I am with Kusme. We are headed east, further into northern Karhide. You’ve gone through all this trouble, Therem, to get south from north, and now you’re headed north again, I joke to myself. It’s not very funny, since we’re not headed back to the ice, though it would be very funny, in a miserable way, to quit the Orgota Gobrin ice for the Karhidish Pering ice and consider it an improvement, since all glaciers are, if never the same, still rather alike in their glacial quality. But we are headed no further north than Orsnoriner, and have been spared that irony. A little south of Orsnoriner, sits Kusme’s promised fastness, Kirremen fastness, atop Mt. Gyrste, the northernmost of the Kargav Mountains. A long time ago, when I was in school, I pictured the Kargav mountains as a backbone, and Horden Island as the person’s rump, falling off. Mt. Gyrste would be at the back of his neck.
Kusme assures me that Mt. Gyrste is no more than a very sheer hill, and despite the roads being closed, the climb up won’t be too steep. It is not called Gyrste Hill, but I must still trust him.
The nausea medicine we both take, he for his carsickness and I for my own reasons, is quite effective. I have had no complaints. A couple times, Kusme has suggested that soon I won't need it, since my first quarter is over and I am entering into the second one. I have no intention of testing his guess on the road, and have limited faith in my body’s ability to know what calendar day it is. I'm also taking iron, which is helping my health but isn't exactly settling my stomach.
I have also tried a drug for allergies I don’t have, likewise to prevent nausea. It seems to operate on the principle that sleeping men don’t sneeze, for it renders me sluggish and insensible across the backseat. The first and only time I took it, I woke up in the evening as we were entering Ovord Domain to reprovision. In my confusion, I saw a road sign behind us, which announced how many miles it was to Passerer, and misunderstood it as a sign saying we had entered Passerer.
It gave me a violent start. I thought, he has taken me south instead of north. I am already dead. I have misjudged him, or perhaps it’s true what they say, that even one who habitually does good must never be given the occasion to do otherwise. Half-asleep and in a dumb panic, I opened the window—perhaps hoping to climb out of it? I don’t recall my reasoning. It would have made more sense to open the door—and recognized the lights and Hearths of Ovord ahead of us. Then, satisfied as to my safety and with the window still open , I went directly back to sleep. I have not tried that drug again.
I regret distrusting Kusme again after that scene we made at Thessicher’s, even if privately, even if for a moment. Fear has its purposes, but I don’t want to be jumpy like this, like a creature afraid of the sound of its own feet. And here was a person going to the trouble of driving eight hundred and fifty miles because he believed in my innocence, and I had not yet fully accepted that we were on the same side. Perhaps this is how Genly felt at first, after I fished him out of the farm. This is, after all, a journey of a similar length, though I must note that it is far easier to take such a trip inside a vehicle, sheltered from the wind, and sitting down.
Ovord is a third of the way from Sassinoth to Orsnoriner, and took us only a day and some hours of driving. Our Kirremen can only be reached from Orsnoriner. We are taking the Sassinoth-Charuthe road. I say “we” since I am also driving, by turns. I am out of practice, but I have not made Kusme fear for his life once yet, and count that as a point of pride. It helps, also, that we are nearly alone on the road. Some landboats have passed us, but not more than six, and they did not seem to take an interest in us. We have stopped as little as possible, and have not yet had to change batteries.
During quiet stretches of the road, Kusme asks me,
“What are you thinking?”
I am thinking far too many things to explain. I am thinking that I may remain exiled, that Argaven may be too proud to eat the words of his decree. I am thinking, what in the world am I going to do with a baby? And then, what am I going to do, alone? What if I never see anyone I know again? What if I can never write to Sorve again? Perhaps I shall live out the rest of my days at Kirremen. Perhaps I shall become a fastness celibate as my former kemmering did when he left me, and have the child, and raise him among the Handdarata. Perhaps I will shed my shadow and name but tell him who we really are. How folkloric. I do not share any of these thoughts with Kusme. He is a cheerful person; I cannot bear to depress him.
“I miss Ai,” I admit instead. Not false, but not the greatest of my worries.
