by Someone Else
The boat appeared by Hrun’s workshop door one morning. It was a marvellous little thing. It could be fitted with blades to slide over the ice, or they could be removed to sail on water. Hrun had never seen a sailboat up close before; they’d never been outside their village and, icebound as their little harbour was much of the time, sailboats weren’t frequent visitors. The rigging was so intricate but so clearly had sense built in to it. Hrun wanted a better look; how did–
“That’s a whistler boat!” yelled Smith Amno.
Hearing, Cleric Ohm turned and came running. “Smith Hrun, don’t touch it!”
Was there a whistler here? Hrun hadn’t heard. They should have been making nails but got distracted experimenting with different brine concentrations for quenching bigger items and so hadn’t been out to hear the gossip yet today. No whistler was visible when Hrun looked around, just two of Ohm’s children, the younger of whom Ohm was the bearing parent to, coming to see what was going on.
“I’ll take care, Cleric Ohm. If we see how it’s made, perhaps we can make one ourselves,” said Hrun.
“Make one ourselves,” Smith Amno scoffed. Hrun had apprenticed under Amno; they were a superb blacksmith but set in their ways.
“Smith Hrun,” Cleric Ohm broke in, “it may be trapped.”
It was said that whistlers were such creatures as could steal away those of Hrun’s kind in their boats, but no one ever had a specific story of such a happening and so Hrun didn’t give it much heed. If just half of what was said of whistler-kind was true it was still pretty unbelievable to Hrun. Here was the boat in front of them. It was made of wood and metal, cloth and rope, not of magic. It could be understood. Yet as soon as Hrun leaned in to see better, they stumbled and fell in, as if the boat itself had pulled them. Sure enough, there was a whistler, coming over the hill as soon as Hrun was in the boat, and immediately setting out, gliding quickly over the ice.
“Smith Hrun!” their villagemates cried, but Hrun was too dazed, by the sudden turn of their day, by the speed of the boat over the ice, by this whistler, here in the flesh, to do more than stare.
The whistler sailed the boat three days over the ice, past awe inspiring ice formations, reaching into the sky, then removed the blades and sailed an additional two days over water. Hrun lost their work apron overboard on the day they hit open water. Something about the boat or the presence of the whistler seemed to have put an enchantment on Hrun. They felt as if they were in a dream. They wanted to get out or turn the boat back, but acting against the whistler was hard to even think about, much less take action on, like they’d had a magical hole carved in their will.
Hrun had never seen a whistler up close before. There was an uncanniness to their round face and tiny nose; similar yet alien. They were a little shorter than Hrun but considerably more solidly built. Even without the whistler’s effect on them, Hrun would have been at the whistler’s mercy in a fight. Everyone knew that whistlers had this weird patch of fur on the top of their heads. Hrun hadn’t known that whistler head-topping fur was hardly like the fur of an animal at all. Rather than being smooth and tidy, it was all these chaotic long strands that the whistler ran a tool over every morning to keep relatively organized. Hrun supposed it would keep the whistler’s head warm, but they were happy with their thick wool hat.
The whistler whistled and clicked at Hrun in the incomprehensible way that whistlers did. Sometimes in the evening, the whistler sang. The nights were the most stunning: the multitude of stars, the colours! In the village everyone was tucked in at night against the dangerous creatures of the darkness, but here in the whistler’s thrall there was awe not fear.
Near the end of the fifth day they arrived at another village. It was in a state of disrepair. Doors open or missing with rain-stained entryways, scraps of fading cloth caught in trees, flapping in the wind. Hrun gaped at it. Lack of sleep on the boat and the disorienting presence of the whistler left everything feeling unreal, but where the wilds had been unreally beautiful, this village was despairing.
The whistler pushed Hrun out of the boat. Released, Hrun ran towards the central square — what had happened here? — but after only a few steps the whistler grabbed them and pulled them towards a doorway. Hearing the scuffle, a face appeared from around a corner of an empty building. Someone was still alive here!
“Comrade!” Hrun cried.
The whistler tried to push Hrun through the doorway, but Hrun caught both sides with their hands.
“Chaos has caught you in its whirl, Comrade,” said the unknown comrade. Hrun supposed that yes, after losing their apron they looked only a comrade now. The other stepped out, a gaunt figure in ragged, stained robes.
