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|Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1) by C.S.Lewis|
There was a moment's silence.
"He is gone," said Whin. "And we have lost our share in the hunt."
"Yes," said Hyoi with a sigh. "We must put Hman ashore and teach him the way to Meldilorn."
Ransom was not so sure of his courage but that one part of him felt an instant relief at the idea of any diversion from their present business. But the other part of him urged him to hold on to his new-found manhood; now or never - with such companions or with none - he must leave a deed on his memory instead of one more broken dream. It was in obedience to something like conscience that he exclaimed:
"No, no. There is time for that after the hunt. We must kill the hnakra first."
"Once an eldil has spoken," began Hyoi, when suddenly Whin gave a great cry (a 'bark' Ransom would have called it three weeks ago) and pointed. There, not a furlong away, was the torpedo-like track of foam; and now, visible through a wall of foam, they caught the metallic glint of the monster's sides. Whin was paddling furiously. Hyoi threw and missed. As his first spear smote the water his second was already in the air. This time it must have touched the hnakra. He wheeled right out of the current. Ransom saw the great black pit of his mouth twice open and twice shut with its snap of shark-like teeth. He himself had thrown now -hurriedly, excitedly, with unpractised hand.
"Back," shouted Hyoi to Whin who was already backing water with every pound of his vast strength. Then all became confused. He heard Whin shout "Shore!" There came a shock that flung him forward almost into the hnakra's jaws and he found himself at the same moment up to his waist in water. It was at him the teeth were snapping. Then as he flung shaft after shaft into the great cavern of the gaping brute he saw Hyoi perched incredibly on its back - on its nose - bending forward and hurling from there. Almost at once the hross was dislodged and fell with a wide splash nearly ten yards away. But the hnakra was killed. It was wallowing on its side, bubbling out its black life. The water around him was dark and stank.
When he recollected himself they were all on shore, wet, steaming, trembling with exertion and embracing one another. It did not now seem strange to him to be clasped to a breast of wet fur. The breath of the hrossa, which, though sweet, was not human breath, did not offend him. He was one with them. That difficulty which they, accustomed to more than one rational species, had perhaps never felt, was now overcome. They were all hnau. They had stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of an enemy, and the shapes of their heads no longer mattered. And he, even Ransom, had come through it and not been disgraced. He had grown up.
They were on a little promontory free of forest, on which they had run aground in the confusion of the fight. The wreckage of the boat and the corpse of the monster lay confused together in the water beside them. No sound from the rest of the hunting party was audible; they had been almost a mile ahead when they met the hnakra. All three sat down to recover their breath.
"So," said Hyoi, "we are hnakrapunti. This is what I have wanted all my life."
At that moment Ransom was deafened by a loud sound - a perfectly familiar sound which was the last thing he expected to hear. It was a terrestrial, human and civilized sound; it was even European. It was the crack of an English rifle; and Hyoi, at his feet, was struggling to rise and gasping. There was blood on the white weed where he struggled. Ransom dropped on his knees beside him. The huge body of the hross was too heavy for him to turn round. Whin helped him.
"Hyoi, can you hear me?" said Ransom with his face close to the round seal-like head.
"Hyoi, it is through me that this has happened. It is the other hmana who have hit you, the bent two that brought me to Malacandra. They can throw death at a distance with a thing they have made. I should have told you. We are all a bent race. We have come here to bring evil on Malacandra. We are only half hnau - Hyoi..." His speech died away into the inarticulate. He did not know the words for 'forgive,' or 'shame,' or 'fault,' hardly the word for 'sorry.' He could only stare into Hyoi's distorted face in speechless guilt. But the hross seemed to understand. It was trying to say something, and Ransom laid his ear close to the working mouth. Hyoi's dulling eyes were fixed on his own, but the expression of a hross was not even now perfectly intelligible to him.
"Hna-hma," it muttered and then, at last, "Hman hnakrapunt." Then there came a contortion of the whole body, a gush of blood and saliva from the mouth; his arms gave way under the sudden dead weight of the sagging head, and Hyoi's face became as alien and animal as it had seemed at their first meeting. The glazed eyes and the slowly stiffening, bedraggled fur, were like those of any dead beast found in an earthly wood.
