Read The Left Hand of Darkness including Le Guin’s Introduction. & Anwser both of the questions below on separate sheet of paper using only the book as your referenced. I have attach a copy of the book in pdf form below.
15. Identify and classify the major conflicts of the plot, identify the climax, and demonstrate which of the conflicts are resolved in it (this task will require bringing the plot threads together and paying especial attention to the Conditions of Victory). Identify this also—->>>>>Conflict (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself; also who wins and how), Characterization as it reflects the conflict (Protagonist and Antagonist), Settings (where and when the fights take place), Point of View (Is the narrator a party to the conflict?), and Theme (What’s the fight all about?
16. Evaluate the need for Chapter 7 in the novel. Identify its relationships to and effect upon the elements. 200 Words
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K.Leguin The Ekumen 04 WINNER OF THE HUGO AWARD AND THE NEBULA AWARD FOR BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL OF THE YEAR 1969
URSULA KROEBER LE GUIN, daughter of A. L. Kroeber (anthropologist) and Theodora Kroeber (author), was born inBerkeley,California in 1929. She attended college at Radcliffe andColumbia , and married C. A. LeGuin inParis in 1951. The LeGuins and their three children live inPortland,Oregon .
Ursula LeGuin’s previous novels include ROCANNON’S WORLD, PLANET OF EXILE and CITY OF ILLUSIONS, and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, all published by Ace Books. Like THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, each novel is complete in itself, but they are all part of a greater, growing mosaic of far-future history that is consistent from novel to novel.
NOTE:This universe is now known asThe Ekumen, andThe Left Hand of Darknessnow can be listed asThe Ekumen 04 —formatting updated, missing pages scanned and restored, the whole compared to the 14th ACE print run of June, 1977 by MollyKate for #bookz,October 26, 2002
With the awarding of the 1975 Hugo and Nebula awards to The Dispossessed [The Ekumen 05], Ursula K. Le Guin became the first author to win both awardstwice for novels.
A Division of Charter Communications Inc.
Avenue of theAmericas
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
Copyright ©1969, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction Copyright © 1976, by Ursula K. Le Guin
An Ace Book. All Rights Reserved.
Dedication: For Charles,sine quo non</
Introduction – added in 1976 1. A Parade in Erhenrang 2. The Place Inside the Blizzard 3. The Mad King 4. The Nineteenth Day 5. The Domestication of Hunch 6. One Way into Orgoreyn 7. The Question of Sex 8. Another Way into Orgoreyn 9. Estraven the Traitor 10. Conversations in Mishnory 11. Soliloquies in Mishnory 12. On Time and Darkness 13. Down on the Farm 14. The Escape 15. To the Ice 16. Between Drumner and Dremegole 17. An Orgota Creation Myth 18. On the Ice 19. Homecoming 20. A Fool’s Errand
The Gethenian Calendar and Clock
Science fiction isoften described, and even defined, as extrapolative. The science fiction writer is supposed to take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future. “If this goes on, this is what will happen.” A prediction is made. Method and results much resemble those of a scientist who feeds large doses of a purified and concentrated food additive to mice, in order to predict what may happen to people who eat it in small quantities for a long time. The outcome seems almost inevitably to be cancer. So does the outcome of extrapolation. Strictly extrapolative works of science fiction generally arrive about where the Club ofRomearrives: somewhere between the gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life.
This may explain why many people who do not read science fiction describe it as ‘escapist,’ but when questioned further, admit they do not read it because ‘it’s so depressing.’
Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not carcinogenic.
Fortunately, though extrapolation is an element in science fiction, it isn’t the name of the game by any means. It is far too rationalist and simplistic to satisfy the imaginative mind, whether the writer’s or the reader’s. Variables are the spice of life.
This book is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it, and a lot of other science fiction, as a thought-experiment. Let’s say (says Mary Shelley) that a young doctor creates a human being in his laboratory; let’s say (says Philip K. Dick) that the Allies lost the second world war; let’s say this or that is such and so, and see what happens… In a story so conceived, the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed, nor is there any built-in dead end; thought and intuition can move freely within bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed.
The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrodinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future—indeed Schrodinger’s most famous thought-experiment goes to show that the ‘future,’ on the quantum level,cannot be predicted—but to describe reality, the present world.
Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.
Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge); by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets); and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.
The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like. I don’t recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information. It’s none of their business. All they’re trying to do is tell you what they’re like, and what you’re like—what’s going on—what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don’t tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent in telling lies.
“The truth against the world!”—Yes. Certainly. Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!
They may use all kinds of facts to support their tissue of lies. They may describe the Marshalsea Prison, which was a real place, or the battle of Borodino, which really was fought, or the process of cloning, which really takes place in laboratories, or the deterioration of a personality, which is described in real textbooks of psychology; and so on. This weight of verifiable place-event-phenomenon-behavior makes the reader forget that he is reading a pure invention, a history that never took place anywhere but in that unlocalisable region, the author’s mind. In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle ofBorodinowith
them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.
Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?
But our society, being troubled and bewildered, seeking guidance, sometimes puts an entirely mistaken trust in its artists, using them as prophets and futurologists.
I do not say that artists cannot be seers, inspired: that theawen cannot come upon them, and the god speak through them. Who would be an artist if they did not believe that that happens? if they did notknow it happens, because, they have felt the god within them use their tongue, their hands? Maybe only once, once in their lives. But once is enough.
Nor would I say that the artist alone is so burdened and so privileged. The scientist is another who prepares, who makes ready, working day and night, sleeping and awake, for inspiration. As Pythagoras knew, the god may speak in the forms of geometry as well as in the shapes of dreams; in the harmony of pure thought as well as in the harmony of sounds; in numbers as well as in words.
But it is words that make the trouble and confusion. We are asked now to consider words as useful in only one way: as signs. Our philosophers, some of them, would have us agree that a word (sentence, statement) has value only in so far as it has one single meaning, points to one fact which is comprehensible to the rational intellect, logically sound, and—ideally—quantifiable.
Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number—Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don’t look straight at the sun. Go into a dark bar for a bit and have a beer with Dionysios, every now and then.
I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.
Oh, it’s lovely to be invited to participate in Futurological Congresses where Systems Science displays its grand apocalyptic graphs, to be asked to tell the newspapers what America will be like in 2001, and all that, but it’s a terrible mistake. I write science fiction, and science fiction isn’t about the future. I don’t know any more about the future than you do, and very likely less.
This book is not about the future. Yes, it begins by annnouncing that it’s set in the ‘Ekumenical Year 1490-97,’ but surely you don’tbelieve that?
Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous, or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous. I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are. I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing. I am describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist’s way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies.
In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find—if it’s a good novel—that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that
we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard tosay just what we learned, how we were changed.
The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.
The artist whose medium is fiction does thisin words . The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.
Words can be used thus paradoxically because they have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or metaphoric usage. (They also have a sound—a fact the linguistic positivists take no interest in. A sentence or paragraph is like a chord or harmonic sequence in music: its meaning may be more clearly understood by the attentive ear, even though it is read in silence, than by the attentive intellect).
All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life—science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The future, in fiction, is a metaphor.
A metaphor for what?
If I could have said it non-metaphorically, I would not have written all these words, this novel; and Genly Ai would never have sat down at my desk and used up my ink and typewriter ribbon in informing me, and you, rather solemnly, that the truth is a matter of the imagination.
—Ursula K. Le Guin
1. A Parade in Erhenrang
From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, FirstMobileon Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.
I’ll make my reportas if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them are false, and it is all one story.
It starts on the 44th diurnal of the Year 1491, which on the planet Winter in the nation Karhide was Odhar-hahad Tuwa or the twenty-second day of the third month of spring in the Year One. It is always the Year One here. Only the dating of every past and future year changes each
New Year’s Day, as one counts backwards or forwards from the unitary Now. So it was spring of the Year One in Erhenrang, capital city ofKarhide, and I was in peril of my life, and did not know it.
I was in a parade. I walked just behind the gossiwors and just before the king. It was raining.
Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly. First come merchants, potentates, and artisans of the City Erhenrang, rank after rank, magnificently clothed, advancing through the rain as comfortably as fish through the sea. Their faces are keen and calm. They do not march in step. This is a parade with no soldiers, not even imitation soldiers.
Next come the lords and mayors and representatives, one person, or five, or forty-five, or four hundred, from each Domain and Co-Domain of Karhide, a vast ornate procession that moves to the music of metal horns and hollow blocks of bone and wood and the dry, pure lilting of electric flutes. The various banners of the great Domains tangle in a rain-beaten confusion of color with the yellow pennants that bedeck the way, and the various musics of each group clash and interweave in many rhythms echoing in the deep stone street.
Next, a troop of jugglers with polished spheres of gold which they hurl up high in flashing flights, and catch, and hurl again, making fountain-jets of bright jugglery. All at once, as if they had literally caught the light, the gold spheres blaze bright as glass: the sun is breaking through.
Next, forty men in yellow, playing gossiwors. The gossiwor, played only in the king’s presence, produces a preposterous disconsolate bellow. Forty of them played together shake one’s reason, shake the towers of Erhenrang, shake down a last spatter of rain from the windy clouds. If this is the Royal Music no wonder the kings of Karhide are all mad.
Next, the royal party, guards and functionaries and dignitaries of the city and the court, deputies, senators, chancellors, ambassadors, lords of the Kingdom, none of them keeping step or rank yet walking with great dignity; and among them is King Argaven XV, in white tunic and shirt and breeches, with leggings of saffron leather and a peaked yellow cap. A gold finger-ring is his only adornment and sign of office. Behind this group eight sturdy fellows bear the royal litter, rough with yellow sapphires, in which no king has ridden for centuries, a ceremonial relic of the Very-Long-Ago. By the litter walk eight guards armed with “foray guns,” also relics of a more barbaric past but not empty ones, being loaded with pellets of soft iron. Death walks behind the king. Behind death come the students of the Artisan Schools, the Colleges, the Trades, and the King’s Hearths, long lines of children and young people in white and red and gold and green; and finally a number of soft-running, slow, dark cars end the parade.
The royal party, myself among them, gather on a platform of new timbers beside the unfinished Arch of the River Gate. The occasion of the parade is the completion of that arch, which completes the new Road and River Port of Erhenrang, a great operation of dredging and building and roadmaking which has taken five years, and will distinguish Argaven XV’s reign in the annals of Karhide. We are all squeezed rather tight on the platform in our damp and massive finery. The rain is gone, the sun shines on us, the splendid, radiant, traitorous sun of Winter. I remark to the person on my left, “It’s hot. It’s really hot.”
The person on my left-a stocky dark Karhider with sleek and heavy hair, wearing a heavy overtunic of green leather worked with gold, and a heavy white shirt, and heavy breeches, and
a neck-chain of heavy silver links a hand broad-this person, sweating heavily, replies, “So it is.”
All about us as we stand jammed on our platform lie the faces of the people of the city, upturned like a shoal of brown, round pebbles, mica-glittering with thousands of watching eyes.
