EVER SINCE he awoke on the space-ship Ransom had been thinking about the amazing adventure of going to another planet, and about his chances of returning from it. What he had not thought about was being on it. It was with a kind of stupefaction each morning that he found himself neither arriving in, nor escaping from, but simply living on, Malacandra; waking, sleeping, eating, swimming, and even, as the days passed, talking. The wonder of it smote him most strongly when he found himself, about three weeks after his arrival, actually going for a walk. A few weeks later he had his favourite walks, and his favourite foods; he was beginning to develop habits. He knew a male from a female hross at sight, and even individual differences were becoming plain. Hyoi who had first found him - miles away to the north - was a very different person from the grey-muzzled, venerable Hnohra who was daily teaching him the language; and the young of the species were different again. They were delightful. You could forget all about the rationality of hrossa in dealing with them. Too young to trouble him with the baffling enigma of reason in an inhuman form, they solaced his loneliness, as if he had been allowed to bring a few dogs with him from the Earth. The cubs, on their part, felt the liveliest interest in the hairless goblin which had appeared among them. With them, and therefore indirectly with their dams, he was a brilliant success.
Of the community in general his earlier impressions were all gradually being corrected. His first diagnosis of their culture was what he called 'old stone age.' The few cutting instruments they possessed were made of stone. They seemed to have no pottery but a few clumsy vessels used for boiling, and boiling was the only cookery they attempted. Their common drinking vessel, dish and ladle all in one was the oyster-like shell in which he had first tasted hross hospitality; the fish which it contained was their only animal food. Vegetable fare they had in great plenty and variety, some of it delicious. Even the pinkish-white weed which covered the whole handramit was edible at a pinch, so that if he had starved before Hyoi found him he would have starved amidst abundance. No hross, however, ate the weed (honodraskrud) for choice, though it might be used faute de mieux on a journey. Their dwellings were beehive-shaped huts of stiff leaf and the villages - there were several in the neighbourhood - were always built beside rivers for warmth and well upstream towards the walls of the handramit where the water was hottest. They slept on the ground. They seemed to have no arts except a kind of poetry and music which was practised almost every evening by a team or troupe of four hrossa. One recited half chanting at great length while the other three, sometimes singly and sometimes antiphonally, interrupted him from time to time with song. Ransom could not find out whether these interruptions were simply lyrical interludes or dramatic dialogue arising out of the leaders' narrative. He could make nothing of the music. The voices were not disagreeable and the scale seemed adapted to human ears, but the time pattern was meaningless to his sense of rhythm. The occupations of the tribe or family were at first mysterious. People were always disappearing for a few days and reappearing again. There was a little fishing and much journeying in boats of which he never discovered the object. Then one day he saw a kind of caravan of hrossa setting out by land each with a load of vegetable food on its head. Apparently there was some kind of trade in Malacandra.
He discovered their agriculture in the first week. About a mile down the handramit one came to broad lands free of forest and clothed for many miles together in low pulpy vegetation in which yellow, orange and blue predominated. Later on, there were lettuce-like plants about the height of a terrestrial birch tree. Where one of these overhung the warmth of water you could step into one of the lower leaves and lie deliciously as in a gently moving, fragrant hammock. Elsewhere it was not warm enough to sit still for long out of doors; the general temperature of the handramit was that of a fine winter's morning on Earth. These food-producing areas were worked communally by the surrounding villages, and division of labour had been carried to a higher point than he expected. Cutting, drying, storing, transport and something like manuring were all carried on, and he suspected that some at least of the water channels were artificial.
But the real revolution in his understanding of the hrossa began when he had learned enough of their language to attempt some satisfaction of their curiosity about himself. In answer to their questions he began by saying that he had come out of the sky. Hnohra immediately asked from which planet or earth (handra). Ransom, who had deliberately given a childish version of the truth in order to adapt it to the supposed ignorance of his audience, was a little annoyed to find Hnohra painfully explaining to him that he could not live in the sky because there was no air in it; he might have come through the sky but he must have come from a handra. He was quite unable to point Earth out to them in the night sky. They seemed surprised at his inability, and repeatedly pointed out to him a bright planet low on the western horizon - a little south of where the sun had gone down. He was surprised that they selected a planet instead of a mere star and stuck to their choice; could it be possible that they understood astronomy? Unfortunately he still knew too little of the language to explore their knowledge. He turned the conversation by asking them the name of the bright southern planet, and was told that it was Thulcandra - the silent world or planet.
