Part 3 out of 6
the Symbol, which glowed like a star against the night, was not so
much as lifted in warning; but the young man tried to retort, and,
finding himself smitten with a sudden dumbness, turned with a spasm
of fear, and jumped back whence he had come. The crowd of them
thrilled expectantly, and when no further portent was given, they
began to shout that a miracle should be shown them, and then
perchance they would be persuaded back to the old allegiance.
The old man stooped and glowered at them in fury. "You dogs,"
he cried, "you empty-witted dogs! Do you ask that I should degrade
the powers of the Higher Mysteries by dancing them out before you
as though they were a mummers' show? Do you tickle yourselves that
you are to be tempted back to your allegiance? It is for you to
woo the Gods who are so offended. Come in humility, and I take it
upon myself to declare that you will receive fitting pardon and
relief. Remain stubborn, and the scourge, Phorenice, may torment
you into annihilation before she in turn is made to answer for the
evil she has put upon the land. There is the choice for you to
The turmoil of voices rose again into the wetness of the
night, and weapons were upraised menacingly. It was clear that the
party for independence had by far the greater weight, both in
numbers and lustiness; and those who might, from sheer weariness of
strife, have been willing for surrender, withheld their word
through terror of the consequence. It was a fine comment on the
freedom of speech, about which these unruly fools had made their
boast, and, with a sly malice, I could not help whispering a word
on this to Nais as she stood at my elbow. But Nais clutched at my
hand, and implored me for caution. "Oh, be silent, my lord," she
whispered back, "or they will tear you in pieces. They are on fire
for mischief now."
"Yet a few hours back you were for killing me yourself," I
could not help reminding her.
She turned on me with a hot look. "A woman can change her
mind, my lord. But it becomes you little to remind her of her
A man in the press beside me wrenched round with an effort,
and stared at me searchingly through the darkness. "Oh!" he said.
"A shaved chin. Who are you, friend, that you should cut a beard
instead of curling it? I can see no wound on your face."
I answered him civilly enough that, with "freedom" for a
watchword, the fashion of my chin was a matter of mere private
concern. But as that did not satisfy him, and as he seemed to be
one of those quarrelsome fellows that are the bane of every
community, I took him suddenly by the throat and the shoulder, and
bent his neck with the old, quick turn till I heard it crack,
and had unhanded him before any of his neighbours had seen what had
befallen. The fierce press of the crowd held him from slipping to
the ground, and so he stood on there where he was, with his head
nodded forward, as though he had fallen asleep through heaviness,
or had fainted through the crushing of his fellows. I had no
desire to begin that last fight of mine in a place like this, where
there was no room to swing a weapon, nor chance to clear a battle
But all this time the lean preacher from the mountains was
sending forth his angry anathemas, and still holding the strained
attention of the people. And next he set forth before them the
cult of the Gods in the ancient form as is prescribed, and they
(with old habit coming back to them) made response in the words and
in the places where the old ritual enjoins. It was weird enough
sight, that time-honoured service of adoration, forced upon these
wild people after so long a period of irreligion.
They warmed to the old words as the high shrill voice of the
priest cried them forth, and as they listened, and as they realised
how intimate was the care of the Gods for the travails and sorrows
of their daily lives, so much warmer grew their responses.
". . . WHO STILLED THE BURNING OF THE MOUNTAINS, AND MADE
COOL PLACES ON THE EARTH FOR US TO LIVE!--PRAISE TO THE MOST
"WHO GAVE US MASTERY OVER THE LESSER BEASTS AND SKILL OF
TEN TIMES TO PREVAIL!--PRAISE TO THE MOST HIGH GODS. . . ."
"WHO GAVE US MASTERY OVER THE LESSER BEASTS AND SKILL OF
TEN TIMES TO PREVAIL!--PRAISE TO THE MOST HIGH GODS . . . ."
It thrilled one to hear their earnestness; it sorrowed one to
know that they would yet be obdurate and not return to their old
allegiance. For this is the way with these common people; they
will work up an enthusiasm one minute, and an hour later it will
have fled away and left them cold and empty.
But Zaemon made no further calls upon their loyalty. He
finished the prescribed form of sentences, and stepped down off the
platform of the war engine with the Symbol of our Lord the Sun
thrust out resolutely before him. To all ordinary seeming the
crowd had been packed so that no further compression was possible,
but before the advance of the Symbol the people crushed back,
leaving a wide lane for his passage.
And here came the turning point of my life. At first, like,
I take it, every one else in that crowd, I imagined that the old
man, having finished his mission, was making a way to return to the
place from which he had come. But he held steadily to one
direction, and as that was towards myself, it naturally came to my
mind that, having dealt with greater things, he would now settle
with the less; or, in plainer words, that having put his policy
before the swarming people, he would now smite down the man he had
seen but yesterday seated as Phorenice's minister. Well, I should
lose that final fight I had promised myself, and that mound of
slain for my funeral bed. It was clear that Zaemon was the
mouthpiece of the Priests' Clan, duly appointed; and I also was a
priest. If the word had been given on the Sacred Mountain to those
who sat before the Ark of the Mysteries that Atlantis would prosper
more with Deucalion sent to the Gods, I was ready to bow to the
sentence with submissiveness. That I had regret for this mode of
cutting off, I will not deny. No man who has practised the game of
arms could abandon the promise of such a gorgeous final battle
without a qualm of longing.
But I had been trained enough to show none of these emotions
on my face, and when the old man came up to me, I stood my ground
and gave him the salutation prescribed between our ranks, which he
returned to me with circumstance and accuracy. The crowd fell
back, being driven away by the ineffable force of the Symbol,
leaving us alone in the middle of a ring. Even Nais, though she
was a priest's daughter, was ignorant of the Mysteries, and could
not withstand its force. And so we two men stood there alone
together, with the glow of the Symbol bathing us, and lighting
up the sea of ravenous faces that watched.
The people were quick to put their natural explanation on the
scene. "A spy!" they began to roar out. "A spy! Zaemon salutes
him as a Priest!"
Zaemon faced round on them with a queer look on his grim old
face. "Aye," he said, "this is a Priest. If I give you his name,
you might have further interest. This is the Lord Deucalion."
The word was picked up and yelled amongst them with a thousand
emotions. But at least they were loyal to their policy; they had
decided that Deucalion was their enemy; they had already expended
a navy for his destruction; and now that he was ringed in by their
masses, they lusted to tear him into rags with their fingers. But
rave and rave though they might against me, the glare from the
Symbol drove them shuddering back as though it had been a
lava-stream; and Zaemon was not the man to hand me over to their
fury until he had delivered formal sentence as the emissary of our
Clan on the Sacred Mount. So the end was not to be yet.
The old man faced me and spoke in the sacred tongue, which the
common people do not know. "My brother," he said, "which have you
come to serve, Deucalion or Atlantis?"
"Words are a poor thing to answer a question like that. You
will know all of my record. According to the Law of the Priests,
each ship from Yucatan will have carried home its sworn report to
lay at the feet of their council, and before I went to that
vice-royalty, what I did was written plain here on the face of
"We know your doings in the past, brother, and they have found
approval. You have governed well, and you have lived austerely.
You set up Atlantis for a mistress, and served her well; but then,
you have had no Phorenice to tempt you into change and fickleness."
"You can send me where I shall see her no more, if you think
"Yes, and lose your usefulness. No, brother, you are the last
hope which this poor land has remaining. All other human means
that have been tried against Phorenice have failed. You have
returned from overseas for the final duel. You are the strongest
man we have, and you are our final champion. If you fail, then
only those terrible Powers which are locked within the Ark of the
Mysteries remains to us, and though it is not lawful to speak even
in this hidden tongue of their scope, you at least have full
assurance of their potency."
I shrugged my shoulders. "It seems that you would save time
and pains if you threw me to these wolves of rebels, and let them
end me here and now."
The old man frowned on me angrily. "I am bidding you do your
duty. What reason have you for wishing to evade it?"
"I have in my memory the words you spoke in the pyramid, when
you came in amongst the banqueters. 'PHORENICE,' was your
cry, '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 BEFORE
A WIND.' It seems that you foresee my defeat."
The old man shuddered. "I cannot tell what she may force us
to do. I spoke then only what it was revealed to me must happen.
Perhaps when matters have reached that pass, she will repent and
submit. But in the meanwhile, before we use the more desperate
weapons of the Gods, it is fitting that we should expend all human
power remaining to us. And so you must go, my brother, and play
your part to the utmost."
"It is an order. So I obey."
"You shall be at Phorenice's side again by the next dawn. She
has sent for you from Yucatan as a husband, and as one who (so she
thinks, poor human conqueror) has the weight of arm necessary to
prolong her tyrannies. You are a Priest, brother, and you are a
man of convincing tongue. It will be your part to make her
stubborn mind see the invincible power that can be loosed against
her, to point out to her the utter hopelessness of prevailing
"If it is ordered, I will do these things. But there is
little enough chance of success. I have seen Phorenice, and can
gauge her will. There will be no turning her once she has made a
decision. Others have tried; you have tried yourself; all have
"Words that were wasted on a maiden may go home to a wife.
You have been brought here to be her husband. Well, take your
The order came to me with a pang. I had given little enough
heed to women through all of a busy life, though when I landed, the
taking of Phorenice to wife would not have been very repugnant to
me if policy had demanded it. But the matters of the last two days
had put things in a different shape. I had seen two other women
who had strangely attracted me, and one of these had stirred within
me a tumult such as I had never felt before amongst my economies.
To lead Phorenice in marriage would mean a severance from this
other woman eternally, and I ached as I thought of it. But though
these thoughts floated through my system and gave me harsh wrenches
of pain, I did not thrust my puny likings before the command of the
council of the Priests. I bowed before Zaemon, and put his hand to
my forehead. "It is an order," I said. "If our Lord the Sun gives
me life, I will obey."
"Then let us begone from this place," said Zaemon, and took me
by the arm and waved a way for us with the Symbol. No further word
did I have with Nais, fearing to embroil her with these rebels who
clustered round, but I caught one hot glance from her eyes, and
that had to suffice for farewell. The dense ranks of the crowd
opened, and we walked away between them scathless. Fiercely though
they lusted for my life, brimming with hate though they made their
cries, no man dared to rush in and raise a hand against me.
Neither did they follow. When we reached the outskirts of the
crowd, and the ranks thinned, they had a mind, many of them, to
surge along in our wake; but Zaemon whirled the Symbol back before
their faces with a blaze of lurid light, and they fell to their
knees, grovelling, and pressed on us no more.
