VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Panawe







From: A Voyage To Arcturus

The husband got up to meet his wife and their guest. He was clothed in
white. He had a beardless face, with breve and poigns. His skin, on face
and body alike, was so white, fresh, and soft, that it scarcely looked
skin at all--it rather resembled a new kind of pure, snowy flesh,
extending right down to his bones. It had nothing in common with the
artificially whitened skin of an over-civilised woman. Its whiteness
and delicacy aroused no voluptuous thoughts; it was obviously the
manifestation of a cold and almost cruel chastity of nature. His hair,
which fell to the nape of his neck, also was white; but again, from
vigour, not decay. His eyes were black, quiet and fathomless. He was
still a young man, but so stern were his features that he had the
appearance of a lawgiver, and this in spite of their great beauty and
harmony.

His magn and Joiwind's intertwined for a single moment and Maskull saw
his face soften with love, while she looked exultant. She put him in her
husband's arms with gentle force, and stood back, gazing and smiling.
Maskull felt rather embarrassed at being embraced by a man, but
submitted to it; a sense of cool, pleasant languor passed through him in
the act.

"The stranger is red-blooded, then?"

He was startled by Panawe's speaking in English, and the voice too was
extraordinary. It was absolutely tranquil, but its tranquillity seemed
in a curious fashion to be an illusion, proceeding from a rapidity of
thoughts and feelings so great that their motion could not be detected.
How this could be, he did not know.

"How do you come to speak in a tongue you have never heard before?"
demanded Maskull.

"Thought is a rich, complex thing. I can't say if I am really speaking
your tongue by instinct, or if you yourself are translating my thoughts
into your tongue as I utter them."

"Already you see that Panawe is wiser than I am," said Joiwind gaily.

"What is your name?" asked the husband.

"Maskull."

"That name must have a meaning--but again, thought is a strange thing. I
connect that name with something--but with what?"

"Try to discover," said Joiwind.

"Has there been a man in your world who stole something from the Maker
of the universe, in order to ennoble his fellow creatures?"

"There is such a myth, The hero's name was Prometheus."

"Well, you seem to be identified in my mind with that action--but what
it all means I can't say, Maskull."

"Accept it as a good omen, for Panawe never lies, and never speaks
thoughtlessly."

"There must be some confusion. These are heights beyond me," said
Maskull calmly, but looking rather contemplative.

"Where do you come from?"

"From the planet of a distant sun, called Earth."

"What for?"

"I was tired of vulgarity," returned Maskull laconically. He
intentionally avoided mentioning his fellow voyagers, in order that
Krag's name should not come to light.

"That's an honourable motive," said Panawe. "And what's more, it may be
true, though you spoke it as a prevarication."

"As far as it goes, it's quite true," said Maskull, staring at him with
annoyance and surprise.

The swampy lake extended for about half a mile from where they were
standing to the lower buttresses of the mountain. Feathery purple reeds
showed themselves here and there through the shallows. The water was
dark green. Maskull did not see how they were going to cross it.

Joiwind caught his arm. "Perhaps you don't know that the lake will bear
us?"

Panawe walked onto the water; it was so heavy that it carried his
weight. Joiwind followed with Maskull. He instantly started to slip
about--nevertheless the motion was amusing, and he learned so fast, by
watching and imitating Panawe, that he was soon able to balance himself
without assistance. After that he found the sport excellent.

For the same reason that women excel in dancing, Joiwind's half falls
and recoveries were far more graceful and sure than those of either of
the men. Her slight, draped form--dipping, bending, rising, swaying,
twisting, upon the surface of the dark water--this was a picture Maskull
could not keep his eyes away from.

The lake grew deeper. The gnawl water became green-black. The crags,
gullies, and precipices of the shore could now be distinguished in
detail. A waterfall was visible, descending several hundred feet.
The surface of the lake grew disturbed--so much so that Maskull had
difficulty in keeping his balance. He therefore threw himself down and
started swimming on the face of the water. Joiwind turned her head, and
laughed so joyously that all her teeth flashed in the sunlight.

