That Hideous Strength CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THEY HAVE PULLED DOWN DEEP HEAVEN ON THEIR HEADS

"STAND ! Stand where you are and tell me your name and business," said Ransom.

The ragged figure on the threshold tilted its head a little sideways like one who cannot quite hear. The inner door, between the scullery and the kitchen, clapped to with a loud bang, isolating the three men from the women. The stranger took a pace farther into the room.

"Sta," said Ransom in a great voice. "In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancfi, die mihi qui sis et quam ob causam de nins."

The Stranger raised his hand and flung back the dripping hair from his forehead. The light fell full on his face, from which Ransom had the impression of an immense quietness.

His eyes rested on Ransom for a second with no particular interest. Then he turned his head to his left, to where the door was flung back almost against the wall. MacPhee was concealed behind it.

"Come out," said the Stranger, in Latin. What surprised Ransom was the fact that MacPhee immediately obeyed. He did not look at Ransom but at the Stranger. Then, unexpectedly, he gave an enormous yawn. The Stranger turned to the Director.

"Fellow," he said in Latin, " tell the Lord of this House that I am come."

"I am the Master here," said Ransom, in the same language.

"To be sure!" answered the Stranger. "And yonder whipper-snapper (mavtigia) is without doubt your Bishop." He did not exactly smile, but a look of disquieting amusement came into his keen eyes.

"Tell your master that I am come," he repeated.

Ransom looked at him without the flicker of an eyelid.

"Do you really wish," he said at last, " that I call upon my Masters?"

"A daw that lives in a hermit's cell has learned before now to chatter book-Latin," said the other. "Let us hear your calling, mannikin {homuncio)."

"I must use another language for it," said Ransom.

"A daw could have Greek also in its bill."

"It is not Greek."

"Let us hear your Hebrew, then."

"It is not Hebrew."

"Nay," answered the other, " if you come to the gabble of barbarians, it will go hard, but I shall out-chatter you. Here is excellent sport."

"It may happen to seem to you the speech of barbarians," said Ransom, " for it is long since it has been heard. Not even in Numinor was it heard in the streets."

The Stranger gave no start, and his face remained as quiet as before, if it did not become quieter; but he spoke with a new interest.

"Your Masters let you play with dangerous toys," he said. "Tell me, slave, what is Numinor?"

"The true West," said Ransom.

"Well . . ." said the other. Then, after a pause, he added, "You see, I have already crossed the threshold."

"I value that at a straw," said Ransom. "Shut the door, MacPhee," he added in English. But MacPhee had sat down and was fast asleep.

"What is the meaning of this foolery?" said Ransom, looking sharply at the Stranger.

"If you are indeed the Master of this house, you have no need to be told. Do not fear; your horse-boy will be none the worse."

"This shall be seen to shortly," said Ransom. "In the meantime, I do not fear your entering the house. I have more cause to fear your escaping. Shut the door if you will, for you see my foot is hurt."

The Stranger swept back his left hand and slammed the door to. "Now," he said, " what of these Masters of yours?"

"My Masters are the Oyeresu."

"Where did you hear that name?" asked the Stranger. "Or, if you are truly of the College, why do they dress you like a slave?"

"Your own garments," said Ransom, "are not those of a druid."

"That stroke was well put by," answered the other. "Since you have knowledge, answer me three questions, if you dare."

"I will answer them if I can. But as for daring, we shall see."

The Stranger mused for a few seconds; then, speaking in a slightly sing-song voice, he asked the following question:

"Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk ? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?"

Ransom replied, "Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. Half of her orb is turned towards us and shares our curse. On this side the womb is barren and the marriages cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a man takes a maiden in marriage they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicate) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place."

"You have answered well," said the Stranger. "I thought there were but three men in the world that knew this question. But my second may be harder. Where is the ring of Arthur the King? What Lord has such a treasure in his house?"

"The ring of the King," said Ransom, " is on Arthur's finger where he sits in the land of Abhalljin, beyond the seas of Lur in Perelandra. For Arthur did not die; but Our Lord took him to be in the body till the end, with Enoch and Elias and Moses and Melchisedec the King. Melchisedec is he in whose hall the steep-stoned ring sparkles on the forefinger of the Pendragon."

"Well answered," said the Stranger. "In my college it was thought that only two men in the world knew this. But as for my third question, no man knew the answer but myself. Who shall be Pendragon in the time when Saturn descends from his sphere? In what world did he learn war?"