The rain still fell, and in the light of the camp fires as we
passed them, the wet gleamed on the old man's wasted body. And far
before us through the darkness loomed the vast bulk of the Sacred
Mountain, with the ring of eternal fires encincturing its crest.
I sighed as I thought of the old peaceful days I had spent in its
temple and groves.
But there was to be no more of that studious leisure now.
There was work to be done, work for Atlantis which did not brook
delay. And so when we had progressed far out into the waste, and
there was none near to view (save only the most High Gods), we
found the place where the passage was, whose entrance is known only
to the Seven amongst the Priests; and there we parted, Zaemon to
his hermitage in the dangerous lands, and I by this secret way back
into the capital.
9. PHORENICE, GODDESS
Now the passage, though its entrance had been cunningly hidden
by man's artifice, was one of those veins in which the fiery blood
of our mother, the Earth, had aforetime coursed. Long years had
passed since it carried lava streams, but the air in it was still
warm and sulphurous, and there was no inducement to linger in
transit. I lit me a lamp which I found in an appointed niche, and
walked briskly along my ways, coughing, and wishing heartily I had
some of those simples which ease a throat that has a tendency to
catarrh. But, alas! all that packet of drugs which were my sole
spoil from the vice-royalty of Yucatan were lost in the sea-fight
with Dason's navy, and since landing in Atlantis there had been
little enough time to think for the refinements of medicine.
The network of earth-veins branched prodigiously, and if any
but one of us Seven Priests had found a way into its recesses by
chance, he would have perished hopelessly in the windings, or have
fallen into one of those pits which lead to the boil below. But I
carried the chart of the true course clearly in my head,
remembering it from that old initiation of twenty years back, when,
as an appointed viceroy, I was raised to the highest degree but one
known to our Clan, and was given its secrets and working
The way was long, the floor was monstrous uneven, and the air,
as I have said, bad; and I knew that day would be far advanced
before the signs told me that I had passed beneath the walls, and
was well within the precincts of the city. And here the vow of the
Seven hampered my progress; for it is ordained that under no
circumstances, whatever the stress, shall egress be made from this
passage before mortal eye. One branch after another did I try, but
always found loiterers near the exits. I had hoped to make my
emergence by that path which came inside the royal pyramid. But
there was no chance of coming up unobserved here; the place was
humming like a hive. And so, too, with each of the five next
outlets that I visited. The city was agog with some strange
But I came at last to a temple of one of the lesser Gods, and
stood behind the image for a while making observation. The place
was empty; nay, from the dust which robed all the floors and the
seats of the worshippers, it had been empty long enough; so I moved
all that was needful, stepped out, and closed all entry behind me.
A broom lay unnoticed on one of the pews, and with this I soon
disguised all route of footmark, and took my way to the temple
door. It was shut, and priest though I was, the secret of its
opening was beyond me.
Here was a pretty pass. No one but the attendant priests of
the temple could move the mechanism which closed and opened the
massive stone which filled the doorway; and if all had gone out to
attend this spectacle, whatever it might be, that was stirring the
city, why there I should be no nearer enlargement than before.
There was no sound of life within the temple precincts; there
were evidences of decay and disuse spread broadcast on every hand;
but according to the ancient law there should be eternally one at
least on watch in the priests' dwellings, so down the passages
which led to them I made my way. It would have surprised me little
to have found even these deserted. That the old order was changed
I knew, but I was only then beginning to realise the ruthlessness
with which it had been swept away, and how much it had given place
to the new.
However, there can be some faithful men remaining even in an
age of general apostasy, and on making my way to the door of the
dwelling (which lay in the roof of the temple) I gave the call, and
presently it was opened to me. The man who stood before me,
peering dully through the gloom, had at least remained constant to
his vows, and I made the salutation before him with a feeling of
His name was Ro, and I remembered him well. We had passed
through the sacred college together, and always he had been known
as the dullard. He had capacity for learning little of the cult of
the Gods, less of the arts of ruling, less still of the handling of
arms; and he had been appointed to some lowly office in this
obscure temple, and had risen to being its second priest and one of
its two custodians merely through the desertion of all his
colleagues. But it was not pleasant to think that a fool should
remain true where cleverer men abandoned the old beliefs.
Ro did before me the greater obeisance. He wore his beard
curled in the prevailing fashion, but it was badly done. His
clothing was ill-fitting and unbrushed. He always had been a
slovenly fellow. "The temple door is shut," he said, "and I only
have the secret of its opening. My lord comes here, therefore, by
the secret way, and as one of the Seven. I am my lord's servant."
"Then I ask this small service of you. Tell me, what stirs
"That impious Phorenice has declared herself Goddess, and
declares that she will light the sacrifice with her own divine
fire. She will do it, too. She does everything. But I wish the
flames may burn her when she calls them down. This new Empress is
the bane of our Clan, Deucalion, these latter days. The people
neglect us; they bring no offerings; and now, since these rebels
have been hammering at the walls, I might have gone hungry if I had
not some small store of my own. Oh, I tell you, the cult of the
true Gods is well-nigh oozed quite out of the land."
"My brother, it comes to my mind that the Priests of our Clan
have been limp in their service to let these things come to pass."
"I suppose we have done our best. At least, we did as we were
taught. But if the people will not come to hear your exhortations,
and neglect to adore the God, what hold have you over their
religion? But I tell you, Deucalion, that the High Gods try our
own faith hard. Come into the dwelling here. Look there on my
I saw the shape of a man, untidily swathed in reddened
"This is all that is left of the poor priest that was my
immediate superior in this cure. It was his turn yesterday to
celebrate the weekly sacrifice to our Lord the Sun with the circle
of His great stones. Faugh! Deucalion, you should have seen how
he was mangled when they brought him back to me here."
"Did the people rise on him? Has it come to that?"
"The people stayed passive," said Ro bitterly, "what few of
them had interest to attend; but our Lord the Sun saw fit to try
His minister somewhat harshly. The wood was laid; the sacrifice
was disposed upon it according to the prescribed rites; the
procession had been formed round the altar, and the drums and the
trumpets were speaking forth, to let all men know that presently
the smoke of their prayer would be wafted up towards Those that sit
in the great places in the heavens. But then, above the noise of
the ceremonial, there came the rushing sound of wings, and from out
of the sky there flew one of those great featherless man-eating
birds, of a bigness such as seldom before has been seen."
"An arrow shot in the eye, or a long-shafted spear receives
"Oh, all men know what they were taught as children,
Deucalion; but these priests were unarmed, according to the rubric,
which ordains that they shall intrust themselves completely to the
guardianship of the High Gods during the hours of sacrifice. The
great bird swooped down, settling on the wood pyre, and attacked
the sacrifice with beak and talon. My poor superior here, still
strong in his faith, called loudly on our Lord the Sun to lend
power to his arm, and sprang up on the altar with naught but his
teeth and his bare arms for weapons. It may be that he expected a
miracle--he has not spoke since, poor soul, in explanation--but all
he met were blows from leathery wings, and rakings from talons
which went near to disembowelling him. The bird brushed him away
as easily as we could sweep aside a fly, and there he lay bleeding
on the pavement beside the altar, whilst the sacrifice was torn and
eaten in the presence of all the people. And then, when the bird
was glutted, it flew away again to the mountains."
"And the people gave no help?"
"They cried out that the thing was a portent, that our Lord
the Sun was a God no longer if He had not power or thought to guard
His own sacrifice; and some cried that there was no God remaining
now, and others would have it that there was a new God come to
weigh on the country, which had chosen to take the form of a common
man-eating bird. But a few began to shout that Phorenice stood for
all the Gods now in Atlantis, and that cry was taken up till the
stones of the great circle rang with it. Some may have made
proclamations because they were convinced; many because the cry was
new, and pleased them; but I am sure there were not a few who
joined in because it was dangerous to leave such an outburst
unwelcomed. The Empress can be hard enough to those who neglect to
give her adulation."
"The Empress is Empress," I said formally, "and her name
carries respect. It is not for us to question her doings."
"I am a priest," said Ro, "and I speak as I have been taught,
and defend the Faith as I have been commanded. Whether there is a
Faith any longer, I am beginning to doubt. But, anyway, it yields
a poor enough livelihood nowadays. There have been no offerings at
this temple this five months past, and if I had not a few jars of
corn put by, I might have starved for anything the pious of this
city cared. And I do not think that the affair of that sacrifice
is likely to put new enthusiasm into our cold votaries."
"When did it happen?"
"Twenty hours ago. To-day Phorenice conducts the sacrifice
herself. That has caused the stir you spoke about. The city is in
the throes of getting ready one of her pageants."
"Then I must ask you to open the temple doors and give me
passage. I must go and see this thing for myself."
"It is not for me to offer advice to one of the Seven," said
"It is not."
"But they say that the Empress is not overpleased at your
absence," he mumbled. "I should not like harm to come in your way,
Deucalion," he said aloud.
"The future is in the hands of the most High Gods, Ro, and I
at least believe that They will deal out our fates to each of us as
They in Their infinite wisdom see best, though you seem to have
lost your faith. And now I must be your debtor for a passage out
through the doors. Plagues! man, it is no use your holding out
your hand to me. I do not own a coin in all the world."
He mumbled something about "force of habit" as he led the way
down towards the door, and I responded tartly enough about the
unpleasantness of his begging customs. "If it were not for your
sort and your customs, the Priests' Clan would not be facing this
"One must live," he grumbled, as he pressed his levers, and
the massive stone in the doorway swung ajar.
"If you had been a more capable man, I might have seen the
necessity," said I, and passed into the open and left him. I could
never bring myself to like Ro.
A motley crowd filled the street which ran past the front of
this obscure temple, and all were hurrying one way. With what I
had been told, it did not take much art to guess that the great
stone circle of our Lord the Sun was their mark, and it grieved me
to think of how many venerable centuries that great fane had
upreared before the weather and the earth tremors, without such
profanation as it would witness to-day. And also the thought
occurred to me, "Was our Great Lord above drawing this woman on to
her destruction? Would He take some vast and final act of
vengeance when she consummated her final sacrilege?"
