Part 5 out of 6
As I walked, however, my leg began to be filled with a
tightness and throbbing which increased every hour, and presently
it began to swell also, till the skin was stretched like drawn
parchment. I was taken, too, with a sickness, that racked me
violently, and if one of the greater and more dangerous beasts had
come upon me then, he would have eaten me without a fight. With
the fall of darkness I managed to haul myself up into a tree, and
there abode in the crutch of a limb, in wakefulness and pain
throughout the night.
With the dawn, when the night beasts had gone to their lairs,
I clambered down again, and leaning heavily on my spear, limped
onwards through the sombre forests along my way. The moss which
grows on the northern side of each tree was my guide, but gradually
I began to note that I was seeing moss all round the trees, and, in
fact, was growing light-headed with the pain and the swelling of
the limb. But still I pressed onwards with my journey, my last
instinct being to obey the command of the High Council, and so
procure the enlargement of Nais as had been promised.
My last memory was of being met by someone in the black forest
who aided me, and there my waking senses took wings into
But after an interval, wit returned, and I found myself on a
bed of leaves in a cleft between two rocks, which was furnished
with some poor skill, and fortified with stakes and buildings
against the entrance of the larger marauding beasts. My wound was
dressed with a poultice of herbs, and at the other side of the
cavern there squatted a woman, cooking a mess of wood-grubs and
honey over a fire of sticks.
"How came I here?" I asked.
"I brought you," said she.
"And who are you?"
"A nymph, they call me, and I practise as such, collecting
herbs and curing the diseases of those that come to me, telling
fortunes, and making predictions. In return I receive what each
can afford, and if they do not pay according to their means, I clap
on a curse to make them wither. It's a lean enough living when
wars and the pestilence have left so few poor folk to live in the
"Do you visit Atlantis?"
"Not I. Phorenice would have me boiled in brine, living, if
she could lay easy hands on me. Our dainty Empress tolerates no
magic but her own. They say she is for pulling down the Priests
off their Mountain now."
"So you do get news of the city?"
"Assuredly. It is my trade to get good news, or otherwise how
could I tell fortunes to the vulgar? You see, my lord, I detected
your quality by your speech, and knowing you are not one of those
that come to me for spells, and potions, I have no fear in speaking
to you plainly."
"Tell me then: Phorenice still reigns?"
"As a maiden?"
"As the mother of twin sons. Tatho's her husband now, and has
been these three years."
"Tatho! Who followed him as viceroy of Yucatan?"
"There is no Yucatan. A vast nation of little hairy men, so
the tale goes, coming from the West overran the country. They had
clubs of wood tipped with stone as their only arm, but numbers made
their chief weapon. They had no desire for plunder, or the taking
of slaves, or the conquering of cities. To eat the flesh of
Atlanteans was their only lust, and they followed it prodigiously.
Their numbers were like the bees in a swarm.
"They came to each of the cities of Yucatan in turn, and
though the colonists slew them in thousands, the weight of numbers
always prevailed. They ate clean each city they took, and left it
to the beasts of the forest, and went on to the next. And so in
time they reached the coast towns, and Tatho and the few that
survived took ship, and sailed home. They even ate Tatho's wife
for him. They must be curious persevering things, these little
hairy men. The Gods send they do not get across the seas to
Atlantis, or they would be worse plague to the poor country than
Now I had heard of these little hairy creatures before, and
though indeed I had never seen them, I had gathered that they were
a little less than human and a little more than bestial; a link so
to speak between the two orders; and specially held in check by the
Gods in certain forest solitudes. Also I had learned that on
occasion, when punishment was needful, they could be set loose as
a devastating army upon men, devouring all before them. But I said
nothing of this to the nymph, she being but a vulgar woman, and
indeed half silly, as is always the case with these self-styled
sorceresses who gull the ignorant, common folk. But within myself
I was bitterly grieved at the fate of that fine colony of Yucatan,
in which I had expended such an infinity of pains to do my share of
But it did not suit my purpose to have my name and quality
blazoned abroad till the time was full, and so I said nothing to
the nymph about Yucatan, but let the talk continue upon other
matters. "What about Egypt?" I asked.
"In its accustomed darkness, so they say. Who cares for Egypt
these latter years? Who cares for anyone or anything for that
matter except for himself and his own proper estate? Time was when
the country folk and the hunters hereabouts brought me offerings to
this cave for sheer piety's sake. But now they never come near
unless they see a way of getting good value in return for their
gifts. And, by result, instead of living fat and hearty, I make
lean meals off honey and grubs. It's a poor life, a nymph's, in
these latter years I tell you, my lord. It's the fashion for all
classes to believe in no kind of mystery now."
"What manner of pestilence is this you spoke of?"
"I have not seen it. Thank the Gods it has not come this way.
