She looks to him, his voice hanging in the stagnant air. They pass through it with their steps, the pack animals braying as the loads shift on their backs; rolled up clothes of tents and carpets, rattling cookware and casks of clean water and preserved meat.
“An interesting name for this place, Henya. Archaic, but lyrical.”
Her smile is playful, as though the lyricism of the name has also spread upon her countenance. She would be beautiful, he recognizes, even were it not for the stark sand and endless solitude, with crisp, dark features and eyes that reflect and magnify her expressions.
“Do you know it by another, Uza?”
He shakes his head.
“No… And also yes. I’ve a name for it, in another parlance, but to say that it’s an alternative to yours is to assume that both are names for the same thing.”
He hears her footfalls stutter, sees her cock her head inquisitively out of the corner of his eye.
“Are we not both speaking of this land, though? Is it not the ground upon which we walk and the air that we breathe?”
Now it is Uza’s turn to smile.
“Yes, it’s certainly that, but do both terms represent the same idea? Are both of them expressions of the same qualities, or are they disparate from one another, differentiated by even a minor distinction in purpose? It’s possible, even likely, that one term is inspired by the physical existence alone while the other describes a purpose for it. In effect, even though both are names for the land upon which we walk, they may very well spring from wholly different experiences.”
They walk on in silence for minutes, listening to the occasional shifting of sand and the dry crunch of cracked earth beneath their sandals. Sandals! A luxury he would never have expected. Henya’s father was to thank for such a gift, in light of which the weight of the pack on his back and the sweat it trapped against his flesh was almost too trite a payment. He would have to find some other way to thank the man, or live the remainder of his life implicitly indebted to him.
“What is it you called it?”
He regards her carefully for a moment, trying to let old reflexes rest uncalled, lay himself open and unguarded. It’s just a name, after all.
“Not just me. Us. We called it ‘Gehenna.'”