Part 4 out of 6
Again there was a feast that night in the royal
banqueting-hall; again I sat beside Phorenice on the raised dais
which stands beneath the symbols of the snake and the out-stretched
hand. What had been taken for granted before about our forthcoming
relationship was this time proclaimed openly; the Empress herself
acknowledged me as her husband that was to be; and all that curled
and jewelled throng of courtiers hailed me as greater than
themselves, by reason of this woman's choice. There was method,
too, in their salutation. Some rumour must have got about of my
preference for the older and simpler habits, and there was no
drinking wine to my health after the new and (as I considered)
impertinent manner. Decorously, each lord and lady there came
forward, and each in turn spilt a goblet at my feet; and when I
called any up, whether man or woman, to receive tit-bits from my
platter, it was eaten simply and thankfully, and not kissed or
pocketed with any extravagant gesture.
The flaring jets of earth-breath showed me, too, so I thought,
a plainer habit of dress, and a more sober mien amongst this
thoughtless mob of banqueters. And, indeed, it must have been
plain to notice, for Phorenice, leaning over till the ruddy curls
on her shoulder brushed my face, chided me in a playful whisper as
having usurped her high authority already.
"Oh, sir," she pleaded mockingly, "do not make your rule over
us too ascetic. I have given no orders for this change, but
to-night there are no perfumes in the air; the food is so plain and
I have half a mind to burn the cook; and as for the clothes and
gauds of these diners, by my face! they might have come straight
from the old King's reign before I stepped in here to show how
tasteful could be colours on a robe, or how pretty the glint of a
jewel. It's done by no orders of mine, Deucalion. They have swung
round to this change by sheer courtier instinct. Why, look at the
beards of the men! There is not half the curl about many of them
to-day that they showed with such exquisiteness yesterday. By my
face! I believe they'd reap their chins to-morrow as smooth as
yours, if you go on setting the fashions at this prodigious rate
and I do not interfere."
"Why hinder them if they feel more cleanly shaven?"
"No, sir. There shall be only one clean chin where a beard
can grow in all Atlantis, and that shall be carried by the man who
is husband to the Empress. Why, my Deucalion, would you have no
sumptuary laws? Would you have these good folk here and the common
people outside imitate us in every cut of the hair and every fold
of a garment which it pleases us to discover? Come, sir, if you
and I chose to say that our sovereignty was marked only by our
superior strength of arm and wit, they would hate us at once for
our arrogance; whereas, if we keep apart to ourselves a few mere
personal decorations, these become just objects to admire and
"You show me that there is more in the office of a ruler than
meets the eye."
"And yet they tell me, and indeed show me, that you have ruled
with some success."
"I employed the older method. It requires a Phorenice to
invent these nicer flights."
"Flatterer!" said she, and smote me playfully with the back of
her little fingers on my arm. "You are becoming as great a
courtier as any of them. You make me blush with your fine
pleasantries, Deucalion, and there is no fan-girl here to-night to
cool my cheek. I must choose me another fan-girl. But it shall
not be Ylga. Ylga seems to have more of a kindness for you than I
like, and if she is wise she will go live in her palace at the
other side of the city, and there occupy herself with the ordering
of her slaves, and the makings of embroideries. I shall not be
hard on Ylga unless she forces me, but I will have no woman in this
kingdom treat you with undue civility."
"And how am I to act," said I, falling in with her mood, "when
I see and hear all the men of Atlantis making their protestations
before you? By your own confession they all love you as ardently
as they seem to have loved you hopelessly."
"Ah, now," she said, "you must not ask me to do
impossibilities. I am powerful if you will. But I have no force
which will govern the hearts of these poor fellows on matters such
as that. But if you choose, you make proclamation that I am given
now body and inwards to you, and if they continue to offend your
pride in this matter, you may take your culprits, and give them
over to the tormentors. Indeed, Deucalion, I think it would be a
pretty attention to me if you did arrange some such ceremony. It
seems to me a present," she added with a frown, "that the jealousy
is too much on one side."
"You must not expect that a man who has been divorced from
love for all of a busy life can learn all its niceties in an
instant. Myself, I was feeling proud of my progress. With any
other schoolmistress than you, Phorenice, I should not be near so
forward. In fact (if one may judge by my past record), I should
not have begun to learn at all."
"I suppose you think I should be satisfied with that? Well,
I am not. I can be finely greedy over some matters."
The banquet this night did not extend to inordinate length.
Phorenice had gone through much since last she slept, and though
she had declared herself Goddess in the meantime, it seemed that
her body remained mortal as heretofore. The black rings of
weariness had grown under her wondrous eyes, and she lay back
amongst the cushions of the divan with her limbs slackened and
listless. When the dancers came and postured before us, she threw
them a jewel and bade them begone before they had given a half of
their performance, and the poet, a silly swelling fellow who came
to sing the deeds of the day, she would not hear at all.
"To-morrow," she said wearily, "but for now grant me peace.
My Lord Deucalion has given me much food for thought this day, and
presently I go to my chamber to muse over the future policies of
this State throughout the night. To-morrow come to me again, and
if your poetry is good and short, I will pay you surprisingly. But
see to it that you are not long-winded. If there are superfluous
words, I will pay you for those with the stick."
She rose to her feet then, and when the banqueters had made
their salutation to us, I led her away from the banqueting-hall and
down the passages with their secret doors which led to her private
chambers. She clung on my arm, and once when we halted whilst a
great stone block swung slowly ajar to let us pass, she drooped her
head against my shoulder. Her breath came warm against my cheek,
and the loveliness of her face so close at hand surpasses the
description of words. I think it was in her mind that I should
kiss the red lips which were held so near to mine, but willing
though I was to play the part appointed, I could not bring myself
to that. So when the stone block had swung, she drew away with a
sigh, and we went on without further speech.
"May the High Gods treat you tenderly," I said, when we came
to the door of her bed-chamber.
"I am my own God," said she, "in all things but one. By my
face! you are a tardy wooer, Deucalion. Where do you go now?"
"To my own chamber."
"Oh, go then, go."
"Is there anything more I could do?"
"Nothing that your wit or your will would prompt you to. Yes,
indeed, you are finely decorous, Deucalion, in your old-fashioned
way, but you are a mighty poor wooer. Don't you know, my man, that
a woman esteems some things the more highly if they are taken from
her by rude force?"
"It seems I know little enough about women."
"You never said a truer word. Bah! And I believe your
coldness brings you more benefit in a certain matter than any show
of passion could earn. There, get you gone, if the atmosphere of
a maiden's bed-chamber hurts your rustic modesty, and your Gods
keep you, Deucalion, if that's the phrase, and if you think They
can do it. Get you gone, man, and leave me solitary."
I had taken the plan of the pyramid out of the archives before
the banquet and learned it thoroughly, and so was able to thread my
way through its angular mazes without pause or blunder. I, too,
was heavily wearied with what I had gone through since my last
snatch of sleep, but I dare set apart no time for rest just then.
Nais must be sacrificed in part for the needs of Atlantis; but a
plan had come to me by which it seemed that she need not be
sacrificed wholly; and to carry this through there was need for
quick thought and action.
Help came to me also from a quarter I did not expect. As I
passed along the tortuous way between the ponderous stones of the
pyramid, which led to the apartments that had been given me by
Phorenice, a woman glided up out of the shadows of one of the side
passages, and when I lifted my hand lamp, there was Ylga.
She regarded me half-sullenly. "I have lost my place," she
said, "and it seems I need never have spoken. She intended to have
you all along, and it was not a thing like that which could put her
off. And you--you just think me officious, if, indeed, you have
ever given me another thought till now."
"I never forget a kindness."
"Oh, you will learn that trick soon now. And you are going to
marry her, you! The city is ringing with it. I thought at least
you were honest, but when there is a high place to be got by merely
taking a woman with it, you are like the rest. I thought, too,
that you would be one of those men who have a distrust for ruddy
hair. And, besides she is little."
"Ylga," I said, "you have taught me that these walls are full
of crannies and ears. I will listen to no word against Phorenice.
But I would have further converse with you soon. If you still have
a kindness for me, go to the chamber that is mine and wait for me
there. I will join you shortly."
She drooped her eyes. "What do you want of me, Deucalion?"
"I want to say something to you. You will learn who it
"But is it--is it fitting for a maiden to come to a man's room
at this hour?"
"I know little of your conventions here in this new Atlantis.
I am Deucalion, girl, and if you still have qualms, remembering
that, do not come."
She looked up at me with a sneer. "I was foolish," she said.
"My lord's coldness has grown into a proverb, and I should have
remembered it. Yes; I will come."
"Go now, then," said I, and waited till she had passed on ahead
and was out of sight and hearing. With Ylga to help me, my tasks
were somewhat lightened, and their sequence changed. In the
first instance, now, I had got to make my way with as little delay
and show as possible into a certain sanctuary which lay within the
temple of our Lady the Moon. And here my knowledge as one of the
Seven stood me in high favour.
All the temples of the city of Atlantis are in immediate and
secret connection with the royal pyramid, but the passages are
little used, seeing that they are known only to the Seven and to
the Three above them, supposing that there are three men living at
one time sufficiently learned in the highest of the highest
mysteries to be installed in that sublime degree of the Three.
And, even by these, the secret ways may only be used on occasions
of the greatest stress, so that a generation well may pass without
their being trodden by a human foot.
It was with some trouble, and after no little experiment that
I groped my way into this secret alley; but once there, the rest
was easy. I had never trodden it before certainly, but the plan of
it had been taught me at my initiation as one of the Seven, and the
course of the windings came back to me now with easy accuracy. I
walked quickly, not only because the air in those deep crannies is
always full of lurking evils, but also because the hours were
fleeting, and much must be done before our Lord the Sun again rose
to make another day.
I came to the spy-place which commands the temple, and found
the holy place empty, and, alas! dust-covered, and showing little
trace that worshippers ever frequented it these latter years. A
vast stone of the wall swung outwards and gave me entrance, and
presently (after the solemn prayer which is needful before
attempting these matters), I took the metal stair from the place
where it is kept, and climbed to the lap of the Goddess, and then,
pulling the stair after me, climbed again upwards till my length
lay against her calm mysterious face.
