THE ISLAND DWELLERS
They did not stay in Qhey’s renovated cabin, nor the place Khrm had moved to after Yarl’s death. It was not so much that they were small, but they wanted a place jointly their own. Both of them had been looking for some time now, initially individually and surreptitiously, then together, seeing their future clearly at last.
They settled on a place, still small, on an island just off-shore, close to the village of Arlan where Khrm taught. There was a wooden causeway to the mainland, but it was apt to become slippery in the summer rains, so they also kept a couple of small canoes. Occasionally used for catching fish.
There were two wooden buildings, linked by a covered courtyard. One of the buildings became Qhey’s workshop, though it took some repairing to make it weather-tight. The other, larger and in much better repair, became their dwelling. It only had four rooms at first, but much of their life was outside, and their home was added to as and when over the years.
Qhey also created a garden, much to Khrm’s initial amusement.
Any garden is a little bit of heaven, the highest attainable by humans. They are marriages between chaos and order that work. In my youth I wanted shedloads of control – but I learnt. Slowly. To adapt. To understand I couldn’t have as much control as I’d then sought. No one can. And seeking such only causes harm.
Anyhow … a garden gives me: an illusion of control; an illusion of sanctuary; memories of the good places on Earth.
They don’t always have to have walls; and they allow the knowledge that from decay (darkness) comes life (light).
Qhey laboriously explained the principle, the origins in deserts, the wish for seclusion, and the reaching for paradise which a garden represented. Khrm just smiled and said O yes. This annoyed him, increasingly, till he burst out – on one of the very few occasions when he did – and said it reminded him of his old home and that this really mattered to him, so could she, on this, just leave the matter alone.
It was not raised again.
The couple settled into a quiet life, work not looming too large. Khrm continued her job as a teacher while Qhey developed his carving, concentrating on wooden panels, for which there was a growing demand. Perhaps because he depicted scenes heavily influenced by much he had seen, back to the hills of Earth. This made his work starkly different from any other he saw (even old Tr-Hyer, who had travelled on the steamers of the west, but whose work was more strident it its ‘mechanical’ depictions and to few people’s taste), even though he did not include overt images of smoke stacks and belching cars, milling hordes or towering scenes of steel; for he did not want to dwell on them, even if his customers could have understood or appreciated them. Khrm seemed to somehow, when he mentioned them, briefly – but she was a particularly empathetic individual.
It was a curious privacy on the island. They did not want to hide in the middle, so were visible to anyone who sailed past, but there was a detachment. And it was a detachment, not an isolation, not hiding from the world, but a connected and interwoven delight: yet a place of their own, nonetheless.
All beyond pleasant – a contentment beyond all right – and neither of them was aware anything was missing. For once, perhaps, they were approaching the best of all worlds. But it was still hard work – both could be moody: difficult: black themes from the past snaking in – and it took a certain, sustained effort to keep themselves fed, clothed and housed. It did not take all their efforts, but it was hard work.
It is difficult to tell how much more enchanted I find here in these great woods on unpolluted Kolchin compared to any place on Earth. I feel intrinsically I do; but I cannot explain fully.
It is not only that we’re so far removed from the horrors of industrial and murderous excess I knew on Earth: people do despicable and evil things here on Kolchin. And it is not that there was no beauty or awe on Earth: dwelling in Virginia Manor and Woodside Cottage had moments of soft charm and contentment … but they sat nervously within the wider world.
I experienced there no majesty – in person – to compare with the enormous power of these Horseshoe Mountains, nor the vibrant and complex immensity of the Greater Forest, along the shorelands and in the older mountains. All seem less corrupted, depleted, careworn, to me, than their counterparts on Earth, though I know enough history to know it has not always been so: nor needs to be. But if such places exist still – crucially – on Earth, then they must be under threat from mankind’s teeming, devouring hordes.
Where both worlds have similar enchantments is in the delightful small-scale, practicable tasks that underpin our living. Working with soil and wood for food, entertainment and shelter. And revelling in the leaves and water so abundantly around. Here, there are also the gatherings and music-making I didn’t have before. All these show interconnectedness with that which is above and beyond the corporeal.
Although he had not before felt that he had missed out by not having children, when Khrm told him she was pregnant, after some seven years of marriage, Qhey was overjoyed. Not initially, it is true, though he felt he hid this from Khrm, when a train of Are you sure? – Well, that’s good isn’t it? –This will be difficult – This could be great chugged through his head, but he came round quickly to share Khrm’s joy.
She had not previously expressed a wish for children, nor ruled them out entirely, but Qhey had matured enough to be able to read the elation in her face when she told him she was expecting, even among the trepidation. Probably at his reaction. So he was careful. And pretty sure she only saw his joy.
Khrm was not the youngest of expectant mothers, and soon grow very tired and very big. Qhey did all he could. And on the summer solstice in their eighth year of wedlock Khrm gave birth to twins: a golden daughter and a silver son. Zu-Leif and An-Ghrd.
To their parents they were, hardly surprisingly, considered to be beautiful and intelligent and the most wonderful creatures in creation. Qhey felt they had the good chance to take after their mother in looks and personality, getting on with others, though he liked to think he had added his own intelligence into the mix to make them the brightest under heaven.
In all his life nothing had ever been as hard as raising the twain – but it was joyous. Khrm was more resilient than him, better at discerning what was required. Qhey felt he did his part, though, and his wife rarely told him otherwise.
They were very different in temperament. Ghrd was always out and about, the typical boy who never grew up, climbing trees and building dens long after other children were slowing down. Fit and supple, yet lazy when not interested. Although not without brains, he could not see what could be better or more interesting in books than in the world immediately around.
Leif, however, was studious, and grew to be a great scholar and wrote and talked much on the serious themes of order/chaos and scale. Yet though she could be happy sitting and reading and contemplating subtle and flexible thought, she was also inclined to an impatience that only lessened somewhat as she matured. Always asking her parents what lay beyond the plateau and forest: what they had seen on their travels.
Khrm said nothing, though Qhey noticed she did not deny she had travelled.
Qhey would talk of what he had seen on Kolchin, but never told his daughter he had come from another world. That would, he felt, be too much.
Both children asked about the Castle of the Air, after overhearing their mother mention it to their father; but Qhey knew nothing and Khrm would not speak of it.
I cannot remember exactly when I became aware I rarely now thought of my time before I had crossed the Transcending Sea and landed on the fastland – probably about the time of the birth of Ghrd and Leif, though it took a while for me to realise this.
I find the harms and horrors I experienced there touch me little now. Sadness and loss are extant, but tucked aside in the crevices of trees; the other, worse, remembrances will always remain, and I feel them sometimes, but they no longer get in the way.
I gladly take what I have.