Part 2 out of 6
Deucalion, and though you do not know me yet, I may say I knew you
with all thoroughness even before we met. I can admire a man with
a mind great enough to forego the silly gauds of clothes, or the
excesses of feasts, or the pamperings of women." She looked down
at her own silks and her glittering jewels. "We women like to
carry colours upon our persons, but that is a different matter.
And so I sent for you here to be my minister, and bear with me
the burden of ruling."
"There should be better men in broad Atlantis."
"There are not, my lord, and I who know them all by heart tell
you so. They are all enamoured of my poor person; they weary me
with their empty phrases and their importunities; and, though they
are always brimming with their cries of service, their own
advancement and the filling of their own treasuries ever comes
first with them. So I have sent for you, Deucalion, the one strong
man in all the world. You at least will not sigh to be my lover?"
I saw her watching for my answer from the corner of her eyes.
"The Empress," I said, "is my mistress, and I will be an honest
minister to her. With Phorenice, the woman, it is likely that I
shall have little enough to do. Besides, I am not the sort that
sports with this toy they call love."
"And yet you are a personable man enough," she said rather
thoughtfully. "But that still further proves your strength,
Deucalion. You at least will not lose your head through weak
infatuation for my poor looks and graces."--She turned to the girl
who stood behind us.--"Ylga, fan not so violently."
Our talk broke off then for the moment, and I had time to look
about me. We were passing through the chief street in the fairest,
the most wonderful city this world has ever seen. I had left it a
score of years before, and was curious to note its increase.
In public buildings the city had certainly made growth; there
were new temples, new pyramids, new palaces, and statuary
everywhere. Its greatness and magnificence impressed me more
strongly even than usual, returning to it as I did from such a
distance of time and space, for, though the many cities of Yucatan
might each of them be princely, this great capital was a place not
to be compared with any of them. It was imperial and gorgeous
beyond descriptive words.
Yet most of all was I struck by the poverty and squalor which
stood in such close touch with all this magnificence. In the
throngs that lined the streets there were gaunt bodies and hungry
faces everywhere. Here and there stood one, a man or a woman, as
naked as a savage in Europe, and yet dull to shame. Even the
trader, with trumpery gauds on his coat, aping the prevailing
fashion for display, had a scared, uneasy look to his face, as
though he had forgotten the mere name of safety, and hid a frantic
heart with his tawdry outward vauntings of prosperity.
Phorenice read the direction of my looks.
"The season," she said, "has been unhealthy of recent months.
These lower people will not build fine houses to adorn my city, and
because they choose to live on in their squalid, unsightly kennels,
there have been calentures and other sicknesses amongst them, which
make them disinclined for work. And then, too, for the moment,
earning is not easy. Indeed, you may say trade is nearly stopped
this last half-year, since the rebels have been hammering so
lustily at my city gates."
I was fairly startled out of my decorum.
"Rebels!" I cried. "Who are hammering at the gates of
Atlantis? Is the city in a state of siege?"
"Of their condescension," said Phorenice lightly, "they are
giving us holiday to-day, and so, happily, my welcome to you comes
undisturbed. If they were fighting, your ears would have told you
of it. To give them their due, they are noisy enough in all their
efforts. My spies say they are making ready new engines for use
against the walls, which you may sally out to-morrow and break if
it gives you amusement. But for to-day, Deucalion, I have you, and
you have me, and there is peace round us, and some prettiness of
display. If you ask for more I will give it you."
"I did not know of this rebellion," I said, "but as Your Majesty
has made me your minister, it is well that I should know all about
its scope at once. This is a matter we should be serious upon."
"And do you think I cannot take it seriously also?" she
retorted. "Ylga," she said to the girl that stood behind, "set
loose my dress at the shoulder."
And when the attendant had unlinked the jewelled clasp (as it
seemed to me with a very ill grace), she herself stripped down the
fabric, baring the pure skin beneath, and showing me just below the
curve of the left breast a bandage of bloodstained linen.
"There is a guarantee of my seriousness yesterday, at any
rate," she said, looking at me sidelong. "The arrow struck on a
rib and that saved me. If it had struck between, Deucalion would
have been standing beside my funeral pyre to-day instead of riding
on this pretty steed of mine which he admires so much. Your eye
seems to feast itself most on the mammoth, Deucalion. Ah, poor me.
I am not one of your shaggy creatures, and so it seems I shall
never be able to catch your regard. Ylga," she said to the girl
behind, "you may link my dress up again with its clasp. My Lord
Deucalion has seen wounds before, and there is nothing else here to
5. ZAEMON'S CURSE
It appeared that for the present at any rate I was to have my
residence in the royal pyramid. The glittering cavalcade drew up
in the great paved square which lies before the building, and
massed itself in groups. The mammoth was halted before the
doorway, and when a stair had been brought, the trumpets sounded,
and we three who had ridden in the golden half-castle under the
canopy of snakes, descended to the ground.
It was plain that we were going from beneath the open sky to
the apartments which lay inside the vast stone mazes of the
pyramid, and without thinking, the instinct of custom and reverence
that had become part of my nature caused me to turn to where the
towering rocks of the Sacred Mountain frowned above the city, and
make the usual obeisance, and offer up in silence the prescribed
prayer. I say I did this thing unthinking, and as a matter of
common custom, but when I rose to my feet, I could have sworn I
heard a titter of laughter from somewhere in that fancifully
bedecked crowd of onlookers.
I glanced in the direction of the scoffers, frowningly enough,
and then I turned to Phorenice to demand their prompt punishment
for the disrespect. But here was a strange thing. I had looked to
see her in the act and article of rising from an obeisance; but
there she was, standing erect, and had clearly never touched her
forehead to the ground. Moreover, she was regarding me with a
queer look which I could not fathom.
But whatever was in her mind, she had no plan to bawl about it
then before the people collected in the square. She said to me,
"Come," and, turning to the doorway, cried for entrance, giving the
secret word appointed for the day. The ponderous stone blocks,
which barred the porch, swung back on their hinges, and with
stately tread she passed out of the hot sunshine into the cool
gloom beyond, with the fan-girl following decorously at her heels.
With a heaviness beginning to grow at my heart, I too went inside
the pyramid, and the stone doors, with a sullen thud, closed behind
We did not go far just then. Phorenice halted in the hall of
waiting. How well I remembered the place, with the pictures of
kings on its red walls, and the burning fountain of earth-breath
which blazed from a jet of bronze in the middle of the flooring and
gave it light. The old King that was gone had come this far of his
complaisance when he bade me farewell as I set out twenty years
before for my vice-royalty in Yucatan. But the air of the hall was
different to what it had been in those old days. Then it was pure
and sweet. Now it was heavy with some scent, and I found it
languid and oppressive.
"My minister," said the Empress, "I acquit you of intentional
insult; but I think the colonial air has made you a very simple
man. Such an obeisance as you showed to that mountain not a minute
since has not been made since I was sent to reign over this
"Your Majesty," I said, "I am a member of the Priests' Clan
and was brought up in their tenets. I have been taught, before
entering a house, to thank the Gods, and more especially our Lord
the Sun, for the good air that He and They have provided. It has
been my fate more than once to be chased by streams of fire and
stinking air amongst the mountains during one of their sudden
boils, and so I can say the prescribed prayer upon this matter
straight from my heart."
"Circumstances have changed since you left Atlantis," said
Phorenice, "and when thanks are given now, they are not thrown at
those old Gods."
I saw her meaning, and almost started at the impiety of it.
If this was to be the new rule of things, I would have no hand in
it. Fate might deal with me as it chose. To serve truly a
reigning monarch, that I was prepared for; but to palter with
sacrilege, and accept a swineherd's daughter as a God, who should
receive prayers and obeisances, revolted my manhood. So I invited
"Phorenice," I said, "I have been a priest from my childhood
up, revering the Gods, and growing intimate with their mysteries.
Till I find for myself that those old things are false, I must
stand by that allegiance, and if there is a cost for this
faithfulness I must pay it."
She looked at me with a slow smile. "You are a strong man,
Deucalion," she said.
"I have heard others as stubborn," she said, "but they were
converted." She shook out the ruddy bunches of her hair, and stood
so that the light of the burning earth-breath might fall on the
loveliness of her face and form. "I have found it as easy to
convert the stubborn as to burn them. Indeed, there has been
little talk of burning. They have all rushed to conversion,
whether I would or no. But it seems that my poor looks and tongue
are wanting in charm to-day."
"Phorenice is Empress," I said stolidly, "and I am her
servant. To-morrow, if she gives me leave, I will clear away this
rabble which clamours outside the walls. I must begin to prove my
"I am told you are a pretty fighter," said she. "Well, I hold
some small skill in arms myself, and have a conceit that I am
something of a judge. To-morrow we will take a taste of battle
together. But to-day I must carry through the honourable reception
I have planned for you, Deucalion. The feast will be set ready
soon, and you will wish to make ready for the feast. There are
chambers here selected for your use, and stored with what is
needful. Ylga will show you their places."
We waited, the fan-girl and I, till Phorenice had passed out
of the glow of the light-jet, and had left the hall of waiting
through a doorway amongst the shadows of its farther angle, and
then (the girl taking a lamp and leading) we also threaded our way
through the narrow mazes of the pyramid.
Everywhere the air was full of perfumes, and everywhere the
passages turned and twisted and doubled through the solid stone of
the pyramid, so that strangers might have spent hours--yes, or
days--in search before they came to the chamber they desired.
There was a fine cunningness about those forgotten builders who set
up this royal pyramid. They had no mind that kings should fall by
the hand of vulgar assassins who might come in suddenly from
outside. And it is said also that the king of the time, to make
doubly sure, killed all that had built the pyramid, or seen even
the lay of its inner stones.
But the fan-girl led the way with the lamp swinging in her
hand, as one accustomed to the mazes. Here she doubled, there she
turned, and here she stopped in the middle of a blank wall to push
a stone, which swung to let us pass. And once she pressed at the
corner of a flagstone on the floor, which reared up to the thrust
of her foot, and showed us a stair steep and narrow. That we
descended, coming to the foot of an inclined way which led us
upward again; and so by degrees we came unto the chamber which had
been given for my use.