“A fine young person,” Kusme pronounces seriously. It nearly makes me laugh. Genly must be a few years older than him, at least. “I can tell you care for each other. He’ll be all right. It will all work out all right.”
If I had a fraction of Kusme’s confidence that it would all turn out right...
Kusme is correct about Genly being a fine person, and a young one. I think Genly meant every word he said to me that night in Kurkurast, when I let him all but vow kemmer to me. I think all that he said was true. But he is rather young, and people his age can be intense and swiftly changing. I do not know how long it will be true, but at least it is true now, and that matters most.
In the meantime, skies are clear, and we shall have a smooth drive to Orsnoriner.
“How are you feeling about being pregnant?” Kusme asks.
“Hmm,” I say. “Better now I’ve been able to eat properly. But also rather cold, cold all the time.” This is how Genly must feel, I think. Always cold.
“That’s not exactly what I’m asking,” says Kusme. “What are your plans? Medical question, you know, I’m not nosy.”
“You are, but nusuth,” I say. “If you must know, I’ve been very lonely for the past year.”
Kusme thinks about this.
“And are babies good company? I’ve never had one.”
“Oh sure. Great conversationalists too.”
So far, I have decided to keep carrying it. My reasoning is impossible to explain. I only know that it distresses me to let it go. I am sentimental in the same way I was twenty years ago.
I did not plan on Sorve and did not have to bear him. Indeed, it would have been no shame to me not to bear him. It is no shame to anyone to wish not to bear a child in regular circumstances, let alone mine twenty years ago. But I chose him, despite the circumstances, because he was mine and I wanted him. Arek and I would have had to separate whether Sorve had been born or not. It was already unlawful to conceive him, so why shouldn’t we keep him? Why shouldn’t Arek have the joy of our son to comfort him for losing me?
Perhaps I am foolish in my choice now, but I know I was not foolish in my choice then.
I have, of course, no child yet, only the beginnings of one, and it is still too soon to say whether he will stay long enough to be born. But if he does, he’s something to plan for and hope for, a bridge into the future to stop me from going staring mad. I know this is all a gamble, but the higher the stakes the better the gamble. It is like trying to ski past a fusillade; a fearsome risk, but ah, what sweet reward to any that survive. This gamble is at least less deadly.
Awful news! I’m not surprised. Nor am I happy, but I’m in elevated spirits nonetheless. A paradox. Kusme is wretched about this. He keeps apologizing. It is not his fault. We arrived at the foot of Mt. Gyrste only to find all the paths up it were closed. It was a hard winter, and the footpaths got too dangerous, as did the climbing paths. They are usually open by the end of Irrem, but they do not anticipate them being open till later into spring this year.
This was what we read on an entry-sign posted at the bottom of one of the paths up to Kirremen fastness.
“I’ve made a mistake,” Kusme said, sitting on a snowbank next to the car.
“Cheer up,” I told him, half singing. “I’ve made far many more mistakes.”
In fact, I was thinking, with sick glee, I have done nothing right, ever, in my life. I have been making mistakes since the day before I was born. Being born was the first one.
“I suppose by that, you mean to tell me that life goes on,” he sniffed, “that one grows past one’s errors.”
This returned me to my senses more than any rebuke could. I couldn’t say that to him, that I have done nothing right. He admires me and what I did. Stopping the forays, however temporarily, was not a mistake, and I could not call it one just because it got me exiled. It would have been a betrayal and an immature tantrum to take back what good I have done.
“Yes,” I answered soberly, “of course.”
Still, I cannot help but feel that if our plan has fallen through, then anything may happen, and may happen for the better. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but I feel alive again, like my luck will turn for the better. Perhaps I have indeed gone mad.
We are staying in Orsnoriner tonight.
I am writing this at the singular inn in Orsnoriner, which consists of the attic of a small hearth-hold. Kusme is staying in the kemmerhouse. He said his kemmers don’t tend to run long, so I should be seeing him in less than three days.
I have introduced myself with a new name. I hate to lie about my name, but I am finding that avoiding telling one’s name draws far more attention than giving a false one. The truth is out of the question. I will not put a helpless stranger in the terrible position of having to weigh his skin against mine.