Hrun looked back over to the stranger while struggling against the whistler. “What happened here?”
A flash of agony passed over the other’s face. “Comrade–” was all Hrun heard before the whistler finally forced them through the doorway and slammed the door.
Inside were more books than Hrun had ever seen before. They touched their breast pocket where their own only book rested, prized and safe. Cleric Ohm had what Hrun had thought of as many books, filling more than one shelf, but this building was entirely bookshelves floor to ceiling, filled with books. A staircase led up to higher books. Hrun hadn’t imagined there were so many books, though if they’d ever thought carefully they would have reasoned that there must be.
Still, there was time for this wonder later. A comrade outside lived in this otherwise apparently dead village. They might need help, or at least be able to answer some questions. If nothing else, Hrun hadn’t seen their own kind in days, only the whistler.
They turned back to the door, but the whistler pushed them back and nailed the door shut with planks. Then the whistler grabbed a book from a nearby shelf and shoved it into Hrun’s hand. Hrun was affronted. After everything, their kidnapping, the ragged comrade in this dead village, trapping them in this library, could the whistler not even respect the preciousness of a book? They looked at it carefully: A Treatise on the Cultures of the World. It had not been damaged by the whistler’s ill treatment. Hrun opened the book and looked over the table of contents.
The whistler, disappointed, reached to grab the book back. Hrun protested, but their words were nothing but meaningless mumbles to a whistler. They tried to keep the book, but their strength simply did not compare to this whistler, and A Treatise on the Cultures of the World was taken from them, shoved back onto a shelf, and another book was forced into their hand. After seemingly endless repetitions, an increasingly ill-tempered whistler handed an exhausted Hrun, now sitting on the floor, A Guide to Home Repairs. Suddenly the whistler’s demeanour changed entirely; they brightened up immediately, then quickly freed the door and exited, leaving Hrun alone on the floor dazed.
What did this whistler want; were they friend or foe or something else entirely? Sometime in the fiasco Hrun’s hat had disappeared. A chill was settling in. Another hat, which had been hanging neatly when they’d entered, had, in the whistler’s book frenzy, landed on the floor near where Hrun sat. Hrun put this hat on. Perhaps their new comrade was right; this whistler was chaos.
After a vague time when Hrun was not entirely sure whether or not they slept, they got up and went outside. At the sound of the door opening, the ragged comrade came running.
“Comrade” –then seeing Hrun’s current attire– “Scholar! Has the chaos damaged you?”
“Mostly just bewildered,” Hrun replied. They hardly knew what to think at the moment, but at least there was another of their kind here. Hrun stepped forward more unsteadily than they expected.
The ragged Comrade reached a steadying arm around Hrun. “You should rest, Scholar. Let me take you to a clean bed.”
“Smith Hrun”, said Hrun, “no, I suppose Comrade Hrun now.”
“Scholar Hrun,” the other corrected.
“That seems premature.”
“It’s your library now…” said the ragged Comrade, drifting into a sad silence as they led Hrun towards a small snow hut that stood out from the others by having a properly closing door.
“I will do what I can to do justice to the library, Comrade,” said Hrun.
“Is anyone else alive here?”
Ara shook their head.
The snow hut that Ara brought Hrun to had two white beds, one that looked recently slept in, and one that was neatly made but a bit dusty. Hrun fell asleep as soon as they climbed into the dusty bed.
Hrun was awakened sometime later in the dark of the night by gurgling screams. The panic of the awakening got them to their feet before they remembered where they were and why.
Ara was screaming in their sleep, tangled up in their blankets. A vicious cycle, as the tighter they got tangled, the more they thrashed and screamed, and the tighter the tangling got.
“Comrade Ara, wake up!” Their heart still pounding from the sudden wake up, Hrun stepped across the room, knelt at the side of Ara’s bed and reached over to touch them. Ara startled and wakened, breathing heavily. Hrun reached back to light the lamp. Ara struggled with their blanket, sweaty, panting, and then suddenly froze, staring blankly, face twitching slightly. Hrun, kneeling, looked up at the frozen sitting Ara with concern. “Comrade Ara?” They tentatively brought an arm up to Ara’s back. Ara remained as if entranced, Hrun’s growing panic counting out the stalled time. Hrun reached up another arm and held them tighter.
A moment or an eon later, time unfroze and Ara loosened.