But they do say that it has grown from the folk Phorenice has
slain, and whose bodies remain unburied. She is always slaying,
and so the bodies lie thicker than the birds and beasts can eat
them. For which of our sins, I wonder, did the Gods let Phorenice
come to reign? I wish that she and her twins were boiled alive in
brine before they came between an honest nymph of the forest and
"They say she has put an image of herself in all the temples
of the city now, and has ordered prayers and sacrifices to be made
night and morning. She has decreed all other Gods inferior to
herself and forbidden their worship, and those of the people that
are not sufficiently devout for her taste, have their hamstrings
slit by their tormentors to aid them constantly into a devotional
attitude.--Will you eat of my grubs and honey? There is nothing
else. Your back was bloody with carrying meat when I met you, but
you had lost your load. You must either taste this mess of mine
now, or go without."
I harboured with that nymph in cave six days, she using her
drugs and charms to cure my leg the while, and when I was
recovered, I hunted the plains and killed her a fat cloven-hoofed
horse as payment, and then went along my ways.
The country from there onwards had at one time carried a
sturdy population which held its own firmly, and, as its numbers
grew, took in more ground, and built more homesteads farther
afield. The houses were perched in trees for the most part, as
there they were out of reach of cave-bear and cave-tiger and the
other more dangerous beasts. But others, and these were the better
ones, were built on the ground, of logs so ponderous and so firmly
clamped and dovetailed that the beasts could not pull them down,
and once inside a house of this fashion its owners were safe, and
could progue at any attackers through the interstices between the
logs, and often wound, sometimes make a kill.
But not one in ten of these outlying settlers remained. The
houses were silent when I reached them, the fire-hearth before the
door weed-grown, and the patch of vegetables taken back by the
greedy fingers of the forest into mere scrub and jungle. And
farther on, when villages began to appear, strongly-walled as the
custom is, to ward off the attacks of beasts, the logs which
aforetime had barred the gateway lay strewn in a sprouting
undergrowth, and naught but the kitchen middens remained to prove
that once they had sheltered human tenants. Phorenice's influence
seemed to have spread as though it were some horrid blight over the
whole face of what was once a smiling and an easy-living land.
So far I had met with little enough interference from any men
I had come across. Many had fled with their women into the depths
of the forest at the bare sight of me; some stood their ground with
a threatening face, but made no offer to attack, seeing that I did
not offer them insult first; and a few, a very few, offered me
shelter and provision. But as I neared the city, and began to come
upon muddy beaten paths, I passed through governments that were
more thickly populated, and here appeared strong chance of delay.
The watcher in the tower which is set above each village would spy
me and cry: "Here is a masterless man," and then the people that
were within would rush out with intent to spoil me of my weapons,
and afterwards to appoint me as a labourer.
I had no desire to slay these wretched folk, being filled with
pity at the state to which they had fallen; and often words served
me to make them stand aside from the path, and stare wonderingly at
my fierceness, and let me go my ways. And when at other times
words had no avail, I strove to strike as lightly as could be, my
object being to get forward with my journey and leave no
unnecessary dead behind me. Indeed, having found the modern way of
these villages, it grew to be my custom to turn off into the
forest, and make a circuit whenever I came within smell of their
Similarly, too, when I got farther on, and came amongst
greater towns also, I kept beyond challenge of their walls, having
no mind to risk delay from the whim of any new law which might
chance to be set up by their governors. My progress might be
slinking, but my pride did not upbraid me very loudly; indeed, the
fever of haste burned within me so hot and I had little enough
carrying space for other emotions.
But at last I found myself within a half-day's journey the
city of Atlantis itself, with the Sacred Mountain and its ring of
fires looming high beside it, and the call for caution became
trebly accentuated. Everywhere evidences showed that the country
had been drained of its fighting men. Everywhere women prayed that
the battles might end with the rout of the Priests or the killing
of Phorenice, so that the wretched land might have peace and time
to lick its wounds.
An army was investing the sacred Mountain, and its one
approach was most narrowly guarded. Even after having journeyed so
far, it seemed as if I should have to sit hopelessly down without
being able to carry out the orders which had been laid upon me by
the High Council, and earn the reward which had been promised.
Force would be useless here. I should have one good fight--a
gorgeous fight--one man against an army, and my usefulness would be
ended. . . . No; this was the occasion for guile, and I found
covert in the outskirts of a wood, and lay there cudgelling my
brain for a plan.
Across the plain before me lay the grim great walls of the
city, with the heads of its temples, and its palaces, and its
pyramids showing beyond. The step-sides of the royal pyramid held
my eye. Phorenice had expended some of her new-found store of gold
in overlaying their former whiteness with sheets of shining yellow
metal. But it was not that change that moved me. I was remembering
that, in the square before the pyramid, there stood a throne of
granite carved with the snake and the outstretched hand, and in the
hollow beneath the throne was Nais, my love, asleep these eight
years now because of the drug that had been given to her, but alive
still, and waiting for me, if only I on my part could make a way to
the place where Zaemon defied the Empress, and announce my coming.