They landed in a few more minutes on a promontory of black rock. The
water on Maskull's garment and body evaporated very quickly. He gazed
upward at the towering mountain, but at that moment some strange
movements on the part of Panawe attracted his attention. His face was
working convulsively, and he began to stagger about. Then he put his
hand to his mouth and took from it what looked like a bright-coloured
pebble. He looked at it carefully for some seconds. Joiwind also looked,
over his shoulder, with quickly changing colors. After this inspection,
Panawe let the object--whatever it was--fall to the ground, and took no
more interest in it.

"May I look?" asked Maskull; and, without waiting for permission, he
picked it up. It was a delicately beautiful egg-shaped crystal of pale
green.

"Where did this come from?" he asked queerly.

Panawe turned away, but Joiwind answered for him. "It came out of my
husband."

"That's what I thought, but I couldn't believe it. But what is it?"

"I don't know that it has either name or use. It is merely an
overflowing of beauty."

"Beauty?"

Joiwind smiled. "If you were to regard nature as the husband, and Panawe
as the wife, Maskull, perhaps everything would be explained."

Maskull reflected.

"On Earth," he said after a minute, "men like Panawe are called artists,
poets, and musicians. Beauty overflows into them too, and out of them
again. The only distinction is that their productions are more human and
intelligible."

"Nothing comes from it but vanity," said Panawe, and, taking the crystal
out of Maskull's hand, he threw it into the lake.

The precipice they now had to climb was several hundred feet in height.
Maskull was more anxious for Joiwind than for himself. She was evidently
tiring, but she refused all help, and was in fact still the nimbler of
the two. She made a mocking face at him. Panawe seemed lost in quiet
thoughts. The rock was sound, and did not crumble under their weight.
The heat of Branchspell, however, was by this time almost killing,
the radiance was shocking in its white intensity, and Maskull's pain
steadily grew worse.

When they got to the top, a plateau of dark rock appeared, bare of
vegetation, stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see.
It was of a nearly uniform width of five hundred yards, from the edge of
the cliffs to the lower slopes of the chain of hills inland. The
hills varied in height. The cup-shaped Poolingdred was approximately a
thousand feet above them. The upper part of it was covered with a kind
of glittering vegetation which he could not comprehend.

Joiwind put her hand on Maskull's shoulder, and pointed upward. "Here
you have the highest peak in the whole land--that is, until you come to
the Ifdawn Marest."

On hearing that strange name, he experienced a momentary unaccountable
sensation of wild vigour and restlessness--but it passed away.

Without losing time, Panawe led the way up the mountainside. The lower
half was of bare rock, not difficult to climb. Halfway up, however, it
grew steeper, and they began to meet bushes and small trees. The growth
became thicker as they continued to ascend, and when they neared the
summit, tall forest trees appeared.

These bushes and trees had pale, glassy trunks and branches, but the
small twigs and the leaves were translucent and crystal. They cast
no shadows from above, but still the shade was cool. Both leaves and
branches were fantastically shaped. What surprised Maskull the most,
however, was the fact that, as far as he could see, scarcely any two
plants belonged to the same species.

"Won't you help Maskull out of his difficulty?" said Joiwind, pulling
her husband's arm.

He smiled. "If he'll forgive me for again trespassing in his brain. But
the difficulty is small. Life on a new planet, Maskull, is necessarily
energetic and lawless, and not sedate and imitative. Nature is still
fluid--not yet rigid--and matter is plastic. The will forks and sports
incessantly, and thus no two creatures are alike."

"Well, I understand all that," replied Maskull, after listening
attentively. "But what I don't grasp is this--if living creatures here
sport so energetically, how does it come about that human beings wear
much the same shape as in my world?"

"I'll explain that too," said Panawe. "All creatures that resemble
Shaping must of necessity resemble one another."