Now the king ascends a gangplank of raw timbers that leads from the platform up to the top of the arch whose unjoined piers tower over crowd and wharves and river. As he mounts the crowd stirs and speaks in a vast murmur: “Argaven!” He makes no response. They expect none. Gossiwors blow a thunderous discordant blast, cease. Silence. The sun shines on city, river, crowd, and king. Masons below have set an electric winch going, and as the king mounts higher the keystone of the arch goes up past him in its sling, is raised, settled, and fitted almost soundlessly, great ton-weight block though it is, into the gap between the two piers, making them one, one thing, an arch. A mason with trowel and bucket awaits the king, up on the scaffolding; all the other workmen descend by rope ladders, like a swarm of fleas. The king and the mason kneel, high between the river and the sun, on their bit of planking. Taking the trowel the king begins to mortar the long joints of the keystone. He does not dab at it and give the trowel back to the mason, but sets to work methodically. The cement he uses is a pinkish color different from the rest of the mortarwork, and after five or ten minutes of watching the king-bee work I ask the person on my left, “Are your keystones always set in a red cement?” For the same color is plain around the keystone of each arch of theOldBridge, that soars beautifully over the river upstream from the arch.
Wiping sweat from his dark forehead theman-man I must say, having saidhe andhis— the man answers, “Very-long-ago a keystone was always set in with a mortar of ground bones mixed with blood. Human bones, human blood. Without the bloodbond the arch would fall, you see. We use the blood of animals, these days.”
So he often speaks, frank yet cautious, ironic, as if always aware that I see and judge as an alien: a singular awareness in one of so isolate a race and so high a rank. He is one of the most powerful men in the country; I am not sure of the proper historical equivalent of his position, vizier or prime minister or councillor; the Karhidish word for it means the King’s Ear. He is lord of a Domain and lord of the Kingdom, a mover of great events. His name is Therem Harth rem ir Estraven.
The king seems to be finished with his masonry work, and I rejoice; but crossing under the rise of the arch on his spiderweb of planks he starts in on the other side of the keystone, which after all has two sides. It doesn’t do to be impatient in Karhide. They are anything but a phlegmatic people, yet they are obdurate, they are pertinacious, they finish plastering joints. The crowds on the Sess Embankment are content to watch the king work, but I am bored, and hot. I have never before been hot, on Winter; I never will be again; yet I fail to appreciate the event. I am dressed for the Ice Age and not for the sunshine, in layers and layers of clothing, woven plant-fiber, artificial fiber, fur, leather, a massive armor against the cold, within which I now wilt like a radish leaf. For distraction I look at the crowds and the other paraders drawn up around the platform, their Domain and Clan banners hanging still and bright in sunlight, and idly I ask Estraven what this banner is and that one and the other. He knows each one I ask about, though there are hundreds, some from remote domains, hearths and tribelets of the Pering Storm-border andKermLand.
“I’m fromKermLandmyself,” he says when I admire his knowledge. “Anyhow it’s my business to know the Domains. They are Karhide. To govern this land is to govern its lords. Not that it’s
ever been done. Do.you know the saying,Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel? ” I haven’t, and suspect that Estraven made it up; it has his stamp.
At this point another member of thekyorremy , the upper chamber or parliament which Estraven heads, pushes and squeezes a way up close to him and begins talking to him. This is the king’s cousin Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe. His voice is very low as he speaks to Estraven, his posture faintly insolent, his smile frequent. Estraven, sweating like ice in the sun, stays slick and cold as ice, answering Tibe’s murmurs aloud in a tone whose commonplace politeness makes the other look rather a fool. I listen, as I watch the king grouting away, but understand nothing except the animosity between Tibe and Estraven. It’s nothing to do with me, in any case, and I am simply interested in the behavior of these people who rule a nation, in the old-fashioned sense, who govern the fortunes of twenty million other people. Power has become so subtle and complex a thing in the ways taken by the Ekumen that only a subtle mind can watch it work; here it is still limited, still visible. In Estraven, for instance, one feels the man’s power as an augmentation of his character; he cannot make an empty gesture or say a word that is not listened to. He knows it, and the knowledge gives him more reality than most people own: a solidness of being, a substantiality, a human grandeur. Nothing succeeds like success. I don’t trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don’t like him; yet I feel and respond to his authority as surely as I do to the warmth of the sun.
Even as I think this the world’s sun dims between clouds regathering, and soon a flaw of rain runs sparse and hard upriver, spattering the crowds on the Embankment, darkening the sky. As the king comes down the gangplank the light breaks through a last time, and his white figure and the great arch stand out a moment vivid and splendid against the storm-darkened south. The clouds close. A cold wind comes tearing upPort-and-Palace Street, the river goes gray, the trees on the Embankment shudder. The parade is over. Half an hour later it is snowing.
As the king’s car drove off upPort-and-Palace Streetand the crowds began to move like a rocky shingle rolled by a slow tide, Estraven turned to me again and said, “Will you have supper with me tonight, Mr. Ai?” I accepted, with more surprise than pleasure. Estraven had done a great deal for me in the last six or eight months, but I did not expect or desire such a show of personal favor as an invitation to his house. Harge rem ir Tibe was still close to us, overhearing, and I felt that he was meant to overhear. Annoyed by this sense of effeminate intrigue I got off the platform and lost myself in the mob, crouching and slouching somewhat to do so. I’m not much taller than the Gethenian norm, but the difference is most noticeable in a crowd.That’s him, look, there’s the Envoy. Of course that was part of my job, but it was a part that got harder not easier as time went on; more and more often I longed for anonymity, for sameness. I craved to be like everybody else.
A couple of blocks up Breweries Street I turned off towards my lodgings and suddenly, there where the crowd thinned out, found Tibe walking beside me.
“A flawless event,” said the king’s cousin, smiling at me. His long, clean, yellow teeth appeared and disappeared in a yellow face all webbed, though he was not an old man, with fine, soft wrinkles.
“A good augury for the success of the new Port,” I said.
“Yes indeed.” More teeth.
“The ceremony of the keystone is most impressive—”
“Yes indeed. That ceremony descends to us from very-long-ago. But no doubt Lord Estraven explained all that to you.”
“Lord Estraven is most obliging.” I was trying to speak insipidly, yet everything I said to Tibe seemed to take on a double meaning.
“Oh very much indeed,” said Tibe. “Indeed Lord Estraven is famous for his kindness to foreigners.” He smiled again, and every tooth seemed to have a meaning, double, multiple, thirty-two different meanings.
“Few foreigners are so foreign as I, Lord Tibe. I am very grateful for kindnesses.”
“Yes indeed, yes indeed! And gratitude’s a noble, rare emotion, much praised by the poets. Rare above all here in Erhenrang, no doubt because it’s impracticable. This is a hard age we live in, an ungrateful age. Things aren’t as they were in our grandparents’ days, are they?”
“I scarcely know, sir, but I’ve heard the same lament on other worlds.”
Tibe stared at me for some while as if establishing lunacy. Then he brought out the long yellow teeth.
“Ah yes! Yes indeed! I keep forgetting that you come from another planet. But of course that’s not a matter you ever forget. Though no doubt life would be much sounder and simpler and safer for you here in Erhenrang if you could forget it, eh? Yes indeed! Here’s my car, I had it wait here out of the way. I’d like to offer to drive you to your island, but must forego the privilege, as I’m due at the King’s House very shortly and poor relations must be in good time, as the saying is, eh? Yes indeed!” said the king’s cousin, climbing into his little black electric car, teeth bared across his shoulder at me, eyes veiled by a net of wrinkles.
I walked on home to my island. Its front garden was revealed now that the last of the winter’s snow had melted and the winter-doors, ten feet aboveground, were sealed off for a few months, till the autumn and the deep snow should return. Around at the side of the building in the mud and the ice and the quick, soft, rank spring growth of the garden, a young couple stood talking. Their right hands were clasped. They were in the first phase of kemmer. The large, soft snow danced about them as they stood barefoot in the icy mud, hands clasped, eyes all for each other. Spring on Winter.
I had dinner at my island and at Fourth Hour striking on the gongs ofRemnyTowerI was at the Palace.
*Karhosh, island,the usual word for the apartment-boardinghouse buildings that house the greatest part of the urban populations of Karhide. Islands contain 20 to 200 private rooms; meals are communal; some are run as hotels, others as cooperative communes, others combine these types. They are certainly an urban adaptation of the fundamental Karhidish institution of the Hearth, though lacking, of course, the topical and genealogical stability of the Hearth ready for supper. Karhiders eat four solid meals a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, along with a lot of adventitious nibbling and gobbling in between. There are no large meat-animals on Winter, and no mammalian products, milk, butter or cheese; the only high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods are the various kinds of eggs, fish, nuts, and the Hainish grains. A lowgrade diet for a bitter climate, and one must refuel often. I had got used to eating, as it
seemed, every few minutes. It wasn’t until later in that year that I discovered the Gethenians have perfected the technique not only of perpetually stuffing, but also of indefinitely starving.
The snow still fell, a mild spring blizzard, much pleasanter than the relentless rain of the Thaw just past. I made my way to and through the Palace in the quiet and pale darkness of snowfall, losing my way only once. ThePalaceofErhenrangis an inner city, a walled wilderness of palaces, towers, gardens, courtyards, cloisters, roofed bridgeways, roofless tunnel-walks, small forests and dungeon-keeps, the product of centuries of paranoia on a grand scale. Over it all rise the grim, red, elaborate walls of the Royal House, which though in perpetual use is inhabited by no one beside the king himself. Everyone else, servants, staff, lords, ministers, parliamentarians, guards or whatever, sleeps in another palace or fort or keep or barracks or house inside the walls. Estraven’s house, sign of the king’s high favor, was the Corner Red Dwelling, built 440 years ago for Harmes, beloved kemmering of Emran III, whose beauty is still celebrated, and who was abducted, mutilated, and rendered imbecile by hirelings of the Inner-land Faction. Emran III died forty years after, still wreaking vengeance on his unhappy country: Emran the Illfated. The tragedy is so old that its horror has leached away and only a certain air of faithlessness and melancholy clings to the stones and shadows of the house. The garden was small and walled; serem-trees leaned over a rocky pool. In dim shafts of light from the windows of the house I saw snowflakes and the threadlike white sporecases of the trees falling softly together onto the dark water. Estraven stood waiting for me, bareheaded and coatless in the cold, watching that small secret ceaseless descent of snow and seeds in the night. He greeted me quietly and brought me into the house. There were no other guests.
I wondered at this, but we went to table at once, and one does not talk business while eating; besides, my wonder was diverted to the meal, which was superb, even the eternal breadapples transmuted by a cook whose art I heartily praised. After supper, by the fire, we drank hot beer. On a world where a common table implement is a little device with which you crack the ice that has formed on your drink between drafts, hot beer is a thing you come to appreciate.
Estraven had conversed amiably at table; now, sitting across the hearth from me, he was quiet. Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own. Thus as I sipped my smoking sour beer I thought that at table Estraven’s performance had been womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit. Was it in fact perhaps this soft supple femininity that I disliked and distrusted in him? For it was impossible to think of him as a woman, that dark, ironic, powerful presence near me in the firelit darkness, and yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture: in him, or in my own attitude towards him? His voice was soft and rather resonant but not deep, scarcely a man’s voice, but scarcely a woman’s voice either…but what was it saying?
