Alim in Herland, Final Chapter

Fall arrived. I worked at the hospital. I visited pregnant Ellador and pregnant (again) Celis. I made jokes with my companions. I learned soldiers' stories, sitting by their beds after I operated on them.

I sobbed some nights when I was too tired to think and couldn't stave off my fears, the things I hoped wouldn't come to pass, wouldn’t turn out to be true. I trooped between Har and the village with messages and supplies.

I was at Har, discussing medical supplies for prisoners with Juste when Moadine came to fetch me.

“I need Alim,” she said. “An important surgery.”

There were three Herlander surgeons by then: Taila, Sabine, and me. Taila and Sabine were both in the village. Jeff—not a surgeon but an adequate doctor—sometimes tended to soldiers in the fortress, but he was currently wholly occupied with Celis's second pregnancy. I left Juste to finish up the list and joined Moadine in her car.

She drove rapidly down the mountain roads while I watched the scenery of high trees and rocky outgrowths flash by, leaning on the car door like a boy of twelve.

Speaking of which—

“Did you truly not know I was male when I came to the plains?” I said as we swept around the town of Jontz to join the road coming up from the factories in the west. I turned my head on my arm and studied Moadine.

She laughed. “I knew years before,” she admitted.

“Don't tell me one of your spies is Juste's companion!” I said, faintly horrified though I wasn't sure why. Juste never kept secrets from anyone in Har.

Moadine laughed again, a full laugh with her head back.

She said, “People voluntarily tell me things.”

I could believe it.

I said, “When I came to the plains as a boy—did that worry you?”

“You weren't always happy,” she said. “But you were Miranda's child, so I knew you were tough or could be, knew you had it in you to survive, find a purpose.”

Herland rhetoric. From Moadine, it sounded natural.

She said gently, “Miranda volunteered—rather like you at the hospital.”

“That's all Terry.”

“No. His idea, perhaps. And a wise one. But nobody sticks at anything like you have done without desire, commitment, belief. You are a good man, Alim.”

I breathed that in. I looked away, so she couldn't see the moisture in my eyes (not that she would mind) and pressed my face to my arm.

I woke when it was dusk, sprawled in the passenger seat, head lolling. The car was slowing outside massive stone walls, and I recognized the fortress. I sat up, tilting my head and rolling my shoulders.

“Dinner time,” I hazarded since we'd left Har in mid-afternoon and the fortress is three hours away by car.

“A little after seven.” Moadine threaded the narrow, arched gate and began the slow climb up cobblestone roads. When we reached the keep, the tower, she pulled into a courtyard and parked. We got out.

I had my medical kit with me, and I jogged up the narrow steps to the wide grass lawn bordered by the wall that Terry and Van and Jeff had once escaped across. The gymnasium had become a hospital dormitory; a row of beds along the wall faced the windows and door. The fortress didn't get as many wounded as we did in the village, but Somel ran it, and she liked to be prepared. I suspected she foresaw the keep as a future hospital for Herland, one with updated machinery based on medical advances in the outside world. In the meantime, it doubled as a military clinic.

There was currently one patient in the farthest bed. I went towards it, came up on it with the faint light of the glowing lamps above me and the half-light of dusk behind me and saw Terry asleep on the white-sheeted cot.

“He landed near the lake two days ago,” Moadine said. “The scouts spotted him and sent out a team. We didn't know it was Terry, of course. Not until we reached him.”

I nodded. I sat on the side of the bed and studied the bearded face. He was thinner there, despite the beard, thin all over. I examined him thoroughly, noting old burns and scars. New ones. He had a broken leg, but it had already been set. “By Jeff,” Somel told me. “He couldn't leave his friend in pain.”

I checked the splint anyway. Then I settled back on the side of the bed while Moadine told me of Terry's arrival.

“The plane was shredded. He was obviously attacked. And he came here, forced that plane to carry him back to us. To you.”

I nodded and took his hand. Moadine set hers on my shoulder.

“He will recover,” she said. “He'll get better. And when he wants to leave, he can go. And you. Nobody can stop you.”

“Thank you,” I said when she reached the outside door. I said it softly and looked up to say it louder, but Moadine was already turning back, and I saw her smile in the light above the door.

“I'm so glad,” she said and went out.

I sat there through the night. Somal checked in a few times as well as a nurse who carried blankets and asked quietly if the patient was cold. I took an extra one and tucked it around Terry more closely. I picked up his hand again and waited.

Dawn came, the light soft and cold yet brighter still than the dormitory's artificial product. It filled the windows that lined the opposite wall, sent ambassadors to stroke the sides of the cot. I yawned as Terry stirred.

He opened his eyes, saw me. And I guess I hadn't changed so much because he said, “Alim” and grinned a Terry grin. I let one side of my mouth slide upwards, relaxing, believing.

“Hullo, boy,” he said. “I told you I'd come get you.”

The End