But the crowd pressed on, thrilled and excited, and thinking
little (as is a crowd's wont) on the deeper matters which lay
beneath the bare spectacle. From one quarter of the city walls the
din of an attack from the besiegers made itself clearly heard from
over the house, and the temples and the palaces intervening, but no
one heeded it. They had grown callous, these townsfolk, to the
battering of rams, and the flight of fire-darts, and the other
emotions of a bombardment. Their nerves, their hunger, their
desperation, were strung to such a pitch that little short of an
actual storm could stir them into new excitement over the siege.
All were weaponed. The naked carried arms in the hopes of
meeting some one whom they could overcome and rob; those that had
a possession walked ready to do a battle for its ownership. There
was no security, no trust; the lesson of civilisation had dropped
away from these common people as mud is washed from the feet by
rain, and in their new habits and their thoughts they had gone back
to the grade from which savages like those of Europe have never yet
emerged. It was a grim commentary on the success of Phorenice's
The crowd merged me into their ranks without question, and
with them I pressed forward down the winding streets, once so clean
and trim, now so foul and mud-strewn. Men and women had died of
hunger in these streets these latter years, and rotted where they
lay, and we trod their bones underfoot as we walked. Yet rising
out of this squalor and this misery were great pyramids and
palaces, the like of which for splendour and magnificence had never
been seen before. It was a jarring admixture.
In time we came to the open space in the centre of the city,
which even Phorenice had not dared to encroach upon with her
ambitious building schemes, and stood on the secular ground which
surrounds the most ancient, the most grand, and the breast of all
this world's temples.
Since the beginning of time, when man first emerged amongst
the beasts, our Lord the Sun has always been his chiefest God, and
legend says that He raised this circle of stones Himself to be a
place where votaries should offer Him worship. It is the fashion
amongst us moderns not to take these old tales in a too literal
sense, but for myself, this one satisfies me. By our wits we can
lift blocks weighing six hundred men, and set them as the capstones
of our pyramids. But to uprear the stones of that great circle
would be beyond all our art, and much more would it be impossible
to-day, to transport them from their distant quarries across the
There were nine-and-forty of the stones, alternating with
spaces, and set in an accurate circle, and across the tops of them
other stones were set, equally huge. The stones were undressed and
rugged; but the huge massiveness of them impressed the eye more
than all the temples and daintily tooled pyramids of our wondrous
city. And in the centre of the circle was that still greater stone
which formed the altar, and round which was carved, in the rude
chiselling of the ancients, the snake and the outstretched hand.
The crowd which bore me on came to a standstill before the
circle of stones. To trespass beyond this is death for the common
people; and for myself, although I had the right of entrance, I
chose to stay where I was for the present, unnoticed amongst the
mob, and wait upon events.
For long enough we stood there, our Lord the Sun burning high
and fiercely from the clear blue sky above our heads. The din of
the rebels' attack upon the walls came to us clearly, even above
the gabble of the multitude, but no one gave attention to it.
Excitement about what was to befall in the circle mastered every
I learned afterways that so pressing was the rebels' attack,
and so destructive the battering of their new war engines, that
Phorenice had gone off to the walls first to lend awhile her
brilliant skill for its repulse, and to put heart into the
defenders. But as it was, the day had burned out to its middle and
scorched us intolerably, before the noise of the drums and horns
gave advertisement that the pageant had formed in procession; and
of those who waited in the crowd, many had fainted with exhaustion
and the heat, and not a few had died. But life was cheap in the
city of Atlantis now, and no one heeded the fallen.
Nearer and nearer drew the drums and the braying of the other
music, and presently the head of a glittering procession began to
arrive and dispose itself in the space which had been set apart.
Many a thousand poor starving wretches sighed when they saw the
wanton splendour of it. But these lords and these courtiers of
this new Atlantis had no concern beyond their own bellies and their
own backs, except for their one alien regard--their simpering
affection for Phorenice.
I think, though, their loyalty for the Empress was real
enough, and it was not to be wondered at, since everything they had
came from her lavish hands. Indeed, the woman had a charm that
cannot be denied, for when she appeared, riding in the golden
castle (where I also had ridden) on the back of her monstrous
shaggy mammoth, the starved sullen faces of the crowd brightened as
though a meal and sudden prosperity had been bestowed upon them;
and without a word of command, without a trace of compulsion, they
burst into spontaneous shouts of welcome.
She acknowledged it with a smile of thanks. Her cheeks were
a little flushed, her movements quick, her manner high-strung, as
all well might be, seeing the horrible sacrilege she had in mind.
But she was undeniably lovely; yes, more adorably beautiful than
ever with her present thrill of excitement; and when the stair was
brought, and she walked down from the mammoth's back to the ground,
those near fell to their knees and gave her worship, out of sheer
fascination for her beauty and charm.
Ylga, the fan-girl, alone of all that vast multitude round the
Sun temple contained herself with her formal paces and duties. She
looked pained and troubled. It was plain to see, even from the
distance where I stood, that she carried a heavy heart under the
jewels of her robe. It was fitting, too, that this should be so.
Though she had been long enough divorced from his care and fostered
by the Empress, Ylga was a daughter of Zaemon, and he was the
chiefest of our Lord the Sun's ministers here on earth. She could
not forget her upbringing now at this supreme moment when the
highest of the old Gods was to be formally defied. And perhaps
also (having a kindness for Phorenice) she was not a little
dreadful of the consequences.
But the Empress had no eye for one sad look amongst all that
sea of glowing faces. Boldly and proudly she strode out into the
circle, as though she had been the duly appointed priest for the
sacrifice. And after her came a knot of men, dressed as priests,
and bearing the victim. Some of these were creatures of her own,
and it was easy to forgive mere ignorant laymen, won over by the
glamour of Phorenice's presence. But some, to their shame, were
men born in the Priests' Clan, and brought up in the groves and
colleges of the Sacred Mountain, and for their apostasy there could
be no palliation.
The wood had already been stacked on the altar-stone in the
due form required by the ancient symbolism, and the Empress stood
aside whilst those who followed did what was needful. As they
opened out, I saw that the victim was one of the small,
cloven-hoofed horses that roam the plains--a most acceptable
sacrifice. They bound its feet with metal gyves, and put it on the
pyre, where, for a while, it lay neighing. Then they stepped
aside, and left it living. Here was an innovation.
The false priests went back to the farther side of the circle,
and Phorenice stood alone before the altar. She lifted up her
voice, sweet, tuneful, and carrying, and though the din of the
siege still came from over the city, no ear there lost a word of
what was spoken.
She raised her glance aloft, and all other eyes followed it.
The heaven was clear as the deep sea, a gorgeous blue. But as the
words came from her, so a small mist was born in the sky, wheeling
and circling like a ball, although the day was windless, and
rapidly growing darker and more compact. So dense had it become,
that presently it threw a shadow on part of the sacred circle and
soothed it into twilight, though all without where the people stood
was still garish day. And in the ball of mist were little quick
stabs and splashes of noiseless flame.
She spoke, not in the priests' sacred tongue--though such was
her wicked cleverness, that she may very well have learned it--but
in the common speech of the people, so that all who heard might
understand; and she told of her wondrous birth (as she chose to
name it), and of the direct aid of the most High Gods, which had
enabled her to work so many marvels. And in the end she lifted
both of her fair white arms towards the blackness above, and with
her lovely face set with the strain of will, she uttered her final
"O my high Father, the Sun, I pray You now to acknowledge me
as Your very daughter. Give this people a sign that I am indeed a
child of the Gods and no frail mortal. Here is sacrifice unlit,
where mortal priests with their puny fires had weekly, since the
foundation of this land, sent savoury smoke towards the sky. I
pray You send down the heavenly fire to burn this beast here
offered, in token that though You still rule on high, You have
given me Atlantis to be my kingdom, and the people of the Earth to
be my worshippers."
She broke off and strained towards the sky. Her face was
contorted. Her limbs shook. "O mighty Father," she cried, "who
hast made me a God and an equal, hear me! Hear me!"
Out of the black cloud overhead there came a blinding flash of
light, which spat downwards on to the altar. The cloven-hoofed
horse gave one shrill neigh, and one convulsion, and fell back
dead. Flames crackled out from the wood pile, and the air became
rich with the smell of burning flesh. And lo! in another moment
the cloud above had melted into nothingness, and the flames burnt
pale, and the smoke went up in a thin blue spiral towards the
deeper blueness of the sky.
Phorenice, the Empress, stood there before the great stone,
and before the snake and the outstretched hand of life which were
inscribed upon it, flushed, exultant, and once more radiantly
lovely; and the knot of priests within the circle, and the great
mob of people without, fell to the ground adoring.
"Phorenice, Goddess!" they cried. "Phorenice, Goddess of all
But for myself I did not kneel. I would have no part in this
apostasy, so I stood there awaiting fate.
10. A WOOING
A murmur quickly sprang up round me, which grew into shouts.
"Kneel," one whispered, "kneel, sir, or you will be seen." And
another cried: "Kneel, you without beard, and do obeisance to the
only Goddess, or by the old Gods I will make myself her priest and
butcher you!" And so the shouts arose into a roar.
But presently the word "Deucalion" began to be bandied about,
and there came a moderation in the zeal of these enthusiasts.
Deucalion, the man who had left Atlantis twenty years before to
rule Yucatan, they might know little enough about, but Deucalion,
who rode not many days back beside the Empress in the golden castle
beneath the canopy of snakes, was a person they remembered; and
when they weighed up his possible ability for vengeance, the shouts
died away from them limply.
So when the silence had grown again, and Phorenice turned and
saw me standing alone amongst all the prostrate worshippers, I
stepped out from the crowd and passed between two of the great
stones, and went across the circle to where she stood beside the
altar. I did not prostrate myself. At the prescribed distance I
made the salutation which she herself had ordered when she made me
her chief minister, and then hailed her with formal decorum as
"Deucalion, man of ice," she retorted.
"I still adhere to the old Gods!"
"I was not referring to that," said she, and looked at me with
a sidelong smile.
But here Ylga came up to us with a face that was white, and a
hand that shook, and made supplication for my life. "If he will
not leave the old Gods yet," she pleaded, "surely you will pardon
him? He is a strong man, and does not become a convert easily.
You may change him later. But think, Phorenice, he is Deucalion;
and if you slay him here for this one thing, there is no other man
within all the marches of Atlantis who would so worthily serve--"
The Empress took the words from her. "You slut," she cried
out. "I have you near me to appoint my wardrobe, and carry my fan,
and do you dare to put a meddling finger on my policies? Back with
you, outside this circle, or I'll have you whipped. Ay, and I'll
do more. I'll serve you as Zaemon served my captain, Tarca. Shall
I point a finger at you, and smite your pretty skin with a sudden
The girl bowed her shoulders, and went away cowed, and
Phorenice turned to me. "My lord," she said, "I am like a young
bird in the nest that has suddenly found its wings. Wings have so
many uses that I am curious to try them all."
