The Candle and the Moth
From the book "My Mother's Tales"

The candle was burning...

Gulnar was watching...

The moth was flying around the candle...

Looking away from the candle, the girl gazed at her grandmother with her dark eyes:

"Grandma, tell me a story tonight."

The old woman, who had already begun the second century of her life, put her spindle aside and said:

"There are no more tales, my dear! I've been telling you a tale every night for many years. What makes you think I have any left?"

The girl smiled slyly. She put her playful hands on her grandma's spindle:

"Grandma, but you used to say that your memory was like a big book."

The old woman's eyes smiled.

"That's true, my baby! I used to know so much but my memory isn't so good anymore. I've become old. There's not a tree in the forest that's as old as I am."

Gulnar became sad, realizing that she wouldn't hear any stories from her grandmother that night. She rested her head on her grandmother's lap. Again, she stared at the candle. A delicate moth was flying around the flame. The girl reached out and waved it away with her white hands. But the moth wouldn't stay away from the fire...Its delicate wings got singed.

The girl asked her grandmother:

"Grandma, why is the moth burning?"

The old woman put down her spindle and stroked the girl's silky hair. She fixed her eyes on a point and thought for some time. She watched ... and watched... Gulnar was already getting impatient, but suddenly it was as if something had come to life in the old woman's ancient memory. She whispered, saying:

"I am Ashig [meaning I am in love] and that's a trap,
That's heaven and that's hell,
Samandar, your soul is in love,
You are always in fire.

A lover who always thinks of his beloved one Is ready to burn just like Samandar ["Samandar" is the name of the mythical bird, like phoenix. The bird's claws are like flint. When this bird lays an egg, she gets so happy that she rubs her claws against each other, the flint starts a fire and she is consumed in flame].

Gulnar was surprised:

"What does that mean, Grandma?"

The old woman said:

"Listen to me, my dear. My grandmother once told me this story. Somebody else had told it to her. Now listen! Then you'll understand why the moth flies around the fire."

The girl cheered up, thinking that she would hear another tale. She prepared herself to listen, making her head comfortable on her grandmother's lap.

The old lady began her story, fixing her eyes on the girl:

Once upon a time there was a tribe on the earth. There was a young boy who grew up in this tribe who was as tender as a golden flower and as bright as sunshine. He had a brave heart and was considered one of the most courageous young men in the tribe. Everyone talked about how he could ride his horse as fast as the wind and hurl himself at the enemy like thunder.

No animal could escape his arrow. "When he drew his bow, the world would become dark in the eyes of many" [Azeri expression]. Once, when some strangers wanted to destroy a temple, he shielded it and defended the people's temple with his own might. But since that time, he passed much of his time hunting. While everybody else would gather in the temple to worship the fire, he would go after roe deer in the fields. Anyway, my dear, he was that kind of boy.

The brave boy's beloved was a girl as delicate as the morning breeze and as beautiful as a flower bud. She had long hair that she put into two braids that looked much like long snakes. It was "as if God had created this girl when his mercy was at the highest" [Azeri expression].

The girl's name was Goncha [meaning "flower bud" in Azeri], and the boy's was Samandar, my dear.

"According to his tribe's tradition, Samandar had to come to the temple with the young people of the tribe, bringing along a present of some of the things he had caught when he went hunting. After that, he would be blessed by the head of the tribe.

Samandar promised to be loving and loyal, and then he announced his love for the girl. But Samandar's love was as free as he was. He would gather the many-colored flowers of the green meadows, make a garland like those of the mermaids and bring it to Goncha. The girl would wear the garland in her hair. Every morning she would sing of her love with a voice as sweet as the nightingale's. When she sang, the nightingales would stop singing and listen to her... All of the people were amazed at this expression of admiration. [In Azerbaijan, the nightingale is considered to be the bird with the most beautiful song].

Old Tughyan, the head of the tribe, also liked Goncha. He would go crazy when he saw Goncha's shy looks, her graceful walk and her charming face.

But the beautiful girl was very cold toward him as she was in love with Samandar.

In short, my dear, this charming, flirtatious girl was not a good match for Tughyan.

The old commander couldn't stand the separation anymore, so he told his secret to his best friend. His friend reminded him that the brave Samandar loved Goncha. He tried to talk him out of his love... but in vain...

Tughyan's love grew and grew as time went on, bringing him much pain in his heart. He was constantly thinking about how he could get rid of Samandar... But he didn't know how...