“What … are you alright?” asked Hrun with concern.
“My failings, new and old,” said Ara, still somewhat distant, and dropped their face into their hands.
“I’ll leave the lamp on for a little while,” said Hrun.
Somewhat later, Ara muttered into the darkness, “If only I… they might have lived….”
As it turned out, the next few nights were tougher for Hrun than for Ara.
Hrun found the daytime busy. In the mornings they tended to their library and explored its riches. There was some cleaning up to do but mostly they read. It was exhilarating how wide the world of knowledge was. In the afternoons Hrun set to repairing the village. Though they had only a little experience in carpentry and none in building repair, their other technical education set them in good stead to reason through mechanical problems, and even if the repairs weren’t perfect, they were definite improvements. Ara was a helpful extra set of hands (strong, attractive hands at that), particularly when their greater height was an asset. The vegetable garden had been haphazardly tended, so they were not without food, though they would need to do better soon if they were not both to end up as thin as Ara was.
“Comrade Ara, could you help me lift this door into place?” asked Hrun, while working on rehanging a door. They had done a couple of these already.
Ara came over to help and, grabbing the door above where Hrun’s hands were, they lifted it together and positioned it.
“Do you have it so I can mark the hinge positioning?”
“Yes,” they said, but then their eyes glazed and even their hands and arms holding the door froze, the door slowly slipping.
“Comrade Ara,” said Hrun sharply as it went out of position and they took back the weight. Then, with more concern, “Comrade Ara, are you all right?”
Before Hrun worked out how to free the door from Ara’s frozen grip, Ara reanimated and belatedly tried to correct the door position.
“I’ve got it,” said Hrun.
“I could have hurt you. I shouldn’t be helping.” said Ara, letting go. “I don’t have the capability of accomplishing things.”
Hrun took a breath. “We have hung doors together and we’ll hang this one too. It isn’t a one person job.” Hrun said firmly. “This time I can take the weight and you can mark the hinge. Once the hinges are on, I can take the weight again while you put in the pins.”
So they did.
In contrast to the busy and mostly successful days, in the evenings Hrun could not put their thoughts to sleep. At once mourning old friends inaccessibly far away and feeling guilty since Ara’s loss had been so much greater. Furious at the whistler for kidnapping them, yet enamoured of the wonders they’d seen and the riches of the library.
Would they ever be able to get home? They knew they would not be able to navigate the reverse route even if they had a boat to do it in. Was it possible to get back by land? They knew only the rough direction. Perhaps one of their books would have a map. They could perhaps get information next time a nomadic trader or a trading party from another village came by, but perhaps all knew this village to be dead and none would come. What had happened in this village? It must have been attacked; there were axe marks on walls and other holes not clearly identifiable by Hrun. Hrun was reluctant to add to Ara’s burdens by questioning them. Ultimately, even if they knew the way, would they really go home, leaving Ara all alone again?
Ara always came in later in the evening, and Hrun pretended to sleep as they entered. They peeked through mostly closed eyes at Ara’s tall, thin form, silhouetted against the sunset colours as they came in the door. A stolen glance at Ara’s shadowed form preparing for bed was a pleasant distraction from Hrun’s inner turmoil.
Later in the deep darkness, Hrun would waken to the groans and rattles of the night and the creaks of this still unfamiliar village. One door and one companion seemed such little protection. They’d been out all night with the whistler on the voyage here, but in the whistler’s thrall the fear was lifted and wonder of the night shone through.
One night Hrun startled at a groan that seemed almost right outside. Softly from across the room Ara said, “The night speaks in glowing eyes and hidden arrows.” They came over and sat on Hrun’s bed. “Before, I would sit out on the cliff across the bay after the others had gone to bed and watch the sunset reflect off the ice and paint the village’s twin guardian spirits pink.”
Hrun had never heard of a village with twin spirits before. They had thought all villages had one spirit, as they had grown up with. Now this village had none.
“More than once I would wait too long, or a moment of trance would hit, and the first creatures of the night would appear before I returned.”
Hrun’s breath caught at the thought. They sat up and invited Ara closer with a gentle touch. “Yet, you still go out,” said Hrun.
“Now, I think of them; sometimes I have visions.”
“Of sparks and lines and shadows: the stitching of the world made visible for a time. I’ve always had them, but the colour has changed since….”
