pretty sure most metal involved in most industrial processes is probably steel which she thinks is iron with carbon on it but she isn't sure how to translate that since she doesn't remember the atomic number of iron, though she thinks carbon might be 8. She doesn't know anything about this topic really and should not be taken as an authority on it.

She thinks the ology part is from Latin and means "the study of" and the "log" part means maybe words in particular, no guesses on "etym". It's commonly confused with entomology, the study of bugs.

She has no idea how zippers work but they can look at the front pouch on her backpack while she zips and unzips it.

There is lots of dialectical variation among English speakers since lots of different countries have it as a major first language and it's the most popular second language in the world. People who are technically speaking English don't always understand each other unless they're trying and succeeding at moderating their accents toward a sort of global standard; her own accent is not that far off the global standard, because she is from a country that talks a lot like the neighboring country that produces most of the popular movies.

Cars run on gasoline which is made from petroleum which is icky stuff found underground.

Her society is a democracy; adults - people a couple years older than her - can vote on representatives who in turn vote on policy.

Permalink Eye

“That’s fascinating. Does it work?”

Permalink Eye

"Democracy? ...sure. There's a saying it's the worst system of government except for everything else that's been tried."

Permalink Eye

“What else have you tried?”

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure I have enough words to describe it! People have tried having kings - one guy running things and his kids inheriting - and some people have tried doing a thing where 'the people' rule -" She does air quotes, then digresses briefly into explaining quotation marks with chalkboard examples and the gesture as a derivation thereof. "- only it winds up being not quite that because that's so impractical you can't even actually try it... I don't know if it would work if telepaths tried it, maybe it could. Uh, I don't remember other things off the top of my head, usually to talk about this I'd be looking at a reference. Incidentally is one of you going to give me a place to sleep and something to eat at some point, that was my only sandwich."

Permalink Eye

“The humans native to here can eat all our food, though I think there are other groups of people who have problems with some of them. I can arrange for a house.”

Permalink Eye

"I'm not allergic to any foods I know but if I see anything I don't recognize I might not try it if it makes foreign humans sick."

Permalink Eye

“Allergy is the thing where humans get sick because their protective system mistakes flowers for a threat?”

“That’s real?” someone asks.

”Yes. They died of it back before, maybe now they don’t. Or maybe they do more because their protective systems are better.”

 

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, those are allergies, some are to flowers and some are to cats or foods or whatever. I don't have any. The protective system is called the immune system. People sometimes die of allergies where I'm from but not usually, we can test for them and there's a chemical called epinephrine they can carry around to stab into their legs if they eat the wrong thing by accident that buys them time to get to a hospital. They're still annoying though."

Permalink Eye

"That's so horrifying," someone says.

"How common are they?"

"There are lots of humans we can talk to if we want to learn things about humans, go away and bother them and let us ask her about words -"

"Do 'hospital' and 'house' have the same root?"

Permalink Eye

"I think we'll reconvene tomorrow, actually," he says. 

 

There are some glares but they stop arguing.

Permalink Eye

"Hospital and house might have the same root, but I'm not sure. I think hostel is related to at least one of them. And hotel."

Permalink Eye

She's making herself very popular here. 

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

Permalink Eye

"Would you rather your own house or a room in an existing one? I don't think anyone'll bother you in your own house but some representatives from the other linguistics guilds might conceivably take it upon themselves to show up and try to get your attention."

Permalink Eye

"Why do you have an extra house?"

Permalink Eye

He looks slightly uncomfortable. "Oh, it's not mine, it's the city's for groups of important visitors from other countries - is there a word for that? when they visit. But they're not here right now."

Permalink Eye

"Diplomats if they're there to talk about how the countries should behave toward each other? Why are you allowed to put me in a diplomat guest house?"

Permalink Eye

Way more uncomfortable! "Well, no one's using it and you need a place to stay."

Permalink Eye

"...yes. Does no one else need a place to stay?"

Permalink Eye

"Not that I know of? There used to be some Dwarves who didn't have houses but then we figured out how to solve that without making the rest of them very angry at us."

Permalink Eye

"So anyone can just put people in the diplomat guest house as long as there aren't diplomats there?"

Permalink Eye

So! Uncomfortable! "- well, anyone could ask me and I'd probably say yes unless there was a good reason not to."

Permalink Eye

"Why would they ask you. Who are you. - I don't think I've introduced myself, my name is May."

Permalink Eye

"It's really lovely meeting you! My name is Celebrimbor. People'd ask me because it's useful for coordination, see, for there to be a known person who you'd ask about that sort of thing. So people don't book the houses for different people at the same time."

Permalink Eye

"You're telling me your job is booking house borrowings?"

Permalink Eye

"- among other things? Do you want some kind of different housing arrangement, we could just give you some money and you can go buy it from the Dwarves."

Permalink Eye

"Who're the Dwarves? Were they here learning English?"

Permalink Eye

"No, they're the other major race of people in this city, the ones who found you and brought you here. They have hair on their faces and they're all very short."

Permalink Eye

"Then I don't see how I'd buy anything from them. A diplomat house sounds fine, I just want to know if I'm going to be in trouble for being in it if you aren't authorized to give it out."

Permalink Eye

"You will not be in trouble for being in it."

Permalink Eye

"If you say so."

Permalink Eye

He relaxes considerably. 

The diplomat guest houses are very spacious and extraordinarily pretty and have lights that are always on (but can have shades closed over them) and running hot water. On the whole it's very nice for a place for people who haven't invented industry yet. There's a large spread of foods on the table. "We thought probably some would be suitable. None of them are ones we know humans to be allergic to."

Permalink Eye

May looks them over for anything recognizable. They have humans, not in this city but somewhere, maybe they also have wheat and cows.

Permalink Eye

Yep! And fish and potatoes and carrots and rice and honey and lentils and clams and a pineapple. Also many non-recognizable things.

Permalink Eye

"I recognize a lot of this." She helpfully names things. She serves herself some of everything she's pretty sure she can identify.

Permalink Eye

"Oh good!! Is there anything else I can do for you right now?"

Permalink Eye

"What should I expect tomorrow?"

Permalink Eye

"Entirely up to you! I know that the linguistics guild would like to have you back for more lessons, if you'd like that, or there are three other formally recognized ones and probably a few eschewing official recognition if you'd like to go there instead. Or you could have a tour of the city. If you'd like to live among humans I can write to arrange you transit to human lands, though it's a long journey and I don't think the winds are favorable for it this time of year. Or you could just stay and rest a day and consider all of that later, if you wanted."

Permalink Eye

"Like, will more food be delivered or is there a way to keep all this good overnight, is there a way for me to get a change of clothes..."

Permalink Eye

"Clothes! I'll have someone send clothes. Some of the food would keep, some won't, but unless you're particularly attached to it I'll have someone pick that up too and deliver more in the morning."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Delivery. Okay, how do I find you or anybody else who knows a weird amount of English now if I need anything else, since I... haven't learned to do telepathy yet?"

Permalink Eye

"My house is right across the street from here, and hard to miss -" he points at what is, sure enough, the most distinctive and largest house on the street, with stone walls of rather spectacular craftsmanship and a roof lined with telescopes.

Permalink Eye

"It's pretty. Well, everything here is pretty."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you!"

Permalink Eye

"What can you tell me about the telepathy so I can see if I can learn how?"

Permalink Eye

"I would be fairly surprised if you could learn how to do it. Elves can do it from birth, though in early childhood we have a hard time partitioning the thoughts we mean to send and the ones we want to keep private. Dwarves can never do it at all. Humans can't do it themselves at all, but they can learn how to partition their thoughts so only the ones they mean for us to interact with are there for us to interact with."

Permalink Eye

"I mean learn to do what the humans here do. What happens if they don't learn to partition their thoughts?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, then, if they have thoughts they don't care for Elves to notice they probably don't visit us very much. I guess if they wanted they could be particularly credible diplomats?"

Permalink Eye

"If they don't learn a specific skill about it you just hear everything they think?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes? That's how it is for Elf children who haven't picked it up yet either. I think it's more of a problem for Elf children because humans mostly don't live among Elves. - you can try not to listen but it's not any easier than not listening to sound."

Permalink Eye

"No wonder there aren't any humans around."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think that's the reason, most humans who want to learn it don't have much trouble."

Permalink Eye

"Oh? How do they do it?"

Permalink Eye

"You need a way of representing them separately in your head -- thoughts you mean to share and thoughts you don't, that is -- some people imagine some thoughts are outside their head and some are inside their head, some people imagine them in different colors, or tucked away in shadowy corners, some people think in different languages -- and then meditate on that until it's a matter of habit."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Maybe if I do that backwards I'll be able to telepath at you."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a particular reason to expect that to be true?"

Permalink Eye

"No, but it would be convenient if it worked, wouldn't it?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess? I don't mind talking, practicing new languages is one of the most wonderful of all experiences. It's like - holding a newborn baby except without the worrying you'll drop them."

Permalink Eye

"I could teach you words faster though. Like. That's a pineapple but how am I supposed to tell you what a pine or an apple, both of which are separate things, are, unless I happen to spot one around?"

Permalink Eye

“Pineapple is a compound word?” He shakes his head distractedly. “Osanwë is useful but you shouldn’t worry if it doesn’t work, I really wouldn’t expect it to be something you are doing.”

Permalink Eye

"Okay. But I'll think about it and see if I can finesse something."

Permalink Eye

“- okay. Is there anything else we can get you right now?”

Permalink Eye

"I think I'm set for the time being. Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"It's our pleasure."

 

He ducks out.

Permalink Eye

May figures out something resembling a bath since she was on the road in primitive conveyances much of the day and...

...sees if she can hear "public" Elf thoughts from nearby, if she tries it. If they're doing it on purpose...

Permalink Eye

They seem to mostly use public thoughts to communicate to each other the tune and lyrics of the songs that they sing as they wander around. Lots of people also make it possible to look through their eyes or listen through their ears.

Permalink Eye

That's weirdly cute, the singing coordination thing. She practices not getting too dizzy listening and looking through other sets of apparatus.

Then she goes to bed.

Permalink Eye

In the morning a different Elf has brought clothes and a large tray of breakfast foods, weighted towards the foods she ate last time. 

Permalink Eye

"Thank you!"

Permalink Eye

"My pleasure! Is there anything else I can get you?"

Permalink Eye

"Do you know when the linguistics guild meets? I think they're hoping I'll come back."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know when they meet normally but I'm sure if you'd like to go back, they'll all be there."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Can I test something on you? Celebrimbor explained how telepathy works and I think it'll be good for vocabulary if I can make it work."

Permalink Eye

"Sure."

Permalink Eye

Testing?

Permalink Eye

"That worked fine! You know, it's really very strange that it didn't in the first place."

Permalink Eye

"Humans where I'm from might be different in a lot of ways."

Permalink Eye

"I guess if some of the southern humans had - different responses to osanwë - Númenor shouldn't have noticed?"

Permalink Eye

"I think I'm from farther away than that." Om nom breakfast.

Permalink Eye

"If you're from another world it's strange you're a human at all."

Permalink Eye

"I agree! It's also strange that you guys and Dwarves are so human-like. But it's probably not stranger that I'm a human than it is that you have pineapples."

Permalink Eye

"Dwarves are designed after Mahal's remembrance of the Plan, with the alterations he thought wise, and humans are supposed to be in some ways like Elves, though I don't know why the particular design choices that were made won out. I guess the pineapples are just as strange."

Permalink Eye

"There aren't Dwarves or Elves where I'm from."

Permalink Eye

"Most humans never meet one and I suppose they get on all right - well, I suppose they don't but that doesn't seem to be why, not directly."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"Humans mostly don't get on all right, they mostly die horribly. But it's not like not knowing any Dwarves or Elves is a big problem for them, not that I know of."

