What is in a name? Let the Makinaadmanon speak: the name is the approximation of lightning. Do you know that what we name lightning is a fulmination at both end and beginning? Lightning leaves its origin and meets its destination immediately. We name and wax poetic about a moment without dichotomy, the truth of this world, for [now/later] or [beginning/ending] is a misconception made by mortals that die.
And so thus is how we name ourselves. At our brightest, at our fulmination, at when we are reminded that we are both beginning and ending at the same exact time. Time is but justification.
Like lightning, we are bright across a number of points, we are bright in a line, not a point. We are both instant and also causation-effect.Makinaadmanon of Names
Batumingaw was tired. He watched as Masuna Kulisat, the Shining Lightning, left their townhouse. He watched him trudge his way into the darkness of the night, carrying rice and meat wrapped in banana leaves. A parting gift. The warrior had mentioned how he went into town to gather food. It was the least Batumingaw could do, he thought to himself.
Once the shining lightning was gone, consumed by darkness, he turned and walked across the veranda, toward a catwalk plank that connected the townhouse to his own home. Half as long as the townhouse but just as lavish. He was already aching to remove his sarong and bahag, which clutched and pierced at his waist.
Before he could get onto the catwalk to his own house’s porch, however, one of his father’s kawal reached out to him. He was being called to his father’s bedchambers, they said. With a sigh, Batumingaw followed. He could not reject his father’s summons, no matter how late they were. He couldn’t fall out of favor with his father now.
That move he did? Summoning Masuna into the townhouse? That was performed purely to gain favor and merit in the eyes of the Sarripada. How else was he going to rise the ranks? He had proven himself in battle and war, peerless with the kris. Now he had to prove himself in the field of administration and leadership. It was slow going, but if he could prove himself, he could become the next ruler of Put’wan.
That was all he wanted. To become Put’wan’s next ruler. His mother cried and begged and bled for that. They both cried and begged and bled for that.
Batumingaw went into his father’s bedchambers. His mother was nowhere to be seen. Of course: the primary wife had her own chambers. The Sarripada’s concubines lived in one of the annexes. His mother lived in one of the annexes.
When he entered, the Sarripada was enjoying some heated water, steeped in sleep-inducing herbs. Batumingaw had no doubts that he needed that to sleep at all. The smell was fragrant, flowers being melted and scorched slowly into tasteless and stale drinks. The soft ambiance of the place: with soft palm leaf wicks for light, the moonless outside letting the hoots of owls and the dance of stray leaves resound… it filled Batumingaw with a gentling calm.
The Sarripada had removed his bahag—as most men in the shore societies of The Sword Isles did, for they wore bulky and heavy bahag—and he only wore expensive silks, imported from the grand kingdom Baik Hu. Around him he wore a pure white silken robe, brocaded with dragon flower patterns. His eyes were heavily lidded. This was the datu, the ruler of Put’wan. Sarripada was a title, an extravagant one that originated from the Golden Land of Varsha to the far far southeast.
Sarripada Halowan was heavily muscled under layers of protective fat. Batumingaw had long wished to get as large as the Sarripada, but no matter what he did he always came away just muscly. It annoyed him, of course. If he were thicker, more rounded, he would’ve had an easier time hiding the truth of his gender.
Tattoos lined the Sarripada’s entire body, a living canvas, a walking painting. Lightning and blood and war etched into his bones with thorn. He wore the exceedingly prestigious bangut tattoo as well: a tattoo only awarded to the most elite of Kadungganan. The bangut was a face tattoo that made you look like a spiky-jawed war demon. Only awarded to those that deserved such a thing. If you had the bangut tattoo, you were to be feared. You were the kind of person that songs were sung about in feasts, or whose name is whispered quietly, in hushed reverent tones, even if you weren’t around, lest you hear your thundering title from the ancestors.
The Sarripada was someone that has killed hundreds of men in raids and battle.
Datu Batumingaw breathed. So have I.
