"JOURNEYON" - A SHENDAR DEATH RITE
BY TALIA STURMWIND


Not a feast, but a religious ceremony nevertheless is the "Journeyon". Two important facts on this unique death rite: For one - the Shendar don‘t want to believe, that life ends with the death. Therefore they say good bye to their dead in a way, which means more "See you again later" and provide them on their last journey with all what a Shendar needs to travel. The most important being in her or his life is for a Shendar the aj‘nuvic bonded to the man or woman. It will accompany the dead person in death as well. - Not long ago a young woman, G'inna of the Seven Jewels, told one of the Compendium writers how she experienced her first death rite when she was about thirteen years old. Talia Sturmwind was allowed to write it down. She narrates it in detail in story-form, just as G'inna told it to her in the following text.


 yell full of agony and despair filled the air between the high reaching sand dunes between the Seven Jewels. All present in the three domes awoke, but only few rose to look after the aj‘nuvic, who had expressed its pain over the death of its human bonding partner.

G‘innna was really annoyed. All this mourning and weeping and crying. Everybody was running around with a lowered head and wet face. But Caira, the mother-mother sister who had died had been old, so old! She hadn‘t even been able to mount her aj‘nuvic on her own anymore, but had needed help to do so. And she had used a seat to stay up there! Not that G‘inna had not liked the old woman who was not able to sit straight because of her high age. She missed the black observing, but always friendly eyes, though not her sharp tongue! It was surely sad to lose a member of a dome, but why were they all acting as if Injerá had stopped rising?
 

This was the first death which had occurred in her family for a long time, for G'inna was in her thirteenth "wandering cycle", and soon she would set out to find her own aj'nuvic, but she couldn't remember that something like this had happened before.

Desertlight, Caíra‘s aj‘nuvic - they had to trammel it now, for they went crazy, when their bonding mate died. Probably nobody would have noticed Caíra's death that night, if not her aj‘nuvic had let out a yell so long and loud, that it must have been heard from the Yar‘Dangs to the Narfost Cliffs. All had been jolting out of their beds, but after a few minutes, most went back to rest, just a few looked after Caíra and cared for her, a few others set out to bind her aj‘nuvic Desertlight, otherwise it might either run away or do damage to the domes or hurt herself in her grief over the death of her bonding partner. At least they said so.

That had been yesterday. The whole day had been spent preparing the ‚journeyon‘ rituals. Caíra had been washed, combed and dressed in her best clothes, finally they rested her body on a small stretcher, supported her head and bend the legs, so that her feet were firmly on the ground. G‘inna didn‘t know, why they did all that, she was allowed to watch, but they didn‘t want to answer questions. "You will see it tomorrow," was all she got to hear.

Last night had been disturbing. Caíra‘s body was half sitting, half lying in the middle of the great dome, where all others who had already bonded with an aj were sitting in a circle around her. Sometimes they were just quietly sitting, mourning and crying, often singing songs she knew, but also ones she had never heard before. Swathes of in‘cent and my‘rrh were penetrating the dome. At times, a few of the adults left the dome to look after the children or to do other necessary things, but they always came back. At Firstflame they rose and left the dome to prepare what was still to be done for the "journeyon" rituals. Now Lightthrive was not far away and G‘inna was strolling through the place, being exited and bored at the same time.

Then she saw Ma'ara sitting and preparing some dough. Ma'ara was always willing to answer her questions. She took a place next to her, asking if she could have some of the raw dough Ma‘ara was kneading. Ma‘ara handed her a small piece, but warned her.

"You will not like it, but have a try."

G‘inna tasted a kind of spicy bitterness and sweetness at the same time, and she wished she could spit it out, but her education not to spoil food made her swallow it down.

"What is that?" she inquired.

"Well, this is the bread we will have at Sundrown, when the rituals are done. It will remind us, that the life has its bitter sides, but that there is sweetness in it as well."

"But that is hopefully not all what we will have to eat?“"

"Oh no, you can see for yourself all the pots cooking with good things to eat afterwards. But just wait, and you will see!"

"I don‘t want to get told all the time, that I have to wait, and then I will see! Ma‘ara, tell me, why are the rituals called 'Journeyon'?"