“I’m sorry,” he was saying, “that I’ve had to forestall for so long this pleasure of having you in my house; and to that extent at least I’m glad there is no longer any question of patronage between us.”
I puzzled at this a while. He had certainly been my patron in court until now. Did he mean that the audience he had arranged for me with the king tomorrow had raised me to an equality with himself? “I don’t think I follow you,” I said.
At that, he was silent, evidently also puzzled. “Well, you understand,” he said at last, “being
here… you understand that I am no longer acting on your behalf with the king, of course.”
He spoke as if ashamed of me, not of himself. Clearly there was a significance in his invitation and my acceptance of it which I had missed. But my blunder was in manners, his in morals. All I thought at first was that I had been right all along not to trust Estraven. He was not merely adroit and not merely powerful, he was faithless. All these months in Erhenrang it had been he who listened to me, who answered my questions, sent physicians and engineers to verify the alienness of my physique and my ship, introduced me to people I needed to know, and gradually elevated me from my first year’s status as a highly imaginative monster to my present recognition as the mysterious Envoy, about to be received by the king. Now, having got me up on that dangerous eminence, he suddenly and coolly announced he was withdrawing his support.
“You’ve led me to rely on you—”
“It was ill done.”
“Do you mean that, having arranged this audience, you haven’t spoken in favor of my mission to the king, as you—” I had the sense to stop short of “promised.”
I was very angry, but I met neither anger nor apology in him.
“Will you tell me why?”
After a while he said, “Yes,” and then paused again. During the pause I began to think that an inept and undefended alien should not demand reasons from the prime minister of a kingdom, above all when he does not and perhaps never will understand the foundations of power and the workings of government in that kingdom. No doubt this was all a matter ofshifgrethor— prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority in Karhide and all civilizations of Gethen. And if it was I would not understand it.
“Did you hear what the king said to me at the ceremony today?”
Estraven leaned forward across the hearth, lifted the beer-jug out of the hot ashes, and refilled my tankard. He said nothing more, so I amplified, “The king didn’t speak to you in my hearing.”
“Nor in mine,” said he.
I saw at last that I was missing another signal. Damning his effeminate deviousness, I said, “Are you trying to tell me, Lord Estraven, that you’re out of favor with the king?”
I think he was angry then, but he said nothing that showed it, only, “I’m not trying to tell you anything, Mr. Ai.”
“By God, I wish you would!”
He looked at me curiously. “Well, then, put it this way. There are some persons in court who are, in your phrase, in favor with the king, but who do not favor your presence or your mission here.”
And so you’re hurrying to join them, selling me out to save your skin, I thought, but there was no point in saying it. Estraven was a courtier, a politician, and I a fool to have trusted him. Even in a bisexual society the politician is very often something less than an integral man. His inviting me to dinner showed that he thought I would accept his betrayal as easily as he committed it. Clearly face-saving was more important than honesty. So I brought myself to say, “I’m sorry that your kindness to me has made trouble for you.” Coals of fire. I enjoyed a flitting sense of moral superiority, but not for long; he was too incalculable.
He sat back so that the firelight lay ruddy on his knees and his fine, strong, small hands and on the silver tankard he held, but left his face in shadow: a dark face always shadowed by the thick lowgrowing hair, and heavy brows and lashes, and by a somber blandness of expression. Can one read a cat’s face, a seal’s, an otter’s? Some Gethenians, I thought, are like such animals, with deep bright eyes that do not change expression when you speak.
“I’ve made trouble for myself,” he answered, “by an act that had nothing to do with you, Mr. Ai. You know that Karhide and Orgoreyn have a dispute concerning a stretch of our border in the high North Fall near Sassinoth. Argaven’s grandfather claimed the Sinoth Valley for Karhide, and the Commensals have never recognized the claim. A lot of snow out of one cloud, and it grows thicker. I’ve been helping some Karhidish farmers who live in the Valley to move back east across the old border, thinking the argument might settle itself if the Valley were simply left to the Orgota, who have lived there for several thousand years. I was in the Administration of the North Fall some years ago, and got to know some of those farmers. I dislike the thought of their being killed in forays, or sent to Voluntary Farms in Orgoreyn. Why not obviate the subject of dispute?…But that’s not a patriotic idea. In fact it’s a cowardly one, and impugns the shifgrethor of the king himself.”
His ironies, and these ins and outs of a border-dispute with Orgoreyn, were of no interest to me. I returned to the matter that lay between us. Trust him or not, I might still get some use out of him. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but it seems a pity that this question of a few farmers may be allowed to spoil the chances of my mission with the king. There’s more at stake than a few miles of national boundary.”
“Yes. Much more. But perhaps the Ekumen, which is a hundred light-years from border to border, will be patient with us a while.”
“The Stabiles of the Ekumen are very patient men, sir. They’ll wait a hundred years or five hundred for Karhide and the rest of Gethen to deliberate and consider whether or not to join the rest of mankind. I speak merely out of personal hope. And personal disappointment. I own that I thought that with your support—”
“I too. Well, the Glaciers didn’t freeze overnight…” Cliché came ready to his lips, but his mind was elsewhere. He brooded. I imagined him moving me around with the other pawns in his power-game. “You came to my country,” he said at last, “at a strange time. Things are changing; we are taking a new turning. No, not so much that, as following too far on the way we’ve been going. I thought that your presence, your mission, might prevent our going wrong, give us a new option entirely.
“But at the right moment–in the right place. It is all exceedingly chancy, Mr. Ai.”
Impatient with his generalities, I said, “You imply that this isn’t the right moment. Would you advise me to cancel my audience?”
My gaffe was even worse in Karhidish, but Estraven did not smile, or wince. “I’m afraid only the king has that privilege,” he said mildly.
“Oh God, yes. I didn’t mean that.” I put my head in my hands a moment. Brought up in the wide-open, free-wheeling society of Earth, I would never master the protocol, or the impassivity, so valued by Karhiders. I knew what a king was, Earth’s own history is full of them, but I had no experiential feel for privilege—no tact. I picked up my tankard and drank a hot and violent draft. “Well, I’ll say less to the king than I intended to say, when I could count on you.”
“Why good?” I demanded.
“Well, Mr. Ai, you’re not insane. I’m not insane. But then neither of us is a king, you see… I suppose that you intended to tell Argaven, rationally, that your mission here is to attempt to bring about an alliance between Gethen and the Ekumen. And, rationally, he knows that already; because, as you know, I told him. I urged your case with him, tried to interest him in you. It was ill done, ill timed. I forgot, being too interested myself, that he’s a king, and does not see things rationally, but as a king. All I’ve told him means to him simply that his power is threatened, his kingdom is a dustmote in space, his kingship is a joke to men who rule a hundred worlds.”
“But the Ekumen doesn’t rule, it co-ordinates. Its power is precisely the power of its member states and worlds. In alliance with the Ekumen, Karhide will become infinitely less threatened and more important than it’s ever been.”
Estraven did not answer for a while. He sat gazing at the fire, whose flames winked, reflected, from his tankard and from the broad bright silver chain of office over his shoulders. The old house was silent around us. There had been a servant to attend our meal, but Karhiders, having no institutions of slavery or personal bondage, hire services not people, and the servants had all gone off to their own homes by now. Such a man as Estraven must have guards about him somewhere, for assassination is a lively institution in Karhide, but I had seen no guard, heard none. We were alone.
I was alone, with a stranger, inside the walls of a dark palace, in a strange snow-changed city, in the heart of the Ice Age of an alien world.
Everything I had said, tonight and ever since I came to Winter, suddenly appeared to me as both stupid and incredible. How could I expect this man or any other to believe my tales about other worlds, other races, a vague benevolent government somewhere off in outer space? It was all nonsense. I had appeared in Karhide in a queer kind of ship, and I differed physically from Gethenians in some respects; that wanted explaining. But my own explanations were preposterous. I did not, in that moment, believe them myself… “Ibelieve you,” said the stranger, the alien alone with me, and so strong had my access of self-alienation been that I looked up at him bewildered. “I’m afraid that Argaven also believes you. But he does not trust
you. In part because he no longer trusts me. I have made mistakes, been careless. I cannot ask for your trust any longer, either, having put you in jeopardy. I forgot what a king is, forgot that the king in his own eyesis Karhide, forgot what patriotism is and that he is, of necessity, the perfect patriot. Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?”
“No,” I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean the love of one’s homeland, for that I do know.”
“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We’ve followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I’m talking about, who show us the new road—” He broke off. After a while he went on, in control again, cool and polite: “It’s because of fear that I refuse to urge your cause with the king, now. But not fear for myself, Mr. Ai. I’m not acting patriotically. There are, after all, other nations on Gethen.”
I had no idea what he was driving at, but was sure that he did not mean what he seemed to mean. Of all the dark, obstructive, enigmatic souls I had met in this bleak city, his was the darkest. I would not play his labyrinthine game. I made no reply. After a while he went on, rather cautiously, “If I’ve understood you, your Ekumen is devoted essentially to the general interest of mankind. Now, for instance, the Orgota have experience in subordinating local interests to a general interest, while Karhide has almost none. And the Commensals of Orgoreyn are mostly sane men, if unintelligent, while the king of Karhide is not only insane but rather stupid.”
It was clear that Estraven had no loyalties at all. I said in faint disgust, “It must be difficult to serve him, if that’s the case.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever served the king,” said the king’s prime minister. “Or ever intended to. I’m not anyone’s servant. A man must cast his own shadow…”
The gongs in Remny Tower were striking Sixth Hour, midnight, and I took them as my excuse to go. As I was putting on my coat in the hallway he said, “I’ve lost my chance forthe present, for I suppose you’ll be leaving Ehrenrang—” why did he suppose so?— “but I trust a day will come when I can ask you questions again. There’s so much I want to know. About your mind-speech, in particular; you’d scarcely begun to try to explain it to me.”
His curiosity seemed perfectly genuine. He had the effrontery of the powerful. His promises to help me had seemed genuine, too. I said yes, of course, whenever he liked, and that was the evening’s end. He showed me out through the garden, where snow lay thin in the light of Gethen’s big, dull, rufous moon. I shivered as we went out, for it was well below freezing, and he said with polite surprise, “You’re cold?” To him of course it was a mild spring night.
I was tired and downcast. I said, “I’ve been cold ever since I came to this world.”
“What do you call it, this world, in your language?”
“You gave it no name of your own?”
“Yes, the First Investigators did. They called it Winter.”
We had stopped in the gateway of the walled garden. Outside, the Palace grounds and roofs loomed in a dark snowy jumble lit here and there at various heights by the faint gold slits of windows. Standing under the narrow arch I glanced up, wondering if that keystone too was mortared with bone and blood. Estraven took leave of me and turned away; he was never fulsome in his greetings and farewells. I went off through the silent courts and alleys of the Palace, my boots crunching on the thin moonlit snow, and homeward through the deep streets of the city. I was cold, unconfident, obsessed by perfidy, and solitude, and fear.