Permalink Eye

"Why do they mostly die horribly?"

Permalink Eye

"Sort of the ultimate question, isn't it? Lord Celebrimbor thinks we'll fix it someday, not that he'll say so, and I know in the west they say that they get something better once they die so it's all right for all that, and then some people say that Morgoth tainted them and some that they were created that way and I don't see how you're supposed to tell, aside from what sounds nicest."

Permalink Eye

"No, I mean, what's killing them?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, it's not anything in particular -- or it's lots of particular things but they're all a consequence of how their bodies just give out after a century or three. Is that not how it is for humans where you're from?"

Permalink Eye

"You're saying Elves and Dwarves don't die of old age."

Permalink Eye

"If that's the falling apart after a while, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Is 'a century or three' very approximate? I don't know how long your years are but human deaths by old age don't vary by a factor of three."

Permalink Eye

"Well, some of them have some Elf blood, and then Númenor was made specially for the survivors of the wars of Beleriand, and the gods changed the humans, too, when they were making Númenor for them. They're taller and more like Elves and live longer, even the ones who don't have Elf blood in them. Elros Tar-Minyatur lived to five hundred but I don't think most of them make it past three."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I see. How long are your years?"

Permalink Eye

"You've been here for a day. There's three hundred and sixty of those in a year."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Okay. We have three hundred and sixty five and one quarter day years. Plus maybe some extra hours but those don't come up often, the correction for the quarter day comes up every four years."

Permalink Eye

"That seems a little inelegant."

Permalink Eye

"Well, sure, but what are you gonna do?"

Permalink Eye

"Your designers didn't want a round number?"

Permalink Eye

"Wasn't designed."

Permalink Eye

" - I'm having a hard time imagining how that could be. Do you mean the creator's not very like a person with intentions you can understand?"

Permalink Eye

"No... although now I'm curious if you have, like, laws or customs or anything about discussing creator deities I should know about."

Permalink Eye

"- uh, I don't know if there's a law about it but people will be very annoyed if you say that Morgoth was great?"

Permalink Eye

"Never heard of them. Anyway, no, I mean it's not too hard based on what my civilization has learned to explain most things without referring to creator deities, and there's not much reason to postulate them otherwise, so lots of people don't. Some people do, to be fair, they just don't have very good reasons."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I don't know if it'd be obvious we were created -- instead of just somehow happening I guess -- if we hadn't met the creators. It feels like it'd still be obvious but maybe it wouldn't really. Maybe it is for Elves but not for humans because it's more obvious why you'd create Elves than why you'd create humans."

Permalink Eye

Snort. "It's not just that we haven't met a creator, it's also things like digging up fossils - old bones and stuff - showing that we have a common ancestor with other ape species, plus all the stories of creation we have available aggressively contradict each other and don't make much sense."

Permalink Eye

She seems quite satisfied by this. "Sounds nice."

Permalink Eye

May has had sufficient breakfast. "Once I'm changed I can go teach some people words."

Permalink Eye

"Do you remember how to get there or should I walk you?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not positive I wouldn't get lost. I'll go see if I can figure out foreign clothes, shall I?"

Permalink Eye

She nods fervently. "That sounds good."

Permalink Eye

May goes and attempts to figure out the foreign clothes!

Permalink Eye

They're not very confusing.  They are, of course, very pretty. There are scarves and ribbons, and then shirts and pants and dresses and robes.

Permalink Eye

May puts on a shirt and a pants and sticks her head out a window to see if it's cold enough to want to put on a robe or a scarf or anything over that.

Permalink Eye

It's warm out.

Permalink Eye

So down she trots in just the shirt and pants. "All set."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, it would be good if you could wear one of the scarves or the ribbons, too, for your hair. You don't have to if it's - inappropriate culturally or something, just, it's -- typical."

Permalink Eye

"Uh, it's not especially inappropriate, but I don't know what in particular you want me to do with a scarf or ribbon here?"

Permalink Eye

"Just tie your hair so it's not loose, or cover it if you'd like it loose?"

Permalink Eye

"Is a ponytail like I had yesterday all right?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, that's fine. People know that many groups of humans don't observe this custom, it's just, we do, so..."

Permalink Eye

"Ponytail's no trouble. Don't know how I'd make it stay put with a ribbon since I've never tried that, but I still have my elastic." She goes back to the room she slept in, locates the elastic, and comes out beponytailed.

Permalink Eye

Then they can walk back on over to the linguistics guild! People stare a bit on the streets.

Permalink Eye

"Why're people staring at me, is it just that I'm a human?"

Permalink Eye

"Humans aren't that rare. Probably it got out that you speak a new language and you're from very far away and Lord Celebrimbor thinks you're interesting."

Permalink Eye

"He was avoiding telling me exactly what his status was yesterday."

Permalink Eye

Now she's uncomfortable! "Well, it's complicated."

Permalink Eye

"Would it be easier to explain telepathically?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think so, not really. Probably someone who knows more about things than me should try, if it's important to you."

Permalink Eye

"It's not that important as far as I know but I don't know why it would be so complicated and/or secret."

Permalink Eye

Uncomfortable shrug. 

Permalink Eye

"It's nothing, like, bad, is it?"

Permalink Eye

"I really think you should ask someone else about it probably. It's not any question about Lord Celebrimbor's character or qualifications, if that's what you mean?"

Permalink Eye

"Is it about... hm... is there someone else who wants his job, or vice-versa? Is he... sitting regent for someone with dementia or something? Is... there a conflict with another state which has something to do with his status?" She remembers to send a telepathic translation for "regent" and "dementia".

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Not any of those exactly, though I suppose if we made him King it would cause problems with our neighbors? But that's not - it's not as if he'd be King if only they didn't mind."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a king?"

Permalink Eye

"No."

Permalink Eye

"What do you have instead?"

Permalink Eye

" - Lord Celebrimbor."

Permalink Eye

"Are you using 'Lord' to translate a specific title or did you just grab that off the word 'landlord' and figure it was close enough for somebody who... is... in what capacity in charge here?"

Permalink Eye

"He built the city with the Dwarves, as far as they're concerned he owns the bits of it he hasn't sold to someone else? If he says to do something people do it? If there's a dispute that affects the functioning of the city people bring it to him and abide by what he says, unless they're Dwarves, and even then they'll take him more seriously than anyone else? When diplomats visit they visit to make agreements with him."

Permalink Eye

"Okay... is he not king because this isn't a big enough place to be king of? Is it not okay for someone to be king of some Dwarves and some Elves at the same time or to be king of only some of the people in a place?"

Permalink Eye

"No, Eregion's the whole continent, this is just the biggest city, but he makes decisions for the rest of it too. It's - it's really very complicated, weren't you going to teach people English?"

Permalink Eye

"We're not there yet. Also you're getting English practice. Is this information embarrassing? Is it dangerous? It's not just too complicated for the words you have because you said telepathy wouldn't help."

Permalink Eye

"We're almost there," she says, after pausing long enough this is almost true. 

Permalink Eye

"Should I ask the whole guild?"

Permalink Eye

"No!!!!"

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

I wasn't even alive back then but there was a war among Elves and hundreds of thousands of people died and it was Celebrimbor's father's fault and no one likes to talk about it because half of them survived it on one side or the other and they're so, so, sad, whenever you bring it up, and it wasn't his fault but he looks exactly like them, you know, and he is exactly like them, everyone says so, except not a murderer at all, and I wasn't even alive back then and you can't just go around demanding to know every secret you hear about and should mind your own business you obnoxious -

And she bursts into tears and rushes off.

Permalink Eye

Well, May did not have this result in mind.

She attempts to find her way back to the guild place. She gets a bit turned around and tries seeing if anybody is thinking helpfully directional thoughts.

Permalink Eye

They are not, but someone comes to find her after a bit. "Were you looking for the guild hall?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, thank you."

Permalink Eye

It's even more crowded than the previous day.

Permalink Eye

"Hi, everybody."

Permalink Eye

Here are some sketches of animals, can she name them? How about these plants? How about musical instruments? How about systems of political philosophy?

Permalink Eye

"I actually figured out how to do the telepathy thing if I try, so you don't have to draw everything. That's a goat, that's some kind of songbird but I couldn't tell you the species, that's a cobra... palm tree, fern, rose... I guess that might be a lyre? I'm not sure we have anything exactly like it. That's a harpsichord or a piano, I can't tell which or if it's really either by looking. That's some sort of flute. ...if humans from my planet have invented this philosophy exactly I don't know about it by name, but I guess some kind of, uh, anarchist capitalism?..."

Permalink Eye

Someone has attempted to translate a popular work of fiction into English and has a bunch of vocabulary requests that are necessary for the translation, from the room in the house where you greet visitors to the apparatus used for underwater diving off the side of a boat-that-looks-like-so to the permanent pair-bond between a man and woman who come together to be one. 

Permalink Eye

That's adorable. May proposes "front hall" for the first and "marriage" for the third and the underwater diving apparatus she knows about is snorkels and scuba gear but she isn't aware of either of them having to do with any specific sort of boat.

Permalink Eye

They ask questions all through lunch, which some people bring in for them. If they know anything about the confrontation earlier, no one mentions it. 

Permalink Eye

She doesn't derail the language lesson about it. She does keep an eye out for Celebrimbor while she is explaining the nuances of tone in the word "well", the American spelling reform, and digressions into French comparative grammar.

Permalink Eye

Delightedly participating in all of this. Once you're paying attention you notice that once he has a question everyone stops calling out theirs, but he asks questions infrequently enough that it's not really very conspicuous.

Permalink Eye

It does take her all morning to pick up on the pattern but she pays attention in the afternoon. (And she explains pines and apples.)

Permalink Eye

In the mid-afternoon he observes that 'residence' is from French when 'home' isn't, and  'agreement' is French when 'deal' isn't, and wonders about whether there was a French-speaking professional class and if so when that was. In the late afternoon he asks whether "concede" connotes losing something as well as learning something and whether there's a word for the learning which connotes that this was desirable. When they conclude for the day he attempts to flee, and fails because the room is packed and has been steadily getting moreso.

Permalink Eye

May does not know a ton of history but there was some French colonization of her continent like a couple hundred years ago and one province of her country is still majority native Francophone. Also it's classy to say things in Latin, which is the fairly direct ancestor of French; other non-Romance stuff is probably Germanic or stolen from unrelated languages' pockets opportunistically over the years. Concede means losing a conflict especially by giving up gracefully when it's clear you're not going to win, or by making a small-scale step back in a larger-scale disagreement. There are various learning-related words, though it's a little hard to pull one out of her vocabulary for random combinations of verb and connotation without a thesaurus to look at, and alas she did not bring one.

When everybody's leaving, she remarks to Celebrimbor, I figured out the thing.

Permalink Eye

Hmmm?

Permalink Eye

The telepathy thing. Like I said I was going to.

Also I offended the woman you sent with breakfast this morning and I'm sorry about that.

Permalink Eye

- oh. I'll, ah, convey your apology. How did you figure out osanwë?

Permalink Eye

Well, it sounded like around here the default is that humans have all their thoughts readable and have to learn to privatize them, but none of mine were readable, so I thought maybe my default is different - pretty sure my kind of human has not been interbreeding with your kind for a really long time, or been exposed to ambient thought waves, or whatever else might be going on - so I am deliberately publicizing some things instead, and deliberately trying to listen for things. It's not very hard.

Permalink Eye

All right. Do you need an escort back to your home tonight?

Permalink Eye

I can probably find the place.

Curious if you have a long term agenda besides learning English and probably also what I've got on French.