"There is raiment in all these chests which stand by the walls,"
said the girl, "and jewels and gauds in that bronze coffer.
They are Phorenice's first presents, she bid me say, and but a
small earnest of what is to come. My Lord Deucalion can drop his
simplicity now, and fig himself out in finery to suit the fashion."
"Girl," I said sharply, "be more decorous with your tongue, and
spare me such small advice."
"If my Lord Deucalion thinks this a rudeness, he can give a word
to Phorenice, and I shall be whipped. If he asks it, I can be
stripped and scourged before him. The Empress will do much for
Deucalion just now."
"Girl," I said, "you are nearer to that whipping than you think
"I have got a name," she retorted, looking at me sullenly from
under her black brows. "They call me Ylga. You might have heard
that as we rode here on the mammoth, had you not been so wrapped up
I gazed at her curiously. "You have never seen me before," I
said, "and the first words you utter are those that might well
bring trouble to yourself. There is some object in all this."
She went and pushed to the massive stone that swung in the
doorway of the chamber. Then she put her little jewelled fingers
on my garment and drew me carefully away from the airshaft into the
farther corner. "I am the daughter of Zaemon," she said, "whom you
"You bring me some message from him?"
"How could I? He lives in the priests' dwellings on the
Mountain you did obeisance to. I have not put eyes on him these
two years. But when I saw you first step out from that red
pavilion they had pitched at the harbour side, I--I felt a pity for
you, Deucalion. I remembered you were my father's, Zaemon's,
friend, and I knew what Phorenice had in store. She has been
plotting it all these two months."
"I cannot hear words against the Empress."
She stamped her sandal upon the stone of the floor. "You must
be a very blind man, Deucalion, or a very daring one. But I shall
not interfere further; at least not now. Still, I shall watch, and
if at any time you seem to want a friend I will try and serve you."
"I thank you for your friendship."
"You seem to take it lightly enough. Why, sir, even now I do
not believe you know my power, any more than you guess my motive.
You may be first man in this kingdom, but let me tell you I rank as
second lady. And remember, women stand high in Atlantis now.
Believe me, my friendship is a commodity that has been sought with
frequence and industry."
"And as I say, I am grateful for it. You seem to think little
enough of my gratitude, Ylga; but, credit me, I never have bestowed
it on a woman before, and so you should treasure it for its
"Well," she said, "my lord, there is an education before you."
She left me then, showing me how to call slaves when I wished for
their help, and for a full minute I stood wondering at the words I
had spoken to her. Who was the daughter of Zaemon that she should
induce me to change the habit of a lifetime?
The slaves came at my bidding, and showed themselves anxious
to deck me with a thousand foolishnesses in the matter of robes and
gauds, and (what seemed to be the modern fashion of their class)
holding out the virtues of a score of perfumes and unguents. Their
manner irritated me. Clean I was already, and shaved; my hair was
trim, and my robe was unsoiled; and, considering these pressing
attentions of theirs something of an impertinence, I set them to
beat one another as a punishment, promising that if they did not do
it with thoroughness, I would hand them on to the brander to be
marked with stripes which would endure. It is strange, but a
common menial can often surpass even a rebellious general in power
of ruffling one.
I had seen many strange sights that day, and undergone many
new sensations; but of all the things which came to my notice,
Phorenice's manner of summoning the guests to her feast surprised
me most. Nay, it did more; it shocked me profoundly; and I cannot
say whether amazement at her profanity, or wonder at her power, was
for the moment strongest in my breast. I sat in my chamber
awaiting the summons, when gradually, growing out of nothing, a
sound fell upon my ear which increased in volume with infinitely
small graduations, till at last it became a clanging din which hurt
the ear with its fierceness; and then (I guessed what was coming)
the whole massive fabric of the pyramid trembled and groaned and
shook, as though it had been merely a child's wooden toy brushed
about by a strong man's sandal.
It was the portent served out yearly by the chiefs of the
Priests' Clan on the Sacred Mountain, when they bade all the world
take count of their sins. It was the sacred reminder that from
roaring, raging fire, and from the agony of monstrous
earth-tremors, man had been born, and that by these same agencies
he would eventually be swallowed up--he and the sins within his
breast. And here the Empress was prostituting its solemnities into
a mere call to gluttony, and sign for ribald laughter and sensuous
But how had she acquired the authority to do this thing? Who
was she that she should tamper with those dimly understood powers,
the forces that dwell within the liquid heart of our mother earth?
Had there been treachery? Had some member of the Priests' Clan
forgotten his sacred vows, and babbled to this woman matters
concerning the holy mysteries? Or had Phorenice discovered a key
to these mysteries with her own agile brain?
If that last was the case, I could continue to serve her with
silent conscience. Though she might be none of my making, at least
she was Empress, and it was my duty to give her obedience. But if
she had suborned some weaker member of the Clan on the Sacred
Mount, that would be a different matter. For be it remembered that
it was one of the elements of our constitution to preserve our
secrets and mysteries inviolate, and to pursue with undying hatred
both the man who had dared to betray them, and the unhappy
recipient of his confidence.
It was with very undecided feelings, then, that I obeyed the
summons of the earth-shaking, and bade the slaves lead me through
the windings of the pyramid to the great banqueting-hall. The
scene there was dazzling. The majestic chamber with its marvellous
carvings was filled with a company decked out with all the gauds
and colours that fancy could conceive. Little recked they of the
solemn portent which had summoned them to the meal, of the death
and misery that stalked openly through the city wards without, of
the rebels which lay in leaguer beyond the, walls, of the neglected
Gods and their clan of priests on the Sacred Mountain. They were
all gluttonous for the passions of the moment; it was their fashion
and conceit to look at nothing beyond.
Flaming jets of earth-breath lit the great hall to the
brightness of midday; and when I stepped out upon the pavement,
trumpets blared, so that all might know of my coming. But there
was no roar of welcome. "Deucalion," they lisped with mincing
voices, bowing themselves ridiculously to the ground so that all
their ornaments and silks might jangle and swish. Indeed, when
Phorenice herself appeared, and all sent up their cries and made
lawful obeisance, there was the same artificiality in the welcome.
They meant well enough, it is true; but this was the new fashion.
Heartiness had come to be accounted a barbarism by this new
A pair of posturing, smirking chamberlains took me in charge,
and ushered me with their flimsy golden wands to the dais at the
farther end. It appeared that I was to sit on Phorenice's divan,
and eat my meat out of her dish.
"There is no stint to the honour the Empress puts upon me," I
said, as I knelt down and took my seat.
She gave me one of her queer, sidelong looks. "Deucalion may
have more beside, if he asks for it prettily. He may have what all
the other men in the known world have sighed for, and what none of
them will ever get. But I have given enough of my own accord; he
must ask me warmly for those further favours."
"I ask," I said, "first, that I may sweep the boundaries clear
of this rabble which is clamouring against the city walls."
"Pah," she said, and frowned. "Have you appetite only for the
sterner pleasures of life? My good Deucalion, they must have been
rustic folk in that colony of yours. Well, you shall give me news
now of the toothsomeness of this feast."
Dishes and goblets were placed before us, and we began to eat,
though I had little enough appetite for victual so broken and so
highly spiced. But if this finicking cookery and these luscious
wines did not appeal to me, the other diners in that gorgeous hall
appreciated it all to the full. They sat about in groups on the
pavement beneath the light-jets like a tangle of rainbows for
colour, and according to the new custom they went into raptures and
ecstasies over their enjoyment. Women and men both, they lingered
over each titillation of the palate as though it were a caress of
Phorenice, with her quick, bright eyes, looked on, and
occasionally flung one or another a few words between her talk with
me, and now and again called some favoured creature up to receive
a scrap of viand from the royal dish. This the honoured one would
eat with extravagant gesture, or (as happened twice) would put it
away in the folds of his clothes as a treasure too dear to be
profaned by human lips.
To me, this flattery appeared gross and disgustful, but
Phorenice, through use, perhaps, seemed to take it as merely her
due. There was, one had to suppose, a weakness in her somewhere,
though truly to the outward seeing none was apparent. Her face was
strong enough, and it was subtle also, and, moreover, it was
wondrous comely. All the courtiers in the banqueting-hall raved
about Phorenice's face and the other beauties of her body and
limbs, and though not given to appreciation in these matters, I
could not but see that here at least they had a groundwork for
their admiration, for surely the Gods have never favoured mortal
woman more highly. Yet lovely though she might be, for myself I
preferred to look upon Ylga, the girl, who, because of her rank,
was privileged to sit on the divan behind us as immediate
attendant. There was an honesty in Ylga's face which Phorenice's
They did not eat to nutrify their bodies, these feasters in
the banqueting-hall of the royal pyramid, but they all ate to cloy
themselves, and they strutted forth new usages with every platter
and bowl that the slaves brought. To me some of their manners were
closely touching on disrespect. At the halfway of the meal, a
gorgeous popinjay--he was a governor of an out-province driven into
the capital by a rebellion in his own lands--this gorgeous fop, I
say, walked up between the groups of feasters with flushed face and
unsteady gait, and did obeisance before the divan. "Most
astounding Empress," cried he, "fairest among the Goddesses, Queen
regnant of my adoring heart, hail!"
Phorenice with a smile stretched him out her cup. I looked to
see him pour respectful libation, but no such thing. He set the
drink to his lips and drained it to the final drop. "May all your
troubles," he cried, "pass from you as easily, and leave as
pleasant a flavour."
The Empress turned to me with one of her quick looks. "You do
not like this new habit?"
To which I replied bluntly enough that to pour out liquor at
a person's feet had grown through custom to be a mark of respect,
but that drinking it seemed to me mere self-indulgence, which might
be practised anywhere.
"You still keep to the old austere teachings," she said. "Our
newer code bids us enjoy life first, and order other things so as
not to meddle with our more immediate pleasure."
And so the feast went on, the guests practising their
gluttonies and their absurdities, and the guards standing to their
arms round the circuit of the walls as motionless and as stern as
the statues carven in the white stone beyond them. But a term was
put to the orgy with something of suddenness. There was a stir at
the farther doorway of the banqueting-hall, and a clash, as two of
the guards joined their spears across the entrance. But the man
they tried to stop--or perhaps it was to pin--passed them unharmed,
and walked up over the pavement between the lights, and the groups
of feasters. All looked round at him; a few threw him ribald
words; but none ventured to stop his progress. A few, women
chiefly, I could see, shuddered as he passed them by, as though a
wintry chill had come over them; and in the end he walked up and
stood in front of Phorenice's divan, and gazed fixedly on her, but
without making obeisance.