In that covert of the woods I lay a day and a night raging
with myself for not discovering some plan to get within the
defences of the Sacred Mountain, but in the morning which followed,
there came a man towards me running.
"You need not threaten me with your weapons," he cried. "I
mean no harm. It seems that you are Deucalion; though I should not
have known you myself in those rags and skins, and behind that
tangle of hair and beard. You will give me your good word I know.
Believe me, I have not loitered unduly."
He was a lower priest whom I knew, and held in little esteem;
his name was Ro, a greedy fellow and not overworthy of trust.
"From whom do you come?" I asked.
"Zaemon laid a command on me. He came to my house, though how
he got there I cannot tell, seeing that Phorenice's army blocks all
possible passage to and from the Mountain. I told him I wished to
be mixed with none of his schemings. I am a peaceful man,
Deucalion, and have taken a wife who requires nourishment. I still
serve in the same temple, though we have swept out the old Gods by
order of the Empress, and put her image in their place. The people
are tidily pious nowadays, those that are left of them, and the
living is consequently easy. Yes, I tell you there are far more
offerings now than there were in the old days. And so I had no
wish to be mixed with matters which might well make me be deprived
of a snug post, and my head to boot."
"I can believe it all of you, Ro."
"But there was no denying Zaemon. He burst into one of his
black furies, and while he spoke at me, I tell you I felt as good
as dead. You know his powers?"
"I have seen some of them."
"Well, the Gods alone know which are the true Gods, and which
are the others. I serve the one that gives me employment. But
those that Zaemon serves give him power, and that's beyond denying.
You see that right hand of mine? It is dead and paralysed from the
wrist, and that is a gift of Zaemon. He bestowed it, he said, to
make me collect my attention. Then he said more hard things
concerning what he was pleased to term my apostasy, not letting me
put up a word in my own defence of how the change was forced upon
me. And finally, said he, I might either do his bidding on a
certain matter to the letter, or take that punishment which my
falling away from the old Gods had earned. 'I shall not kill you,'
said he, 'but I will cover all your limbs with a paralysis, such as
you have tasted already, and when at length death reaches you in
some gutter, you will welcome it.'"
"If Zaemon said those words, he meant them. So you accepted
"Had I, with a wife depending on me, any other choice? I
asked his pleasure. It was to find you when you came in here from
some distant part of the land, and deliver to you his message.
"'Then tell me where is the meeting place,' said I, 'and
"'There is none appointed, nor is the day fixed,' said he.
'You must watch and search always for him. But when he comes, you
will be guided to his place.' Well, Deucalion, I think I was
guided, but how, I do not know. But now I have found you, and if
there's such a thing as gratitude, I ask you to put in your word
with Zaemon that this deadness be taken away from my hand. It's an
awful thing for a man to be forced to go through life like this,
for no real fault of his own. And Zaemon could cure it from where
he sat, if he was so minded."
"You seem still to have a very full faith in some of the old
Gods' priests," I said. "But so far, I do not see that your errand
is done. I have had no message yet."
"Why, the message is so simple that I do not see why he could
not have got some one else to carry it. You are to make a great
blaze. You may fire the grasses of the plain in front of this wood
if you choose. And on the night which follows, you are to go round
to that flank of the Sacred Mountain away from the city where the
rocks run down sheer, and there they will lower a rope and haul you
up to their hands above."
"It seems easy, and I thank you for your pains. I will ask
Zaemon that your hand may be restored to you."
"You shall have my prayers if it is. And look, Deucalion, it
is a small matter, and it would be less likely to slip your memory
if you saw to it at once on your landing. Later, you may be
disturbed. Phorenice is bound to pull you down off your perch up
there now she has made her mind to it. She never fails, once she
has set her hand to a thing. Indeed, if she was no Goddess at
birth, she is making herself into one very rapidly. She has got
all the ancient learning of our Priests, and more besides. She has
discovered the Secret of Life these recent months--"
"She has found that?" I cried, fairly startled. "How? Tell
me how? Only the Three know that. It is beyond our knowledge even
who are members of the Seven."
"I know nothing of her means. But she has the secret, and now
she is as good an immortal (so she says) as any of them. Well,
Deucalion, it is dangerous for me to be missing from my temple
overlong, so I will go. You will carry that matter we spoke of in
your mind? It means much to me."--His eye wandered over my ragged
person--"And if you think my service is of value to you--"
"You see me poor, my man, and practically destitute."
