Author’s Note: Go do what makes your heart sing.
Graymar passed in his sleep on the morning of the fourth day of Diwa and Kaffi’s landlordship, one week after the annual tintrite remembrance ceremony.
Kaffi mourned quietly, as his paddir had asked him to. He stayed close to Shahney and Iliah on the first day to take care of the funeral arrangements and connect with his relatives who lived close by. He’d asked Diwa to stay with him during the three days it would take for the remains to be prepared and set in a transport to be brought across the bay to Mount Laimora. Kaffi would be one of the six tintrite to carry the transport, along with Iliah and four other relatives. Everyone else from the estate who could attend would take the light rail to the town at the base of the mountain, then buses up to the summit.
Diwa leaned up against him as they both sat on the low couch in the living room, saying little. Just being together was enough. Every now and again one of them would nod off from mental and emotional exhaustion, but he was okay with that. As long as he stayed by his side. Kaffi needed that connection, that bond, right now.
Samuel was in and out for most of the day, having volunteered to take care of all the announcement and burial details out of respect for his dearest friend. He was worn out and beaten down, but he remained brave and dedicated. Dari, Aldrine and Maricel had all stopped by as well, checking in and helping around the nest. Graymar’s ahpadé Nouia and other relations had also flown in to pay their respects.
Kaffi was not devastated by his paddir’s death. He was deeply saddened and affected, but he refused to let it pull his heart out of the skies. Graymar was not just his paddir but his mentor and his teacher. And finally, in those last months, his friend. There had always been a deep bond between them, but in those last days, it had taken root in his spirit and would never go away. Keeping that bond in his heart had been Graymar’s last private request to him, and Kaffi would honor it the best he could.
On the third day of mourning, his paddir’s body was laid out in the main compartment of the transport and set on display at the community center. The lines to pay respect were long and slow, but Kaffi soldiered through it, with Diwa once again at his side. He held his wings open and at half span, done to honor his paddir. Shahney and Iliah did the same.
Kaffi said little, but he knew he didn’t have to. Every single tenant on the estate had said everything for him. They had come as a community to grieve alongside him.
It was dark by the time the last of the tenants visited Graymar’s body and the container was shut tight. Tomorrow they would fly. He, Iliah, his two uncles and two cousins, flying in tandem, towing long cables connected to this container. They would fly to the caldera of Mount Laimora where they would lay him to rest, giving him up to the open skies.
But tonight, he stayed with Diwa. He cried and rumbled and hummed and howled until he felt so utterly empty, yet so full of the love and joy and compassion that the estate had given him. So full of the love that created the bond between himself and his ride. He leaned heavily up against Diwa and let all the sorrow and pain out until there was no more.
And then he strapped on his blanket and saddle, and together they drop-launched off the roof of Building C. They caught a fast current of air and swooped back up at almost stomach-churning speed, and continued in a spiral until they were high, high above the estate. Soon they were high enough that they could see the entire neighborhood expanse. Their estate was small compared to some of the others nearby, but it was the one they knew to be theirs. It was their home. It was their community. It was linked to the other communities by the street grids and the light rails and the buses and other transports, and they were linked by the flight paths of the tintrite and their rides. This, however, was the home he knew. This was where he felt the deepest connections, both with his ride and with everyone else there.
He felt Diwa rest his hand on his back, right between his wings. It was warmth. It was their bond. And it would never be broken.
Ai, Kaffi… he thought. I wish I could be with you right now.
Diwa remained quiet and sullen for most of the train ride to Mount Laimora, his eyes constantly returning to the window. He knew he should be looking over his father right now, but Samuel refused to be fussed over – very much like Graymar, come to think of it – and held his own with a quiet grace. He held Dari’s hand tightly, his other hand covering their connection. His mother leaned into him, talking quietly, making him smile and laugh. Maricel and Aldrine sat nearby, comforting each other. And in the seats and cars beyond, so many of their neighbors dressed in mourning…yet thinking warm thoughts and fond memories of Graymar.
Their flight last night had been one of release and healing. He would always be there for Kaffi whenever he was at his most fragile. Not that he could ever imagine his friend being helpless, far from it! Kaffi needed friendship and connection at that time to calm his fears and pain.
