"COME IN, Small One," boomed the sorn. "Come in and let me look at you."
Now that he stood face to face with the spectre that had haunted him ever since he set foot on Malacandra, Ransom felt a surprising indifference. He had no idea what might be coming next, but he was determined to carry out his programme; and in the meantime the warmth and more breathable air were a heaven in themselves. He came in, well in past the fire, and answered the sorn. His own voice sounded to him a shrill treble.
"The hrossa have sent me to look for Oyarsa," he said.
The sorn peered at him. "You are not from this world," it said suddenly.
"No," replied Ransom, and sat down. He was too tired to explain.
"I think you are from Thulcandra, Small One," said the sorn.
"Why?" said Ransom.
"You are small and thick and that is how the animals ought to be made in a heavier world. You cannot come from Glundandra, for it is so heavy that if any animals could live there they would be flat like plates - even you, Small One, would break if you stood up on that world. I do not think you are from Perelandra, for it must be very hot; if any came from there they would not live when they arrived here. So I conclude you are from Thulcandra."
"The world I come from is called Earth by those who live there," said Ransom. "And it is much warmer than this. Before I came into your cave I was nearly dead with cold and thin air."
The sorn made a sudden movement with one of its long fore-limbs. Ransom stiffened (though he did not allow himself to retreat), for the creature might be going to grab him. In fact, its intentions were kindly. Stretching back into the cave, it took from the wall what looked like a cup. Then Ransom saw that it was attached to a length of flexible tube. The sorn put it into his hands.
"Smell on this," it said. "The hrossa also need it when they pass this way."
Ransom inhaled and was instantly refreshed. His painful shortness of breath was eased and the tension of chest and temples was relaxed. The sorn and the lighted cavern, hitherto vague and dream-like to his eyes, took on a new reality.
"Oxygen?" he asked; but naturally the English word meant nothing to the sorn.
"Are you called Augray?" he asked.
"Yes," said the sorn. "What are you called?"
"The animal I am is called Man, and therefore the hrossa call me Hman. But my own name is Ransom."
"Man - Ren-soom," said the sorn. He noticed that it spoke differently from the hrossa, without any suggestion of their persistent initial H.
It was sitting on its long, wedge-shaped buttocks with its feet drawn close up to it. A man in the same posture would have rested his chin on his knees, but the sorn's legs were too long for that. Its knees rose high above its shoulders on each side of its head - grotesquely suggestive of huge ears - and the head, down between them, rested its chin on the protruding breast. The creature seemed to have either a double chin or a beard; Ransom could not make out which in the firelight. It was mainly white or cream in colour and seemed to be clothed down to the ankles in some soft substance that reflected the light. On the long fragile shanks, where the creature was closest to him, he saw that this was some natural kind of coat. It was not like fur but more like feathers. In fact it was almost exactly like feathers. The whole animal, seen at close quarters, was less terrifying than he had expected, and even a little smaller. The face, it was true, took a good deal of getting used to - it was too long, too solemn and too colourless, and it was much more unpleasantly like a human face than any inhuman creature's face ought to be. Its eyes, like those of all very large creatures, seemed too small for it. But it was more grotesque than horrible. A new conception of the sorns began to arise in his mind: the ideas of 'giant' and 'ghost' receded behind those of 'goblin' and 'gawk.'
"Perhaps you are hungry, Small One," it said.
Ransom was. The sorn rose with strange spidery movements and began going to and fro about the cave, attended by its thin goblin shadow. It brought him the usual vegetable foods of Malacandra, and strong drink, with the very welcome addition of a smooth brown substance which revealed itself to nose, eye and palate, in defiance of all probability, as cheese. Ransom asked what it was.
The sorn began to explain painfully how the female of some animals secreted a fluid for the nourishment of its young, and would have gone on to describe the whole process of milking and cheesemaking, if Ransom had not interrupted it.
"Yes, yes," he said. "We do the same on Earth. What is the beast you use?"
"It is a yellow beast with a long neck. It feeds on the forests that grow in the handramit. The young ones of our people who are not yet fit for much else drive the beasts down there in the mornings and follow them while they feed; then before night they drive them back and put them in the caves."
For a moment Ransom found something reassuring in the thought that the sorns were shepherds. Then he remembered that the Cyclops in Homer plied the same trade.
"I think I have seen one of your people at this very work," he said. "But the hrossa - they let you tear up their forests?"
"Why should they not?"
"Do you rule the hrossa?"
"Oyarsa rules them."
"And who rules you?"
"But you know more than the hrossa?"
"The hrossa know nothing except about poems and fish and making things grow out of the ground."
"And Oyarsa - is he a sorn?"
"No, no, Small One. I have told you he rules all nau" (so he pronounced hnau) "and everything in Malacandra."
"I do not understand this Oyarsa," said Ransom. "Tell me more."
"Oyarsa does not die," said the sorn. "And he does not breed. He is the one of his kind who was put into Malacandra to rule it when Malacandra was made. His body is not like ours, nor yours; it is hard to see and the light goes through it."