"May each new flight they take be for the good of Atlantis."
"Oh," she said, with an eye-flash, "I know what you have most
at heart. But we will go back to the pyramid, and talk this out at
more leisure. I pray you now, my lord, conduct me back to my
It appeared then that I was to be condoned for not offering
her worship, and so putting public question on her deification. It
appeared also that Ylga's interference was looked upon as untimely,
and, though I could not understand the exact reasons for either of
these things, I accepted them as they were, seeing that they
forwarded the scheme that Zaemon had bidden me carry out.
So when the Empress lent me her fingers--warm, delicate
fingers they were, though so skilful to grasp the weapons of war--I
took them gravely, and led her out of the great circle, which she
had polluted with her trickeries. I had expected to see our Lord
the Sun take vengeance on the profanation whilst it was still in
act; but none had come: and I knew that He would choose his own
good time for retribution, and appoint what instrument He thought
best, without my raising a puny arm to guard His mighty honour.
So I led this lovely sinful woman back to the huge red mammoth
which stood there tamely in waiting, and the smell of the sacrifice
came after us as we walked. She mounted the stair to the golden
castle on the shaggy beast's back, and bade me mount also and take
seat beside her. But the place of the fan-girl behind was empty,
and what we said as we rode back through the streets there was none
She was eager to know what had befallen me after the attack on
the gate, and I told her the tale, laying stress on the worthiness
of Nais, and uttering an opinion that with care the girl might be
won back to allegiance again. Only the commands that Zaemon laid
upon me when he and I spoke together in the sacred tongue, did I
withhold, as it is not lawful to repeat these matters save only in
the High Council of the Priests itself as they sit before the Ark
of the Mysteries.
"You seem to have an unusual kindliness for this rebel Nais,"
"She showed herself to me as more clever and thoughtful than
the common herd."
"Ay," she answered, with a sigh that I think was real enough
in its way, "an Empress loses much that meaner woman gets as her
"In what particular?"
"She misses the honest wooing of her equals."
"If you set up for a Goddess--" I said.
"Pah! I wish to be no Goddess to you, Deucalion. That was
for the common people; it gives me more power with them; it helps
my schemes. All you Seven higher priests know that trick of
calling down the fire, and it pleased me to filch it. Can you not
be generous, and admit that a woman may be as clever in finding out
these natural laws as your musty elder priests?"
"Remains that you are Empress."
"Nor Empress either. Just think that there is a woman seated
beside you on this cushion, Deucalion, and look upon her, and say
what words come first to your lips. Have done with ceremonies, and
have done with statecraft. Do you wish to wait on as you are till
all your manhood withers? It is well not to hurry unduly in these
matters: I am with you there. Yet, who but a fool watches a fruit
grow ripe, and then leaves it till it is past its prime?"
I looked on her glorious beauty, but as I live it left me
cold. But I remembered the command that had been laid upon me, and
forced a smile. "I may have been fastidious," I said, "but I do
not regret waiting this long."
"Nor I. But I have played my life as a maid, time enough. I
am a woman, ripe, and full-blooded, and the day has come when I
should be more than what I have been."
I let my hand clench on hers. "Take me to husband then, and
I will be a good man to you. But, as I am bidden speak to
Phorenice the woman now, and not to the Empress, I offer fair
warning that I will be no puppet."
She looked at me sidelong. "I have been master so long that
I think it will come as enjoyment to be mastered sometimes. No,
Deucalion, I promise that--you shall be no puppet. Indeed, it
would take a lusty lung to do the piping if you were to dance
against your will."
"Then, as man and wife we will live together in the royal
pyramid, and we will rule this country with all the wit that it has
pleased the High Gods to bestow on us. These miserable differences
shall be swept aside; the rebels shall go back to their homes, and
hunt, and fight the beasts in the provinces, and the Priests' Clan
shall be pacified. Phorenice, you and I will throw ourselves brain
and soul into the government, and we will make Atlantis rise as a
nation that shall once more surpass all the world for peace and
Petulantly she drew her hand away from mine. "oh, your
conditions, and your Atlantis! You carry a crudeness in these
colonial manners of yours, Deucalion, that palls on one after the
first blunt flavour has worn away. Am I to do all the wooing? Is
there no thrill of love under all your ice?"
"In truth, I do not know what love may be. I have had little
enough speech with women all these busy years."
"We were a pair, then, when you landed, though I have heard
sighs and protestations from every man that carries a beard in all
Atlantis. Some of them tickled my fancy for the day, but none of
them have moved me deeper. No, I also have not learned what this
love may be from my own personal feelings. But, sir, I think that
you will teach me soon, if you go on with your coldness."
"From what I have seen, love is for the poor, and the weak,
and for those of flighty emotions."
"Then I would that another woman were Empress, and that I were
some ill-dressed creature of the gutter that a strong man could
pick up by force, and carry away to his home for sheer passion.
Ah! How I could revel in it! How I could respond if he caught my
whim!" She laughed. "But I should lead him a sad life of it if my
liking were not so strong as his."
"We are as we are made, and we cannot change our inwards which
She looked at me with a sullen glance. "If I do not change
yours, my Deucalion, there will be more trouble brewed for this
poor Atlantis that you set such store upon. There will be ill
doings in this coming household of ours if my love grows for you,
and yours remains still unborn."
I believe she would have had me fondle her there in the golden
castle on the mammoth's shabby back, before the city streets packed
with curious people. She had little enough appetite for privacy at
any time. But for the life of me I could not do it. The Gods know
I was earnest enough about my task, and They know also how it
repelled me. But I was a true priest that day, and I had put away
all personal liking to carry out the commands which the Council had
laid upon me. If I had known how to set about it, I would have
fallen in with her mood. But where any of those shallow bedizened
triflers about the court would have been glibly in his element, I
stuck for lack of a dozen words.
There was no help for it but to leave all, save what I actually
felt, unsaid. Diplomacy I was trained in, and on most matters
I had a glib enough tongue. But to palter with women was a
lightness I had always neglected, and if I had invented would-be
pretty speeches out of my clumsy inexperience, Phorenice would have
seen through the fraud on the instant. She had been nurtured
during these years of her rule on a pap of these silly
protestations, and could weigh their value with an expert's
Nor was it a case where honest confession would have served my
purpose better. If I had put my position to her in plain words, it
would have made relations worse. And so perforce I had to hold my
tongue, and submit to be considered a clown.
"I had always heard," she said, "that you colonists in Yucatan
were far ahead of those in Egypt in all the arts and graces. But
you, sir, do small credit to your vice-royalty. Why, I have had
gentry from the Nile come here, and you might almost think they had
never left their native shores."
"They must have made great strides this last twenty years,
then. When last I was sent to Egypt to report, the blacks were
clearly masters of the land, and our people lived there only on
sufferance. Their pyramids were puny, and their cities nothing
more than forts."
"Oh," she said mockingly, "they are mere exiles still, but
they remember their manners. My poor face seemed to please them,
at least they all went into raptures over it. And for ten pleasant
words, one of them cut off his own right hand. We made the
bargain, my Egyptian gallant and I, and the hand lies dried on some
shelf in my apartment to-day as a pleasant memento."
But here, by a lucky chance for me, an incident occurred which
saved me from further baiting. The rebels outside the walls were
conducting their day's attack with vigour and some intelligence.
More than once during our procession the lighter missiles from
their war engines had sung up through the air, and split against a
building, and thrown splinters which wounded those who thronged the
streets. Still there had been nothing to ruffle the nerves of any
one at all used to the haps of warfare, or in any way to hinder our
courtship. But presently, it seems, they stopped hurling stones
from their war engines, and took to loading them with carcases of
wood lined with the throwing fire.
Now, against stone buildings these did little harm, save only
that they scorched horribly any poor wretch that was within splash
of them when they burst; but when they fell upon the rude wooden
booths and rush shelters of the poorer folk, they set them ablaze
instantly. There was no putting out these fires.
These things also would have given to either Phorenice or
myself little enough of concern, as they are the trivial and common
incidents of every siege; but the mammoth on which we rode had not
been so properly schooled. When the first blue whiff of smoke came
to us down the windings of the street, the huge red beast hoisted
its trunk, and began to sway its head uneasily. When the smoke
drifts grew more dense, and here and there a tongue of flame showed
pale beneath the sunshine, it stopped abruptly and began to
The guards who led it, tugged manfully at the chains which
hung from the jagged metal collar round its neck, so that the
spikes ran deep into its flesh, and reminded it keenly of its
bondage. But the beast's terror at the fire, which was native to
its constitution, mastered all its new-bought habits of obedience.
From time unknown men have hunted the mammoth in the savage ground,
and the mammoth has hunted men; and the men have always used fire
as a shield, and mammoths have learned to dread fire as the most
dangerous of all enemies.
Phorenice's brow began to darken as the great beast grew more
restive, and she shook her red curls viciously. "Some one shall
lose a head for this blundering," said she. "I ordered to have
this beast trained to stand indifferent to drums, shouting, arrows,
stones, and fire, and the trainers assured me that all was done,
and brought examples."
I slipped my girdle. "Here," I said, "quick. Let me lower
you to the ground."
She turned on me with a gleam. "Are you afraid for my neck,
"I have no mind to be bereaved before I have tasted my wedded
"Pish! There is little enough of danger. I will stay and ride
it out. I am not one of your nervous women, sir. But go you,
if you please."
"There is little enough chance of that now."
Blood flowed from the mammoth's neck where the spikes of the
collar tore it, and with each drop, so did the tameness seem to
ooze out from it also. With wild squeals and trumpetings it turned
and charged viciously down the way it had come, scattering like
straws the spearmen who tried to stop it, and mowing a great swath
through the crowd with its monstrous progress. Many must have been
trodden under foot, many killed by its murderous trunk, but only
their cries came to us. The golden castle, with its canopy of
royal snakes, was swayed and tossed, so that we two occupants had
much ado not to be shot off like stones from a catapult. But I
took a brace with my feet against the front, and one arm around a
pillar, and clapped the spare arm round Phorenice, so as to offer
myself to her as a cushion.