Hrun reached over to hug Ara, and they found themselves clinging together while the fears and the sorrows from mundane to cosmic flowed through them.
They fell back to sleep together on Hrun’s bed. With the first light of dawn peeking out, Hrun woke. Ara was warm and comforting beside them. Hrun snuggled a little closer. They liked Ara’s long, thin form, the smell of their skin. They turned fully towards Ara and snuggled still closer, forgetting until too late that they were giving away the nature of their interest. Ara opened their eyes and looked at Hrun with a cryptic half smile.
“Might you be interested in some simple pleasures of two bodies together?” Ara asked quietly.
Hrun flushed and then answered by rubbing their noses together. Finding this answered back in kind, Hrun proceeded to send a hand down to find Ara’s dick also hard through their undertunic. Ara sighed at the touch and pulled their well worn clothing upwards and over their head, while Hrun did the same. Then they both turned to be dick to dick and face to face. Nothing quite like the direct touch of skin on skin as a balm for the loneliness and disruption of the past few days, and Hrun leaned in, pressing them together and kissing Ara. With both their erections becoming insistent on a bit more rhythm, Hrun took both of their dicks in their hand and started stroking both together. Ara answered first with a frenzy of kisses, and then as Hrun began to speed up, Ara leaned back their head with a quiet moan of pleasure.
Ara shifted their hips in a way that Hrun took as perhaps a request or an invitation and so Hrun shifted to free their other hand. Swapping which hand circled their dicks, Hrun reached their first hand, tentatively, behind Ara’s dick.
Ara nodded and Hrun ran their hand along the inner lips of Ara’s pussy up and down and then teasing inside. Ara melted into the touch. Failing to find a coordinating rhythm for both hands, they changed tack and scooted down to take Ara’s dick in their mouth, with one hand continuing to run along Ara’s inner lips. Ara’s moans gave clear evidence of the effectiveness of this technique. As Hrun bobbed their head on Ara’s dick, they felt the tension build in Ara’s body and with a cry Ara came.
Hrun scooted back up to kiss Ara and couldn’t help a few thrusts against Ara’s belly as their own dick demanded attention all the more after having been forced to wait. Ara peeled themself off the bed to position themself to repay the favour. They started to lick right in the place where the folds of Hrun’s pussy merged into the base of their dick. From there, Ara rightly guessed that Hrun was primarily interested in some penile attention and so licked straight up Hrun’s dick, all around the head and then took it into their mouth. Ara’s mouth was wonderful and hot, their tongue dexterous, licking at Hrun’s frenulum, building a rhythm, and in very little time Hrun came as well.
They lay together in a blissful heap and the light turned from orange to yellow.
In the early afternoon, Hrun saw Ara sitting on the dock looking out at the bay. They walked over and sat down beside them. Ara shifted closer until their bodies touched, still looking out at the water.
“It is my great fortune that you came to be here,” said Ara, eyes still on the bay. “Given the circumstances of your arrival, I expect you feel otherwise.”
Hrun answered with an arm around Ara, their own thoughts on this adventure still too confused to put into words, and Ara responded by leaning into them, still staring outwards. Hrun wondered how long Ara had been alone.
“Tell me about the others,” said Hrun.
Ara turned, finally, to look at Hrun for a long moment, and then began to tell the stories, not as factual sequences of events the way Hrun would have, had their placed been reversed, but as poetry that showed the light that had once shone behind each of Ara’s dead companions’ eyes. Ara told of the three fishermen, their rivalries and love interwoven; they told of the shepherd taking their sheep up and down the terraced hills; they told of the pair of guardian spirits delicately caring for children with their burly bodies; they told of the previous librarian whose aloofness hid a softness. They didn’t tell of themselves, but the shape of the light cast by their stories showed the space where they had been.
After Ara finished, they both listened for a while to the water lapping in the open places in the ice.
“Comrade Ara, you are a poet,” said Hrun. “Poet Ara.”
“Only Comrade. I have never been and can never be more than a comrade,” said Ara “Poet isn’t a title. There are no robes for it.”
“This is our village, so we’re the ones to say what titles there can be, Poet Ara,” Hrun said firmly. “You need new robes anyway. We’ll write your poems into a book so the others are remembered forever.”
“I’d like that,” said Ara softly.