This chapter is a folktale recorded by Genly Ai called “Estraven the Traitor.” It begins a long time ago, in Karhide before it was unified. The story concerns two Domains, Stok and Estre, which have been feuding for three generations.
Although this story does not directly affect the plot, it gives insight into inter-Hearth relationships, and the mythology of Karhide.
A young man named Estraven, heir to the Lord of Estre, is skiing one day and falls into a lake. Frozen and sickly, he is far from home and makes his way to a cottage at the edge of the water. In the cottage is a young man who saves his life, warming and feeding him. This man is named Stokven, son of the Lord of Stok, and is his mortal enemy. However, the two men are both near kemmering, and instead of fighting they have intercourse and vow kemmering to each other.
This folktale underscores the importance of romantic and sexual bonds in Karhidish society. Even decades-old feuds fought on a large scale can be overcome by the personal connection between two people in kemmering.
The next morning men from Stok come to the cabin. They recognize Estraven and kill him. Stokven demands they return Estraven to Estre for burial. Secretly, they do not follow his orders, and instead leave Estraven’s body in the woods. When they return, Stokven banishes them, knowing that if they had truly delivered the body they would have been killed in Estre.
Although Stokven’s allegiance, up until the previous night, had been to his Hearth and his community, he now feels an obligation towards Estraven, his one-time lover. This love is strong enough for him to punish members of his own Hearth, and demonstrates the importance of the connection of people who meet in kemmering.
Stokven has become pregnant, and when the baby is born he delivers it to Estre, announcing the child is named Therem, and is Estraven’s son. Sorve, the Lord of Estre, mourns his son and decides to keep and care for his grandson, even using the name Therem, which is uncommon in his clan. Therem grows up, and one day, as a young man, he is ambushed by jealous men from Estre, who resent that he has been made heir to the Domain. Therem kills two of his ambushers, but is wounded in the chest and neck. He is too far from home to go for help, and instead makes his way to a cottage on the lakeshore.
The story warns of the danger of continuing the cycle of violence. Although Therem could serve as a kind of peace offering, Estre and Stok remain enemies, and the fighting continues. While murder is not outlawed in Gethen, life is precious, and it is easy to see this story as underscoring the futility of family feuds, which lead to a loss of life that benefits no one.
In the cottage is Stokven, who tends Therem’s wounds. Stokven says the two are mortal enemies. Therem says he’s never seen Stokven before, though Stokven has seen Therem once. They vow peace to each other, and in the morning, Therem returns to Estre. When Sorve dies, Therem becomes the Lord of Estre. He ends the feud with Stok, giving up half the disputed lands. Because of this, Estraven becomes known as Estraven the Traitor, but children are still given his name.
Once again, the bond between a kemmering pair, which leads to the bond between a parent and a child, leads to loyalty stronger than the loyalty Therem feels to his own Hearth. That is not to say that he does not still feel an allegiance to his home; instead, he understands that he can feel pride in his Hearth without also feeling animosity towards outside groups.