She lay there contentedly enough, with her lovely face just
beneath my chin, and the faint scent of her hair coming in to me
with every breath I took; and the mammoth charged madly on through
the narrow streets. We had outstripped the taint of smoke, and the
original cause of fear, but the beast seemed to have forgotten
everything in its mad panic. It held furiously on with enormous
strides, carrying its trunk aloft, and deafening us with its
screams and trumpetings. We left behind us quickly all those who
had trod in that glittering pageant, and we were carried helplessly
on through the wards of the city.
The beast was utterly beyond all control. So great was its
pace that there was no alternative but to try and cling on to the
castle. Up there we were beyond its reach. To have leapt off,
even if we had avoided having brains dashed out or limbs smashed by
the fall, would have been to put ourselves at once at a frightful
disadvantage. The mammoth would have scented us immediately, and
turned (as is the custom of these beasts), and we should have been
trampled into a pulp in a dozen seconds.
The thought came to me that here was the High God's answer to
Phorenice's sacrilege. The mammoth was appointed to carry out
Their vengeance by dashing her to pieces, and I, their priest, was
to be human witness that justice had been done. But no direct
revelation had been given me on this matter, and so I took no
initiative, but hung on to the swaying castle, and held the Empress
against bruises in my arms.
There was no guiding the brute: in its insanity of madness it
doubled many times upon its course, the windings of the streets
confusing it. But by degrees we left the large palaces and
pyramids behind, and got amongst the quarters of artisans, where
weavers and smiths gaped at us from their doors as we thundered
past. And then we came upon the merchants' quarters where men live
over their storehouses that do traffic with the people over seas,
and then down an open space there glittered before us a mirror of
"Now here," thought I, "this mad beast will come to sudden
stop, and as like as not will swerve round sharply and charge back
again towards the heart of the city." And I braced myself to
withstand the shock, and took fresh grip upon the woman who lay
against my breast. But with louder screams and wilder trumpetings
the mammoth held straight on, and presently came to the harbour's
edge, and sent the spray sparkling in sheets amongst the sunshine
as it went with its clumsy gait into the water.
But at this point the pace was very quickly slackened. The
great sewers, which science devised for the health of the city in
the old King's time, vomit their drainings into this part of the
harbour, and the solid matter which they carry is quickly deposited
as an impalpable sludge. Into this the huge beast began to sink
deeper and deeper before it could halt in its rush, and when with
frightened bellowings it had come to a stop, it was bogged
irretrievably. Madly it struggled, wildly it screamed and
trumpeted. The harbour-water and the slime were churned into one
stinking compost, and the golden castle in which we clung lurched
so wildly that we were torn from it and shot far away into the
Still there, of course, we were safe, and I was pleased enough
to be rid of the bumpings.
Phorenice laughed as she swam. "You handle yourself like a
sore man, Deucalion. I owe you something for lending me the
cushion of your body. By my face! There's more of the gallant
about you when it comes to the test than one would guess to hear
you talk. How did you like the ride, sir? I warrant it came to
you as a new experience."
"I'd liefer have walked."
"Pish, man! You'll never be a courtier. You should have
sworn that with me in your arms you could have wished the bumping
had gone on for ever. Ho, the boat there! Hold your arrows.
Deucalion, hail me those fools in that boat. Tell them that, if
they hurt so much as a hair of my mammoth, I'll kill them all by
torture. He'll exhaust himself directly, and when his flurry's
done we'll leave him where he is to consider his evil ways for a
day or so, and then haul him out with windlasses, and tame him
afresh. Pho! I could not feel myself to be Phorenice, if I had no
fine, red, shaggy mammoth to take me out for my rides."
The boat was a ten-slave galley which was churning up from the
farther side of the harbour as hard as well-plied whips could make
oars drive her, but at the sound of my shouts the soldiers on her
foredeck stopped their arrowshots, and the steersman swerved her
off on a new course to pick us up. Till then we had been swimming
leisurely across an angle of the harbour, so as to avoid landing
where the sewers outpoured; but we stopped now, treading the water,
and were helped over the side by most respectful hands.
The galley belonged to the captain of the port, a mincing
figure of a mariner, whose highest appetite in life was to lick the
feet of the great, and he began to fawn and prostrate himself at
once, and to wish that his eyes had been blinded before he saw the
Empress in such deadly peril.
"The peril may pass," said she. "It's nothing mortal that
will ever kill me. But I have spoiled my pretty clothes, and shed
a jewel or two, and that's annoying enough as you say, good man."
The silly fellow repeated a wish that he might be blinded
before the Empress was ever put to such discomfort again.
But it seemed she could be cloyed with flattery. "If you are
tired of your eyes," said she, "let me tell you that you have gone
the way to have them plucked out from their sockets. Kill my
mammoth, would you, because he has shown himself a trifle
frolicsome? You and your sort want more education, my man. I
shall have to teach you that port-captains and such small creatures
are very easy to come by, and very small value when got, but that
my mammoth is mine--mine, do you understand?--the property of
Goddess Phorenice, and as such is sacred."
The port-captain abased himself before her. "I am an ignorant
fellow," said he, "and heaven was robbed of its brightest ornament
when Phorenice came down to Atlantis. But if reparation is
permitted me, I have two prisoners in the cabin of the boat here
who shall be sacrificed to the mammoth forthwith. Doubtless it
would please him to make sport with them, and spill out the last
lees of his rage upon their bodies."
"Prisoners you've got, have you? How taken?"
"Under cover of last night they were trying to pass in between
the two forts which guard the harbour mouth. But their boat fouled
the chain, and by the light of the torches the sentries spied them.
They were caught with ropes, and put in a dungeon. There is an
order not to abuse prisoners before they have been brought before
"It was my order. Did these prisoners offer to buy their
lives with news?"
"The man has not spoken. Indeed, I think he got his death-wound
in being taken. The woman fought like a cat also, so they said
in the fort, but she was caught without hurt. She says she has
got nothing that would be of use to tell. She says she has
tired of living like a savage outside the city, and moreover that,
inside, there is a man for whose nearness she craves most
"Tut!" said Phorenice. "Is this a romance we have swum to?
You see what affectionate creatures we women are, Deucalion."--The
galley was brought up against the royal quay and made fast to its
golden rings. I handed the Empress ashore, but she turned again
and faced the boat, her garments still yielding up a slender drip
of water.--"Produce your woman prisoner, master captain, and let us
see whether she is a runaway wife, or a lovesick girl mad after her
sweetheart. Then I will deliver judgment on her, and as like as
not will surprise you all with my clemency. I am in a mood for
tender romance to-day."
The port-captain went into the little hutch of a cabin with a
white face. It was plain that Phorenice's pleasantries scared him.
"The man appears to be dead, Your Majesty. I see that his
"Bring out the woman, you fool. I asked for her. Keep your
carrion where it is."
I saw the fellow stoop for his knife to cut a lashing, and
presently who should he bring out to the daylight but the girl I
had saved from the cave-tigers in the circus, and who had so
strangely drawn me to her during the hours that we had spent
afterwards in companionship. It was clear, too, that the Empress
recognised her also. Indeed, she made no secret about the matter,
addressing her by name, and mockingly making inquiries about the
menage of the rebels, and the success of the prisoner's amours.
"This good port-captain tells me that you made a most valiant
attempt to return, Nais, and for an excuse you told that it was
your love for some man in the city here which drew you. Come, now,
we are willing to overlook much of your faults, if you will give us
a reasonable chance. Point me out your man, and if he is a proper
fellow, I will see that he weds you honestly. Yes, and I will do
more for you, Nais, since this day brings me to a husband. Seeing
that all your estate is confiscate as a penalty for your late
rebellion, I will charge myself with your dowry, and give it back
to you. So come, name me the man."
The girl looked at her with a sullen brow. "I spoke a lie,"
she said; "there is no man."
I tried myself to give her advocacy. "The lady doubtless
spoke what came to her lips. When a woman is in the grip of a rude
soldiery, any excuse which can save her for the moment must serve.
For myself, I should think it like enough that she would confess to
having come back to her old allegiance, if she were asked."
"Sir," said the Empress, "keep your peace. Any interest you
may show in this matter will go far to offend me. You have spoken
of Nais in your narrative before, and although your tongue was
shrewd and you did not say much, I am a woman and I could read
between the lines. Now regard, my rebel, I have no wish to be
unduly hard upon you, though once you were my fan-girl, and so your
running away to these ill-kempt malcontents, who beat their heads
against my city walls, is all the more naughty. But you must meet
me halfway. You must give an excuse for leniency. Point me out
the man you would wed, and he shall be your husband to-morrow."
"There is no man."
"Then name me one at random. Why, my pretty Nais, not ten
months ago there were a score who would have leaped at the chance
of having you for a wife. Drop your coyness, girl, and name me one
of those. I warrant you that I will be your ambassadress and will
put the matter to him with such delicacy that he will not make you
blush by refusal."
The prisoner moistened her lips. "I am a maiden, and I have a
maiden's modesty. I will die as you choose, but I will not do
"Well, I am a maiden too, and though because I am Empress
also, questions of State have to stand before questions of my
private modesty, I can have a sympathy for yours--although in truth
it did not obtrude unduly when you were my fan-girl, Nais. No,
come to think of it, you liked a tender glance and a pretty phrase
as well as any when you were fan-girl. You have grown wild and
shy, amongst these savage rebels, but I will not punish you for
"Let me call your favourites to memory now. There was Tarca,
of course, but Tarca had a difference with that ill-dressed father
of yours, and wears a leprosy on half his face instead of that
beard he used to trim so finely. And then there is Tatho, but
Tatho is away overseas. Eron, too, you liked once, but be lost an
arm in fighting t'other day, and I would not marry you to less than
a whole man. Ah, by my face! I have it, the dainty exquisite,
Rota! He is the husband! How well I remember the way he used to
dress in a change of garb each day to catch your proud fancy, girl.
Well, you shall have Rota. He shall lead you to wife before this
Again the prisoner moistened her lips. "I will not have Rota,
and spare me the others. I know why you mock me, Phorenice."
"Then there are three of us here who share one
knowledge."--She turned her eyes upon me. Gods! who ever saw the
like of Phorenice's eyes, and who ever saw them lit with such fire
as burned within them then?--"My lord, you are marrying me for
policy; I am marrying you for policy, and for another reason which
has grown stronger of late, and which you may guess at. Do you
wish still to carry out the match?"
I looked once at Nais, and then I looked steadily back to
Phorenice. The command given by the mouth of Zaemon from the High
Council of the Sacred Mountain had to outweigh all else, and I
answered that such was my desire.
