One Cup of Borovan
“It’s strange, isn’t it.”
“What’s strange?” He turns to look at her, the tips of her ears coated with frost and her slightly blue nose poking out of a bundle of warm hood, and thinks that she is talking about the wide grin on her face. (She looks like she’s crazy. But then again, that’s just the way she smiles.)
“Strange that we’re weird like this. Climbing mountains for fun. Battling evil villains.”
She grins at him, and he hands her a steaming cup of Borovan. He relaxes slightly, burrowing into the warmth of his cozy thermal-insulated sleeping bag.
“It’s not strange. Most children would love to do this when they grow up,” he answers, and he is both annoyed and slightly intrigued at the same time. Intrigued by the prospect of this whole conversation, and annoyed that it is two in the morning and he is sleepy and cold and she wants to talk about the meaning of life over Borovan.
“Yes, but we never planned to do this, I mean. And now look. People all over the world know me. I could have a very comfortable life right now, but here I am huddled in this Fyora-forsaken igloo over a cup of Borovan, freezing my toes off. I could be sunbathing on the beaches of Mystery Island right now. Instead, look where I choose to be. It makes me wonder – what motivates people to do this?”
Hannah is very quiet now, her brow furrowed as she stares intently into the cup of Borovan, turning it slowly in her mittened hands. Armin rolls over on his side with a grunt, not looking at her.
“All sorts of things motivate people. What motivates you, after all?”
“I dunno, I guess.” Hannah looks puzzled now. She is thinking about this matter hard enough not to notice that the Borovan is tipping dangerously close to the edge of the mug, and she doesn’t notice until the hot liquid steams over into her lap, which is thankfully protected by a thick, fur-lined parka. All the same, Hannah the Usul gives a loud shriek and leaps up, promptly banging her head on the top of the igloo and falling back to the ground unconscious, with a thump. She sends a shower of ice crystals falling all over them. Armin sighs with some relief. At least he’ll get some rest now. But still, he crawls over, checks that Hannah is okay, brushes the debris of snowy white powder off of her, and covers her with a blanket. Then he snuggles back into his own sleeping bag and falls asleep.
The next morning, Hannah has an answer waiting for him. He wakes up to find her cooking more Borovan over the fire, and he tries to go back to sleep with a loud groan. By now, he’s really getting sick of Borovan.
But Hannah won’t let him go back to sleep. She shakes him awake and hands him a mug of Borovan, a set, decided look on her face. He waits for her to start, sipping the hot liquid and enjoying the few minutes of silence.
“Freedom.” is the simple answer. Armin is somewhat surprised by this. He’d expected a long, introspective speech typical of Hannah – but today, she’s actually managed to surprise him.
“And this motivates you why?” he questions, over the rim of his mug. He sounds like a psychiatrist, sans the clipboard, thick glasses, and comfortable chaise.
She answers right off the bat.
“Because I love the way it feels – the wind in your hair, when you’re standing up there at the bow of the ship, because it feels like you're flying. Or seeing all that stuff you’d never get to see, not in a billion lifetimes, if you didn’t take a chance. And the way that adrenaline pumps through your blood, when you’re running away or chasing or fleeing or maybe just running for the love of it – and then at the end of it all, you can rest easy knowing you did something good today.”
She inhales, takes a deep breath. She’s said it all in one mouthful, and he’s surprised to find that she’s said it all for him, too.
“Now, Armin,” she continues, and he can sense that hint of persistence that comes with the package. “What makes you go adventuring?”
He takes his time. Stares off into space, surveying the beautiful Terror Mountain dawn and the way the rising sun throws rainbows over never-ending, pristine white tundra.
“Nobody ever really knows who they are, I think, unless they go looking for themselves.”
It’s weird, the way he says it, and he can’t really understand it himself, but what he thinks is a feeling that can’t be put into words. It’s just there, lying at the bottom of your heart, waiting to be heard. Sometimes it’s ignored and sometimes it isn’t. He heard it, and he listened, and he’s still not quite sure what to do or where to go next, after all these years, but he’s learned something. And even though he hasn’t quite found an answer yet, he knows it’s there. Waiting.