The whole tribe - all of the people - loved Samandar very much. Even Tughyan's best friends couldn't help him. The old man had lost all hope and was agonizing over what he should do.

And then it was as if Fate itself came to his rescue. News arrived that strangers had attacked the tribe's distant summer mountain pastures, stolen the livestock, kidnapped the girls and women and killed some of the most courageous men . And now the strangers wanted to attack the places of worship and destroy the holy temple. The people gathered inside the temple.

Everybody was alarmed. The old and young were angry about this news. Tughyan went up to the place where he prayed. His heart began to beat faster when he saw Samandar in front of the raging people. His eyes flared with malice and anger:

"Why are you raging, people?! There's a man of courage-Samandar-in front of you. He will put the brigands back in their place. I'm appointing him as commander of the troops! Go and may the fires be of help to you!"

The people applauded these words. The brave men went to their homes to arm themselves. A little later, after everybody had gathered in front of the big temple, Samandar stood with pride in front of the youth of his tribe. From time to time, he would glance at Goncha, standing next to the girls. He looked at the ring that Goncha had given him a little earlier and remembered that she had told him, "If the stone set in my ring turns red, you'll know that I'm in trouble."

Samandar wondered: Why did she say that? The words of the head of the tribe separated him from his thoughts. The "aghsaggals" [wise old men] of the tribe were giving their blessings to the youth going to war. Samandar mounted his horse. He went out to protect his tribe and his Goncha.

Days passed, months followed upon other... There was no news from Samandar and the other youth who were fighting the enemy in a faraway land. Goncha endured the sorrow of separation bravely. The people waited for good news from their sons with anxious hearts.

Tughyan was agonizing. He was thinking about how his Luck had been brought to him by Fate. If only Samandar would die in a battle... if only he would die... He had sent a herald to the battlefield to find out the news of his death. Whatever happened there, Tughyan would find out about it very quickly. He hadn't given up his dark thoughts. Even though he had tried to persuade Goncha and her father several times to marry him, he had not succeeded.

It was a dark night. A horseman dressed in black approached Tughyan's house. The head of the tribe, eager for some news, went out onto the veranda. It was his friend, the herald. He brought news about Samandar, saying that he had defeated the enemy with much success and was returning to the tribe soon. Tughyan lost all hope. But then he finally calmed himself down and resorted to the last means available to him.

Let me tell you about Samandar, my daughter. Samandar had really won. He had completely destroyed the enemy. And now he was flying like a bird to reach his beloved Goncha. But unfortunately, after those long fights and galloping nonstop for several days, his horse was tired that night. That's why Samandar unfettered his horse and let him into the pasture. He was very sad about not being able to get to his Goncha that night. He was so close to the village, but he was forced to spend the night there. He had no other choice; he had to sleep in the meadow. Chamomile flowers became his large, soft pillow, the tender spring meadow became his mattress and the spring clouds his blankets... Samandar slept.

He had a very, very weird dream. It seemed to him as if he were walking in a very beautiful garden full of flowers. He was listening to the song of a nightingale, but he didn't see the nightingale itself. He was looking at the trees, trying to find the yellow nightingale. Suddenly, he saw the rosebush nearby. The nightingale's warbling was coming from that bush. He approached the bush, searching for the nightingale. A new bud in the uppermost branch attracted his attention. He stretched out his hand and plucked the bud and smelled it with great longing.

Oh... He had been missing that bud for such a long time... Suddenly, a group of angry people appeared in front of him. They demanded that he give them the bud. But Samandar wouldn't give it to them. The people wanted to take it by force, but Samandar took out his sword and protected his bud. "This is my heart...I can't give it to you!" he yelled... But he was alone.

They tied Samandar's hands behind him. The man of courage, who had never been tied up, choked with anger. They made a fire in front of Samandar and threw the bud that they had taken from him with force into the fire. Suddenly, it seemed to him that it was not the rosebud that was burning, but his heart. He tried hard to take his heart out of the fire... And his heart in the form of a rosebud that was burning in the fire called out for help...

-Samandar, my love!

Ah! It was his beloved's, his Goncha's voice. The brave man broke the cords that tied his hands with all his might. He ran towards the fire and stretched out his hands to take his heart out of the fire. The tongues of the flame burned his fingers...

Samandar woke up in fear. At dawn, the ring on his finger attracted his attention. The gem of the ring that Goncha had given to him had turned red. Was it the red glow of the rising sun, or was it really blood? He didn't know.