"Some small coin," he murmured, "or even a link of bronze? I
am at great expense just now buying nourishment for my wife. Well,
if you have nothing, you cannot give. So I'll just bid you
He took himself off then, and I was not sorry. I had never
liked Ro. But I wasted no more precious time then. The grass
blazed up for a signal almost before his timorous heels were clear
of it, and that night when the darkness gave me cover, I took the
risk of what beasts might be prowling, and went to the place
appointed. There was no rope dangling, but presently one came down
the smooth cliff face like some slender snake. I made a loop,
slipped it over a leg, and pulled hard as a signal. Those above
began to haul, and so I went back to the Sacred Mountain after an
absence of so many toilsome and warring years. There were none to
disturb the ascent. Phorenice's troops had no thought to guard
that gaunt, bare, seamless precipice.
The men who hauled me up were old, and panted heavily with
their task, and, until I knew the reason, I wondered why a knot of
younger priests had not been appointed for the duty. But I put no
question. With us of the Priests' Clan on the Sacred Mountain, it
is always taken as granted that when an order is given, it is given
for the best. Besides, these priests did not offer themselves to
question. They took me off at once to Zaemon, and that is what I
could have wished.
The old man greeted me with the royal sign. "All hail to
Deucalion," he cried, "King of Atlantis, duly called thereto by the
High Council of the priests."
"Is Phorenice dead?" I asked.
"It remains for you to slay her, and take your kingdom, if,
indeed, when all is done, there remains a man or a rood of land to
govern. The sentence has gone out that she is to die, and it shall
be carried into effect, even though we have to set loose the most
dreadful powers that are stored in the Ark of the Mysteries, and
wreck this continent in our effort. We have borne with her
infamies all these years by command sent down by the most High
Gods; but now she has gone beyond endurance, and They it is who
have given the word for her cutting off."
"You are one of the highest Three; I am only one of the Seven;
you best know the cost."
"There can be no counting the cost now, my brother, and my
king. It is an order."
"It is an order," I repeated formally, "so I obey."
"If it were not impious to do so, it would be easy to justify
this decision of the Gods. The woman has usurped the throne; yet
she was forgiven and bidden rule on wisely. She has tampered with
our holy religion; yet she was forgiven. She has killed the
peoples of Atlantis in greedy useless wars, and destroyed the
country's trade; yet she was forgiven. She has desecrated the old
temples, and latterly has set up in them images of herself to be
worshipped as a deity; yet she was forgiven. But at last her evil
cleverness has discovered to her the tremendous Secret of Life and
Death, and there she overstepped the boundary of the High Gods'
"I myself went to carry a final warning, and once more faced
her in the great banqueting-hall. Solemnly I recited to her the
edict, and she chose to take it as a challenge. She would live on
eternally herself and she would share her knowledge with those that
pleased her. Tatho that was her husband should also be immortal.
Indeed, if she thought fit, she would cry the secret aloud so that
even the common people might know it, and death from mere age would
become a legend.
"She cared no wit how she might upset the laws of Nature. She
was Phorenice, and was the highest law of all. And finally she
defied me there in that banqueting-hall and defied also the High
Gods that stood behind my mouth. 'My magic is as strong as yours,
you pompous fool,' she cried, 'and presently you shall see the two
stand side by side upon their trial.'
"She began to collect an army from that moment, and we on our
part made our preparations. It was discovered by our arts that you
still lived, and King of Atlantis you were made by solemn election.
How you were summoned, you know as nearly as it is lawful that one
of your degree should know; how you came, you understand best
yourself; but here you are, my brother, and being King now, you
must order all things as you see best for the preservation of your
high estate, and we others live only to give you obedience."
"Then being King, I can speak without seeming to make use of
a threat. I must have my Queen first, or I am not strong enough to
give my whole mind to this ruling."
"She shall be brought here."
"So! Then I will be a General now, and see to the defences of
this place, and view the men who are here to stand behind them."
I went out of the dwelling then, Zaemon giving place and
following me. It was night still but there is no darkness on the
upper part of the Sacred Mountain. A ring of fires, fed eternally
from the earth-breath which wells up from below, burns round one-
half of the crest, lighting it always as bright as day, and in fact
forming no small part of its fortification. Indeed, it is said
that, in the early dawn of history, men first came to the Mountain
as a stronghold because of the natural defence which the fires
There is no bridging these flames or smothering them. On
either side of their line for a hundred paces the ground glows with
heat, and a man would be turned to ash who tried to cross it.
Round full one-half the mountain slopes the fires make a rampart
unbreakable, and on the other side the rock runs in one sheer
precipice from the crest to the plain which spreads beyond its
foot. But it is on this farther side that there is the only
entrance way which gives passage to the crest of the Sacred
Mountain from below. Running diagonally up the steep face of the
cliff is a gigantic fissure, which succeeding ages (as man has
grown more luxurious) have made more easy to climb.
Looking at the additions, in the ancient days, I can well
imagine that none but the most daring could have made the ascent.