He was a frail old man, with white hair tumbling on his
shoulders, and ragged white beard. The mud of wayfaring hung in
clots on his feet and legs. His wizened body was bare save for a
single cloth wound about his shoulders and his loins, and he
carried in his hand a wand with the symbol of our Lord the Sun
glowing at its tip. That wand went to show his caste, but in no
other way could I recognize him.
I took him for one of those ascetics of the Priests' Clan, who
had forsworn the steady nurtured life of the Sacred Mountain, and
who lived out in the dangerous lands amongst the burning hills,
where there is daily peril from falling rocks, from fire streams,
from evil vapours, from sudden fissuring of the ground, and from
other movements of those unstable territories, and from the greater
lizards and other monstrous beasts which haunt them. These keep
constant in the memory the might of the Holy Gods, and the
insecurity of this frail earth on which we have our resting-place,
and so the sojourners there become chastened in the spirit, and
gain power over mysteries which even the most studious and learned
of other men can never hope to attain.
A silence filled the room when the old man came to his halt,
and Phorenice was the first to break it. "Those two guards," she
said, in her clear, carrying voice, "who held the door, are not
equal to their work. I cannot have imperfect servants; remove
The soldiers next in the rank lifted their spears and drove
them home, and the two fellows who had admitted the old man fell to
the ground. One shrieked once, the other gave no sound: they were
clever thrusts both.
The old man found his voice, thin, and high, and broken.
"Another crime added to your tally, Phorenice. Not half your army
could have hindered my entrance had I wished to come, and let me
tell you that I am here to bring you your last warning. The Gods
have shown you much favour; they gave you merit by which you could
rise above your fellows, till at last only the throne stood above
you. It was seen good by those on the Sacred Mountain to let you
have this last ambition, and sit on this throne that has as long
and honourably been filled by the ancient kings of Atlantis."
The Empress sat back on the divan smiling. "I seemed to get
these things as I chose, and in spite of your friends' teeth. I
may owe to you, old man, a small parcel of thanks, though that I
offered to repay; but for my lords the priests, their permission
was of small enough value when it came. I would have you remember
that I was as firm on the throne of Atlantis as this pyramid stands
upon its base when your worn-out priests came up to give their
The old man waved aside her interruption. "Hear me out," he
said. "I am here with no trivial message. There is nothing paltry
about the threat I can throw at you, Phorenice. With your
fire-tubes, your handling of troops, and your other fiendish
clevernesses, you may not be easy to overthrow by mere human means,
though, forsooth, these poor rebels who yap against your city walls
have contrived to hold their ground for long enough now. It may be
that you are becoming enervated; I do not know. It may be that you
are too wrapped up in your feastings, your dressings, your pomps,
and your debaucheries, to find leisure to turn to the art of war.
It may be that the man's spirit has gone out from your arm and
brain, and you are a woman once more--weak, and pleasure-loving;
again I do not know.
"But this must happen: You must undo the evil you have done;
you must give bread to the people who are starving, even if you
take it from these gluttons in this hall; you must restore Atlantis
to the state in which it was entrusted to you: or else you must be
removed. It cannot be permitted that the country should sink back
into the lawlessness and barbarism from which its ancient kings
have digged it. You hear, Phorenice. Now give me true answer."
"Speak him fair. Oh! For the sake of your fortune, speak him
fair," came Ylga's voice in a hurried whisper from behind us. But
the Empress took no notice of it. She leaned forward on the
cushions of the divan with a knit brow.
"Do you dare to threaten me, old man, knowing what I am?"
"I know your origin," he said gravely, "as well as you know it
yourself. As for my daring, that is a small matter. He need be
but a timid man who dares to say words that the High Gods put on
"I shall rule this kingdom as I choose. I shall brook
interference from no creature on this earth, or beneath it, or in
the sky above. The Gods have chosen me to be Their regent in
Atlantis, and They do not depose me through such creatures as you.
Go away, old man, and play the fanatic in another court. It is
well that I have an ancient kindliness for you, or you would not
leave this place unharmed."
"Now, indeed, you are lost," I heard Ylga murmur from behind,
and the old man in front of us did not move a step. Instead, he
lifted up the Symbol of our Lord the Sun, and launched his curse.
"Your blasphemy gives the reply I asked for. Hear me now make
declaration of war on behalf of Those against whom you have thrown
your insults. You shall be overthrown and sent to the nether Gods.
At whatever cost the land shall be purged of you and yours, and all
the evil that has been done to it whilst you have sullied the
throne of its ancient kings. You will not amend, neither will you
yield tamely. You vaunt that you sit as firm on your throne as
this pyramid reposes on its base. See how little you know of what
the future carries. I say to you that, whilst you are yet Empress,
you shall see this royal pyramid which you have polluted with your
debaucheries torn tier from tier, and stone from stone, and
scattered as feathers spread before a wind."
"You may wreck the pyramid," said Phorenice contemptuously.
"I myself have some knowledge of the earth forces, as I have shown
this night. But though you crumble every stone above us now and
grind it into grit and dust, I shall still be Empress. What force
can you crazy priests bring against me that I cannot throw back and
"We have a weapon that was forged in no mortal smithy,"
shrilled the old man, "whereof the key is now lodged in the Ark of
the Mysteries. But that weapon can be used only as a last
resource. The nature of it even is too awful to be told in words.
Our other powers will be launched against you first, and for this
poor country's sake I pray that they may cause you to wince. Yet
rest assured, Phorenice, that we shall not step aside once we have
put a hand to this matter. We shall carry it through, even though
the cost be a universal burning and destruction. For know this,
daughter of the swineherd, it is agreed amongst the most High Gods
that you are too full of sin to continue unchecked."
"Speak him fairly," Ylga urged from behind. "He has a power
at which you cannot even guess."
The Empress made to rise, but Ylga clung to her skirt. "For
the sake of your fame," she urged, "for the sake of your life, do
not defy him." But Phorenice struck her fiercely aside, and faced
the old man in a tumult of passion. "You dare call me a
blasphemer, who blaspheme yourself? You dare cast slurs upon my
birth, who am come direct from the most high Heaven? Old man, your
craziness protects you in part, but not in all. You shall be
whipped. Do you hear me? I say, whipped. The lean flesh shall be
scourged from your scraggy bones, and you shall totter away from
this place as a red and bleeding example for those who would dare
traduce their Empress. Here, some of you, I say, take that man,
and let him be whipped where he stands."
Her cry went out clearly enough. But not a soul amongst those
glittering feasters stirred in his place. Not a soldier amongst
the guards stepped from his rank. The place was hung in a terrible
silence. It seemed as though no one within the hall dared so much
as to draw a breath. All felt that the very air was big with fate.
Phorenice, with her head crouched forward, looked from one
group to another. Her face was working. "Have I no true
servants," she asked, "amongst all you pretty lip-servers?"
Still no one moved. They stood, or sat, or crouched like
people fascinated. For myself, with the first words he had
uttered, I had recognized the old man by his voice. It was Zaemon,
the weak governor who had given the Empress her first step towards
power; that earnest searcher into the mysteries, who knew more of
their powers, and more about the hidden forces, than any other
dweller on the Sacred Mountain, even at that time when I left for
my colony. And now, during his strange hermit life, how much more
might he not have learned? I was torn by warring duties. I owed
much to the Priests' Clan, by reason of my oath and membership; it
seemed I owed no less to Phorenice. And, again, was Zaemon the
truly accredited envoy of the high council of the priests of the
Sacred Mountain? And was the Empress of a truth deposed by the
High Gods above, or was she still Empress, and still the commander
of my duty? I could not tell, and so I sat in my seat awaiting
what the event would sow.
Phorenice's fury was growing. "Do I stand alone here?" she
cried. "Have I pampered you creatures out of all touch with
gratitude? It seems that at last I want a new chief to my guards.
Ho! Who will be chief of the guards of the Empress?"
There was a shifting of eyes, a hesitation. Then a great
burly form strode up from the farther end of the hall, and a
perceptible shudder went up from all the others as they watched
"So, Tarca, you prefer to take the risks, and remain chief of
the guard yourself?" she said with an angry scoff. "Truly there
did not seem to be many thrusting forward to strip you of the
office. I shall have a fine sorting up of places in payment for
this night's work. But for the present, Tarca, do your duty."
The man came up, obviously timorous. He was a solidly made
fellow, but not altogether unmartial, and though but little of his
cheek showed above his decorated beard, I could see that he paled
as he came near to the priest. "My lord," he said quietly, "I must
ask you to come with me."
"Stand aside," said the old man, thrusting out the Symbol in
front of him. I could see his eyes gather on the soldier and his
brows knit with a strain of will.
Tarca saw this too, and I thought he would have fallen, but
with an effort he kept his manhood, and doggedly repeated his
summons. "I must obey the command of my mistress, and I would have
you remember, my lord, that I am but a servant. You must come with
me to the whip."
"I warn you!" cried the old man. "Stand from out of my path,
It must have been with the courage of desperation that the
soldier dared to use force. But the hand he stretched out dropped
limply back to his side the moment it touched the old man's bare
shoulder, as though it had been struck by some shock. He seemed
almost to have expected some such repulse; yet when he picked up
that hand with the other, and looked at it, and saw its whiteness,
he let out of him a yell like a wounded beast. "Oh, Gods!" he
cried. "Not that. Spare me!"
But Zaemon was glowering at him still. A twitching seized the
man's face, and he put up his sound hand to it and plucked at his
beard, which was curled and plaited after the new fashion of the
day. A woman standing near screamed as the half of the beard came
off in his fingers. Beneath was silver whiteness over half his
face. Zaemon had smitten him with a sudden leprosy that was past
Yet the punishment was not ended even then. Other twitchings
took him on other parts of the body, and he tore off his armour and
his foppish clothes, and always where the bare flesh showed, there
had the horrid plague written its white mark; and in the end, being
able to endure no more, the man fell to the pavement and lay there
Zaemon said no further word. He lifted the Symbol before him,
set his eyes on the farther door of the banqueting-hall and walked
for it directly, all those in his path shrinking away from him with
open shudders. And through the valves of the door he passed out of
our sight, still wordless, still unchecked.