"In the sphere of Venus I learned war," said Ransom. "In this age Lurga shall descend. I am the Pendragon."

When he had said this he took a step backwards, for the big man had begun to move and there was a new look in his eyes. Slowly, ponderously, yet not awkwardly, as though a mountain sank like a wave, he sank on one knee; and still his face was almost on a level with the Director's.

"This throws a quite unexpected burden on our resources," said Wither to Frost, where they both sat in the outer room with the door ajar. "I must confess I had not anticipated any serious difficulty about language."

"We must get a Celtic scholar at once," said Frost. "Ransom would be the man to advise us if he were available."

"I met him once," said Wither, half closing his eyes. "He was a man whose penetrations might have been of infinite value, if he had not embraced the cause of reaction. It is a saddening reflection---"

"Of course," said Frost, interrupting him. "Straik knows modern Welsh. His mother was a Welsh woman."

"It would certainly be much more satisfactory," said Wither, " if we could, so to speak, keep the whole matter in the family. There would be something very disagreeable -about introducing a Celtic expert from outside."

"The expert would, of course, be provided for as soon as we could dispense with his services," replied Frost. "It is the waste of time that is the trouble. What progress have you made with Straik?"

"Oh, really excellent," said the Deputy Director. "Indeed I am almost a little disappointed. I had been thinking that it would be specially fitting and-ah-gratifying if your pupil and mine could be initiated together. We should both, I am sure, have felt . . . But, of course, if Straik is ready some time before Studdock, I should not feel myself entitled to stand in his way."

"I was thinking," said Frost, " that there must be someone on duty here. He may wake at any moment. Our pupils-Straik and Studdock-could take it in turns. There is no reason why they should not be useful even before their full initiation."

"You think Mr.-ah-Studdock is far enough on?"

"It doesn't matter," said Frost. "What harm can he do? He can't get out. We only want someone to watch."

MacPhee found himself violently waked by someone shaking his shoulder. He suddenly perceived that he was cold and his left foot was numb. Then he saw Denniston's face looking into his own. The scullery seemed full of people-Denniston and Dimble and Jane. They appeared extremely bedraggled, torn, and muddy and wet.

"Are you all right?"Denniston was saying. "I've been trying to wake you for several minutes."

"All right?" said MacPhee, swallowing once or twice and licking his lips. "Aye, I'm all right." Then he sat upright. "There's been a-a man here," he said.

"What sort of a man?" asked Dimble.

"Well," said MacPhee, "as to that . . . it's not just so easy . . ."

The others exchanged glances. Next moment MacPhee jumped to his feet.

"Lord save us!" he exclaimed. "He had the Director here. Quick! It was some kind of impostor or spy. I know now what's wrong with me. I've been hypnotised, There was a horse, too."

This last detail had an immediate effect on his hearers. Denniston flung open the kitchen door and the whole party surged in after him. The four women sat fast asleep. Mr. Bultitude, stretched out on his side across the hearth, slept also.

"They're all right," said MacPhee from behind. "It's just the same as he did to me. We've no time to wake them. Get on."

They passed from the kitchen into the nagged passage. To all of them except MacPhee the silence of the house seemed intense after their buffeting in the wind and rain. The lights as they switched them on successively revealed empty rooms and empty passages which wore the abandoned look of indoor midnight.

"Now for upstairs," said Dimble.

"The lights are on upstairs," said Jane, as they all came to the foot of the staircase.

"Excuse me," said Dimble to MacPhee, "I think perhaps I'd better go first."

Up to the first landing they were in darkness; on the second and last the light from the first floor fell. Looking down on them from the balustrade were two men, one clothed in sweepy garments of red and the other in blue. It was the Director who wore blue, and for one instant a thought that was pure nightmare crossed Jane's mind. The two robed figures looked to be two of the same sort. . . and what, after all, did she know of this Director? And there they were, the pair of them, talking their secrets, the man who had been dug up out of the earth and the man who had been in outer space. . . . All this time she had hardly looked at the Stranger. Next moment she noticed his size. The man was monstrous. And the two men were allies. And the Stranger was speaking and pointing at her as he spoke.

She did not understand the words: but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin:

"Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive."

And Dimble heard the Director answer, "Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner: but the woman is chaste."

"Sir," said Merlin, " know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years."

"She is but lately married," said Ransom. "The child may yet be born."