"Well, that has to do with our belief. We Shendar know, differently to many other tribes in the north, that when we die, our life will not end, but that Seyella shows us a new land where we can live on, without so much hardness as we know here, where we can enjoy ourselves and have fun, where we will meet again those, who have started this journey before us. We don‘t really die, we just travel on. Though Queprur, the Goddess of Death looks into it, that no part of us will remain here."

G‘inna was thinking for a while, but not for long, and the next question arose:

"And how does this new land look like? Is it a landscape so green as the Sharadon Forest with water available at every step?"

"Would you like to live there?" Ma‘ara asked back.

"No, I would not, I would miss the desert, but it can‘t be like here, otherwise it would be a hard life as we have it in the Ráhaz-Dáth!"

"Yes, you are right. But haven‘t you heard the poem yet, describing these lands? Listen:

Golden sands are moving forward
driven by the everlasting winds
singing softly songs of beauty
filling souls with joy eternally.

Jewels sparkle in Injerá rays
cooling water soothes your senses
murmurs briskly telling stories
bringing back sweet memories

Fissling leaves are dancing gently
blue-green hues becalm your mind
your eyes are smiling brightly
touching charily your lover's soul.
"

G‘inna sat quietly, the poem had touched her, but she hadn‘t grasped the full meaning of it yet.

"Ma‘ara, it is a wonderful poem, but could you tell me in simpler words, what that means?"

"Well, G‘inna, just imagine what you love here in the desert, and cut out the hardness, what remains?"

"Oh yes!" she exclaimed, "Now I know it!" and with a solemn voice she started, as if she would tell now a poem herself:

"We will live in the desert as in this life, when we have died. And the desert will be beautiful and great, the sand dunes will be majestic and the barren land have its own beauty, the colours will be rich, but change from soft hues to bright ones. But, there will be no thirst and the heat will be bearable, and behind every sanddune will be the most beautiful oasis we can imagine, with all the fruit trees and the water‘s temperature just right to plunge into it, and there is an extra well which provides cool drinking water which sparkles just a tiny bit. Right?"

"Right, G‘inna. You will be a poet once you are grown up! But now, off with you, I have to finish my breads until Sunreign, otherwise they won‘t be ready to eat, when we need them!"

G‘inna went off to look for something to eat. She was still counted as a child, so she was allowed to eat something. The adults avoided all food, till after the ritual. They said, that it was not a must, but that they did it out of their free will, but G‘inna could not imagine, how somebody would not want to eat for more than twenty-four hours. She found some leftovers of a karastew and some dried berries and that had to suffice.

It was near Sunreign, G‘inna was sitting in the dome where Caíra was laid out, watching the dead woman. At this time the rituals should start, she had been told, and she didn‘t want to miss something. Caíra was looking strangely in G‘inna's eyes. She couldn‘t remember seeing the old woman dressed up like this before. The blue of the tunic was fresh as the first day, and the pattern on her chest so intricate like none she had seen before. Had she been such an important woman before she had gotten old? The trousers and shirt were ordinary ones, though very carefully done at the wrists. To G‘innas surprise, Caíra was wearing a belt out of the skin of the Ráhaz-Estár! But she hadn‘t been a warrior, G‘inna had to ask Ma‘ara as soon as possible about that. Catenas of tiny triangles and circles out of moonsilver were ornating her neck and falling down her chest. But the most strange, G‘inna realised it only after some time, were the tattoos on her feet and hands. Though Caíra had always worn an intricate pattern, as most Shen-D‘auras did, this time the complicated paintings were different! G‘inna couldn‘t tell how though. More triangles and circles instead of leaves and flowers? She didn‘t know.

And then with the moment the sun staff showed that Injerá had passed her maximum height on the path she measured through every day the rituals started. They started with the drums. The sound of the drums was familiar to G‘inna, for the Shendar used them for many occasions, but this time something was different - the rhythm! It was a complicated one, and she couldn‘t follow it. She didn‘t know, how long the drums were being played, it seemed endless to her. But then all her family members entered the dome. Her mother came to her, whispering into her ear that she should come, now it would be time to say good bye. And everybody stepped to Caíra a last time, laid a hand or two on her chest and said something. G‘inna couldn‘t understand it clearly and looked up at her mother, but she just told her to say good bye. So G‘inna approached the body, knelt down, laid her hand on Caíra‘s chest and said, remembering her talk with Ma‘ara: "Good bye, Caíra, have a good time over there, where the sands are high and the water wells deep!" Her mother, next to her, smiled at her, though the tears were running down her cheeks. "Well said, my little one!"

