THAT NIGHT Ransom slept in the guesthouse, which was a real house built by pfifltriggi and richly decorated. His pleasure at finding himself, in this respect, under more human conditions was qualified by the discomfort which, despite his reason, he could not help feeling in the presence at close quarters, of so many Malacandrian creatures. All three species were represented. They seemed to have no uneasy feelings towards each other, though there were some differences of the kind that occur in a railway carriage on Earth - the sorns finding the house too hot and the pfifltriggi finding it too cold. He learned more of Malacandrian humour and of the noises that expressed it in this one night than he had learned during the whole of his life on the strange planet hitherto. Indeed, nearly all Malacandrian conversations in which he had yet taken part had been grave. Apparently the comic spirit arose chiefly from the meeting of the different kinds of hnau. The jokes of all three were equally incomprehensible to him. He thought he could see differences in kind - as that the sorns seldom got beyond irony, while the hrossa were extravagant and fantastic, and the pfifltriggi were sharp and excelled in abuse - but even when he understood all the words he could not see the points. He went early to bed.
It was at the time of early morning, when men on Earth go out to milk the cows, that Ransom was wakened. At first he did not know what had roused him. The chamber in which he lay was silent, empty and nearly dark. He was preparing himself to sleep again when a high-pitched voice close beside him said, "Oyarsa sends for you." He sat up, staring about him. There was no one there, and the voice repeated, "Oyarsa sends for you." The confusion of sleep was now clearing in his head, and he recognized that there was an eldil in the room. He felt no conscious fear, but while he rose obediently and put on such of his clothes as he had laid aside he found that his heart was beating rather fast. He was thinking less of the invisible creature in the room than of the interview that lay before him. His old terrors of meeting some monster or idol had quite left him: he felt nervous as he remembered feeling on the morning of an examination when he was an undergraduate. More than anything in the world he would have liked a cup of good tea.
The guest-house was empty. He went out. The bluish smoke was rising from the lake and the sky was bright behind the jagged eastern wall of the canyon; it was a few minutes before sunrise. The air was still very cold, the groundweed drenched with dew, and there was something puzzling about the whole scene which he presently identified with the silence. The eldil voices in the air had ceased and so had the shifting network of small lights and shades.
Without being told, he knew that it was his business to go up to the crown of the island and the grove. As he approached them he saw with a certain sinking of heart that the monolithic avenue was full of Malacandrian creatures, and all silent. They were in two lines, one on each side, and all squatting or sitting in the various fashions suitable to their anatomies. He walked on slowly and doubtfully, not daring to stop, and ran the gauntlet of all those inhuman and unblinking eyes. When he had come to the very summit, at the middle of the avenue where the biggest of the stones rose, he stopped - he never could remember afterwards whether an eldil voice had told him to do, so or whether it was an intuition of his own. He did not sit down, for the earth was too cold and wet and he was not sure if it would be decorous. He simply stood -motionless like a man on parade. All the creatures were looking at him and there was no noise anywhere.
He perceived, gradually, that the place was full of eldila. The lights, or suggestions of light, which yesterday had been scattered over the island, were now all congregated in this one spot, and were all stationary or very faintly moving. The sun had risen by now, and still no one spoke. As he looked up to see the first, pale sunlight upon the monoliths, he became conscious that the air above him was full of a far greater complexity of light than the sunrise could explain, and light of a different kind, eldil-light. The sky, no less than the earth, was full of them; the visible Malacandrians were but the smallest part of the silent consistory which surrounded him. He might, when the time came, be pleading his cause before thousands or before millions: rank behind, rank about him, and rank above rank over his head, the creatures that had never yet seen man and whom man could not see, were waiting for his trial to begin. He licked his lips, which were quite dry, and wondered if he would be able to speak when speech was demanded of him. Then it occurred to him that perhaps this - this waiting and being looked at - was the trial; perhaps even now he was unconsciously telling them all they wished to know. But afterwards - a long time afterwards - there was a noise of movement. Every visible creature in the grove had risen to its feet and was standing, more hushed than ever, with its head bowed; and Ransom saw (if it could be called seeing) that Oyarsa was coming up between the long lines of sculptured stones. Partly he knew it from the faces of the Malacandrians as their lord passed them; partly he saw - he could not deny that he saw - Oyarsa himself. He never could say what it was like. The merest whisper of light - no, less than that, the smallest diminution of shadow - was travelling along the uneven surface of the ground weed; or rather some difference in the look of the ground, too slight to be named in the language of the five senses, moved slowly towards him. Like a silence spreading over a room full of people, like an infinitesimal coolness on a sultry day, like a passing memory of some long-forgotten sound or scent, like all that is stillest and smallest and most hard to seize in nature, Oyarsa passed between his subjects and drew near and came to rest, not ten yards away from Ransom, in the centre of Meldilorn. Ransom felt a tingling of his blood and a prickling on his fingers as if lightning were near him; and his heart and body seemed to him to be made of water.