A shivering seized me as I thought of what was intended, for
even a warrior hardened to horrid sights and deeds may well have
qualms when he is called upon to juggle with life and death, and
years and history, with the welfare of his country in one hand, and
the future of a woman who is as life to him in the other. But
again I told myself that the hours flew, and laid hold of the jewel
which is studded into the forehead of the image with one hand, and
then stretching out, thrust at a corner of the eyebrow with the
other. With a faint creak the massive eyeball below, a stone that
I could barely have covered with my back, swung inwards. I stepped
off the stair, and climbed into the gap. Inside was the chamber
which is hollowed from the head of the Goddess.
It was the first time I had seen this most secret place, but
the aspect of it was familiar to me from my teaching, and I knew
where to find the thing which would fill my need. Yet, occupied
though I might be with the stress of what was to befall, I could
not help having a wonder and an admiration for the cleverness with
which it was hidden.
High as I was in the learning and mysteries of the Priestly
Clan, the structure of what I had come to fetch was hidden from me.
Beforetime I had known only of their power and effect; and now that
I came to handle them, I saw only some roughly rounded balls, like
nut kernels, grass green in colour, and in hardness like the wax of
bees. There were three of these balls in the hidden place, and I
took the one that was needful, concealing the others as I had found
them. It may have been a drug, it may have been something more;
what exactly it was I did not know; only of its power and effect I
was sure, as that was set forth plainly in the teaching I had
learned; and so I put it in a pouch of my garment, returning by the
way I had come, and replacing all things in due order behind me.
One look I took at the image of the Goddess before I left the
temple. The jet of earth-breath which burns eternally from the
central altar lit her from head to toe, and threw sparkles from the
great jewel in her forehead. Vast she was, and calm and peaceful
beyond all human imaginings, a perfect symbolism of that rest and
quietness which many sigh for so vainly on this rude earth, but
which they will never attain unless by their piety they earn a
place in the hereafter, where our Lady the Moon and the rest of the
High Ones reign in Their eternal glorious majesty.
It was with tired dragging limbs that I made my way back again
to the royal pyramid, and at last came to my own private chamber.
Ylga awaited me there, though at first I did not see her. The
suspicions of these modern days had taken a deep hold of the girl,
and she must needs crouch in hiding till she made sure it was I who
came to the chamber, and, moreover, that I came alone.
"Oh, frown at me if you choose," said she sullenly, "I am past
caring now for your good opinion. I had heard so much of
Deucalion, and I thought I read honesty in you when first you came
ashore; but now I know that you are no better than the rest.
Phorenice offers you a high place, and you marry her blithely to
get it. And why, indeed, should you not marry her? People say she
is pretty, and I know she can be warm. I have seen her warm and
languishing to scores of men. She is clever, too, with her eyes,
is our great Empress; I grant her that. And as for you, it tickles
you to be courted."
"I think you are a very silly woman," I said.
"If you flatter yourself it matters a rap to me whom you
marry, you are letting conceit run away with you."
"Listen," I said. "I did not ask you here to make foolish
speeches which seem largely beyond my comprehension. I asked you
to help me do a service to one of your own blood-kin."
She stared at me wonderingly. "I do not understand."
"It rests largely with you as to whether Nais dies to-morrow,
or whether she is thrown into a sleep from which she may waken on
some later and more happy day."
"Nais!" she gasped. "My twin, Nais? She is not here. She is
out in the camp with those nasty rebels who bite against the city
walls, if, indeed, still she lives."
"Nais, your sister is near us in the royal pyramid this
minute, and under guard, though where I do not know." And with
that I told her all that had passed since the girl was brought up
a prisoner in the galley of that foolish, fawning captain of the
port. "The Empress has decreed that Nais shall be buried alive
under a throne of granite which I am to build for her to-morrow,
and buried she will assuredly be. Yet I have a kindness for Nais,
which you may guess at if you choose, and I am minded to send her
into a sleep such as only we higher priests know of, from which at
some future day she may possibly awaken."
"So it is Nais; and not Phorenice, and not--not any other?"
"Yes; it is Nais. I marry the Empress because Zaemon, who is
mouthpiece to the High Council of the Priests, has ordered it, for
the good of Atlantis. But my inwards remain still cold towards
"Almost I hate poor Nais already."
"Your vengeance would be easy. Do not tell me where she is
gaoled, and I shall not dare to ask. Even to give Nais a further
span of life I cannot risk making inquiries for her cell, when
there is a chance that those who tell me might carry news to the
Empress, and so cause more trouble for this poor Atlantis."
"And why should I not carry the news, and so bring myself into
favour again? I tell you that being fan-girl to Phorenice and
second woman in the kingdom is a thing that not many would cast
I looked her between eyes and smiled. "I have no fear there.
You will not betray me, Ylga. Neither will you sell Nais."
"I seem to remember very small love for this same Nais just
now," she said bitterly. "But you are right about that other
matter. I shall not buy myself back at your expense. Oh, I am a
fool, I know, and you can give me no thanks that I care about, but
there is no other way I can act."
"Then let us fritter no more time. Go you out now and find
where Nais is gaoled, and bring me news how I can say ten words to
her, and press a certain matter into her clasp."
She bowed her head and left the chamber, and for long enough
I was alone. I sat down on the couch, and rested wearily against
the wall. My bones ached, my eyes ached, and most of all, my
inwards ached. I had thought to myself that a man who makes his
life sufficiently busy will find no leisure for these pains which
assault frailer folk; but a philosophy like this, which carried one
well in Yucatan, showed poorly enough when one tried it here at
home. But that there was duty ahead, and the order of the High
Council to be carried into effect, the bleakness of the prospect
would have daunted me, and I would have prayed the Gods then to
spare me further life, and take me unto Themselves.
Ylga came back at last, and I got up and went quickly after
her as she led down a maze of passages and alleyways. "There has
been no care spared over her guarding," she whispered, as we halted
once to move a stone. "The officer of the guard is an old lover of
mine, and I raised his hopes to the burning point again by a dozen
words. But when I wanted to see his prisoner, there he was as firm
as brass. I told him she was my sister, but that did not move him.
I offered him--oh, Deucalion, it makes me blush to think of the
things I did offer to that man, but there was no stirring him. He
has watched the tormentors so many times, that there is no tempting
him into touch of their instruments."
"If you have failed, why bring me out here?"
"Oh, I am not inveigling you into a lover's walk with myself,
sir. You tickle yourself when you think your society is so
pleasant as that."
"Come, girl, tell me then what it is. If my temper is short,
credit it against my weariness."
"I have carried out my lord's commands in part. I know the
cell where Nais lives, and I have had speech with her, though not
through the door. And moreover, I have not seen her or touched her
"Your riddles are beyond me, Ylga, but if there is a chance,
let us get on and have this business done."
"We are at the place now," said she, with a hard little laugh,
"and if you kneel on the floor, you will find an airshaft, and Nais
will answer you from the lower end. For myself, I will leave you.
I have a delicacy in hearing what you want to say to my sister,
"I thank you," I said. "I will not forget what you have done
for me this night."
"You may keep your thanks," she said bitterly, and walked away
into the shadows.
I knelt on the floor of the gallery, and found the air passage
with my hand, and then, putting my lips to it, whispered for Nais.
The answer came on the instant, muffled and quiet. "I knew my
lord would come for a farewell."
"What the Empress said, has to be. You understand, my dear?
It is for Atlantis."
"Have I reproached my lord, by word or glance?"
"I myself am bidden to place you in the hollow between the
stones, and I must do it."
"Then my last sleep will be a sweet one. I could not ask to
be touched by pleasanter hands."
"But it mayhap that a day will come when she whom you know of
will be suffered by the High Gods to live on this land of Atlantis
"If my lord will cherish my poor memory when he is free again,
I shall be grateful. He might, if he chose, write them on the
stones: Here was buried a maid who died gladly for the good of
Atlantis, even though she knew that the man she so dearly loved was
husband to her murderess."
"You must not die," I whispered. "My breast is near broken at
the very thought of it. And for respite, we must trust to the
ancient knowledge, which in its day has been sent out from the Ark
of the Mysteries."--I took the green waxy ball in my fingers, and
stretched them down the crooked air-shaft to the full of my
span.--"I have somewhat for you here. Reach up and try to catch it
I heard the faint rustle of her arm as it swept against the
masonry, and then the ball was taken over into her grasp. Gods!
what a thrill went through me when the fingers of Nais touched
mine! I could not see her, because of the crookedness of the
shaft, but that faint touch of her was exquisite.
"I have it," she whispered. "And what now, dear?"
"You will hide the thing in your garment, and when to-morrow
the upper stone closes down upon you and the light is gone, then
you will take it between your lips and let it dissolve as it will.
Sleep will take you, my darling, then, and the High Gods will watch
over you, even though centuries pass before you are roused."
"If Deucalion does not wake me, I shall pray never again to
open an eye. And now go, my lord and my dear. They watch me
here constantly, and I would not have you harmed by being
brought to notice."
"Yes, I must go, my sweetheart. It will not do to have our
scheme spoiled by a foolish loitering. May the most High Gods
attend your rest, and if the sacrifice we make finds favour, may
They grant us meeting here again on earth before we meet--as we
must--when our time is done, and They take us up to Their own
"Amen," she whispered back, and then: "Kiss your fingers,
dear, and thrust them down to me."
I did that, and for an instant felt her fondle them down the
crook of the airshaft out of sight, and then heard her withdraw her
little hand and kiss it fondly. Then again she kissed her own
fingers and stretched them up, and I took up the virtue of that
parting kiss on my finger-tips and pressed it sacredly to my lips.
"Living, sleeping, or dead, always my darling," she whispered.
And then, before I could answer, she whispered again: "Go, they are
coming for me." And so I went, knowing that I could do no more to
help her then, and knowing that all our schemes would be spilt if
any eye spied upon me as I lay there beside the air shaft. But my
chest was like to have split with the dull, helpless anguish that
was in it, as I made my way back to my chamber through the mazy
alleys of the pyramid.
"Do not look upon mine eyes, dear, when the time comes," had
been her last command, "or they will tell a tale which Phorenice,
being a woman, would read. Remember, we make these small denials,
not for our own likings, but for Atlantis, which is mother to us
13. THE BURYING ALIVE OF NAIS
There is no denying that the wishes of Phorenice were carried
into quick effect in the city of Atlantis. Her modern theory was
that the country and all therein existed only for the good of the
Empress, and when she had a desire, no cost could possibly be too
great in its carrying out.