"Why do you call it Thulc?" he asked. "Why silent?" No one knew.
"The seroni know," said Hnohra. "That is the sort of thing they know."
Then he was asked how he had come, and made a very poor attempt at describing the space-ship - but again:
"The seroni would know."
Had he come alone? No, he had come with two others of his kind - bad men ('bent' men was the nearest hrossian equivalent) who tried to kill him, but he had run away from them. The hrossa found this very difficult, but all finally agreed that he ought to go to Oyarsa. Oyarsa would protect him. Ransom asked who Oyarsa was. Slowly, and with many misunderstandings, he hammered out the information that Oyarsa (1) lived in Meldilorn; (2) knew everything and ruled everyone; (3) had always been there; and (4) was not a hross, nor one of the seroni. Then Ransom, following his own idea, asked if Oyarsa had made the world. The hrossa almost barked in the fervour of their denial. Did people in Thulcandra not know that Maleldil the Young had made and still ruled the world? Even a child knew that. Where did Maleldil live, Ransom asked.
"With the Old One."
And who was the Old One? Ransom did not understand the answer. He tried again.
"Where was the Old One?"
"He is not that sort," said Hnohra, "that he has to live anywhere," and proceeded to a good deal which Ransom did not follow. But he followed enough to feel once more a certain irritation. Ever since he had discovered the rationality of the hrossa he had been haunted by a conscientious scruple as to whether it might not be his duty to undertake their religious instruction; now, as a result of his tentative efforts, he found himself being treated as if he were the savage and being given a first sketch of civilized religion - a sort of hrossian equivalent of the shorter catechism. It became plain that Maleldil was a spirit without body, parts or passions.
"He is not a hnau," said the hrossa.
"What is hnau?" asked Ransom.
"You are hnau. I am hnau. The seroni are hnau. The pfifltriggi are hnau."
"Pfifltriggi?" said Ransom.
"More than ten days' journey to the west," said Hnohra. "The harandra sinks down not in to handramit but into a broad place, an open place, spreading every way. Five days' journey from the north to the south of it; ten days' journey from the east to the west. The forests are of other colours there than here, they are blue and green. It is very deep there, it goes to the roots of the world. The best things that can be dug out of the earth are there. The Pfifltriggi live there. They delight in digging. What they dig they soften with fire and make things of it. They are little people, smaller than you, long in the snout, pale, busy. They have long limbs in front. No hnau can match them in making and shaping things as none can match us in singing. But let Hman see."
He turned and spoke to one of the younger hrossa and presently, passed from hand to hand, there came to him a little bowl. He held it close to the firelight and examined it. It was certainly of gold, and Ransom realized the meaning of Devine's interest in Malacandra.
"Is there much of this thing?" he asked.
Yes, he was told, it was washed down in most, of the rivers; but the best and most was among the pfifltriggi, and it was they who were skilled in it. Arbol hru, they called it - Sun's blood. He looked at the bowl again. It was covered with fine etching. He saw pictures of hrossa and of smaller, ahnost frog-like animals; and then, of sorns. He pointed to the latter inquiringly.
"Seroni," said the hrossa, confirming his suspicions. "They live up almost on the harandra.
In the big caves." The frog-like animals - or tapir-headed, frog-bodied animals - were pfifltriggi. Ransom turned it over in his mind. On Malacandra, apparently, three distinct species had reached rationality, and none of them had yet exterminated the other two. It concerned him intensely to find out which was the real master.
"Which of the hnau rule?" he asked.
"Oyarsa rules," was the reply.
"Is he hnau?"
This puzzled them a little. The seroni, they thought, would be better at that kind of question.
Perhaps Oyarsa was hnau, but a very different hnau. He had no death and no young.
"These seroni know more than the hrossa?" asked Ransom.
This produced more a debate than an answer. What emerged finally was that the seroni or sorns were perfectly helpless in a boat, and could not fish to save their lives, could hardly swim, could make no poetry, and even when hrossa had made it for them could understand only the inferior sorts; but they were admittedly good at finding out things about the stars and understanding the darker utterances of Oyarsa and telling what happened in Malacandra long ago - longer ago than anyone could remember.
'Ah - the intelligentsia,' thought Ransom. 'They must be the real rulers, however it is disguised.'