“Ah, Batumingaw,” the Sarripada spoke, after sipping on the flower water. “My little armored one.” Smoke from incense sticks were lit by a nearby servant, who had heavy dark rings under their eyes. They bowed and left the bedchambers without rising from their bow, and without turning away from them. Their footsteps were silent against the wide hardwood slat floors.
Armored one. That was Batumingaw’s moniker. Batumingaw, ever since they were a child, never went around bare-chested like the rest of the warriors. Like the rest of the men.
When Batumingaw was challenged—particularly when the Lonely Stone’s gender was challenged—he showed them that his gender extended beyond his chest: he showed them that his gender was his skill in bloodshed, indigo lightning, moving quicker than tempests, victory and violence blossoming in indiscriminate halos as he defeated all those that dared doubt him with superior, peerless swordsmanship.
That is what spoke for him. His armor and his sword. His violence was his gender, and his violence was unquestioned.
“Father,” said Datu Batumingaw. He didn’t need to hide his voice: his voice was hoarse from all the years screaming in raids. “You have called for me?”
“I apologize for calling you so deep into the night, armored one.” The Sarripada never, ever called Batumingaw his son. “But I have received reports that you have gleaned some knowledge about the commotion by the docks today?”
Batumingaw nodded and reported. Not comprehensively, but enough for context: a binukot from Kangdaya is being transported to Jambangan to be wed to a Lunar Prince.
The Sarripada nodded. He leaned back on his silken pillow. “So Kangdaya seeks to strengthen its influence. It seeks to expand its monopoly over prestige goods by befriending the Sultanate.”
Batumingaw nodded silently. An inference by the Sarripada. One that was no doubt true, of course. For the last few years, Kangdaya had been moving.
“And… the Hero of Prophecy of the Virbanwans?”
Batumingaw waited for the Sarripada to allow him to speak. Such was the custom.
“Can you smell that, armored one? It smells like violence, it smells like war, like strife in the air.”
“From what I might be able to infer, Kangdaya might wish to ally with Akai to strengthen their defenses against Virbanwa, who might be emboldened by the arrival of their Hero of Prophecy.”
“Ah, ever the smart sword-wit, you are,” said the Sarripada, smiling at Batumingaw. “Nothing escapes your sight does it?”
“Like the sword’s blade, I reflect all that I see.”
“Good. You have been impressing me consistently, armored one. You know this, yes? I must commend you for your efforts.”
For a moment, Batumingaw’s knees felt weak.
“If that is so,” continued the Sarripada. “We cannot have that, now can we?”
Batumingaw was silent for a moment, and then nodded. His voice was sure, because he had deluded himself into believing what he said. “Kangdaya strengthening will only spell our own downfall.”
“Put’wan must rise again, armored one.”
Batumingaw nodded again. “Indeed, like the sun rising after it has set. Put’wan’s glory must return.”
“And for that to happen?”
“Kangdaya must fall.”
“Good. Go, then, with that warrior to Jambangan. Two things, armored one, and due to your competence I know that you will be able to accomplish these things.” The flames of the small torch crackled in between proclamations, the quiet applause of spirits. “First, make sure that the binukot will not be married to the Lunar Prince. Kill her if you must. You are skilled in that.”
I am, thought Batumingaw. I have to be.
“Second, find out if you can get the Hero of Prophecy onto our cause. Perhaps entice him with a diplomatic bond between Put’wan and Virbanwa.”
“I understand,” said Batumingaw, bowing low. “I will do what I must.” Not what I can, he thought to himself. What I can do doesn’t matter. I must do what I must.
“Good. Go, then, I apologize for having kept you.”
Batumingaw bowed low again, and began to walk backwards out of the bedchambers, when the Sarripada said: “My son Sangamid has not been as half as impressive as you have been, Batumingaw, Lonely Stone. He is squandering his talents in drink and women, and not in the way as our heroes! Again, I must commend you, armored one.”
Batumingaw bowed for the last time and left, parting with a word of thanks. His heart flipped as he walked into the veranda of the town house and onto the catwalk that led to his own cottage. Was what he had been working towards about to be fulfilled? Is he going to achieve his life’s purpose?
Just a little more. Just a little more, mother.
