Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Summer Balfanz! Summer finished 6th grade this past school year. Her story is called “Silent Girl” and reads like an old legend. Enjoy!

by Summer Balfanz

Once Upon A Time, there was a girl who spoke only to animals. Her name was Ruanzz, which translates in the old language to Silent One.

Silent One had never been silent. When she was born she tried and tried to speak to her parents, her brothers, her village. But all the others could hear were the trills of the birds, the roar of a lion, and the music so deep it was impossible to hear, of the creatures that sang in the depths of the ocean. So many sounds of creatures the villagers had never even encountered.

At first, her parents thought that Silent One was mimicking animals, and over and over again they spoke to her.

‘Mother. Father. Brothers. Food. No, no, the dog doesn’t understand you! Stop talking to the dog!’

Over and over again, her family and the villagers would repeat her name. ‘Ruanzz. Silent One. Ruanzz.’

Each time she responded with a kitten’s purr.

Silent One knew her name and her family’s names, and the name of her village. AucoJi – in the old language it meant Haunted Valley, the village surrounded by monsters. Silent One could tell people that she knew words, and many of them, and that the animals knew her words, and also that her brothers were very, very annoying.

The villagers, however, could not understand her.

They could not understand when she made sounds of animals from the village, and even sounds of animals they didn’t know, like the soft snuffling whispers of deer, the deafening trumpeting of an elephant. Even the chirp of a prairie dog emerging from its tunnel to see the sun for the first time in days. 

Silent One could speak the language of the animals no one even knew of.

The villagers could not understand though, and eventually Silent One resigned herself to not speaking to them at all. She gave up on trying to make them understand and did not communicate to them with her voice.

Still, she was not silent. Silent One spoke to others, who understood her, and they spoke to her in turn. She learned many things from the animals, useful things.

Silent One learned to be as quick as the hares that she raced through the valley, to be as cunning as the magpies, the quick-thinking thieves of shiny things. Silent One learned to be as patient as the tortoise family, with their long lives and plodding resignation – though that lesson was maybe hardest of all.

Most of all Silent One learned to be kind to all animals she came across.

However, others in the village frowned on her wild ways. Her romping, freedom, and utter disregard for other humans. 

The last straw was when Silent One started a race with all the pets of the village: dogs, cats, and one fat old hamster who could barely walk.

Of course, she did end up racing them through the village.

Some chaos did ensue.

However, ‘mass destruction of valuables and desecration of important items of sentimental worth including the Mayor’s precious fancy leather boots’ was totally overstated. Sure, the hamster had pooped on his incredibly valuable shoes, but was that cause for separation from her friends? No! When her parents told Silent One she had to forgo the company of other animals, she roared her defiance to them.

Silent One was not silent. The villagers were the ones who were deaf, and she felt only disdain for them, the sad ones who would never understand the innocent beauty of a kitten’s mewling, the defiance of a coyote’s growl, the language of animals that was more than words, but emotion. The sillies who valued a custom-made fedora over a bit of fun.

The village felt her disdain. They knew they had no control over this wild, not-quite human enough girl. Where they had once felt pity for a young mute, now they felt anger at her arrogance, revulsion towards her strange freedom.

Silent One’s own brothers were turned against her. 

“Ruanzz,” they said, and she gave a low, soft growl. That was not her name anymore, because she had no name in THEIR language. “You need to be careful. You need to stay away from the animals and be more human. Be a part of this village.”

As far as Silent One was concerned, animals were more like people than humans were. She had long tried to speak the human language, but she just…couldn’t. So maybe they were the ones who had it wrong.

She couldn’t say this, of course. Silent One had to be content with drawing whatever she needed, which wasn’t very practical.

Silent One was tired of being told that she couldn’t talk. Silent One COULD talk. The villagers could not listen.

She ran out to the valley pastures to find the hares or the foxes. The village was cradled in one huge valley, surrounded by the haunted Mountains. The Mountains of monsters.

Often Silent One heard howls from the mountains, passionate and filled with emotion… and yes, haunting. They were the only sounds she couldn’t understand, couldn’t find words out of. She told herself it was because they were so far away, and yet – 

A soft, moaning noise. A plea for help and at the same time an expression of pain. Before Silent One lay a fawn, small and skinny and injured. Its leg was mangled, probably broken in two places, and the fawn looked hopeless.

Silent One dropped to her knees while making a soft, snuffling noise – like that of a mother doe to her child, a sound that conveyed comfort – and then called out in every language she knew.

Slowly, they came. Hares and crows, mice and foxes, a couple moles even surfaced into the sunlight. All carried bits of fabric, twigs, string. The valuable materials that almost all animals needed for nesting, building, and caching. She thanked each of them in turn.

Carefully, Silent One set the bone. The fawn squirmed and keened, but let her do what she needed to do. The splint that Silent One made was barely adequate, but it at least kept the leg aligned – even if the fawn wouldn’t be able to stand, or walk for a while.

She turned back to look at her village, wondering if it would be safe to leave the fawn to fetch some real bandages. However, the foxes she’d summoned were already eyeing it hungrily. It was probably a mistake to call for predators to help a wounded, defenseless fawn.

When Silent One turned back, where there had been an injured fawn there now stood a woman. She wore clothes of a material Silent One did not recognize, and she had soft brown eyes. The fawn’s eyes.

She was wild-looking, tall and muscular, dark hair falling to her bare feet.

The woman knelt to her knees and growled softly. Not a growl of anger or defiance, but of recognition. An admission.

Silent One repeated the gesture, what she recognized as a greeting, and then gave a sharp bark. It was a question. 

The woman took her arm and carefully guided Silent One’s head towards the Mountains. She gave a small songbird’s trill. A bird’s question and answer at the same time. 

Silent One knew what the woman wanted. Her question and answer, something only the language of animals could convey – The Mountains. The Haunted Mountains. The Haunted Mountains that held beasts that howled in a language she couldn’t understand.

She looked back to the village. The village and the valley held her family, her parents, and brothers, and…

…and the villagers who could never understand her and would always resent her. The villagers who had convinced her family to try to keep her away from the animals. From her people, the only ones to whom Silent One could communicate.

Then Silent One touched her forehead to the woman’s, meeting her soft brown eyes. The gesture conveyed more than yips or chirps in the language they shared. It conveyed kinship, it conveyed understanding, and it conveyed…acceptance.

And then, slowly, with the weight of words meant deeply, the wild woman in front of her whispered, “Bianzzi.” Bold One.

As one Bold One and the wild woman ran toward the mountains, changing as they raced from dogs to hares to tigers. Fluid in the shapeshifting Bianzzi had only just unlocked with the uttering of her true name.

 After they left a fox immediately ate one of the dumbfounded hares.

* * *

When she reached the Mountains, she ceased to be Silent One. She ceased to be a human who wasn’t quite human. She ceased to be strange.

Bold One was herself now, a part of something she understood thoroughly, even though she didn’t truly understand it. She turned to the woman, and found others standing there. People in the skins of humans and animals, all barking and hooting and whinnying in excitement.

She lifted her head to the moon and howled, howled along with the other monsters of this Mountain, her new family. The humans who talked to animals–and who grew to become them. And there really were no words. She did not understand this language of howling, just as she hadn’t understood it in the valley.

Bold One did not understand the howls. She knew them the way you do a song without words. Her language.

She was one of a family of monsters now, and she was content.

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