Ransom resisted an infantile impulse to break out into imprecations on Weston and Devine. Instead he raised his eyes to meet those of Whin who was crouching - hrossa do not kneel - on the other side of the corpse.
"I am in the hands of your people, Whin," he said. "They must do as they will. But if they are wise they will kill me and certainly they will kill the other two."
"One does not kill hnau," said Whin. "Only Oyarsa does that. But these other, where are they?"
Ransom glanced around. It was open on the promontory but thick wood came down to where it joined the mainland, perhaps two hundred yards away.
"Somewhere in the wood," he said. "Lie down, Whin, here where the ground is lowest.
They may throw from their thing again."
He had some difficulty in making Whin do as he suggested. When both were lying in dead ground, their feet almost in the water, the hross spoke again.
"Why did they kill him?" he asked.
"They would not know he was hnau," said Ransom. "I have told you that there is only one kind of hnau in our world. They would think he was a beast. If they thought that, they would kill him for pleasure, or in fear, or" (he hesitated) "because they were hungry. But I must tell you the truth, Whin. They would kill even a hnau, knowing it to be hnau, if they thought its death would serve them."
There was a short silence.
"I am wondering," said Ransom, "if they saw me. It is for me they are looking. Perhaps if I went to them they would be content and come no farther into your land. But why do they not come out of the wood to see what they have killed?"
"Our people are coming," said Whin, turning his head. Ransom looked back and saw the lake black with boats. The main body of the hunt would be with them in a few minutes.
"They are afraid of the hrossa," said Ransom. "That is why they do not come out of the wood. I will go to them, Whin."
"No," said Whin. "I have been thinking. All this has come from not obeying the eldil. He said you were to go to Oyarsa. You ought to have been already on the road. You must go now."
"But that will leave the bent hmana here. They may do more harm."
"They will not set on the hrossa. You have said they are afraid. It is more likely that we will come upon them. Never fear - they will not see us or hear us. We will take them to Oyarsa. But you must go now, as the eldil said."
"Your people will think I have run away because I am afraid to look in their faces after Hyoi's death."
"It is not a question of thinking but of what an eldil says. This is cubs' talk. Now listen, and I will teach you the way."
The hross explained to him that five days' journey to the south the handramit joined another handramit; and three days up this other handramit to west and north was Meldilorn and the seat of Oyarsa. But there was a shorter way, a mountain road, across the corner of the harandra between the two canyons, which would bring him down to Meldilorn on the second day. He must go into the wood before them and through it till he came to the mountain wall of the handramit; and he must work south along the roots of the mountains till he came to a road cut up between them. Up this he must go, and somewhere beyond the tops of the mountains he would come to the tower of Augray. Augray would help him. He could cut weed for his food before he left the forest and came into the rock country. Whin realized that Ransom might meet the other two hmana as soon as he entered the wood.
"If they catch you," he said, "then it will be as you say, they will come no farther into our land. But it is better to be taken on your way to Oyarsa than to stay here. And once you are on the way to him, I do not think he will let the bent ones stop you."
Ransom was by no means convinced that this was the best plan either for himself or for the hrossa. But the stupor of humiliation in which he had lain ever since Hyoi fell forbade him to criticize. He was anxious only to do whatever they wanted him to do, to trouble them as little as was now possible, and above all to get away. It was impossible to find out how Whin felt; and Ransom sternly repressed an insistent, whining impulse to renewed protestations and regrets, self-accusations that might elicit some word of pardon. Hyoi with his last breath had called him hnakra-slayer; that was forgiveness generous enough and with that he must be content. As soon as he had mastered the details of his route he bade farewell to Whin and advanced alone towards the forest.