"Then," said she, glowering at me with her eyes, "you shall
build me up the pretty body of Nais beneath a throne of granite as
a wedding gift. And you shall do it too with your own proper
hands, my Deucalion, whilst I watch your devotion."
And to Nais she turned with a cruel smile. "You lied to me,
my girl, and you spoke truth to the soldiers in the harbour forts.
There is a man here in the city you came after, and he is the one
man you may not have. Because you know me well, and my methods
very thoroughly, your love for him must be very deep, or you would
not have come. And so, being here, you shall be put beyond
mischief's reach. I am not one of those who see luxury in
"You came for attention at the hands of Deucalion. By my face!
you shall have it. I will watch myself whilst he builds you up
11. AN AFFAIR WITH THE
So this mighty Empress chose to be jealous of a mere woman
Now my mind has been trained to work with a soldierly
quickness in these moments of stress, and I decided on my proper
course on the instant the words had left her lips. I was
sacrificing myself for Atlantis by order of the High Council of the
Priests, and, if needful, Nais must be sacrificed also, although in
the same flash a scheme came to me for saving her.
So I bowed gravely before the Empress, and said I, "In this,
and in all other things where a mere human hand is potent, I will
carry out your wishes, Phorenice." And she on her part patted my
arm, and fresh waves of feeling welled up from the depths of her
wondrous eyes. Surely the Gods won for her half her schemes and
half her battles when they gave Phorenice her shape, and her voice,
and the matters which lay within the outlines of her face.
By this time the merchants, and the other dwellers adjacent to
this part of the harbour, where the royal quay stands, had come
down, offering changes of raiment, and houses to retire into.
Phorenice was all graciousness, and though it was little enough I
cared for mere wetness of my coat, still that part of the harbour
into which we had been thrown by the mammoth was not over savoury,
and I was glad enough to follow her example. For myself, I said no
further word to Nais, and refrained even from giving her a glance
of farewell. But a small sop like this was no meal for Phorenice,
and she gave the port-captain strict orders for the guarding of his
prisoner before she left him.
At the house into which I was ushered they gave me a bath, and
I eased my host of the plainest garment in his store, and he was
pleased enough at getting off so cheaply. But I had an hour to
spend outside on the pavement listening to the distant din of
bombardment before Phorenice came out to me again, and I could not
help feeling some grim amusement at the face of the merchant who
followed. The fellow was clearly ruined. He had a store of jewels
and gauds of the most costly kind, which were only in fraction his
own, seeing that he had bought them (as the custom is) in
partnership with other merchants. These had pleased Phorenice's
eye, and so she had taken all and disposed them on her person.
"Are they not pretty?" said she, showing them to me. "See how
they flash under the sun. I am quite glad now, Deucalion, that the
mammoth gave us that furious ride and that spill, since it has
brought me such a bonny present. You may tell the fellow here that
some day when he has earned some more, I will come and be his guest
again. Ah! They have brought us litters, I see. Well, send one
away and do you share mine with me, sir. We must play at being
lovers to-day, even if love is a matter which will come to us both
with more certainty to-morrow. No; do not order more bearers. My
own slaves will carry us handily enough. I am glad you are not one
of your gross, overfed men, Deucalion. I am small and slim myself,
and I do not want to be husbanded by a man who will overshadow me."
"Back to the royal pyramid?" I asked.
"No, nor to the walls. I neither wish to fight nor to sit as
Empress to-day, sir. As I have told you before, it is my whim to
be Phorenice, the maiden, for a few hours, and if some one I wot of
would woo me now, as other maidens are wooed, I should esteem it a
luxury. Bid the slaves carry us round the harbour's rim, and give
word to these starers that, if they follow, I will call down fire
upon them as I did upon the sacrifice."
Now, I had seen something of the unruliness of the streets
myself, and I had gathered a hint also from the officer at the gate
of the royal pyramid that night of Phorenice's welcoming banquet.
But as whatever there was in the matter must be common knowledge to
the Empress, I did not bring it to her memory then. So I dismissed
the guard which had come up, and drove away with a few sharp words
the throng of gaping sightseers who always, silly creatures, must
needs come to stare at their betters; and then I sat in the litter
in the place where I was invited, and the bearers put their heads
to the pole.
They swung away with us along the wide pavement which runs
between the houses of the merchants and the mariner folk and the
dimpling waters of the harbour, and I thought somewhat sadly of the
few ships that floated on that splendid basin now, and of the few
evidences of business that showed themselves on the quays. Time
was when the ships were berthed so close that many had to wait in
the estuary outside the walls, and memorials had been sent to the
King that the port should be doubled in size to hold the glut of
trade. And that, too, in the old days of oar and sail, when
machines drawing power from our Lord the Sun were but rarely used
to help a vessel speedily along her course.
The Egypt voyage and a return was a matter of a year then, as
against a brace of months now, and of three ships that set out, one
at least could be reckoned upon succumbing to the dangers of the
wide waters and the terrible beasts that haunt them. But in those
old days trade roared with lusty life, and was ever growing wider
and more heavy. Your merchant then was a portly man and gave
generously to the Gods. But now all the world seemed to be in
arms, and moreover trade was vulgar. Your merchant, if he was a
man of substance, forgot his merchandise, swore that chaffering was
more indelicate than blasphemy and curled his beard after the new
fashion, and became a courtier. Where his father had spent anxious
days with cargo tally and ship-master, the son wasted hours in
directing sewing men as they adorned a coat, and nights in
vapouring at a banquet.
Of the smaller merchants who had no substance laid by, taxes
and the constant bickerings of war had wellnigh ground them into
starvation. Besides, with the country in constant uproar, there
were few markets left for most merchandise, nor was there aught
made now which could be carried abroad. If your weaver is pressed
as a fire-tube man he does not make cloth, and if your farmer is
playing at rebellion, he does not buy slaves to till his fields.
Indeed, they told me that a month before my return, as fine a cargo
of slaves had been brought into harbour as ever came out of Europe,
and there was nothing for it but to set them ashore across the
estuary, and leave them free to starve or live in the wild ground
there as they chose. There was no man in all Atlantis who would
hold so much as one more slave as a gift.
But though I was grieved at this falling away, all schemes for
remedy would be for afterwards. It would only make ill worse to
speak of it as we rode together in the litter. I was growing to
know Phorenice's moods enough for that. Still, I think that she
too had studied mine, and did her best to interest me between her
bursts of trifling. We went out to where the westernmost harbour
wall joins the land, and there the panting bearers set us down.
She led me into a little house of stone which stood by itself,
built out on a promontory where there is a constant run of tide,
and when we had been given admittance, after much unbarring, she
showed me her new gold collectors.
In the dry knowledge taught in the colleges and groves of the
Sacred Mountain it had been a common fact to us that the metal gold
was present in a dissolved state in all sea water, but of plans for
dragging it forth into yellow hardness, none had ever been
discussed. But here this field-reared upstart of an Empress had
stumbled upon the trick as though it had been written in a book.
She patted my arm laughingly as I stared curiously round the
place. "I tell all others in Atlantis that only the Gods have this
secret," said she, "and that They gave it to me as one of
themselves. But I am no Goddess to you, am I, Deucalion? And, by
my face! I have no other explanation of how this plan was
invented. We'll suppose I must have dreamed it. Look! The
sea-water sluices in through that culvert, and passes over these
rough metal plates set in the floor, and then flows out again
yonder in its natural course. You see the yellow metal caught in
the ridges of the plates? That is gold. And my fellows here melt
it with fire into bars, and take it to my smith's in the city. The
tides vary constantly, as you priests know well, as the quiet moon
draws them, and it does not take much figuring to know how much of
the sea passes through these culverts in a month and how much gold
to a grain should be caught in the plates. My fellows here at
first thought to cheat me, but I towed two of them in the water
once behind a galley till the cannibal fish ate them, and since
then the others have given me credit for--for what do you think?"
"I suppose it is that. But I am letting you see how it is
done. Just have the head to work out a little sum, and see what an
effect can be gained. You will be a God yet yourself, Deucalion,
with these silly Atlanteans, if only you will use your wit and
Was she laughing at me? Was she in earnest? I could not
tell. Sometimes she pointed out that her success and triumphs were
merely the reward of thought and brilliancy, and next moment she
gave me some impossible explanation and left me to deduce that she
must be more than mortal or the thing could never have been found.
In good truth, this little woman with her supple mind and her
supple body mystified me more and more the longer I stayed by her
side; and more and more despairing did I grow that Atlantis could
ever be restored by my agency to peace and the ancient Gods, even
after I had carried out the commands of the High Council, and taken
her to wife.
Only one plan seemed humanly possible, and that was to curb
her further mischievousness by death and then leave the wretched
country naturally to recover. It was just a dagger-stroke, and the
thing was done. Yet the very idea of this revolted me, and when
the desperate thought came to my mind (which it did ever and anon),
I hugged to myself the answer that if it were fitting to do this
thing, the High Gods in Their infinite wisdom would surely have put
definite commands upon me for its carrying out.
Yet, such was the fascination of Phorenice, that when
presently we left her gold collectors, and stumbled into such
peril, that a little withholding of my hand would have gained her
a passage to the nether Gods, I found myself fighting when she
called upon me, as seldom I have fought before. And though, of
course, some blame for this must be laid upon that lust of battle
which thrills even the coldest of us when blows begin to whistle
and war-cries start to ring, there is no doubt also that the
pleasure of protecting Phorenice, and the distaste for seeing her
pulled down by those rude, uncouth fishers put special nerve and
vehemence into my blows.
The cause of the matter was the unrest and the prevalency to
street violence which I have spoken of above, and the desperate
poverty of the common people, which led them to take any risk if it
showed them a chance of winning the wherewithal to purchase a meal.
We had once more mounted the litter, and once more the bearers,
with their heads beneath the pole, bore us on at their accustomed
swinging trot. Phorenice was telling me about her new supplies of
gold. She had made fresh sumptuary laws, it appeared.
"In the old days," said she, "when yellow gold was tediously
dredged up grain by grain from river gravels in the dangerous
lands, a quill full would cost a rich man's savings, and so none
but those whose high station fitted them to be so adorned could
wear golden ornaments. But when the sea-water gave me gold here by
the double handful a day, I found that the price of these river
hoards decreased, and one day--could you credit it?--a common
fellow, who was one of my smiths, came to me wearing a collar of
yellow gold on his own common neck. Well, I had that neck divided,
as payment for his presumption; and as I promised to repeat the
division promptly on all other offenders, that special species of
forwardness seems to be checked for the time. There are many
exasperations, Deucalion, in governing these common people."
