NAVIGATE

A SINGLE CANDLE'S FLAME


Every time Tunín Bunenalcha walked into the northern nghan on Iyajarmna, he always felt that same sense of smallness, of awe. The doors were open today, as he'd seen as he walked up, the outward turning doors casting long shadows on the street in front of it. Those doors seemed to welcome him with open arms. And be welcomed he was.

A 2127 word little thing about grief and spirituality, in which Tunín goes to a nghan, or temple, in order to mourn.


Every time Tunín Bunenalcha walked into the northern nghan on Iyajarmna, he always felt that same sense of smallness, of awe. The doors were open today, as he'd seen as he walked up, the outward turning doors casting long shadows on the street in front of it. Those doors seemed to welcome him with open arms. And be welcomed he was.

The light of the inside felt particularly warm, the shadows particularly cold, that day. The walls stretched high around him, covered in unfinished mural after mural of sea foam, of waves, of fish gracefully entangled in the stingers of jellyfish, stingers that crept from one wall to another. His favorite was on the northeast corner, of a sperm whale locked in both an embrace and struggle against an equally large squid. If he didn't know it already from all the commotion outside, he'd know it was midsummer's eve by the way the sun fit just so into the centerpiece window at the far end of the nghan. Motes of dust danced in the sunlight that fell and created a large, brilliantly glowing circle in the very center of the nghan floor.

He simply stood and stared for a while, shuffling from foot to foot, twisting his fingers. Took in the salty air of the nghan; the salt smell was always amplified in nghanet, though it could linger all over the island. Felt the way that, even with his eyes closed, he could sense the way that the room stretched around him, the expanses of space lingering on his skin. Closing his eyes in this nghan made him feel very small, and the world very large.

Finally, after what seemed like long enough to last all midsummer day, he turned on his heel and began walking towards the halls lined with the cabinets of the dead.

They weren't cabinets, but he always likened them to cabinets. Whenever he'd forget the Iyajarmin word for it, he'd always find himself saying the south lipelaya word for cabinet, aayutui. Issyk, if Issyk was around, never failed to tease him for that. "Ukasahalíyan," he'd say with a teasing voice that in all fairness sounded very similar to his regular monotone. "I'm sure your smart mind can see the difference. Aayutui is the Iyajarmin mnuluy. If one remembers the dead, it is a xiyono." And then he'd poke Tunín's shoulder. As if Issyk himself never stumbled over his Iyajarmin grammar at least thrice a day.

They weren't cabinets, but they were, in a way. They covered the entire wall of the ever-expanding halls of the nghan. They were if cabinets had doors of glass, if cabinets held mementos of the dead.

No one else was in the nghan. He was fine with that, he liked his privacy when he grieved, but it still made the nghan feel impossibly huge. As if he could start running down the hall and keep running, keep going, see more and more little cabinets engraved with the names of the dead, of every person who'd ever been laid to rest, tossed into the sea, on Iyajarmna. Perhaps that's what would happen, he'd never tried. He didn't intend to. Every visit to all the halls, he'd go exactly to where he knew his old teacher was remembered, and no farther.

He sidled up to said spot and looked down at it. It was slightly below his eye line, that little space. There it was, right inside the glass: a single small necklace, a lumpy and melted candle. There it was, engraved: Yari Navratai.

"Why, Tunía!"

Tunín startled, whipping his head around to see Silema approach him. He released his held breath. He liked Silema; she was probably his favorite monk in the entirety of Iyajarmna. She was a kind woman.

She walked over him, but seemed to float, for the large blue cloth that she was swaddled in from head to toe - minus her face - drifted upon the ground, light as air. On the cloth were long pinstripe lines, with arrows on those lines running down. "Like as if they are always pointing to the depths of the sea," she had told him once. "The pattern on every monk's cloth must point down."

"Hey, Silema," Tunín said with a wan smile, toying with the cuffs of his sleeves. "Why aren't you out with the festivities? It's midsummer's eve."