UNTIL HE reached the wood Ransom found it difficult to think of anything except the possibility of another rifle bullet from Weston or Devine. He thought that they probably still wanted him alive rather than dead, and this, combined with the knowledge that a hross was watching him, enabled him to proceed with at least external composure. Even when he had entered the forest he felt himself in considerable danger. The long branchless stems made 'cover' only if you were very far away from the enemy; and the enemy in this case might be very close. He became aware of a strong impulse to shout out to Weston and Devine and give himself up; it rationalized itself in the form that this would remove them from the district, as they would probably take him off to the sorns and leave the hrossa unmolested. But Ransom knew a little psychology and had heard of the hunted man's irrational instinct to give himself up - indeed, he had felt it himself in dreams. It was some such trick, he thought, that his nerves were now playing him. In any case he was determined henceforward to obey the hrossa or eldila. His efforts to rely on his own judgment in Malacandra had so far ended tragically enough. He made a strong resolution, defying in advance all changes of mood, that he would faithfully carry out the journey to Meldilorn if it could be done.
This resolution seemed to him all the more certainly right because he had the deepest misgivings about that journey. He understood that the harandra, which he had to cross, was the home of the sorns. In fact he was walking of his own free will into the very trap that he had been trying to avoid ever since his arrival on Malacandra. (Here the first change of mood tried to raise its head. He thrust it down.) And even if he got through the sorns and reached Meldilorn, who or what might Oyarsa be? Oyarsa, Whin had ominously observed, did not share the hrossa's objection to shedding the blood of a hnau. And again, Oyarsa ruled sorns as well as hrossa and pfifltriggi. Perhaps he was simply the arch-sorn. And now came the second change of mood. Those old terrestrial fears of some alien, cold intelligence, superhuman in power, subhuman in cruelty, which had utterly faded from his mind among the hrossa, rose clamouring for readmission. But he strode on. He was going to Meldilorn. It was not possible, he told himself, that the hrossa should obey any evil or monstrous creature; and they had told him - or had they? he was not quite sure - that Oyarsa was not a sorn. Was Oyarsa a god? -perhaps that very idol to whom the sorns wanted to sacrifice him. But the hrossa, though they said strange things about him, clearly denied that he was a god. There was one God, according to them, Maleldil the Young; nor was it possible to imagine Hyoi or Hnohra worshipping a bloodstained idol. Unless, of course, the hrossa were after all under the thumb of the sorns, superior to their masters in all the qualities that human beings value, but intellectually inferior to them and dependent on them. It would be a strange but not an inconceivable world; heroism and poetry at the bottom, cold scientific intellect above it, and overtopping all some dark superstition which scientific intellect, helpless against the revenge of the emotional depths it had ignored, had neither will nor power to remove. A mumbo-jumbo ... but Ransom pulled himself up. He knew too much now to talk that way. He and all his class would have called the eldila a superstition if they had been merely described to them, but now he had heard the voice himself. No, Oyarsa was a real person if he was a person at all.
He had now been walking for about an hour, and it was nearly midday. No difficulty about his direction had yet occurred; he had merely to keep going uphill and he was certain of coming out of the forest to the mountain wall sooner or later. Meanwhile he felt remarkably well, though greatly chastened in mind. The silent, purple half light of the woods spread all around him as it had spread on the first day he spent in Malacandra, but everything else was changed. He looked back on that time as on a nightmare, on his own mood at that time as a sort of sickness. Then all had been whimpering, unanalysed, self-nourishing, self-consuming dismay. Now, in the clear light of an accepted duty, he felt fear indeed, but with it a sober sense of confidence in himself and in the world, and even an element of pleasure. It was the difference between a landsman in a sinking ship and a horseman on a bolting horse: either may be killed, but the horseman is an agent as well as a patient.
About an hour after noon he suddenly came out of the wood into bright sunshine. He was only twenty yards from the almost perpendicular bases of the mountain spires, too close to them to see their tops. A sort of valley ran up in the re-entrant between two of them at the place where he had emerged: an unclimbable valley consisting of a single concave sweep of stone, which in its lower parts ascended steeply as the roof of a house and farther up seemed almost vertical. At the top it even looked as if it hung over a bit, like a tidal wave of stone at the very moment of breaking; but this, he thought, might be an illusion. He wondered what the hrossa's idea of a road might be.