2. The Place Inside the Blizzard
From a sound-tape collection of North Karhidish “hearth-tales” in the archives of the College of Historians in Erhenrang, narrator unknown, recorded during the reign of Argaven VIII.
about two hundredyears ago in the Hearth of Shath in the Pering Storm-border there were two brothers who vowed kemmering to each other. In those days, as now, full brothers were permitted to keep kemmer until one of them should bear a child, but after that they must separate; so it was never permitted them to vow kemmering for life. Yet this they had done. When a child was conceived the Lord of Shath commanded them to break their vow and never meet in kemmer again. On hearing this command one of the two, the one who bore the child, despaired and would hear no comfort or counsel, and procuring poison, committed suicide.
Then the people of the Hearth rose up against the other brother and drove him out of Hearth and Domain, laying the shame of the suicide upon him. And since his own lord had exiled him and his story went before him, none would take him in, but after the three days’ guesting all sent him from their doors as an outlaw. So from place to place he went until he saw that there was no kindness left for him in his own land, and his crime would not be forgiven.*
(*His transgression of the code controlling incest became a crime when seen as the cause of his brother’s suicide. (G.A.))
He had not believed this would be so, being a young man and unhardened. When he saw that it was so indeed, he returned over the land to Shath and as an exile stood in the doorway of the Outer Hearth. This he said to his hearth-fellows there: “I am without a face among men. I am not seen. I speak and am not heard. I come and am not welcomed. There is no place by the fire for me, nor food on the table for me, nor a bed made for me to lie in. Yet I still have my name: Getheren is my name. That name I lay on this Hearth as a curse, and with it my shame. Keep that for me. Now nameless I will go seek my death.” Then some of the hearthmen jumped up with, shouts and tumult, intending to kill him, for murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide. He escaped them and ran northward over the land towards the Ice, outrunning all who pursued him. They came back all chapfallen to Shath. But Getheren went on, and after two days’ journey came to the Pering Ice.**
(**The Pering Ice is the glacial sheet that covers the northernmost portion of Karhide, and is (in winter when the Guthen Bay is frozen) contiguous with the Gobrin Ice of Orgoreyn.)
For two days he walked northward on the Ice. He had no food with him, nor shelter but his coat. On the Ice nothing grows and no beasts run. It was the month of Susmy and the first great snows were falling those days and nights. He went alone through the storm. On the second day he knew he was growing weaker. On the second night he must lie down and sleep a while. On the third morning waking he saw that his hands were frostbitten, and found that his feet were too, though he could not unfasten his boots to look at them, having no use left of his hands. He began to crawl forward on knees and elbows. He had no reason to do so, as it did not matter whether he died in one place on the Ice or another, but he felt that he should go northward.
After a long while the snow ceased to fall around him, and the wind to blow. The sun shone out. He could not see far ahead as he crawled, for the fur of his hood came forward over his eyes. No longer feeling any cold in his legs and arms nor on his face, he thought that the frost had benumbed him. Yet he could still move. The snow that lay over the glacier looked strange to him, as if it were a white grass growing up out of the ice. It bent to his touch and straightened again, like grass-blades. He ceased to crawl and sat up, pushing back his hood so he could see around him. As far as he could see lay fields of the snowgrass, white and shining. There were groves of white trees, with white leaves growing on them. The sun shone, and it was windless, and everything was white.
Getheren took off his gloves and looked at his hands. They were white as the snow. Yet the frostbite was gone out of them, and he could use his fingers, and stand upon his feet. He felt no pain, and no cold, and no hunger.
He saw away over the ice to the north a white tower like the tower of a Domain, and from this place far away one came walking towards him. After a while Getheren could see that the person was naked, his skin was all white, and his hair was all white. He came nearer, and near enough to speak. Getheren said, “Who are you?”
The white man said, “I am your brother and kemmering, Hode.”
Hode was the name of his brother who had killed himself. And Getheren saw that the white man was his brother in body and feature. But there was no longer any life in his belly, and his voice sounded thin like the creaking of ice.
Getheren asked, “What place is this?”
Hode answered, “This is the place inside the blizzard. We who kill ourselves dwell here. Here you and I shall keep our vow.”
Getheren was frightened, and he said, “I will not stay here. If you had come away with me from our Hearth into the southern lands we might have stayed together and kept our vow lifelong, no man knowing our transgression. But you broke your vow, throwing it away with your life. And now you cannot say my name.”
This was true. Hode moved his white lips, but could not say his brother’s name.
He came quickly to Getheren reaching out his arms to hold him, and seized him by the left hand. Getheren broke free and ran from him. He ran to the southward, and running saw rise up before him a white wall of falling snow, and when he entered into it he fell again on his knees, and could not run, but crawled.
On the ninth day after he had gone up on the Ice he was found in their Domain by people of Orhoch Hearth, which lies northeast of Shath. They did not know who he was nor where he came from, for they found him crawling in the snow, starving, snowblind, his face blackened by sun and frost, and at first he could not speak. Yet he took no lasting harm except in his left hand, which was frozen and must be amputated. Some of the people there said this was Getheren of Shath, of whom they had heard talk; others said it could not be, for that Getheren had gone up on the Ice in the first blizzard of autumn, and was certainly dead. He himself denied that his name was Getheren. When he was well he left Orhoch and the Storm-border and went into the southern lands, calling himself Ennoch.
When Ennoch was an old man dwelling in the plains of Rer he met a man from his own country, and asked him, “How fares Shath Domain?” The other told him that Shath fared ill. Nothing prospered there in hearth or tilth, all being blighted with illness, the spring seed frozen in the ground or the ripe grain rotten, and so it had been for many years. Then Ennoch told him, “I am Getheren of Shath,” and told him how he had gone up on the Ice and what he had met with there. At the end of his tale he said, “Tell them at Shath that I take back my name and my shadow.” Not many days after this Getheren took sick and died. The traveler carried his words back to Shath, and they say that from that time on the domain prospered again, and all went as it should go in field and house and hearth.
3. The Mad King
I slept lateand spent the tail of the morning reading over my own notes on Palace etiquette and the observations on Gethenian psychology and manners made by my predecessors, the Investigators. I didn’t take in what I read, which didn’t matter since I knew it by heart and was reading merely to shut up the interior voice that kept telling meIt has all gone wrong. When it would not be shut up I argued with it, asserting that I could get on without Estraven—perhaps better than with him. After all, my job here was a one-man job. There is only one First Mobile. The first news from the Ekumen on any world is spoken by one voice, one man present in the flesh, present and alone. He may be killed, as Pellelge was on Four-Taurus, or locked up with madmen, as were the first three Mobiles on Gao, one after the other; yet the practice is kept, because it works. One voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets and armies, given time; plenty of time; but time is the thing that the Ekumen has plenty of…You don’t said the interior voice, but I reasoned it into silence, and arrived at the Palace for my audience with the king at Second Hour full of calm and resolution. It was all knocked right out of me in the anteroom, before I ever saw the king.
Palace guards and attendants had showed me to the anteroom, through the long halls and corridors of the King’s House. An aide asked me to wait and left me alone in the high windowless room. There I stood, all decked out for a visit with royalty. I had sold my fourth ruby (the Investigators having reported that Gethenians value the carbon jewels much as Terrans do, I came to Winter with a pocketful of gems to pay my way), and spent a third of the proceeds on clothes for the parade yesterday and the audience today: everything new, very heavy and well-made as clothing is in Karhide, a white knitfur shirt, gray breeches, the long tabard-like overtunic,hieb, of bluegreen leather, new cap, new gloves tucked at the proper angle under the loose belt of the hieb, new boots… The assurance of being well dressed augmented my feeling of calm and resolution. I looked calmly and resolutely about me. Like all the King’s
House this room was high, red, old, bare, with a musty chill on the air as if the drafts blew in not from other rooms but from other centuries. A fire roared in the fireplace, but did no good. Fires in Karhide are to warm the spirit not the flesh. The mechanical-industrial Age of Invention in Karhide is at least three thousand years old, and during those thirty centuries they have developed excellent and economical central-heating devices using steam, electricity, and other principles; but they do not install them in their houses. Perhaps if they did they would lose their physiological weatherproofing, like Arctic birds kept in warm tents, who being released get frostbitten feet. I, however, a tropical bird, was cold; cold one way outdoors and cold another way indoors, ceaselessly and more or less thoroughly cold. I walked up and down to warm myself. There was little besides myself and the fire in the long anteroom: a stool and a table on which stood a bowl of fingerstones and an ancient radio of carved wood inlaid with silver and bone, a noble piece of workmanship. It was playing at a whisper, and I turned it a touch louder, hearing the Palace Bulletin replace the droning Chant or Lay that was being broadcast. Karhiders do not read much as a rule, and prefer their news and literature heard not seen; books and televising devices are less common than radios, and newspapers don’t exist. I had missed the morning Bulletin on my set at home, and half-listened now, my mind elsewhere, until the repetition of the name several times caught my ear at last and stopped my pacing. What was it about Estraven? A proclamation was being reread.
“Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, Lord of Estre in Kerm, by this order forfeits title of the Kingdom and seat in the Assemblies of the Kingdom, and is commanded to quit the Kingdom and all Domains of Karhide. If he be not gone out of the Kingdom and all Domains in three days’ time, or if in his life he return into the Kingdom, he shall be put to death by any man without further judgment. No countryman of Karhide shall suffer Harth rem ir Estraven to speak to him or stay within his house or on his lands, on pain of imprisonment, nor shall any countryman of Karhide give or lend Harth rem ir Estraven money or goods, nor repay any debt owing him, on pain of imprisonment and fine. Let all countrymen of Karhide know and say that the crime for which Harth rem ir Estraven is exiled is the crime of Treason: he having urged privily and openly in Assembly and Palace, under pretense of loyal service to the King, that the Nation-Dominion of Karhide cast away its sovereignty and surrender up its power in order to become an inferor and subject nation in a certain Union of Peoples, concerning which let all men know and say that no such Union does exist, being a device and baseless fiction of certain conspiring traitors who seek to weaken the Authority of Karhide in the King, to the profit of the real and present enemies of the land. Odguyrny Tuwa, Eighth Hour, in the Palace in Erhenrang: ARGAVEN HARGE.”
The order was printed and posted on several gates and road-posts about the city, and the above is verbatim from one such copy.
My first impulse was simple. I cut off the radio as if to stop it from giving evidence against me, and scuttled to the door. There of course I stopped. I went back to the table by the fireplace, and stood. I was no longer calm or resolute. I wanted to open my case, get out the ansible, and send an Advise/Urgent! through to Hain. I suppressed this impulse also, as it was even sillier than the first. Fortunately I had no time for more impulses. The double door at the far end of the anteroom was opened and the aide stood aside for me to pass, announcing me, “Genry Ai”—my name is Genly, but Karhiders can’t sayL— and left me in the Red Hall with King Argaven XV.