Permalink Eye

Electricity, probably. If there's something else you think should go first we can do that.

Permalink Eye

Electricity sounds like a reasonable first pass unless you're missing like... germ theory? Germ theory's probably more important.

Permalink Eye

We didn't know that one but Elves don't get sick, really, that one I think will progress faster if we pass it along to the humans.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, more for humans than you guys, but it's a big one. How does one go about passing on germ theory to humans around here?

Permalink Eye

We've sent a messenger with our notes so far along the road to Círdan, of the Grey Havens, the Elven city on the sea. They trade with Númenor. It should reach them within a month. You could be there not much slower, if you wish to go to Númenor, but I think they'll progress quickly from the notes, and their navy can share what they learn with the other human civilizations faster than we can ourselves. 

Permalink Eye

Okay. Thanks. I can go into more depth on that sometime if that will help.

What should I do about dinner, is that delivery indefinitely or what?

Permalink Eye

Does that work for you?

Permalink Eye

Sure, if it's not inconvenient for you.

Permalink Eye

We have the means to make food free for everyone, like they do in the West, but the Dwarves think it'd be a mistake and I think they're right. It's certainly no trouble to do it in a specific unusual case like this one.

Permalink Eye

You can do that and the Dwarves think it would be a mistake?

Permalink Eye

Yes. Dwarves think it's very important to build societies where desirable actions get better outcomes than undesirable actions, or you destroy all the channels by which people can communicate what they value and you end up trapped in - bad locally-satisfactory places where no one gets any rewards for looking for a better one. 

Permalink Eye

There are people in my country who just kind of live on welfare forever but they are not obviously the same people who would be radically innovating anything.

Permalink Eye

I don't think I pay for my food. I'm not sure. I don't track my accounts. I'm certainly not very motivated by paying for my food. I think there's probably a way to feed everyone without running into those problems, and maybe you found it.

Permalink Eye

I'm not sure I'd recommend the Canadian welfare system as a beacon of perfect institution-building but it, like, beats torturing people into finding jobs flipping burgers. People wind up motivated by other things to get the high leverage jobs. Like for one thing welfare isn't cushy or very respectable.

Permalink Eye

Is torturing people until they find jobs a common approach to this problem?

Permalink Eye

Not literally, but if there's no way to get food for free and you don't have any anything, one gets hungry, you know?

The crowd has thinned out enough that May starts picking her way toward a door.

Permalink Eye

So there's a few different approaches that have been tried here. There's where people who can make food make enough for everyone and no money changes hands; that works in Valinor and works in places under martial law and could maybe be made to work under comparable social pressure elsewhere but that's a lot of social pressure and - I shouldn't, and don't know if I could.

There's the approach where people all get money and can use it to buy food, which raises the question of where you get the money -- you can try to just make enough money personally off the things you invent to fund everything the whole city needs, but if you offer this -- particularly if you offer it to Dwarves and humans -- you get lots of them and a situation that's very dependent on your continuing to have the income to fund the whole enterprise, and destitution if you ever run out.

There's the approach where you pressure or require all the rich people to help you, but the Dwarves won't if they think you're doing something harmful and distortionary and there are few enough rich Elves you run into the problem with the last thing and besides I don't like having laws that aren't the same for Dwarves and Elves. 

And the Dwarf argument here, as best I understand it, is that there's also the option where you do none of those things. And remarkably, if food is plentiful enough and if you keep working on ways to produce it with less effort, everyone still gets fed, just through their own efforts and those of their families and through the thing where other people can make money by providing them with food. And unlike the other approaches, this one isn't an institution, I'm not deciding who qualifies and how much they get and whether they're cheating and who is supposed to help me pay for it and who gets cut off first if it starts to cost too much.

And some people get hungry. And it'd be unconscionable, surely, to let some people get hungry just because you don't want the hassle of one of the first three solutions but what Dwarves would say is that 'hassle' is the wrong measure of the thing wrong with the first three solutions. I realize it's awfully convenient for me to believe them.

Permalink Eye

I'm not saying I can't see the argument in the abstract... maybe Elves and Dwarves don't have too many people who are too disabled to get a job or who were being supported by somebody who dies suddenly?

I'm not very good at walking. It's been warm here but in winter at home I get around in a chair with wheels because otherwise I'll just fall over and need to use something like that to get around anyway. And some people are way worse than that at moving around, or they've got a brain thing, or whatever. Or some people are, like, stay at home parents, and then their breadwinner gets hit by a truck, and they have four kids they could handle all right before that but not so much after. Welfare's, like, the safety net, in Canada, and there's lots to complain about but having no safety net is a scary idea.

Permalink Eye

I think that might be more of a problem for humans because they get sick and die so much, and because most kinds of work are harder for them. If it ever came up I also wouldn't expect any problems from feeding widows with young children, that's not a category that grows because you're incentivizing it.

Elves who are very sick mostly go to Valinor.

Permalink Eye

Well, you might get people trying to have a kid quicker so they would qualify if anything did happen, but probably not a rash of spousal murder so much.

What does going to Valinor do, do they have hospitals there or something?

Permalink Eye

The Valar do healing and also all the plants are nutritious and good for you and the weather's always temperate so there's really a limit on how far wrong things can go without anyone interfering to make them worse.

Permalink Eye

Sounds nice. Sounds like kind of a made up amount of nice, actually, I kinda wanna ask "and are the streets paved with gold" -

Permalink Eye

- no? Gold's a very poor paving material. There's gorgeous cut gems embedded in the stone, though - like this - sparkly road.

Permalink Eye

...it's a reference, not an infrastructure suggestion, but that's pretty.

Permalink Eye

What's it a reference to?

Permalink Eye

I'm not actually sure what the original is, maybe the legend of El Dorado. People like to talk about things being excessively made of gold as metonymy for wealth they could go grab some of. There is a movie about talking mice in which they say the streets are paved with cheese instead.

Permalink Eye

Valinor is full of excessive wealth you can grab, that's its whole - that's what made it work. 

 

Humans aren't allowed there, though.

Permalink Eye

Were they too grabby?

Permalink Eye

Elves are very cooperative and rule-abiding and humans are less so. That's not the official reason, though, the official reason's just that it's not the divine plan.

Permalink Eye

Charming.

She's gotten out the door by now and is sidling without much briskness in the general direction of the route back to her house.

Permalink Eye

Well at this point it'd be silly to send a escort that's somebody else. Also probably he should just have done this himself in the first place and not left her pestering random well-meaning young people about the war.

He joins her.

The divine plan seems like it's very cruel sometimes but children sometimes think their parents are cruel.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

Kinda like not having one of those back home.

Permalink Eye

It sounds really lovely.

Permalink Eye

 

Lookit this.

Permalink Eye

 

That's -

- how -

Permalink Eye

That's my planet.

Some people set some stuff very, very on fire under an enclosed capsule with some people in it and they went up and took pictures.

Permalink Eye

Do you happen to know any more details than that?

Permalink Eye

Not very many.

Uh, there's a Newtonian law of physics about equal and opposite reactions... the fact that it is Newtonian probably means that it's wrong because this other guy came along and corrected his math or something? But I think it holds in the general case and explains why you can explode yourself upward.

People invented airplanes first. That may have been important. I remember seeing something about airplanes on a list of common misconceptions so you should not assume strongly that anything I know about airplanes is accurate as opposed to plausible falsehood.

There is no air in space and it's kind of hard to make a capsule that will not let all the air you brought along out but I think maybe less hard than making a deep-diving submarine since that's more atmospheres of pressure, just the other way.

There's also no gravity and this makes drinking and going to the bathroom and writing with pens difficult and also tends to make people throw up.

I don't remember the gravitational constant and since I don't even know how I got here or how far away here is I couldn't assume it was the same anyway but I think you can use that and the masses of celestial objects and... stuff... to figure out where they will be, so you can land on the moon if that is what you are trying to do.

Everything in space is really far away from everything else in space, it takes a long time to get to the moon and way longer to get anywhere else.

Permalink Eye

Thank you.

Permalink Eye

You're welcome.

Permalink Eye

Did you get a full answer to your questions from my assistant earlier or did you still want one?

Permalink Eye

I wouldn't call it a full answer but it was enough to get me to shut up about it for the time being?

Permalink Eye

I'm happy to discuss it more if you'd like. I never meant it to worry you.

Permalink Eye

"Who is in charge and why and what does being in charge consist of" is a very weird thing to refuse to talk about in my cultural milieu unless something is fishy but I am no longer worried that actually you are refraining from accepting formal power because you are simultaneously in debt to three different mafias that can't collect till you have access to specific royal treasuries and being puppetted by a step-relation as an open secret and secretly dead yet being played by a body double and might have to marry an undesirable foreign princess if too many people called you by a more elaborate title.

Permalink Eye

 

 

Ah. No, none of those.

Permalink Eye

I didn't think any of that sort of thing was individually likely but she wouldn't say, like, 'no, we're just awkward because he's related to some people we have cultural divisions about and formal power is mostly cosmetic around here anyhow'!

Permalink Eye

I don't - know if you could possibly have anything culturally analogous, I think maybe humans have worse options and end up somewhat more inured to humans committing atrocities, maybe it's - harder to pick out in an instant the greatest monsters in all of history.

Permalink Eye

Nah, we have an agreed-upon greatest monster in all of history. I don't know enough more-obscure history to know if the title should reasonably be contested but anybody in... maybe not literally the world, but certainly a billion people, could identify who the consensus one is. I don't think he had any kids though.

Permalink Eye

And if he had, and one started a business and became richer than most nations and then built a city and hundreds of thousands of people moved there -

Permalink Eye

I mean, I imagine he'd change his last name. But I'd also imagine nearly as many references in like... comedy media, as in more serious whisperings about whether that was a problem? It would seem sort of funny if Hitler's kid was the president or whatever of... uh... Singapore... and personally inoffensive about it. It might depend on his politics spin, he might have to have his speechwriter routinely decry Naziism in the most emphatic possible terms.

Permalink Eye

We look almost exactly alike.

Permalink Eye

Hitler's appearance is mostly famous for the mustache and slightly less so for a very dorky haircut, so that would be fixable in the Earth hypothetical.

Permalink Eye

Shiver. If it'd help.

Permalink Eye

I'm not saying, uh, whatever culturally concerning hair-related thing it sounded like I was suggesting.

Permalink Eye

I knew that! In theory. Human hair is different and has a lot less significance culturally.

Permalink Eye

I'm glad I showed up with a hair elastic, I wouldn't know how to make a ribbon work and it's too hot for a scarf!

Permalink Eye

Maybe we can switch to offering human visitors those and they'll find it less of an imposition.

 

 

You haven't asked about - where I was at the time or how old or -

Permalink Eye

Should I be? She seemed pretty clear that you are not yourself personally Hitler Junior. I suppose you could be committing unrelated war crimes of some kind but I don't really have a reason to think so.

Permalink Eye

You can ask whatever you want, or not, it's just that usually people want to know what they're - 

Shrug.

Permalink Eye

It's not that I'm not curious if you're up for a history lesson, but her description did not leave me very anxious about this. There was a war, survivors on each side are trying to coexist now, being immortal's probably complicating the heck out of that, hundreds of thousands of people died - I know that's a large number but Hitler's war did in like forty million and I think twelve million of those were, like, civilians he had rounded up and executed because he didn't care for their ethnic background and stuff, not even all war casualties - and you resemble your dad, who at least some factions blame for this war, but even someone reporting that fact to me and emphasizing how much you look like him took care to say that you weren't a murderer.

Permalink Eye

There is no significant dispute about who's at fault. 

Permalink Eye

Definitely don't have enough information to contest that, though there's a saying on Earth that history is written by the victors.