But one generation has thrown a bridge over a bad gap here, and
another has cut into the living stone and widened a ledge there,
till in these latter years there is a path with cut steps and
carved balustrade such as the feeblest or most giddy might traverse
with little effort or exertion. But always when these improvers
made smooth the obstacles, they were careful to weaken in no
possible way the natural defences but rather to add to them.
Eight gates of stone there were cutting the pathway, each
commanding a straight, steep piece of the ascent, and overhanging
each gate was a gallery secure from arrow-shot, yet so contrived
that great stones could be hurled through holes in the floor of it,
in such a manner that they must irretrievably smash to a pulp any
men advancing against it from below. And in caves dug out from the
rock on either hand was a great hoard of these stones, so that no
enemy through sheer expenditure of troops could hope to storm a
gate by exhausting its ammunition.
But though there were eight of these granite gates in the
series, we had the whole number to depend on no longer. The lowest
gate was held by a garrison of Phorenice's troops, who had built a
wall above them to protect their occupation. The gate had been
gained by no brilliant feat of arms--it had been won by threats,
bribery, and promises; or, in other words, it had been given up by
the blackest treachery.
And here lay the keynote of the weakness in our defence. The
most perfect ramparts that brain can invent are useless without men
to line them, and it was men we lacked. Of students entering into
the colleges of the Sacred Mountain, there had been none now for
many a year. The younger generation thought little of the older
Gods. Of the men that had grown up amongst the sacred groves, and
filled offices there, many had become lukewarm in their faith and
remained on only through habit, and because an easy living stayed
near them there; and these, when the siege began, quickly made
their way over to the other side.
Phorenice was no fool to fight against unnecessary strength.
Her heralds made proclamation that peace and a good subsistence
would be given to those who chose to come out to her willingly; and
as an alternative she would kill by torture and mutilation those
she caught in the place when she took it by storm, as she most
assuredly would do before she had finished with it. And so great
was the prestige of her name, that quite one-half of these that
remained on the mountain took themselves away from the defence.
There was no attempt to hold back these sorry priests, nor was
there any punishing them as they went. Zaemon, indeed, was minded
(so he told me with grim meaning himself) to give them some memento
of their apostasy to carry away which would not wear out, but the
others of the High Council made him stay his vengeful hand. And so
when I came to the place the garrison numbered no more than eighty,
counting even feeble old dotards who could barely walk; and of men
not past their prime I could barely command a score.
Still, seeing the narrowness of the passages which led to each
of the gates, up which in no place could more than two men advance
together, we were by no means in desperate straits for the defence
as yet; and if my new-given kingdom was so far small, consisting as
it did in effect of the Sacred Mountain and no other part of
Atlantis, at any rate there seemed little danger of its being
Another of the wise precautions of the men of old stood us in
good stead then. In the ancient times, when grain first was grown
as food, it came to be looked upon as the acme of wealth. Tribute
was always paid from the people to their Priests, and presently, so
the old histories say, it was appointed that this should take the
form of grain, as this was a medium both dignified and fitting.
And those of the people who had it not, were forced to barter their
other produce for grain before they could pay this tribute.
On the Sacred Mountain itself vast storehouses were dug in the
rock, and here the grain was teemed in great yellow heaps, and each
generation of those that were set over it, took a pride in adding
to the accumulation.
In more modern days it had been a custom amongst the younger
and more forward of the Priests to scoff at this ancient provision,
and to hold that a treasure of gold, or weapons, or jewels would
have more value and no less of dignity; and more than once it has
been a close thing lest these innovators should not be out-voted.
But as it was, the old constitution had happily been preserved, and
now in these years of trial the Clan reaped the benefit. And so
with these granaries, and a series of great tanks and cisterns
which held the rainfall, there was no chance of Phorenice reducing
our stronghold by mere close investment, even though she sat down
stubbornly before it for a score of years.
But it was the paucity of men for the defence which oppressed
me most. As I took my way about the head of the Mountain,
inspecting all points, the emptiness of the place smote me like a
succession of blows. The groves, once so trim, were now shaggy and
unpruned. Wind had whirled the leaves in upon the temple floors,
and they lay there unswept. The college of youths held no more now
than a musty smell to bear witness that men had once been grown
there. The homely palaces of the higher Priests, at one time so
ardently sought after, lay many of them empty, because not even one
candidate came forward now to canvass for election.
Evil thoughts surged up within me as I saw these things, that
were direct promptings from the nether Gods. "There must be
something wanting," these tempters whispered, "in a religion from
which so many of its Priests fled at the first pinch of
I did what I could to thrust these waverings resolutely behind
me; but they refused to be altogether ousted from my brain; and so
I made a compromise with myself: First, I would with the help that
might be given me, destroy this wanton Phorenice, and regain the
kingdom which had been given me to my own proper rule; and
afterwards I would call a council of the Seven and council of the
Three, and consider without prejudice if there was any matter in
which our ancient ritual could be amended to suit the more modern
requirements. But this should not be done till Phorenice was dead
and I was firmly planted in her room. I would not be a party, even
to myself, to any plan which smacked at all of surrender.