He glanced out the window again, wondering where Kaffi was just then. The tintrite procession would be flying in a straight line across the bay towards Mount Laimora. They’d left earlier than the others, so they must be halfway there already. This train was almost at the next to last station, so by the time the coaches reached the top of the mountain, the tintrite procession would just be arriving.
He thought of Graymar. He had childhood memories of being afraid of him, both due to his size and his incessant grouchiness, but he also had many recent memories of having interesting conversations with him about being bonded to Samuel, and the things they would get up to. Once he’d bonded with Kaffi, Graymar would always have a quick talk with him whenever he was over their apartment. And Kaffi would always smile at that, he realized, as it meant his paddir had accepted their bond without question or concern. Graymar was indeed one of the grouchiest tenants on their estate, but Diwa had learned early on, especially when he watched him work with his father, that he was fiercely dedicated to his work and his neighbors. He truly did love everyone in the community. Especially his father. Graymar and Samuel’s bond may not have always been easily visible, but it was there, and it was strong.
He reached out, took a hold of his father’s hand, and squeezed it tight. Samuel glanced at him in surprise, then flashed him a teary smile as he squeezed it back.
Diwa stood on the lip of the caldera, the rocky surface worn smooth by weather and time, and kept watch for the tintrite procession. He’d taken the first transport coach up here along with his family and Kaffi’s, and the others were still on their way. Nearly all the tenants had taken personal time off, even those with shifts at the co-op, to see him off. The weather was clear with only a few high clouds far to the north. Graymar would be laid to rest under a gorgeous blue sky, and his spirit would be lifted and given back to the air.
He finally caught sight of them a mile or so out, and let Samuel know. His father nodded and started preparing for the start of the final ritual. He’d insisted on doing this job with Kaffi’s family as a final gesture of respect to his friend. Diwa let him go on his way and continued to stand watch. He wanted to see everyone land safely and the container set to rest on even ground.
Kaffi was taking up the rear with Iliah. The six tintrite held the container aloft until it hovered above the final resting place. Samuel guided them closer until it dropped safely to the ground. Diwa moved closer and watched reverentially until the tow lines were released and the tintrite landed. Samuel and the rest of Diwa’s family joined Iliah and Shahney at the side of the casket.
It was only then that Diwa noticed that Kaffi was the only one of the six wearing a saddle.
Once the procession was complete, Diwa moved to Kaffi’s side and laid a hand on Kaffi’s shoulder. Kaffi lifted his head in response, looking at him and humming. “I’m here,” Diwa said quietly.
“Maianni-naahsah, Diwa,” he said in return, and bowed his head towards his father’s body.
The ritual began with Shahney and Iliah stepping up to the casket, wings at half-span. They stood at either end of the box and pushed hidden hatch releases. The container hummed quietly as it lifted slowly, depositing Samuel’s body to the ground. When it was complete, Kaffi’s uncles moved in and carried the casket away.
He was laid out on all fours with his head resting on his right paw. Shahney and Iliah unfurled each wing to full span. And in a final gesture, Samuel took a small courier bag containing a few objects they had shared within their bond and laid it around Graymar’s neck. Then everyone backed away and stood in silence for a good long while.
No further words were said. None were needed.
The ritual ended with every single attendant taking a deep breath and letting out an extended and sonorous humming, initiated by Kaffi, singing harmonic and light. Reverence.
Graymar would return to the air, where all tintrite were the happiest.
Anna-Nassi walked a few paces behind Diwa and Kaffi after the ritual was complete and everyone began making their way back down the mountain. Ai, but that was such a touching send-off for such a well-loved tintrite! She sensed so much love emanating from each and every one of them! She wanted to cry and howl but she held her composure, with Cole close to her side to keep her calm. This would be a deeply vivid memory that would stay with her forever.
The four of them stopped at the ridge of the caldera, seeing everyone else off. They wanted to be the last ones here, to make sure everyone was accounted for. Shahney and Iliah would be taking the transit back, as would Samuel and the rest of Diwa’s family and all the tenants that had come.