Permalink Eye

I think people are often fair-minded about the possibility there's plenty of fault to go around until you start sacking refugee camps, and that seems like a reasonable enough position to me. 

Permalink Eye

I concede that I can't immediately explain that one charitably.

Permalink Eye

It was very terrible, and they're all dead now, and hopefully we've learned enough it can never happen again.

Permalink Eye

It seems to be... a problem of not having enough information, somehow?

Permalink Eye

Yes. If people'd known how to be better then they wouldn't have been - that.

Permalink Eye

...huh?

Permalink Eye

I don't think people start out intending to be mass murderers. If they know soon enough that they're on a bad path they can be more careful and more responsible and have a better system of advice and counsel in place and put checks on their own power and not turn into mass murderers.

Permalink Eye

I mean, I don't think newborn babies are like "I'm gonna grow up to be a mass murderer" but at some point it does seem sort of... a little much to assume they were just confused and incompetent.

Permalink Eye

They were very competent. And they knew. But I think there was a point where if they'd known it'd end like that they'd have done things differently. We hadn't had a war before, people hadn't really thought about what it'd mean.

Permalink Eye

Huh. Okay.

Permalink Eye

They had flaws but they could have worked on them. At some point. It may have been a very very long time ago.

Permalink Eye

How long ago are we talking here?

Permalink Eye

Couple thousand years?

Permalink Eye

For when they could have started personal development projects or for when they actually did all this?

Permalink Eye

The war began almost two thousand years ago and ended about fourteen hundred years ago. Probably the best time for the personal development would've been before that.

Permalink Eye

I still don't have like, a book's worth of context on the local stuff, so I probably shouldn't keep making unenlightened Hitler comparisons.

Permalink Eye

I certainly don't mind?

Permalink Eye

I think Hitler decided to round up and murder twelve million people of ethnic backgrounds he did not care for because this was in fact his goal and he would not have been in a position to tell in advance that a personal development project ought reasonably aim away from that.

Permalink Eye

- well I don't think that...the people who did this... were making exactly the same mistake as that. Because that sounds like a pretty easy mistake to avoid making.

Permalink Eye

You'd think. I don't wanna say people commit genocide all the time on Earth, it's still, like, noteworthy, but we do have to have a name for it.

Permalink Eye

- do you want the whole story? I'm not the best person to tell it but I can, if that's easier than - trying to build a lot of bridges between concepts that don't quite line up.

Permalink Eye

If there's a better person to tell it I don't wanna make you go through it all the umpteenth time.

Permalink Eye

I don't mind. I don't mind thinking about it - I need to -

 

 

Valinor had three tribes of Elves, each ruled by a King. The Kings were the men who'd first visited Valinor and then returned to persuade people to join them there, and they built Elven civilization in Valinor and resolved disputes and - I don't actually know when the concept was introduced that kingship should be inherited, but it was introduced by the Valar. They know bits and pieces of the divine plan, but not only do they not know very much of it - it sometimes seems like they know specifically inconvenient bits of it.  Elves sometimes have the capacity for prophecy ourselves, and it works self-protectively; you don't see things that'd inspire you to change them. But the way the Valar's foreknowledge shapes things is beyond that. If they'd said that kings chose their successors from other tribes, so that the peoples did not become too separated, we'd have done that, or if they'd said that the people - elect the kings like you do it -

The King of the Noldor was my great-grandfather. His eldest son was my grandfather. My great-grandmother died giving birth to my grandfather. It's said that this is because he was an unusually gifted child, and took too much out of her. It's said that he carried the Marring of the world into Valinor. It's said that she foresaw his future and it killed her.  People say lots of things. And on this in particular - the first evil in all of Valinor - the more convenient narrative was shifting all the time. 

My great-grandfather remarried. He had other sons, they didn't get along. My grandfather ran away as a child, married very very young, they reconciled only tentatively and much later.

- I'm sorry, this must all seem terribly irrelevant.

Permalink Eye

It did occur to me to wonder how the definition of relevance expands by the time you're thousands of years old but it's not like I have another appointment.

Permalink Eye

It's important because it's where they made mistakes. My great-grandfather favored his firstborn. Everyone did, he was a genius. The best in the world at - I wanted to tell you 'everything he put his mind to' but only because then it'd be less obvious - he was the best in the world at linguistics. He invented writing. He learned the language of the gods, which no one else has succeeded at. He added tens of thousands of words to Quenya and there was a debate over every single one of them. He was the best in the world at engineering. He invented metalworking techniques, he invented magic artifact compression techniques.

He was brilliant, he was ambitious, he understood things clearly, he worked constantly - that might have been one of the errors. Most Elves sleep at least every other day and spend some of their time resting and singing and interacting with other people. It's important, lack of sleep causes people to have a harder time separating their own internal experiences from their model of the world and improves pattern recognition at some cost to spotting patterns that aren't there. And if you go too long without interacting with other people then it's easy to find the things in your head more compelling and more important than they are, it's easy to get worse at the skills involved in interacting with people and then the barriers to doing it go up and the pattern is self-reinforcing. 

People didn't know all of these things back then but they knew some of them and just gave him a pass on everything because he was the brilliant tormented tragic gifted crown prince. That was - he was making all these gorgeous things they enjoyed, while there was obviously something wrong with him, so that was the narrative that sat most comfortably for a long time. 

Permalink Eye

Humans can't sleep that little. Every other day would be unsustainable even with, like, drugs, I think. - you probably knew that.

Permalink Eye

If you want to imagine how concerning an Elf who sleeps less often than every two nights is I think the right reference for a human would be - someone who rarely sleeps for more than three or four hours? 

Permalink Eye

Okay.

Permalink Eye

He shakes his head distractedly. Anyway. The King never clarified the succession. This was because, while my grandfather was his favorite and everyone's favorite, he was clearly not temperamentally suited to be King. No one said so, of course. They had not succeeded in cultivating an atmosphere where you could. I don't think they were trying, because -- there are so many people who have opinions about you, when you rule, and hearing all of them all of the time if they're unfiltered is very upsetting, since cruel things cut deeper than compliments, and so there's an instinct to not have to hear upsetting things about the time. And that's all it takes. You just have to clearly not particularly want to hear upsetting things and there they are, all gone.

My grandfather was not suited to be king but nobody talked about it. The King was hardly going to name someone else his heir. It'd destroy their relationship, and also it'd feel absurd and insulting, to try to give someone else the right to rule my grandfather. And then my uncle Maitimo was born. My uncle Maitimo was as intelligent as my father but socially gifted, too, and he picked up on all of this at a very early age and helpfully positioned himself as the person obviously qualified to actually take over when the King retired, and so it shaped up that the plan -- which no one spoke of, as it'd involve acknowledging things they weren't acknowledging -- was for my grandfather to become King and then pass it down after a symbolically appropriate but certainly not long, stretch of time to his firstborn, who was more than worthy of it. 

This was a fine plan in some ways but some of how it worked depended on how it wasn't explicit, and that created a lot of space for people to believe they were acting on the King's will, later. 




If I die or am incapacitated or if the people close to me doubt my judgment or wellness, there's a group of five people here, three Elves and two Dwarves, who are to make decisions in Eregion in consultation with Cirdan, our neighbor. If it's an emergency then they each have absolute authority in different domains, with my advisor Nismal in charge. Everyone knows this, little children know it. There are probably problems with this way of doing things, too, just no one's discovered them yet.

Permalink Eye

I can't instantly come up with a problem with it assuming it's worked this long and all the people in question live forever.

Permalink Eye

He nods fervently.

There's an evil god. Or, well, there's a god whose domain is causing as much suffering and destruction and death and horror as he can, and so everyone calls him the evil god, and I don't feel like they're being very unreasonable. When free he spends most of his energy building and running enormous, elaborate torture prisons for hundreds of thousands of people. If you torture Elves for long enough you get very different-looking creatures, called orcs, and if you do it the right way they're in constant pain without you doing anything and you don't have to torture them. He made orcs and now there are millions of them. His name is Morgoth, in the language spoken here. He was in prison when this whole story started.

Permalink Eye

I assume you're about to describe a jailbreak.

Permalink Eye

No, they paroled him.

 

I assume I do not particularly need to observe that this was one of the mistakes in this story.

Permalink Eye

Seemed a safe bet.

Permalink Eye

They didn't - we didn't - he'd been in prison a very long time. He said he regretted it deeply. They thought they could contain him on parole. It didn't seem right, back then, to have an infinite sentence for a crime, no matter how horrendous. It seemed like maybe no matter how bad things had been we ought to be capable of making them better, of welcoming the people who did them back into society. 

That's not how it works. Some people need to be gone from the universe forever and it's not even particularly because they deserve it, though in this case it was. But - a mistake made for good reasons, unlike most of them. Most of the time we were just being conflict-avoidant or overconfident or carried away with our own cleverness. Here we were trying to be good. 

Permalink Eye

She nods.

Permalink Eye

He was let out on parole. He ran around doing errands and earnestly complimenting people, nothing we knew to find suspicious. 

There was another thing that had gone wrong at the same time. 

My grandfather -- and my uncle -- shared a fondness for being so extraordinarily clever that no one else could ever follow what was clever about their plans except for the astonishing success rate. They did it because they got tired of explanations, I think. They were brilliant, and things were obvious to them that it took weeks to spell out to everyone else, so instead you just said - trust me - and you were right, every time, and eventually people just learned to trust you. 

Instead you should explain every step of your logic on anything important, even when your internal experience is that everyone is being a dull idiot who doesn't get it and is trying not to get it just to spite you and has clearly not devoted even three of their brain cells to actually listening to the very clear explanation you have just given them. Because - it's not just about getting what you want on one occasion, it's about, in general, whether the people around you will notice mistakes when you actually make them, and they can't, if you've repeatedly trained them to believe that literally everything you do is the next inscrutable move in a brilliant game that'll come to a satisfying conclusion in front of them in a few minutes or a few years. 

Permalink Eye

...that sounds very time-consuming but I suppose proportionately to how overelaborate you're trying to be in the first place? Who-all do you consider yourself obliged to explain to?

Permalink Eye

Ideally anyone who's concerned? In practice mostly the advisors I mentioned previously and Círdan and my insurance company. It is time consuming. That's why it's tempting not to do it, which is why they did not do it, which is why later when their capacity to plan well was - fundamentally compromised on a lot of levels -- people still trusted them and followed them and ignored obvious evidence that the limb they were following them out onto was a very shaky one.

Permalink Eye

Maybe you can save time by mostly delivering written copies. Why your insurance company?

Permalink Eye

They're very precise and rigorous and well-calibrated and hate it when I do risky things. It seems like a good thing to have in one's life, an insurance company.

Permalink Eye

Maybe yours are better at things than ours, nobody speaks very fondly of them at home.

Permalink Eye

Huh, then why don't they switch?

Permalink Eye

They're all like that. Also for medical insurance in particular I think there's a problem where you can't get them to cover anything you already had so if you're like, diabetic, you're stuck unless you marry somebody who gets insurance through their work and can tack you on that way, or something. I have never personally shopped for insurance and the medical insurance problem is mostly an American thing, Canada has socialized healthcare, but there's lots of Americans on the internet so one hears about it.

Permalink Eye

- I don't offhand know the exact thing that's wrong just from that description but if you let some Dwarves in and didn't arrest them unless they did any physical violence it'd probably get straightened out pretty quick.

Permalink Eye

I believe there are non-physical-violence-related regulatory complications to insurance.

Permalink Eye

That'd do it. 