And there as I walked through the desolate groves and beside
the cold altars, the High Gods were pleased to show their approval
of my scheme, and to give me opportunity to bind myself to it with
a solemn oath and vow. At that moment from His distant
resting-place in the East, our Lord the Sun leaped up to begin
another day. For long enough from where I stood below the crest of
the Mountain, He Himself would be invisible. But the great light
of His glory spread far into the sky, and against it the Ark of the
Mysteries loomed in black outline from the highest crag where it
rested, lonely and terrible.
For anyone unauthorised to go nearer than a thousand paces to
this storehouse of the Highest Mysteries meant instant death. On
that day when I was initiated as one of the Seven, I had been
permitted to go near and once press my lips against its ample
curves; and the rank of my degree gave me the privilege to repeat
that salute again once on each day when a new year was born. But
what lay inside its great interior, and how it was entered, that
was hidden from the Seven, even as it was from the other Priests
and the common people in the city below. Only those who had been
raised to the sublime elevation of the Three had a knowledge of
the dreadful powers which were stored within it.
I went down on my knees where I was, and Zaemon knelt beside
me, and together we recited the prayers which had been said by the
Priests from the beginning of time, giving thanks to our great Lord
that He has come to brighten another day. And then, with my eyes
fixed on the black outline of the Ark of Mysteries I vowed that,
come what might, I at least would be true servant of the High Gods
to my life's end, and that my whole strength should be spent in
restoring Their worship and glory.
17. NAIS THE REGAINED
Now, from where we stood together just below the crest of the
Sacred Mountain, we could see down into the city, which lay spread
out below us like a map. The harbour and the great estuary gleamed
at its farther side; and the fringe of hills beyond smoked and
fumed in their accustomed fashion; the great stone circle of our
Lord the Sun stood up grim and bare in the middle of the city; and
nearer in reared up the great mass of the royal pyramid, the gold
on its sides catching new gold from the Sun. There, too, in the
square before the pyramid stood the throne of granite, dwarfed by
the distance to the size of a mole's hill, in which these nine
years my love had lain sleeping.
Old Zaemon followed my gaze. "Ay," he said with a sigh, "I
know where your chief interest is. Deucalion when he landed here
new from Yucatan was a strong man. The King whom we have
chosen--and who is the best we have to choose--has his weakness."
"It can be turned into additional strength. Give me Nais
here, living and warm to fight for, and I am a stronger man by far
than the cold viceroy and soldier that you speak about."
"I have passed my word to that already, and you shall have
her, but at the cost of damaging somewhat this new kingdom of
yours. Maybe too at the same time we may rid you of this Phorenice
and her brood. But I do not think it likely. She is too wily, and
once we begin our play, she is likely to guess whence it comes, and
how it will end, and so will make an escape before harm can reach
her. The High Gods, who have sent all these trials for our
refinement, have seen fit to give her some knowledge of how these
earth tremors may be set a-moving."
"I have seen her juggle with them. But may I hear your
"It will be shown you in good time enough. But for the
present I would bid you sleep. It will be your part to go into the
city to-night, and take your woman (that is my daughter) when she
is set free, and bring her here as best you can. And for that you
will need all a strong man's strength."--He stepped back, and
looked me up and down.--"There are not many folk that would take
you for the tidy clean-chinned Deucalion now, my brother. Your
appearance will be a fine armour for you down yonder in the city
to-night when we wake it with our earth-shaking and terror. As you
stand now, you are hairy enough, and shaggy enough, and naked
enough, and dirty enough for some wild savage new landed out of
Europe. Have a care that no fine citizen down yonder takes a fancy
to your thews, and seizes upon you as his servant."
"I somewhat pity him in his household if he does."
Old Zaemon laughed. "Why, come to think of it, so do I."
But quickly he got grave again. Laughter and Zaemon were very
rare playmates. "Well, get you to bed, my King, and leave me to go
into the Ark of Mysteries and prepare there with another of the
Three the things that must be done. It is no light business to
handle the tremendous powers which we must put into movement this
night. And there is danger for us as there is for you. So if by
chance we do not meet again till we stand up yonder behind the
stars, giving account to the Gods, fare you well, Deucalion."
I slept that day as a soldier sleeps, taking full rest out of
the hours, and letting no harassing thought disturb me. It is only
the weak who permit their sleep to be broken on these occasions.
And when the dark was well set, I roused and fetched those who
should attend to the rope. Our Lady the Moon did not shine at that
turn of the month: and the air was full of a great blackness. So
I was out of sight all the while they lowered me.