As soon as all had greeted Caíra a last time, four of the older members of the family took her carefully up and carried her out of the dome. The mourning and crying had stopped and all went outside. There, in a immaculate circle, wiped free from stones, leaves or debris, all the people of the whole dome gathered. While the four still carried Caíra, her aj‘nuvic was brought. G‘inna had felt no sorrow so far, but now she was horrified. Desertlight, Caíra's aj‘nuvic, had been such a proud animal, just two days ago. But now it looked terrible. Her fur was plucked, it seemed as if she had bitten herself in the legs or wherever she had access to. Her legs were bent tight, so that the animal could move only slowly. And, what was impossible and what G‘inna had never seen before - a rope was put around her head and a strong woman held it, not allowing it to move freely around. But the worst were the eyes. G‘inna had never seen so much grief and pain in somebody's eyes. Shendar always claimed that their ajs were sentient, though everybody else laughed at them. But if these people would see the desperation and black despair lying in these eyes, they would not doubt it.

Her mother was occupied with the ceremony, so she slipped to Ma‘ara again, who was standing nearby.

"Ma‘ara, Ma‘ara, why does Desertlight look so terrible? Why is she chained up, why has she something around her head? Aj‘nuvics have never anything at the head, they don‘t allow it and they don‘t need it, they follow their bonding partner out of free will!"

"Yes, my dear, that is true, but as you have surely heard, a bonded aj‘nuvic gets crazy when its bonding partner has died. That can show differently. Sometimes it just runs in the desert and runs and runs till it is dead. But more often it wants to stay near the dead and doesn‘t allow anybody to come close, till it is starved as well. Or it gets violent, but mostly towards itself, it wants to hurt itself, bites in its legs and body till it bleeds to death. You never know, what a crazy aj will do next. The only sure thing is, that it will die in a short time, in one way or the other. We found a way, to comfort us and the aj - you will see it. Just watch out."

"Mara, why are the ajs so desperate?"

"Well, the aj would live much longer in the wild, so it is not yet ready to die, but it can‘t live on without its bonding partner, the relation is so close, you can‘t imagine how close, you are part of the aj, the aj is part of you. Wild aj‘nuvics bond with their aj-partner as well, and will die, when one is killed or died out of old age. But G‘inna, it would be the same, if the aj dies and the human survives the catastrophe which has happened to them - there are not many who are strong enough to live on without their aj, most choose to die as well. You will know it soon, you are going to search your aj this year, aren‘t you?"

"Yes," murmured G‘inna, in thoughts about how it would be to have her own aj‘nuvic. But soon she was distracted. Desertlight was now standing in the middle of the place, all others had gathered around her in a circle, only two woman were holding the aj, which was now told to kneel down, what it did willingly. The four women still holding Caíra on her stretcher stepped forward. And now G‘inna saw with surprise what happened next. Desertlight was fully equipped with all the riding ropes and auxiliary ropes needed to ride an ai with just the feet - and staying on it. Caíra was now fastened on its back, half lying, half sitting, with her legs bend and her feet in the holding ropes near the neck of Desertlight - as if she would ride her in a lying position. Her head rested on a bundle which seemed to be filled with various things.

"Ma‘ara, what is in the bundle her head is resting on?"

"All those things a Shendar takes with her when starting a journey, something to eat, something to drink, some personal things you cherished during your life, an extra set clothes, not much more..."

"Isn‘t it difficult to fasten her on her aj, Ma‘ara?"

"Yes, of course, therefore you have to be very careful, how you lie her to rest when she has just died, for now she is stiff. But it is quite easy in Caíra‘s case, for she will journeyon in this position. It gets really difficult, if a warrior has died, for she has to be fastened upright on her aj, as if she is really sitting and riding."

"And are always women doing the work?"

"Mostly, but men are allowed to help, if a man has died, but often they don‘t want to. They seem to have more problems to cope with the death than we woman do."

"Oh!" was all, what G‘inna could add.