"Then sporting is the blind will to become like Shaping?"

"Exactly."

"It is most wonderful," said Maskull. "Then the brotherhood of man is
not a fable invented by idealists, but a solid fact."

Joiwind looked at him, and changed colour. Panawe relapsed into
sternness.

Maskull became interested in a new phenomenon. The jale-coloured
blossoms of a crystal bush were emitting mental waves, which with his
breve he could clearly distinguish. They cried out silently, "To me To
me!" While he looked, a flying worm guided itself through the air to
one of these blossoms and began to suck its nectar. The floral cry
immediately ceased.

They now gained the crest of the mountain, and looked down beyond.
A lake occupied its crater-like cavity. A fringe of trees partly
intercepted the view, but Maskull was able to perceive that this
mountain lake was nearly circular and perhaps a quarter of a mile
across. Its shore stood a hundred feet below them.

Observing that his hosts did not propose to descend, he begged them to
wait for him, and scrambled down to the surface. When he got there, he
found the water perfectly motionless and of a colourless transparency.
He walked onto it, lay down at full length, and peered into the depths.
It was weirdly clear: he could see down for an indefinite distance,
without arriving at any bottom. Some dark, shadowy objects, almost out
of reach of his eyes, were moving about. Then a sound, very faint and
mysterious, seemed to come up through the gnawl water from an immense
depth. It was like the rhythm of a drum. There were four beats of equal
length, but the accent was on the third. It went on for a considerable
time, and then ceased.

The sound appeared to him to belong to a different world from that
in which he was travelling. The latter was mystical, dreamlike, and
unbelievable--the drumming was like a very dim undertone of reality.
It resembled the ticking of a clock in a room full of voices, only
occasionally possible to be picked up by the ear.

He rejoined Panawe and Joiwind, but said nothing to them about his
experience. They all walked round the rim of the crater, and gazed down
on the opposite side. Precipices similar to those that had overlooked
the desert here formed the boundary of a vast moorland plain, whose
dimensions could not be measured by the eye. It was solid land, yet
he could not make out its prevailing colour. It was as if made of
transparent glass, but it did not glitter in the sunlight. No objects in
it could be distinguished, except a rolling river in the far distance,
and, farther off still, on the horizon, a line of dark mountains, of
strange shapes. Instead of being rounded, conical, or hogbacked, these
heights were carved by nature into the semblance of castle battlements,
but with extremely deep indentations.

The sky immediately above the mountains was of a vivid, intense blue.
It contrasted in a most marvellous way with the blue of the rest of the
heavens. It seemed more luminous and radiant, and was in fact like the
afterglow of a gorgeous blue sunset.

Maskull kept on looking. The more he gazed, the more restless and noble
became his feelings.

"What is that light?"

Panawe was sterner than usual, while his wife clung to his arm. "It
is Alppain--our second sun," he replied. "Those hills are the Ifdawn
Marest.... Now let us get to our shelter."

"Is it imagination, or am I really being affected--tormented by that
light?"

"No, it's not imagination--it's real. How can it be otherwise when two
suns, of different natures, are drawing you at the same time? Luckily
you are not looking at Alppain itself. It's invisible here. You would
need to go at least as far as Ifdawn, to set eyes on it."

"Why do you say 'luckily'?"

"Because the agony caused by those opposing forces would perhaps be more
than you could bear.... But I don't know."

For the short distance that remained of their walk, Maskull was very
thoughtful and uneasy. He understood nothing. Whatever object his eye
chanced to rest on changed immediately into a puzzle. The silence and
stillness of the mountain peak seemed brooding, mysterious, and waiting.
Panawe gave him a friendly, anxious look, and without further delay led
the way down a little track, which traversed the side of the mountain
and terminated in the mouth of a cave.