In the meantime, while I wait for Kusme, I am helping rescue beans. Thavy have gotten into the cellar of this home, and have been getting at the dried food, so the members of the hearth have been tidying the cellar to find where the thavy dug in. Part of the tidying has entailed taking intact bags of beans from the cellar to the kitchen. No one has given me anything too heavy to carry, because they know exactly why I must be careful and exactly why I am liable to get tired fast.
It is still far too early to be showing around my middle, but my chest has begun to show, albeit subtly, and it aches to cross my arms. I did not want to come off as furtive, so I have told a couple of the hearthdwellers that I am in my second quarter rather than let them guess it for themselves. I have started wearing my hieb belt high, rather than around my waist, so it's no mystery to those I haven't told either.
“Oh, he’ll be a summer baby!” says one of the hearth cooks. I’m always inclined to like hearth cooks, since my father was one. This person’s hair is all white, wound in frizzy white braids like two long clouds, and one of his eyes is also white and clouded. He is called Mebur or Mevur, depending on who says it. Northerners don’t distinguish b and v. He thinks I am called Pesh.
“With any luck, yes,” I answer.
“Your first?” Mebur asks.
“Been a father, then,” Mebur guesses. “But now this is one of your own.”
“Been a father, yes.”
“Well, it’s pretty much the same, Pesh, except your back’ll hurt more,” he says, laughing a wheezy laugh under his breath. “Though I reckon you already know.”
I do. I remember from carrying Sorve, and I remember Ashe’s backaches both times, and how difficult it was for him to sleep once they got big enough to start elbowing and kicking. I wonder if Ashe hates me yet. I haven’t seen him since last Tuwa, nearly a year ago. I was harsh with him, to stop him from following me, and yet he still sent me the money that I used to buy our tent, sledge, and stove. God knows why; I did nothing to earn that kindness.
Music! Music to my ears. Listening to the radio this morning in the hearth kitchen, news came on about the alien envoy: Not a hoax after all! Found alive in Karhide, in Sassinoth, after crossing the Gobrin in winter! We will soon meet eleven others! No news to me, but it was a relief to hear it become public knowledge. A soundbite of Argaven has been played a couple times, in which he says, “we welcome the visitors from other worlds with open arms.”
Not a word from Harge rem ir Tibe, nor any mention of him. This interests me. Does he feel too disgraced to speak about the Envoy after spending a year declaring him a hoax? Probable. Disgraced enough to step down? Oh, I hope so. I hope he resigns. I do not think my exile was wholly Argaven’s idea. He trusted me, long ago. Someone else slipped the notion of treason into his thoughts, I am sure of it.
The reaction to the alien news, at least among this small Orsnoriner hearth, has been mixed. I’ve heard:
“Men from other worlds! And to think we’ve lived to see this.”
“Isn’t this old news? We already heard a couple years ago there were aliens.”
Mebur has asked my opinion, and I answered honestly:
“I’d like to meet them.”
Mebur nodded in approval.
“Aye, they must have seen all sorts of things, have a lot to tell.”
Still Onnetherhad Irrem, second entry
Got some time alone after sunset and, emboldened, called Ashe on the telephone here.
I am grateful I did not return to Orgoreyn. Karhide is not an organized nation, and the King’s City Guard does not have the means to surveill calls made so far from Ehrenrang. To call Ashe before I fled Karhide would have been to implicate him in my treason. To call Ashe from Orgoreyn would have been to put him into the Sarf’s sights. But now I am a non-person, and my name is not my name, and no one knows where I am, and where I am, no one knows me.
I nearly called the number of our old apartment in Ehrenrang, where neither of us has lived for the past four years. I had to call the operator instead, and ask to be put through to Orgny Fastness. To the indweller at Orgny Fastness that manned the telephone, I gave my name as Pesh, again (no need to invent more names), and asked to speak with Foreth rem ir Osboth.
He was astonished and relieved to hear from me, but kept calm on the telephone until he knew for sure he was in private. My trust in him was well-placed; he would not give me away.