That night, Datu Batumingaw dreamt the same dream would dream whenever the moon was in its crescent form, smiling down upon darkness. It was a memory. It truly was more of a memory than a dream, for it was the moment when the sun arose and Batumingaw gave himself a new name. Finally gave herself a name.
Batumingaw was born a man but he did not have a cock between his legs. He was born into royalty, but in the grand and violent battlefield of political power and inheritances, only men could achieve rulership. Only men could become rulers, lords, overlords.
The song of Batumingaw is a rock skipped upon a cold and lonesome lake.
And so Batumingaw, his name meaning Lonely Stone, was trained to become a man. Whenever he would showcase any weakness, any vulnerability to the other gender role, any interest in weaving and singing and dancing and speaking with the spirits was given with the flat of his mother’s kris. And so through violence he became who he was, but he had always wished that it was not the case.
He had heard of stories of Queens, of Lords and Overlords in the Sword Isles so powerful that they possessed both societal duties of the balyan priest healers and the datu paramount chief of a settlement. It is said that the last time such a person existed: a fusion of the woman’s spirituality and the man’s potency, it was etched into the collective myths of the folk of the Sword Isles.
The story of the Elephant Queen Urduja, so powerful that she was regaled into folktale. Oh, what a privilege, what a power, to be etched upon the Records of Time and Memory in such a way, that your name is uttered in reverence, higher than the ancestor gods. Batumingaw, who bound his chest and never let it loose, and only wore the trappings of the most masculine man, held onto that folktale–which he had heard from the balyan that helped midwife him, Bayi Salug, herself a man in her earliest years until the spirits whispered her truths that she so badly needed. He held that folktale so close to himself. She kept it so close to herself.
The Elephant Queen Urduja was both King and Queen, ruler of the grand and ancient Kingdom of Tawalisi, believed to be in the vast island of Rusunuga. She was said to be both man and woman at the same time, a true Ardhanarishvara, god and goddess forming perfection. At the same time, she was neither, and at the same time, she was proudly both. She was a man, and in the same breath she was a woman. She was named the Elephant Queen because she had horses and elephants under her care in Tawalisi: both animals that now have become but fossils in the Isles, though they have recently returned through trade with Naksuwarga and Issohappa.
With every slap of the flat of the kris’ blade, Batumingaw’s mother—Sri Hinikut—told him to remember what he was born for: to become a prince, to become a chief, to become a ruler, a lord. To become Put’wan’s pride, to become the true heir to the Sarripada. To bring her into power she so wanted, she so missed, for she was once the sole daughter and binukot of the Banwa of Kinaanag, which was destroyed by Put’wan.
He had to become that, or else his mother’s life would be in vain.
But in every healing session, in every bruise, the thorn of Elephant Queen Urduja’s story buried deeper, ever deeper. This was his only redeeming quality. Nothing else mattered. The Thorn of Urduja embedded itself into his heart. What happens then when that thorn blossoms? Flowers? Who can deny the flow of life, the writhing of vines? The silent regard of green and pink things does not discriminate humans. It changes us in ways deeper and more integral than we can change it, in manners and feelings and explosions that we will never ever know or realize.
Datu Batumingaw grew into his name. Lonely Stone. But this is only because it tends to be lonely when you are peerless. That is the most correct word to describe Batumingaw. Peerless. How grand it is to find a word in this world that is apt to describe you, eh? Sometimes it is choking, but sometimes it is perfect. Briefly perfect.
Batumingaw embraced the descriptor. He was not peerless because that was what the legends and the stories called him, no. He was Peerless because that was what he made himself to be. Without peer. Powerful and skilled and effervescent in the way cock-bearing datu could only wish to be.
Oh, how Batumingaw hated that he had to first become peerless to become treated equal to useless blades.
Batumingaw’s skill with the sword, particularly with the kalis, longer than krises so common in the northern isles, was unparalleled. That was another word Batumingaw grew into: to be without parallel. If one wished to see entirety of the land one would rule, then one must make sure they had no one else blocking the view.