 

 

Anyhow, Morgoth. He arranged for rumors to reach the right people, he arranged for people to overhear conversations that were either about something else or never even happened at all, he persuaded my great-grandfather's younger son that my father meant to have him expelled from the city. He persuaded my grandfather that his half-siblings were plotting to usurp him. And of course, just like that, he made both true.

Permalink Eye

...did he have one of those prophecies telling him that would work, because that seems like a plan you'd have to be really confident in to bet on.

Permalink Eye

I don't know. He took a thousand years going about it, to be clear. Maybe many other comparably complex plans failed without a trace.

Permalink Eye

I guess that'd do it.

Permalink Eye

Yes. The specific mistakes there were avoidable but the general situation was an evil god taking a thousand years to find whatever mistakes there were, and you can't plan on not making any, not on that kind of timescale.

 

The King's younger son called a public meeting and urged the King to denounce my grandfather. My grandfather drew a sword and threatened him. The King didn't do anything - that was a mistake, you should have law enforcement in kingdoms and it should apply to important people no matter what - and the Valar stepped in and banished my grandfather from the city for a hundred twenty years.

Permalink Eye

...okay. Did the Valar have some formal relationship to the government or did they just sort of do whatever because they were gods?

Permalink Eye

The latter. 

Permalink Eye

That can't have helped with having law enforcement apply to powerful people at all.

Permalink Eye

The King was very angry. My grandfather was very angry and - off-balance, he had a lot of things he needed pulled out from under him. Of course sometimes that happens to you if you threaten people with a sword. But - 

- the city sorted itself. People who felt my grandfather was being done by wrongly left with him. Instead of an exile, a - mass relocation. The King went with us. His younger son he left to rule in Tirion. 

I guess that was another mistake, or maybe several of them. If one of your kids threatens to kill another one of your kids and then you have to pick sides probably you should pick the victim's, though personally I solved this by not having kids, and I think that maybe mingling the personal and the political is inevitably bad.

Permalink Eye

Did the king instigate the mass relocation or did he just decide to move when it was clear a bunch of people were gonna?

Permalink Eye

I think there was a lot of complicated dancing towards the brink of consensus but he could certainly have made it not be a mass relocation if he'd thought it was a bad idea.

Mistake: if your population is experiencing a lot of tension don't put all the people with one view in one place and all the others in a different one for several decades, I think it polarizes things worse and makes people forget they were friends and neighbors.

Permalink Eye

I guess you could technically follow that advice by having it be more than several decades? I'd hesitate to blanket forbid secession.

Permalink Eye

That might've been better. Well, we needed to be unified to stand a chance against Morgoth but it would've been better aside from that. But no one thought they were emigrating, they thought they were waiting out the Valar and then going to come back and set things right. 

 

Some decades passed, and the Valar decided to host a feast and celebration at which there'd be a reconciliation between the two brothers.

Permalink Eye

Do they throw good parties?

Permalink Eye

The consent of the participants would probably improve them.

Permalink Eye

Ah. That does seem an especially important ingredient if you're trying to throw a reconciliation party.

Permalink Eye

They ordered my grandfather to attend. He did. They didn't order the rest of us to attend so we all stayed home, in protest. I was three hundred at the time -- it's hard to give equivalent human ages because our development isn't just slower human development but I looked like a human ten-year-old.

Morgoth caused a cataclysm that extinguished all light visible from the surface of the world -- there's a story there but it's complicated and not directly relevant -- and in the dark he came to the little city we'd built and he murdered the King in an exceptionally gruesome manner and he destroyed the city and all of our possessions and then fled the continent.

 

He fled with one possession of particular importance. My grandfather had been working on a project that'd let Elves live outside Valinor. Valinor has healing properties, and sustaining ones; Elves who have lived there cannot live elsewhere indefinitely, not by any means we know of. He'd invented one. It was a light source and a magical artifact focus and it replicated many of the properties of Valinor, and he was sure he could get the rest out of it. They were called the Silmarils and they looked like this -

Permalink Eye

Sparkly.

I think that if once you have some of a thing going without it kills you, we don't usually call that a healing property, more a thing with, like, withdrawal symptoms.

Permalink Eye

It very much angered my grandfather. Reversing it was his highest priority for nearly a thousand years.

Permalink Eye

Does this all mean you have an expiration date in spite of being an ostensibly immortal species?

Permalink Eye

It means we'll have to go back someday. 

Permalink Eye

Right, I guess that works, go have a spa day and you're good for another few millennia.

Permalink Eye

No, uh, they don't let people leave. We'll have to go back and then we'll live in Valinor again. The departure last time was - very very bloody, and it's no longer possible at all.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

Unless I fix it, right, but - but you need to hear this story before you form an impression about that -

Permalink Eye

Or if May fixes it! She doesn't say that. Okay.

Permalink Eye

They rode on horses to the gods' feast to tell my grandfather what had happened. The rest of us stayed -- you couldn't see anything, you couldn't do much of anything, and the air was very heavy and full of particulate matter that settles in your lungs where there's no good mechanism to get it out and you just feel it there all the time. - this happens to humans too but they don't feel it, it just kills them.

We waited in the dark for a week. 

I do not know much of what happened at the gods' feast because all the people telling the story were telling a story, even more than people usually are. I know that the gods were demanding my grandfather give up the Silmarils, that they might be used to restore light to Valinor. I know that when my grandfather heard that his father was dead he departed the feast into the dark alone, and was gone for several days, and they were afraid he'd killed himself. They found him covered in blood, cold, alive, and he told them that they needed to return to the rest of us quickly so we could go off to Middle-earth, follow Morgoth, stop him, recover the Silmarils.

When he came back he was speaking so quickly I couldn't keep up and I usually could, I was always one of the very few people who could. It was the most important moment for him to explain himself and he couldn't do it. We needed to establish an independent Noldorin kingdom outside Valinor and we needed to recover the Silmarils to do it. Morgoth had the Silmarils, had perhaps orchestrated most of the last thousand years to have the Silmarils, and if he knew what to do with them the war was already lost, because they were a tool powerful enough to win it, in Morgoth's hands perhaps a tool powerful enough to remake the whole world however he desired it. He didn't think Morgoth knew what to do with them because the world was still here, but Valar are slow. Maybe Morgoth was being slow. The stakes were unimaginable in every respect but that was the respect in which they were highest. And no one could know. The Valar didn't know what the Silmarils could do. Our people didn't know what the Silmarils could do, beyond 'heal us'. If Morgoth didn't know yet -- and he might not know yet, every day we weren't dead made it likelier he didn't know yet -- then he could never, ever know, and if everyone knew he'd find out somehow. He said he hadn't told even us, for this reason.

And then he said that it could not possibly be hidden that the Silmarils were so important, that a war we were fighting for the Silmarils would look different from a war we were fighting for some other reason, that of course we had to keep the innocent people alive and be just and good and worthy of the weapon we were reaching for but that it wouldn't, really, look very much like a war where we weren't reaching for it, and so the thing we needed was an explanation for reaching for it which wasn't the true one no one could know, and that that explanation was going to be that they were very important to him and he considered them his own children and the only things of beauty in the universe, and he would swear to recover them from whoever would claim them, whatever the cost -

 

I didn't explain that. I should have. Elves can swear things. We can make promises that bind our future will, that make us incapable of turning back on our word. You can be slow in fulfilling it, for a while. You can be careless, if you're not introspective enough to catch how you're being careless, in which case you can't. 

He was going to swear to recover the Silmarils and war with any who withheld them and he wanted his children to all swear it too and then everyone could accurately predict them -- which was important, people get hurt when you're not possible for them to predict -- and also no one would have cause to wonder why the Silmarils, why at that price, if they didn't already know, which they probably didn't since the world was still here.

I've - said it the way I understood it at the time, so that you see how -

 

Permalink Eye

How did he know the Silmarils could do all this stuff? It didn't sound like he ever, like, tested them...

Permalink Eye

He'd tested some of the smaller things, they worked the way he expected.

I think he may have been wrong, about the big things. Maybe not - he was so rarely wrong about that sort of thing - but it may have been a possibility that loomed until it seemed nearly certain. He was wrong about a bunch of the other pieces - Morgoth had no idea. We wondered if everything, including the discoveries that led him to make the Silmarils, had been arranged by Morgoth so he could steal them later. That wasn't the case. Morgoth wore them on a crown on his head. We have no indication he tried very hard to do anything other than that. 

The mistakes were - all of this was new information for us while he'd known for years, been worried about it for years, so our objections seemed likely to be - and typically were - things he'd thought through a lot more, that made it frustrating to him when we raised them. This information should already have been known to sufficiently trustworthy people, so they weren't all reasoning from an enormous disadvantage under time pressure. There shouldn't have been time pressure. Even if he was right to think there was a chance Morgoth already knew how they could potentially be used, this strategy was only useful if Morgoth didn't know, so the plans to stop him - which were urgent - should have proceeded with urgency and this plan - which mattered only if things weren't urgent - should have waited on years of reflection. They did talk about it for weeks, but it was weeks we spent forging weapons and armor and marching back to Tirion and half-expecting the world to be consumed at any moment, we didn't get any distance. They should have told more people. More confidentiality wasn't worth having fewer inputs, we had trustworthy people.

And - and they were thinking about it entirely wrong? At its best it was a plan to take on an enormous liability as a distraction, and a lot of cleverness should have gone into minimizing the liability. Picking a wording that bound them to as little as possible, and a plan to arrange the circumstances where it'd be relevant wouldn't arise. They weren't thinking about it as a liability, they were thinking about it as a sincere articulation of their priorities and intent, but you shouldn't swear to even the sincerest of articulations of your priorities and intent because priorities and intents can change where oaths can't. 

Permalink Eye

Yeah, oaths sound pretty bad in general, I don't know if I've ever occupied a state of information in my entire life sufficient that I'd endorse taking one.

Permalink Eye

Me neither. But - we were trying to do something nearly impossible and he thought he saw exactly one way to do it and it was this and - and he wasn't usually wrong, people weren't in the habit of trying to notice ways he was wrong. They were used to trying to follow the logic, because it was always right, the error was always on your end - you'd get in the habit of trying to discover your error rather than looking for one of his -

He was sleeping even less and he was making such leaps and it was so hard to follow his explanations and those should all have seemed like warning signs, but they - seemed like reasons for urgency instead. He needed this to move forward. He needed this in order to trust people. Not that he said that, I think we knew enough to have been alarmed if he'd seemed to be deliberately leaning on that. It was just obvious if you knew him. And it was thrilling to be needed by him, because he'd never really needed anyone...

They did the oath. In a big public speech, everyone saw it. It made people upset and angry, the ones who didn't trust him as much followed his brother instead, he wouldn't explain himself, but lots of them still followed him. They trusted him. They knew he had a plan and his inner circle tacitly encouraged that, implied that he did have a plan, and people assumed they'd evaluated the plan more carefully than they really had. I think they thought they'd evaluated the plan more carefully than they really had. There'd been all these failures of imagination - we'd never had a war before, we'd just had our first murder -

Permalink Eye

Nobody around who'd ever had a war that could be consulted?

Permalink Eye

The Valar refused to move or comment on anything this whole time, they were busy thinking about what to do and they think very slowly. Also I don't know that their war would have had actionable lessons. It might've made us generically more cautious, which wouldn't have hurt.

Permalink Eye

Okay.

Permalink Eye

After that we tried to leave Valinor. There was a land bridge -- there isn't anymore, the continent on the other end was eventually destroyed in the war -- but it was nearly impassable. It was only about four hundred miles across if you could fly it, but large sections of it were impossible to traverse. You had to gain a lot of altitude, enough that the air was dangerously thin. There were places where you could only go through one at a time. And it was so cold. We weren't prepared for weather that cold. Four hundred miles if you could fly it but the route that some people ended up taking later was sixteen hundred miles.