An immense, high, long room, that Red Hall of the King’s House. Half a mile down to the fireplaces. Half a mile up to the raftered ceiling hung with red, dusty drapes or banners all ragged with the years. The windows are only slits or slots in the thick walls, the lights few, high,
and dim. My new boots goeck, eck, eck, eck as I walk down the hall towards the king, a six months’ journey.
Argaven was standing in front of the central and largest fireplace of three, on a low, large dais or platform: a short figure in the reddish gloom, rather potbellied, very erect, dark and featureless in silhouette except for the glint of the big seal-ring on his thumb.
I stopped at the edge of the dais and, as I had been instructed, did and said nothing.
“Come up, Mr. Ai. Sit down.”
I obeyed, taking the right-hand chair by the central hearth. In all this I had been drilled. Argaven did not sit down; he stood ten feet from me with the roaring bright flames behind him, and presently said, “Tell me what you have to tell me, Mr. Ai. You bear a message, they say.”
The face that turned towards me, reddened and cratered by firelight and shadow, was as flat and cruel as the moon, Winter’s dull rufous moon. Argaven was less kingly, less manly, than he looked at a distance among his courtiers. His voice was thin, and he held his fierce lunatic head at an angle of bizarre arrogance.
“My lord, what I have to say is gone out of my head. I only just now learned of Lord Estraven’s disgrace.”
Argaven smiled at that, a stretched, staring grin. He laughed shrilly like an angry woman pretending to be amused. “Damn him,” he said, “the proud, posturing, perjuring traitor! You dined with him last night, eh? And he told you what a powerful fellow he is, and how he runs the king, and how easy you’ll find me to deal with since he’s been talking to me about you—eh? Is that what he told you, Mr. Ai?”
“I’ll tell you what he’s been saying to me about you, if you’ve an interest in knowing. He’s been advising me to refuse you audience, keep you hanging about waiting, maybe pack you off to Orgoreyn or the Islands. All this halfmonth he’s been telling me, damn his insolence! It’s he that got packed off to Orgoreyn, ha ha ha—!” Again the shrill false laugh, and he clapped his hands together as he laughed. A silent immediate guard appeared between curtains at the end of the dais. Argaven snarled at him and he vanished. Still laughing and still snarling Argaven came up close and stared straight at me. The dark irises of his eyes glowed slightly orange. I was a good deal more afraid of him than I had expected to be.
I could see no course to follow among these incoherencies but that of candor. I said, “I can only ask you, sir, whether I’m considered to be implicated in Estraven’s crime.”
“You? No.” Hestared even more closely at me. “I don’t know what the devil you are, Mr. Ai, a sexual freak or an artificial monster or a visitor from the Domains of the Void, but you’re not a traitor, you’ve merely been the tool of one. I don’t punish tools. They do harm only in the hands of a bad workman. Let me give you some advice.” Argaven said this with curious emphasis and satisfaction, and even then it occurred to me that nobody else, in two years, had ever given me advice. They answered questions, but they never openly gave advice, not even Estraven at his most helpful. It must have to do with shifgrethor. “Let no one else use you, Mr. Ai,” the king was saying. “Keep clear of factions. Tell your own lies, do your own deeds. And
trust no one. D’you know that? Trust no one. Damn that lying coldblooded traitor, I trusted him. I put the silver chain around his damned neck. I wish I’d hanged him with it. I never trusted him. Never. Don’t trust anybody. Let him starve in the cesspits of Mishnory hunting garbage, let his bowels rot, never7mdash;” King Argaven shook, choked, caught his breath with a retching sound, and turned his back on me. He kicked at the logs of the great fire till sparks whirled up thick in his face and fell on his hair and his black tunic, and he caught at them with open hands.
Not turning around he spoke in a shrill painful voice: “Say what you’ve got to say, Mr. Ai.”
“May I ask you a question, sir?”
“Yes.” He swayed from foot to foot as he stood facing the fire. I had to address his back.
“Do you believe that I am what I say I am?”
“Estraven had the physicians send me endless tapes about you, and more from the engineers at the Workshops who have your vehicle, and so on. They can’t all be liars, and they all say you’re not human. What then?”
“Then, sir, there are others like me. That is, I’m a representative…”
“Of this union, this Authority, yes, very well. What did they send you here for, is that what you want me to ask?”
Though Argaven might be neither sane nor shrewd, he had had long practice in the evasions and challenges and rhetorical subtleties used in conversation by those whose main aim in life was the achievement and maintenance of the shifgrethor relationship on a high level. Whole areas of that relationship were still blank to me, but I knew something about the competitive, prestige-seeking aspect of it, and about the perpetual conversational duel which can result from it. That I was not dueling with Argaven, but trying to communicate with him, was itself an incommunicable fact.
“I’ve made no secret of it, sir. The Ekumen wants an alliance, with the nations of Gethen.”
“Material profit. Increase of knowledge. The augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life. The enrichment of harmony and the greater glory of God. Curiosity. Adventure. Delight.”
I was not speaking the tongue spoken by those who rule men, the kings, conquerors, dictators, generals; in that language there was no answer to his question. Sullen and unheeding, Argaven stared at the fire, shifting from foot to foot.
“How big is this kingdom out in Nowhere, this Ekumen?”
“There are eighty-three habitable planets in the Ekumenical Scope, and on them about three thousand nations or anthrotypic groups-”
“Three thousand? I see. Now tell me why we, one against three thousand, should have
anything to do with all these nations of monsters living out in the Void?” He turned around now to look at me, for he was still dueling, posing a rhetorical question, almost a joke. But the joke did not go deep. He was—as Estraven had warned me—uneasy, alarmed.
“Three thousand nations on eighty-three worlds, sir; but the nearest to Gethen is seventeen years’ journey in ships that go at near lightspeed. If you’ve thought that Gethen might be involved in forays and harassments from such neighbors, consider the distance at which they live. Forays are worth no one’s trouble, across space.” I did not speak of war, for a good reason; there’s no word for it in Karhidish. “Trade, however, is worthwhile. In ideas and techniques, communicated by ansible; in goods and artifacts, sent by manned or unmanned ships. Ambassadors, scholars, and merchants, some of them might come here; some of yours might go offworld. The Ekumen is not a kingdom, but a co-ordinator, a clearinghouse for trade and knowledge; without it communication between the worlds of men would be haphazard, and trade very risky, as you can see. Men’s lives are too short to cope with the time-jumps between worlds, if there’s no network and centrality, no control, no continuity to work through; therefore they become members of the Ekumen… We are all men, you know, sir. All of us. All the worlds of men were settled, eons ago, from one world, Hain. We vary, but we’re all sons of the same Hearth…”
None of this caught the king’s curiosity or gave him any reassurance. I went on a bit, trying to suggest that his shifgrethor, or Karhide’s, would be enhanced, not threatened by the presence of the Ekumen, but it was no good. Argaven stood there sullen as an old she-otter in a cage, swinging back and forth, from foot to foot, back and forth, baring his teeth in a grin of pain. I stopped talking.
“Are they all as black as you?”
Gethenians are yellow-brown or red-brown, generally, but I had seen a good many as dark as myself. “Some are blacker,” I said; “we come all colors,” and I opened the case (politely examined by the guards of the Palace at four stages of my approach to the Red Hall) that held my ansible and some pictures. The pictures—films, photos, paintings, actives, and some cubes—were a little gallery of Man: people of Hain, Chiffewar, and the Cetians, of S and Terra and Alterra, of the Utter-mosts, Kapteyn, Ollul, Four-Taurus, Rokanan, Ensbo, Cime, Gde and Sheashel Haven… The king glanced at a couple without interest. “What’s this?”
“A person from Cime, a female.” I had to use the word that Gethenians would apply only to a person in the culminant phase of kemmer, the alternative being their word for a female animal.
He dropped the cube and stood swinging from foot to foot, staring at me or a little past me, the firelight shifting on his face. “They’re all like that—like you?”
This was the hurdle I could not lower for them. They must, in the end, learn to take it in their stride.
“Yes. Gethenian sexual physiology, so far as we yet know, is unique among human beings.”
“So all of them, out on these other planets, are in permanent kemmer? A society of perverts?
So Lord Tibe put it; I thought he was joking. Well, it may be the fact, but it’s adisgusting idea , Mr. Ai, and I don’t see why human beings here on earth should want or tolerate any dealings with creatures so monstrously different. But then, perhaps you’re here to tell me I have no choice in the matter.”
“The choice, for Karhide, is yours, sir.”
“And if I send you packing, too?”
“Why, I’ll go. I might try again, with another generation…”
That hit him. He snapped, “Are you immortal?”
“No, not at all, sir. But the time-jumps have their uses. If I left Gethen now for the nearest world, Ollul, I’d spend seventeen years of planetary time getting there. Timejumping is a function of traveling nearly as fast as light. If I simply turned around and came back, my few hours spent on the ship would, here, amount to thirty-four years; and I could start all over.” But the idea of timejumping, which with its false hint of immortality had fascinated everyone who listened to me, from the Horden Island fisherman on up to the Prime Minister, left him cold. He said in his shrill harsh voice, “What’s that?”—pointing to the ansible.
“The ansible communicator, sir.”
“It doesn’t involve radio waves, or any form of energy. The principle it works on, the constant of simultaneity, is analogous in some ways to gravity—” I had forgotten again that I wasn’t talking to Estraven, who had read every report on me and who listened intently and intelligently to all my explanations, but instead to a bored king. “What it does, sir, is produce a message at any two points simultaneously. Anywhere. One point has to be fixed, on a planet of a certain mass, but the other end is portable. That’s this end. I’ve set the coordinates for the Prime World, Hain. A NAFAL ship takes 67 years to go between Gethen and Hain, but if I write a message on that keyboard it will be received on Hain at the same moment as I write it. Is there any communication you’d care to make with the Stabiles on Hain, sir?”
“I don’t speak Voidish,” said the king with his dull, malign grin.
“They’ll have an aide standing ready—I alerted them —who can handle Karhidish.”
“What d’you mean? How?”
“Well, as you know, sir, I’m not the first alien to come to Gethen. I was preceded by a team of Investigators, who didn’t announce their presence, but passed as well as they could for Gethenians, and traveled about in Karhide and Orgoreyn and the Archipelago for a year. They left, and reported to the Councils of the Ekumen, over forty years ago, during your grandfather’s reign. Their report was extremely favorable. And so I studied the information they’d gathered, and the languages they’d recorded, and came. Would you like to see the device working, sir?”
“I don’t like tricks, Mr. Ai.”
“It’s not a trick, sir. Some of your own scientists have examined—”
“I’m not a scientist.”
“You’re a sovereign, my lord. Your peers on the Prime World of the Ekumen wait for a word from you.”
He looked at me savagely. In trying to flatter and interest him I had cornered him in a prestige-trap. It was all going wrong.
“Very well. Ask your machine there what makes a man a traitor.”
I typed out slowly on the keys, which were set to Karhidish characters, “King Argaven of Karhide asks the Stabiles on Hain what makes a man a traitor.” The letters burned across the small screen and faded. Argaven watched, his restless shifting stilled for a minute.