"Is that why Keran is crying so hard? Still now, where all others have stopped. He is an old warrior and has seen a lot, but now he is sobbing like I never saw one before."

"G‘inna, Keran is not really old, he is the son of Caíra, and why should he not cry for his mother? There is nothing demeaning in crying when someone has died, not for a man, not for a woman. I wonder how you got that idea, somebody of the uncivilised northern tribes might think so, but not we Shendar. Crying helps the soul to deal with the loss - and he needs it most, don‘t you think so?"

G‘inna just kept quiet, she was ashamed to have had such strange thoughts.

Caíra seemed to be fastened now to her aj to the complete satisfaction of the women which had done the job and the aj was allowed to stand up. And Desertlight, who was restless before stood suddenly quiet. Even the ropes fettering his head were released, not so those fastening the legs. All family members stood now around the aj and its burden, all, the children and very small ones as well. The drums set in again, and the whole community started a song. It was the poem Ma‘ara had told her only this morning:

"Golden sands are moving forward..."

Then the "mother" stepped forward, in the middle of the circle and started to speak:

"Sisters, brothers, one in our midst is about to start the journey to the promised sands. If you want to give her a last present to say farewell, so do now!"

And then she stepped to the waiting aj and fastened a small pouch on one of the ropes. One after the other came now forward and fastened their present on one of the ropes, either in a small pouch which hid the content, but openly as well. There were small chains with silver jewellery, but simple artistic works out of branches and leaves as well. There was a small loaf of aka‘pi cheese hanging next to a small carpet, a tiny cup in Uderza blue beside some earrings out of the feathers of the kirilit. Everybody gave what he or she wanted to give, be it a small present or a bigger one, but none was seen as worthless.

"Ma‘ara!" G‘inna looked up anxiously at her. "I don‘t have anything!"

"That doesn‘t matter - just look around , maybe you see a nice little stone or a flower, take this and slip it in one of the pouches hanging already there!"

And G‘inna did so.

Finally all had given their presents and fastened it to the ajs ropes and had returned to the circle. And then another song was intoned:

„Go now, mother, sister, brother go,
to see the beauty of the sands,
to hear the rustling of green leaves
to feel the coolness of the wells,
Go now, mother, sister, brother go!
Caíra go! Caíra go! Caíra go!“


Again the Mother stepped out of the circle:

„Now, all who know, what it means to have a bondmate, say goodbye to Caíra‘s true love, her aj‘nuvic Desertlight!“

Every grown up stepped now forward to greet the aj. Most placed themselves in front of the animal, bowed slightly and touched his forehead - before returning to their place - often again crying.

And the Mother intoned again the journeyon song:

„Go now, bondmate of a life,
to see the beauty of the sands,
to hear the rustling of green leaves
to feel the coolness of the wells,
Go now, true companion, go!
Dear Desertlight, run!“


With the last words of the stanza, the Mother removed the fetters of the aj‘nuvic‘s legs, laid her hand on its side and said a last time: "Run fast!"

And the circle sung a last time:

„Go now, sister, go now bondmate, run
to see the beauty of the sands,
to hear the rustling of green leaves
to feel the coolness of the wells,
Journeyon, Caíra, journeyon!
Journeyon, Desertlight, journeyon!“


And all waited for the aj‘nuvic to move, and she did, after another loud, heartbreaking yell, she ran, and after some time she was gone, her burden on her back.

Some minutes of silence passed, the Mother left the place and came back with a basket full of bread.

"Sisters, brothers, let us share a piece of the bread of sorrow and joy. This bread is like our life, it is bitter and reminds us of the sorrow we lived just through, but it is also sweet and promises better days. But it shall remind us as well, that we are not alone, but that we share all the sorrow as we share the joy. So let us share this bread likewise."

She broke the bread apart and gave it to two other people, who had meanwhile gathered around her, those broke up a piece themselves, giving the remaining part on to the next, till all were eating this bitter-sweet bread.

The Mother clapped into her hands to speak to her people a last time officially this day:

„And now let us celebrate, that one from our midst has made the way to the promised sands. Come and eat, all is prepared.“

The hour of Sundrown had arrived, and the celebrations did not end at Lastflame.
 

Story written by Talia Sturmwind View Profile