I glanced up at Phorenice. The loveliness of her face was
drawn and haggard. It was the first great reverse, this, she had
met with in all her life, and the shock of it, and the vision of
what might follow after, dazed her. Alas, if she could only have
guessed at a tenth of the terrors which the future had in its womb,
Atlantis might have been saved even then.
6. THE BITERS OF THE CITY WALLS
Here then was the manner of my reception back in the capital
of Atlantis, and some first glimpse at her new policies. I freely
confess to my own inaction and limpness; but it was all deliberate.
The old ties of duty seemed lost, or at least merged in one
another. Beforetime, to serve the king was to serve the Clan of
the Priests, from which he had been chosen, and whose head he
constituted. But Phorenice was self-made, and appeared to be a
rule unto herself; if Zaemon was to be trusted, he was the
mouthpiece of the Priests, and their Clan had set her at defiance;
and how was a mere honest man to choose on the instant between the
But cold argument told me that governments were set up for the
good of the country at large, and I said to myself that there would
be my choice. I must find out which rule promised best of
Atlantis, and do my poor best to prop it into full power. And here
at once there opened up another path in the maze: I had heard some
considerable talk of rebels; of another faction of Atlanteans who,
whatever their faults might be, were at any rate strong enough to
beleaguer the capital; and before coming to any final decision, it
would be as well to take their claims in balance with the rest. So
on the night of that very same day on which I had just re-planted
my foot on the old country's shores, I set out to glean for myself
tidings on the matter.
No one inside the royal pyramid gainsaid me. The banquet had
ended abruptly with the terrible scene that I have set down above
on these tablets, for with Tarca writhing on the floor, and
thrusting out the gruesome scars of his leprosy, even the most
gluttonous had little enough appetite for further gorging.
Phorenice glowered on the feasters for a while longer in silent
fury, but saying no further word; and then her eyes turned on me,
though softened somewhat.
"You may be an honest man, Deucalion," she said, at length,
"but you are a monstrous cold one. I wonder when you will thaw?"
And here she smiled. "I think it will be soon. But for now I bid
you farewell. In the morning we will take this country by the
shoulders, and see it in some new order."
She left the banqueting-hall then, Ylga following; and taking
precedence of my rank, I went out next, whilst all others stood and
made salutation. But I halted by Tarca first, and put my hand on
his unclean flesh. "You are an unfortunate man," I said, "but I can
admire a brave soldier. If relief can be gained for your plague,
I will use interest to procure it for you."
The man's thanks came in a mumble from his wrecked mouth, and
some of those near shuddered in affected disgust. I turned on them
with a black brow: "Your charity, my lords, seems of as small
account as your courage. You affected a fine disbelief of Zaemon's
sayings, and a simpering contempt for his priesthood, but when it
comes to laying a hand on him, you show a discretion which, in the
old days, we should have called by an ugly name. I had rather be
Tarca, with all his uncleanness, than any of you now as you stand."
With which leave-taking I waited coldly till they gave me my
due salutation, and then walked out of the banqueting-hall without
offering a soul another glance. I took my way to the grand gate of
the pyramid, called for the officer of the guard, and demanded
exit. The man was obsequious enough, but he opened with some
"My lord's attendants have not yet come up?"
"I have none."
"My lord knows the state of the streets?"
"I did twenty years back. I shall be able to pick my way."
"My lord must remember that the city is beleaguered," the
fellow persisted. "The people are hungry. They prowl in bands
after nightfall, and--I make no question that my lord would conquer
in a fight against whatever odds, but--"
"Quite right. I covet no street scuffle to-night. Lend me,
I pray you, a sufficiency of men. You will know best what are
needed. For me, I am accustomed to a city with quiet streets."
A score of sturdy fellows were detailed off for my escort, and
with them in a double file on either hand, I marched out from the
close perfumed air of the pyramid into the cool moonlight of the
city. It was my purpose to make a tour of the walls and to find
out somewhat of the disposition of these rebels.
But the Gods saw fit to give me another education first. The
city, as I saw it during that night walk, was no longer the old
capital that I had known, the just accretion of the ages, the due
admixture of comfort and splendour. The splendour was there,
vastly increased. Whole wards had been swept away to make space
for new palaces, and new pyramids of the wealthy, and I could not
but have an admiration for the skill and the brain which made
possible such splendid monuments.
And, indeed, gazing at them there under the silver of the
moonlight, I could almost understand the emotions of the Europeans
and other barbarous savages which cause them to worship all such
great buildings as Gods, since they deem them too wonderful and
majestic to be set up by human hands unaided.
Still, if it was easy to admire, it was simple also to see
plain advertisement of the cost at which these great works had been
reared. From each grant of ground, where one of these stately
piles earned silver under the moon, a hundred families had been
evicted and left to harbour as they pleased in the open; and, as a
consequence, now every niche had its quota of sleepers, and every
shadow its squad of fierce wild creatures, ready to rush out and
rob or slay all wayfarers of less force than their own.
Myself, I am no pamperer of the common people. I say that, if
a man be left to hunger and shiver, he will work to gain him food
and raiment; and if not, why then he can die, and the State is well
rid of a worthless fellow. But here beside us, as we marched
through many wards, were marks of blind oppression; starved dead
bodies, with the bones starting through the lean skin, sprawled in
the gutter; and indeed it was plain that, save for the favoured
few, the people of the great capital were under a most heavy
But at this, though I might regret it abominably, I could make
no strong complaint. By the ancient law of the land all the
people, great and small, were the servants of the king, to be put
without question to what purposes he chose; and Phorenice stood in
the place of the king. So I tried to think no treason, but with a
sigh passed on, keeping my eyes above the miseries and the squalors
of the roadway, and sending out my thoughts to the stars which hung
in the purple night above, and to the High Gods which dwelt amongst
them, seeking, if it might be, for guidance for my future policies.
And so in time the windings of the streets brought us to the walls,
and, coursing beside these and giving fitting answer to the
sentries who beat their drums as we passed, we came in time to that
great gate which was a charge to the captain of the garrison.
Here it was plain there was some special commotion. A noise
of laughter went up into the still night air, and with it now and
again the snarl and roar of a great beast, and now and again the
shriek of a hurt man. But whatever might be afoot, it was not a
scene to come upon suddenly. The entrance gates of our great
capital were designed by their ancient builders to be no less
strong than the walls themselves. Four pairs of valves were there,
each a monstrous block of stone two man-heights square, and a
man-height thick, and the wall was doubled to receive them,
enclosing an open circus between its two parts. The four gates
themselves were set one at the inner, one at the outer side of each
of these walls, and a hidden machinery so connected them, that of
each set one could not open till the other was closed; and as for
forcing them without war engines, one might as foolishly try to
push down the royal pyramid with the bare hand.
My escort made outcry with the horn which hung from the wall
inviting such a summons, and a warder came to an arrow-slit, and
did inspection of our persons and business. His survey was
according to the ancient form of words, which is long, and this was
made still more tedious by the noise from within, which ever and
again drowned all speech between us entirely.
But at last the formalities had been duly complied with, and
he shot back the massive bars and bolts of stone, and threw ajar
one monstrous stone valve of the door. Into the chamber within--a
chamber made from the thickness of the wall between the two
doors--I and my fellows crowded, and then the warder with his
machines pulled to the valve which had been opened, and came to me
again through the press of my escort, bowing low to the ground.
"I have no vail to give you," I said abruptly. "Get on with
your duty. Open me that other door."
"With respect, my lord, it would be better that I should first
announce my lord's presence. There is a baiting going forward in
the circus, and the tigers are as yet mere savages, and no
respecters of persons."
"The tigers, if my lord will permit them the name. They are
baiting a batch of prisoners with the two great beasts which the
Empress (whose name be adored) has sent here to aid us keep the
gate. But if my lord will, there are the ward rooms leading off
this passage, and the galleries which run out from them commanding
the circus, and from there my lord can see the sport undisturbed."
Now, the mere lust for killing excites only disgust in me, but
I suspected the orders of the Empress in this matter, and had a
curiosity to see her scheme. So I stepped into the warder's lodge,
and on into the galleries which commanded the circus with their
arrow-slits. The old builders of the place had intended these for
a second line of defence, for, supposing the outer doors all
forced, an enemy could be speedily shot down in the circus, without
being able to give a blow in return, and so would only march into
a death-trap. But as a gazing-place on a spectacle they were no
The circus was bright lit by the moonlight, and the air which
came in to me from it was acrid with the reek of blood. There was
no sport in what was going forward: as I said, it was mere killing,
and the sight disgusted me. I am no prude about this matter. Give
a prisoner his weapons, put him in a pit with beasts of reasonable
strength, and let him fight to a finish if you choose, and I can
look on there and applaud the strokes. The war prisoner, being a
prisoner, has earned death by natural law, and prefers to get his
last stroke in hot blood than to be knocked down by the headsman's
axe. And it is any brave man's luxury either to help or watch a
lusty fight. But this baiting in the circus between the gates was
no fair battle like that.
To begin with, the beasts were no fair antagonists for single
men. In fact, twenty men armed might well have fled from them.
When the warder said tigers, I supposed he meant the great cats of
the woods. But here, in the circus, I saw a pair of the most
terrific of all the fur-bearing land beasts, the great tigers of
the caves--huge monsters, of such ponderous strength that in hunger
they will oftentimes drag down a mammoth, if they can find him away
from his herd.
How they had been brought captive I could not tell. Hunter of
beasts though I had been for all my days, I take no shame in saying
that I always approached the slaying of a cave-tiger with
stratagem and infinite caution. To entrap it alive and bring it
to a city on a chain was beyond my most daring schemes, and I have
been accredited with more new things than one. But here it was in
fact, and I saw in these captive beasts a new certificate for
The purpose of these two cave-tigers was plain: whilst they
were in the circus, and loose, no living being could cross from one
gate to the other. They were a new and sturdy addition to the
defences of the capital. A collar of bronze was round the throat
of each, and on the collar was a massive chain which led to the
wall, where it could be payed out or hauled in by means of a
windlass in one of the hidden galleries. So that at ordinary
moments the two huge beasts could be tethered, one close to either
end of the circus, as the litter of bones and other messes showed,
leaving free passage-way between the two sets of doors.