"Sir," said Merlin, " be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you. For a hundred generations in two lines the begetting of this child was prepared; and unless God should rip up the work of time, such seed, and such an hour, in such a land, shall never be again."

"Enough said," answered Ransom. "The woman perceives that we are speaking of her."

"It would be great charity," said Merlin, " if you gave order that her head should be cut from her shoulders; for it is a weariness to look at her."

Dimble thrust Jane behind him and called out, "Ransom ! What in heaven's name is the meaning of this?"

MacPhee, who had followed the Latin even less than Jane, broke into the conversation.

"Dr. Ransom," he said. "I don't know who the big man is and I'm no Latinist. But I know well that you've kept me under your eye all this night against my own will, and allowed me to be hypnotised. It gives me little pleasure, to see yourself dressed up like something out of a pantomime and standing there hand-in-glove with that shaman, or priest, or whatever he is. He need not look at me the way he's doing. I'm not afraid of him. And as for my own life and limb-if you have changed sides after all that's come and gone, I don't know that I've much more use for either. But I'm not going to be made a fool of. We're waiting for an explanation.

The Director looked down on them in silence for a few seconds.

"Has it really come to this?" he said. "Does not one of you trust me?"

"I do, sir," said Jane suddenly.

"Well," said the Director, after a pause, " we have all been mistaken. So has the enemy. This man is Merlinus Ambrosius. They thought that if he came back he would be on their side. I find he is on ours. You, Dimble, ought to realise that this was always a possibility."

"That is true," said Dimble. "I suppose it was- well, the look of the thing. And his appalling blood-thirstiness."

"I have been startled by it myself," said Ransom. "But after all we had no right to expect that his penal code would be that of the nineteenth century. I find it difficult, too, to make him understand that I am not an absolute monarch."

"Is-is he a Christian?" asked Dimble.

"Yes," said Ransom. "As for my clothes, I have for once put on the dress of my office to do him honour. In his days men did not, except for necessity, go about in shapeless sacks of drab."

"Do I understand, Dr. Ransom," said MacPhee, " that you are asking us to accept this person as a member of our organisation?"

"I am afraid," said the Director, "I cannot put it that way. He is a member."

"What enquiries have been made into his credentials?"

"It would be hard," said the Director, " to explain to you my reasons for trusting Merlinus: but no harder than to explain to him why, despite appearances which might be misunderstood, I trust you." There was just the ghost of a smile about his mouth as he said this. Then Merlin spoke to him again in Latin and he replied. After that Merlin addressed Dimble.

"The Pendragon tells me," he said, " that you accuse me for a fierce and cruel man. It is a charge I never heard before. A third part of my substance I gave to widows and poor men. I never sought the death of any but felons and heathen Saxons. As for the woman, she may live, for me. I am not master in this house. Even that gallows bird {cruciarius) beside you-I mean you, fellow; you with the face like sour milk and the voice like a saw in a hard log and the legs like a crane's-even that cut-purse (sector zonariw), though I would have him to the gatehouse, yet the rope should be used on his back, not his throat."

"Mr. Director," said MacPhee, when Merlin had finished, "I would be obliged if--"

"Come," said the Director suddenly, " we have none of us slept tonight. Arthur, will you come and light a fire for our guest in the big room at the north end? And would someone wake the women ? Ask them to bring him up refreshments. A bottle of Burgundy and whatever you have cold. And then, all to bed.

"We're going to have difficulties with that new colleague of ours," said Dimble. He was alone with his wife in their room at St. Anne's late on the following day.

"I felt that at lunch, you know," said his wife. "It was silly not to have realised that he wouldn't know about forks. But what surprised me even more (after the first shock) was how-well, how elegant he was without them."

"Oh, the old boy's a gentleman in his own way-anyone can see that. But . . . well, I don't know. I suppose it's all right."

"What happened at the meeting?"

"Well, everything had to be explained. We'd a job to make him understand that Ransom isn't the king of this country. And then we had to break it that we weren't the British, but the English-what he'd call Saxons."

"I see."

"And then MacPhee had to choose that moment for embarking on an explanation of the relations between Scotland and Ireland and England. MacPhee imagines he's a Celt when, apart from his name, there's nothing Celtic about him any more than about Mr. Bultitude. By the way Merlinus made a prophecy about Mr. Bultitude."

"Oh! What was that?"

