The hardest part of negotiating with the elves, Irene soon realized, would be keeping a straight face.
They were so young. Not as individuals (ha), but as a unit, as a culture. They had, it seemed, no memory at all, no records at all, of the time before the Disaster. Nothing but road signs, which they had taken as icons of their new world.
Irene’s people, the Arista, were not so young, nor was she herself so young, that the time before had faded. They had records, and, more than records, they had stories.
The elves had none of that. They had no oral history, no written word at all.
(Not quite accurate, she later learned. Many of them had developed their own alphabets, often working off of the shapes on signs. But their reach for complete individuality made any organized… well, anything… difficult if not impossible.)
“Haven’t you encountered outsiders before?”
“Our beliefs forbid it.” Iancu had ended up being the unfortunate spokes-elf for the group; it was his job to take to each individual the proposals that Irene put forth and attempt to reach some consensus. Today, Irene had felt bad for him and, instead of trying to move forward on the treaty, she was instead asking him questions. Those, she thought, he could handle without a committee.
“But your beliefs didn’t stop me from walking into your grove. They wouldn’t have stopped the Arista from making war on your forest.”
“Our beliefs forbid strangers.” Iancu got that peculiar shoulder-shrug that Irene was beginning to recognize as cognitive dissonance.
It took Irene a moment to process this. “You beliefs forbid strangers.” She thought, perhaps, that repeating it might make it make more sense. It only made it odder. “How do you… what do you do?“
Iancu seemed to understand her question, which was good, because Irene wasn’t entirely certain that she did. “There are caveats in our beliefs. An individual may choose to step outside of the rules and beliefs – because the individual is more than any of those things, of course-“
“-and, in doing so, deal with situations which our current rules don’t handle. Normally, we find a new icon to deal with this situation.”
“So… how did you end up talking to me?”
“I was the one who met your eyes, and thus I had to put aside my belief that you did not exist, could not exist, and speak to you.”
“And the others?”
“We are working on a new icon, to handle the situation so that we can speak to…” Iancu’s hands twitched. “To people who should not exist. We should have it done, soon.”
Irene thought about all of the things that the elves had attempted to work on in tandem. “I believe that, as an outsider who does not exist, I may be able to provide a solution. Do you have supplies on which I could paint an icon?”
Iancu hesitated. Irene did not blame the poor elf; she had, after all, come her declaring war. “You could provide us an icon?”
“I will provide you paint. And a painting surface.”
When Irene left the grove, several weeks later, the elves were still discussing the icon she had made them: Three concentric circles, alternating red and white. In the center of the smallest circle, a tree.
Irene had a feeling the elves would prove very easy to negotiate with, in the future. It was just going to be keeping a straight face that tripped her up.
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