Oyarsa spoke - a more unhuman voice than Ransom had yet heard, sweet and seemingly remote; an unshaken voice: a voice, as one of the hrossa afterwards said to Ransom, "with no blood in it. Light is instead of blood for them." The words were not alarming.
"What are you so afraid of, Ransom of Thulcandra?" it said.
"Of you, Oyarsa, because you are unlike me and I cannot see you."
"Those are not great reasons," said the voice. "You are also unlike me, and, though I see you, I see you very faintly. But do not think we are utterly unlike. We are both copies of Maleldil. These are not the real reasons."
Ransom said nothing.
"You began to be afraid of me before you set foot in my world. And you have spent all your time since then in flying from me. My servants saw your fear when you were in your ship in heaven. They saw that your own kind treated you ill, though they could not understand their speech. Then to deliver you out of the hands of those two I stirred up a hnakra to try if you would come to me of your own will. But you hid among the hrossa and though they told you to come to me, you would not. After that I sent my eldil to fetch you, but still you would not come. And in the end your own kind have chased you to me, and hnau's blood has been shed."
"I do not understand, Oyarsa. Do you mean that it was you who sent for me from Thulcandra?"
"Yes. Did not the other two tell you this? And why did you come with them unless you meant to obey my call? My servants could not understand their talk to you when your ship was in heaven."
"Your servants ... I cannot understand," said Ransom.
"Ask freely," said the voice.
"Have you servants out in the heavens?"
"Where else? There is nowhere else."
"But you, Oyarsa, are here on Malacandra, as I am."
"But Malacandra, like all worlds, floats in heaven. And I am not 'here' altogether as you are, Ransom of Thulcandra. Creatures of your kind must drop out of heaven into a world; for us the worlds are places in heaven. But do not try to understand this now. It is enough to know that I and my servants are even now in heaven; they were around you in the sky-ship no less than they are around you here."
"Then you knew of our journey before we left Thulcandra ?"
"No. Thulcandra is the world we do not know. It alone is outside the heaven, and no message comes from it."
Ransom was silent, but Oyarsa answered his unspoken questions.
"It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world - he was brighter and greater than I - and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own. He smote your moon with his left hand and with his right he brought the cold death on my harandra before its time; if by my arm Maleldil had not opened the handramits and let out the hot springs, my world would have been unpeopled. We did not leave him so at large for long. There was great war, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent. We think that Maleldil would not give it up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stones among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into."
It was some time before Ransom spoke again and Oyarsa respected his silence. When he had collected himself he said:
"After this story, Oyarsa, I may tell you that our world is very bent. The two who brought me knew nothing of you, but only that the sorns had asked for me. They thought you were a false eldil, I think. There are false eldila in the wild parts of our world; men kill other men before them - they think the eldil drinks blood. They thought the sorns wanted me for this or for some other evil. They brought me by force. I was in terrible fear. The tellers of tales in our world make us think that if there is any life beyond our own air, it is evil."
"I understand," said the voice. "And this explains things that I have wondered at. As soon as your journey had passed your own air and entered heaven, my servants told me that you seemed to be coming unwillingly and that the others had secrets from you. I did not think any creature could be so bent as to bring another of its own kind here by force."
"They did not know what you wanted me for, Oyarsa. Nor do I know yet."