"He said that before Christmas this bear would do the best deed that any bear had done in Britain except some other bear that none of us had heard of. He keeps on saying things like that. As if something like a camera shutter opened at the back of his mind and closed again immediately."

"He and MacPhee didn't quarrel again?"

"Not exactly. I think Merlinus has concluded that he is the Director's fool."

"Did you get down to actual business?"

"Well, in a way," said Dimble. "We were all at cross purposes, you see. The business about Ivy's husband being in prison came up, and he seemed to imagine us just riding off and taking the County Jail by storm. That's the sort of thing one was up against."

"Cecil," said Mrs. Dimble suddenly. "Is he going to be any use?"

"He's going to be able to do things, if that's what you mean."

"What sort of things?" asked his wife.

"The universe is so very complicated," said Dr. Dimble.

His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.

"I mean," said Dimble, in answer to the question she had not asked, " if you dip into any college, or school, or parish- anything you like- at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow-room and contrasts weren't so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad getting worse: the possibilities of neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder."

"Like Browning's line: ' Life's business being just the terrible choice.' "

"Exactly! But not only in questions of moral choice. Everything is getting more different from everything else. Evolution means species getting less and less like one another. Minds get more spiritual, matter more material. Poetry and prose draw farther apart."

"Yes?"

"Well, about Merlin. Were there possibilities for a man of that age which there aren't for a man of ours? The earth itself was more like an animal. Mental processes were more like physical actions. And there were--well, Neutrals, knocking about."

"Neutrals?"

"I don't mean, of course, that anything can be a real neutral. There might be things neutral in relation to us."

"You mean eldils-angels?

"Well, the word angel rather begs the question. Even the Oyeresu aren't exactly angels in the same sense as our guardian angels. There used to be things on this earth pursuing their own business. They weren't ministering spirits sent to help humanity, but neither were they enemies preying upon us ... all the gods, elves, dwarfs, water-people, ya, longaevi."

"You think there are things like that?"

"I think there were. I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point. Not all rational things perhaps. Some would be mere wills inherent in matter, hardly conscious. More like animals. Others-but I don't really know. At any rate, that is the sort of situation in which one got a man like Merlin."

"It sounds rather horrible."

"It was rather horrible. I mean even in Merlin's time, though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn't do it safely. The things weren't bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They withered the man who dealt with them. Not on purpose. They couldn't help doing it. Merlinus is withered. That quietness of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building."

"Cecil, do you feel quite comfortable about the Director's using a man like this ? Doesn't it look a little bit like fighting Belbury with its own weapons?"

"No. I had thought of that. Merlin is the reverse of Belbury. He is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won't work as he pleases. Finally come the Belbury people, who take over that view unaltered and simply want to increase power by tacking on to it the aid of spirits-extra-natural, anti-natural spirits. They thought the old magia of Merlin, which worked in with the spiritual qualities of Nature, loving and reverencing them and knowing them from within, could be combined with the new goeteia-the brutal surgery from without. No. In a sense, Merlin represents what we've got to get back to in some different way."

"Good gracious!" said Mrs. Dimble, " there's six o'clock.

I'd promised Ivy to be in the kitchen at quarter to. There's no need for you to move, Cecil."

Merlin and the Director were meanwhile talking in the Blue Room. The Druid was still robed, and beneath the robe had surprisingly little clothing, for the warmth of the house was to him excessive and he found trousers uncomfortable. His loud demands for oil after his bath had involved some shopping in the village, which had produced, by Denniston's exertions, a tin of brilliantine. Merlinus had used it freely so that the sweet, sticky smell filled the room. That was why Mr. Bultitude had pawed so insistently at the door that he was finally admitted and now sat as near the magician as he could get. He had never smelled such an interesting man before.

"Sir," said Merlin, in answer to the question which the Director had just asked him, "I give you great thanks. I cannot, indeed, understand the way you live, and your house is strange. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it: a bed softer than sleep, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal, but I lie in it alone, with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. In all the house there is warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial; but no musicians, no perfumes, no high seats, not a hawk, not a hound. You live neither like a lord nor a hermit. Sir, I tell you these things because you have asked me. They are of no importance. Now that none hears us save the last of the seven bears of Logres, it is time we open counsels."

He glanced at the Director's face as he spoke.

"Does your wound pain you?" he asked.

Ransom shook his head.