This cave was the home of Panawe and Joiwind. It was dark inside. The
host took a shell and, filling it with liquid from a well, carelessly
sprinkled the sandy floor of the interior. A greenish, phosphorescent
light gradually spread to the furthest limits of the cavern, and
continued to illuminate it for the whole time they were there. There was
no furniture. Some dried, fernlike leaves served for couches.

The moment she got in, Joiwind fell down in exhaustion. Her husband
tended her with calm concern. He bathed her face, put drink to her lips,
energised her with his magn, and finally laid her down to sleep. At
the sight of the noble woman thus suffering on his account, Maskull was
distressed.

Panawe, however, endeavoured to reassure him. "It's quite true this
has been a very long, hard double journey, but for the future it
will lighten all her other journeys for her.... Such is the nature of
sacrifice."

"I can't conceive how I have walked so far in a morning," said Maskull,
"and she has been twice the distance."

"Love flows in her veins, instead of blood, and that's why she is so
strong."

"You know she gave me some of it?"

"Otherwise you couldn't even have started."

"I shall never forget that."

The languorous beat of the day outside, the bright mouth of the cavern,
the cool seclusion of the interior, with its pale green glow, invited
Maskull to sleep. But curiosity got the better of his lassitude.

"Will it disturb her if we talk?"

"No."

"But how do you feel?"

"I require little sleep. In any case, it's more important that you
should hear something about your new life. It's not all as innocent and
idyllic as this. If you intend to go through, you ought to be instructed
about the dangers."

"Oh, I guessed as much. But how shall we arrange--shall I put questions,
or will you tell me what you think is most essential?"

Panawe motioned to Maskull to sit down on a pile of ferns, and at the
same time reclined himself, leaning on one arm, with outstretched legs.

"I will tell some incidents of my life. You will begin to learn from
them what sort of place you have come to."

"I shall be grateful," said Maskull, preparing himself to listen.

Panawe paused for a moment or two, and then started his narrative in
tranquil, measured, yet sympathetic tones.

PANAWE'S STORY

"My earliest recollection is of being taken, when three years old
(that's equivalent to fifteen of your years, but we develop more slowly
here), by my father and mother, to see Broodviol, the wisest man in
Tormance. He dwelt in the great Wombflash Forest. We walked through
trees for three days, sleeping at night. The trees grew taller as we
went along, until the tops were out of sight. The trunks were of a dark
red colour and the leaves were of pale ulfire. My father kept stopping
to think. If left uninterrupted, he would remain for half a day in deep
abstraction. My mother came out of Poolingdred, and was of a different
stamp. She was beautiful, generous, and charming--but also active. She
kept urging him on. This led to many disputes between them, which made
me miserable. On the fourth day we passed through a part of the forest
which bordered on the Sinking Sea. This sea is full of pouches of water
that will not bear a man's weight, and as these light parts don't differ
in appearance from the rest, it is dangerous to cross. My father pointed
out a dim outline on the horizon, and told me it was Swaylone's Island.
Men sometimes go there, but none ever return. In the evening of the
same day we found Broodviol standing in a deep, miry pit in the forest,
surrounded on all sides by trees three hundred feet high. He was a big
gnarled, rugged, wrinkled, sturdy old man. His age at that time was a
hundred and twenty of our years, or nearly six hundred of yours. His
body was trilateral: he had three legs, three arms, and six eyes, placed
at equal distances all around his head. This gave him an aspect of
great watchfulness and sagacity. He was standing in a sort of trance.
I afterward heard this saying of his: 'To lie is to sleep, to sit is to
dream, to stand is to think.' My father caught the infection, and fell
into meditation, but my mother roused them both thoroughly. Broodviol
scowled at her savagely, and demanded what she required. Then I
too learned for the first time the object of our journey. I was a
prodigy--that is to say, I was without sex. My parents were troubled
over this, and wished to consult the wisest of men.

