I like to think of myself as an intelligent, articulate sort of person, able to express myself clearly. I can even do so quite well in French and German and achieve certain specialised transactions regarding the purchase of ship’s supplies and, ahem, shall we say, intimate services, in half a dozen other languages. I have even occasionally been accused of having the potential to be a good teacher and explaining complex ideas clearly and simply. I also like to think that I can even cross cultural divides. I got on well enough with my European cousins on my various trips there, although I have to admit, their cultures were not markedly different from my own, and with my Chinese friend, Mr Chang, on the Odiham Castle, whose ways were a little different. Since my change of circumstance, and my arrival in London, and subsequently on these shores, I have even dealt with cross-species issues, dealing with were’s, the fae, and even demons. Yesterday afternoon, however, threw up a circumstance, a cross-cultural, cross-species difference I could not span, nor explain. And, for once, language was not the issue.
I was out in the courtyard, reading, when Wren came by, giving Hadley a ride on her shoulders. She greeted me a little uncertainly, perhaps still embarrassed by the cinnamon affair, so I invited them both into the tavern for drinks and cake, thinking this would perhaps smooth things over. We were chatting about stories and heroes, since she had asked what it was I had been reading, when my insect friend turned up with her entourage. I haven’t entirely worked out the various castes, but I am assuming, so far, that she is the queen and the big one is the soldier. I’m not so sure of the smaller one, but from a conversation later, I think it is of the worker caste. God alone knows what the larva will be.
Hadley was a little alarmed at first, hiding behind her sister, but was reassured by Wren’s explanation that they were just big bugs. I fetched some drinks and cake for the children and some cabbages and sugar water for the bugs. The queen tried to offer some of her regurgitated gloop to Hadley, who very sensibly declined. The smallest of the insects, the one I later discovered was a worker, ran over to the box of jukes and started trying to take it apart. I shooed it away, despite the soldier one giving me a bit of attitude and then tried to explain to the queen. I spoke clearly and slowly, while trying to visualise the ideas, imagining a perimeter around the box of jukes, trying to get across the concept of not damaging it. I must have succeeded, because I then heard the queen’s voice in my head, claiming that they were not damaging it, just repairing it. I tried to explain that it didn’t need repairing, as we had our own workers to repair things.
This is when she stumped me. She commented that I was large for a drone. I wasn’t at all sure how to answer that. Drones, as I recalled, are the males in most social insects. While I definitely identify as male, I’m not sure I count as a drone, but I wasn’t entirely sure I counted as a worker either, since those are female. I tried to explain this to the queen, but was not sure how I could explain it in terms that made sense. I asked Wren if she had studied insects at all in her schooling, but she said she only knew about ants, bees and butterflies. The first two weren’t much help, since they are social insects too, and butterflies are too damned complicated, with all that metamorphosing. Then I thought of beetles (or Beatles as Mr Lennon McCartney would have it). I turned my attention to the insect queen again, trying to explain, while visualising stag beetles as an example of an insect that had just males and females, telling her that we had only two castes, male and female, that were equal. I am not sure that I got my point across as she kept insisting that I smelled male, and that males were drones. I couldn’t argue with the gender assignment, but I was stuck. Even thinking in terms of insects that just have male and female, how I could I explain what I was, and what a woman was in terms that would make sense to a social insect? Had Aoibheann or Gwyn or other adult female been present, it might have been easier. Wren was there, but I didn’t want to confuse matters by presenting her as a female, when the queen was clearly identifying her as a larva of some sort.
Hadley, by now, was bored, and wanted to go and play in the woods. Wren finished her drink and walked with her, holding on tight, which made sense, given the child’s propensity for running away. I told Wren I wanted to talk to her later, adding that it wasn’t about anything horrible like maths, but she didn’t return, at least, not that day. For myself, I retreated to the kitchen, mostly to prepare some groceries I had promised for Sophia, but also to try to think of ways I could explain things to our insect friend. When I came down again, however, she had taken off. I thought I had heard the strange droning sound of her wings while I was in the kitchen. I cleared up the remains of the cabbages and sugar water and then walked across the courtyard to Sophia’s cottage. She wasn’t in, so I left the box with a note, and took the perishables – the meat and dairy produce – back to the tavern to keep it cold in the fridge. I expect I’ll see her later.