I reached the tumbled rocks that lay at the deep foot of the
cliff, and then commenced to use a nice caution, because
Phorenice's soldiers squatted uneasily round their camp-fires, as
though they had forebodings of the coming evil. I had no mind to
further stir their wakefulness. So I crept swiftly along in the
darkest of the shadows, and at last came to the spot where that
passage ends which before I had used to get beneath the walls of
The lamp was in place, and I made my way along the windings
swiftly. The air, so it seemed to me, was even more noxious with
vapours than it had been when I was down there before, and I judged
that Zaemon had already begun to stir those internal activities
which were shortly to convulse the city. But again I had
difficulty in finding an exit, and this, not because there were
people moving about at the places where I had to come out, but
because the set of the masonry was entirely changed. In olden
times the Priests' Clan oversaw all the architects' plans, and
ruled out anything likely to clash with their secret passages and
chambers. But in this modern day the Priests were of small
account, and had no say in this matter, and the architects often
through sheer blundering sealed up and made useless many of these
outlets and hiding-places.
As it was then, I had to get out of the network of tunnels and
galleries where I could, and not where I would, and in the event
found myself at the farther side of the city, almost up to where
the outer wall joins down to the harbour. I came out without being
seen, careful even in this moment of extremity to preserve the
ordinances, and closed all traces of exit behind me. The earth
seemed to spring beneath my feet like the deck of a ship in smooth
water; and though there was no actual movement as yet to disturb
the people, and indeed these slept on in their houses and shelters
without alarm, I could feel myself that the solid deadness of the
ground was gone, and that any moment it might break out into
devastating waves of movement.
Gods! Should I be too late to see the untombing of my love?
Would she be laid there bare to the public gaze when presently the
people swarmed out into the open spaces through fear at what the
great earth tremor might cause to fall? I could see, in fancy,
their rude, cruel hands thrust upon her as she lay there helpless,
and my inwards dried up at the thought.
I ran madly down and down the narrow winding streets with the
one thought of coming to the square which lay in front of the royal
pyramid before these things came to pass. With exquisite cruelty
I had been forced with my own hands to place her alive in her
burying-place beneath the granite throne, and if thews and speed
could do it, I would not miss my reward of taking her forth again
with the same strong hands.
Few disturbed that furious hurry. At first here and there
some wretch who harboured in the gutter cried: "A thief! Throw a
share or I pursue." But if any of these followed, I do not know.
At any rate, my speed then must have out-distanced anyone.
Presently, too, as the swing of the earth underfoot became more
keen, and the stonework of the buildings by the street side began
to grate and groan and grit, and sent forth little showers of dust,
people began to run with scared cries from out of their doors. But
none of these had a mind to stop the ragged, shaggy, savage man who
ran so swiftly past, and flung the mud from his naked feet.
And so in time I came to the great square, and was there none
too soon. The place was filling with people who flocked away from
the narrow streets, and it was full of darkness, and noise, and
dust, and sickness. Beneath us the ground rippled in undulations
like a sea, which with terrifying slowness grew more and more
Ever and again a house crashed down unseen in the gloom, and
added to the tumult. But the great pyramid had been planned by its
old builders to stand rude shocks. Its stones were dovetailed into
one another with a marvellous cleverness, and were further clamped
and joined by ponderous tongues of metal. It was a boast that
one-half the foundations could be dug from beneath it, and still
the pyramid would stand four-square under heaven, more enduring
than the hills.
Flickering torches showed that its great stone doors lay open,
and ever and again I saw some frightened inmate scurry out and then
be lost to sight in the gloom. But with the royal pyramid and its
ultimate fate I had little concern; I did not even care then
whether Phorenice was trapped, or whether she came out sound and
fit for further mischief. I crouched by the granite throne which
stood in the middle of that splendid square, and heard its stones
grate together like the ends of a broken bone as it rocked to the
In that night of dust and darkness it was hard to see the
outline of one's own hand, but I think that the Gods in some
requital for the love which had ached so long within me, gave me
special power of sight. As I watched, I saw the great carved rock
which formed the capstone of the throne move slightly and then move
again, and then again; a tiny jerk for each earth-pulse, but still
there was an appreciable shifting; and, moreover, the stone moved
always to one side.
There was method in Zaemon's desperate work, and this in my
blind panic of love and haste, I had overlooked. So I went up the
steps of the throne on the side from which the great capstone was
moving, and clung there afire with expectation.