But when I stood there by the arrow-slit, looking down into
the moonlight of the circus, these chains were slackened (though
men stood by the windlass of each), and the great striped brutes
were prowling about the circus with the links clanking and chinking
in their wake. Lying stark on the pavement were the bodies of some
eight men, dead and uneaten; and though the cave-tigers stopped
their prowlings now and again to nuzzle these, and beat them about
with playful paw-blows, they made no pretence at commencing a meal.
It was clear that this cruel sport had grown common to them, and
they knew there were other victims yet to be added to the tally.
Presently, sure enough, as I watched, a valve of the farther
gate swung back an arm's length, and a prisoner, furiously
resisting, was thrust out into the circus. He fell on his face,
and after one look around him he lay resolutely still, with eyes on
the ground passively awaiting his fate. The ponderous stone of the
gate clapped to in its place; the cave-tigers turned in their
prowlings; and a chatter of wagers ran to and fro amongst the
watchers behind the arrow-slits.
It seemed there were niceties of cruelty in this wretched
game. There was a sharp clank as the windlasses were manned, and
the tethering chains were drawn in by perhaps a score of links.
One of the cave-tigers crouched, lashed its tail, and launched
forth on a terrific spring. The chain tautened, the massive links
sang to the strain, and the great beast gave a roar which shook the
walls. It had missed the prone man by a hand's breadth, and the
watchers behind the arrow-slits shrieked forth their delight. The
other tiger sprang also and missed, and again there were shouts of
pleasure, which mingled with the bellowing voices of the beasts.
The man lay motionless in his form. One more cowardly, or one more
brave, might have run from death, or faced it; but this poor
prisoner chose the middle course--he permitted death to come to
him, and had enough of doggedness to wait for it without stir.
The great cave-tigers were used, it appeared, to this disgusting
sport. There were no more wild springs, no more stubbings at
the end of the massive chains. They lay down on the pavement,
and presently began to purr, rolling on to their sides and
rubbing themselves luxuriously. The prisoner still lay
motionless in his form.
By slow degrees the monstrous brutes each drew to the end of
its chain and began to reach at the man with out-stretched forepaw.
The male could not touch him; the female could just reach him with
the far tip of a claw; and I saw a red scratch start up in the bare
skin of his side at every stroke. But still the prisoner would not
stir. It seemed to me that they must slack out more links of one
of the tigers' chains, or let the vile play linger into mere
But I had more to learn yet. The male tiger, either taught by
his own devilishness, or by those brutes that were his keepers, had
still another ruse in store. He rose to his feet and turned round,
backing against the chain. A yell of applause from the hidden men
behind the arrow-slits told that they knew what was in store; and
then the monstrous beast, stretched to the utmost of its vast
length, kicked sharply with one hind paw.
I heard the crunch of the prisoner's ribs as the pads struck
him, and at that same moment the poor wretch's body was spurned
away by the blow, as one might throw a fruit with the hand. But it
did not travel far. It was clear that the she-tiger knew this
manoeuvre of her mate's. She caught the man on his bound, nuzzling
over him for a minute, and then tossing him high into the air, and
leaping up to the full of her splendid height after him.
Those other onlookers thought it magnificent; their gleeful
shouts said as much. But for me, my gorge rose at the sight. Once
the tigers had reached him, the man had been killed, it is true,
without any unnecessary lingering. Even a light blow from those
terrific paws would slay the strongest man living. But to see the
two cave-tigers toying with the poor body was an insult to the
pride of our race.
However, I was not there to preach the superiority of man to
the beasts, and the indecency and degradation of permitting man to
be unduly insulted. I had come to learn for myself the new balance
of things in the kingdom of Atlantis, and so I stood at my place
behind the arrow-slit with a still face. And presently another
scene in this ghastly play was enacted.
The cave-tigers tired of their sport, and first one and then
the other fell once more to prowling over the littered pavements,
with the heavy chains scraping and chinking in their wake. They
made no beginning to feast on the bodies provided for them. That
would be for afterwards. In the present, the fascination of
slaughter was big in them, and they had thought that it would be
indulged further. It seemed that they knew their entertainers.
Again the windlass clanked, and the tethering chains drew the
great beasts clear of the doorway; and again a valve of the farther
door swung ajar, and another prisoner was thrust struggling into
the circus. A sickness seized me when I saw that this was a woman,
but still, in view of the object I had in hand, I made no
It was not that I had never seen women sent to death before.
A general, who has done his fighting, must in his day have killed
women equally with men; yes, and seen them earn their death-blow by
lusty battling. Yet there seemed something so wanton in this cruel
helpless sacrifice of a woman prisoner, that I had a struggle with
myself to avoid interference. Still it is ever the case that the
individual must be sacrificed to a policy, and so as I say, I
watched on, outwardly cold and impassive.
I watched too (I confess it freely) with a quickening heart.
Here was no sullen submissive victim like the last. She may have
been more cowardly (as some women are), she may have been braver
(as many women have shown themselves); but, at any rate, it was
clear that she was going to make a struggle for her life, and to do
vicious damage, it might be, before she yielded it up. The
watchers behind the arrow-slits recognized this. Their wagers, and
the hum of their appreciation, swept loudly round the ring of the
They stripped their prisoners, before they thrust them out to
this death, of all the clothes they might carry, for clothes have
a value; and so the woman stood there bare-limbed in the moonlight.
She clapped her back to the great stone door by which she had
entered, and faced fate with glowing eye. Gods! there have been
times in early years when I could have plucked out sword and jumped
down, and fought for her there for the sheer delight of such a
battle. But now policy restrained me. The individual might want
a helping hand, but it was becoming more and more clear that
Atlantis wanted a minister also; and before these great needs, the
lesser ones perforce must perish. Still, be it noted that, if I
did not jump down, no other man there that night had sufficient
manhood remaining to venture the opportunity.
My heart glowed as I watched her. She picked a bone from the
litter on the pavement and beat off its head by blows against the
wall. Then with her teeth she fashioned the point to still further
sharpness. I could see her teeth glisten white in the moonrays as
she bit with them.
The huge cave-tigers, which stood as high as her head as they
walked, came nearer to her in their prowlings, yet obviously
neglected her. This was part of their accustomed scheme of
torment, and the woman knew it well. There was something
intolerable in their noiseless, ceaseless paddings over the
pavement. I could see the prisoner's breast heave as she watched
them. A terror such as that would have made many a victim sick and
But this one was bolder than I had thought. She did not wait
for a spring: she made the first attack herself. When the
she-tiger made its stroll towards her, and was in the act of
turning, she flung herself into a sudden leap, striking viciously
at its eye with her sharpened bone. A roar from the onlookers
acknowledged the stroke. The cave-tiger's eye remained undarkened,
but the puny weapon had dealt it a smart flesh wound, and with a
great bellow of surprise and pain it scampered away to gain space
for a rush and a spring.
But the woman did not await its charge. With a shrill scream
she sped forward, running at the full of her speed across the
moonlight directly towards that shadowed part of the encircling
wall within whose thickness I had my gazing place; and then,
throwing every tendon of her body into the spring, made the
greatest leap that surely any human being ever accomplished, even
when spurred on by the utmost of terror and desperation. In an
after day I measured it, and though of a certainty she must have
added much to the tally by the sheer force of her run, which drove
her clinging up the rough surface of the wall, it is a sure thing
that in that splendid leap her feet must have dangled a man-height
and a half above the pavement.
I say it was prodigious, but then the spur was more than the
ordinary, and the woman herself was far out of the common both in
thews and intelligence; and the end of the leap left her with five
fingers lodged in the sill of the arrow-slit from which I watched.
Even then she must have slipped back if she had been left to
herself, for the sill sloped, and the stone was finely smooth; but
I shot out my hand and gripped hers by the wrist, and instantly she
clambered up with both knees on the sills, and her fingers twined
round to grip my wrist in her turn.
And now you will suppose she gushed out prayers and promises,
thinking only of safety and enlargement. There was nothing of
this. With savage panting wordlessness she took fresh grip on the
sharpened bone with her spare hand, and lunged with it desperately
through the arrow-slit. With the hand that clutched mine she drew
me towards her, so as to give the blows the surer chance, and so
unprepared was I for such an attack, and with such fierce
suddenness did she deliver it, that the first blow was near giving
me my quietus. But I grappled with the poor frantic creature as
gently as might be--the stone of the wall separating us always--and
stripped her of her weapon, and held her firmly captive till she
might calm herself.
"That was an ungrateful blow," I said. "But for my hand you'd
have slipped and be the sport of a tiger's paw this minute."
"Oh, I must kill some one," she panted, "before I am killed
"There will be time enough to think upon that some other day;
but for now you are far enough off meeting further harm."
"You are lying to me. You will throw me to the beasts as soon
as I loose my grip. I know your kind: you will not be robbed of
"I will go so far as to prove myself to you," said I, and
called out for the warder who had tended the doors below. "Bid
those tigers be tethered on a shorter chain," I ordered, "and then
go yourself outside into the circus, and help this lady delicately
to the ground."
The word was passed and these things were done; and I too came
out into the circus and joined the woman, who stood waiting under
the moonlight. But the others who had seen these doings were by no
means suited at the change of plan. One of the great stone valves
of the farther door opened hurriedly, and a man strode out, armed
and flushed. "By all the Gods!" he shouted. "Who comes between me
and my pastime?"
I stepped quietly to the advance. "I fear, sir," I said,
"that you must launch your anger against me. By accident I gave
that woman sanctuary, and I had not heart to toss her back to your
His fingers began to snap against his hilt.
"You have come to the wrong market here with your qualms. I
am captain here, and my word carries, subject only to Phorenice's
nod. Do you hear that? Do you know too that I can have you tossed
to those striped gate-keepers of mine for meddling in here without
an invitation?" He looked at me sharp enough, but saw plainly that
I was a stranger. "But perhaps you carry a name, my man, which
warrants your impertinence?"