She had given forth her edict concerning the burying alive of
Nais, and though the words were that I was to build the throne of
stone, it was an understood thing that the manual labour was to be
done for me by others. Heralds made the proclamation in every ward
of the city, and masons, labourers, stonecutters, sculptors,
engineers, and architects took hands from whatever was occupying
them for the moment, and hastened to the rendezvous. The
architects chose a chief who gave directions, and the lesser
architects and the engineers saw these carried into effect. Any
material within the walls of the city on which they set their seal,
was taken at once without payment or compensation; and as the
blocks of stone they chose were the most monstrous that could be
got, they were forced to demolish no few buildings to give them
I have before spoken of the modern rage for erecting new
palaces and pyramids, and even though at the moment an army of
rebels was battering with war engines at the city walls, the
building guilds were steadily at work, and their skill (with
Phorenice's marvellous invention to aid them) was constantly on the
increase. True, they could not move such massive blocks of stone
as those which the early Gods planted for the sacred circle of our
Lord the Sun, but they had got rams and trucks and cranes which
could handle amazing bulks.
The throne was to be erected in the open square before the
royal pyramid. Seven tiers of stone were there for a groundwork,
each a knee-height deep, and each cut in the front with three
steps. In the uppermost layer was a cavity made to hold the body
of Nais, and above this was poised the vast block which formed the
seat of the throne itself.
Throughout the night, to the light of torches, relay after
relay of the stonecutters, and the masons, and the sweating
labourers had toiled over bringing up the stone and dressing it
into fit shape, and laying it in due position; and the engineers
had built machines for lifting, and the architects had proved that
each stone lay in its just and perfect place. Whips cracked, and
men fainted with the labour, but so soon as one was incapable
another pressed forward into his place. No delay was brooked when
Phorenice had said her wish.
And finally, as the square began to fill with people come to
gape at the pageant of to-day, the chippings and the scaffolding
were cleared away, and with it the bodies of some half-score of
workmen who had died from accidents or their exertions during the
building, and there stood the throne, splendid in its carvings, and
all ready for completion. The lower part stood more than two
man-heights above the ground, and no stone of its courses weighed
less than twenty men; the upper part was double the weight of any
of these, and was carved so that the royal snake encircled the
chair, and the great hooded head overshadowed it. But at present
the upper part was not on its bed, being held up high by lifting
rams, for what purposes all men knew.
It was to face this scene, then, that I came out from the royal
pyramid at the summons of the chamberlains in the cool of next
morning. Each great man who had come there before me had banner-
bearers and trumpeters to proclaim his presence; the middle classes
were in all their bravery of apparel; and even poor squalid
creatures, with ribs of hunger showing through their dusty skins,
had turbans and wisps of colour wrapped about their heads to mark
the gaiety of the day.
The trumpets proclaimed my coming, and the people shouted
welcome, and with the gorgeous chamberlains walking backwards in
advance, I went across to a scarlet awning that had been prepared,
and took my seat upon the cushions beneath it.
And then came Phorenice, my bride that was to be that day,
fresh from sleep, and glorious in her splendid beauty. She was
borne out from the pyramid in an open litter of gold and ivory by
fantastic savages from Europe, her own refinement of feature being
thrown up into all the higher relief by contrast with their brutish
ugliness. One could hear the people draw a deep breath of delight
as their eyes first fell upon her; and it is easy to believe there
was not a man in that crowd which thronged the square who did not
envy me her choice, nor was there a soul present (unless Ylga was
there somewhere veiled) who could by any stretch imagine that I was
not overjoyed in winning so lovely a wife.
For myself, I summoned up all the iron of my training to guard
the expression of my face. We were here on ceremonial to-day; a
ghastly enough affair throughout all its acts, if you choose, but
still ceremonial; and I was minded to show Phorenice a grand manner
that would leave her nothing to cavil at. After all that had been
gone through and endured, I did not intend a great scheme to be
shattered by letting my agony and pain show themselves, in either
a shaking hand or a twitching cheek. When it came to the point, I
told myself, I would lay the living body of my love in the hollow
beneath the stone as calmly, and with as little outward emotion, as
though I had been a mere priest carrying out the burial of some
dead stranger. And she, on her part, would not, I knew, betray our
secret. With her, too, it was truly "Before all Atlantis."
I think it spared a pang to find that there was to be no
mockery or flippancy in what went forward. All was solemn and
impressive; and, though a certain grandeur and sombreness which bit
deep into my breast was lost to the vulgar crowd, I fancy that the
outward shape of the double sacrifice they witnessed that day would
not be forgotten by any of them, although the inner meaning of it
all was completely hidden from their minds. When it suited her
fancy, none could be more strict on the ritual of a ceremony than
this many-mooded Empress, and it appeared that on this occasion she
had given command that all things were to be carried out with the
rigid exactness and pomp of the older manner.
So she was borne up by her Europeans to the scarlet awning,
and I handed her to the ground. She seated herself on the
cushions, and beckoned me to her side, entwining her fingers with
mine as has always been the custom with rulers of Atlantis and
their consorts. And there before us as we sat, a body of soldiery
marched up, and opening out showed Nais in their midst. She had a
collar of metal round her neck, with chains depending from it
firmly held by a brace of guards, so that she should not run in
upon the spears of the escort, and thus get a quick and easy death,
which is often the custom of those condemned to the more lingering
But it was pleasant to see that she still wore her clothing.
Raiment, whether of fabric or skin, has its value, and custom has
always given the garments of the condemned to the soldiers guarding
them. So as Nais was not stripped, I could not but see that some
one had given moneys to the guards as a recompense, and in this I
thought I saw the hand of Ylga, and felt a gratitude towards her.
The soldiers brought her forward to the edge of the pavilion's
shade, and she was bidden prostrate herself before the Empress, and
this she wisely did and so avoided rough handling and force. Her
face was pale, but showed neither fear nor defiance, and her eyes
were calm and natural. She was remembering what was due to
Atlantis, and I was thrilled with love and pride as I watched her.
But outwardly I, too, was impassive as a man of stone, and
though I knew that Phorenice's eye was on my face, there was never
anything on it from first to last that I would not have had her
"Nais," said the Empress, "you have eaten from my platter when
you were fan-girl, and drunk from my cup, and what was yours I gave
you. You should have had more than gratitude, you should have had
knowledge also that the arm of the Empress was long and her hand
consummately heavy. But it seems that you have neither of these
things. And, moreover, you have tried to take a certain matter
that the Empress has set apart for herself. You were offered
pardon, on terms, and you rejected it. You were foolish. But it
is a day now when I am inclined to clemency. Presently, seated on
that carved throne of granite which he has built me yonder, I shall
take my Lord Deucalion to husband. Give me a plain word that you
are sorry, girl, and name a man whom you would choose, and I will
remember the brightness of the occasion, you shall be pardoned and
wed before we rise from these cushions."
"I will not wed," she said quietly.
"Think for the last time, Nais, of what is the other choice.
You will be taken, warm, and quick, and beautiful as you stand
there this minute, and laid in the hollow place that is made
beneath the throne-stone. Deucalion, that is to be my husband,
will lay you in that awful bed, as a symbol that so shall perish
all Phorenice's enemies, and then he will release the rams and
lower the upper stone into place, and the world shall see your face
no more. Look at the bright sky, Nais, fill your chest with the
sweet warm air, and then think of what this death will mean.
Believe me, girl, I do not want to make you an example unless you
"I will not wed," said the prisoner quietly.
The Empress loosed her fingers from my arm, and lay back
against the cushions. "If the girl presumes on our old
familiarity, or thinks that I jest, show her now, Deucalion, that
I do not."
"The Empress is far from jesting," I said. "I will do this
thing because it is the wish of the Empress that it should be done,
and because it is the command of the Empress that a symbol of it
shall remain for ever as an example for others. Lead your prisoner
to the place."
The soldiers wheeled, and the two guards with the chains of
the collar which was on the neck of Nais prepared to put out force
to drag her up the steps. But she walked with them willingly, and
with a colour unchanged, and I rose from my seat, and made
obeisance to the Empress and followed them.
Before all those ten thousand eyes, we two made no display of
emotion then, not only for Atlantis' sake, but also because both
Nais and I had a nicety and a pride in our natures. We were not as
Phorenice to flaunt endearments before others.
Yet, when I had bidden the guards unhasp the collar which held
the prisoner's neck, and clapped my arms around her, showing all
the roughness of one who has no mind that his captive shall escape
or even unduly struggle, a thrill gushed through me so potent that
I was like to have fainted, and it was only by supreme strain of
will that I held unbrokenly on with the ceremonial. I, who had
never embraced a woman with aught but the arm of roughness before,
now held pressed to me one whom I loved with an infinite
tenderness, and the revelation of how love can come out and link
with love was almost my undoing. Yet, outwardly, Nais made so
sign, but lay half-strangled in my arms, as any woman does that is
being borne away by a spoiler.
I trod with her to the uppermost step, the vast throne-stone
overhanging us, and then so that all of those who were gazing from
the sides of the pyramids and the roofs of the buildings round
might see, though we were beyond Phorenice's view, I used a force
that was brutal in dragging her across the level, and putting her
down into the hollow. And yet the girl resisted me with no one
So that the victim might not struggle out and be crushed, and
so gain an easy death when the stone descended, there were brazen
clamps to fit into grooves of the stones above the hollow where she
lay, and these I fitted in place above her, and fastened one by
one, doing this butcher's work with one hand, and still fiercely
holding her down by the other. Gods! and the sweat of agony
dripped from me on to the thirsty stone as I worked. I could not
keep that in.
I clamped and locked the last two bars in place, and took my
brute's hand away from her throat.
The hateful fingermarks showed as bloodless furrows in the
whiteness of her skin. For the life of me, yes, even for the fate
of Atlantis, I could not help dropping my glance upon her face.
But she was stronger than I. She gave me no last look. She kept
her eyes steadfastly fixed on the cruel stone above, and so I left
her, knowing that it was best not to tarry longer.