Samandar found his horse and quickly mounted it. He began to race towards the tribe...

As for Tughyan, he couldn't sleep that night. He wrapped himself up with a cloak as dark as the night itself and went out of his house. He crawled like a shadow into Goncha's room. Goncha was sleeping like a baby, with the hope of future happy days and her beloved's successful return. She woke up when she sensed a strange breath in her room. She shivered when she saw Tughyan. The black shadow spoke:

"Disaster, beautiful lady. They have all been killed. Samandar has turned traitor to his own people and is on the enemy's side..."

Goncha's eyes shone in the dark:

"And what are you, the head of the tribe, doing here now instead of mourning for this disaster?"

"I was very sorry for you, Goncha. I wanted to heal the wound that the traitor Samandar made to your heart with my love."

The girl refused flatly:

"He can't be a traitor, commander! The head of the tribe who sneaks into another's house in the dark of night is fit to be a traitor. Get out of here!"

Tughyan got angry:

"Be careful, girl!"

It was dawn... Tughyan went to his hut, afraid of the sun just like the night... But Goncha couldn't sleep anymore.

The morning came

It was a tender, fresh, sweet-smelling morning of the spring...

The people woke up... The news of the disaster of the destroyed troops spread about the tribe. The people became alarmed. They raged like a billowing sea... They flew into a rage... They went up to the hut of the head of the tribe and asked him to beg the fire to save their people from disaster...

Tughyan went out to the people:

"The fire demands sacrifice, people. You have to bring one of the most beautiful girls as a sacrifice to the temple."

The "aghsaggals" of the tribe sat down in council. As the head of the tribe, Tughyan had to say the first words. He advised them to give Goncha as a sacrifice...

A little time passed... With Tughyan's order, they stoked up a fire in the temple... Its flames spread around... The people gathered in the temple. Everybody was waiting for the sacrifice with anxiety.

The people mourned with sorrow when they saw Goncha. Nobody wanted the tribe's nightingale to stop singing... But...

Tughyan was afraid of being too late. He wanted to destroy Goncha at once... The lady that couldn't be his, should not be Samandar's either.

As for Goncha, she was holding her head high with pride. Everybody looked at her beauty as she stood there. Her thick black hair floated on her shoulders. She was staring far away as she bravely stood there. The thick dust raised by the morning breeze was clearing away, and it seemed to her that Samandar would appear in its place. "Oh, if only I could see him one last time... Then my untimely death would not worry me so much," whispered Goncha.

"Samandar isn't a traitor, people!" -she screamed suddenly.

"No, he can't be a traitor!"

"Let's wait..." -they all said.

But Tughyan quickly read a poem honoring the fire. He entreated God to save the people and their brave sons.

The fire got its sacrifice.

Goncha was burning...

First a dust cloud and then a rider galloped ferociously towards the tribe from the road that Goncha had been looking at with longing earlier. It was Samandar...

His Goncha was burning.

"Samandar, my love!.."

"I'm coming, Goncha!.."

The brave man arrived. He jumped off his horse and ran towards his beloved. People held him back. They didn't let him get close to the holy fire.

Goncha was burning...

Suddenly Samandar broke free from the arms that were holding him and began circling around the fire trying to do something... He wailed with sorrow and they started shrinking to become as small as a little moth... He began to fly...

Goncha was burning...

The moth wailed and began to fly around the flames, casting itself into the flames...

The tongues of flame singed its wings.

Tughyan froze with astonishment.

Upon seeing this, the people understood the treason of the head of the tribe and raged with anger.

"The people's power is equal to that of the torrent"...[a proverb, meaning that if people are together they can accomplish great things; just like a torrent can be very strong]

The people of the tribe punished Tughyan with their own bare hands.

Goncha burned like a candle... And the moth was attracted to its lover in flame.

And since that day, every year on the first morning of spring, people build a fire in the square in memory of Samandar and Goncha... They dance the "moth dance..." and circle around the fire...

When the moth sees a fire or a lit candle, it comes immediately... and circles around it, remembering its beloved one.

So, my dear, that's why moths circle around the candle, throwing themselves into the flames and becoming consumed by the fire...

And grandmother became silent...

But the candle kept on burning...

Gulnar was getting drowsy, she was watching...

...And the moth was circling, circling around the candle's flame.

Translation from Azeri: Gulnar Aydamirova