WHEN RANSOM had finished his meal and drunk again of the strong waters of Malacandra, his host rose and entered the boat. He did this head-first like an animal, his sinuous body allowing him to rest his hands on the bottom of the boat while his feet were still planted on the land. He completed the operation by flinging rump, tail and hind legs all together about five feet into the air and then whisking them neatly on board with an agility which would have been quite impossible to an animal of his bulk on Earth.
Having got into the boat, he proceeded to get out again and then pointed to it. Ransom understood that he was being invited to follow his example. The question which he wanted to ask above all others could not, of course, be put. Were the hrossa (he discovered later that this was the plural of hross) the dominant species on Malacandra, and the sorns, despite their more man-like shape, merely a semi-intelligent kind of cattle? Fervently he hoped that it might be so. On the other hand, the hrossa might be the domestic animals of the sorns, in which case the latter would be superintelligent. His whole imaginative training somehow encouraged him to associate superhuman intelligence with monstrosity of form and ruthlessness of will. To step on board the hross's boat might mean surrending himself to sorns at the other end of the journey. On the other hand, the hross's invitation might be a golden opportunity of leaving the sorn-haunted forests for ever. And by this time the hross itself was becoming puzzled at his apparent inability to understand it. The urgency of its signs finally determined him. The thought of parting from the hross could not be seriously entertained; its animality shocked him in a dozen ways, but his longing to learn its language, and, deeper still, the shy, ineluctable fascination of unlike for unlike, the sense that the key to prodigious adventure was being put in his hands - all this had really attached him to it by bonds stronger than he knew. He stepped into the boat.
The boat was without seats. It had a very high prow, an enormous expanse of free-board, and what seemed to Ransom an impossibly shallow draught. Indeed, very little of it even rested on the water; he was reminded of a modern European speed-boat. It was moored by something that looked at first like rope; but the hross cast off not by untying but by simply pulling the apparent rope in two as one might pull in two a piece of soft toffee or a roll of plasticine. It then squatted down on its rump in the stern-sheets and took up a paddle - a paddle of such enormous blade that Ransom wondered how the creature could wield it, till he again remembered how light a planet they were on. The length of the hross's body enabled him to work freely in the squatting position despite the high gunwale. It paddled quickly.
For the first few minutes they passed between banks wooded with the purple trees, upon a waterway not more than a hundred yards in width. Then they doubled a promontory, and Ransom saw that they were emerging on to a much larger sheet of water - a great lake, almost a sea. The hross, now taking great care and often changing direction and looking about it, paddled well out from the shore. The dazzling blue expanse grew moment by moment wider around them; Ransom could not look steadily at it. The warmth from the water was oppressive; he removed his cap and jerkin, and by so doing surprised the hross very much.
He rose cautiously to a standing position and surveyed the Malacandrian prospect which had opened on every side. Before and behind them lay the glittering lake, here studded with islands, and there smiling uninterruptedly at the pale blue sky; the sun, he noticed, was almost immediately overhead - they were in the Malacandrian tropics. At each end the lake vanished into more complicated groupings of land and water, softly, featherily embossed in the purple giant weed. But this marshy land or chain of archipelagoes, as he now beheld it, was bordered on each side with jagged walls of the pale green mountains, which he could still hardly call mountains, so tall they were, so gaunt, sharp, narrow and seemingly unbalanced. On the starboard they were not more than a mile away and seemed divided from the water only by a narrow strip of forest; to the left they were far more distant, though still impressive - perhaps seven miles from the boat. They ran on each side of the watered country as far as he could see, both onwards and behind them; he was sailing, in fact, on the flooded floor of a majestic canyon nearly ten miles wide and of unknown length. Behind and sometimes above the mountain peaks he could make out in many places great billowy piles of the rose-red substance which he had yesterday mistaken for cloud. The mountains, in fact, seemed to have no fall of ground behind them; they were rather the serrated bastion of immeasurable tablelands, higher in many places than themselves, which made the Malacandrian horizon left and right as far as eye could reach. Only straight ahead and straight astern was the planet cut with the vast gorge, which now appeared to him only as a rut or crack in the tableland.
He wondered what the cloud-like red masses were and endeavoured to ask by signs. The question was, however, too particular for sign-language. The hross, with a wealth of gesticulation - its arms or fore-limbs were more flexible than his and in quick motion almost whip-like - made it clear that it supposed him to be asking about the high ground in general. It named this harandra. The low, watered country, the gorge or canyon, appeared to be handramit. Ransom grasped the implications, handra earth, harandra high earth, mountain, handramit, low earth, valley. Highland and lowland, in fact. The peculiar importance of the distinction in Malacandrian geography he learned later.
By this time the hross had attained the end of its careful navigation. They were a couple of miles from land when it suddenly ceased paddling and sat tense with its paddle poised in the air; at the same moment the boat quivered and shot forward as if from a catapult. They had apparently availed themselves of some current. In a few seconds they were racing forward at some fifteen miles an hour and rising and falling on the strange, sharp, perpendicular waves of Malacandra with a jerky motion quite unlike that of the choppiest sea that Ransom had ever met on Earth. It reminded him of disastrous experiences on a trotting horse in the army; and it was intensely disagreeable. He gripped the gunwale with his left hand and mopped his brow with his right - the damp warmth from the water had become very troublesome. He wondered if the Malacandrian food, and still more the Malacandrian drink, were really digestible by a human stomach. Thank heaven he was a good sailor! At least a fairly good sailor. At least -Hastily he leaned over the side. Heat from blue water smote up to his face; in the depth he thought he saw eels playing: long, silver eels. The worst happened not once but many times. In his misery he remembered vividly the shame of being sick at a children's party ... long ago in the star where he was born. He felt a similar shame now. It was not thus that the first representative of humanity would choose to appear before a new species. Did hrossa vomit too? Would it know what he was doing? Shaking and groaning, he turned back into the boat.