There was a pause, a long pause. Somebody seventy-two light-years away was no doubt feverishly punching demands on the language computer for Karhidish, if not on a philosophy-storage computer. At last the bright letters burned up out of the screen, hung a while, and faded slowly away: “To King Argaven of Karhide on Gethen, greetings. I do not know what makes a man a traitor. No man considers himself a traitor: this makes it hard to find out. Respectfully, Spimolle G. F., for the Stabiles, in Saire on Hain, 93/1491/45.”
When the tape was recorded I pulled it out and gave it to Argaven. He dropped it on the table, walked again to the central fireplace, almost into it, and kicked the flaming logs and beat down the sparks with his hands. “As useful an answer as I might get from any Foreteller. Answers aren’t enough, Mr. Ai. Nor is your box, your machine there. Nor your vehicle, your ship. A bag of tricks and a trickster. You want me to believe you, your tales and messages. But why need I believe, or listen? If there are eighty thousand worlds full of monsters out there among the stars, what of it? We want nothing from them. We’ve chosen our way of life and have followed it for a long time. Karhide’s on the brink of a new epoch, a great new age. We’ll go our own way.” He hesitated as if he had lost the thread of his argument—not his own argument, perhaps, in the first place.
If Estraven was no longer the King’s Ear, somebody else was. “And if there were anything these Ekumens wanted from us, they wouldn’t have sent you alone. It’s a joke, a hoax. Aliens would be here by the thousand.”
“But it doesn’t take a thousand men to open a door, my lord.”
“It might to keep it open.”
“The Ekumen will wait till you open it, sir. It will force nothing on you. I was sent alone, and remain here alone, in order to make it impossible for you to fear me.”
“Fear you?” said the king, turning his shadow-scarred face, grinning, speaking loud and high. “But I do fear you, Envoy. I fear those who sent you. I fear liars, and I fear tricksters, and worst I fear the bitter truth. And so I rule my country well. Because only fear rules men. Nothing else works. Nothing else lasts long enough. You are what you say you are, yet you’re a joke, a hoax. There’s nothing in between the stars but void and terror and darkness, and you come out of that all alone trying to frighten me. But I am already afraid, and I am the king.
Fear is king! Now take your traps and tricks and go, there’s no more needs saying. I have ordered that you be given the freedom of Karhide.”
So I departed from the royal presence-eck, eck, eckall down the long red floor in the red gloom of the hall, until at last the double doors shut me off from him.
I had failed. Failed all around. What worried me as I left the King’s House and walked through the Palace grounds, however, was not my failure, but Estraven’s part in it. Why had the king exiled him for advocating the Ekumen’s cause (which seemed to be the meaning of the proclamation) if (according to the king himself) he had been doing the opposite? When had he started advising the king to steer clear of me, and why? Why was he exiled, and I let go free? Which of them had lied more, and what the devil were they lying for?
Estraven to save his skin, I decided, and the king to save his face. The explanation was neat. But had Estraven, in fact, ever lied to me? I discovered that I did not know.
I was passing the Corner Red Dwelling. The gates of the garden stood open. I glanced in at the serem trees leaning white above the dark pool, the paths of pink brick lying deserted in the serene gray light of afternoon. A little snow still lay in the shadow of the rocks by the pool. I thought of Estraven waiting for me there as the snow fell last night, and felt a pang of pure pity for the man whom I had seen in yesterday’s parade sweating and superb under the weight of his panoply and power, a man at the prime of his career, potent and magnificent—gone now, down, done. Running for the border with his death three days behind him, and no man speaking to him. The death-sentence is rare in Karhide. Life on Winter is hard to live, and people there generally leave death to nature or to anger, not to law. I wondered how Estraven, with that sentence driving him, would go. Not in a car, for they were all Palace property here; would a ship or landboat give him passage? Or was he afoot on the road, carrying what he could carry with him? Karhiders go afoot, mostly; they have no beasts of burden, no flying vehicles, the weather makes slow going for powered traffic most of the year, and they are not a people who hurry. I imagined the proud man going into exile step by step, a small trudging figure on the long road west to the Gulf. All this went through my mind and out of it as I passed the gate of the Corner Red Dwelling, and with it went my confused speculations concerning the acts and motives of Estraven and the king. I was done with them. I had failed. What next?
I should go to Orgoreyn, Karhide’s neighbor and rival. But once I went there I might find it hard to return to Karhide, and I had unfinished business here. I had to keep in mind that my entire life could be, and might well be, used in achieving my mission for the Ekumen. No hurry. No need to rush off to Orgoreyn before I had learned more about Karhide, particularly about the Fastnesses. For two years I had been answering questions, now I would ask some. But not in Erhenrang. I had finally understood that Estraven had been warning me, and though I might distrust his warning I could not disregard it. He had been saying, however indirectly, that I should get away from the city and the court. For some reason I thought of Lord Tibe’s teeth… The king had given me the freedom of the country; I would avail myself of it. As they say in Ekumenical School, when action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep. I was not sleepy, yet. I would go east to the Fastnesses, and gather information from the Foretellers, perhaps.
4. The Nineteenth Day
An East Karhidish story, as told in Gorinhering Hearth by Tobord Chorhawa, and recorded by G. A., 93/1492.
Lord Berosty rem ir Ipecame to Thangering Fastness and offered forty beryls and half the year’s yield from his orchards as the price of a Foretelling, and the price was acceptable. He set his question to the Weaver Odren, and the question was,On what day shall I die?
The Foretellers gathered and went together into the darkness. At the end of darkness Odren spoke the answer:You will die on Odstreth (the 19th day of any month).
“In what month? in how many years?” cried Berosty, but the bond was broken, and there was no answer. He ran into the circle and took the Weaver Odren by the throat choking him and shouted that if he got no further answer he would break the Weaver’s neck. Others pulled him off and held him, though he was a strong man. He strained against their hands and cried out, “Give me the answer!”
Odren said, “It is given, and the price paid. Go.”
Raging then Berosty rem ir Ipe returned to Charuthe, the third Domain of his family, a poor place in northern Osnoriner, which he had made poorer in getting together the price of a Foretelling. He shut himself up in the strong-place, in the highest rooms of the Hearth-Tower, and would not come out for friend or foe, for seedtime or harvest, for kerrimer or foray, all that month and the next and the next, and six months went by and ten months went by, and he still kept like a prisoner to his room, waiting. On Onnetherhad and Odstreth (the 18th and 19th days of the month) he would not eat any food, nor would he drink, nor would he sleep.
His kemmering by love and vow was Herbor of the Geganner clan. This Herbor came in the month of Grende to Thangering Fastness and said to the Weaver, “I seek a Foretelling.”
“What have you to pay?” Odren asked, for he saw that the man was poorly dressed and badly shod, and his sledge was old, and everything about him wanted mending.
“I will give my life,” said Herbor.
“Have you nothing else, my lord?” Odren asked him, speaking now as to a great nobleman, “nothing else to give?”
“I have nothing else,” said Herbor. “But I do not know if my life is of any value to you here.”
“No,” said Odren, “it is of no value to us.”
Then Herbor fell on his knees, struck down by shame and love, and cried to Odren, “I beg you to answer my question. It is not for myself!”
“For whom, then?”” asked the Weaver.
“For my lord and kemmering Ashe Berosty,” said the man, and he wept. “He has no love nor joy nor lordship since he came here and got that answer which was no answer. He will die of it.”
“That he will: what does a man die of but his death?” said the Weaver Odren. But Berber’s
passion moved him, and at length he said, “I will seek the answer of the question you ask, Herbor, and I will ask no price. But bethink you, there is always a price. The asker pays what he has to pay.” ,
Then Herbor set Odren’s hands against his own eyes in sign of gratitude, and so the Foretelling went forward. The Foretellers gathered and went into the darkness. Herbor went among them and asked his question, and the question was,How long will Ashe Berosty rem ir Ipe live? For Herbor thought thus to get the count of days or years, and so set his love’s heart at rest with certain knowledge. Then the Foretellers moved in the darkness and at last Odren cried in great pain, as if he burned in a fire,Longer than Herbor of Geganner!
It was not the answer Herbor had hoped, but it was the answer he got, and having a patient heart he went home to Charuthe with it, through the snows of Grende. He came into the Domain and into the strong-place and climbed the tower, and there found his kemmering Berosty sitting as ever blank and bleak by an ash-smothered fire, his arms lying on a table of red stone, his head sunk between his shoulders.
“Ashe,” said Herbor, “I have been to Thangering Fastness, and have been answered by the Foretellers. I asked them how long you would live and their answer was, Berosty will live longer than Herbor.”
Berosty looked up at him as slow as if the hinge in his neck had rusted, and said, “Did you ask them when I would die, then?”
“I asked how long you would live.”
“How long? You fool! You had a question of the Foretellers, and did not ask them when I am to die, what day, month, year, how many days are left to me—you askedhow long? O you fool, you staring fool, longer than you, yes, longer than you!” Berosty took up the great table of red stone as if it had been a sheet of tin and brought it down on Herbor’s head. Herbor fell, and the stone lay on him. Berosty stood a while demented. Then he raised up the stone, and saw that it had crushed Herbor’s skull. He set the stone back on its pedestal. He lay down beside the dead man and put his arms about him, as if they were in kemmer and all was well. So the people of Charuthe found them when they broke into the tower-room at last. Berosty was mad thereafter and had to be kept under lock, for he would always go looking for Herbor, who he thought was somewhere” about the Domain. He lived a month thus, and then hanged himself, on Odstreth, the nineteenth day of the month of Thern.
5. The Domestication of Hunch
my landlady,a voluble man, arranged my journey into the East. “If a person wants to visit Fastnesses he’s got to cross the Kargav. Over the mountains, into Old Karhide, to Her, the old Kings’ City. Now I’ll tell you, a hearthfellow of mine runs a landboat caravan over the Eskar Pass and yesterday he was telling me over a cup of orsh that they’re going to make their first trip this summer on Getheny Osme, it having been such a warm spring and the road already clear up to Engohar and the plows will have the pass clear in another couple of days. Now you won’t catch me crossing the Kargav, Erhenrang for me and a roof over my head. But I’m a Yomeshta, praise to the nine hundred Throne-Upholders and blest be the Milk of Meshe, and
one can be a Yomeshta anywhere. We’re a lot of newcomers, see, for my Lord Meshe was born 2,202 years-ago, but the Old Way of the Handdara goes back ten thousand years before that. You have to go back to the Old Land if you’re after the Old Way. Now look here, Mr. Ai, I’ll have a room in this island for you whenever you come back, but I believe you’re a wise man to be going out of Erhenrang for a while, for everybody knows that the Traitor made a great show of befriending you at the Palace. Now with old Tibe as the King’s Ear things will go smooth again. Now if you go down to the New Port you’ll find my hearthfellow there, and if you tell him I sent you…”
And so on. He was, as I said, voluble, and having discovered that I had no shifgrethor took every chance to give me advice, though even he disguised it with it’s and as-ifs. He was the superintendent of my island; I thought of him as my landlady, for he had fat buttocks that wagged as he walked, and a soft fat face, and a prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature. He was good to me, and also showed my room while I was out to thrill-seekers for a small fee: See the Mysterious Envoy’s room! He was so feminine in looks and manner that I once asked him how many children he had. He looked glum. He had never borne any. He had, however, sired four. It was one of the little jolts I was always getting. Cultural shock was nothing much compared to the biological shock I suffered as a human male among human beings who were, five-sixths of the time, hermaphroditic neuters.