"Sir," said Merlinus in a softer voice, "I could take all the anguish from your heel as though I were wiping it out with a sponge. Give me but seven days to go in and out and up and down and to and fro, to renew old acquaintance. These fields and I, this wood and I, have much to say to one another."

He was leaning forward so that his face and the bear's were almost side by side. The druid's face had a strangely animal appearance: not sensual nor fierce, but full of the patient, unarguing sagacity of a beast.

"You might find the country much changed," said Ransom.

"No," said Merlin. "Not much changed." Merlin was like something that ought not to be indoors. Bathed and anointed though he was, a sense of mould, gravel, wet leaves, weedy water hung about him. One might have believed that he listened continually to a murmur of evasive sounds; rustling of mice and stoats, the small shock of falling nuts, creaking of branches, the very growing of grass. The bear had closed its eyes. The room was heavy with a sort of floating anesthesia. "Through me," said Merlin, " you can suck up from the Earth oblivion of all pains."

"Silence," said the Director sharply. The magician started and straightened himself. Even the bear opened its eyes again.

"No," said the Director. "God's glory, do you think you were dug out of the earth to give me a plaster for my heel ? We have drugs that could cheat the pain as well as your magic, if it were not my business to bear it to the end. I will hear no more of that."

"I hear and obey," said the magician. "But I meant no harm. If not to heal your wound, yet for the healing of Logres, you will need my commerce with field and water."

Again that sweet heaviness, like the smell of hawthorn. ;

"No," said the Director, " that cannot be done any longer. The soul has gone out of the wood and water. Oh, I dare say you could awake them-a little. But it would not be enough. Your weapon would break in your hands. For the Hideous Strength confronts us, and it is as in the days when Nimrod built a tower to reach heaven."

"Hidden it may be," said Merlinus, " but not changed. Leave me to work, Lord. I will wake it."

"No," said the Director, "I forbid it. Whatever of spirit may still linger in the earth has withdrawn fifteen-hundred years farther away from us since your time. You shall not lift your little finger to call it up. It is in this age utterly unlawful." He leaned forward and said in a different voice, "It never was very lawful, even in your day. Remember, when we first knew that you would be awaked, we thought you would be on the side of the enemy. And because Our Lord does all things for each, one of the purposes of your reawakening was that your own soul should be saved."

Merlin sank back into his chair. The bear licked his hand.

"Sir," he said, " if I am not to work in that fashion, then you have taken into your house a silly bulk of flesh, for I am no longer much of a man of war."

"Not that way either," said Ransom. "No power that is merely earthly will serve against the Hideous Strength."

"Then let us all to prayers," said Merlinus. "Certainly, to prayers," said Ransom, " now and always. But that was not what I meant. There are celestial powers: created powers, not in this Earth, but in the Heavens." Merlinus looked at him in silence.

"You know well what I am speaking of," said Ransom. "Did not I tell you when we first met that the Oyeresu were my masters?"

"Of course," said Merlin. "And that was how I knew you were of the college. Is it not our password?"

"A password?" exclaimed Ransom, with a look of surprise. "I did not know that."

"But . . . but," said Merlinus, " if you knew not the password, how did you come to say it?"

"I said it because it was true."

The magician licked his lips which had become very pale.

"True as the plainest things are true," repeated Ransom;" true as it is true that you sit here with my bear beside you."

Merlin spread out his hands.

"Suffer me to speak," he said at last, " for I am in the hollow of your hand. I had heard of it in my own days- that some had spoken with the gods. Blaise, my Master, knew a few words of that speech. Yet these were, after all, powers of Earth. For-I need not teach you, you know more than I-it is not the very Oyeresu, the true powers of heaven, whom the greatest of our craft meet, but only their earthly wraiths. Only the earth-Venus, the earth-Mercurius: not Perelandra herself, not Viritrilbia ---"

"I am not speaking of the wraiths," said Ransom. "I have stood before Mars himself in the sphere of Mars and before Venus herself in the sphere of Venus."

"But, Lord," said Merlin, " how can this be? Is it not against the Seventh Law?"

"What law is that?" asked Ransom. "Has not our Fair Lord made it a law for Himself that He will not send down the Powers to mend or mar in this earth until the end of all things? Or is this the end?"

"It may be the beginning of the end," said Ransom, "I know nothing of that. Maleldil may have made it a law not to send down the Powers. But if men by enginery and natural philosophy learn to fly into the Heavens, and come, in the flesh, among the heavenly powers and trouble them. He has not forbidden the Powers to react. For all this is within the natural order. A wicked man came flying, by a subtle engine, to where Mars dwells in Heaven and to where Venus dwells, and took me with him captive. And there I spoke with the true Oyeresu face to face." Merlin inclined his head.