He tried to ask what would happen if the sorns used their wisdom to make the hrossa do things - this was as far as he could get in his halting Malacandrian. The question did not sound nearly so urgent in this form as it would have done if he had been able to say "used their scientific resources for the exploitation of their uncivilized neighbours." But he might have spared his pains. The mention of the sorns' inadequate appreciation of poetry had diverted the whole conversation into literary channels. Of the heated, and apparently technical, discussion which followed he understood not a syllable.
Naturally his conversations with the hrossa did not all turn on Malacandra. He had to repay them with information about Earth. He was hampered in this both by the humiliating discoveries which he was constantly making of his own ignorance about his native planet, and partly by his determination to conceal some of the truth. He did not want to tell them too much of our human wars and industrialisms. He remembered how H. G. Wells's Cavor had met his end on the Moon; also he felt shy. A sensation akin to that of physical nakedness came over him whenever they questioned him too closely about men - the hmana as they called them. Moreover, he was determined not to let them know that he had been brought there to be given to the sorns; for he was becoming daily more certain that these were the dominant species. What he did tell them fired the imagination of the hrossa: they all began making poems about the strange handra where the plants were hard like stone and the earth-weed green like rock and the waters cold and salt, and hmana, lived out on top, on the harandra.
They were even more interested in what he had to tell them of the aquatic animal with snapping jaws which he had fled from in their own world and even in their own handramit. It was a hnakra, they all agreed. They were intensely excited. There had not been a hnakra in the valley for many years. The youth of the hrossa got out their weapons - primitive harpoons with points of bone - and the very cubs began playing at hnakra-hunting in the shallows. Some of the mothers showed signs of anxiety and wanted the cubs to be kept out of the water, but in general the news of the hnakra seemed to be immensely popular. Hyoi set off at once to do something to his boat, and Ransom accompanied him. He wished to make himself useful, and was already beginning to have some vague capacity with the primitive hrossian tools. They walked together to Hyoi's creek, a stone's throw through the forest.
On the way, where the path was single and Ransom was following Hyoi, they passed a little she-hross, not much more than a cub. She spoke as they passed, but not to them: her eyes were on a spot about five yards away.
"Who do you speak to, Hrikki?" said Ransom.
"To the eldil."
"Did you not see him?"
"I saw nothing."
"There! There! " she cried suddenly. "Ah! He is gone. Did you not see him?"
"I saw no one."
"Hyoi," said the cub, "the hman cannot see the eldil!"
But Hyoi, continuing steadily on his way, was already out of earshot, and had apparently noticed nothing. Ransom concluded that Hrikki was 'pretending' like the young of his own species. In a few moments he rejoined his companion.XII
THEY WORKED hard at Hyoi's boat till noon and then spread themselves on the weed close to the warmth of the creek, and began their midday meal. The war-like nature of their preparations suggested many questions to Ransom. He knew no word for war, but he managed to make Hyoi understand what he wanted to know. Did seroni and hrossa and pfifltriggi ever go out like this, with weapons, against each other?
"What for?" asked Hyoi.
It was difficult to explain. "If both wanted one thing and neither would give it," said Ransom, "would the other at last come with force? Would they say, give it or we kill you?"
"What sort of thing?"
"Well - food, perhaps."
"If the other hnau wanted food, why should we not give it to them? We often do."
"But how if we had not enough for ourselves?"
"But Maleldil will not stop the plants growing."
"Hyoi, if you had more and more young, would Maleldil broaden the handramit and make enough plants for them all?"
"The seroni know that sort of thing. But why should we have more young?"
Ransom found this difficult. At last he said:
"Is the begetting of young not a pleasure among the hrossa?"
"A very great one, Hman. This is what we call love."
"If a thing is a pleasure, a hman wants it again. He might want the pleasure more often than the number of young that could be fed."
It took Hyoi a long time to get the point.
"You mean," he said slowly, "that he might do it not only in one or two years of his life but again?"
"But - why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept? I do not understand."
"But a dinner comes every day. This love, you say, comes only once while the hross lives?"
"But it takes his whole life. When he is young he has to look for his mate; and then he has to court her; then he begets young; then he rears them; then he remembers all this, and boils it inside him and makes it into poems and wisdom."
"But the pleasure he must be content only to remember?"
"That is like saying 'My food I must be content only to eat.' "
"I do not understand."
"A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. The seroni could say it better than I say it now. Not better than I could say it in a poem. What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then - that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?"
"Perhaps some of them do," said Ransom. "But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?"
Hyoi's reply unfortunately turned on one of those points in their language which Ransom had not mastered. There were two verbs which both, as far as he could see, meant to long or yearn; but the hrossa drew a sharp distinction, even an opposition, between them. Hyoi seemed to him merely to be saying that every one would long for it (wondelone) but no one in his senses could long for it (hluntheline).