The first time, we turned around when we realized that it looked impossible. We went to a port city, instead. They had ships. They thought we shouldn't leave. They refused us the ships. My grandfather decided to steal the ships while everyone was sleeping.

Permalink Eye

Okay.

Permalink Eye

The biggest mistake there was not thinking about what could possibly happen but also probably not giving diplomatic approaches more time to work. I think as a practical matter people with the flaws he had should just never be in a position of giving military instructions, they're not atrocious at it but they're worse at it than they are in the domains where people learned to trust them. It was a nightmare, it was a disaster. Some people saw them leaving with the ships. Violence ensued. Thousands of people died. The Valar were angry, and sank many of the escaping ships, too, and exiled us forever from Valinor. -- they've since relaxed that, slightly, now that all the primary perpetrators are dead.

Permalink Eye

- they saw you were leaving and decided the thing to do was exile you?

Permalink Eye

The Valar make some decisions that seem inconsistent with goals one might otherwise be tempted to ascribe to them.

Permalink Eye

Yeah-huh.

Permalink Eye

A lot of things happened at that point. The Valar announced that we were doomed to fail, or that they were dooming us to fail, it was unclear whether it was meant to be descriptive or prescriptive. Some people got scared and went back. The succession dispute - blossomed into a more dangerous form, previously we'd just been acting like two groups with two kings but suddenly rumors were swirling that weren't even Morgoth's fault and one of the more thoughtless of my cousins was calling on everyone to remove my grandfather from power -

- we left on the boats without them, eventually. I thought probably they'd sink them at sea again, but I guess they'd made their point. It was still a horrible journey. Three, maybe four days, and we didn't really sleep -- it was always dark so it was hard to keep track of how long anything had been -- and so many people were dead and the decks of the boats were still bloody and many of our people were badly wounded, died in the journey -- and people started dying of grief --

We reached the other shore. My grandfather ordered the boats burned. They were burned. We were attacked by Morgoth's orc armies. We fought for our lives for - I don't know, a couple of weeks. Hundreds of thousands of orcs, maybe millions. Eventually they stopped coming, I think because they were all dead. My grandfather was killed in the fighting. 

Permalink Eye

She's about to ask about Elves dying of grief when she is diverted by instead asking, Why'd he want the boats burned?

Permalink Eye

So people wouldn't go back for them. People were planning to. It'd have been good to have them. He thought he couldn't win the war with a bunch of people scheming behind his back. But people were starting to realize that his judgment on this wasn't nearly as good as his judgment on the sort of things they were used to listening to him about, they were going to defy him, so -

I guess that's one of the mistakes that's more like killing people whose parentage you don't like, where the way to avoid it is mostly just to not do it.

Permalink Eye

If people were prepared to sneak the boats back to get everybody else, why didn't the order to burn them turn into more fighting about whether or not to actually do that?

Permalink Eye

Well, they wouldn't have fought him. There's not listening to an instruction and then there's drawing a weapon on your king. I think - I think it is actually nearly impossible to push people to that point, even if it's really what they should do, I think somehow they just don't think of it.

Permalink Eye

Are humans here like that too?

Permalink Eye

They are not. Nor are Dwarves.

Permalink Eye

I should learn the local vernacular so I can read books on things like that.

Permalink Eye

That sounds like a good idea. Or you could probably get them translated quite cheaply, but that - still enables some kinds of mistakes that wouldn't happen if you read it yoursef.

Permalink Eye

I mean, I'm not an Elf, so I'm looking at a few months minimum learning curve even if I go full immersion, and much longer if I keep talking in English or by telepathy to most of the people I meet so I can have more interesting conversations than 'hello how are you where is the bathroom'. So if translations are faster than that I will probably like to have some. Then I can compare them to the originals as a language exercise.

Permalink Eye

Okay. I'll ask around.

Permalink Eye

Thanks.

Permalink Eye

Of course. Enough storytelling for now, or should I tell the next parts?

Permalink Eye

They're at her diplomat house by this point. She opens the door and plops on a chair. "Go on."

Permalink Eye

With my grandfather dead, my uncle ruled the Noldor -- though not for very long, because he was taken prisoner, and then it was his brother. The people we'd abandoned in Valinor crossed the land bridge. Many of them died doing so. When they arrived here we reconciled, tentatively. It took a long time. By fifty years into the war my uncles were surrounded almost entirely by committed loyalists, everyone else had left, and at the same time most of the people they trusted most were dead. By four hundred years into the war this was more true. 

At that point, the princess of a neighboring Elven kingdom with which we were on poor terms stole a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. This was thought to be impossible, but, well, divine intervention enabled it.

Permalink Eye

Where'd the ones who left go to?

Were the Valar like 'well we doomed them so better help this burglar'?

Permalink Eye

The second host, led by my grandfather's half-brother, and the cities that they founded.

I do not know what the Valar were thinking. 

Permalink Eye

What form does divine intervention take anyway? I'm not clear on what their powers are concretely.

Permalink Eye

They differ. Most of them have an extraordinary degree of control over their immediate environs, for a meaning of 'immediate' that doesn't extend more than a few yards beyond the physical body they're using when they're out and about but which can extend many miles in a place where they've dwelled for a long time. They exercise it slowly, most of the time, though some can act very quickly in an emergency. They have osanwë like ours but - louder, more insistent. They're reliant on having a physical body to do most things in an area outside their environs, but it doesn't have to have the vulnerabilities of our bodies and they aren't destroyed when it is. Most of them are slow to remake their bodies but some are very quick at it and shapeshift frequently. They might have had the ability to doom us to fail in our war, though if they did it would have been an ability we don't othewise know them to have exercised. They made the world, though that took a very long time, so they can do all the things that implies; in particular, at the edges gravity behaves strangely, and I have read credible arguments that this is because they were patching up how gravity worked there individually and by hand. Varda made the stars. Collectively they made the sun and moon, and Maiar - lesser deities - tow them across the sky. Manwë, the King of the Valar, mostly sends giant eagles that do his bidding, and he sent one to rescue the princess. 

Permalink Eye

...if Varda made the stars why was the sun a committee thing?

Permalink Eye

The sun was made after Morgoth caused the cataclysm that darkened the whole world, from the last fruits of the dying trees that'd previously been its light source. I don't know if they were more challenging than the stars or just needed to happen much faster. I'd imagine more challenging? It's a lot brighter.

Permalink Eye

Earth's sun is the same thing as the stars there. It's not even very big as stars go, though that's still enormous. It's just way closer.

Permalink Eye

I don't think the other stars are fruits of Laurelin but I suppose it's possible. They'd have to be extraordinarily far away.

Permalink Eye

Well, there's another difference, our stars and sun are huge balls of... approximately fire.

Permalink Eye

Really?? How does that work?

Permalink Eye

I don't know that much about it. I think it's mostly hydrogen? And it's in a fourth state of matter, technically not gas but plasma? And it's stupidly hot.

Permalink Eye

Huh. Is your sun about as big in your sky as ours?

Permalink Eye

Can't look straight at it obviously but I haven't noticed it being different either way. Stars looked plausible too. You have so little light pollution here, I bet if I went for a hike in the dark and managed not to break an ankle the stars'd look incredible but even from the house I can see a lot.

Permalink Eye

There's an observatory up in the mountains. It takes about a day to get there. The air's thinner so some things are easier to measure, and you're notably closer to both the sun and the moon.

Permalink Eye

I don't... think a day's hike gets you notably closer to the sun or the moon on Earth. That'd be like a one digit number of miles? I think Everest's like four miles, so about that much even if you hike really fast and the mountain's very climbable. And the moon is like... millions of miles away, I think a bunch of Earth-diameters all in a row, though I don't remember figures. You'd never notice being four closer though sometimes you notice when the moon's at a closer point in its orbit. The air thinning part is the same though.

Permalink Eye

I am relieved to discover an observable difference between worlds that work so differently.

Permalink Eye

And the Sun's way farther than that! Earth is the third planet in the solar system, the other planets are much farther away than the moon, and even the one closest to the sun is not that close. She sends her vague mental image of the Solar system.

Permalink Eye

 

How does gravity work?

Permalink Eye

I don't know the math of it and obviously you will not be able to rederive it here but everything is pulled toward literally everything else - uh, unless gravity waves are in fashion among physicists lately? I don't know, it's never been obvious to me if it's supposed to propagate instantly and if it doesn't then it shouldn't be literally everything else, just stuff close enough - uh, things are pulled to other things, more the more massive the things are, which is importantly distinct from how heavy they seem while you're standing around on a planet, and more the closer they are. That's why our air thins out, the air is pulled to the earth. If you go high up enough there's none.

Permalink Eye

Why aren't the planets pulled towards the sun?

Permalink Eye

They are! They just keep missing! ...I do not know enough orbital mechanics to explain why. I remember they go in ellipses. Moons also work this way with their planets.

Permalink Eye

 

He pulls out a piece of paper and a clipboard and a pencil. How long would it take to sail from one end of your world to the other?

Permalink Eye

Uh.

There's a book called Around The World in Eighty Days and I don't think it's science fiction?

...but now we have airplanes and I think it would take like... a day, or a day and a half, now, if you didn't have to stop to refuel the plane.

- that's for circumnavigation. It's a sphere.

Permalink Eye

A sphere. 

 

He is going to be rude, now, and he tries very hard not to do that, but this is important. She can walk on the surface of their world without very much trouble, so the pull of gravity on both surfaces must be comparable. (Well, she has a little bit of trouble. Maybe her world's pull is a little less.)

Gravity is a relationship between objects, affected by their size and how distant they are. Are any other things relevant? Assume not, see if anything else is required to make the whole thing work, later. How does their size matter? Assume linearly, to start, why not? How does distance matter? Assume linearly, to start, why not? - no, it's obvious why not, you wouldn't have lots of distinct objects that way. A universe where the effects of distance are linear is flat, in a sense, so it ought to fall with distance squared -

Then there's only a constant required to make the whole thing work, though the numbers that make it work are all eye-popping. 

 

 

He looks up after - he's not really sure how long, actually. - sorry.

Permalink Eye

She's been working on a little lesson plan for the linguists for tomorrow once she realized he was a bit far away. "It's okay."

Permalink Eye

"I try - really try - not to."

Permalink Eye

"...not to what, get nerdsniped?"

Permalink Eye

"That's a compound of -"

Permalink Eye

"'Nerd' is people who think academic type stuff such as deriving the law of universal gravitation is lots of fun, and 'snipe' is to hit with a ranged weapon but in this case it's metaphorical."

Permalink Eye

"The thing I try not to do is value questions more than people or courtesies or duties. I realize that doesn't sound like it should be very hard but -"

Permalink Eye

"I have some idea of how exciting all this might be, I don't have a particular need to seem more interesting for my winning personality than for my ability to dispense high school science information."

Permalink Eye

"I think it's a tendency many people can indulge safely, probably."

Permalink Eye

"Look, why do you think I'm not being like, 'aaaah, I have to get home, my parents are worried' - it's because I know important stuff you guys don't have here! It matters! It's worth caring about!"

Permalink Eye

"So -

 

 

Everything we have, here, we have because we invented it. Understanding the world matters, inventing things matters, it's the reason we have food and shelter and safe roads and good records and good medicine and effective artifacts, and if we ever - if we're sure it's a good idea to fix the thing where we will eventually need to return to Valinor, and if we fix it, it'll be by understanding, it'll be by inventing, that's fine, it's fine to hold those things sacred for that reason -

- but if something is beautiful enough some people can forget that it matters because it helps people and will no longer matter if it no longer helps people, and those people need to be careful, because their hearts are not very good guides."

