Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 20

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 20

A Fool's Errand

  • Ai is taken to Sassinoth and imprisoned, but, hey, it's not so bad. He even gets his own physician.
  • The physician prescribes rest, but when Ai sleeps, he always finds himself back in the truck.
  • Ai assumes he had a bad fever during this time because he can remember very little.
  • He remembers suggesting that Estraven might have committed suicide, a notion the physician baulks at. The physician believes suicide and being a traitor weren't Estraven's style.
  • In other news:
  • The King learns of the ship's imminent arrival. That's kept secret but the rest of Ai's story and return is freely reported across Karhide's airways.
  • In Orgoreyn, Obsle's party takes over the Commensals once it's learned the spaceship will arrive in Karhide.
  • Tibe resigns, deciding to quit the game rather than lose it outright.
  • And King Argaven summons Ai.
  • Caught up on current affairs? Excellent. Moving on:
  • At the palace, Ai reunites with the Foreteller Faxe the Weaver. It seems Faxe was elected to office in Ai's absence and is rising fast in politics
  • Good luck, Faxe. Karhide politicians seem to fall rather quickly.
  • During his audience with the King, Ai notices Argaven looks "unwell, and old […] like a woman who has lost her baby, like a man who has lost his son" (20.31).
  • Ai tells Argaven that the spaceship is inbound with only eleven crew, nothing to be afraid of.
  • Argaven mentions he is no longer afraid of Ai (and by proxy the Ekumen). He even suggests Ai was in his service the whole time—though it's really not clear what this means.
  • Ai defends Estraven's actions, claiming each served the same master, mankind.
  • When asked if he will lift the exile charge, Argaven tells Ai not yet. Ai accepts, breaking his promise to Estraven.
  • Ai prepares for the arrival of his shipmates.
  • When the ship lands, Faxe is with Ai to greet the new visitors. He says he's happy to have lived to see this day, mirroring Estraven's words from when they saw the Ice on the plateau.
  • A woman named Lang Heo Hew is the first to exit the ship. She and Faxe both do the classic "We Come in Peace" thing.
  • Although Ai is happy to see his shipmate, he's amazed at how different she looks to him. Three years have past, but she's the same age as before.
  • Imagine how awkward high school reunions must be in this universe.
  • She's also the first woman he's seen in three years, a concept now perfectly alien to him.
  • At the end of spring, the Ekumen envoys travel across Gethen to start building relationships for the next seventeen years (it'll be that long before the next ship arrives).
  • Ai returns to Horden Island, where he first landed his ship. But this is only a pit stop. His destination is Estre, Estraven's home.
  • A young man named Sorve Harth admits Ai into Estre. Ai meets Esvans Harth rem ir Estraven, Estraven's father.
  • Ai can't see his friend in his father's face and feels his chance at receiving solace from the visit is impossible.
  • Instead, he gives Esvans his son's journals to add to the archives.
  • Sorve suddenly asks if they still call him Estraven the Traitor in Erhenrang, and Esvans introduces the young man as his son's son, the offspring of Arek and Estraven.
  • Estraven's father desires to hear the tale of how the two crossed the ice, while Estraven's son wants to know how his father died and what kind of men live in the stars.
  • Guess that's why Genly wrote this book, hm?