"I could ask the same for you," Silema said with that sideways smile of hers. Her bushy brows raised a bit higher as she smiled. Tunín always liked her smile, the way her upper lip caved in and curled up to her equally cleft in twain nose near its left end always made it more sweet. Her smiles were wider than his, anyways. "Someone has to hold down the fort, and I prefer staying in here," she continued.

"Well, it's the same for me," said Tunín matter-of-factly.

Silema beamed. "Lovely! Would you like me to strike up some conversation, maybe?"

"Maybe," Tunín said with a shrug.

Wordlessly, Silema took a match from the inner workings of her robe, lit it, and handed one to Tunín. He thanked her and, after Silema had opened the cabinet, reached in to light the candle inside.

When he'd put out the match and the door had been closed, he watched quietly as the light, warmly orange, like a hug from Yari Navratai themself, glowed in the cabinet. Spinning the used match between his fingertips, he sighed a bit.

"Are you missing them again?" Silema's normally raspy voice was soft. When Tunín nodded, twitchily, she reached over to rub his shoulder.

"I wish I had more to remember them by," said Tunín. "Their cabinet looks so empty compared to all these. I have no other things to remember them by. It's not like I could visit their house, find a prized possession, as Kyrata fell." His breath quickened, as it did at every mention of the fall of Kyrata, but he managed to steady it quickly enough.

Silema rolled her eyes. "Don't say cabinet. Also, it's fine that theirs only has that necklace," she said, "It's the fact that they occupy this little space, equal to every other, that is important about said space that you have given to remember them."

Tunín hummed.

"Is that necklace something special? To them, or to you?"

"It is special," he said quietly. He watched as little motes of dust, like sprites, jubilant at the coming of midsummer, twirled in the air around their old teacher's cabinet. "They gave it to me."

"Oh, how wonderful," Silema said back, equally as quiet.

"Yeah." Tunín chuckled a bit, then turned to look up at Silema. "Y'know what?" He adjusted his glasses, then pointed at the slabs of wood pinned to the fold of her robe. "May I?"

Silema looked down at where he was pointing, then beamed, plucking one off and handing it to him. "Of course!"

Tunín held the wood piece in his hand reverently. It was rectangular, and the hole that attached it to Silema's robe was a square, but turned on its side to be a diamond. He looked at it, the Iyajarmin script burned into its face, then looked at the little necklace he had placed in his old teacher's cabinet. He pointed at it. "They're similar, don't you think? But my necklace is round, not rectangular, and it is of metal and not wood. But they are both carved on their faces, and with diamond holes."

"Oh, interesting," Silema hummed, leaning in a bit. "I wonder why. Is it a similarity in symbolism across cultures, you think?" She clipped the wood back onto her robe after Tunín handed it over.

Tunín shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I don't know. I never really learned all the… ins and outs of Straiti visuals. Inner-wall Kyrati are unconcerned about such things, only that they are of the past. Kyrata i - was to be of the future."

"That's a shame."

"Yeah." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Though, I remember what Yari told me about it."

Silema made a noise of interest. "Oh? Do tell, Tunía."

Tunín chuckled a bit at his nickname, then continued. "Well, they told me that it's a symbol of good luck among the superstitious. You wear it on days that leave you wary, or when the local noikhi or baati has done haruspicy and found a bad omen."

"A good luck charm, how lovely," Silema said with a quick smile.

"Yes." Tunín felt a bit faint. "It sure isn't - wasn't in Kyrata. Inside the walls. People wore it outside the walls, though. Straiti and steppen people, not in the walls, but in all those villages that're also along the Lipekay-Budva. But no one cared for that sort of stuff in the walls. Except for Yari, I guess." He shrugged.

"And you."

Tunín sucked in a deep breath. "And me."

Silema and Tunín simply stood in silence for a moment, simply watching as the rays of light from the intricate, colorful windows streamed onto and lit up the glass of Yari Navratai's memorial. Then, she said: "Do you think that Straiti and steppen peoples along the Lipekay-Budva still wear it now? Even, what is it now, eight years after the fall of Kyrata?"

"I-" Tunín felt short of breath again, but he kept talking anyways. He must. "I suppose. No reason not to. Even more reason to, I'd say in fact."