I came out from under the stone, and gave the sign to the
engineers who stood by the rams. The fires were taken away from
their sides, and the metal in them began to contract, and slowly
the vast bulk of the throne-stone began to creep down towards its
But ah, so slowly! Gods! how my soul was torn as I watched
Yet I kept my face impassive, overlooking as any officer might
a piece of work which others were carrying out under his direction,
and on which his credit rested; and I stood gravely in my place
till the rams had let the stone come down on its final resting
place, and had been carried away by the engineers; and then I went
round with the master architect with his plumbline and level,
whilst he tested this last piece of the building and declared it
It was a useless form, this last, seeing that by calculation
they knew exactly how the stone must rest; but the guilds have
their forms and customs, and on these occasions of high ceremonial,
they are punctiliously carried out, because these middle-class
people wish always to appear mysterious and impressive to the poor
vulgar folk who are their inferiors. But perhaps I am hard there
on them. A man who is needlessly taken round to plumb and duly
level the tomb where his love lies buried living, may perhaps be
excused by the assessors on high a little spirit of bitterness.
I had gone up the steps to do my hateful work a man full of
grief, though outwardly unmoved. As I came down again I had a
feeling of incompleteness; it seemed as though half my inwards had
been left behind with Nais in the hollow of the stone, and their
place was taken by a void which ached wearily; but still I carried
a passive face, and memory that before all these private matters
stood the command of the High Council, which sat before the Ark of
So I went and stood before Phorenice, and said the words which
the ancient forms prescribed concerning the carrying out of her
"Then, now," she said, "I will give myself to you as wife. We
are not as others, you and I, Deucalion. There is a law and a form
set down for the marrying of these other people, but that would be
useless for our purposes. We will have neither priest nor scribe
to join us and set down the union. I am the law here in Atlantis,
and you soon will be part of me. We will not be demeaned by
profaner hands. We will make the ceremony for ourselves, and for
witnesses, there are sufficient in waiting. Afterwards, the record
shall be cut deep in the granite throne you have built for me, and
the lettering filled in with gold, so that it shall endure and
remain bright for always."
"The Empress can do no wrong," I said formally, and took the
hand she offered me, and helped her to rise. We walked out from
the scarlet awning into the glare of the sunshine, she leaning on
me, flushing, and so radiantly lovely that the people began to hail
her with rapturous shouts of "A Goddess; our Goddess Phorenice."
But for me they had no welcoming word. I think the set grimness
of my face both scared and repelled them.
We went up the steps which led to the throne, the people still
shouting, and I sat her in the royal seat beneath the snake's
outstretched head, and she drew me down to sit beside her.
She raised her jewelled hand, and a silence fell on that great
throng, as though the breath had been suddenly cut short for all of
Then Phorenice made proclamation:
"Hear me, O my people, and hear me, O High Gods from whom I am
come. I take this man Deucalion, to be my husband, to share with
me the prosperity of Atlantis, and join me in guarding our great
possession. May all our enemies perish as she is now perishing
above whom we sit." And then she put her arms around my neck, and
kissed me hotly on the mouth.
In turn I also spoke: "Hear me, O most High Gods, whose
servant I am, and hear me also, O ye people. I take this Empress,
Phorenice, to wife, to help with her the prosperity of Atlantis,
and join with her in guarding the welfare of that great possession.
May all the enemies of this country perish as they have perished in
And then, I too, who had not been permitted by the fate to
touch the lips of my love, bestowed the first kiss I had ever given
woman to Phorenice, that was now being made my wife.
But we were not completely linked yet.
"A woman is one, and man is one," she proclaimed, following
for the first time the old form of words, "but in marriage they
merge, so that wife and husband are no more separate, but one
conjointly. In token of this we will now make the symbolic joining
together, so that all may see and remember." She took her dagger,
and pricking the brawn on my forearm till a head of blood appeared,
set her red lips to it, and took it into herself.
"Ah," she said, with her eyes sparkling, "now you are part of
me indeed, Deucalion, and I feel you have strengthened me already."
She pulled down the neck of her robe. "Let me make you my return."
I pricked the rounded whiteness of her shoulder. Gods! when
I remembered who was beneath us as we sat on that throne, I could
have driven the blade through to her heart! And then I, too, put
down my lips, and took the drop of her blood that was yielded to
My tongue was dry, my throat was parched, and my face
suffused, and I thought I should have choked.
But the Empress, who was ordinarily so acute, was misled then.
"It thrills you?" she cried. "It burns within you like living
fire? I have just felt it. By my face! Deucalion, if I had known
the pleasure it gives to be made a wife, I do not think I should
have waited this long for you. Ah, yes; but with another man I
should have had no thrill. I might have gone through the ceremony
with another, but it would have left me cold. Well, they say this
feeling comes to a woman but once in her time, and I would not
change it for the glory of all my conquests and the whirl of all my
power." She leaned in close to me so that the red curls of her hair
swept my cheek, and her breath came hot against my mouth. "Tasted
you ever any sweet so delicious as this knowledge that we are made
one now, Deucalion, past all possible dissolving?"
I could not lie to her any more just then. The Gods know how
honestly I had striven to play the part commanded me for Atlantis'
good, but there is a limit to human endurance, and mine was
reached. I was not all anger towards her. I had some pity for
this passion of hers, which had grown of itself certainly, but
which I had done nothing to check; and the indecent frankness with
which it was displayed was only part of the livery of potentates
who flaunt what meaner folk would coyly hide. But always before my
eyes was a picture of the girl on whom her jealousy had taken such
a bitter vengeance, and to invent spurious lover's talk then was a
thing my tongue refused to do.
"Words are poor things," I said, "and I am a man unused to
women, and have but a small stock of any phrases except the dryest.
Remember, Phorenice, a week agone, I did not know what love was,
and now that I have learned the lesson, somewhat of the suddenest,
the language remains still to come to me. My inwards speak; indeed
they are full of speech; but I cannot translate into bald cold
words what they say."
And here, surely the High Gods took pity on my tied tongue and
my misery, and made an opportunity for bringing the ceremony to an
end. A man ran into the square shouting, and showing a wound that
dripped, and presently all that vast crowd which stood on the
pavements, and the sides of the pyramids, and the roofs of the
temples, took up the cry, and began to feel for their weapons.
"The rebels are in!" "They have burrowed a path into the
city!" "They have killed the cave-tigers and taken a gate!" "They
are putting the whole place to the storm!" "They will presently
leave no poor soul of us here alive!"
There then was a termination of our marriage cooings. With
rebels merely biting at the walls, it was fine to put strong trust
in the defences, and easy to affect contempt for the besiegers'
powers, and to keep the business of pageants and state craft and
marryings turning on easy wheels. But with rebel soldiers already
inside the city (and hordes of others doubtless pressing on their
heels), the affairs took a different light. It was no moment for
further delay, and Phorenice was the first to admit it. The glow
that had been in her eyes changed to the glare of the fighter, as
the fellow who had run up squalled out his tidings.
I stood and stretched my chest. I seemed in need of air.
"Here," I said, "is work that I can understand more clearly. I
will go and sweep this rabble back to their burrows, Phorenice."
"But not alone, sir. I come too. It is my city still. Nay,
sir, we are too newly wed to be parted yet."
"Have your will," I said, and together we went down the steps
of the throne to the pavement below. Under my breath I said a
farewell to Nais.
Our armour-bearers met us with weapons, and we stepped into
litters, and the slaves took us off hot foot. The wounded man who
had first brought the news had fallen in a faint, and no more
tidings was to be got from him, but the growing din of the fight
gave us the general direction, and presently we began to meet knots
of people who dwelt near the place of irruption, running away in
wild panic, loaded down with their household goods.
It was useless to stop these, as fight they could not, and if
they had stayed they would merely have been slaughtered like flies,
and would in all likelihood have impeded our own soldiery. And so
we let them run screaming on their blind way, but forced the
litters through them with but very little regard for their coward
Now the advantage of the rebels, when it came to be looked
upon by a soldier's eye, was a thing of little enough importance.
They had driven a tunnel from behind a covering mound, beneath the
walls, and had opened it cleverly enough through the floor of a
middle-class house. They had come through into this, collecting
their numbers under its shelter, and doubtless hoping that the
marriage of the Empress (of which spies had given them information)
would sap the watchfulness of the city guards. But it seems they
were discovered and attacked before they were thoroughly ready to
emerge, and, as a fine body of troops were barracked near the spot,
their extermination would have been merely a matter of time, even
if we had not come up.
It did not take a trained eye long to decide on this, and
Phorenice, with a laugh, lay back on the cushions of the litter,
and returned her weapons to the armour-bearer who came panting up
to receive them. "We grow nervous with our married life, my
Deucalion," she said. "We are fearful lest this new-found
happiness be taken from us too suddenly."
But I was not to be robbed of my breathing-space in this wise.
"Let me crave a wedding gift of you," I said.
"It is yours before you name it."
"Then give me troops, and set me wide a city gate a mile away
"You can gather five hundred as you go from here to the gate,
taking two hundred of those that are here. If you want more, they
must be fetched from other barracks along the walls. But where is
"Why, my poor strategy teaches me this: these foolish rebels
have set all their hopes on this mine, and all their excitement on
its present success. If they are kept occupied here by a
Phorenice, who will give them some dainty fighting without checking
them unduly, they will press on to the attack and forget all else,
and never so much as dream of a sortie. And meanwhile, a Deucalion
with his troop will march out of the city well away from here,
without tuck of drum or blare of trumpet, and fall most
unpleasantly upon their rear. After which, a Phorenice will burn
the house here at the mine's head, which is of wood, and straw
thatched, to discourage further egress, and either go to the walls
to watch the fight from there, or sally out also and spur on the
rout as her fancy dictates."
"Your scheme is so pretty, I would I could rob you of it for
my own credit's sake, and as it is, I must kiss you for your
cleverness. But you got my word first, you naughty fellow, and you
shall have the men and do as you ask. Eh, sir, this is a sad
beginning of our wedded life, if you begin to rob your little wife
of all the sweets of conquest from the outset."
She took back the weapons and target she had given to the
armour-bearer, and stepped over the side of the litter to the
ground. "But at least," she said, "if you are going to fight, you
shall have troops that will do credit to my drill," and thereupon
proceeded to tell off the companies of men-at-arms who were to
accompany me. She left herself few enough to stem the influx of
rebels who poured ceaselessly in through the tunnel; but as I had
seen, with Phorenice, heavy odds added only to her enjoyment.
