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  • Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1)(12) by C.S.Lewis
  • He began to work his way southward along the narrow, broken ground between wood and mountain. Great spurs of the mountains had to be crossed every few moments, and even in that lightweight world it was intensely tiring. After about half an hour he came to a stream. Here he went a few paces into the forest, cut himself an ample supply of the ground weed, and sat down beside the water's edge for lunch. When he had finished he filled his pockets with what he had not eaten and proceeded.

    He began soon to be anxious about his road, for if he could make the top at all he could do it only by daylight, and the middle of the afternoon was approaching. But his fears were unnecessary. When it came it was unmistakable. An open way through the wood appeared on the left - he must be somewhere behind the hross village now - and on the right he saw the road, a single ledge, or in places, a trench, cut sidewise and upwards across the sweep of such a valley as he had seen before. It took his breath away - the insanely steep, hideously narrow staircase without steps, leading up and up from where he stood to where it was an almost invisible thread on the pale green surface of the rock. But there was no time to stand and look at it. He was a poor judge of heights, but he had no doubt that the top of the road was removed from him by a more than Alpine distance. It would take him at least till sundown to reach it.  Instantly he began the ascent.

    Such a journey would have been impossible on earth; the first quarter of an hour would have reduced a man of Ransom's build and age to exhaustion. Here he was at first delighted with the ease of his movement, and then staggered by the gradient and length of the climb which, even under Malacandrian conditions, soon bowed his back and gave him an aching chest and trembling knees. But this was not the worst. He heard already a singing in his ears, and noticed that despite his labour there was no sweat on his forehead. The cold, increasing at every step, seemed to sap his vitality worse than any heat could have done. Already his lips were cracked; his breath, as he panted, showed like a cloud; his fingers were numb. He was cutting his way up into a silent arctic world, and had already passed from an English to a Lapland winter. It frightened him, and he decided that he must rest here or not at all; a hundred paces more and if he sat down he would sit for ever. He squatted on the road for a few minutes, slapping his body with his arms. The landscape was terrifying. Already the handramit which had made his world for so many weeks was only a thin purple cleft sunk amidst the boundless level desolation of the harandra which now, on the farther side, showed clearly between and above the mountain peaks. But long before he was rested he knew that he must go on or die.

    The world grew stranger. Among the hrossa he had almost lost the feeling of being on a strange planet; here it returned upon him with desolating force. It was no longer 'the world,' scarcely even 'a world': it was a planet, a star, a waste place in the universe, millions of miles from the world of men. It was impossible to recall what he had felt about Hyoi, or Whin, or the eldila, or Oyarsa. It seemed fantastic to have thought he had duties to such hobgoblins - if they were not hallucinations - met in the wilds of space. He had nothing to do with them: he was a man. Why had Weston and Devine left him alone like this?

    But all the time the old resolution, taken when he could still think, was driving him up the road. Often he forgot where he was going, and why. The movement became a mechanical rhythm - from weariness to stillness, from stillness to unbearable cold, from cold to motion again. He noticed that the handramit - now an insignificant part of the landscape - was full of a sort of haze. He had never seen a fog while he was living there. Perhaps that was what the air of the handramit looked like from above; certainly it was different air from this. There was something more wrong with his lungs and heart than even the cold and the exertion accounted for. And though there was no snow, there was an extraordinary brightness. The light was increasing, sharpening and growing whiter; and the sky was a much darker blue than he had ever seen on Malacandra. Indeed, it was darker than blue; it was almost black, and the jagged spines of rock standing against it were like his mental picture of a lunar landscape. Some stars were visible.

    Suddenly he realized the meaning of these phenomena. There was very little air above him: he was near the end of it. The Malacandrian atmosphere lay chiefly in the handramits; the real surface of the planet was na**d or thinly clad. The stabbing sunlight and the black sky above him were that 'heaven' out of which he had dropped into the Malacandrian world, already showing through the last thin veil of air. If the top were more than a hundred feet away, it would be where no man could breathe at all. He wondered whether the hrossa had different lungs and had sent him by a road that meant death for man. But even while he thought of this he took note that those jagged peaks blazing in sunlight against an almost black sky were level with him. He was no longer ascending. The road ran on before him in a kind of shallow ravine bounded on his left by the tops of the highest rock pinnacles and on his right by a smooth ascending swell of stone that ran up to the true harandra. And where he was he could still breathe, though gasping, dizzy and in pain. The blaze in his eyes was worse. The sun was setting. The hrossa must have foreseen this; they could not live, any more than he, on the harandra by night. Still staggering forward, he looked about him for any sign of Augray's tower, whatever Augray might be.

    Doubtless he exaggerated the time during which he thus wandered and watched the shadows from the rocks lengthening towards him. It cannot really have been long before he saw a light ahead - a light which showed how dark the surrounding landscape had become. He tried to run but his body would not respond. Stumbling in haste and weakness, he made for the light; thought he had reached it and found that it was far farther off than he had supposed; almost despaired; staggered on again, and came at last to what seemed a cavern mouth. The light within was an unsteady one and a delicious wave of warmth smote on his face. It was firelight.  He came into the mouth of the cave and then, unsteadily, round the fire and into the interior, and stood still blinking in the light. When at last he could see, he discerned a smooth chamber of green rock, very lofty. There were two things in it. One of them, dancing on the wall and roof, was the huge, angular shadow of a sorn: the other, crouched beneath it, was the sorn himself.

    Chapter XV

    "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."

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