She had other things to say upon the matter, but at this point
I saw two clumsy boats of fishers paddling to us from over the
ripples, and at the same time amongst the narrow lanes which led
between the houses on the other side of us, savage-faced men were
beginning to run after the litter in threatening clusters.
"With permission," I said, "I will step out of the conveyance
and scatter this rabble."
"Oh, the people always cluster round me. Poor ugly souls, they
seem to take a strange delight in coming to stare at my pretty
looks. But scatter them. I have said I did not wish to be
followed. I am taking holiday now, Deucalion, am I not, whilst
you learn to woo me?"
I stepped to the ground. The rough fishers in the boats were
beginning to shout to those who dodged amongst the houses to see to
it that we did not escape, and the numbers who hemmed us in on the
shore side were increasing every moment. The prospect was
unpleasant enough. We had come out beyond the merchants' quarters,
and were level with those small huts of mud and grass which the
fishing population deem sufficient for shelter, and which has
always been a spot where turbulence might be expected. Indeed,
even in those days of peace and good government in the old King's
time, this part of the city had rarely been without its weekly
The life of the fisherman is the most hard that any human
toilers have to endure. Violence from the wind and waves, and
pelting from firestones out of the sky are their daily portion; the
great beasts that dwell in the seas hunt them with savage
persistence, and it is a rare day when at least some one of the
fishers' guild fails to come home to answer the tally.
Moreover, the manner which prevails of catching fish is not
without its risks.
To each man there is a large sea-fowl taken as a nestling, and
trained to the work. A ring of bronze is round its neck to prevent
its swallowing the spoil for which it dives, and for each fish it
takes and flies back with to the boat, the head and tail and
inwards are given to it for a reward, the ring being removed whilst
it makes the meal.
The birds are faithful, once they have got a training, and are
seldom known to desert their owners; but, although the fishers
treat them more kindly than they do their wives, or children of
their own begetting, the life of the birds is precarious like that
of their masters. The larger beasts and fish of the sea prey on
them as they prey on the smaller fish, and so whatever care may be
lavished upon them, they are most liable to sudden cutting off.
And here is another thing that makes the life of the fisher
most precarious: if his fishing bird be slain, and the second which
he has in training also come by ill fortune, he is left suddenly
bereft of all utensils of livelihood, and (for aught his
guild-fellows care) he may go starve. For these fishers hold that
the Gods of the sea regulate their craft, and that if one is not
pleasing to Them They rob him of his birds; after which it would be
impious to have any truck or dealing with such a fellow; and
accordingly he is left to starve or rob as he chooses.
All of which circumstances tend to make the fishers rude,
desperate men, who have been forced into the trade because all
other callings have rejected them. They are fellows, moreover, who
will spend the gains of a month on a night's debauch, for fear that
the morrow will rob them of life and the chance of spending; and,
moreover, it is their one point of honour to be curbed in no desire
by an ordinary fear of consequences. As will appear.
I went quickly towards the largest knot of these people, who
were skulking behind the houses, leaving the litter halted in the
path behind me, and I bade them sharply enough to disperse. "For
an employment," I added, "put your houses in order, and clean the
fish offal from the lanes between them. To-morrow I will come
round here to inspect, and put this quarter into a better order.
But for to-day the Empress (whose name be adored) wishes for a
privacy, so cease your staring."
"Then give us money," said a shrill voice from amongst the
"I will send you a torch in an hour's time," I said grimly,
"and rig you a gallows, if you give me more annoyance. To your
I think they would have obeyed the voice of authority if they
had been left to themselves. There was a quick stir amongst them.
Those that stood in the sunlight instinctively slipped into the
shadow, and many dodged into the houses and cowered in dark corners
out of sight. But the men in the two hide-covered fisher-boats
that were paddling up, called them back with boisterous cries.
I signed to the litter-bearers to move on quickly along their
road. There was need of discipline here, and I was minded to deal
it out myself with a firm hand. I judged that I could prevent them
following the Empress, but if she still remained as a glittering
bait for them to rob, and I had to protect her also, it might be
that my work would not be done so effectively.
But it seems I was presumptuous in giving an order which dealt
with the person of Phorenice. She bade the bearers stand where
they were, and stepped out, and drew her weapons from beneath the
cushions. She came towards me strapping a sword on to her hip, and
carrying a well-dinted target of gold on her left forearm. "An
unfair trick," cries she, laughing. "If you will keep a fight to
yourself now, Deucalion, where will your greediness carry you when
I am your shrinking, wistful little wife? Are these fools truly
going to stand up against us?"
I was not coveting a fight, but it seemed as if there would be
no avoidance of it now. The robe and the glittering gauds of which
Phorenice had recently despoiled the merchant, drew the eyes of
these people with keen attraction. The fishers in the boats
paddled into the surf which edged the beach, and leaped overside
and left the frail basket-work structures to be spewed up sound or
smashed, as chance ordered. And from the houses, and from the
filthy lanes between them, poured out hordes of others, women mixed
with the men, gathering round us threateningly.
"Have a care," shouted one on the outskirts of the crowd.
"She called down fire for the sacrifice once to-day, and she can
burn up others here if she chooses."
"So much the more for those that are left," retorted another.
"She cannot burn all."
"Nay, I will not burn any," said Phorenice, "but you shall
look upon my sword-play till you are tired."
I heard her say that with some malicious amusement, knowing
(as one of the Seven) how she had called down the fires of the sky
to burn that cloven-hoofed horse offered in sacrifice, and knowing
too, full well, that she could bring down no fire here. But they
gave us little enough time for wordy courtesies. Their Empress
never went far unattended, and, for aught the wretches knew, an
escort might be close behind. So what pilfering they did, it
behoved them to get done quickly.
They closed in, jostling one another to be first, and the reek
of their filthy bodies made us cough. A grimy hand launched out to
seize some of the jewels which flashed on Phorenice's breast, and
I lopped it off at the elbow, so that it fell at her feet, and a
second later we were engaged.
"Your back to mine, comrade," cried she, with a laugh, and
then drew and laid about her with fine dexterity. Bah! but it was
mere slaughter, that first bout.
The crowd hustled inwards with such greediness to seize what
they could, that none had space to draw back elbow for a thrust,
and we two kept a circle round us by sheer whirling of steel. It
is necessary to do one's work cleanly in these bouts, as wounded
left on the ground unnoticed before one are as dangerous as so many
snakes. But as we circled round in our battling I noted that all
of Phorenice's quarry lay peaceful and still. By the Gods! but she
could play a fine sword, this dainty Empress. She touched life
with every thrust.
Yes, it was plain to see, now an example was given, that the
throne of Atlantis had been won, not by a lovely face and a subtle
tongue alone; and (as a fighter myself) I did not like Phorenice
the less for the knowledge. I could but see her out of the corner
of my eye, and that only now and again, for the fishers, despite
their ill-knowledge of fence, and the clumsiness of their weapons,
had heavy numbers, and most savage ferocity; and as they made so
confident of being able to pull us down, it required more than a
little hard battling to keep them from doing it. Ay, by the Gods!
it was at times a fight my heart warmed to, and if I had not
contrived to pluck a shield from one fool who came too
vain-gloriously near me with one, I could not swear they would not
have dragged me down by sheer ravening savageness.
And always above the burly uproar of the fight came very
pleasantly to my ears Phorenice's cry of "Deucalion!" which she
chose as her battle shout. I knew her, of course, to be a
past-mistress of the art of compliment, and it was no new thing for
me to hear the name roared out above a battle din, but it was given
there under circumstances which were peculiar, and for the life of
me I could not help being tickled by the flattery.
Condemn my weakness how you will, but I came very near then to
liking the Empress of Atlantis in the way she wished. And as for
that other woman who should have filled my mind, I will confess
that the stress of the moment, and the fury of the engagement, had
driven both her and her strait completely out beyond the marches of
my memory. Of such frail stuff are we made, even those of us who
esteem ourselves the strongest.
Now it is a temptation few men born to the sword can resist,
to throw themselves heart and soul into a fight for a fight's sake,
and it seems that women can be bitten with the same fierce
infection. The attack slackened and halted. We stood in the
middle of a ring of twisted dead, and the rest of the fishers and
their women who hemmed us in shrank back out of reach of our
It was the moment for a truce, and the moment when a few
strong words would have sent them back cowering to their huts, and
given us free passage to go where we chose. But no, this Phorenice
must needs sing a hymn to her sword and mine, gloating over our
feats and invulnerability; and then she must needs ask payment for
the bearers of her litter whom they had killed, and then speak
balefully of the burnings, and the skinnings, and the sawings
asunder with which this fishers' quarter would be treated in the
near future, till they learned the virtues of deportment and
"It makes your backs creep, does it?" said Phorenice. "I do
not wonder. This severity must have its unpleasant side. But why
do you not put it beyond my power to give the order? Either you
must think yourselves Gods or me no Goddess, or you would not have
gone on so far. Come now, you nasty-smelling people, follow out
your theory, and if you make a good fight of it, I swear by my face
I will be lenient with those who do not fall."
But there was no pressing up to meet our swords. They still
ringed us in, savage and sullen, beyond the ring of their own dead,
and would neither run back to the houses, nor give us the game of
further fight. There was a certain stubborn bravery about them
that one could not but admire, and for myself I determined that
next time it became my duty to raise troops, I would catch a
handful of these men, and teach them handiness with the utensils of
war, and train them to loyalty and faithfulness. But presently
from behind their ranks a stone flew, and though it whizzed between
the Empress and myself, and struck down a fisher, it showed that
they had brought a new method into their attack, and it behoved us
to take thought and meet it.
I looked round me up and down the beach. There was no sign of
a rescue. "Phorenice," I said in the court tongue, which these
barbarous fishers would know little enough of, "I take it that a
whiff of the sea-breeze would come very pleasant after all this
warm play. As you can show such pretty sword work, will you cut me
a way down to the beach, and I will do my poor best to keep these
creatures from snapping at our heels?"
"Oh!" cried she. "Then I am to have a courtier for a husband
after all. Why have you kept back your flattering speeches till
now? Is that your trick to make me love you?"
"I will think out the reason for it another time."