But for the Empress, I will own at the time to have given
little enough of thought. My own proper griefs were raw within me,
and I thirsted for that forgetfulness of all else which battle
gives, so that for awhile I might have a rest from their gnawings.
It made my blood run freer to hear once more the tramp of
practised troops behind me, and when all had been collected, we
marched out through a gate of the city, and presently were charging
through and through the straggling rear of the enemy. By the Gods!
for the moment even Nais was blotted from my wearied mind. Never
had I loved more to let my fierceness run madly riot. Never have
I gloated more abundantly over the terrible joy of battle.
Nais must forgive my weakness in seeking to forget her even
for a breathing-space. Had that opportunity been denied me, I
believe the agony of remembering would have snapped my
brain-strings for always.
14. AGAIN THE GODS MAKE CHANGE
Now it would be tedious to tell how with a handful of highly
trained fighting men, I charged and recharged, and finally broke up
that horde of rebels which outnumbered us by fifteen times. It
must be remembered that they grew suddenly panic-stricken in
finding that of all those who went in under the city walls by the
mine on which they had set such great store, none came back, and
that the sounds of panic which had first broken out within the city
soon gave way to cries of triumph and joy. And it must be carried
in memory also that these wretched rebels were without training
worthy of the name, were for the most part weaponed very vilely,
and, seeing that their silly principles made each the equal of his
neighbour, were practically without heads or leaders also.
So when the panic began, it spread like a malignant murrain
through all their ragged ranks, and there were none to rally the
flying, none to direct those of more desperate bravery who stayed
My scheme of attack was simple. I hunted them without a halt.
I and my fellows never stopped to play the defensive. We turned
one flank, and charged through a centre, and then we were harrying
the other flank, and once more hacking our passage through the
solid mass. And so by constantly keeping them on the run, and in
ignorance of whence would come the next attack, panic began to grow
amongst them and ferment, till presently those in the outer lines
commenced to scurry away towards the forests and the spoiled
corn-lands of the country, and those in the inner packs were only
wishful of a chance to follow them.
It was no feat of arms this breaking up of the rebel leaguer,
and no practised soldier would wish to claim it as such. It was
simply taking advantage of the chances of the moment, and as such
it was successful. Given an open battle on their own ground, these
desperate rebels would have fought till none could stand, and by
sheer ferocious numbers would have pulled down any trained troops
that the city could have sent against them, whether they had
advanced in phalanx or what formation you will. For it must be
remembered they were far removed from cowards, being Atlantean all,
just as were those within the city, and were, moreover, spurred to
extraordinary savageness and desperation by the oppression under
which they had groaned, and the wrongs they had been forced to
Still, as I say, the poor creatures were scattered, and the
siege was raised from that moment, and it was plain to see that the
rebellion might be made to end, if no unreasonable harshness was
used for its final suppression. Too great severity, though perhaps
it may be justly their portion, only drives such malcontents to
Now, following up these fugitives, to make sure that there was
no halt in their retreat, and to send the lesson of panic
thoroughly home to them, had led us a long distance from the city
walls; and as we had fought all through the burning heat of the day
and my men were heavily wearied, I decided to halt where we were
for the night amongst some half-ruined houses which would make a
temporary fortification. Fortunately, a drove of little
cloven-hoofed horses which had been scared by some of the rebels in
their flight happened to blunder into our lines, and as we killed
five before they were clear again, there was a soldier's supper for
us, and quickly the fires were lit and cooking it.
Sentries paced the outskirts and made their cries to one
another, and the wounded sat by the fires and dressed their hurts,
and with the officers I talked over the engagements of the day, and
the methods of each charge, and the other details of the fighting.
It is the special perquisite of soldiers to dally over these
matters with gusto, though they are entirely without interest for
The hour drew on for sleep, and snores went up from every
side. It was clear that all my officers were wearied out, and only
continued the talk through deference to their commander. Yet I had
a feverish dread of being left alone again with my thoughts, and
pressed them on with conversation remorselessly. But in the end
they were saved the rudeness of dropping off into unconsciousness
during my talk. A sentry came up and saluted. "My lord," he
reported. "there is a woman come up from the city whom we have
caught trying to come into the bivouac."
"How is she named?"
"She will not say."
"Has she business?'
"She will say none. She demands only to see my lord."
"Bring her here to the fire," I ordered, and then on second
thoughts remembering that the woman, whoever she might be, had news
likely enough for my private ear (or otherwise she would not have
come to so uncouth a rendezvous), I said to the sentry: "Stay,"
and got up from the ground beside the fire, and went with him to
the outer line.
"Where is she?" I asked.
"My comrades are holding her. She might be a wench belonging
to these rebels, with designs to put a knife into my lord's heart,
and then we sentries would suffer. The Empress," he added simply,
"seems to set good store upon my lord at present, and we know the
cleverness of her tormentors."
"Your thoughtfulness is frank," I said, and then he showed me
the woman. She was muffled up in hood and cloak, but one who loved
Nais as I loved could not mistake the form of Ylga, her twin
sister, because of mere swathings. So I told the sentries to
release her without asking her for speech, and then led her out
from the bivouac beyond earshot of their lines.
"It is something of the most pressing that has brought you out
"You know me, then? There must be something warmer than the
ordinary between us two, Deucalion, if you could guess who walked
beneath all these mufflings."
I let that pass. "But what's your errand, girl?"
"Aye," she said bitterly, "there's my reward. All your
concern's for the message, none for the carrier. Well, good my
lord, you are husband to the dainty Phorenice no longer."
"This is news."
"And true enough, too. She will have no more of you, divorces
you, spurns you, thrusts you from her, and, after the first
splutter of wrath is done, then come pains and penalties."
"The Empress can do no wrong. I will have you speak
respectful words of the Empress."
"Oh, be done with that old fable! It sickens me. The woman
was mad for love of you, and now she's mad with jealousy. She
knows that you gave Nais some of your priest's magic, and that she
sleeps till you choose to come and claim her, even though the day
be a century from this. And if you wish to know the method of her
enlightenment, it is simple. There is another airshaft next to the
one down which you did your cooing and billing, and that leads to
another cell in which lay another prisoner. The wretch heard all
that passed, and thought to buy enlargement by telling it.
"But his news came a trifle stale. It seems that with the
pressure of the morning's ceremonies, they forgot to bring a
ration, and when at last his gaoler did remember him, it was rather
late, seeing that by then Phorenice had tied herself publicly to a
husband, and poor Nais had doubtless eaten her green drug.
However, the fools must needs try and barter his tale for what it
would fetch; and, as was natural, had such a silly head chopped off
for his pains; and after that your Phorenice behaved as you may
guess. And now you may thank me, sir, for coming to warn you not
to go back to Atlantis."
"But I shall go back. And if the Empress chooses to cut my
head also from its proper column, that is as the High Gods will."
"You are more sick of life than I thought. But I think, sir,
our Phorenice judges your case very accurately. It was permitted
me to hear the outbursting of this lady's rage. 'Shall I hew off
his head?' said she. 'Pah! Shall I give him over to my
tormentors, and stand by whilst they do their worst? He would not
wrinkle his brow at their fiercest efforts. No; he must have a
heavier punishment than any of these, and one also which will
endure. I shall lop off his right hand and his left foot, so that
he may be a fighting man no longer, and then I shall drive him
forth crippled into the dangerous lands, where he may learn Fear.
The beasts shall hunt him, the fires of the ground shall spoil his
rest. He shall know hunger, and he shall breathe bad air. And all
the while he shall remember that I have Nais near me, living and
locked in her coffin of stone, to play with as I choose, and to
give over to what insults may come to my fancy.' That is what she
said, Deucalion. Now I ask you again will you go back to meet her
"No," I said, "it is no part of my plan to be mutilated and
left to live."
"So, being a woman of some sense, I judged. And, moreover,
having some small kindness still left for you, I have taken it upon
myself to make a plan for your further movement which may fall in
with your whim. Does the name of Tob come back to your memory?"
"One who was Captain of Tatho's navy?"
"That same Tob. A gruff, rude fellow, and smelling vile of
tar, but seeming to have a sturdy honesty of his own. Tob sails
away this night for parts unknown, presumably to found a kingdom
with Tob for king. It seems he can find little enough to earn at
his craft in Atlantis these latter days, and has scruples at seeing
his wife and young ones hungry. He told me this at the harbour
side when I put my neck under the axe by saying I wanted carriage
for you, sir, and so having me under his thumb, he was perhaps more
loose-lipped than usual. You seem to have made a fine impression
on Tob, Deucalion. He said--I repeat his hearty disrespect--you
were just the recruit he wanted, but whether you joined him or not,
he would go to the nether Gods to do you service."
"By the fellow's side, I gained some experience in fighting
the greater sea beasts."
"Well, go and do it again. Believe me, sir, it is your only
chance. It would grieve me much to hear the searing-iron hiss on
your stumps. I bargained with Tob to get clear of the harbour
forts before the chain was up for the night, and as he is a very
daring fellow, with no fear of navigating under the darkness, he
himself said he would come to a point of the shore which we agreed
upon, and there await you. Come, Deucalion, let me lead you to the
"My girl," I said, "I see I owe you many thanks for what you
have done on my poor behalf."
"Oh, your thanks!" she said. "You may keep them. I did not
come out here in the dark and the dangers for mere thanks, though
I knew well enough there would be little else offered."--She
plucked at my sleeve.--"Now show me your walking pace, sir. They
will begin to want your countenance in the camp directly, and we
need hanker after no too narrow inquiries for what's along."
So thereon we set off, Ylga and I, leaving the lights of the
bivouac behind us, and she showed the way, whilst I carried my
weapons ready to ward off attacks whether from beasts or from men.
Few words were passed between us, except those which had concern
with the dangers natural to the way. Once only did we touch one
another, and that was where a tree-trunk bridged a rivulet of
scalding water which flowed from a boil-spring towards the sea.
"Are you sure of footing?" I asked, for the night was dark,
and the heat of the water would peel the flesh from the bones if
one slipped into it.
"No," she said, "I am not," and reached out and took my hand.
I helped her over and then loosed my grip, and she sighed, and
slowly slipped her hand away. Then on again we went in silence,
side by side, hour after hour, and league after league.