I am not sure what I called Ashe for. I think to thank him and tell him I was alive. I think I wanted to hear a familiar voice. It is so lonely being Pesh instead of myself. It makes me more homesick than I ever was in another country.
Ashe said he figured I was involved in the Envoy’s return, but assumed I’d returned to Orgoreyn at best, and at worst feared I was dead. No one expected me to be in Karhide. Ashe said that as soon as he heard it announced that the Envoy was found alive in Sassinoth, he wondered how a person from a much warmer world had come to cross the Gobrin Ice for three whole months and survive.
“It’s impressive for someone of this world, let alone for an alien,” Ashe said.
“Risky, though, Therem,” he added, with a note of reproach, as if my shadow were still joined to his.
“It was, yes. There was nothing else for it, and no one else who would have helped me.”
“Come down to Orgny, won’t you?” he said softly, invitingly. “The Indwellers here like you. They would be glad to hide you. And I’ll ask my siblings to bring Ippe and Reden up from Osboth and we’ll all see each other again.”
It is a terrible thing to receive love like this and be unable to return it. I did not call to ask for Ashe’s help, and I did not want to use him, but I must have known somewhere in my heart that he would offer, and his offer tempted me. I missed him and I missed our children. To see the three of them again was more than I had dared wish for in months. But Ashe sounded nostalgic for our bygone times, and it would be far crueler to let him grow the hope of returning to our old ways, only to cut himself on it, than to uproot the hope before it took hold.
I told him I was pregnant. He went quiet on the line.
“It shouldn’t be a problem!” he said at last. “I meant— You’ve been here before. Mt. Orgny’s not too steep. You wouldn’t be walking up a mountain, just a small hill. I don’t see why it would be a problem.”
“I’m not that far along yet. Just starting the second quarter.”
“Okay! Good, that’s good, that’s better for walking, yes...”
Once more, he went quiet on the line.
“Ah,” he said at last. “Two months. The Envoy.”
“This is all so strange...”
I was sure could get his honest opinion now, bare of nostalgia, so I asked,
“Are you really sure I should come to Orgny? Outside the shadow, Ashe. You can tell me.”
Ashe sucked air through his teeth.
“I can’t tell for sure, but everyone here is favorable to you, and I think the situation does look better now. Argaven’s likelier to act right without that cousin of his pouring poison in his ear.”
Without that cousin of his pouring poison in his ear. Yes! Yes!
“Oh, that bodes well . Resigned or dismissed?”
“Only resigned, I’m afraid,” Ashe said cheerfully.
I smiled. “Oh only resigned, of course.”
“Yes! Small mercies, Therem, we take them where they fall.”
“This is wonderful!” I exclaimed. “How did you find out? It hasn’t been announced yet.”
“His successor is a cousin of mine on the Geger side, from Rer.” He sounded like he was grinning, pleased to be the one to tell me.
“That bodes very well. Do I know him?”
“Not sure. Maybe you’ve met in passing. A Weaver from Otherhord. He's been a councilor for some months now. He hasn’t gotten appointed yet, but people from the urban Fastness say it looks like it'll be him. You know how Indwellers talk.”
News travels rather quickly from fastness to fastness. Only those perched aloof on great, inaccessible heights are above gossip. Between all the other fastnesses, though, talk seeps with no direction, no orders. It is good that the Handdara are spread like mushroom colonies, with no single head. A faith in the hands of a state could be used for ill, like the Yomeshta in Orgoreyn, and I comfort myself in knowing it is far more difficult to nationalize a headless root network than a hierarchy, and we will never have (eugh) state temples.
So a councilor who was a Weaver is due to replace Tibe, but his appointment has not yet been publicly announced, and they know already in Orgny, and I know as well. I’ve sworn Ashe to secrecy about me until further notice. I don’t need every Adept alive to know my location. When I am ready, I will tell him, and he will convene a meeting among the Orgny Indwellers. I will not join him at Orgny unless the vote comes out unanimously for it, but I will travel south.
I am relieved beyond words, but still waiting on the news of my pardon, of the ship’s landing, and of our entry into the Ekumen. Only then will I exhale with complete ease.