Armin watches her carefully, gauging her reaction. It’s just as he predicted. At first, confusion flickers over her face, and then realization begins to dawn upon her, reflecting the early morning sun. And he can tell, because her china-blue Usul eyes brighten and sparkle and finally they’re blazing, and he just knows she’s bursting to talk. (That’s just the way that Hannah is.)
“I get it. I think that lots of people have that feeling, and if you’re born without it, you’re either crazy or you can’t feel at all. Maybe we just had that feeling stronger than others. Maybe that feeling was on our side. It’s like... you feel like there’s something out there, waiting, that’s bigger than any of us and all of us, and it’s like you know you’ve got to do something about so you go looking. But I haven’t ever met anybody who’s ever found it.”
He’s at a loss for words. But they don’t need words, because they sit there, sipping their cups of Borovan, basking in the fact that they know each other understands this. Finally Armin breaks the silence.
“It’s different, for everybody, right?”
She nods, and gets up and dusts the snow off her parka, looking dreamily off into the rosy dawn, all shot through with pink and gold and dusted with stars that haven’t quite entirely faded away. An unknown vibration thrums through the tundra and around her, and it’s like a voice that isn’t speaking is calling to her from somewhere very far away. She hands Armin her cup and they begin to pack up, but she keeps her ears perked for the source of that voice, that feeling.
“Maybe that’s why we’re here. To find other people like that. You know?” she suggests, and Armin just half-smiles mysteriously and clasps the backpack shut. He hefts it onto his back and walks away, and she follows, over the snowy white plain.
It’s beautiful. The tundra, I mean, in the pale pink of the Terror Island dawn. It’s like something untamed, unexplored, just a vast playground of adventure and ice crystals just always lying out there beyond your grasp. It’s like an unachievable dream.
(But they have achieved it, and they’re here, gazing upon it, but not really feeling like a part of it all.)
“Armin,” says Hannah, after a while, when they get tired of not talking. Her tone is clipped and short because the snowshoes they’re wearing are heavy and dragging their feet down into snowdrifts that are a lot deeper than they look. (And she can’t feel her toes, which makes her irritable.)
“What?” he answers, and he grunts after he says it as he lugs a large sled through another snowdrifts. Whatever good feeling remained of this morning is now gone.
“Armin, when will we see Kanrik?” Hannah twists a strand of hair around her finger as she says it, only half-paying attention to how the sled they’re pulling, stocked with Borovan and supplies, is stuck in the snowdrift, precariously close to tipping over.
“I” – tug – “don’t” – pull – “KNOW!” yells Armin, and with one might heave the sled comes popping out of the snowdrift and begins to slide forward, carried by the weight of Borovan and formerly unseen steep incline of a downwards-tilting hill.
It slides forward so slowly that Hannah, caught daydreaming, and Armin, taken by surprise, don’t see it until it catches them off their feet and knocks them back up on top of their cargo, Hannah head over heels (literally) on top of a teapot and Armin being dragged backwards by the back of his overlarge parka, caught on the overhanging rim of a box of Borovan.
Slowly, the sled inches forward, gaining momentum with every centimeter, and suddenly they’re perched on the rim of a dizzyingly high peak that offers a fantastic view of the Ice Caves, but, unfortunately, not much hope of their survival. The sled is tipping forward, almost vertical in the air, which is how steep the incline is. Hannah and Armin are so surprised they forget to scream when the sled plunges into a head-long pelt down the cliffs.
And the speed they’re going down at is so fast there’s no time to scream, because icicles are flashing by and catching their images like mirrors, comically stuck between terror and a bizarre desire to burst out laughing. Hannah’s hood has fallen off, and she’s peering out from between her knees, and the corners of Armin’s lips are being pulled back, making him look like he’s smiling more than he feels. He’s trying to say something – and he was going to say something, but he completely forgets in the rush of it all, because their hearts are going tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp-tmp like jackhammers. They’re zooming past a bunch of surprised pets on their way to visit the Negg Faerie, and another group that are buying scratchcards from the Kiosk, and suddenly – Hannah and Armin have no idea how, but it involves a 90 degree swerve to avoid an elderly Wocky carrying bags of souvenirs – but somehow they’re on their way into the Snowager’s cave, and Armin, who doesn’t even have a watch on, somehow knows that the Snowager is awake at exactly that moment.