"Like an eldil?"
"Yes, he is the greatest of eldila who ever come to a handra."
"What are these eldila ?"
"Do you tell me, Small One, that there are no eldila in your world?"
"Not that I know of. But what are eldila, and why can I not see them? Have they no bodies?"
"Of course they have bodies. There are a great many bodies you cannot see. Every animal's eyes see some things but not others. Do you not know of many kinds of body in Thulcandra?"
Ransom tried to give the sorn some idea of the terrestrial terminology of solids, liquids and gases. It listened with great attention.
"That is not the way to say it," it replied. "Body is movement. If it is at one speed, you smell something; if at another, you hear a sound; if at another, you see a sight; if at another, you neither see nor hear nor nor know the body in any way. But mark this, Small One, that the two ends meet."
"How do you mean?"
"If movement is faster, then that which moves is more nearly in two places at once."
"That is true."
"But if the movement were faster still - it is difficult, for you do not know many words - you see that if you made it faster and faster, in the end the moving thing would be in all places at once, Small One."
"I think I see that."
"Well, then, that is the thing at the top of all bodies - so fast that it is at rest, so truly body that it has ceased being body at all. But we will not talk of that. Start from where we are, Small One. The swiftest thing that touches our senses is light. We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge - the last thing we know before things become too swift for us. But the body of an eldil is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not of that which is light for the eldil. His 'light' is a swifter movement which for us is nothing at all; and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in - even a dark thing when not illumined by the swifter. And what we call firm things - flesh and earth - seems to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds, and nearly nothing. To us the eldil is a thin, half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like cloud. And what is true light to him and fills the heaven, so that he will plunge into the rays of the sun to refresh himself from it, is to us the black nothing in the sky at night. These things are not strange, Small One, though they are beyond our senses. But it is strange that the eldila never visit Thulcandra."
"Of that I am not certain," said Ransom. It had dawned on him that the recurrent human tradition of bright, elusive people sometimes appearing on the Earth - albs, devas and the like -might after all have another explanation than the anthropologists had yet given. True, it would turn the universe rather oddly inside out; but his experiences in the space-ship had prepared him for some such operation.
"Why does Oyarsa send for me?" he asked.
"Oyarsa has not told me," said the sorn. "But doubtless he would want to see any stranger from another handra."
"We have no Oyarsa in my world," said Ransom.
"That is another proof," said the sorn, "that you come from Thulcandra, the silent planet."
"What has that to do with it?"
The sorn seemed surprised. "It is not very likely if you had an Oyarsa that he would never speak to ours."
"Speak to yours? But how could he - it is millions of miles away."
"Oyorsa would not think of it like that."
"Do you mean that he ordinarily receives messages from other planets ?"
"Once again, he would not say it that way. Oyarsa would not say that he lives on Malacandra and that another Oyarsa lives on another earth. For him Malacandra is only a place in the heavens; it is in the heavens that he and the others live. Of course they talk together ...."
Ransom's mind shied away from the problem; he was getting sleepy and thought he must be misunderstanding the sorn.
"I think I must sleep, Augray," he said. "And I do not know what you are saying. Perhaps, too, I do not come from what you call Thulcandra."
"We will both sleep presently," said the sorn. "But first I will show you Thulcandra."
It rose and Ransom followed it into the back of the cave. Here he found a little recess and running up within it a winding stair. The steps, hewn for sorns, were too high for a man to climb with any comfort, but using hands and knees he managed to hobble up. The sorn preceded him. Ransom did not understand the light, which seemed to come from some small round object which the creature held in its hand. They went up a long way, almost as if they were climbing up the inside of a hollow mountain. At last, breathless, he found himself in a dark but warm chamber of rock, and heard the sorn saying:
"She is still well above the southern horizon." It directed his attention to something like a small window. Whatever it was, it did not appear to work like an earthly telescopes Ransom thought; though an attempt, made next day, to explain the principles of the telescope to the sorn threw grave doubts on his own ability to discern the difference. He leaned forward with his elbows on the sill of the aperture and looked. He saw perfect blackness and, floating in the centre of it, seemingly an arm's length away, a bright disk about the size of a half-crown. Most of its surface was featureless, shining silver; towards the bottom markings appeared, and below them a white cap, just as he had seen the polar caps in astronomical photographs of Mars. He wondered for a moment if it was Mars he was looking at; then, as his eyes took in the markings better, he recognized what they were - Northern Europe and a piece of North America. They were upside down with the North Pole at the bottom of the picture and this somehow shocked him. But it was Earth he was seeing - even, perhaps, England, though the picture shook a little and his eyes were quickly getting tired, and he could not be certain that he was not imagining it. It was all there in that little disk - London, Athens, Jerusalem, Shakespeare. There everyone had lived and everything had happened; and there, presumably, his pack was still lying in the porch of an empty house near Sterk.
"Yes," he said dully to the sorn. "That is my world." It was the bleakest moment in all his travels.