Alim in Herland, Chapter 16

I trooped into Har’s outer fortress, red-faced and chilled. I’d been in the southeastern field helping repair a wall. I greeted Juste, who gave me an appraising look and nodded towards the tower room. Moadine was waiting there by the large fireplace.

Without thinking, I said, “Terry—” then stopped, biting my lip.

She smiled and said, “He isn’t with me. I gather he is expected?”

“Yes,” I said, only a little shame-faced and waited for her interrogation: Why did Terry and you play out a farce of seduction and rape?

Maybe it was obvious why. I was several inches taller. I was beginning to shave.
Woman mail carrier

She said instead, “We heard from Ellador—she writes.”

“Herland doesn’t get mail from the outside.”

“I have couriers. You did arrange for Terry to fetch you?”

“The mentors wouldn’t let me leave.”

“You were afraid to ask?”

I stared back without apology. Because yes, I’d been afraid. I’d had good reason.

I said, “You know I’m a man?” Boy. Young man. Male.

“Yes. Terry called you Alim once.”

I snorted. “That was careless.”

“It is a nick-name. I doubt anyone noticed. I did.”

I eyed her. She hadn’t exactly answered the question. Did she really not guess I was a boy until Terry’s mistake? Or was she giving me the official version of how she recognized my sex?

I was beginning to realize how right Terry had been: Moadine was diplomacy built on subterfuge.

I said abruptly, “How well did you know my mother?”

“Miranda worked for me.”

I nodded, unsurprised. Since I’d returned to Har, I’d spoken to Juste and other women in Har who'd known my mother. She returned to Herland to give birth to me. She didn’t stay. When I was growing up, she was an irregular visitor. I never questioned her comings and goings; they were the way things were.

Marie Curie
She returned permanently when I was eight. I realize now she already had a wasting disease, possibly tuberculosis. She arranged with Juste for me to find a profession, to become a necessary cog in Herland's machine.

Moadine said, “Miranda collected news from the outside world. Mostly, she researched medicine, progress regarding antitoxins and vaccines. Why do you think Terry and Van and Jeff never made us ill from the pox?”

Because we had been immunized. I nodded.

Moadine said, “Herland scientists have improved on the research that occurs beyond our borders. But those kinds of advancements never happen in a vacuum. Some of our sisters are in contact with Madame Curie and other scientists. We owe your mother a great deal.”

“I know,” I said.

I was privileged to be her son. I would never let a mentor shame me over my mother again.

I said, “I think she would support my decision to leave.”

It is easy to claim support from the dead. Convenient. Sometimes dishonest. There’s a reason Herland resists ancestor worship. Yet I thought I was right, and Moadine nodded.

She motioned to the benches near the fireplace, and I sat opposite her, kicking off my boots. I pushed out my legs and let the fire warm my toes. Har has electricity. But Juste likes to keep the fireplaces clear and ready for those occasions when mountain winds blow out the power.

Moadine said, “There is a military conflict in the outside world.”

“Terry is safe—he is alright?”

“I believe so. We received letters from Ellador. She and Van are planning to tour the world.”

“Then things can’t be so bad,” I said.

An odd look crossed Moadine’s face. Amusement? Resignation?

“Ellador sees the big picture,” she said. “She declares—rightly, of course—that wars should never happen at all.”

Moadine’s tone was bland. I sighed. Ellador once suggested that women from Herland could fix all a nation’s problems if only said nation would invite enough of them for a long weekend. Sometimes her supreme, righteous confidence merited Terry’s scoffing.

Some Like It Hot
And Moadine’s neutral indifference. Apparently, Moadine found information on immunizations more helpful than a philosophical treatise.

I said, “I want to help. I can. Out there.”

“You can help here.”

“As a girl?” I snapped, then held up my hands in placating apology. “Sorry,” I muttered.

“It is always better to save than to destroy,” Moadine said. “Would you have Herland disappear?”

“That’s not fair—to put that on me.”

“Perhaps not,” she said, to my surprise. “But Alim, we would be loath to lose you—your energy, your hard work and clever mind, your commonsense.”

I couldn’t stop the glow of satisfaction. Yet—

“When Terry comes,” I said stubbornly, “I’m going with him.”

She made no protest. Juste came in, a chicken under one arm, and Moadine turned the conversation to a query about livestock.

After Moadine left, I said to Juste, “Before she died, Miranda decided I should work on the plains.”

“She worried that you needed an occupation. I thought you should stay in Har. But she wanted you accepted by the plainswomen. In case.”

“Why? If she was willing to chance the outside world—?”

“She was. But she went there with all the security of being one of Herland’s own. We are privileged, Alim, you and me and every person here. Our learning. Our rights. We believe in our birthright to good treatment. Your men have that—your Terry does. She wanted you to have it too.”

“I’m not sure it worked.”

“Probably more than you realize.”

I gave her a wry smile. How do any of us know what we’ve gained until it is challenged? Removed?

I said, “But you’ll support me going.”

And she hesitated—Juste, who never hesitates over anything, who braves wild animals and bad weather, outsiders with supplies, and querulous plainswomen without a qualm.

“It gets bad out there, Alim. It’s getting bad now.”

“I will go,” I told her fiercely. “When Terry comes. He will come.”

She threw up her hands and agreed.

I guess she knew already that I wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

Next Chapter 17: Terry