"Deucalion is my poor name," I said, "but I cannot expect you
will know it. I am but newly landed here, sir, and when I left
Atlantis some score of years back, a very different man to you held
guard over these gates." He had his forehead on my feet by this
time. "I had it from the Empress this night that she will
to-morrow make a new sorting of this kingdom's dignities. Perhaps
there is some recommendation you would wish me to lay before her in
return for your courtesies?"
"My lord," said the man, "if you wish it, I can have a turn
with those cave-tigers myself now, and you can look on from behind
the walls and see them tear me."
"Why tell me what is no news?"
"I wish to remind my lord of his power; I wish to beg of his
"You showed your power to these poor prisoners; but from what
remains here to be seen, few of them have tasted much of your
"The orders were," said the captain of the gate, as though he
thought a word might be said here for his defence, "the orders
were, my lord, that the tigers should be kept fierce and accustomed
"Then, if you have obeyed orders, let me be the last to chide
you. But it is my pleasure that this woman be respited, and I wish
now to question her."
The man got to his feet again with obvious relief, though
still bowing low.
"Then if my lord will honour me by sitting in my room that
overlooks the outer gate, the favour will never be forgotten."
"Show the way," I said, and took the woman by the fingers,
leading her gently. At the two ends of the circus the tigers
prowled about on short chains, growling and muttering.
We passed through the door into the thickness of the outer
wall, and the captain of the gate led us into his private chamber,
a snug enough box overlooking the plain beyond the city. He lit a
torch from his lamp and thrust it into a bracket on the wall, and
bowing deeply and walking backwards, left us alone, closing the
door in place behind him. He was an industrious fellow, this
captain, to judge from the spoil with which his chamber was packed.
There could have come very few traders in through that gate below
without his levying a private tribute; and so, judging that most of
his goods had been unlawfully come by, I had little qualm at making
a selection. It was not decent that the woman, being an Atlantean,
should go bereft of the dignity of clothes, as though she were a
mere savage from Europe; and so I sought about amongst the
captain's spoil for garments that would be befitting.
But, as I busied myself in this search for raiment, rummaging
amongst the heaps and bales, with a hand and eye little skilled in
such business, I heard a sound behind which caused me to turn my
head, and there was the woman with a dagger she had picked from the
floor, in the act of drawing it from the sheath.
She caught my eye and drew the weapon clear, but seeing that
I made no advance towards her, or move to protect myself, waited
where she was, and presently was took with a shuddering.
"Your designs seem somewhat of a riddle," I said. "At first
you wished to kill me from motives which you explained, and which
I quite understood. It lay in my power next to confer some small
benefit upon you, in consequence of which you are here, and
not--shall we say?--yonder in the circus. Why you should desire
now to kill the only man here who can set you completely free, and
beyond these walls, is a thing it would gratify me much to learn.
I say nothing of the trifle of ingratitude. Gratitude and
ingratitude are of little weight here. There is some far greater
in your mind."
She pressed a hand hard against her breasts. "You are
Deucalion," she gasped; "I heard you say it."
"I am Deucalion. So far, I have known no reason to feel shame
for my name."
"And I come of those," she cried, with a rising voice, "who
bite against this city, because they have found their fate too
intolerable with the land as it is ordered now. We heard of your
coming from Yucatan. It was we who sent the fleet to take you at
the entrance to the Gulf."
"Your fleet gave us a pretty fight."
"Oh, I know, I know. We had our watchers on the high land who
brought us the tidings. We had an omen even before that. Where we
lay with our army before the walls here, we saw great birds
carrying off the slain to the mountains. But where the fleet
failed, I saw a chance where I, a woman, might--"
"Where you might succeed?" I sat me down on a pile of the
captain's stuffs. It seemed as if here at last that I should find
a solution for many things. "You carry a name?" I asked.
"They call me Nais."
"Ah," I said, and signed to her to take the clothes that I had
sought out. She was curiously like, so both my eyes and hearing
said, to Ylga, the fan-girl of Phorenice, but as she had told me of
no parentage I asked for none then. Still her talk alone let me
know that she was bred of none of the common people, and I made up
my mind towards definite understanding. "Nais," I said, "you wish
to kill me. At the same time I have no doubt you wish to live on
yourself, if only to get credit from your people for what you have
done. So here I will make a contract with you. Prove to me that
my death is for Atlantis' good, and I swear by our Lord the Sun to
go out with you beyond the walls, where you can stab me and then
get you gone. Or the--"
"I will not be your slave."
"I do not ask you for service. Or else, I wished to say, I
shall live so long as the High Gods wish, and do my poor best for
this country. And for you--I shall set you free to do your best
also. So now, I pray you, speak."
7. THE BITERS OF THE WALLS
"You will set me free," she said, regarding me from under her
brows, "without any further exactions or treaty?"
"I will set you free exactly on those terms," I answered,
"unless indeed we here decide that it is better for Atlantis that
I should die, in which case the freedom will be of your own
"My lord plays a bold game."
"Tut, tut," I said.
"But I shall not hesitate to take the full of my bond, unless
my theories are most clearly disproved to me."
"Tut," I said, "you women, how you can play out the time
needlessly. Show me sufficient cause, and you shall kill me where
and how you please. Come, begin the accusation."
"You are a tyrant."
"At least I have not paraded my tyrannies in Atlantis these
twenty years. Why, Nais, I did but land yesterday."
"You will not deny you came back from Yucatan for a purpose."
"I came back because I was sent for. The Empress gives no
reasons for her recalls. She states her will; and we who serve her
obey without question."
"Pah, I know that old dogma."
"If you discredit my poor honesty at the outset like this, I
fear we shall not get far with our unravelling."
"My lord must be indeed simple," said this strange woman
scornfully, "if he is ignorant of what all Atlantis knows."
"Then simple you must write me down. Over yonder in Yucatan
we were too well wrapped up in our own parochial needs and policies
to have leisure to ponder much over the slim news which drifted out
to us from Atlantis--and, in truth, little enough came. By
example, Phorenice (whose office be adored) is a great personage
here at home; but over there in the colony we barely knew so much
as her name. Here, since I have been ashore, I have seen many new
wonders; I have been carried by a riding mammoth; I have sat at a
banquet; but in what new policies there are afoot, I have yet to be
"Then, if truly you do not know it, let me repeat to you the
common tale. Phorenice has tired of her unmated life."
"Stay there. I will hear no word against the Empress."
"Pah, my lord, your scruples are most decorous. But I did no
more than repeat what the Empress had made public by proclamation.
She is minded to take to herself a husband, and nothing short of
the best is good enough for Phorenice. One after another has been
put up in turn as favourite--and been found wanting. Oh, I tell
you, we here in Atlantis have watched her courtship with jumping
hearts. First it was this one here, then it was that one there;
now it was this general just returned from a victory, and a day
later he had been packed back to his camp, to give place to some
dashing governor who had squeezed increased revenues from his
province. But every ship that came from the West said that there
was a stronger man than any of these in Yucatan, and at last the
Empress changed the wording of her vow. 'I'll have Deucalion for
my husband,' said she, 'and then we will see who can stand against
"The Empress (whose name be adored) can do as she pleases in
such matters," I said guardedly; "but that is beside the argument.
I am here to know how it would be better for Atlantis that I should
"You know you are the strongest man in the kingdom."
"It pleases you to say so."
"And Phorenice is the strongest woman."
"That is beyond doubt."
"Why, then, if the Empress takes you in marriage, we shall be
under a double tyranny. And her rule alone is more cruelly heavy
than we can bear already."
"I pass no criticism on Phorenice's rule. I have not seen it.
But I crave your mercy, Nais, on the newcomer into this kingdom.
I am strong, say you, and therefore I am a tyrant, say you. Now to
me this sequence is faulty."
"Who should a strong man use strength for, if not for himself?
And if for himself, why that spells tyranny. You will get all your
heart's desires, my lord, and you will forget that many a thousand
of the common people will have to pay for them."
"And this is all your accusation?"
"It seems to be black enough. I am one that has a compassion
for my fellow-men, my lord, and because of that compassion you see
me what I am to-day. There was a time, not long passed, when I
slept as soft and ate as dainty as any in Atlantis."
I smiled. "Your speech told me that much from the first."
"Then I would I had cast the speech off, too, if that is also
a livery of the tyrant's class. But I tell you I saw all the
oppression myself from the oppressor's side. I was high in
Phorenice's favour then."
"That, too, is easy of credence. Ylga is the fan-girl to the
Empress now, and second lady in the kingdom, and those who have
seen Ylga could make an easy guess at the parentage of Nais."
"We were the daughters of one birth; but I do not count with
either Zaemon or Ylga now. Ylga is the creature of Phorenice, and
Phorenice would have all the people of Atlantis slaves and in
chains, so that she might crush them the easier. And as for
Zaemon, he is no friend of Phorenice's; he fights with brain and
soul to drag the old authority to those on the Sacred Mountain; and
that, if it come down on us again, would only be the exchange of
one form of slavery for another."
"It seems to me you bite at all authority."
"In fact," she said simply, "I do. I have seen too much of it."
"And so you think a rule of no-rule would be best for the
"You have put it plainly in words for me. That is my creed
to-day. That is the creed of all those yonder, who sit in the camp
and besiege this city. And we number on our side, now, all in
Atlantis save those in the city and a handful on the priests'
I shook my head. "A creed of desperation, if you like, Nais,
but, believe me, a silly creed. Since man was born out of the
quakings and the fevers of this earth, and picked his way amongst
the cooler-places, he has been dependent always on his fellow-men.
And where two are congregated together, one must be chief, and
order how matters are to be governed--at least, I speak of men who
have a wish to be higher than the beasts. Have you ever set foot
"I have. Years back I sailed there, gathering slaves. What
did I see? A country without rule or order. Tyrants they were, to
be sure, but they were the beasts. The men and the women were the
rudest savages, knowing nothing of the arts, dressing in skins and
uncleanness, harbouring in caves and the tree-tops. The beasts
roamed about where they would, and hunted them unchecked."
"Still, they fought you for their liberty?"
