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  • Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1)(10) by C.S.Lewis
  • "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."

    Chapter XIII

    THE WHOLE village was astir next morning before the sunlight - already visible on the harandra - had penetrated the forest. By the light of the cooking fires Ransom saw an incessant activity of hrossa. The females were pouring out steaming food from clumsy pots; Hnohra was directing the transportation of piles of spears to the boats; Hyoi, in the midst of a group of the most experienced hunters, was talking too rapidly and too technically for Ransom to follow; parties were arriving from the neighbouring villages; and the cubs, squealing with excitement, were running hither and thither among their elders.

    He found that his own share in the hunt had been taken for granted. He was to be in Hyoi's boat, with Hyoi and Whin. The two hrossa would take it in turns to paddle, while Ransom and the disengaged hross would be in the bows. He understood the hrossa well enough to know that they were making him the noblest offer in their power, and that Hyoi and Whin were each tormented by the fear lest he should be paddling when the hnakra appeared. A short time ago, in England, nothing would have seemed more impossible to Ransom than to accept the post of honour and danger in an attack upon an unknown but certainly deadly aquatic monster. Even more recently, when he had first fled from the sorns or when he had lain pitying himself in the forest by night, it would hardly have been in his power to do what he was intending to do today.  For his intention was clear. Whatever happened, he must show that the human species also were hnau. He was only too well aware that such resolutions might look very different when the moment came, but he felt an unwonted assurance that somehow or other he would be able to go through with it. It was necessary, and the necessary was always possible. Perhaps, too, there was something in the air he now breathed, or in the society of the hrossa, which had begun to work a change in him.

    The lake was just giving back the first rays of the sun when he found himself kneeling side by side with Whin, as he had been told to, in the bows of Hyoi's ship, with a little pile of throwing-spears between his knees and one in his right hand, stiffening his body against the motion as Hyoi paddled them out into their place. At least a hundred boats were taking part in the hunt. They were in three parties. The central, and far the smallest, was to work its way up the current by which Hyoi and Ransom had descended after their first meeting. Longer ships than he had yet seen, eight-paddled ships, were used for this. The habit of the hnakra was to float down the current whenever he could; meeting the ships, he would presumably dart out of it into the still water to left or fight. Hence while the central party slowly beat up the current, the light ships, paddling far faster, would cruise at will up and down either side of it to receive the quarry as soon as he broke what might be called his 'cover.' In this game numbers and intelligence were on the side of the hrossa; the hnakra had speed on his side, and also invisibility, for he could swim under water. He was nearly invulnerable except through his open mouth. If the two hunters in the bows of the boat he made for muffed their shots, this was usually the last of them and of their boat.

    In the light skirmishing parties there were two things a brave hunter could aim at. He could keep well back and close to the long ships where the hnakra was most likely to break out, or he could get as far forward as possible in the hope of meeting the hnakra going at its full speed and yet untroubled by the hunt, and of inducing it, by a well-aimed spear, to leave the current then and there. One could thus anticipate the beaters and kill the beast - if that was how the matter ended - on one's own. This was the desire of Hyoi and Whin; and almost - so strongly they infected him - of Ransom. Hence, hardly had the heavy craft of the beaters begun their slow progress up-current amid a wall of foam when he found his own ship speeding northward as fast as Hyoi could drive her, already passing boat after boat and making for the freest water.  The speed was exhilarating. In the cold morning the warmth of the blue expanse they were clearing was not unpleasant. Behind them arose, re-echoed from the remote rock pinnacles on either side of the valley, the bell-like, deep-mouthed voices of more than two hundred hrossa, more musical than a cry of hounds but closely akin to it in quality as in purport. Something long sleeping in the blood awoke in Ransom. It did not seem impossible at this moment that even he might be the hnakra-slayer; that the fame of Hman hnakrapunt might be handed down to posterity in this world that knew no other man. But he had had such dreams before, and knew how they ended. Imposing humility on the newly risen riot of his feelings, he turned his eyes to the troubled water of the current which they were skirting, without entering, and watched intently.

    For a long time nothing happened. He became conscious of the stiffness of his attitude and deliberately relaxed his muscles. Presently Whin reluctantly went aft to paddle, and Hyoi came forward to take his place. Ahnost as soon as the change had been effected, Hyoi spoke softly to him and said, without taking his eyes off the current:

    "There is an eldil coming to us over the water."

    Ransom could see nothing - or nothing that he could distinguish from imagination and the dance of sunlight on the lake. A moment later Hyoi spoke again, but not to him.

    "What is it, sky-born?"

    What happened next was the most uncanny experience Ransom had yet had on Malacandra.  He heard the voice. It seemed to come out of the air, about a yard above his head, and it was almost an octave higher than the hross's - higher even than his own. He realized that a very little difference in his ear would have made the eldil as inaudible to him as it was invisible.

    "It is the Man with you, Hyoi," said the voice. "He ought not to be there. He ought to be going to Oyarsa. Bent hnau of his own kind from Thulcandra are following him; he should go to Oyarsa. If they fid him anywhere else there will be evil."

    "He hears you, sky-born," said Hyoi. "And have you no message for my wife? You know what she wishes to be told."

    "I have a message for Hleri," said the eldil. "But you will not be able to take it. I go to her now myself. All that is well. Only - let the Man go to Oyarsa."

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