CW: war, death (incl. parental death), injury
shé-l-atìrin’, eth’drital’ba, sha-dæl’ʤibez ì’hum sho-kélis’
ziþunuz meleǩ’ shua-zhenadjaz, benadjez bą^ sheǩ^tesætézen
uval’rązot, avol’rązot, vel’rąz^ – isha suǩa sharal?
æʤa en’djaǩajot, eshną nedbą tek en’djeǩ’ djukal’.
The candle and the picture-frame, the shoes upon the floorExcerpt from The Inferno, by Savire Zarija Avolana Valana angat-Karita angat-Anselm, 1912;
The empty eyes of our boys, the girls who cry no more
We sing, we play, we tell our stories — what else is there to say?
When we disappear, you’ll perform your regrets too late.
translated by Asivera Zarije Shelash’ Kekash’ angat-Savira angat-Chevris, 1915.
TENTON, ETAMARA, 1911
There were, decided Csindra, three different kinds of refugees. She didn’t mind any of them much, although she was getting really tired of all the people. Couldn’t they go somewhere else for once? Of course, she’d asked Benna that and Benna had just said there wasn’t anywhere else, so she guessed that wasn’t their fault.
The first kind were the people who were mostly okay, maybe a bit bruised and torn up, but really, really tired. Keinan and Benna didn’t have to do too much for them at first, so they’d just pull out a mat or a sleeping bag, and let them sleep in safety for a few days. The longest was the man who’d slept for three days straight, risen to eat, go make water and drink, and then slept for another three. He’d made up for the space he took afterwards, and besides, if it helped, it helped. The tired ones were probably the simplest, too. Csindra had conversations with them once they were woken up properly and they ended up being almost normal pretty quickly.
The second were the people who were really badly hurt. They were harder to deal with, especially because sometimes they didn’t make it. Csindra knew when that happened because Benna would quietly come to her and tell her to take Mari over to the market or the well for a little while. She would’ve liked to help, but at the same time, she had no real talent for medicine and she knew it. She couldn’t be a healer, because sometimes the injuries alone made her queasy to look at or even think about. One woman had shown up with a missing eye, eyepatch desperately trying to cover the wound, and it hadn’t healed because there were still shards of metal inside. Another had been a kid, who’d lost half his leg in an explosion and the journey down to Etamara had rotted his flesh so badly that it fell off of him at the touch while he rambled in a delirium.
He’d been one of the ones who didn’t make it.
Csindra tried not to think about the other kids too much.
The third were the ones who bothered her. Not because she was scared of them; quite the opposite. The third were the ones who looked fine, until you looked into their eyes. They just weren’t there. Sometimes they’d come back, here and there, for little stretches; sometimes there was just no one there at all.
That was how she met Kestrel Nomur.
At first, she thought Kestrel was a girl. He kind of looked like one, although really, who was she to comment? But then she overheard Benna talking in low notes about “the boy with her”, about the woman she was treating. Dani’it were kind of weird about the gender thing, anyway. She’d asked Benna about that, too, but Benna’s explanation hadn’t really helped.
“…Hi,” she said after a moment, sitting down next to him. “What’s your name?”
It was then that she caught the eerieness of his gaze. He wasn’t looking at anything. Just — lost, somewhere in the air. He pulled his knees close to his chest, looking impossibly small, especially in the dirty, blood-streaked clothes he was in. Had he come all the way from Anselm in those?
“Do you want some new clothes?”
He didn’t respond to that, either. Maybe he was deaf, too. It wouldn’t surprise her; apparently some of the bombs had been so loud you could hear them from Baerelen. She couldn’t imagine anything that loud. It was a shame she didn’t know any Fuletcha. There were some Fuletch here, but mostly on the other side of the train tracks, and that was too close to the military base for her liking.
She thought it through, then shifted around so she was in front of him. He might not even know he was talking. “Hi,” she said again. “I’m Csindra.” She tried drawing the letters in the air, then fumbled after the DR. Did Dani’it use the same letters? It’d never come up. Maybe she should have used vertalingen.
She was so lost in thought that it took her a moment to realize that his eyes had… changed. Not a lot. She could have been making it up. It was the difference between being looked past, and looked at.
“Uh — Csindra,” she tried again. Vertalingen. She could do that. “CS-I-N-R-” Damn it. “Wait, no.” “N-D-R-A.” Then she pulled a face.
He still didn’t respond, at least openly. But she still got the feeling that she was being watched, not just a presence.
“That’s my Benna over there. Her name’s Mornai. M-R-N, O, AI.” She managed that one in Kanet’valan, whether he knew it or not, and then in vertalingen, although drawing letters in the air wasn’t the most reliable. “M-O-R-N-A-I.” More Elessan weirdness. “I don’t know if you can hear me,” she admitted, “but don’t you hate having to use two letters for ai? It’s silly. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Was that a smile? She couldn’t be sure.