Diwa and Kaffi would fly.
“Eiyah…” she exhaled as she stood aside them, her voice still shaking. “The two of you are holding up well?”
Diwa nodded, but he was fretting with a pair of goggles in his gloved hands. She could feel his sorrow, both for the loss of Graymar and the pain Samuel felt at the loss of his bonded ride. But she also sensed his steel resolve. He would feel the pain and sorrow like everyone else, but he refused to let it destroy his soul.
Kaffi snorted and held his head up the best he could. Anna-Nassi leaned over and nuzzled the top of Kaffi’s head and hummed. Light and melodic; friendship. He grinned and hummed in return, his heart lifted by her empathy. “Eiyah, Annie…thank you for coming. You too, Cole.”
“Of course,” Cole said. “Graymar was an inspiration for all of us, Kaff. We’ll make him proud.”
Kaffi snorted again and bowed deeply. He wanted to say more, but he couldn’t quite find the words. She wasn’t going to rush him. His heart would heal in time. And with Diwa at his side, it wouldn’t take that long at all.
“We’re staying up here to see everyone off,” Diwa said, still fiddling with his goggles. “We’ll be flying back. Don’t miss the last bus, Annie, it’s a long walk down.”
She smiled and nodded, fluttering her wings in response. “Don’t worry about me. We’ll get there in time, one way or another.” She turned and glanced at the burial site; everyone had dispersed, leaving Graymar’s body lying in state. He looked so peaceful there, wings out and head resting on his hands, as if he were taking a nap out in the sun. This was indeed a fine resting place for him.
She felt Cole’s soft hand in hers, calming her.
She sniffled and turned back to her friends. “We’ll see you back at the estate, yeah?”
Diwa and Kaffi both nodded at the same time. “We’ll meet you there,” Diwa said.
She started to walk away, only to stop where the path met the edge of the caldera. She nudged Cole on to join the others, but he remained at her side. Together they turned and watched their friends one more time. Those two crazy lovebirds, those two amazing best friends. Diwa had put on his goggles, resting them on his forehead, and zipped up his jacket. Kaffi was standing three-quarters straight, checking and rechecking the straps on his saddle. They mumbled back and forth, just out of earshot, going through their pre-flight check list. They were aware they were being watched, but they didn’t seem to mind. Kaffi dropped down into a crouch on all fours, allowing Diwa to climb into the saddle. They spent a few more minutes going through their final checks, and then moved into position at the lip of the caldera.
Kaffi unfurled his wings to full span with a mighty whoosh, ready to take off. The glanced over in her direction briefly; Diwa gave her a wave, and Kaffi nodded.
Diwa placed his hand on Kaffi’s shoulder, right between the wings, and whispered something. Kaffi snorted and bobbed his snout, giving him a slight grin in response.
They pushed off into the air, Kaffi’s enormous wings pushing at full strength and speed, sending waves of air in their direction. She felt its vibrant energy wash over her body, sending chills down her spine and her mane in all directions. She trembled again, watching them pushing harder, harder, never giving up, ever higher into the sky. A tintrite and his bonded human ride, working in tandem with each other, pushing against the boundaries of life and winning. She cheered and sang for them, for their vibrant lives, the strength of their bond, the love they shared. Now they were so high up, still rising, circling in a convection to gain even more altitude, until they finally caught the wind they needed. They swooped in a wide and graceful arc, both Diwa and Kaffi waving to them one last time before they headed westward back to the estate.
Anna-Nassi cried openly, but these were no tears of sorrow. These were tears of pride, of love. Diwa and Kaffi were an unbreakable duo. They were so strong in their hearts and in their souls. She was proud to be working alongside them at their estate, taking care of the lives of those she knew and loved.
They had committed themselves to one thing: to follow in their fathers’ path of taking care of their community as best as they could. They’d wanted this position for as long as Anna-Nassi could remember. They didn’t want it handed to them; they wanted to work for it, to earn it. And they wanted to give it all back to the estate they loved. It was hard not to be inspired by it all.
Cole took her hand. She gripped it tight and, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes, let him lead her back down the mountain, back towards home.