The radio bulletins were full of the doings of the new Prime Minister, Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe. Much of the news concerned affairs up north in the Sinoth Valley. Tibe evidently was going to press Karhide’s claim to that region: precisely the kind of action which, on any other world at this stage of civilization, would lead to war. But on Gethen nothing led to war. Quarrels, murders, feuds, forays, vendettas, assassinations, tortures and abominations, all these were in their repertory of human accomplishments; but they did not go to war. They lacked, it seemed, the capacity tomobilize. They behaved like animals, in that respect; or like women. They did not behave like men, or ants. At any rate they never yet had done so. What I knew of Orgoreyn indicated that it had become, over the last five or six centuries, an increasingly mobilizable society, a real nation-state. The prestige-competition”, heretofore mostly economic, might force Karhide to emulate its larger neighbor, to become a nation instead of a family quarrel, as Estraven had said; to become, as Estraven had also said, patriotic. If this occurred the Gethenians might have an excellent chance of achieving the condition of war.
I wanted to go to Orgoreyn and see if my guesses concerning it were sound, but I wanted to finish up with Karhide first; so I sold another ruby to the scar-faced jeweler in Eng Street, and with no baggage but my money, my ansible, a few instruments and a change of clothes, set off as passenger on a trade-caravan on the first day of the first month of summer.
The landboats left at daybreak from the windswept loading-yards of the New Port. They drove under the Arch and turned east, twenty bulky, quiet-running, barge-like trucks on caterpillar treads, going single file down the deep streets of Erhenrang through the shadows of morning. They carried boxes of lenses, reels of soundtapes, spools of copper and platinum wire, bolts of plant-fiber cloth raised and woven in the West Fall, chests of dried fish-flakes from the Gulf, crates of ballbearings and other small machine parts, and ten truck-loads of Orgota kardik-grain: all bound for the Pering Storm-border, the northeast corner of the land. All shipping on the Great Continent is by these electric-powered trucks, which go on barges on the rivers and canals where possible. During the deep-snow months, slow tractor-plows, power-sledges, and the erratic ice-ships on frozen rivers are the only transport beside skis and manhauled sledges; during the Thaw no form of transport is reliable; so most freight traffic
goes with a rush, come summer. The roads then are thick with caravans. Traffic is controlled, each vehicle or caravan being required to keep in constant radio touch with checkpoints along the way. It all moves along, however crowded, quite steadily at the rate of 25 miles per hour (Terran). Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer “Why?” Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer “Why not?” No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they’ve got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is less important than presence. My tastes were Terran, and leaving Ehrenrang I was impatient with the methodical pace of the caravan; I wanted to get out and run. I was glad to get clear of those long stone streets overhung with black, steep roofs. and innumerable towers, that sunless city where all my chances had turned to fear and betrayal.
Climbing the Kargav foothills the caravan halted briefly but often for meals at roadside inns. Along in the afternoon we got our first full view of the range from a foothill summit. We saw Kostor, which is four miles high, from foot to crest; the huge slant of its western slope hid the peaks north of it, some of which go up to thirty thousand feet. South from Kostor one peak after another stood out white against a colorless sky; I counted thirteen, the last an undefined glimmer in the mist of distance in the south. The driver named the thirteen for me, and told me stories of avalanches, and landboats blown off the road by mountain winds, and snowplow crews marooned for weeks in inaccessible heights, and so on, in a friendly effort to terrify me. He described having seen the truck ahead of his skid and go over a thousand-foot precipice; what was remarkable, he said, was the slowness with which it fell. It seemed to take all afternoon floating down into the abyss, and he had been very glad to see it at last vanish, with no sound at all, into a forty-foot snowdrift at the bottom.
At Third Hour we stopped for dinner at a large inn, a grand place with vast roaring fireplaces and vast beam-roofed rooms full of tables loaded with good food; but we did not stay the night. Ours was a sleeper-caravan, hurrying (in its Karhidish fashion) to be the first of the season into the Pering Storm country, to skim the cream of the market for its merchant-entrepreneurs. The truck-batteries were recharged, a new shift of drivers took over, and we went on. One truck of the caravan served as sleeper, for drivers only. No beds for passengers. I spent the night in the cold cab on the hard seat, with one break along near midnight for supper at a little inn high in the hills. Karhide is no country for comfort.
At dawn I was awake and saw that we had left everything behind except rock, and ice, and light, and the narrow road always going up and up under our treads. I thought, shivering, that there are things that outweigh comfort, unless one is an old woman or a cat.
No more inns now, among these appalling slopes of snow and granite. At mealtimes the landboats came silently to a halt one after the other on some thirty-degree, snow-encroached grade, and everybody climbed down from the cabs and gathered about the sleeper, from which bowls of hot soup were served, slabs of dried breadapple, and sour beer in mugs. We stood about stamping in the snow, gobbling up food and drink, backs to the bitter wind that was filled with a glittering dust of dry snow. Then back into the landboats, and on, and up. At noon in the passes of Wehoth, at about 14,000 feet, it was 82°F. in the sun and 13° in the shade. The electric engines were so quiet that one could hear avalanches grumble down immense blue slopes on the far side of chasms twenty miles across.
Late that afternoon we passed the summit, at Eskar, 15,200 feet. Looking up the slope of the southern face of Kostor, up which we had been infinitesimally crawling all day, I saw a queer rock-formation a quarter mile or so above the road, a castle-like outcropping. “See the
Fastness up there?” said the driver.
“That’s a building?”
“That’s Ariskostor Fastness.”
“But no one could live up here.”
“Oh, the Old Men can. I used to drive in a caravan that brought up their food from Erhenrang, late in summer. Of course they can’t get in or out for ten or eleven months of the year, but they don’t care. There’s seven or eight Indwellers up there.”
I stared up at the buttresses of rough rock, solitary in the huge solitude of the heights, and I did not believe the driver; but I suspended my disbelief. If any people could survive in such a frozen aerie, they would be Karhiders.
The road descending swung far north and far south, edging along precipices, for the east slope of the Kargav is harsher than the west, falling to the plains in great stairsteps, the raw fault-blocks of the mountains’ making. At sunset we saw a tiny string of dots creeping through a huge white shadow seven thousand feet below: a landboat caravan that had left Erhenrang a day ahead of us. Late the next day we had got down there and were creeping along that same snow-slope, very softly, not sneezing, lest we bring down the avalanche. From there we saw for a while, away below and beyond us eastward, vague vast lands blurred with clouds and shadows of clouds and streaked with silver of rivers, the Plains of Rer.
At dusk of the fourth day out from Erhenrang we came to Rer. Between the two cities lie eleven hundred miles, and a wall several miles high, and two or three thousand years. The caravan halted outside the Western Gate, where it would be shifted onto canal-barges. No landboat or car can enter Rer. It was built before Karhiders used powered vehicles, and they have been using them for over twenty centuries. There are no streets in Rer. There are covered walks, tunnel-like, which in summer one may walk through or on top of as one pleases. The houses and islands and Hearths sit every which way, chaotic, in a profuse prodigious confusion that suddenly culminates (as anarchy will do in Karhide) in splendor: the great Towers of the Un-Palace, blood-red, windowless. Built seventeen centuries ago, those towers housed the kings of Karhide for a thousand years, until Argaven Harge, first of his dynasty, crossed the Kargav and settled the great valley of the West Fall. All the buildings of Rer are fantastically massive, deep-founded, weatherproof and waterproof. In winter the wind of the plains may keep the city clear of snow, but when it blizzards and piles up they do not clear the streets, having no streets to clear. They use the stone tunnels, or burrow temporary ones in the snow. Nothing of the houses but the roof sticks out above the snow, and the winter-doors may be set under the eaves or in the roof itself, like dormers. The Thaw is the bad time on that plain of many rivers. The tunnels then are storm-sewers, and the spaces between buildings become canals or lakes, on which the people of Rer boat to their business, fending off small ice-floes with the oars. And always, over the dust of summer, the snowy roof-jumble of winter, or the floods of spring, the red Towers loom, the empty heart of the city, indestructible.
I lodged in a dreary overpriced inn crouching in the lee of the Towers. I got up at dawn after many bad dreams, and paid the extortioner for bed and breakfast and inaccurate directions as to the way I should take, and set forth afoot to find Otherhord, an ancient Fastness not far from Rer. I was lost within fifty yards of the inn. By keeping the Towers behind me and the huge white loom of the Kargav on my right, I got out of the city headed south, and a farmer’s child
met on the road told me where to turn off for Otherhord.
I came there at noon. That is, I came somewhere at noon, but I wasn’t sure where. It was mainly a forest or a thick wood; but the woods were even more carefully tended than is usual in that country of careful foresters, and the path led along the hillside right in among the trees. After a while I became aware that there was a wooden hut just off the path to my right, and then I noticed a quite large wooden building a little farther off to my left; and from somewhere there came a delicious smell of fresh frying fish.
I went slowly along the path, a little uneasy. I didn’t know how the Handdarata felt about tourists. I knew very little about them in fact. The Handdara is a religion without institution, without priests, without hierarchy, without vows, without creed; I am still unable to say whether it has a God or not. It is elusive. It is always somewhere else. Its only fixed manifestation is in the Fastnesses, retreats to which people may retire and spend the night or a lifetime. I wouldn’t have been pursuing this curiously intangible cult into its secret places at all, if I hadn’t wanted to answer the question left unanswered by the Investigators: What are the Foretellers, and what do they actually do?
I had been longer in Karhide now than the Investigators had, and I doubted that there was anything to the stories of Foretellers and their prophecies. Legends of prediction are common throughout the whole Household of Man. Gods speak, spirits speak, computers speak. Oracular ambiguity or statistical probability provides loopholes, and discrepancies are expunged by Faith. However, the legends were worth investigating. I hadn’t yet convinced any Karhider of the existence of telepathic communication; they wouldn’t believe it till they “saw” it: my position exactly, regarding the Foretellers of the Handdara.
As I went on along the path I realized that a whole village or town was scattered about in the shadow of that slanting forest, all as random as Rer was, but secretive, peaceful, rural. Over every roof and path hung the boughs of the hemmens, the commonest tree of Winter, a stout conifer with thick pale-scarlet needles. Hemmen-cones littered the branching paths, the wind was scented with hemmen-pollen, and all the houses were built of the dark hemmen-wood. I stopped at last wondering which door to knock at, when a person came sauntering out of the trees and greeted me courteously. “Will you be looking for a dwelling-place?” he asked.