"Never once. They knew how disastrous was their masterless
freedom. Even to their dull, savage brains it was a sure thing
that no slavery could be worse; and to that state you, and your
friends, and your theories, will reduce Atlantis, if you get the
upper hand. But, then, to argue in a circle, you will never get
it. For to conquer, you must set up leaders, and once you have set
them up, you will never pull them down again."
"Aye," she said with a sigh, "there is truth in that last."
The torch had filled the captain's room with a resinous smoke,
but the flame was growing pale. Dawn was coming in greyly through
a slender arrow-slit, and with it ever and again the glow from some
mountain out of sight, which was shooting forth spasmodic bursts of
fire. With it also were mutterings of distant falling rocks, and
sullen tremblings, which had endured all the night through, and I
judged that earth was in one of her quaking moods, and would
probably during the forthcoming day offer us some chastening
On this account, perhaps, my senses were stilled to certain
evidences which would otherwise have given me a suspicion; and
also, there is no denying that my general wakefulness was sapped by
another matter. This woman, Nais, interested me vastly out of the
common; the mere presence of her seemed to warm the organs of my
interior; and whilst she was there, all my thoughts and senses were
present in the room of the captain of the gate in which we sat.
But of a sudden the floor of the chamber rocked and fell away
beneath me, and in a tumult of dust, and litter, and bales of the
captain's plunder, I fell down (still seated on the flagstone) into
a pit which had been digged beneath it. With the violence of the
descent, and the flutter of all these articles about my head, I was
in no condition for immediate action; and whilst I was still
half-stunned by the shock, and long before I could get my eyes into
service again, I had been seized, and bound, and half-strangled
with a noose of hide. Voices were raised that I should be
despatched at once out of the way; but one in authority cried out
that, killing me at leisure, and as a prisoner, promised more
genteel sport; and so I was thrust down on the floor, whilst a
whole army of men trod in over me to the attack.
What had happened was clear to me now, though I was powerless
to do anything in hindrance. The rebels with more craft than any
one had credited to them, had driven a galley from their camp under
the ground, intending so to make an entrance into the heart of the
city. In their clumsy ignorance, and having no one of sufficient
talent in mensuration, they had bungled sadly both in direction and
length, and so had ended their burrow under this chamber of the
captain of the gate. The great flagstone in its fall had, it
appeared, crushed four of them to death, but these were little
noticed or lamented. Life was to them a bauble of the slenderest
price, and a horde of others pressed through the opening, lusting
for the fight, and recking nothing of their risks and perils.
Half-choked by the foul air of the galley, and trodden on by
this great procession of feet, it was little enough I could do to
help my immediate self much less the more distant city. But when
the chief mass of the attackers had passed through, and there came
only here and there one eager to take his share at storming the
gate, a couple of fellows plucked me up out of the mud on the
floor, and began dragging me down through the stinking darkness of
the galley towards the pit that gave it entrance.
Twenty times we were jostled by others hastening to the
attack, either from hunger for fight, or from appetite for what
they could steal. But we came to the open at last, and
half-suffocated though I was, I contrived to do obeisance, and say
aloud the prescribed prayer to the most High Gods in gratitude for
the fresh, sweet air which They had provided.
Our Lord the Sun was on the verge of rising for His day, and
all things were plainly shown. Before me were the monstrous walls
of the capital, with the heads of its pyramids and higher buildings
showing above them. And on the walls, the sentries walked calmly
their appointed paces, or took shelter against arrows in the
casemates provided for them.
The din of fighting within the gate rose high into the air,
and the heavy roaring of the cave-tigers told that they too were
taking their share of the melee. But the massive stonework of the
walls hid all the actual engagement from our view, and which party
was getting the upper hand we could not even guess. But the sounds
told how tight a fight was being hammered out in those narrow
boundaries, and my veins tingled to be once more back at the old
trade, and to be doing my share.
But there was no chivalry about the fellows who held me by my
bonds. They thrust me into a small temple near by, which once had
been a fane in much favour with travellers, who wished to show
gratitude for the safe journey to the capital, but which now was
robbed and ruined, and they swung to the stone entrance gate and
barred it, leaving me to commune with myself. Presently, they told
me, I should be put to death by torments. Well, this seemed to be
the new custom of Atlantis, and I should have to endure it as best
I could. The High Gods, it appeared, had no further use for my
services in Atlantis, and I was not in the mood then to bite very
much at their decision. What I had seen of the country since my
return had not enamoured me very much with its new conditions.
The little temple in which I was gaoled had been robbed and
despoiled of all its furnishments. But the light-slits, where at
certain hours of the day the rays of our Lord the Sun had fallen
upon the image of the God, before this had been taken away, gave me
vantage places from which I could see over the camp of these rebel
besiegers, and a dreary prospect it was. The people seemed to have
shucked off the culture of centuries in as many months, and to have
gone back for the most part to sheer brutishness. The majority
harboured on the bare ground. Few owned shelter, and these were
merely bowers of mud and branches.
They fought and quarrelled amongst themselves for food, eating
their meat raw, and their grain (when they had it) unground. Many
who passed my vision I saw were even gnawing the soft inside of
The dead lay where they fell. The sick and the wounded found
no hand to tend them. Great man-eating birds hovered about the
camp or skulked about, heavy with gorging, amongst the hovels, and
no one had public spirit enough to give them battle. The stink of
the place rose up to heaven as a foul incense inviting a
pestilence. There was no order, no trace of strong command
anywhere. With three hundred well-disciplined troops it seemed to
me that I could have sent those poor desperate hordes flying in
panic to the forest.
However, there was no very lengthy space of time granted me
for thinking out the policy of this matter to any great depth. The
attack on the gate had been delivered with suddenness; the repulse
was not slow. Of what desperate fighting took place in the
galleries, and in the circus between the two sets of gates, the
detail will never be told in full.
At the first alarm the great cave-tigers were set loose, and
these raged impartially against keeper and foe. Of those that went
in through the tunnel, not one in ten returned, and there were few
of these but what carried a bloody wound. Some, with the ruling
passion still strong in them, bore back plunder; one trailed along
with him the head of the captain of the gate; and amongst them they
dragged out two of the warders who were wounded, and whom revenge
had urged them to take as prisoners.
Over these two last a hubbub now arose, that seemed likely to
boil over into blows. Every voice shouted out for them what he
thought the most repulsive fate. Some were for burning, some for
skinning, some for impaling, some for other things: my flesh crept
as I heard their ravenous yells. Those that had been to the
trouble of making them captive were still breathless from the
fight, and were readily thrust aside; and it seemed to me that the
poor wretches would be hustled into death before any definite fate
was agreed upon, which all would pass as sufficiently terrific.
Never had I seen such a disorderly tumult, never such a leaderless
mob. But, as always has happened, and always will, the stronger
men by dint of louder voices and more vigorous shoulders got their
plans agreed to at last, and the others perforce had to give way.
A band of them set off running, and presently returned at
snails' pace, dragging with them (with many squeals from ungreased
wheels) one of those huge war engines with which besiegers are wont
to throw great stones and other missiles into the cities they sit
down against. They ran it up just beyond bowshot of the walls, and
clamped it firmly down with stakes and ropes to the earth. Then
setting their lean arms to the windlasses, they drew back the great
tree which formed the spring till its tethering place reached the
ground, and in the cradle at its head they placed one of the
prisoners, bound helplessly, so that he could not throw himself
over the side.
Then the rude, savage, skin-clad mob stood back, and one who
had appointed himself engineer knocked back the catch that held the
great spring in place.
With a whir and a twang the elastic wood flung upwards, and
the bound man was shot away from its tip with the speed of a
lightning flash. He sang through the air, spinning over and over
with inconceivable rapidity, and the great crowd of rebels held
their breath in silence as they watched. He passed high above the
city wall, a tiny mannikin in the distance now, and then the
trajectory of his flight began to lower. The spike of a new-built
pyramid lay in the path of his terrific flight, and he struck it
with a thud whose sound floated out to us afterwards, and then he
toppled down out of our sight, leaving a red stain on the whiteness
of the stone as he fell.
With a roar the crowd acknowledged the success of their
device, and bellowed out insults to Phorenice, and insults to the
Gods: a poor frantic crowd they showed themselves. And then with
ravening shouts, they fell upon the other captive warder, binding
him also into a compact helpless missile, and meanwhile getting the
engine in gear again for another shot.
But for my part I saw nothing of this disgusting scene. I
heard the bolt grate stealthily against the door of the little
temple in which I was imprisoned, and was minded to give these
brutish rebels somewhat of a surprise. I had rid myself of my
bonds handily enough; I had rubbed my limbs to that perfect
suppleness which is always desirable before a fight; and I had
planned to rush out so soon as the door was swung, and kill those
that came first with fist blows on the brow and chin.
They had not suspected my name, it was clear, for my stature
and garb were nothing out of the ordinary; but if my bodily
strength and fighting power had been sufficient to raise me to a
vice-royalty like that of Yucatan, and let me endure alive in that
government throughout twenty hard-battling years, why, it was
likely that this rabble of savages would see something that was new
and admirable in the practice of arms before the crude weight of
their numbers could drag me down. Nay, I did not even despair of
winning free altogether. I must find me a weapon from those that
came up to battle, with which I could write worthy signatures, and
I must attempt no standing fights. Gods! but what a glow the
prospect did send through me as I stood there waiting.
A vainer man, writing history, might have said that always,
before everything else, he held in mind the greater interests
before the less. But for me--I prefer to be honest, and own myself
human. In my glee at that forthcoming fight--which promised to be
the greatest and most furious I had known in all a long life of
battling--I will confess that Atlantis and her differing policies
were clean forgot. I should go out an unknown man from the little
cell of a temple, I should do my work, and then, whether I took
freedom with me, or whether I came down at last myself on a pile of
slain, these people would guess without being told the name, that
here was Deucalion. Gods! what a fight we would have made!
But the door did not open wide to give me space for my first
rush. It creaked gratingly outwards on its pivots, and a slim hand
and a white arm slipped inside, beckoning me to quietude. Here was
some woman. The door creaked wider, and she came inside.
"Nais," I said.
"Silence, or they will hear you, and remember. At present
those who brought you here are killed, and unless by chance some
one blunders into this robbed shrine, you will not be found."
"Then, if that is so, let me go out and walk amongst these
people as one of themselves."