The kalis was a dangerous weapon, long and wavy bladed, made to draw blood and to serrate wounds. Batumingaw pondered upon taking “kalis” into his name, a man’s choice, to be defined by the violence they bring into the world. He still ponders it to this day. But found within ponderance is not necessarily enlightenment. Sometimes enlightenment arrives in the contours of practice, of nature, of undoing.
One dusk, while Batumingaw practiced his sword drills in a lonely and cold grove near a small lake, for no other reason but to keep himself whetted upon his title, he almost fell in love. It was not with a diwata or a wandering woman, as other men would have done. Nay, instead he fell in love with a flower.
As they washed their face upon the running stream that bled from the lake, they almost slammed face first into a beautiful six-petaled queen flower. The petals were not connected, they grew out of the center, like a sun, a mandala, or a heart aflame. Aflame. And the flames were indigo. The flower was indigo.
It was lonely, rare, growing by the stream where the lake bled. Its edges were serrated, like the blade Batumingaw so perfected. It was soft and tender, like the yearning of his own heart.
Sometimes when a thorn blossoms, it brings pain. And that pain only comes through tenderness, through vulnerability.
Batumingaw wished to be as the flower. Batumingaw wished to be perceived not as a peerless lonely stone, but a queen flower aflame. A veritable Elephant Queen, transcendent of the roles of man and woman in these shattered, fractured, fragmented isles.
He bent down and kissed it, and a name blossomed from her brow, as if the ancestors—hallowed be their name—gave it to her as a psuedo-enlightenment.
She came away bearing two names, wielded twice to obliterate twice. He was Datu Batumingaw, lonely stone. But now she was also Kawilankayu, the Queen Flower Aflame.
As the sky gave way to the moon’s indigo army, so did she become someone new, a veritable ardhanarishvara. She returned to her home, and the first thing she did was look for a second kalis.
In her sleep, she dreamed again of that. She dreamed again of when she was born again, as she washed herself in the blood of that lake, as she looked into that verdance to find indigo flame. She dreamed of this almost every night when the moon was showing. She never dreamed of this whenever the night was dark. It was a premonition of sorts, Kawilankayu decided to herself. As the moon waxed and waned, so would she. So would she.
Her gender preceded her. Her gender was her sword, but it was also her flame. Her gender was a brightly burning thorn blossoming in the hearts of men. She will become as myth, she will become as legend, sa the Elephant Queen. But for now that fact is stolen away only in dreams. She is surrounded too much by poisoned spears, other warriors and princes of Put’wan that would take the throne from her, much much too easily.
She never dreamed of them. Of course she didn’t. To dream them is to give in, to give them the privilege of being where she could truly be herself. She will not give them that satisfaction.
When she awoke the next morning, she was once again not Kawilankayu. She was once again Datu Batumingaw, lonely stone sent skipping across a cold lake. His servants went about preparing things for him. He never removed the binding around his chest, and thankfully he didn’t need too much. He was not granted abundance in the breast. A small mercy of the ancestors, Batumingaw decided.
As his servants rushed about preparing the morning for him: his water, his breakfast, his path into the baths, the oils of his hair and the golden combs that would be used for grooming. The bronze mirror upon a wooden desk. A few boxes of face paint to strengthen the contours of his face, to make himself as sharp as the kalis that he wielded. As the servants prepared him for the day, he could only think of one thing.
That shining lightning. Masuna Kulisat. The one who saw through him.
“I am a woman too.”
He could sense that he was speaking the truth. He rose to his feet and tied his flower brocaded silk robes about him. It was time to get to work: this kind of opportunity did not come lightly.
Something within Batumingaw rushed, however, like flame being ignited, when he realized that he would have to work with the shining lightning. Masuna’s blood blossomed like fire on his cheek.
Let us see how sharp your conviction is, warrior, Batumingaw thought to himself, as he removed his robes and put on his bahag behind a bamboo partition, away from the eyes of others, as he transformed himself into what he needed to be again. An act of self-ritual, self-flagellation, of self-obliteration, performed again and again, every day, when the sun rises and the moon sets. Only he can cut himself.
Only he can cut himself.