Permalink Eye

"...okay, but you don't have to apologize to me for getting nerdsniped by gravity."

Permalink Eye

He chews on his lip for a second, catches himself at it, stops.

 

"I should - probably finish the story."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"There was at that time a kingdom in central Beleriand called Doriath, which had weathered the war quite well until a recent fight over the Silmaril with a neighboring Dwarven kingdom. Even after that, hundreds of thousands of people lived there, and Morgoth had never assailed it -- though plausibly because he knew what'd happen next. Doriath's king was practically a child. The Feanorian host sent ambassadors asking after the Silmaril. The ambassadors never came back. They attacked. The armies that had followed them through the last four centuries of war followed them there, too. I've asked them why, of course. Some of them thought that with the Silmaril the tides could be turned and the war won, some of them blamed Doriath for centuries of crimes and insults and so - failed to consider the harms to them to be of sufficient gravity, some thought that my uncles and my father would go anyway by necessity and mustn't be abandoned to go alone, most of them believed some combination of all of those things that they hadn't explicitly pinned down because if they did they'd have to consider how sure they were, and of which parts.

There is no one I could ask why my uncles or my father thought they were doing it but oaths like the ones they took affect your thinking eventually. They make it impossible to care about anything other than the oath, they make everything else fade away in your calculations, they turn into a compulsion. I don't know if they waited so long that that happened or if they deliberately attacked before that happened, thinking it'd be less ugly if it happened while they could still remember any secondary goals they had.

Most of the population of Doriath lived in a cave system. An invasion of a cave system is a very ugly thing. Anyone can attack you from any corner. A great many civilians died. The king and his young sons died. They were six. It's rumored they were left to freeze in the woods but I've never talked to anyone who heard that firsthand. They didn't get the Silmaril."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"The king's daughter escaped with it south. They set up a refugee camp at the mouth of a river. By then most of the continent had fallen, there were people there from all over. For twenty years they were left alone. I don't know if no one knew where the Silmaril was, or if they were finding ways to delay. They must have learned of it eventually. She wore it on a necklace. People believed it'd bring them safety and healing, that it'd ward off monsters, that it'd keep trouble away. Círdan asked them to let him destroy it -- destroying it still makes you a target, the way the oath was worded, but at least there'd have been no point bothering anyone else -- but it was important to them -- it may have actually had healing properties even though no one knew how to use it, I'm not sure, I could hardly have shown up and asked --

Eventually messengers arrived, demanding it. They were refused. 

 

About a year after that, they came. During this fight some of the host that had followed my father and uncles defected. That only made everything bloodier, though it's -- reassuring that they tried. Until then I'd wonder if some magic kept them bound to my uncles' side. I don't think there was any magic, it's just that it takes longer than it should to burn down thousands of years of loyalty. And they still thought they could win, if they could only get the Silmaril. 

I think that fight was almost entirely fought among the host of the sons of Fëanor, but tens of thousands of civilians died anyway. I don't know why they didn't defect sooner. Maybe they thought they were assailing another kingdom, maybe they didn't realize until they reached Sirion that it was just a bunch of families in tents and little wooden shelters. 

The princess leapt into the sea with the Silmaril around her neck. One of the Valar turned her into a bird."

Permalink Eye

"That last bit... sounds like something that would appear in a mythical story and not like something that would happen with real agents doing things for reasons."

Permalink Eye

"There were witnesses, and she and her husband made it to Valinor eventually -- with the Silmaril -- to plead the case for intervention in Beleriand. I assume that was Ulmo's intent in turning her into a bird, and that he had to disguise it because his peers would not have taken as kindly to being deliberately manipulated as they would to dealing with people poetically turned into birds. They still nearly voted to kill them when they arrived on the shores of Valinor, for coming without permission."

Permalink Eye

"I... see."

Permalink Eye

"We'd been trying to reach Valinor for a long time, by then -- or, more specifically, Círdan had, but I'd been living with him because there were very few other places to go. The boats never made it. We were looking into flying things, but there was no real reason to think that those would fare any better, or that the impossibility of reaching Valinor wasn't reflective of a disinterest in assisting us which would remain even if we technically found our way to the shores. But the princess with a Silmaril, and her husband, thinking their children dead, having both watched their respective kingdoms fall as children.... it was the best case we could possibly have made."

Permalink Eye

"The Valar didn't know what was going on because they kept murdering trespassers?"

Permalink Eye

"One assumes they knew? But if they did they hadn't gotten an apology, they hadn't had reason to consider intervening...and they hadn't gotten an apology because they kept sinking the boats that were sent, yes."

Permalink Eye

"They were waiting on intervening for an apology?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know. They might've just been waiting until everyone on whose behalf they'd promised not to intervene was dead or in ruins, maybe it was just that the apology was well-timed. But I think it was likely a relevant factor."

Permalink Eye

"Uh-huh."

Permalink Eye

"Whatever their reasons, after some contemplation the Valar settled on a lesser punishment for the trespassers, and they came, and they fought Morgoth, and the continent crumbled into the sea, and they won and recovered the Silmarils.

And my remaining relatives -- alone, by then, with no followers anymore -- wrote to them requesting the Silmarils, and were refused, and they came in the night and fought their way through the victorious host of the Valar and took them, and then Eönwë, herald of Manwë, the leader of the Valar's forces in that war, said to let them go, so they left peacefully, and by most accounts both promptly committed suicide, though," he shrugs, "there were no witnesses. Some say that one of them wanders the shores to this day, singing, having thrown his Silmaril into the sea."

Permalink Eye

"Nothing about that makes sense."

Permalink Eye

"Which bits? The suicide makes sense to me, they wouldn't have been able to before the oath was fulfilled. The singing - also wouldn't be wildly out of character."

Permalink Eye

"More literally everything the Valar have ever done in their lives, though the clarification about the oath forbidding suicide does help."

Permalink Eye

"It seems reasonable to assume that this was for some reason the Valar's desired outcome though here there is a broad consensus that they should have been given the Silmarils and then executed, less collateral damage and more closure."

Permalink Eye

"That would have made more sense, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Anyhow. That's the story."

Permalink Eye

"It's kind of a lot. About when did you break off and go live with that Círdan guy?"

Permalink Eye

"When the princess from Doriath set off on her quest to steal a Silmaril, there were efforts to stop her. They crossed some lines, and they seemed - they seemed like the math wasn't really very good and no one was noticing -- so I left. I figured she'd die, I didn't have any idea what was coming, if I had I'd - I don't know but I don't think I'd have left, it wouldn't have been enough. But I didn't know, and I left."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Unlike, apparently, the Valar, I wasn't fishing for an apology."

Permalink Eye

" - well, if you didn't know very much about me I think it'd be pretty reasonable to hear all of that and assume that I did as much as you can reasonably expect a person to do, but if you ever get to know more about me and end up feeling like actually I could have been reasonably expected to do a fair bit more, and you want an apology -"

Permalink Eye

"I will keep that one on hand if I ever feel like I want it but if I ever do decide you ought to have done more than you did I'd be more in the market for an explanation."

Permalink Eye

"I can try that too but I'm never very sure of any explanations you can't sail ships with."

Permalink Eye

"That's fair enough."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry we made you nervous when you arrived."

Permalink Eye

"It looked a little like that one Dwarf was selling me to that linguistics guild guy for a bit and I was just kind of giving them the benefit of the doubt."

Permalink Eye

"It - oh!!! 

 

Dwarves will always rescue stranded persons or people in need or danger but if you tell them that there's no reward for that since it was the decent thing to do they'll feel like you're - insulting and undermining one of the most important pillars of society, which is that decent things to do are incentivized. Slavery is illegal everywhere."

Permalink Eye

"I did eventually figure out I had not been purchased! I just couldn't figure out right away why else money was changing hands."

Permalink Eye

"It's not even that Dwarves are pessimistic about the nature of people -- I guess they are a little, more than Elves, but not as much as humans usually -- it's that -- imagine how you'd feel about it if there were a fine for rescuing people?"

Permalink Eye

"I read an article once saying that in some jurisdictions you have to pay for people's medical care if you hit them with your car and so some people would back up and hit them again to make sure they were dead and there'd only be a funeral cost. I don't know if it's actually true but it's the sort of thing that could be true somewhere."

Permalink Eye

"Dwarves are good at not making that mistake, not because they're mostly murderers but because they have a dislike for laws that'd favor them."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Anyway, I could imagine someplace on Earth having it, not explicitly, but effectively, expensive to rescue people."

Permalink Eye

"And that'd be sort of awful, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"So just imagine feeling like that about all economic efficiencies anywhere and you'll predict Dwarves really well."

Permalink Eye

"I think if humans tried to implement a rewards system for rescuing people you'd get people pretending to be in distress so their friends could rescue them and split the money later, on the one end, and a pervasive disagreement about who exactly should be coughing up for the rescues on the other. I bet Dwarves have a solution to the second thing but you might all be handling the first thing just by being weirdly lawful people."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, usually the rescued party pays, it's just that no one wanted to badger you about payment when you didn't speak the language and weren't responsive to osanwë and were clearly from very far away."

Permalink Eye

"So how'd the guy who did pay get involved?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, the Dwarves said that they'd rescued this fascinating person and they could wait around until enough communication was established to negotiate the reward and someone heard this and went 'why don't we just settle it now' because they wanted to ferry you off to our linguistics guild before any of the other linguistics guilds heard."

Permalink Eye

"Well, that's adorable."

Permalink Eye

"We have a lot of linguistics guilds."

Permalink Eye

"You'd probably have to if it's a very popular hobby, you'd get too crowded in the one place."

Permalink Eye

"No, it's not that, every one split off because of a passionate linguistic disagreement."

Permalink Eye

"Really? Like what?"

Permalink Eye

" - so, historically, the name for our tribe of Elves in Quenya, the language spoken in Valinor and used for literature and history today was said "Ngoldor". Some people started saying "Noldor", which is how Númenoreans and most native speakers of Sindarin say it, there was a schism over that."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds kind of prescriptivist."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know that much about Earth linguistics but what I do know is that there's prescriptivists, who are, like, there's a right way to say this thing and a wrong way - I learned this in the context of the Academie Française since I study French in school, they like, fine people in France who use loanwords, I think? - and there's descriptivists, who are like, I found some people who talk this way, isn't that neat!"

Permalink Eye

"Huh, that seems like an odd distinction to draw -- I would hope that if I went other places and saw their art I would be fascinated by their techniques and what they chose to depict and what materials they used and so on, but also I would probably notice whether the art was aesthetically appealing, and when I made art I'd try to make it so."

Permalink Eye

"I am not aware of aesthetic competitions for languages and turns of phrase the way there are for purebred cats but maybe I just haven't heard of them."

Permalink Eye

"Language is the form of art we employ the most. It has to be pretty."

Permalink Eye

"There's... like a couple words people don't like because they don't have good, uh, mouthfeel? But they still ever get used and I think that's mostly about associations with the meanings."

Permalink Eye

"I think aesthetics are more important to Elves than humans, though of course it's hard to distinguish this from Elves having more resources and longer lives."

Permalink Eye

"I super believe that, the city's gorgeous."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"I assume the Elves are paying through the nose to the Dwarves to keep it up to spec."

Permalink Eye

"Almost everything here was a collaboration."

Permalink Eye

"But the maintenance?"

Permalink Eye

"Elves find it - exhausting and depressing, how fast things deteriorate here. In Valinor they don't, not ever."

Permalink Eye

"...how do they not? Deterioration isn't one thing, it's... lots of things including some things whose natural categories include, like, breathing."