(And that is when he – wisely – chooses to remember to start screaming.)
Armin is yelling at Hannah to turn the sled, and she stretches an ear back toward him, but she can’t hear anything decipherable save for an incoherent babble of words. But she understands when they slide into the Snowager’s chamber, yelling and yelping and shrieking, and that alone, and the crash as the solid wall of ice they hit shatters and sends small pieces of ice flying everywhere, is enough to wake up the Snowager.
He does so with a roar. A roar and an almighty flick of the tail powerful enough to send half his treasure load zooming out of the chamber and into the main road of the ice caves, to the mingled surprise, delight, and mounting terror of the pets gathered there to watch this rather amazing spectacle. The sled chooses this appropriate time to skid to a stop and come to a halt in front of and at the feet of a very, very irate-looking blue Gelert with a scar over one eye. (This Gelert’s name is Kanrik.)
Armin and Hannah grin up at him very sheepishly, only to find that he pulls out a slingshot in return. For a split second it is aimed at them; but it proves to be an adjustment of direction that causes Kanrik to fire a smooth, round, ocean-washed pebble directly above them at a strategically-place boulder at the top of the cavern. The boulder comes crashing down and rolls in front of the great hole of which the Snowager was just plunging out of, effectively stopping the great worm in its tracks.
Kanrik does not even pause to survey his work, but instead turns and raises a curious and somewhat reproaching eyebrow at Hannah and Armin, who can only shrug in deference and allow themselves to be untangled of their cargo of imported Borovan.
It is only later, after receiving both a medal and a warning from the citizens of Terror Mountain, that they have time to sit and discuss with their friend the recent events of the day.
“Kanrik,” Hannah says (and she says this with a straight face), “what do you think the meaning of life is?”
Kanrik can only spit out half a cup of Borovan and splutter with laughter, coughing and choking over her unusual question. Hannah looks perturbed; to her it is not such an unusual question to ask.
“You’re asking me that?” he demands, and his voice is high in pitch with mirth, and Armin can only look from one to the other, calmly sipping his own mug of Borovan.
“Yes, I believe so.” Hannah answers. She folds her fingertips in front of her and places them in her lap very formally. They are seated at a nice café by the beach in Mystery Island, and Hannah has a flower pinned in her hair and Kanrik and Armin are wearing lei made of Gadsgadsbogen fruits. There is a somewhat deflated shiny silver balloon reading “Happy Birthday!” tied to the leg of Kanrik’s chair. (Kanrik thought it was best that they depart as soon from the scene of their – accomplishment – as soon as possible.)
Hannah twitches her nose at him, looking impatient.
“Well, fine.” Kanrik sighs, and he pushes his mug of Borovan away from him, instead opting for the more tropical mixture of Tchea fruit smoothie. “I think the meaning of life is” – and he looks around at their inquiring faces, smiling wryly. “I don’t think I’m going to tell you after all.”
Hannah releases a shout of protest, and actually slams a fist on the table, attracting the attention of several surprised onlookers. They nervously shimmy away from her, apparently reluctant to approach the seemingly crazy brunette Usul waving an empty mug of Borovan in the air.
“And after all we went through to get you your stupid Borovan, by Fyora’s purple wig! We wouldn’t have to go get an entire crate of the stupid beverage for your birthday, if you weren’t so obsessed with it!” Hannah yells, and she tackles Kanrik with a war cry, wrestling him to the ground and attempting to yank the lei from his neck. Kanrik is sputtering his protests, and Armin is looking on, laughing until he feels that he might burst.
This, Kanrik had wanted to say, is what the meaning of life is all about.