The creature was keeping an eye on him, but its face seemed to him expressionless; it was only long after that he learned to read the Malacandrian face.
The current meanwhile seemed to be gathering speed. In a huge curve they swung across the lake to within a furlong of the farther shore, then back again, and once more onward, in giddy spirals and figures of eight, while purple wood and jagged mountain raced backwards and Ransom loathingly associated their sinuous course with the nauseous curling of the silver eels. He was rapidly losing all interest in Malacandra: the distinction between Earth and other planets seemed of no importance compared with the awful distinction of earth and water. He wondered despairingly whether the hross habitually lived on water. Perhaps they were going to spend the night in this detestable boat....
His sufferings did not, in fact, last long. There came a blessed cessation of the choppy movement and a slackening of speed, and he saw that the hross was backing water rapidly. They were still afloat, with shores close on each side; between them a narrow channel in which the water hissed furiously - apparently a shallow. The hross jumped overboard, splashing abundance of warm water into the ship; Ransom, more cautiously and shakily, clambered after it. He was about up to his knees. To his astonishment, the hross, without any appearance of effort, lifted the boat bodily on to the top of its head, steadied it with one fore-paw, and proceeded, erect as a Grecian caryatid, to the land. They walked forward - if the swinging movements of the hross's short legs from its flexible hips could be called walking - beside the channel. In a few minutes Ransom saw a new landscape.
The channel was not only a shallow but a rapid - the first, indeed, of a series of rapids by which the water descended steeply for the next half mile. The ground fell away before them and the canyon - or handramit - continued at a very much lower level. Its walls, however, did not sink with it, and from his present position Ransom got a clearer notion of the lie of the land. Far more of the highlands to left and right were visible, sometimes covered with the cloud-like red swellings, but more often level, pale and barren to where the smooth line of their horizon marched with the sky. The mountain peaks now appeared only as the fringe or border of the true highland, surrounding it as the lower teeth surround the tongue. He was struck by the vivid contrast between harandra and handramit. Like a rope of jewels the gorge spread beneath him, purple, sapphire blue, yellow and pinkish white, a rich and variegated inlay of wooded land and disappearing, reappearing, ubiquitous water. Malacandra was less like earth than he had been beginning to suppose. The handramit was no true valley rising and falling with the mountain chain it belonged to. Indeed, it did not belong to a mountain chain. It was only an enormous crack or ditch, of varying depth, running through the high and level harandra; the latter, he now began to suspect, was the true 'surface' of the planet - certainly would appear as surface to a terrestrial astronomer. To the handramit itself there seemed no end; uninterrupted and very nearly straight, it ran before him, a narrowing line of colour, to where it clove the horizon with a V-shaped indenture. There must be a hundred miles of it in view, he thought; and he reckoned that he had put some thirty or forty miles of it behind him since yesterday.
All this time they were descending beside the rapids to where the water was level again and the hross could relaunch its skiff. During this walk Ransom learned the words for boat, rapid, water, sun and carry; the latter, as his first verb, interested him particularly. The hross was also at some pains to impress upon him an association or relation which it tried to convey by repeating the contrasted pairs of words hrossa-handramit and seroni-harondra. Ransom understood him to mean that the hrossa lived down in the handramit and the seroni up on the harandra. What the deuce were seroni, he wondered. The open reaches of the harandra did not look as if anything lived up there. Perhaps the hrossa had a mythology - he took it for granted they were on a low cultural level - and the seroni were gods or demons.
The journey continued, with frequent, though decreasing, recurrences of nausea for Ransom.
Hours later he realized that seroni might very well be the plural of sorn.
The sun declined, on their right. It dropped quicker than on earth, or at least on those parts of Earth that Ransom knew, and in the cloudless sky it had little sunset pomp about it. In some other queer way which he could not specify it differed from the sun he knew; but even while he speculated the needle-like mountain tops stood out black against it and the handramit grew dark, though eastward (to their left) the high country of the harandra still shone pale rose, remote and smooth and tranquil, like another and more spiritual world.
Soon he became aware that they were landing again, that they were treading solid ground, were making or the depth of the purple forest. The motion of the boat still worked in his fantasy and the earth seemed to sway beneath him; this, with weariness and twilight, made the rest of the journey dream-like. Light began to glare in his eyes. A fire was burning. It illuminated the huge leaves overhead, and he saw stars beyond them. Dozens of hrossa seemed to have surrounded him; more animal, less human, in their multitude and their close neighbourhood to him, than his solitary guide had seemed. He felt some fear, but more a ghastly inappropriateness. He wanted men - any men, even Weston and Devine. He was too tired to do anything about these meaningless bullet heads and furry faces - could make no response at all. And then, lower down, closer to him, more mobile, came in throngs the whelps, the puppies, the cubs, whatever you called them. Suddenly his mood changed. They were jolly little things. He laid his hand on one black head and smiled; the creature scurried away.
He never could remember much of that evening. There was more eating and drinking, there was continual coming and going of black forms, there were strange eyes luminous in the firelight; finally, there was sleep in some dark, apparently covered place.