But at last we topped a rise, and below us through the trees
I could see the gleam of the great estuary on which the city of
Atlantis stands. The ground was soggy and wet beneath us, the
trees were full of barbs and spines, the way was monstrous hard.
Ylga's breath was beginning to come in laboured pants. But when I
offered to take her arm, and help her, as some return against what
she had done for me, she repulsed me rudely enough. "I am no poor
weakling," said she, "if that is your only reason for wanting to
Presently, however, we came out through the trees, and the
roughest part of our journey was done. We saw the ship riding to
her anchors in shore a mile away, and a weird enough object she was
under the faint starlight. We made our way to her along the level
Tob was keeping a keen watch. We were challenged the moment
we came within stone or arrow shot, and bidden to halt and recite
our business; but he was civil enough when he heard we were those
whom he expected. He called a crew and slacked out his anchor-rope
till his ship ground against the shingle, and then thrust out his
two steering oars to help us clamber aboard.
I turned to Ylga with words of thanks and farewell. "I will
never forget what you have done for me this night; and should the
High Gods see fit to bring me back to Atlantis and power, you shall
taste my gratitude."
"I do not want to return. I am sick of this old life here."
"But you have your palace in the city, and your servants, and
your wealth, and Phorenice will not disturb you from their
"Oh, as for that, I could go back and be fan-girl tomorrow.
But I do not want to go back."
"Let me tell you it is no time for a gently nurtured lady like
yourself to go forward. I have been viceroy of Yucatan, Ylga, and
know somewhat of making a foothold in these new countries. And
that was nothing compared with what this will be. I tell you it
entails hardships, and privations, and sufferings which you could
not guess at. Few survive who go to colonise in the beginning, and
those only of the hardiest, and they earn new scars and new
batterings every day."
"I do not care, and, besides, I can share the work. I can
cook, I can shoot a good arrow, and I can make garments, yes,
though they were cut from the skins of beasts and had to be sewn
with backbone sinews. Because you despise fine clothes, and
because you have seen me only decked out as fan-girl, you think I
am useless. Bah, Deucalion! Never let people prate to me about
your perfection. You know less about a woman than a boy new from
"I have learned all I care to know about one woman, and because
of the memory of her, I could not presume to ask her sister to
come with me now."
"Aye," she said bitterly, "kick my pride. I knew well enough
it was only second place to Nais I could get all the time I was
wanting to come. Yet no one but a boor would have reminded me of
it. Gods! and to think that half the men in Atlantis have courted
me, and now I am arrived at this!"
"I must go alone. It would have made me happier to take your
esteem with me. But as it is, I suppose I shall carry only your
"That is the most humiliating thing of all; I cannot bring
myself to hate you. I ought to, I know, after the brutal way you
have scorned me. But I do not, and there is the truth. I seem to
grow the fonder of you, and if I thought there was a way of keeping
you alive, and unmutilated, here in Atlantis, I do not think I
should point out that Tob is tired of waiting, and will probably be
off without you." She flung her arms suddenly about my neck, and
kissed me hotly on the mouth. "There, that is for good-bye, dear.
You see I am reckless. I care not what I do now, knowing that you
cannot despise me more than you have done all along for my
She ran back from me into the edge of the trees.
"But this is foolishness," I said. "I must take you through
the dangers that lie between here and some gate of the city, and
then come back to the ship."
"You need not fear for me. The unhappy are always safe. And,
besides, I have a way. It is my solace to know that you will
remember me now. You will never forget that kiss."
"Fare you well, Ylga," I cried. "May the High Gods keep you
entirely in their holy care."
But no reply came back. She had gone off into the forest.
And so I turned down to the beach, and splashed into the water, and
climbed on board the ship up the steering oars. Tob gave the word
to haul-to the anchor, and get her away from the beach.
"Greeting, my lord," said he, "but I'd have been pleased to
see you earlier. We've small enough force and slow enough heels in
this vessel, and it's my idea that the sooner we're away from here
and beyond range of pursuit, the safer it will be for my woman and
brats who are in that hutch of an after-castle. It's long enough
since I sailed in such a small old-fashioned ship as this. She's
no machines, and she's not even a steering mannikin. Look at the
meanness of her furniture and (in your ear) I've suspicions that
there's rottenness in her bottom. But she's the best I'd the means
to buy, and if she reaches the place at the farther end I've got my
eye on, we shall have to make a home there, or be content to die,
for she'll never have strength to carry us farther or back. She's
been a ship in the Egypt trade, and you know what that is for
getting worm and rot in the wood."
"You'd enough hands for your scheme before I came?"
"Oh yes. I've fifty stout lads and eight women packed in the
ship somehow, and trouble enough I've had to get them away from the
city. That thief of a port-captain wellnigh skinned us clean
before he could see it lawful that so many useful fighting men
might go out of harbour. Times are not what they were, I tell you,
and the sea trade's about done. All sailor men of any skill have
taken a woman or two and gone out in companies to try their
fortunes in other lands. Why, I'd trouble enough to get half a
score to help me work this ship. All my balance are just landsmen
raw and simple, and if I land half of them alive at the other end,
we shall be doing well."
"Still with luck and a few good winds it should not take long
to get across to Europe."
Tob slapped his leg. "No savage Europe for me, my lord. Now,
see the advantage of being a mariner. I found once some islands to
the north of Europe, separated from the main by a strait, which I
called the Tin Islands, seeing that tin ore litters many of the
beaches. I was driven there by storm, and said no word of the find
when I got back, and here you see it comes in useful. There's no
one in all Atlantis but me knows of those Tin Islands to-day, and
we'll go and fight honestly for our ground, and build a town and a
kingdom on it."
"With Tob for king?"
"Well, I have figured it out as such for many a day, but I
know when I meet my better, and I'm content to serve under
Deucalion. My lord would have done wiser to have brought a wife
with him, though, and I thought it was understood by the good lady
that spoke to me down at the harbour, or I'd have mentioned it
earlier. The savages in my Tin Islands go naked and stain
themselves blue with woad, and are very filthy and brutish to look
upon. They are sturdy, and should make good slaves, but one would
have to get blunted in the taste before one could wish to be father
to their children."
"I am still husband to Phorenice."
Tob grinned. "The Gods give you joy of her. But it is part
of a mariner's creed--and you will grow to be a mariner here--that
wedlock does not hold across the seas. However, that matter may
rest. But, coming to my Tin Islands again: they'll delight you.
And I tell you, a kingdom will not be so hard to carve out as it
was in Egypt, or as you found in Yucatan. There are beasts there,
of course, and no one who can hunt need ever go hungry. But the
greater beasts are few. There are cave-bears and cave-tigers in
small numbers, to be sure, and some river-horses and great snakes.
But the greater lizards seem to avoid the land; and as for birds,
there is rarely seen one that can hurt a grown man. Oh, I tell
you, it will be a most desirable kingdom."
"Tob seems to have imagined himself king of the Tin Islands
with much reality."
He sighed a little. "In truth I did, and there is no denying
it, and I tell you plain, there is not another man living that I
would have broken this voyage for but Deucalion. But don't think
I regret it, and don't think I want to push myself above my place.
This breeze and the ebb are taking the old ship finely along her
ways. See those fire baskets on the harbour forts? We're abreast
of them now. We'll have dropped them and the city out of sight by
daylight, and the flood will not begin to run up till then. But I
fear unless the wind hardens down with the dawn we'll have to bring
up to an anchor when the flood makes. Tides run very hard in these
narrow seas. Aye, and there are some shrewdish tide-rips round my
Tin Islands, as you shall see when we reach them."
There were many fearful glances backwards when day came and
showed the waters, and the burning mountains that hemmed them in
beyond the shores. All seemed to expect some navy of Phorenice to
come surging up to take them back to servitude and starvation in
the squalid wards of the city; and I confess ingenuously that I was
with them in all truth when they swore they would fight the ship
till she sank beneath them, before they would obey another of the
commands of Phorenice. However, their brave heroics were displayed
to no small purpose. For the full flow of the tide we hung in our
place, barely moving past the land, but yet not seeing either oar
or sail; and then, when the tide turned, away we went once more
with speed, mightily comforted.
Tob's woman must needs bring drink on deck, and bid all pour
libations to her as a future queen. But Tob cuffed her back into
the after-castle, slamming to the hatch behind her heels, and
bidding the crew send the liquor down their dusty throats. "We are
done with that foolery," said he. "My Lord Deucalion will be king
of this new kingdom we shall build in the Tin Islands, and a right
proper king he'll make, as you untravelled ones would know, if
you'd sailed the outer seas with him as I have done." Beneath
which I read a regret, but said nothing, having made my plans from
the moment of stepping on board, as will appear on a later sheet.
So on down the great estuary we made our way, and though it
pleasured the others on board when they saw that the seas were
desolate of sails, it saddened me when I recalled how once the
waters had been whitened with the glut of shipping.
They had started off on their voyage with a bare two days'
provision in their equipment, and so, of necessity even after
leaving the great estuary, we were forced to voyage coastwise,
putting into every likely river and sheltered beach to slay fish
and meat for future victualling. "And when the winter comes," said
Tob, "as its gales will be heavier than this old ship can stomach,
I had determined to haul up and make a permanent camp ashore, and
get a crop of grain grown and threshed before setting sail again.
It is the usual custom in these voyages. And I shall do it still,
subject to my lord's better opinion."
So here, having by this time completed a two months' leisurely
journey from the city, I saw my opportunity to speak what I had
always carried in my mind. "Tob," I said, "I am a poor, weak,
defenceless man, and I am quite at your mercy, but what if I do not
voyage all the way to the Tin Islands, and oust you of this
He brightened perceptibly. "Aye," he grunted, "you are very
weak, my lord, and mighty defenceless. We know all about that.
But what's else? You must tell all your meaning plain. I'm a
common mariner, and understand little of your fancy talk."
"Why, this. That it is not my wish to leave the continent of
Atlantis. If you will put me down on any part of this side that
faces Europe, I will commend you strongly to the Gods. I would I
could give you money, or (better still) articles that would be
useful to you in your colonising; but as it is, you see me
"As to that, you owe me nothing, having done vastly more than
your share each time we have put in shore for the hunting. But it
will not do, this plan of yours. I will shamedly confess that the
sound of that kingship in my Tin Islands sounds sweet to me. But
no, my lord, it will not do. You are no mariner yet, and
understand little of geography, but I must tell you that the part
of Atlantis there"--he jerked his thumb towards the line of trees,
and the mountains which lay beyond the fringe of surf--"is called
the Dangerous Lands, and a man must needs be a salamander and be
learned in magic (so I am told) before he can live there."
