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Cottia’s aunt insisted they speak Latin in the house. To Cottia’s tongue, so familiar with her native Gaelic, the language felt flimsy, like the daffodil seeds that broke through the air in spring and stuck to everything. She tripped over it whenever she encountered it, leaving her to feel clumsy and brutish. Her aunt reminded her, “Latin is the language of civilization.”

Cottia told her in Gaelic, “I find no issue with being uncivilized.”


Marcus’ Latin had remnants of his home in it, something that gave it sustenance under the mere words, but Cottia much preferred when they spoke in Gaelic. She knew things in her own language that she could never explain in Latin, simple things, like which trees were best for burning and which were best for building, and complicated things, like how she felt about Cub.

Esca stayed mostly quiet, regardless of what language was being spoken, but Cottia suspected he felt the same way, perhaps even more strongly. She told him, as they waited for Marcus to heal from the re-opening of the old wound, “Latin feels like a broken bird wing in my mouth, tragic and useless for the work it needs to do.”

After long moments of comfortable silence, Esca told her, “It feels like sand under my feet, the scars on my wrists.”

She looked at him, unsure if what she felt was compassion or pity. “Even when Marcus speaks it?”

He hesitated. “It should be especially then.”

Cottia agreed, both with the sentiment, and the underlying response.


Aware she might be trespassing upon Esca’s privacy, Cottia still could not keep herself from asking, “You—you remember your people’s stories, yes?”

Esca looked at her, his expression unreadable. She had promised to stay quiet if he took her on the hunt, but that was also before she had proven herself quite accurate with a slingshot. Marcus did not look upset, though, merely uncertain as to where the question was coming from, and what his response should be.

Cottia ran her thumb over the stone she’d found to load her slingshot with. “I find myself forgetting the sound of my mother’s voice, parts of the stories she said her mother had told her, and her mother’s mother had told before that.”

“Aquila writes down the things he wishes to remember.”

“Aquila is Roman.” She liked the older man, both for his kindness to Marcus and because he had never shown her anything but respect. But she knew, somehow, the moment she recorded the gifts her mother had given her, they would cease to be in some essential way.

“It is not an unwise practice,” Esca said softly. “Nothing is entirely evil.”

This was true, Cottia was learning more and more to her extreme displeasure. She admitted, “I’ve no ability to write in Gaelic. It wouldn’t be-- Nothing else would be worthwhile.”

Esca nodded understandingly. “I could help, but in my own dialect, not yours.”

It was a small enough price to pay. “Please.”


Sometimes the two of them worked on the project in the middle of the day, Marcus watching, soaking in the story and the lessons. Sometimes they kept at it after the weakness of Marcus’ still-healing body had driven him to his bed.

Esca said, “Tell me a story,” and Cottia complied.

Cottia said, “Teach me the letters,” and Esca drew Cottia’s words onto the page.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile