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Dorian Montoir
Parlez-vous Émilie-yǔ ma?
Mon May 7, 2018 09:12

In some ways, the return to classes was more depressing than the holiday spent at school, because it meant that Christmas was really over and he really had missed it. The holidays had been too surreal in some ways for that to sink in, peppered with occasional moments that were genuinely enjoyable, like skating with all his friends, or exchanging presents with Jehan on Christmas Day itself. But now all the decorations had gone, and he had been forced to take down the Christmas pictures in his room because to leave them up would be bad luck, and he had to go to classes, contemplating how many weeks of those there were until he could see his sister again. It was winter now. Even though the snow had gone, it was still cold outside. It would be summer when he saw her again. That seemed so impossibly far.

He was sitting having breakfast when a letter landed on his plate. He recognised his sister’s writing, his heart twisting with a familiar mix of excitement and sadness, so pleased to get her letter but keenly feeling the limitations of only being able to write. But before he could reach out and pick it up, it had jumped back into the air. It hovered just in front of him, forming itself into a little mouth and began chattering away with a cheerful Nihao Dodo, mon plus cher frère, in exactly Émilie’s voice.

The letter continued to read its own contents, and much as he had been longing to hear his sister’s voice, he was quite glad that it was going to be largely unintelligible to everyone else. Not that Émilie’s letters were generally filled with anything too controversial, and he had been known to use small sections out of them as practise for the Club of Tongues, but only small bits… Anyone else knowing the exact contents of a letter from his sister felt far too personal. Luckily he doubted even the Club of Tongues members would get much from it. Jehan had the best French, and the most exposure to Émilie, but that had been her on her best behaviour, trying to use mostly English and with reminders to slow down (which were, admittedly, heeded for all of ten seconds at most). There were occasional bits of English, especially when she began talking about Sonora, but usually so thoroughly mixed with rapid French, and occasional Chinese, that they were going to very difficult for anyone but him to parse - any of his friends who were listening probably were just about able to glean when they were being talked about, but not exactly what was being said of them (‘Tu m'as manqué quand nous sommes allés faire du patinage - I cannot believe you do at Sonora, so cool, mais j'espère que tu n'aimes pas tellement patiner avec Tatya que tu oublies que tu as un vrai mèimei qui t’aime le plus!’).

The letter also contained a good deal of news of home - of course, his parents had told him their version during their fireplace chat and in subsequent letters, but their version was always that everything was lovely and had been perfect. Émilie, however, gave him a much franker account. As she began talking about their mother, more and more Chinese crept in (Māmā duì Matthieu bù mǎnyì) - the narration of the argument that followed switched fairly solidly between French as she related Matthieu’s half and Chinese as she related their mother’s, and he glanced around slightly nervously for the older Asian girl he’d noticed in Teppenpaw. He still didn’t know whether she was a Mandarin speaker, and if so whether she was in earshot and had picked up that it was being occasionally spoken alongside something else, but he hoped not as the argument appeared to have involved Mama saying Matthieu lacked proper rén which was definitely not an accusation he wanted a Chinese speaker to hear. Rén was one of the core Confucian ideals - broadly, it was the idea of benevolence, but the component that was most repeatedly drummed into them, and which his older brother was currently lacking, was xiào - filial piety, respect for parents and elders. He felt bad for his mother that Matthieu was being such a brat, but at the same time…. There was something else. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, especially not whilst Émilie was still chattering away. But something...

The letter concluded with ài, hugs et bissoux, kissing him once on each cheek, before dropping onto his plate, perfectly still and ordinary. Dorian stared at it for a moment.

“How complicated is talking letter charm?” he asked the person next to him. He knew it existed - most commonly, it was used in the form of des beuglantes, the shouting letters that parents sent to their disobedient children, but that had not been one, and he knew that calm, politely spoken letters existed too (which was perhaps a bit of a generous term for the exuberant burst of chatter that had just come from that envelope, but it was clear that it had been a friendly communication). However, he was rather doubting it was within the capabilities of his first year sister. “Does she do that, or do I do it by accident magic?”

Nihao Dodo, mon plus cher frère, Hello Dodo, my dearest brother

‘Tu m'as manqué quand nous sommes allés faire du patinage - I cannot believe you do at Sonora, so cool, mais j'espère que tu n'aimes pas tellement patiner avec Tatya que tu oublies que tu as un vrai mèimei qui t’aime le plus!) - I missed you when we went ice skating - I cannot believe you do at Sonora, so cool, but I hope you don’t like skating with Tatya so much that you forget you have a real little sister who loves you the most.

Māmā duì Matthieu bù mǎnyì - Mama is not happy with Matthieu.

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