"And indeed," he continued, "the poem is a good example. For the most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean in a good poem."
"But in a bent poem, Hyoi?"
"A bent poem is not listened to, Hman."
"And how of love in a bent life?"
"How could the life of a hnau be bent?"
"Do you say, Hyoi, that there are no bent hrossa?"
Hyoi reflected. "I have heard," he said at last, "of something like what you mean. It is said that sometimes here and there a cub at a certain age gets strange twists in him. I have heard of one that wanted to eat earth; there might, perhaps, be somewhere a hross likewise that wanted to have the years of love prolonged. I have not heard of it, but it might be. I have heard of something stranger. There is a poem about a hross who lived long ago, in another handramit, who saw things all made two - two suns in the sky, two heads on a neck; and last of all they say that he fell into such a frenzy that he desired two mates. I do not ask you to believe it, but that is the story: that he loved two hressni."
Ransom pondered this. Here, unless Hyoi was deceiving him, was a species naturally continent, naturally monogamous. And yet, was it so strange? Some animals, he knew, had regular breeding seasons; and if nature could perform the miracle of turning the sexual impulse outward at all, why could she not go further and fix it, not morally but instinctively, to a single object? He even remembered dimly having heard that some terrestrial animals, some of the 'lower' animals, were naturally monogamous. Among the hrossa, anyway, it was obvious that unlimited breeding and promiscuity were as rare as the rarest perversions. At last it dawned upon him that it was not they, but his own species, that were the puzzle. That the hrossa should have such instincts was mildly surprising; but how came it that the instincts of the hrossa so closely resembled the unattained ideals of that far-divided species Man whose instincts were so deplorably different? What was the history of Man? But Hyoi was speaking again.
"Undoubtedly," he said. "Maleldil made us so. How could there ever be enough to eat if everyone had twenty young? And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back - if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day ?"
"All the same," said Ransom, unconsciously nettled on behalf of his own world, "Maleldil has let in the hnakra."
"Oh, but that is so different. I long to kill this hnakra as he also longs to kill me. I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my straight spear when the black jaws snap. And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him. But they will not wish that there were no hneraki; nor do I. How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved. We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come. We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra. In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play at being hneraki as soon as they can splash in the shallows."
"And then he kills them?"
"Not often them. The hrossa would be bent hrossa if they let him get so near. Long before he had come down so far we should have sought him out. No, Hman, it is not a few deaths roving the world around him that make a hnau miserable. It is a bent hnau that would blacken the world. And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes. I will tell you a day in my life that has shaped me; such a day as comes only once, like love, or serving Oyarsa in Meldilorn. Then I was young, not much more than a cub, when I went far, far up the handramit to the land where stars shine at midday and even water is cold. A great waterfall I climbed. I stood on the shore of Balki the pool, which is the place of most awe in all worlds. The walls of it go up for ever and ever and huge and holy images are cut in them, the work of old times. There is the fall called the Mountain of Water. Because I have stood there alone, Maleldil and I, for even Oyarsa sent me no word, my heart has been higher, my song deeper, all my days. But do you think it would have been so unless I had known that in Balki hneraki dwelled? There I drank life because death was in the pool. That was the best of drinks save one."
"What one?" asked Ransom.
"Death itself in the day I drink it and go to Maleldil."
Shortly after that they rose and resumed their work. The sun was declining as they came back through the wood. It occurred to Ransom to ask Hyoi a question.
"Hyoi," he said, "it comes into my head that when I first saw you and before you saw me, you were already speaking. That was how I knew that you were hnau, for otherwise I should have thought you a beast, and run away. But who were you speaking to?"
"To an eldil."
"What is that? I saw no one."
"Are there no eldila in your world, Hman? That must be strange."
"But what are they?"
"They come from Oyarsa - they are, I suppose, a kind of hnau."
"As we came out today I passed a child who said she was talking to an eldil, but I could see nothing."
"One can see by looking at your eyes, Hman, that they are different from ours. But eldila are hard to see. They are not like us. Light goes through them. You must be looking in the right place and the right time; and that is not likely to come about unless the eldil wishes to be seen. Sometimes you can mistake them for a sunbeam or even a moving of the leaves; but when you look again you see that it was an eldil and that it is gone. But whether your eyes can ever see them I do not know. The seroni would know that."