Silema smiled and held her hand out again, as if steadying him. He leaned in gladly. "You worried it's gonna rust?"

"Why'd you say that?" Tunín shot her a look.

"Because you worry about everything," she said bluntly and simply.

Tunín snorted in humor and huffed in annoyance. "Yeah I do," he conceded. "It will rust, eventually."

"Of course it will, but even rusted metal will be gladly welcomed by the sea," she said. "When the time comes, this entire nghan will be consumed by her, in fact. The whole nghan, with all of its paintings and windows and masterful architecture will sink into the sea. An honor. It will return to its mother. And if they hadn't before, all the souls venerated here will return to her arms. So do not worry, for a rusted fate is not a bad one for your necklace."

Tunín put a hand to his own chest and smiled at her, feeling the sun begin to creep over one side of his face and that one side only. The light began to catch on his glasses. He pushed up his glasses a bit, but they fell down and he had to try again. "You know it's impossible for me to not worry."

Slapping him on the shoulder, Silema barked out a quick spurt of laughter. "You'll get there someday, my friend, even if it takes a hundred or thousand years as seawater."

"I can't wait," Tunín said, and she laughed once again.

"Would you like to go back outside?" she asked. "Maybe get some food? Go fishing with me? See if Issyk hasn't already passed out under the theatre stage floorboards?"

Tunín shook his head firmly. "One, Issyk is probably going to gorge himself on pastries before he goes to sleep. Two, you're a monk, you can't take anything from the ocean, so I'd be doing all the work." He shot her a look as she smiled. "And three, I'd rather just stay here in the nghan, with you. Maybe you can bore me to death talking about the history of the exyigan room."

"You think the history of the exyigan is boring?!" Silema exclaimed, placing a gloved hand over her heart as if wounded.

Tunín chuckled, patting the fat of his belly a bit. "No, no, I was joking. It's my favorite room, you know!"

"Is it now," Silema said with a teasing grin. With a hand still on his shoulder, Silema turned her friend so they both walked back down the halls, down to the main room where the sun perfectly fit through the window as it shone brightly, to where they both knew the exyigan room was. It was a tall thing, one of the oldest rooms in the entire nghan, with pipes of shell and alloy and stone, added to over the centuries by generations of monks and devout children of the water. Sound came not from any keys, but from the sea, who lapped her waves against the pipes and bellowed her mournful song, and would until the very foundations of the nghan fell into the salt and mineral from which it was born.

That was the attitude of the Iyajarminet. A far cry from how the cogs turned in inner-walls Straiti society, but Tunín would take it. The Lipekay-Budva river opened its bleeding mouth into the sea, after all.


END


aayutui: (pl: len-aayutui) a cabinet.

exyigan: (pl: exyiganet) an instrument that creates sound via ocean waves lapping against the bottoms of various long pipes. Most often found in Iyajarmin nghanet.

Iyajarmna: (demonym: Iyajarmin) a small island within the northern isles of passage, near the mouth of the white sea. A vibrant place populated by those of a culture that loves the sea. Embroiled within political tension between Walled cities of the Commonwealth due to its refusal to harbor Commonwealth ships passing through the white sea.

Lipekay-Budva river: a large winding river that comes from the far north and empties into the eastern coast of the white sea.

Kyrata: (demonym: Kyrati) a Walled city between the steppe and the middle straw lands. Used to be the largest and most advanced city in the world until its complete fall and destruction. The land is now condemned.

mnuluy: (pl: mnuluyet) a cabinet.

nghan: (pl: nghanet) a temple, a place of worship. When speaking Iyajarmin it refers to any kind, but in other languages it refers to specifically Iyajarmin temples. They are taken care of by monks, who act as architects & janitors with spiritual overtones.

Straiti: (adj.) an ethnic group that historically populated the land bridge between the steppe and middle straw lands, but there is a significant dispersion due to the fall of Kyrata rendering much of that region uninhabitable.

ukasahalíyan: (pl: len-ukasahalíyan) a wise man.

xiyono: (pl: xiyonoet) a kind of small booth, placed in rows and columns along the halls of Iyajarmin nghanet, each one dedicated to honor a dead soul.