If this does not happen, I can keep my head down and avoid bigger towns, and I might get to Stok, where I have old friends. This can be done. I think I’m going to make it. I will gamble on these stakes.
Kusme is back from the kemmerhouse, but all tuckered out. He came back to the “inn” at noon and immediately went to sleep. There was no waking him for dinner or supper. The members of this hearth-hold cracked jokes about his exhaustion, exaggerating how long he’ll have to sleep. There’s not a single adult among us who hasn’t been there at some point, too. If he had paced himself in the kemmerhouse, we’d be ready to get back on the road now, but I don’t blame him. He is under tremendous stress.
I realized today that I forgot to take the nausea medicine. I didn’t realize till late in the evening because I have been feeling fine all day. Perhaps it is because I haven’t been in the car, or perhaps Kusme was right about the second quarter being gentler. It may also be because I’ve been eating better. Mebur, winking his clouded eye at me, has been slipping extra servings of meat and fried kyossatha root into my stew. I’ve also found three hot rolls of sweet pink shorynut bread tucked into my front hieb pocket, presumably by sleight of hand. When I thanked him for the kind gift, he feigned ignorance.
I’m glad, as glad as possible, that I stayed in Karhide.
I shall miss Mebur. He’s a storyteller too, and has been telling me about funny things that happened to friends of his, and telling older hearthtales, some of which I recognize, about people turning into animals and back again. The innovative part is that he tells the latter as though they were the former and the former in the register of the latter. So I hear, (and I’m paraphrasing,)
“And when Nisseren of Orsnoriner beheld his carrybag/ he hearkened back to that very dawn/ when in the faint golden glow of morning/ he packed the wrong set of keys./ And thus came he once more to be locked out of his tractor.”
As well as,
“So there’s Agut walking on the frozen edge of the pond the other day, yes? And he’s starting to feel the ice under his feet. So he says to himself, he says, must’ve worn through my soles, and he goes to check, and what do you know, it’s not feet anymore he’s looking at. They’re fins, they are, and so’re the hands now. So he knows right away he’s got to get into the water…”
Mebur insists his tellings are just an elaborate joke. I think he should record some of them on tape, but he claims to have no patience for tape recorders, and he doubts tape recorders will have any patience for his “crazy old man ramblings.”
The other people here don’t seem to pay attention to Mebur, except his kemmering-son, who is devoted to his father and visits when he can, but lives in another hearth-hold and is outdoors most of the time running Orsnoriner’s singular roadpacker. Mebur’s own physical son doesn’t care for his mother’s company. When this son was in the kitchens with us, taking inventory of what we all were able to rescue from the thavy-infested cellar (almost everything, and the entry-holes were found and sealed up), he dodged all of Mebur’s attempts to make conversation.
“Look,” he said, exasperated, tapping his pen on the table and peering over the rim of his bifocals, “will you just tell me how many pounds of dry fruit we still have?”
I understand wanting to get the work done, but I don’t understand the haste.
When I am pardoned by the king, if I am pardoned by the king , I shall send a letter and a gift of thanks to this hearth-hold under my real name, and I shall address it to Mebur’s son and have him read it to him.
It is a big if, but it is looking more probable...
Kusme back on his feet, praise be creation unfinished. We are once again on the road, and the car’s batteries are fully recharged. I was too quick to say that the nausea was over, and had to take medicine again. Kusme has now started saying that it’s the third quarter, not the second, that’s the easiest. I’m sure he read this in a book. He means well.
We are not headed back to Sassinoth, since I expect people from the palace will have come to fetch Genly, and may still be around. Kusme worries his superiors at the hospital will be upset with his extended absence. I have joked that I will write him a note. (In Orgoreyn, workers must provide a note from a physician to prove that they are taking a day off due to illness. Appalling.)
I owe him far more than a note. He planned for a much shorter drive.
“I am grateful to you, you know,” I told him. “I bear a deep debt to you that may well never be repaid.”
We spoke then, at length, about what he wanted, about what his dreams were. He'd like to meet the aliens too, he said. Not to study them like odd fish, but to speak and listen to them. It’s an important distinction. That can be arranged, I told him. Yes. I believe it can be arranged.