“I’ve come with a question for the Foretellers.” I had decided to let them take me, at first anyhow, for a Karhider. Like the Investigators I had never had any trouble passing as a native, if I wanted to; among all the Karhidish dialects my accent went unnoticed, and my sexual anomalies were hidden by the heavy clothing. I lacked the fine thick hair-thatch and the downward eye-slant of the typical Gethenian, and was blacker and taller than most, but not beyond the range of normal variation. My beard had been permanently depilated before I left Ollul (at that time we didn’t yet know about the ‘pelted’ tribes of Perunter, who are not only bearded but hairy all over, like White Terrans). Occasionally I was asked how my nose got broken. I have a flat nose; Gethenian noses are prominent and narrow, with constricted passages, well adapted to breathing subfreezing air. The person on the path at Otherhord looked with mild curiosity at my nose, and answered, “Then perhaps you’ll want to speak to the Weaver? He’s down in the glade now, unless he went out with the woodsledge. Or would you rather talk first to one of the Celibates?”
“I’m not sure. I’m exceedingly ignorant—”
The young man laughed and bowed. “I am honored!” he said. “I’ve lived here three years, but
haven’t yet acquired enough ignorance to be worth mentioning.” He was highly amused, but his manner was gentle, and I managed to recollect enough scraps of Handdara lore to realize that I had been boasting, very much as if I’d come up to him and said, “I’m exceedingly handsome…”
“I meant, I don’t know anything about the Foretellers—”
“Enviable!” said the young Indweller. “Behold, we must sully the plain snow with footprints, in order to get anywhere. May I show you the way to the glade? My name is Goss.”
It was a first name. “Genry,” I said, abandoning my ‘L’. I followed Goss farther into the chill shade of the forest. The narrow path changed direction often, winding up the slope and down again; here and there, near it or away off among the massive trunks of the hemmens, stood the small, forest-colored houses. Everything was red and brown, dank, still, fragrant, gloomy. From one of the houses drifted the faint whistling sweetness of a Karhidish flute. Goss went light and quick, graceful as a girl, some yards ahead of me. All at once his white shirt blazed out, and I came out after him from shadow into full sunlight on a wide green meadow.
Twenty feet from us stood a figure, straight, motionless, profiled, the scarlet hieb and white shirt an inlay of bright enamel against the green of the high grass. A hundred yards beyond him stood another statue, in blue and white; this one never moved or glanced our way all the time we talked with the first one. They were practicing the Handdara discipline of Presence, which is a kind of trance&mdashthe Handdarata, given to negatives, call it an untrance— involving self-loss (self-augmentation?) through extreme sensual receptiveness and awareness. Though the technique is the exact opposite of most techniques of mysticism it probably is a mystical discipline, tending towards the experience of Immanence; but I can’t categorize any practice of the Handdarata with certainty. Goss spoke to the person in scarlet. As he broke from his intense movelessness and looked at us and came slowly towards us, I felt an awe of him. In that noon sunlight he shone of his own light.
He was as tall as I, and slender, with a clear, open, and beautiful face. As his eyes met mine I was suddenly moved to bespeak him, to try to reach him with the mindspeech I had never used since I landed on Winter, and should not use, yet. The impulse was stronger than the restraint. I bespoke him. There was no response. No contact was made. He continued to look straight at me. After a moment he smiled and said in a soft, rather high voice, “You’re the Envoy, aren’t you?”
I stammered and said, “Yes.”
“My name is Faxe. We’re honored to receive you. Will you stay with us in Otherhord a while?”
“Willingly. I am seeking to learn about your practice of Foretelling. And if there’s anything I can tell you in return about what I am, where I come frommdash;”
“Whatever you like,” said Faxe with a serene smile. “This is a pleasant thing, that you should cross the Ocean of Space, and then add another thousand miles and a crossing of the Kargav to your journey to come to us here.”
“I wanted to come to Otherhord because of the fame of its predictions.”
“You want to watch us foretelling, then, perhaps. Or have you a question of your own?”
His clear eyes compelled truth. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Nusuth,”said he, “it doesn’t matter. Perhaps if you stay a while you’ll find if you have a question, or no question… There are only certain times, you know, when the Foretellers are able to meet together, so in any case you’d dwell with us some days.”
I did, and they were pleasant days. Time was unorganized except for the communal work, field labor, gardening, woodcutting, maintenance, for which transients such as myself were called on by whatever group most needed a hand. Aside from the work, a day might pass without a word spoken; those I talked with most often were young Goss, and Faxe the Weaver, whose extraordinary character, as limpid and unfathomable as a well of very clear water, was a quintessence of the character of the place. In the evenings there might be a gathering in the hearth-room of one or another of the low, tree-surrounded houses; there was conversation, and beer, and there might be music, the vigorous music of Karhide, melodically simple but rhythmically complex, always played extempore. One night two Indwellers danced, men so old that their hair had whitened, and their limbs were skinny, and the downward folds at the outer eye-corners half hid their dark eyes. Their dancing was slow, precise, controlled; it fascinated eye and mind. They began dancing during Third Hour after dinner. Musicians joined in and dropped out at will, all but the drummer who never stopped his subtle changing beat. The two old dancers were still dancing at Sixth Hour, midnight, after five Terran hours. This was the first time I had seen the phenomenon ofdothe— the voluntary, controlled use of what we call “hysterical strength”—and thereafter I was readier to believe tales concerning the Old Men of the Handdara.
It was an introverted life, self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular “ignorance” prized by the Handdarata and obedient to their rule of inactivity or noninterference. That rule (expressed in the wordnusuth, which I have to translate as “no matter”) is the heart of the cult, and I don’t pretend to understand it. But I began to understand Karhide better, after a halfmonth in Otherhord. Under that nation’s politics and parades and passions runs an old darkness, passive, anarchic, silent, the fecund darkness of the Handdara.
And out of that silence inexplicably rises the Foreteller’s voice.
Young Goss, who enjoyed acting as my guide, told me that my question to the Foretellers could concern anything and be phrased as I liked. “The more qualified and limited the question, the more exact the answer,” he said. “Vagueness breeds vagueness. And some questions of course are not answerable.”
“What if I ask one of those?” I inquired. This hedging seemed sophisticated, but not unfamiliar. But I did not expect his answer: “The Weaver will refuse it. Unanswerable questions have wrecked Foretelling groups.”
“Do you know the story of the Lord of Shorth, who forced the Foretellers of Asen Fastness to answer the questionWhat is the meaning of life? Well, it was a couple of thousand years ago. The Foretellers stayed in the darkness for six days and nights. At the end, all the Celibates were catatonic, the Zanies were dead, the Pervert clubbed the Lord of Shorth to death with a stone, and the Weaver… He was a man named Meshe.”
“The founder of the Yomesh cult?”
“Yes,” said Goss, and laughed as if the story was very funny, but I didn’t know whether the joke was on the Yomeshta or on me.
I had decided to ask a yes-or-no question, which might at least make plain the extent and kind of obscurity or ambiguity in the answer. Faxe confirmed what Goss had said, that the matter of the question could be one of which the Foretellers were perfectly ignorant. I could ask if the hoolm crops would be good this year in the northern hemisphere of S, and they would answer, having no previous knowledge even of the existence of a planet called S. This seemed to put the business on the plane of pure chance divination, along with yarrow stalks and flipped coins. No, said Faxe, not at all, chance was not involved. The whole process was in fact precisely the reverse of chance.
“Then you mindread.”
“No,” said Faxe, with his serene and candid smile.
“You mindread without knowing you’re doing it, perhaps.”
“What good would that be? If the asker knew the answer he wouldn’t pay our price for it.”
I chose a question to which I certainly lacked the answer. Only time could prove the Foretelling right or wrong, unless it was, as I expected, one of those admirable professional prophecies applicable to any outcome. It was not a trivial question; I had given up the notion of asking when it would stop raining, or some such trifle, when I learned that the undertaking was a hard and dangerous one for the nine Foretellers of Otherhord. The cost was high for the asker—two of my rubies went to the coffers of the Fastness—but higher for the answerers. And as I got to know Faxe, if it became difficult to believe that he was a professional faker it became still more difficult to believe that he was an honest, self-deluded faker; his intelligence was as hard, clear, and polished as my rubies. I dared set no trap for him. I asked what I most wanted to know.
On Onnetherhad, the 18th of the month, the nine met together in a big building usually kept locked: one high hall, stone-floored and cold, dimly lighted by a couple of slit-windows and a fire in the deep hearth at one end. They sat on the bare stone in a circle, all of them cloaked and hooded, rough still shapes like a circle of dolmens in the faint glow of the fire yards away. Goss, and a couple of other young Indwellers, and a physician from the nearest Domain, watched in silence from seats by the hearth while I crossed the hall and entered the circle.
It was all very informal, and very tense. One of the hooded figures looked up as I came amongst them, and I saw a strange face, coarse-featured, heavy, with insolent eyes watching me.
Faxe sat cross-legged, not moving, but charged, full of a gathering force that made his light, soft voice crack like an electric bolt. “Ask,” he said.
I stood within the circle and asked my question. “Will this world Gethen be a member of the Ekumen of Known Worlds, five years from now?”
Silence. I stood there, I hung in the center of a spider-web woven of silence.
“It is answerable,” the Weaver said quietly.
There was a relaxation. The hooded stones seemed to soften into movement; the one who had looked so strangely at me began to whisper to his neighbor. I left the circle and joined the watchers by the hearth.
Two of the Foretellers remained withdrawn, unspeaking. One of them lifted his left hand from time to time and patted the floor lightly and swiftly ten or twenty times, then sat motionless again. I had seen neither of them before; they were the Zanies, Goss said. They were insane. Goss called them “time-dividers,” which may mean schizophrenics. Karhidish psychologists, though lacking mindspeech and thus like blind surgeons, were ingenious with drugs, hypnosis, spotshock, cryonic touch, and various mental therapies; I asked if these two psychopaths could not be cured. “Cured?” Goss said. “Would you cure a singer of his voice?”
Five others of the circle were Indwellers of Otherhord, adepts in the Handdara disciplines of Presence and also, said Goss, so long as they remained Foretellers, celibate, taking no mate during their periods of sexual potency. One of these Celibates must be in kemmer during the Foretelling. I could pick him out, having learned to notice the subtle physical intensification, a kind of brightness, that signalizes the first phase of kemmer.
Beside the kemmerer sat the Pervert.
“He came up from Spreve with the physician,” Goss told me. “Some Foretelling groups artifically arouse perversion in a normal person—injecting female or male hormones during the days before a session. It’s better to have a natural one. He’s willing to come; likes the notoriety.”
Goss used the pronoun that designates a male animal, not the pronoun for a human being in the masculine role of kemmer. He looked a little embarrassed. Karhiders discuss sexual matters freely, and talk about kemmer with both reverence and gusto, but they are reticent about discussing perversions—at least, they were with me. Excessive prolongation of the kemmer period, with permanent hormonal imbalance toward the male or the female, causes what they call perversion; it is not rare; three or four percent of adults may be physiological perverts or abnormals-normals, by our standard. They are not excluded from society, but they are tolerated with some disdain, as homosexuals are in many bisexual societies. The Karhidish slang for them ishalfdeads. They are sterile.