“…ex, wye, zed, Þorn, eð.” Þe children sang. Beð smiled at her charges.
“Þat was very good children.” Beð said. “But do you know Þe story of Þorn and eð?”
“No Miss Beðany.” Þe children chorused.
“Þen gaðer round, and we shall have a story-time.” Beð said. Þe children clambered and ran and crawled over Þe furniture of Þe little schoolroom, before finally assembling Þemselves in rough circles around Beð.
A little souð of Cornwall is Þe village of Oberden Loundres, and some of Þe people Þere worked at Þe mine, bringing up loads of Cymric and Hen Gymraeg from Þe deep mines, and some of Þem farmed Þeir own dialect of Cornish. Every now and again Þe merchants would come, hawking Anglo-Saxon or Gaelic from east and west, and Þe villagers would judge Þe stock and buy a word here or phrase Þere, to try in Þeir own gardens and to mix wið Þeir own, and sometimes it stuck and sometimes it did not. Less often would some likely young lad go off to sea and adventure, and return from far lands wið pockets and packs full of strange tongues.
It came one day a wind blew from Þe souð, and a strange wind it was too, sending all Þe feaðered folk before it, wið caws and birdsong dripping from Þe sky. When Þat strange wind passed, Þere too in Oberden Loundres was Squire Þoð. Of course, none knew his proper name, but he had a great sack of strange words Þat looked new-minted and gleamed golden and shiny in Þe light of day, and he bought up Þe great house and restored a single tower of it. None knew where his store came from, for Þey tasted strange on Þe tongue and were oddly familiar to Þe eye, but Þey were accepted as currency right enough by many. Some say Squire Þoð took a great interest in Þe mines, and showed Þe assayers how to smelt Yan Tan TeÞera from an old shepherd’s rhyme Þat Þey used to Þrow out as spoil. Maybe Þat is where Þe rumor started Þat he was an alchemist, but Squire Þoð kept his own council and would never say.
Many a night would Squire Þoð’s light burn long into Þe night in his great tower, and strange letters and packages would come to him from farðer shores Þan any son or daughter of Oberden Loundres had ever been. Some few of Þe men of Þe village came to him at times, to beg a loan or talk awhile wið a man of learning, and Þey never got past Þe first floor of Þat restored tower—but what wonders Þey claimed! Þere were Þe bones of giants Þere, some ancient tongues which were long buried and transmuted by centuries ‘til none could name Þem, and strange, beastly chimeras—gangly, artificial Þings, Þe work of a terrible taxidermy. Old Man Seð claimed he saw Þe skin of Latin hang off a partial skeleton of Hebrew—but what a skeleton, in such poor condition, and what a skin, so twisted and strange as any Romance language! Squire Þoð called it a La’az, and said he’d bought it cheap off a Portuguese merchant who mistook it for a peculiar sample of Ladino. And when Old Man Seð told Þis to Þe gossips of Oberden Loundres, Þe whole village knew Squire Þoð for a necromancer as well as alchemist, and feared him doubly.
Now Þere came to Oberden Loundres from Þe souð anoÞer wind, but Þis one so slight Þat none but Þe young children of Þe village heard it, and Þey only as a ðin keening song in Þe air. A great cloaked figure stalked Þrough Þe streets behind it, and Þe children all came out to look at him. Now some have said Þat Þey had no words in Þeir native Cornish or Cymric to describe him, and perforce used English and whatever foreign words Þey might own; oÞers say Þat on sight of him Þe old words shined a little brighter, and Þe young ones used Þem as if Þey were new again and still to be defined. But if an older man or woman saw Þe figure, Þey said noðing at all, for Þeir precious hoarded words would seem but small and dull ðings. So Þe great cloaked stranger walked Þrough Oberden Loundres, Þe children following and Þe grown-ups locking Þemselves wiðin, until he led Þem straight to Þe tower of Squire Þoð.
Now Squire Þoð stood in front of Þe cloaked figure, but did not look at him directly. Þere passed a great conversation between Þe two masters, and Þe children Þat ringed Þem were astonished at Þe game—for Squire Þoð would speak aloud someðing in one language, and Þe cloaked stranger would appear to answer, and Þen Squire Þoð would switch to anoÞer. Long hours did Þey go by like Þat, and never was Þere such an education for Þe children of Oberden Loundres, who in an afternoon swelled wið such riches of vocabulary and grammerie as was concentrated in old Babel after it fell. And some of Þeir conversation was in English, and Þe children remembered Þat clear enough to tell Þeir own children and grandchildren:
“It is right of Man, by his Art, to make of words what he will. For all ðat Þere is of language is what Man must make up himself. I have embarked on a great work here, Þe synðesis of new ideas from old dross, building a new rational language pure and uncorrupted. You have no auðority here to judge my words, to police my grammerie…” said Squire Þoð.
“You are a fool to play wið such letters. Language cannot be chained by such Þings, but finds its own course, in Þought and expression. Old words adapt to new meanings, are broken and brought to life again according to need. Þis is ðe cycle: all is ðe syntax of ðe moment, ðe vocabulary of ðe mob.” Þe stranger replied.
“No! Þere are words Þat must not be lost to ðe ages, buried and forgotten so deep ðat no spade may ever yield Þem again, ich hast mich…” and here Þe Squire switched to yet anoðer tongue.
It was going on near four o’clock or so when Squire Þoð seemed to get desperate, and now was bringing forð all ðose strange shiny words which were his wealð in Þe town, and at Þese newminted treasures Þe cloaked figure hesitated before answering. Some of Þe new verbiage fell flat and strange on Þe ears of Þe children of Oberden Loundres, and some Þey repeated to one anoÞer, testing Þem. Þen Squire Þoð took forð someðing from inside his robe—some say Þey were crystals or stones of some sort, but ðose were pockmarked teenagers, caught between Þe two spells of Þe cloaked stranger and of uneven memory. Whatever Þe case, Þe stranger’s cloak billowed out in front of him, and a great wind blew as every feaÞered bird screamed out in Þeir languages, and Þat high, keen song Þat only Þe children could hear reached such a power and pitch Þat all Þe children sank to Þeir knees in Þe dust and fields outside Þat tower, holding Þeir ears and clinching Þeir eyes shut.
When Þe children opened Þeir eyes again, Squire Þoð and Þe cloaked stranger were gone. Þe great tower stood wið Þe door ajar, and Þe most curious looked inside to see Þe marvels Þere—Þe wreckage of Þe La’az lay in one corner next to Þe great Þesaurus, which held Þe old alchemist’s new-forged, treasured words, but Þe great chest was empty save for two small letters, eð and Þorn.