"Ah, these stern, commanding husbands," said she, "how they do
press upon their little wives!" and with that leaped over the ring
of dead before her, and cut and stabbed a way through those that
stood between her and the waters which creamed and crashed upon the
beach. Gods! what a charge she made. It made me tingle with
admiration as I followed sideways behind her, guarding the rear.
And I am a man that has spent so many years in battling, that it
takes something far out of the common to move me to any enthusiasm
in this matter.
There were two boats creaking and washing about in the edge of
the surf, but in one, happily, the wicker-work which made its frame
was crushed by the weight of the waves into a shapeless bundle of
sticks, and would take half a day to replace. So that, let us but
get the other craft afloat, and we should be free from further
embroiling. But the fishers were quick to see the object of this
new manoeuvre. "Guard the boat," they shouted. "Smash her; slit
her skin with your knives! Tear her with your fingers! Swim her
out to sea! Oh, at least take the paddles!"
But, if these clumsy fishers could run, Phorenice was like a
legged snake for speed. She was down beside the boat before any
could reach it, laughing and shouting out that she could beat them
at every point. Myself, I was slower of foot; and, besides, there
was some that offered me a fight on the road, and I was not wishful
to baulk them; and moreover, the fewer we left clamouring behind,
the fewer there would be to speed our going with their stones.
Still I came to the beach in good order, and laid hands on the
flimsy boat and tipped her dry.
"Fighting is no trade for, me," I cried, "whilst you are here,
Phorenice. Guard me my back and walk out into the water."
I took the boat, thrusting it afloat, and wading with it till
two lines of the surf were past. The fishers swarmed round us,
active as fish in their native element, and strove mightily to get
hands on the boat and slit the hides which covered it with their
eager fingers. But I had a spare hand, and a short stabbing-knife
for such close-quarter work, and here, there, and everywhere was
Phorenice the Empress, with her thirsty dripping sword. By the
Gods! I laughed with sheer delight at seeing her art of fence.
But the swirl of a great fish into the shallows, and the
squeal of a fisher as he was dragged down and home away into the
deep, made me mindful of foes that no skill can conquer, and no
bravery avoid. Without taking time to give the Empress a word of
warning, I stooped, and flung an arm round her, and threw her up
out of the water into the boat, and then thrust on with all my
might, driving the flimsy craft out to sea, whilst my legs crept
under me for fear of the beasts which swam invisible beneath the
To the fishers, inured to these horrid perils by daily
association, the seizing of one of their number meant little, and
they pressed on, careless of their dull lives, eager only to snatch
the jewels which still flaunted on Phorenice's breast. Of the
vengeance that might come after they recked nothing; let them but
get the wherewithal for one night's good debauch, and they would
forget that such a thing as the morning of a morrow could have
Two fellows I caught and killed that, diving down beneath,
tried to slit the skin of the boat out of sight under the water;
and Phorenice cared for all those that tried to put a hand on the
gunwales. Yes, and she did more than that. A huge long-necked
turtle that was stirred out of the mud by the turmoil, came up to
daylight, and swung its great horn-lipped mouth to this side and
that, seeking for a prey. The fishers near it dodged and dived.
I, thrusting at the stern of the boat, could only hope it would
pass me by and so offered an easy mark. It scurried towards me,
champing its noisy lips, and beating the water into spray with its
But Phorenice was quick with a remedy and a rescue. She
passed her sword through one of the fishers that pressed her, and
then thrust the body towards the turtle. The great neck swooped
towards it; the long slimy feelers which protruded from its head
quivered and snuffled; and then the horny green jaws crunched on
it, and drew it down out of sight.
The boat was in deep water now, and Phorenice called upon me
to come in over the side, she the while balancing nicely so that
the flimsy thing should not be overset. The fishers had given up
their pursuit, finding that they earned nothing but lopped-off arms
and split faces by coming within swing of this terrible sword of
their Empress, and so contented themselves with volleying jagged
stones in the hopes of stunning us or splitting the boat. However,
Phorenice crouched in the stern, holding the two shields--her own
golden target, and the rough hide buckler I had won--and so
protected both of us whilst I paddled, and though many stones
clattered against the shields, and hit the hide covering of the
boat, so that it resounded like a drum, none of them did damage,
and we drew quickly out of their range.
12. THE DRUG OF OUR LADY THE
Our Lord the Sun was riding towards the end of His day, and
the smoke from a burning mountain fanned black and forbidding
before His face. Phorenice wrung the water from her clothes and
shivered. "Work hard with those paddles, Deucalion, and take me in
through the water-gate and let me be restored to my comforts again.
That merchant would rue if he saw how his pretty garments were
spoiled, and I rue, too, being a woman, and remembering that he at
least has no others I can take in place of these." She looked at
me sidelong, tossing back the short red hair from her eyes. "What
think you of my wisdom in coming where we have come without an
"The Empress can do no wrong," I quoted the old formula with
"At least I have shown you that I can fight. I caught you
looking your approval of me quite pleasantly once or twice. You
were a difficult man to thaw, Deucalion, but you warm perceptibly
as you keep on being near me. La, sir, we shall be a pair of
rustic sweethearts yet, if this goes on. I am glad I thought of
the device of going near those smelly fishers."
So she had taken me out in the litter unattended for the plain
purpose of inviting a fight, and showing me her skill at arms, and
perhaps, too, of seeing in person how I also carried myself in a
moment of stress. Well, if we were to live on together as husband
and wife, it was good that each should know to a nicety the other's
powers; and also, I am too much of an old battler and too much
enamoured with the glorious handling of arms to quarrel very deeply
with any one who offers me a tough upstanding fight. Still for the
life of me, I could not help comparing Phorenice with another
woman. With a similar chance open before us, Nais had robbed me of
the struggle through a sheer pity for those squalid rebels who did
not even call her chieftain; whilst here was this Empress
frittering away two score of the hardiest of her subjects merely to
gratify a whim.
Yet, loyal to my vow as a priest, and to the commands set upon
me by the high council on the Sacred Mountain, I tried to put away
these wayward thoughts and comparisons. As I rowed over the
swingings of the waves towards the forts which guard the harbour's
mouth, I sent prayers to the High Gods to give my tongue dexterity,
and They through Their love for the country of Atlantis, and the
harassed people, whom it was my deep wish to serve, granted me that
power of speech which Phorenice loved. Her eyes glowed upon me as
This beach of the fishers where we had had our passage at arms
is safe from ship attack from without, by reason of a chain of
jagged rocks which spring up from the deep, and run from the
harbour side to the end of the city wall. The fishers know the
passes, and can oftentimes get through to the open water beyond
without touching a stone; or if they do see a danger of hitting on
the reef, leap out and carry their light boats in their hands till
the water floats them again. But here I had neither the knowledge
nor the dexterity, and, thought I, now the High Gods will show
finally if They wish this woman who has defiled them to reign on in
Atlantis, and if also They wish me to serve as her husband.
I cried these things in my heart, and waited to receive the
omen. There was no half-answer. A great wave rose in the lagoon
behind us, a wave such as could have only been caused by an earth
tremor, and on its sleek back we were hurled forward and thrown
clear of the reefs with their seaweeds licking round us, without so
much as seeing a stone of the barrier. I bowed my head as I rowed
on towards the harbour forts. It was plain that not yet would the
High Gods take vengeance for the insults which this lovely woman
had offered Them.
The sentries in the two forts beat drums at one another in
their accustomed rotation, and in the growing dusk were going to
pay little enough attention to the fishingboat which lay against
the great chain clamouring to have it lowered. But luckily a pair
of officers were taking the air of the evening in a stone-dropping
turret of the roof of the nearer fort, and these recognised the
tone of our shouts. They silenced the drums, torches were lowered
to make sure of our faces, and then with a splash the great chain
was dropped into the water to give us passage.
A galley lay inside, nuzzling the harbour wall, and presently
the ladder of ropes was let down from the top of the nearest fort,
and a crew came down to man the oars. There were the customary
changes of raiment too, given as presents by the officers of the
fort, and these we put on in the cabin of the galley in place of
the sodden clothes we wore. There are fevers to be gained by
carrying wet clothes after sunset, and though from personal
experience I have learned that these may be warded off with drugs,
I noticed with some grim amusement that the Empress had
sufficiently little of the Goddess about her to fear very much the
ailments which are due to frail humanity.
The galley rowed swiftly across the calm waters of the
harbour, and made fast to the rings of gold on the royal quay, and
whilst we were waiting for litters to be brought, I watched a
lantern lit in the boat which stood guard over Phorenice's mammoth.
The huge red beast stood shoulder-deep in the harbour water, with
trunk up-turned. It was tamed now, and the light of the boat's
lantern fell on the little ripples sent out by its tremblings. But
I did not choose to intercede or ask mercy for it. If the mammoth
sank deeper in the harbour mud, and was swallowed, I could have
borne the loss with equanimity.
To tell the truth, that ride on the great beast's back had
impressed me unfavourably. In fact, it put into me a sense of
helplessness that was wellnigh intolerable. Perhaps circumstances
have made me unduly self-reliant: on that others must judge. But
I will own to having a preference for walking on my own proper
feet, as the Gods in fashioning our shapes most certainly intended.
On my own feet I am able to guard my own head and neck, and have
done on four continents, throughout a long and active life, and on
many a thousand occasions. But on the back of that detestable
mammoth, pah! I grew as nervous as a child or a dastard.
However, I had little enough leisure for personal megrims just
then. Whilst we waited, Phorenice asked the port-captain (who must
needs come up officiously to make his salutations) after the
disposal of Nais, and was told that she had been clapped into a
dungeon beneath the royal pyramid, and the officer of the guard
there had given his bond for her safe-keeping.
"It is to be hoped he understands his work," said the Empress.
"That pretty Nais knows the pyramid better than most, and it may be
he will be sent to the tormentors for putting her in a cell which
had a secret outlet. You would feel pleasure if the girl escaped,
"Assuredly," said I, knowing how useless it would be to make
a secret of the matter. "I have no enmity against Nais."
"But I have," said she viciously, "and I am still minded to
lock your faith to me by that wedding gift you know of."
"The thing shall be done," I said. "Before all, the Empress
"Poof! Deucalion, you are too stiff and formal. You ought to
be mightily honoured that I condescend to be jealous of your
favours. Your hand, sir, please, to help me into the litter. And
now come in beside me, and keep me warm against the night air. Ho!
you guards there with the torches! Keep farther back against the
street walls. The perfume you are burning stifles me."