Permalink Eye

"Right, but there's a bunch of gods with opinions on which of those should exist and which shouldn't, right, and the result is that you can leave a sandwich out for a decade, and never need to fix a house."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. So do you pay the Dwarves to keep things up so you don't have to think about things falling apart too much?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. And we're working on magical solutions, there ought to be some -- it's not like the Silmarils, it's a collaborative project, lots of people involved, if we can do them at all we can mass-produce them -"

Permalink Eye

"How do you mass-produce magic items?"

Permalink Eye

"Very slowly. They're produced in the first place through osanwë -- Dwarves have a different approach, though -- and the instructions are usually very long and if you make a mistake you have to start the whole thing over unless it's designed such that you only have to start one block over, but designing that way makes it take even longer."

Permalink Eye

"This sounds like a distinct meaning of 'mass production' from what I am used to, where, like, they have a mold for hundreds of crayons and dump a vat of wax into it all at once and then pop the crayons out and have a machine to roll them in labels announcing that they are Spring Apple Green or something."

Permalink Eye

"We can't do that with magic but we can publish the instructions and set lots of people to making them and then they'll be widely available eventually."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah that's not mass production that's... open-sourcing."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. If we can do it at all we can open-source it."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. It's not dangerous to do the magic?"

Permalink Eye

"No, though you'd need native osanwë to do it the Elf way and you'd need a Dwarf to teach you the Dwarf way - I'm not free to share it."

Permalink Eye

"So... you can't open-source it because the operating system has Dwarf IP going on."

Permalink Eye

"- I don't think I know exactly what you mean but it is true that magic artifact-making is broadly not available to humans. Since it takes years or decades they don't usually mind, but I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"An operating system is... okay, I have to back up a few steps for that one... IP stands for intellectual property and means laws about the use of concepts, people's words and ideas and art and stuff. Operating systems are a computer thing, computers are machines that... do a lot of math and build up layers and layers of abstraction on top of that, plus you add hardware so they can show you pictures and play you sounds and take input of various kinds, and I think not the lowest but one of the somewhat lower levels of abstraction is called the operating system."

Permalink Eye

"Hmmm. I think it's more -- the instructions are in public but it falls to everyone individually to acquire the tools, some of which are not for sale cheaply."

Permalink Eye

"The tool is something you aren't allowed to teach me, though, not... a particle accelerator I need to reserve time on or something."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not allowed to teach you but lots of people are, if this is an ambition of yours."

Permalink Eye

"Might be. Though if it takes decades to learn I will probably have to deprioritize it."

Permalink Eye

"We've made attempts at extending human lifespan but it seems very complicated since so many things go wrong for humans."

Permalink Eye

"So many! I assume our medicine is better than yours but the gains in average lifespan are mostly just reflections of reduced child mortality, we haven't gotten that much more out of the upper end."

Permalink Eye

"Do you know any more than us about what happens to humans when they die?"

Permalink Eye

"What, in terms of some kind of afterlife?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"Opinions differ. My opinion is 'nothing' though."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"It's not, like, a cheerful opinion."

Permalink Eye

"There's a Vala who collects dead Elves, if you'll go to him, and reembodies them once he's corrected the flaws in their souls. The Dwarves don't know but their creator says he arranged a perfectly nice setup and I - think I believe him. Humans, we don't know."

Permalink Eye

 

"Corrected the flaws in their souls?"

Permalink Eye

"Very few people had been reembodied before I left Valinor, I don't have much data here."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, but... corrected the flaws in their souls????"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I think I'd be a lot happier if there were less wrong with me, and it's supposed to be - a process you agree to and cooperate with."

Permalink Eye

"...or else you be dead."

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"I assume Mandos is doing his best."

Permalink Eye

"You have not said anything that leads me to make that assumption."

Permalink Eye

"I think all the Valar are doing their best because the way they experience motivations and desires is very different from ours and they don't do otherwise."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, I guess your story is consistent with 'their best is really bad'."

Permalink Eye

"It really complicates everything that the people who most famously rebelled against them were -" handwave.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I guess it would tend to make it seem disreputable if they got there first, though... well, maybe it's less obvious that one should get there first before they have such notable strings of bizarre bad behavior on their records..."

Permalink Eye

"It was less obvious, yes. Not - not impossible to derive, maybe, depending how one sees various things, but much less obvious."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Yawn.

Permalink Eye

He stands. "But I've kept you quite long enough."

Permalink Eye

"See you tomorrow. Thanks for explaining."

Permalink Eye

"Of course."


He goes.

Permalink Eye

She sleeps. In the morning she works on things for a bit over breakfast, then goes to the linguists on her own, lesson plan in hand.

Permalink Eye

As usual the lecture hall is packed and everyone seems well-dressed and in an absurdly good mood.

Permalink Eye

"Good morning! I have song lyrics! Anybody have questions before I start?"

Permalink Eye

- they have a lot of questions but seem maybe a bit arrested by the promise of song lyrics.

Permalink Eye

"Now, I can't sing very well and I have been here long enough to know that not very well for a human is well below minimum quality here, but since I did get the hang of osanwë after all I can do my best to project audio memories of professional humans singing it while I'm writing up the lyrics."

Permalink Eye

These Elves are so happy!

Permalink Eye

They can enjoy various traditional and popular songs, O Canada, and those of Ren's showtunes and English-saturated J-pop May has had enough exposure to to be confident she has all the words to at least the chorus down. She provides cultural notes on them.

Permalink Eye

Elves hum and invent riffs on all of these which are extremely pretty and ask vocabulary questions -- though the vocabulary they don't know is getting rarer.

Permalink Eye

Why yes, random Elf, the English in J-pop is grammatically incorrect. No, random Elf, she does not know enough Japanese to explain why those are the characteristic errors.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

After they break for lunch, May asks, "So is there an equivalent of this but for like, technology development, science, that kind of thing?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. Fluency with the language will help people get the most out of it but it's probably best for it to be separate, and plausibly best for it to be held in Khazad-dum, because they have spaces that fit more Dwarves and they'll pay you for it."

Permalink Eye

"Is there a limit to how long I can live off largesse, here? Like, are diplomats expected to want the diplomat house next week? Or would money mostly be useful if I wanted to buy weird stuff I didn't care to explain?"

Permalink Eye

"We're not expecting anyone this year. They might come in your lifetime, they might not - "

Permalink Eye

"Okay. Probably can't hurt to have money, anyway, unless I immediately have to try to hire an accountant in a foreign language to do weird Dwarfly compliance accounting of some kind."

Permalink Eye

"You're not allowed to invest it in anything speculative without signing something affirming that you understand you shouldn't but otherwise you don't have to interact with any bureaucracies."

Permalink Eye

"Is the currency inflating much?"

Permalink Eye

"Not so as you'll notice in a human lifetime, no."

Permalink Eye

"Cool, then I won't worry about finding a way to collect interest any time soon."

Permalink Eye

"I suspect you will have a wholly sufficient amount of money unless your hobbies are, uh, architecture and exotic animal breeding."

Permalink Eye

"They are not."

Permalink Eye

"Feeding silk to bonfires? Dumping gemstones into the ocean?"

Permalink Eye

"Nope! Mostly my hobbies require as an input writing materials, I don't even know how to build enough stuff from my civilization to want to make my own demos."

Permalink Eye

"Then it'd really surprise me if you ran out of money from teaching people about your world's technology."

Permalink Eye

"Which I am very excited about and would be annoyed to find expensive."

Permalink Eye

"Tickets for people to attend will probably be expensive but they'll sell as many as there's space in the auditorium, I'm sure."

Permalink Eye

"Even given the language bottleneck? I guess maybe somebody could interpret live."

Permalink Eye

"I said I would."

Permalink Eye

"You don't have a ton of other stuff going on? I guess I'd envisioned you attending, but if I did a couple of each so more people could come that'd be redundant."

Permalink Eye

"This is the most important thing that has happened in - plausibly fifteen hundred years, definitely at least three hundred."

Permalink Eye

"What happened three hundred years ago?"

Permalink Eye

"A friend and I together developed a new, much faster, much more expressive magic language! It's been used for a lot of work since, it allows larger areas of effect than you could get from artifacts before so it's in fields and wagons and ships and so on."

Permalink Eye

"A magic language? Is this like a programming language?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, I don't know, what's that?"

Permalink Eye

May explains programming languages as best she can, which is amateurly, though with a weirdly dense pocket of knowledge around spreadsheets.

Permalink Eye

"Sounds similar. Magic artifacts need to be given instructions, and they need to be quite specific. This would actually still be straightforward, except that straightforward instructions are long, and hard to break into independent blocks, and almost no one can do ten thousand instructions without making a mistake, let alone the ten million in a typical magic artifact that does actually useful things. So the hard part is coming up with ways to write the instructions in as few notes as possible, and -- this one trades off against the first a bit -- writing them in blocks, so that you don't have to start over if you make a mistake. A good language is very efficient at saying what it wants to say and also each of its elements are very self-contained."

Permalink Eye

"That might be like programming but I'm not actually sure. You can edit programs, if nothing else, so the design constraints differ."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. I think you probably wouldn't want them as short as possible if people were going to edit them, short versions of instructions for adding to artifacts are totally incomprehensible to most people."

Permalink Eye

"I think you can put comments in code that don't do things and are just there to be explanatory."

Permalink Eye

"It sounds like an interesting expressive form and I hope we invent all the prerequisites soon."

Permalink Eye

"I hope so too! I wish I could tell you what to... mine. I think silicon's involved and have no idea where, I would have read up and packed differently if I'd known this was going to happen."

Permalink Eye

"We can run lots of experiments if it doesn't turn out that someone is like "oh, obviously I see what you'd use the silicon for, it could hardly be anything else", which someone might."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be convenient."

Permalink Eye

"I guess it's also possible that our world doesn't work like yours in a way that'd be relevant for making computers."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that's possible but it would seem weird in a way that magic being different wouldn't."

Permalink Eye

"Well, there's also gravity being different, though that one feels like a result of the creators of our world trying for something and missing."

Permalink Eye

"The place is just generally pretty recognizable? It's not like I got squashed into two dimensions."

Permalink Eye

"I'd find that fairly convincing if some random process was at work, but the Valar were badly trying to imitate a vision of how the world should be, and that might be correct with respect to the things that make people live and wrong in other surprising places. I hope not, though."

Permalink Eye

"Hm... how do magnets work? Those aren't important for how people live and are important for electricity and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"- good point, they're not. Uh, some metals are magnetic, meaning that there's a magnetic field around them all the time, and most metals interact with magnetic fields even ones that aren't themselves magnets. Some things that aren't magnets can be made into them through repeated exposure to a strong magnet. Magnetic fields are much stronger right near the source. There's math for all this, should I try to share it -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know the math myself so I couldn't confirm it matched. Does uh, this vague mental image of iron filings around a magnet look about right -"

Permalink Eye

" - yes, it does. Oh good."

Permalink Eye

"It's not proof but it's suggestive."

Permalink Eye

"And it's interesting -" he catches himself. "There'll be lots of qualified people in the audience for the talk."

Permalink Eye

...she doesn't really know how to address how depressing it is that he thinks it's dangerous to be interested in things so she doesn't. "I bet!"

Permalink Eye

"If you'd like you could get a tour of Khazad-dum while they're getting all the details straightened out. It's a beautiful city, stretches all the way under the mountains."

Permalink Eye

"Wish I'd landed with my wheelchair, but yeah, sounds worth doing."

Permalink Eye

"I suspect we can get something similar. This is to sit in so you don't have to walk?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'm bad at walking. Usually a fall won't hurt me but if I'm going to do a lot of walking it starts seeming smart to turn it into not-walking."

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure we can put something together."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be convenient."