"And so the wicked man brought about the thing he least intended. For now there was one man in the world-even myself-who was known to the Oyeresu and spoke their tongue, neither by God's miracle nor by magic from Numinor, but naturally, as when two men meet in a road. Our enemies had taken away from themselves the protection of the Seventh Law. That is why Powers have come down, and in this chamber where we are now discoursing Malacandra and Perelandra have spoken to me." Merlin's face became paler. "I have become a bridge," said Ransom. "Sir," said Merlin, " if they put forth their power, they will unmake middle earth."

"Their naked power, yes," said Ransom. "That is why they will work only through a man." The magician drew one large hand across his forehead. "Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded," said Ransom; " one who by his own will once opened it. I take Our Fair Lord to witness that if it were my task I would not refuse it. But he will not suffer a mind that still has its virginity to be so violated. And through a black magician's mind their purity neither can -nor will operate. One who has dabbled ... in the days when dabbling had not begun to be evil, or was only just beginning . . . also a Christian and a penitent. A tool (I must speak plainly) good enough to be so used and not too good. In all these western parts of the world there was only one man who had lived in those days and could still be recalled. You . . ."

He stopped, shocked at what was happening. The huge man had risen from his chair. From his horribly opened mouth there came a yell that seemed to Ransom utterly bestial, though it was only the yell of Celtic lamentation.' All the Roman surface in Merlinus had been scraped off.

"Silence!" shouted Ransom. "Sit down. You put us both to shame."

As suddenly as it had begun the frenzy ended. Merlin resumed his chair. To a modern it seemed strange that, having recovered his self-control, he did not show the slightest embarrassment at his temporary loss of it.

"Do not think," said Ransom, " that for me either it is child's play to meet those who will come down for your empowering."

"Sir," faltered Merlin, " you have been in Heaven. You have looked upon their faces before."

"Not on all of them," said Ransom. "Greater spirits will descend this time. We are in God's hands. It may unmake us both. There is no promise that either you or I will save our lives or our reason."

Suddenly the magician smote his hand upon his knee.

"Mehercule !" he cried. "Are we not going too fast? If the Powers must tear me in pieces to break our enemies, God's will be done. But is it yet come to that? This Saxon king of yours who sits at Windsor, now-is there no help in him?"

"He has no power in this matter."

"Then is he not weak enough to be overthrown?"

"I have no wish to overthrow him. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King's man."

"Is it, then, his great men-the counts and legates and bishops-who do the evil and he does not know of it?."

"It is-though they are not exactly the sort of great men you have in mind."

"But what of the true clerks? Is there no help in them? It cannot be that all your priests and bishops are corrupted."

"The Faith itself is torn in pieces since your day and speaks with a divided voice. Even if it were made whole, the Christians are but a tenth part of the people. There is no help there."

"Then let us seek help from over sea. Is there no Christian prince in Neustria or Ireland who would come in and cleanse Britain if he were called?"

"There is no Christian prince left."

"Then we must go to him whose office is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor."

"There is no Emperor."

_"No Emperor ..." began Merlin, and then his voice died away. Presently he said, "This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this west part of the world is apostate, might it be lawful, in our great need, to look farther . . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there-beyond Byzantium. I know not where .. Babylon, Arabia, or Cathay."

Ransom shook his head. "The poison was brewed in these West lands, but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus."

"Is it, then, the end?" asked Merlin. "And this," said Ransom, ignoring the question, "is why we have no way left save the one I have told you. The Hideous Strength holds all this Earth in its fist. If of their own evil will they had not broken the frontier and let in the celestial Powers, this would be their moment of victory. Their own strength has betrayed them. They have gone to the gods who would not have come to them, and pulled down Deep Heaven on their heads. Therefore they will die. For though you search every cranny to escape, now that you see all crannies closed, you will not disobey me."

Slowly there crept back into Merlin's white face that almost animal expression, earthy and healthy with a glint of half-humorous cunning.

"Well," he said, " if the earths are stopped the fox faces the hounds. But had I known who you were at our first meeting I think I would have put the sleep on you as I did on your Fool."

"I am a very light sleeper since I have travelled in the Heavens," said Ransom.

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