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Second Warning: Chapter 2 doesn't follow Ai's story. Instead, it's a Gethen tale included by Ai to supplement his story with more information. There are a few of these chapters. Sometimes, they even foreshadow upcoming events or provide parallels to other characters. Basically, don't skip them but don't worry if you don't get right away why they were included.
Where were we? Right. This story tells the tale of two brothers, Hode and Getheren, who fall in love during kemmer.
What's that? Well, kemmer is the phase when a Gethen is sexually active. So, a little like being in heat.
The inhabitants of Gethen are neither male nor female. But during kemmer, they find a mate and settle down as male or female, until the whole thing is over.
Chapter 7 is dedicated to exploring the phenomenon, so feel free to pop over there for the oddest sex-ed class ever.
The law says brothers can stay in kemmer until one produces offspring. Then they have to break up. No life-long incestuous relationships, in other words.
Guess what happens.
When Lord Shath commands them to separate, Hode commits suicide, a huge no-no in Gethen culture.
The people of their homeland Hearth drive the other brother out of town and into the Ice (think the coldest, most barren part of Antarctica then subtract the cute penguins).
The brother travels for two days until he's frostbitten and ringing death's doorbell.
He wanders into an odd groove, where the trees are pure white and the ice grows like grass. There, his frostbitten hands become pure white, and he can use them again.
We're getting the feeling this is some sort of myth or legend.
Oh, his dead brother, Hode, is also there. Hode says this is the land where suicides go and asks Getheren to stay with him. But Getheren says he won't stay because Hode broke his promise to him when he committed suicide.
And you thought your family had drama.
When Hode tries to seize him, Getheren breaks free. He heads south, eventually reaching a village. His only permanent injury is that his left hand must be amputated.
Hey, wait a minute. This whole book is called The Left Hand of Darkness. Coincidence? We're going to go with "no."
Getheren takes up the name Ennoch to hide his identity.
To wrap this thing up: meanwhile, Hearth has been suffering bad famines after going lynch mob on Getheren.
Years pass, and Getheren meets a traveler heading down to Hearth.
Getheren tells the traveler to tell his people that he takes his name and shadow back. Not long afterward, Getheren dies, and the Hearth begins to prosper again.