“Do you use the same letters?” she asked. No answer, so she shrugged. “I dunno if you do. But csiyu is this one —” she did it in the air — “And in vertalingen I have to use two letters. But then in Elessan sometimes they make the same sound anyway. Which has got to be the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
She kept rambling about whatever came to mind, and after a while, Benna came out from the back room with the somber look on her face as usual. Csindra knew what that meant. Mari was due home from the schoolhouse any minute now, too.
“Tell you what,” she said. “Wanna meet my sister? She’s kind of annoying, but she’s fun. And there’s Brydan, too. He’s neat if you can get past how much garlic he eats.”
The boy kept looking at her — but when she took his hand, he followed her lead. It wasn’t until they were outside that he took her hand, still resolutely mute, and traced three letters – Kanet’valan letters — onto her palm. She was elated for a split second — he did use the same letters — and then she recognized the letters. M-L-T. Death.
He looked up at her, face blank and unreadable.
“…I’m sorry,” she said quietly. It had been his mother; she could tell that now, even though nothing about him had conspicuously changed; maybe it was just the sixth sense that adults seemed to lose when they got older, or maybe it was just that he had clearly held her together all the way here and sons didn’t do that for just anybody. If you did that for someone, she reasoned, it didn’t matter what they’d been before; they were your mother by the end.
She wrapped her arms around him. Not for long; not enough to make him feel pitied. She could see Brydan and Mari up the street — but first, she asked, “It’s okay if you don’t talk. You can hear, right?”
He frowned, still glazed over, then wiggled his hand. She’d have to make sure to speak clearly, at least.
“Can you tell me your name?”
He frowned a little deeper, then took her hand again. Vertalingen, this time; why, she didn’t know. K-E-S-T-R-E-L.
“K-es-tr-el. Kestrel! Like the bird!”
For the first time, he looked pleased; not a strong expression, but enough to tell her that it might all work out. And tonight, they’d sing for his mother, and light a candle for her and all the others they’d lost so they’d find their way home.
This is our first direct glimpse into Csindra’s childhood, and as such, it’s also our introduction to the myriad cultures that sit next to each other in Etamara. Under Elessan law, Etamara is marked ‘clan land’ in general, so you’ll find Kanet’, Fule, Tosaka and Dani’it people all living together; the Shuyeda don’t have much of a presence in Etamara, though (which will come up later) and Zurkanet’ and Tosaka folks are the majority by a wide margin.
The opening poem is written entirely in Kanet’valan! Which I’m extremely proud of, given that it’s a metered poem and everything. If I manage it before this chapter is due to go up, I want to attach an audio recording of me reciting this small piece, which will also give people an idea what Kanet’valan sounds like. The poem itself is heavily inspired by both Jewish Holocaust poetry and the song ‘Hide and Seek’ by Imogen Heap (which many people interpret to be about the Holocaust, although I’m not sure if that was the artist’s intention). There’s a definite Jewish underpinning to the clans and particularly the Kanet’, which I didn’t entirely intend, but it makes sense given that that’s my own background.
The Dani’it “do” gender differently than the Kanet’ – so while Kestrel is “trans” to Western eyes, he doesn’t really fit the criteria in that Dani’it culture actively encourages genderfluidity and personal choice in presentation. I have no personal issues with people calling him a trans man/transmasc as a quick referential tool, but it’s worth nothing that he likely wouldn’t identify as the term. (While the word – for obvious appropriation reasons – won’t show up in BCAC, the closest modern term is actually “two-spirit”, used by many Indigenous Canadian/American queer folks who have lost the terms for their own cultural genders due to colonialism.) He is Deaf; while he has some vestigial hearing, he’s pretty heavily reliant on lip-reading and sign language(s).
Finally, (sorry, this is my nerd corner!) there’s the term ‘vertalingen’ vs. the Kanet’ alphabet. I’m quite happy with how this comes through in context, but for anybody still confused, the Kanet’valan writing system places consonants on top, vowels below, making every word two “storeys” tall. It’s for that reason that when signing to Kestrel, Csindra’s first instinct is to do consonants first and then vowels, instead of what we’re used to, which is consonant-vowel-etc. Vertalingen is the term for one of the two transcription systems for Kanet’valan into Elessan; the other is Nadjat’valan (compare pinyin vs. Wade-Giles, for Mandarin!). Vertalingen is in wider usage and predates Nadjat’valan by a lot, but has its issues since it was created by Elessans who had Elessan as a mother tongue and only learned Kanet’valan later out of interest or for communication. Still, due to the limits of Elessan bureaucracy, proper names are still usually done in Vertalingen; Nadjat’valan, by contrast, gets across the distinctions between sounds better, but is harder to read if you don’t know the special characters being used. The quoted author, for example, has the name Savire Zarija, which in Nadjat’valan would be Sævira Zarijæ to distinguish the short ‘a’ from long ‘a’ more clearly; and Csindra Djaneki would be Çindræ Djaneki. The Kanet’valan pieces quoted so far have been given in Nadjat’valan and English, with proper names in Vertalingen. (Confused? It’s okay, now you know how a lot of people encountering transcriptions of their names into English feel.)
Song: A’Chuthag by Natalie McMaster
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