"I will tell you. Two years ago - and that is about four of your years - this ship entered the heavens from your world. We followed its journey all the way hither and eldila were with it as it sailed over the harandra, and when at last it came to rest in the handramit more than half my servants were standing round it to see the strangers come out. All beasts we kept back from the place, and no hnau yet knew of it. When the strangers had walked to and fro on Malacandra and made themselves a hut and their fear of a new world ought to have worn off, I sent certain sorns to show themselves and to teach the strangers our language. I chose sorns because they are most like your people in form. The Thulcandrians feared the sorns and were very unteachable. The sorns went to them many times and taught them a little. They reported to me that the Thulcandrians were taking suns' blood wherever they could find it in the streams. When I could make nothing of them by report, I told the sorns to bring them to me, not by force but courteously. They would not come. I asked for one of them, but not even one of them would come. It would have been easy to take them; but though we saw they were stupid we did not know yet how bent they were, and I did not wish to stretch my authority beyond the creatures of my own world. I told the sorns to treat them like cubs, to tell them that they would be allowed to pick up no more of the suns' blood until one of their race came to me. When they were told this they stuffed as much as they could into the sky-ship and went back to their own world. We wondered at this, but now it is plain. They thought I wanted one of your race to eat and went to fetch one. If they had come a few miles to see me I would have received them honourably; now they have twice gone a voyage of millions of miles for nothing and will appear before me none the less. And you also, Ransom of Thulcandra, you have taken many vain troubles to avoid standing where you stand now."
"'I'hat is true, Oyarsa. Bent creatures are full of fears. But I am here now and ready to know your will with me."
"Two things I wanted to ask of your race. First I must know why you come here - so much is my duty to my world. And secondly I wish to hear of Thulcandra and of Maleldil's strange wars there with the Bent One; for that, as I have said, is a thing we desire to look into."
"For the first question, Oyarsa, I have come here because I was brought. Of the others, one cares for nothing but the suns' blood, because in our world he can exchange it for many pleasures and powers. But the other means evil to you. I think he would destroy all your people to make room for our people; and then he would do the same with other worlds again. He wants our race to last for always, I think, and he hopes they will leap from world to world... always going to a new sun when an old one dies... or something like that."
"Is he wounded in his brain?"
"I do not know. Perhaps I do not describe his thoughts right. He is more learned than I."
"Does he think he could go to the great worlds? Does he think Maleldil wants a race to live for ever?"
"He does not know there is any Maleldil. But what is certain, Oyarsa, is that he means evil to your world. Our kind must not be allowed to come here again. If you can prevent it only by killing all three of us, I am content."
"If you were my own people I would kill them now, Ransom, and you soon; for they are bent beyond hope, and you, when you have grown a little braver, will be ready to go to Maleldil. But my authority is over my own world. It is a terrible thing to kill someone else's hnau. It will not be necessary."
"They are strong, Oyarsa, and they can throw death many miles and can blow killing airs at their enemies."
"The least of my servants could touch their ship before it reached Malacandra, while it was in the heaven, and make it a body of different movements - for you, no body at all. Be sure that no one of your race will come into my world again unless I call him. But enough of this. Now tell me of Thulcandra. Tell me all. We know nothing since the day when the Bent One sank out of heaven into the air of your world, wounded in the very light of his light. But why have you become afraid again?"
"I am afraid of the lengths of time, Oyarsa ... or perhaps I do not understand. Did you not say this happened before there was life on Thulcandra?"
"And you, Oyarsa? You have lived ... and that picture on the stone where the cold is killing them on the harandra ? Is that a picture of something that was before my world began?"
"I see you are hnau after all," said the voice. "Doubtless no stone that faced the air then would be a stone now. The picture has begun to crumble away and been copied again more times than there are eldila in the air above us. But it was copied right. In that way you are seeing a picture that was finished when your world was still half made. But do not think of these things. My people have a law never to speak much of sizes or numbers to you others, not even to sorns. You do not understand, and it makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great. Rather tell me what Maleldil has done in Thulcandra."
"According to our traditions -" Ransom was beginning, when an unexpected disturbance broke in upon the solemn stillness of the assembly. A large party, almost a procession, was approaching the grove from the direction of the ferry. It consisted entirely, so far as he could see, of hrossa, and they appeared to be carrying something.
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