"Old Broodviol smoothed his face, and said, 'This perhaps will not be so
difficult. I will explain the marvel. Every man and woman among us is a
walking murderer. If a male, he has struggled with and killed the female
who was born in the same body with him--if a female, she has killed the
male. But in this child the struggle is still continuing.'

"'How shall we end it?' asked my mother.

"'Let the child direct its will to the scene of the combat, and it will
be of whichever sex it pleases.'

"'You want, of course, to be a man, don't you?' said my mother to me
earnestly.

"'Then I shall be slaying your daughter, and that would be a crime.'

"Something in my tone attracted Broodviol's notice.

"'That was spoken, not selfishly, but magnanimously. Therefore the male
must have spoken it, and you need not trouble further. Before you arrive
home, the child will be a boy.'

"My father walked away out of sight. My mother bent very low before
Broodviol for about ten minutes, and he remained all that time looking
kindly at her.

"I heard that shortly afterward Alppain came into that land for a few
hours daily. Broodviol grew melancholy, and died.

"His prophecy came true--before we reached home, I knew the meaning of
shame. But I have often pondered over his words since, in later
years, when trying to understand my own nature; and I have come to the
conclusion that, wisest of men as he was, he still did not see quite
straight on this occasion. Between me and my twin sister, enclosed in
one body, there never was any struggle, but instinctive reverence for
life withheld both of us from fighting for existence. Hers was
the stronger temperament, and she sacrificed herself--though not
consciously--for me.

"As soon as I comprehended this, I made a vow never to eat or destroy
anything that contained life--and I have kept it ever since.

"While I was still hardly a grown man, my father died. My mother's
death followed immediately, and I hated the associations of the land. I
therefore made up my mind to travel into my mother's country, where, as
she had often told me, nature was most sacred and solitary.

"One hot morning I came to Shaping's Causeway. It is so called either
because Shaping once crossed it, or because of its stupendous character.
It is a natural embankment, twenty miles long, which links the mountains
bordering my homeland with the Ifdawn Marest. The valley lies below at
a depth varying from eight to ten thousand feet--a terrible precipice
on either side. The knife edge of the ridge is generally not much over a
foot wide. The causeway goes due north and south. The valley on my right
hand was plunged in shadow--that on my left was sparkling with sunlight
and dew. I walked fearfully along this precarious path for some miles.
Far to the east the valley was closed by a lofty tableland, connecting
the two chains of mountains, but overtopping even the most towering
pinnacles. This is called the Sant Levels. I was never there, but I have
heard two curious facts concerning the inhabitants. The first is
that they have no women; the second, that though they are addicted to
travelling in other parts they never acquire habits of the peoples with
whom they reside.

"Presently I turned giddy, and lay at full length for a great while,
clutching the two edges of the path with both hands, and staring at the
ground I was lying on with wide-open eyes. When that passed I felt like
a different man and grew conceited and gay. About halfway across I
saw someone approaching me a long way off. This put fear into my heart
again, for I did not see how we could very well pass. However, I
went slowly on, and presently we drew near enough together for me to
recognise the walker. It was Slofork, the so-called sorcerer. I had
never met him before, but I knew him by his peculiarities of person. He
was of a bright gamboge colour and possessed a very long, proboscis-like
nose, which appeared to be a useful organ, but did not add to his
beauty, as I knew beauty. He was dubbed 'sorcerer' from his wondrous
skill in budding limbs and organs. The tale is told that one evening he
slowly sawed his leg off with a blunt stone and then lay for two days
in agony while his new leg was sprouting. He was not reputed to be a
consistently wise man, but he had periodical flashes of penetration and
audacity that none could equal.

"We sat down and faced one another, about two yards apart.

"'Which of us walks over the other?' asked Slofork. His manner was as
calm as the day itself, but, to my young nature, terrible with hidden
terrors. I smiled at him, but did not wish for this humiliation. We
continued sitting thus, in a friendly way, for many minutes.

"'What is greater than Pleasure?' he asked suddenly.