I laughed. "We of the Priests' Clan have some education, Tob,
though it may not be on the same lines as your own. In fact, I may
say I was taught in the colleges concerning the boundaries and the
contents of our continent with a nicety that would surprise you.
And once ashore, my fate will still be under the control of the
most High Gods."
He muttered something in his profane seaman's way about
preferring to keep his own fate under control of his own most
strong right arm, but saying that he would keep the matter in his
thoughts, he excused himself hurriedly to go and see to somewhat
concerning the working of the ship, and there left me.
But I think the sweets of kingly rule were a strong argument
in favour of letting me have my way (which I should have had
otherwise if it had not been given peacefully), and on the third
day after our talk he put the ship inshore again for
re-victualling. We lurched into a river-mouth, half swamped over
a roaring bar, and ran up against the bank and made fast there to
trees, but booming ourselves a safe distance off with oars and
poles, so that no beast could leap on board out of the thicket.
Fish-spearing and meat-hunting were set about with
promptitude, and on the second day we were happy enough to slay a
yearling river-horse, which gave provisions in all sufficiency. A
space was cleared on the bank, fires were lit, and the meat hung
over the smoke in strips, and when as much was cured as the ship
would carry, the shipmen made a final gorge on what remained,
filled up a great stack of hollow reeds with drinking water, and
were ready to continue the voyage.
With sturdy generosity did Tob again attempt to make me sail
on with them as their future king, and as steadfastly did I make
refusal; and at last stood alone on the bank amongst the gnawed
bones of their feast, with my weapons to bear me company, and he,
and his men, and the women stood in the little old ship, ready to
drop down river with the current.
"At least," said Tob, "we'll carry your memory with us, and
make it big in the Tin Islands for everlasting."
"Forget me," I said, "I am nothing. I am merely an incident
that has come in your way. But if you want to carry some memory
with you that shall endure, preserve the cult of the most High Gods
as it was taught to you when you were children here in Atlantis.
And afterwards, when your colony grows in power, and has come to
sufficient magnificence, you may send to the old country for a
"We want no priest, except one we shall make ourselves, and
that will be me. And as for the old Gods--well, I have laid my
ideas before the fellows here, and they agree to this: We are done
with those old Gods for always. They seem worn out, if one may
judge from Their present lack of usefulness in Atlantis, and,
anyway, there will be no room for Them on the Tin Islands.--Let go
those warps there aft, and shove her head out.--We are under weigh
now, my lord, and beyond recall, and so I am free to tell you what
we have decided upon for our religious exercises. We shall set up
the memory of a living Hero on earth, and worship that. And when
in years to come the picture of his face grows dim, we shall
doubtless make an image of him, as accurate as our art permits, and
build him a temple for shelter, and bring there our offerings and
prayers. And as I say, my lord, I shall be priest, and when I am
dead, the sons of my body shall be priests after me, and the eldest
a king also."
"Let me plead with you," I said. "This must not be."
The ship was drifting rapidly away with the current, and they
were hoisting sail. Tob had to shout to make himself heard. "Aye,
but it shall be. For I, too, am a strong man after my kind, and I
have ordered it so. And if you want the name of our Hero that some
day shall be God, you wear it on yourself. Deucalion shall be God
for our children."
"This is blasphemy," I cried. "Have a care, fool, or this
impiety will sink you."
"We will risk it," he bawled back, "and consider the odds
against us are small. Regard! Here is thy last horn of wine in
the ship, and my woman has treasured it against this moment.
Regard, all men, together with Those above and Those below! I pour
this wine as a libation to Deucalion, great lord that is to-day,
Hero that shall be to-morrow, God that will be in time to come!"
And then all those on the ship joined in the acclaim till they were
beyond the reach of my voice, and were battling their way out to
sea through the roaring breakers of the bar.
Solitary I stood at the brink of the forest, looking after
them and musing sadly. Tob, despite his lowly station, was a man
I cared for more than many. Like all seamen, I knew that he paid
his devotions to one of the obscurer Gods, but till then I had
supposed him devout in his worship. His new avowal came to me as
a desolating shock. If a man like Tob could forsake all the older
Gods to set up on high some poor mortal who had momentarily caught
his fancy, what could be expected from the mere thoughtless mob,
when swayed by such a brilliant tongue as Phorenice's? It seemed
I was to begin my exile with a new dreariness added to all the
other adverse prospects of Atlantis.
But then behind me I heard the rustle of some great beast that
had scented me, and was coming to attack through the thicket, and
so I had other matters to think upon. I had to let Tob and his
ship go out over the rim of the horizon unwatched.
15. ZAEMON'S SUMMONS
Since the days when man was first created upon the earth by
Gods who looked down and did their work from another place, there
have always been areas of the land ill-adapted for his maintenance,
but none more so than that part of Atlantis which lies over against
the savage continents of Europe and Africa. The common people
avoid it, because of a superstition which says that the spirits of
the evil dead stalk about there in broad daylight, and slay all
those that the more open dangers of the place might otherwise
spare. And so it has happened often that the criminals who might
have fled there from justice, have returned of their own free will,
and voluntarily given themselves up to the tormentors, rather than
face its fabulous terrors.
To the educated, many of these legends are known to be
mythical; but withal there are enough disquietudes remaining to
make life very arduous and stocked with peril. Everywhere the
mountains keep their contents on the boil; earth tremors are every
day's experience; gushes of unseen evil vapours steal upon one with
such cunningness and speed, that it is often hard to flee in time
before one is choked and killed; poisons well up into the rivers,
yet leave their colour unchanged; great cracks split across the
ground reaching down to the fires beneath, and the waters gush into
these, and are shot forth again with devastating explosion; and
always may be expected great outpourings of boiling mud or molten
Yet with all this, there are great sombre forests in these
lands, with trees whose age is unimaginable, and fires amongst the
herbage are rare. All beneath the trees is water, and the air is
full of warm steam and wetness. For a man to live in that constant
hot damp is very mortifying to the strength. But strength is
wanted, and cunning also beyond the ordinary, for these dangerous
lands are the abode of the lizards, which of all beasts grow to the
most enormous size and are the most fearsome to deal with.
There are countless families and species of these lizards, and
with some of them a man can contend with prospect of success. But
there are others whose hugeness no human force can battle against.
One I saw, as it came up out of a lake after gaining its day's
food, that made the wet land shake and pulse as it trod. It could
have taken Phorenice's mammoth into its belly,* and even a mammoth
in full charge could not have harmed it. Great horny plates
covered its head and body, and on the ridge of its back and tail
and limbs were spines that tore great slivers from the black trees
as it passed amongst them.
* TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Professor Reeder of the Wyoming
State University has recently unearthed the skeleton of a
Brontosaurus, 130 ft. in length, which would have weighed 50 tons
when alive. It was 35 ft. in height at the hips, and 25 ft. at the
shoulder, and 40 people could be seated with comfort within its
ribs. Its thigh bone was 8 ft. long. The fossils of a whole
series of these colossal lizards have been found.
Now and again these monsters would get caught in some vast
fissuring of the ground, but not often. Their speed of foot was
great, and their sagacity keen. They seemed to know when the worst
boilings of the mountains might be expected, and then they found
safety in the deeper lakes, or buried themselves in wallows of the
mud. Moreover, they were more kindly constituted than man to
withstand one great danger of these regions, in that the heat of
the water did them no harm. Indeed, they will lie peacefully in
pools where sudden steam-bursts are making the water leap into
boiling fountains, and I have seen one run quickly across a flow of
molten rock which threatened to cut it off, and not be so much as
singed in the transit.
In the midst of such neighbours, then, was my new life thrown,
and existence became perilous and hard to me from the outset. I
came near to knowing what Fear was, and indeed only a fervent trust
in the most High Gods, and a firm belief that my life was always
under Their fostering care, prevented me from gaining that horrid
knowledge. For long enough, till I learned somewhat of the ways of
this steaming, sweltering land, I was in as miserable a case as
even Phorenice could have wished to see me. My clothes rotted from
my back with the constant wetness, till I went as naked as a savage
from Europe; my limbs were racked with agues, and I could find no
herbs to make drugs for their relief; for days together I could
find no better food than tree-grubs and leaves; and often when I
did kill beasts, knowing little of their qualities, I ate those
that gave me pain and sickness.
But as man is born to make himself adaptable to his
surroundings, so as the months dragged on did I learn the
limitation of this new life of mine, and gather some knowledge of
its resources. As example: I found a great black tree, with a
hollow core, and a hole into its middle near the roots. Here I
harboured, till one night some monstrous lizard, whose sheer weight
made the tree rock like a sapling, endeavoured to suck me forth as
a bird picks a worm from a hollow log. I escaped by the will of
the Gods--I could as much have done harm to a mountain as injure
that horny tongue with my weapons--but I gave myself warning that
this chance must not happen again.
So I cut myself a ladder of footholes on the inside of the
trunk till I had reached a point ten man-heights from the ground,
and there cut other notches, and with tree branches made a floor on
which I might rest. Later, for luxury, I carved me arrow-slit
windows in the walls of my chamber, and even carried up sand for a
hearth, so that I might cook my victual up there instead of
lighting a fire in all the dangers of the open below.
By degrees, too, I began to find how the large-scaled fish of
the rivers and the lesser turtles might be more readily captured,
and so my ribs threatened less to start through their proper
covering of skin as the days went on. But the lack of salads and
gruels I could never overcome. All the green meat was tainted so
powerfully with the taste of tars that never could I force my
palate to accept it. And of course, too, there remained the peril
of the greater lizards and the other dangers native to the place.
But as the months began to mount into years, and the brute
part of my nature became more satisfied, there came other longings
which it was less easy to provide for. From the ivory of a river
horse's tooth I had endeavoured to carve me a representative of
Nais as last I had seen her. But, though my fingers might be
loving, and my will good, my art was of the dullest, and the
result--though I tried time and time again--was always clumsy and
pitiful. Still, in my eyes it carried some suggestion of the
original--a curve here, an outline there, and it made my old love
glow anew within me as I sat and ate it with my eyes. Yet it did
little to satisfy my longings for the woman I had lost; rather
it whetted my cravings to be with her again, or at least to have
some knowledge of her fate.
