‘Indwellers of the Fastness have no ranks or status. I may be sent to Erhenrang to the kyorremy; well, if I go, I take back my status and my shadow, but my foretelling’s at an end. If I had a question while I served in the kyorremy, I’d go to Orgny Fastness there, pay my price, and get my answer. But we in the Handdara don’t want answers. It’s hard to avoid them, but we try to.’

‘Faxe, I don’t think I understand.’

‘Well, we come here to the Fastness mostly to learn what questions not to ask.’

‘But you’re the Answerers!’

‘You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?’


‘To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.’

I pondered that a good while, as we walked side by side through the rain, under the dark branches of the Forest of Otherhord. Within the white hood Faxe’s face was tired and quiet, its light quenched. Yet he still awed me a little. When he looked at me with his clear, kind, candid eyes, he looked at me out of a tradition thirteen thousand years old: a way of thought and way of life so old, so well established, so integral and coherent as to give a human being unselfconciousness, the authority, the completeness of a wild animal, a great strange creature who looks straight at you out of his eternal present….

‘The unknown,’ said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, ‘the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is God, there would be no religion…. Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable – the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?’

‘ That we shall die.’

‘Yes. There’s really one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer…. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.’

The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin