An Exploration of the Hist Language
I would like to thank a number of people for their assistance in compiling this document. To Tisan Oresmis, my mentor and friend who prompted this inquiry, to the Imperial Bureau for the Eastern Provinces, who got me into the Marsh, to Corases Inos, the bartender at Lilmoth who helped me to locate the Argonians, and to the natives themselves who participated amicably in my research.
I would like to especially thank the Argonian who has asked that I transcribe his name as Huleej. In reality, he takes many names, but this, he argued, would be the most correct form for reproduction by pressing ink to paper. The language of the Argonian tribesmen is unfathomable, and in spite of my best efforts it remains an enigma. Recurrent form-meaning relations are elusive at best and often prove more protean than any single man may ever hope to record. Huleej, upon being acquainted with the notion of 'a word,' asserted that it would be impractical to have a word mean one thing, when it can mean all things.
Nonetheless, time has shown that even an unsuccessful study may serve to elucidate matters that would otherwise remain inexplicable. I have heard persistent rumors that during my stay in Argonia a group of mercenaries ventured into the marsh and retrieved for themselves a Hist, no doubt inspired by its alleged medicinal properties. It would seem preposterous, but for this - the mercenaries' pitiable informers, no doubt interviewed with all the diplomacy of a Nibenay bush tiger, may well have been unexpectedly cooperative. From all that Huleej has told me, it seems plausible that the word "Hist," more so than any other, may refer to a wide range of ideas. It could refer to any tree, or an even greater variety of things, and the Hist retrieved by the mercenaries may well have been one of the marsh's countless unknown tree species of no special significance.
In any event, I have managed to transcribe what seems to be a paragraph of the Argonian language, and found three individuals who have attempted to provide translations. Though I have made no progress in fully understanding the language of the Argonians, I hold out infinite hope that this study does not pass into history solely as an account of failure, but rather as an incentive for further scholarly inquiry from across the Red Diamond Empire into what its settlers call "the place no one cares about."
Huleej assisted me in creating a rough phonetic transcription the following paragraph, which he and his fellow Argonians can apparently recite by heart, though with remarkable variations in tone and rhythm. The Argonians have no written word, so the following is doubtlessly inaccurate in many ways.
Hist ihists-s hiist h-histis sihsti hist h-siisti iis-this
The thought occurred to me that such a universally known passage would provide an exquisite method of beginning to decipher the language. Upon hearing the plan, Huleej refused to explain the passage himself, but suggested that I speak to a number of persons, if only to gain a greater understanding of what ‘meaning’ means in Argonian. These are the translations, in lack of a better word, that they provided.
He first brought me to Uskejej, a mother of five living on the outskirts of Lilmoth in a hut suspended between three enormous trees and made from wood and marsh-tar. With a number of enthusiastic interruptions and corrections by her children, she explained the meaning of the text, while Huleej translated. It was a lullaby, and I am led to believe that each of its stanzas can be derived individually from the passage:
The sun departs and the leaves are quiet.
Silajoleeme, Ap-Zaw, and Ti
The next day we saw three young Argonians, all skulking in the water between the roots of a sallow tree. They spoke all at once, but did not seem to talk over each other, and from their cacophonous chatter Huleej translated a singular thought.
We are told that a thousand years of trees are burning in the world tonight, as the starry sky comes falling down on all of us. Those who travel by way of current-paths tell of a great sadness; it is dangerous outside Argonia now. Though we do not venture far out for the present, we once spent much time in your towns, and have learned the games you play with cards. What you ask us to explain is simple: it says that you have not yet played your hand. We know that you are cheating the demons, though, because you have a card in your sleeve that you haven't yet heard of.
Asak-Ei was a hunter of some sort of tree-dwelling creature for which our language has no word. The way he conversed with Huleej leads me to think they are relatives or close friends, though Huleej would not say.
It is a common riddle that goes like this:
“The water now welcomes it with glee and little resistance to mask a darker purpose, but would not dare feign hospitality to rougher hides. What is the music of the deep pool, sung in low tones of disgust, pulling down and sucking in, but having nothing to hold on to?”
Asak-Ei asked if I could guess the answer and when I replied in the negative, he explained, slightly amused, that it was "the sound of air bubbles when a smooth-skin dives".
Keeus bore the markings of an elderly argonian: disproportionately large claws, an impressive, if dull-colored crest, and a number of chipped scales scattered around his face. He clung effortlessly to a large branch, a perch which he refused to leave under any circumstance, for fear of losing a significant amount of social status. Virtually motionless save for his lips, he gave the following account, without the merest hint of reprimand or anger:
It has been shown that language is unsubtle outside of our home and perhaps this is why you do not take hints quickly. We have answered your question three times now, and each time given you the same answer. We have been told not to answer again, though I do pity you if you do not yet understand. For all the mighty works of your people, you lack much insight.
Afterwards, I apologized to Keeus, but Huleej asserted that the old argonian had only done what he had been asked to do: to provide an exact translation of the passage, and that he contained no animosity toward me. I was devastated at the discovery that the paragraph’s many translations also included one that indicated the language’s unwillingness to be understood. Huleej, on the other hand, made plans to find an individual whom he believed could provide better answers.
For two nights and days we traveled deep into the marsh. Towards noon of the third day, we stopped our canoe in the middle of a relatively open stretch of water hemmed by a maze of tangled roots, where Huleej waited silently. A short while later, water stirred in a corner of the pool and out of it rose a heaving, monstrous frog with four bulging eyes, sitting silently in the filth of the Black Marsh. Later I would learn that the creature went by the name of Kru-Bula-Kru and that Huleej’s tribe had a deep respect for its wisdom
At that moment, however, I started when it opened its grimy lips and I asked Huleej to turn back, but he told me to wait. The frog began to croak, slowly and with few discernible speech patterns, and Huleej translated carefully. Occasionally, the frog's tongue would dart out to catch some unfortunate vermin.
No, no, please stay, I will answer you now if the Hist will not. I often hear their talks rumbling along the roots, for my belly is wide and reaches well into the bog, though the roots of the old trees reach further still into the deep. You of warm blood always look upwards to the heavens for your answers, but you are deceived. In the open, the water reflects the sky, but here in the darkness its guard is brought down and its teaming multitudes are revealed. If you look, you will see that they dwarf the petty realms of stars. Ah, I have not even begun to answer your question, but I think I have been more helpful than the little saplings, have I not? This is what I can say: There has been much concern outside the Murk in recent months, and even this land has been penetrated by unspeakable things, but the Hist do not fear any of it. I am far older than your oldest Empires, but my age pales in comparison to the Hist, and they contain greater multitudes still than all that lies above and all that lies below the thin scale on which we reside. Ah, but who could trust a four-eyed frog? Go now, you will learn nothing more in this place.