"I was at an age when one wishes to be thought equal to any emergency,
so, concealing my surprise, I applied myself to the conversation, as if
it were for that purpose we had met.

"'Pain,' I replied, 'for pain drives out pleasure.'

"'What is greater than Pain?'

"I reflected. 'Love. Because we will accept our loved one's share of
pain.'

"'But what is greater than Love?' he persisted.

"'Nothing, Slofork.'

"'And what is Nothing?'

"'That you must tell me.'

"'Tell you I will. This is Shaping's world. He that is a good child
here, knows pleasure, pain, and love, and gets his rewards. But there's
another world--not Shaping's and there all this is unknown, and another
order of things reigns. That world we call Nothing--but it is not
Nothing, but Something.'

"There was a pause.

"'I have heard,' said I, 'that you are good at growing and ungrowing
organs?'

"'That's not enough for me. Every organ tells me the same story. I want
to hear different stories.'

"'Is it true, what men say, that your wisdom flows and ebbs in pulses?'

"'Quite true,' replied Slofork. 'But those you had it from did not add
that they have always mistaken the flow for the ebb.'

"'My experience is,' said I sententiously, 'that wisdom is misery.'

"'Perhaps it is, young man, but you have never learned that, and never
will. For you the world will continue to wear a noble, awful face. You
will never rise above mysticism.... But be happy in your own way.'

"Before I realised what he was doing, he jumped tranquilly from the
path, down into the empty void. He crashed with ever-increasing momentum
toward the valley below. I screeched, flung myself down on the ground,
and shut my eyes.

"Often have I wondered which of my ill-considered, juvenile remarks it
was that caused this sudden resolution on his part to commit suicide.
Whichever it might be, since then I have made it a rigid law never to
speak for my own pleasure, but only to help others.

"I came eventually to the Marest. I threaded its mazes in terror for
four days. I was frightened of death, but still more terrified at the
possibility of losing my sacred attitude toward life. When I was nearly
through, and was beginning to congratulate myself, I stumbled across the
third extraordinary personage of my experience--the grim Muremaker. It
was under horrible circumstances. On an afternoon, cloudy and stormy, I
saw, suspended in the air without visible support, a living man. He was
hanging in an upright position in front of a cliff--a yawning gulf, a

thousand feet deep, lay beneath his feet. I climbed as near as I could,
and looked on. He saw me, and made a wry grimace, like one who wishes to
turn his humiliation into humour. The spectacle so astounded me that I
could not even grasp what had happened.

"'I am Muremaker,' he cried in a scraping voice which shocked my ears.
'All my life I have sorbed others--now I am sorbed. Nuclamp and I fell
out over a woman. Now Nuclamp holds me up like this. While the strength
of his will lasts I shall remain suspended; but when he gets tired--and
it can't be long now--I drop into those depths.'

"Had it been another man, I would have tried to save him, but this
ogre-like being was too well known to me as one who passed his whole
existence in tormenting, murdering, and absorbing others, for the sake
of his own delight. I hurried away, and did not pause again that day.

"In Poolingdred I met Joiwind. We walked and talked together for a
month, and by that time we found that we loved each other too well to
part."

Panawe stopped speaking.

"That is a fascinating story," remarked Maskull. "Now I begin to know my
way around better. But one thing puzzles me."

"What's that?"

"How it happens that men here are ignorant of tools and arts, and have
no civilisation, and yet contrive to be social in their habits and wise
in their thoughts."

"Do you imagine, then, that love and wisdom spring from tools? But I see
how it arises. In your world you have fewer sense organs, and to make
up for the deficiency you have been obliged to call in the assistance of
stones and metals. That's by no means a sign of superiority."

"No, I suppose not," said Maskull, "but I see I have a great deal to
unlearn."

They talked together a little longer, and then gradually fell asleep.
Joiwind opened her eyes, smiled, and slumbered again.





Next: The Lusion Plain

Previous: Joiwind



Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
ADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 344