She shook her head.
"But, Nais, I am not known here. I am merely a man in very
plain and mud-stained robe. I should be in no ways remarkable."
A smile twitched her face. "My lord," she said, "wears no
beard; and his is the only clean chin in the camp."
I joined in her laugh. "A pest on my want of foppishness
then. But I am forgetting somewhat. It comes to my mind that we
still have unfinished that small discussion of ours concerning the
length of my poor life. Have you decided to cut it off from risk
of further mischief, or do you propose to give me further span?"
She turned to me with a look of sharp distress. "My lord,"
she said, "I would have you forget that silly talk of mine. This
last two hours I thought you were dead in real truth."
"And you were not relieved?"
"I felt that the only man was gone out of the world--I mean,
my lord, the only man who can save Atlantis."
"Your words give me a confidence. Then you would have me go
back and become husband to Phorenice?"
"If there is no other way."
"I warn you I shall do that, if she still so desires it, and
if it seems to me that that course will be best. This is no hour
for private likings or dislikings."
"I know it," she said, "I feel it. I have no heart now, save
only for Atlantis. I have schooled myself once more to that."
"And at present I am in this lone little box of a temple. A
minute ago, before you came, I had promised myself a pretty enough
fight to signalise my changing of abode."
"There must be nothing of that. I will not have these poor
people slaughtered unnecessarily. Nor do I wish to see my lord
exposed to a hopeless risk. This poor place, such as it is, has
been given to me as an abode, and, if my lord can remain decorously
till nightfall in a maiden's chamber, he may at least be sure of
quietude. I am a person," she added simply, "that in this camp has
some respect. When darkness comes, I will take my lord down to the
sea and a boat, and so he may come with ease to the harbour and the
8. THE PREACHER FROM THE MOUNTAINS
It was long enough since I had found leisure for a parcel of
sleep, and so during the larger part of that day I am free to
confess that I slumbered soundly, Nais watching me. Night fell,
and still we remained within the privacy of the temple. It was our
plan that I should stay there till the camp slept, and so I should
have more chance of reaching the sea without disturbance.
The night came down wet, with a drizzle of rain, and through
the slits in the temple walls we could see the many fires in the
camp well cared for, the men and women in skins and rags toasting
before them, with steam rising as the heat fought with their
wetness. Folk seated in discomfort like this are proverbially
alert and cruel in the temper, and Nais frowned as she looked on
the inclemency of the weather.
"A fine night," she said, "and I would have sent my lord back
to the city without a soul here being the wiser; but in this chill,
people sleep sourly. We must wait till the hour drugs them
And so we waited, sitting there together on that pavement so
long unkissed by worshippers, and it was little enough we said
aloud. But there can be good companionship without sentences of
But as the hours drew on, the night began to grow less quiet.
From the distance some one began to blow on a horn or a shell,
sending forth a harsh raucous note incessantly. The sound came
nearer, as we could tell from its growing loudness, and the voices
of those by the fires made themselves heard, railing at the blower
for his disturbance. And presently it became stationary, and
standing up we could see through the slits in the walls the people
of the camp rousing up from their uneasy rest, and clustering
together round one who stood and talked to them from the pedestal
of a war engine.
What he was declaiming upon we could not hear, and our curiosity
on the matter was not keen. Given that all who did not sleep
went to weary themselves with this fellow, as Nais whispered,
it would be simple for me to make an exit in the opposite
But here we were reckoning without the inevitable busybody.
A dozen pairs of feet splashing through the wet came up to the side
of the little temple, and cried loudly that Nais should join the
audience. She had eloquence of tongue, it appeared, and they
feared lest this speaker who had taken his stand on the war engine
should make schisms amongst their ranks unless some skilled person
stood up also to refute his arguments.
Here, then, it seemed to me that I must be elbowed into my
skirmish by the most unexpected of chances, but Nais was firmly
minded that there should be no fight, if courage on her part could
turn it. "Come out with me," she whispered, "and keep distant from
the light of the fires."
"But how explain my being here?"
"There is no reason to explain anything," she said bitterly.
"They will take you for my lover. There is nothing remarkable in
that: it is the mode here. But oh, why did not the Gods make you
wear a beard, and curl it, even as other men? Then you could have
been gone and safe these two hours."
"A smooth chin pleases me better."
"So it does me," I heard her murmur as she leaned her weight
on the stone which hung in the doorway, and pushed it ajar; "your
chin." The ragged men outside--there were women with them
also--did not wait to watch me very closely. A coarse jest or two
flew (which I could have found good heart to have repaid with a
sword-thrust) and they stepped off into the darkness, just turning
from time to time to make sure we followed. On all sides others
were pressing in the same direction--black shadows against the
night; the rain spat noisily on the camp fires as we passed them;
and from behind us came up others. There were no sleepers in the
camp now; all were pressing on to hear this preacher who stood on
the pedestal of the war engine; and if we had tried to swerve from
the straight course, we should have been marked at once.
So we held on through the darkness, and presently came within
Still it was little enough of the preacher's words we could
make out at first. "Who are your chiefs?" came the question at the
end of a fervid harangue, and immediately all further rational talk
was drowned in uproar. "We have no chiefs," the people shouted,
"we are done with chiefs; we are all equal here. Take away your
silly magic. You may kill us with magic if you choose, but rule us
you shall not. Nor shall the other priests rule. Nor Phorenice.
Nor anybody. We are done with rulers."
The press had brought us closer and closer to the man who
stood on the war engine. We saw him to be old, with white hair
that tumbled on his shoulders, and a long white beard, untrimmed
and uncurled. Save for a wisp of rag about the loins, his body was
unclothed, and glistened in the wet.
But in his hand he held that which marked his caste. With it
he pointed his sentences, and at times he whirled it about bathing
his wet, naked body in a halo of light. It was a wand whose tip
burned with an unconsuming fire, which glowed and twinkled and
blazed like some star sent down by the Gods from their own place in
the high heaven. It was the Symbol of our Lord the Sun, a
credential no one could forge, and one on which no civilised man
would cast a doubt.
Indeed, the ragged frantic crew did not question for one moment
that he was a member of the Clan of Priests, the Clan which
from time out of numbering had given rulers for the land, and even
in their loudest clamours they freely acknowledged his powers.
"You may kill us with your magic, if you choose," they screamed at
him. But stubbornly they refused to come back to their old
allegiance. "We have suffered too many things these later years,"
they cried. "We are done with rulers now for always."
But for myself I saw the old man with a different emotion.
Here was Zaemon that was father to Nais, Zaemon that had seen me
yesterday seated on the divan at Phorenice's elbow, and who to-day
could denounce me as Deucalion if so he chose. These rebels had
expended a navy in their wish to kill me four days earlier, and if
they knew of my nearness, even though Nais were my advocate, her
cold reasoning would have had little chance of an audience now.
The High Gods who keep the tether of our lives hide Their secrets
well, but I did not think it impious to be sure that mine was very
near the cutting then.
The beautiful woman saw this too. She even went so far as to
twine her fingers in mine and press them as a farewell, and I
pressed hers in return, for I was sorry enough not to see her more.
Still I could not help letting my thoughts travel with a grim
gloating over the fine mound of dead I should build before these
ragged, unskilled rebels pulled me down. And it was inevitable
this should be so. For of all the emotions that can ferment in the
human heart, the joy of strife is keenest, and none but an old
fighter, face to face with what must necessarily be his final
battle, can tell how deep this lust is embroidered into the very
foundations of his being.
But for the time Zaemon did not see me, being too much wrapped
in his outcry, and so I was free to listen to the burning words
which he spread around him, and to determine their effect on the
The theme he preached was no new one. He told that ever since
the beginning of history, the Gods had set apart one Clan of the
people to rule over the rest and be their Priests, and until the
coming of Phorenice these had done their duties with exactitude and
justice. They had fought invaders, carried war against the beasts,
and studied earth-movements so that they were able to foretell
earthquakes and eruptions, and could spread warnings that the
people might be able to escape their devastations. They are no
self-seekers; their aim was always to further the interest of
Atlantis, and so do honour to the kingdom on which the High Gods
had set their special favour. Under the Priestly Clan, Atlantis
had reached the pinnacle of human prosperity and happiness.
"But," cried the old man, waving the Symbol till his wet body
glistened in a halo of light, "the people grew fat and careless
with their easy life. They began to have a conceit that their good
fortune was earned by their own puny brains and thews, and was no
gift from the Gods above; and presently the cult of these Gods
became neglected, and Their temples were barren of gifts and
worshippers. Followed a punishment. The Gods in Their inscrutable
way decreed that a wife of one of the Priests (that was a governor
of no inconsiderable province) should see a woman child by the
wayside, and take it for adoption. That child the Gods in their
infinite wisdom fashioned into a scourge for Atlantis, and you who
have felt the weight of Phorenice's hand, know with what
completeness the High Gods can fashion their instruments.
"Yet, even as they set up, so can they throw down, and those
that shall debase Phorenice are even now appointed. The old rule
is to be re-established; but not till you who have sinned are
sufficiently chastened to cry to it for relief." He waved the
mysterious glowing Symbol before him. "See," he cried in his high
old quavering voice, "you know the unspeakable Power of which that
is the sign, and for which I am the mouthpiece. It is for you to
make decision now. Are the Gods to throw down this woman who has
scorned Them and so cruelly trodden on you? Or are you to be still
further purged of your pride before you are ripe for deliverance?"
The old priest broke off with a gesture, and his ragged white
beard sank on to his chest. Promptly a young man, skin clad and
carrying his weapon, elbowed up through the press of listeners, and
jumped on to the platform beside him. "Hear me, brethren!" he
bellowed, in his strong young voice. "We are done with tyrants.
Death may come, and we all of us here have shown how little we fear
it. But own rulers again we will not, and that is our final say.
My lord," he said, turning to the old man with a brave face, "I
know it is in your power to kill me by magic if you choose, but I
have said my say, and can stand the cost if needs be."
"I can kill you, but I will not," said Zaemon. "You have said
your silliness. Now go you to the ground again."
"We have free speech here. I will not go till I choose."
"Aye, but you will," said the old man, and turned on him with
a sudden tightening of the brows. There was no blow passed; even