Other men of the Priests' Clan have come out and made an abode
in these Dangerous Lands, and by mortifying the flesh, have gained
an intimacy with the Higher Mysteries which has carried them far
past what mere human learning and repetition could teach. Indeed,
here and there one, who from some cause and another has returned to
the abodes of men, has carried with him a knowledge that has
brought him the reputation amongst the vulgar for the workings of
magic and miracles, which--since all arts must be allowed which aid
so holy a cause--have added very materially to the ardour with
which these common people pursue the cult of the Gods. But for
myself I could not free my mind to the necessary clearness for
following these abstruse studies. During that voyage home from
Yucatan I had communed with them with growing insight; but now my
mind was not my own. Nais had a lien upon it, and refused to be
ousted; and, in truth, her sweet trespass was my chief solace.
But at last my longing could no further be denied. Through
one of the arrow-slit windows of my tree-house I could see far away
a great mountain top whitened with perpetual snow, which our Lord
the Sun dyed with blood every night of His setting. Night after
night I used to watch that ruddy light with wide straining eyes.
Night after night I used to remember that in days agone when I was
entering upon the priesthood, it had been my duty to adore our
great Lord as He rose for His day behind the snows of that very
mountain. And always the thought followed on these musings, that
from that distant crest I could see across the continent to the
Sacred Mount, which had the city below it where I had buried my
So at last I gave way and set out, and a perilous journey I
made of it. In the heavy mists, which hung always on the lower
ground, my way lay blind before me, and I was constantly losing it.
Indeed, to say that I traversed three times the direct distance is
setting a low estimate. Throughout all those swamps the great
lizards hunted, and as the country was new to me I did not know
places of harbour, and a hundred times was within an ace of being
spied and devoured at a mouthful. But the High Gods still desired
me for Their own purposes, and blinded the great beasts' eyes when
I slunk to cover as they passed. Twice rivers of scalding water
roared boiling across my path, and I had to delay till I could
collect enough black timber from the forests to build rafts that
would give me dry ferriage.
It will be seen then that my journey was in a way infinitely
tedious, but to me, after all those years of waiting, the time
passed on winged feet. I had been separated from my love till I
could bear the strain no longer; let me but see from a distance the
place where she lay, and feast my eyes upon it for a while, and
then I could go back to my abode in the tree and there remain
patiently awaiting the will of the Gods.
The air grew more chilly as I began to come out above the
region of trees, on to that higher ground which glares down on the
rest of the world, and I made buskins and a coat of woven grasses
to protect my body from the cold, which began to blow upon me
keenly. And later on, where the snow lay eternally, and was blown
into gullies, and frozen into solid banks and bergs of ice, I had
hard work to make any progress amongst its perilous mazes, and was
moreover so numbed by the chill, that my natural strength was
vastly weakened. Overhead, too, following me up with forbidding
swoops, and occasionally coming so close that I had to threaten it
with my weapons, was one of those huge man-eating birds which live
by pulling down and carrying off any creature that their instincts
tell them is weakly, and likely soon to die.
But the lure ahead of me was strong enough to make these
difficulties seem small, and though the air of the mountain agreed
with me ill, causing sickness and panting, I pressed on with what
speed I could muster towards the elusive summit. Time after time
I thought the next spurt would surely bring me out to the view for
which my soul yearned, but always there seemed another bank of snow
and ice yet to be climbed. But at last I reached the crest, and
gave thanks to the most High Gods for Their protection and favour.
Far, far away I could see the Sacred Mountain with its ring of
fires burning pale under the day, and although the splendid city
which nestled at its foot could not be seen from where I stood, I
knew its position and I knew its plan, and my soul went out to that
throne of granite in the square before the royal pyramid, where
once, years before, I had buried my love. Had Phorenice left the
I stood there leaning on my spear, filling my eye with the
prospect, warming even to the smoke of mountains that I recognised
as old acquaintances. Gods! how my love burned within me for this
woman. My whole being seemed gone out to meet her, and to leave
room for nothing beside. For long enough a voice seemed dimly to
be calling me, but I gave it no regard. I had come out to that
hoary mountain top for communion with Nais alone, and I wanted none
others to interrupt.
But at length the voice calling my name grew too loud to be
neglected, and I pulled myself out of my sweet musing with a start
to think that here, for the first time since parting with Tob and
his company, I should see another human fellow-being. I gripped my
weapon and asked who called. The reply came clearly from up the
slopes of mountain, and I saw a man coming towards me over the
snows. He was old and feeble. His body was bent, and his hair and
beard were white as the ground on which he trod, and presently I
recognised him as Zaemon. He was coming towards me with incredible
speed for a man of his years and feebleness, but he carried in his
hand the glowing Symbol of our Lord the Sun, and holy strength from
this would add largely to his powers.
He came close to me and made the sign of the Seven, which I
returned to him, with its completion, with due form and ceremony.
And then he saluted me in the manner prescribed as messenger
appointed by the High Council of the Priests seated before the Ark
of the Mysteries, and I made humble obeisance before him.
"In all things I will obey the orders that you put before me,"
"Such is your duty, my brother. The command is, that you
return immediately to the Sacred Mountain, so that if human means
may still prevail, you, as the most skilful general Atlantis owns
within her borders, may still save the country from final wreck and
punishment. The woman Phorenice persists in her infamies. The
poor land groans under her heel. And now she has laid siege to our
Sacred Mountain itself, and swears that not one soul shall be left
alive in all Atlantis who does not bend humbly to her will."
"It is a command and I obey it. But let me ask of another
matter that is intimate to both of us. What of Nais?"
"Nais rests where you left her, untouched. Phorenice knows by
her arts--she has stolen nearly all the ancient knowledge now--that
still you live, and she keeps Nais unharmed beneath the granite
throne in the hopes that some time she may use her as a weapon
against you. Little she knows the sternness of our Priests' creed,
my brother. Why, even I, that am the girl's father, would
sacrifice her blithely, if her death or ruin might do a tittle of
good to Atlantis."
"You go beyond me with your devotion."
The old man leaned forward at me, with glowering brow.
"Or my old blind adherence to the ancient dogma has been
sapped and weakened by events. You must buy my full obedience,
Zaemon, if you want it. Promise me Nais--and your arts I know can
snatch her--and I will be true servant to the High Council of the
Priest, and will die in the last ditch if need be for the carrying
out of order. But let me see Nais given over to the fury of that
wanton woman, and I shall have no inwards left, except to take my
vengeance, and to see Atlantis piled up in ruins as her funeral-
Zaemon looked at me bitterly. "And you are the man the High
Council thought to trust as they would trust one of themselves?
Truly we are in an age of weak men and faithless now. But, my
lord--nay, I must call you brother still: we cannot be too nice in
our choosing to-day--you are the best there is, and we must have
you. We little thought you would ask a price for your generalship,
having once taken oath on the walls of the Ark of the Mysteries
itself that always, come what might, you would be a servant of the
High Council of the Clan without fee and without hope of
advancement. But this is the age of broken vows, and you are going
no more than trim with the fashion. Indeed, brother, perhaps I
should thank you for being no more greedy in your demands."
"You may spare me your taunts. You, by self-denial and
profound search into the highest of the higher Mysteries, have made
yourself something wiser than human; I have preserved my humanity,
and with it its powers and frailties; and it seems that each of us
has his proper uses, or you would not be come now here to me.
Rather you would have done the generalling yourself."
"You make a warm defence, my brother. But I have no leisure
now to stand before you with argument. Come to the Sacred
Mountain, fight me this wanton, upstart Empress, and by my beard
you shall have your Nais as you left her as a reward."
"It is a command of the High Council which shall be obeyed.
I will come with my brother now, as soon as he is rested."
"Nay," said the old man, "I have no tiredness, and as for
coming with me, there you will not be able. But follow at what
pace you may."
He turned and set off down the snowy slopes of the mountain
and I followed; but gradually he distanced me; and so he kept on,
with speed always increasing, till presently he passed out of my
sight round the spur of an ice-cliff, and I found myself alone on
the mountain side. Yes, truly alone. For his footmarks in the
snow from being deep, grew shallower, and less noticeable, so that
I had to stoop to see them. And presently they vanished entirely,
and the great mountain's flank lay before me trackless, and
untrodden by the foot of man since time began.
I was not shaken by any great amazement. Though it was beyond
my poor art to compass this thing myself, having occupied my mind
in exile more with memories of Nais than in study of those
uppermost recesses of the Higher Mysteries in which Zaemon was so
prodigiously wise, still I had some inkling of his powers.
Zaemon I knew would be back again in his dwelling on the
Sacred Mountain, shaken and breathless, even before I had found an
end to his tracks in the snow, and it behoved me to join him there
in the quickest possible time. I had his promise now for my
reward, and I knew that he would carry it into effect. Beforetime
I had made an error. I had valued Atlantis most, and Nais, my
private love, as only second. But now it was in my mind to be
honest with others even as with myself. Though all the world were
hanging on my choice, I could but love my Nais most, and serve her
first and foremost of all.
16. SIEGE OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN
Now, my passage across the great continent of Atlantis, if
tedious and haunted by many dangers, need not be recounted in
detail here. Only one halt did I make of any duration, and that
was unavoidable. I had killed a stag one day, bringing it down
after a long chase in an open savannah. I scented the air
carefully, to see if there was any other beast which could do me
harm within reach, and thinking that the place was safe, set about
cutting my meat, and making a sufficiency into a bundle for
But underfoot amongst the grasses there was a great legged
worm, a monstrous green thing, very venomous in its bite; and
presently as I moved I brushed it with my heel, and like the dart
of light it swooped with its tiny head and struck me with its fangs
in the lower thigh. With my knife I cut through its neck and it
fell to writhing and struggling and twining its hundred legs into
all manner of contortions; and then, cleaning my blade in the
ground, I stabbed with it deep all round the wound, so that the
blood might flow freely and wash the venom from its lodgement. And
then with the blood trickling healthily down from my heel, I
shouldered the meat and strode off, thankful for being so well quit
of what might have made itself a very ugly adventure.