More and more violent did the earth-swing grow, though the
graduations of its increase could not be perceived, and the din of
falling houses and the shrieks and cries of hurt and frightened
people went louder up into the night. Thicker grew the dust that
filled the air, till one coughed and strangled in the breathing,
and more black did the night become as the dust rose and blotted
the rare stars from sight. I clung to an angle of the granite
throne, crouching on the uppermost step but one below the capstone,
and could scarcely keep my place against the violence of the earth
But still the huge capstone that was carved with the snake and
the outstretched hand held my love fast locked in her living tomb,
and I could have bit the cold granite at the impotence which barred
me from her. The people who kept thronging into the square were
mad with terror, but their very numbers made my case more desperate
every moment. "Phorenice, Goddess, aid us now!" some cried, and
when the prayer did not bring them instant relief, they fell to
yammering out the old confessions of the faith which they had
learned in childhood, turning in this hour of their dreadful need
to those old Gods, which, through so many dishonourable years, they
had spurned and deserted. It was a curious criticism on the
balance of their real religion, if one had cared to make it.
Louder grew the crash of falling masonry; and from the royal
pyramid itself, though indeed I could not even see its outline
through the darkness, there came sounds of grinding stones and
cracking bars of metal which told that even its superb majestic
strength had a breaking strain. There came to my mind the threat
that old Zaemon had thundered forth in that painted, perfumed
banqueting-hall: "You shall see," he had cried to the Empress,
"this royal pyramid which you have polluted with your debaucheries
torn tier from tier, and stone from stone, and scattered as
feathers spread before a wind!"
Still heavier grew the surging of the earth, and the pavement
of the great square gaped and upheaved, and the people who thronged
it screamed still more shrilly as their feet were crushed by the
grinding blocks. And now too the great pyramid itself was
commencing to split, and gape, and topple. The roofs of its
splendid chambers gave way, and the ponderous masonry above
shuttered down and filled them. In part, too, one could see the
destruction now, and not guess at it merely from the fearful
hearings of the darkness. Thunders had begun to roar through the
black night above, and add their bellowings to this devil's
orchestration of uproar, and vivid lightning splashes lit the
It was perhaps natural that she should be there, but it came
as a shock when a flare of the lightning showed me Phorenice safe
out in the square, and indeed standing not far from myself.
She had taken her place in the middle of a great flagstone,
and stood there swaying her supple body to the shocks. Her face
was calm, and its loveliness was untouched by the years. From time
to time she brushed away the dust as it settled on the short red
hair which curled about her neck. There was no trace of fear
written upon her face. There was some weariness, some contempt,
and I think a tinge of amusement. Yes, it took more than the
crumbling of her royal pyramid to impress Phorenice with the
infinite powers of those she warred against.
Gods! How the sight of her cool indifference maddened me
then. I had it in me to have strangled her with my hands if she
had come within my reach. But as it was, she stood in her place,
swaying easily to the earth-waves as a sailor sways on a ship's
deck, and beside her, crouched on the same great flagstone, and
overcome with nausea was Ylga, who again was raised to be her
fan-girl. It came to my mind that Ylga was twin sister to Nais,
and that I owed her for an ancient kindness, but I had leisure to
do nothing for her then, and indeed it was little enough I could
have done. With each shock the great capstone of the throne to
which I clung jarred farther and farther from its bed place, and my
love was coming nearer to me. It was she who claimed all my
Once in their blind panic a knot of the people in the square
thought that the granite stone was too solid to be overturned, and
saw in it an oasis of safety. They flocked towards it, many of
them dragging themselves up the steep deep high steps on hands and
knees because their feet had been injured by the billowing
flagstones of the square.
But I was in no mood to have the place profaned by their silly
tremblings and stares: I beat at them with my hands, tearing them
away, and hurling them back down the steepness of the steps. They
asked me what was my title to the place above their own, and I
answered them with blows and gnashing teeth. I was careless as to
what they thought me or who they thought me. Only I wished them
gone. And so they went, wailing and crying that I was a devil of
the night, for they had no spirit left to defend themselves.
Farther and farther the great stone that made the top of the
throne slid out from its bed, but its slowness of movement maddened
me. A life's education left me in that moment, and I had no trace
of stately patience left. In my puny fury I thrust at the great
block with my shoulder and head, and clawed at it with my hands
till the muscles rose on me in great ropes and knots, and the High
Gods must have laughed at my helplessness as They looked. All was
being ordered by the Three who were Their trusted servants, in
Their good time. The work of the Gods may be done slowly, but it
is done exceeding sure.
But at last, when all the people of the city were numb with
terror, and incapable of further emotion (save only for Phorenice
who still had nerve enough to show no concern), what had been
threatened came to pass. The capstone of the throne slid out till
it reached the balance, and the next shock threw it with a roar and
a clatter to the ground. And then a strange tremor seized me.
After all the scheming and effort, what I had so ardently
prayed for had come about; but yet my inwards sank at the thought
of mounting on the stone where I had mounted before, and taking my
dear from the hollow where my hands had laid her. I knew
Phorenice's vengefulness, and had a high value for her cleverness.
Had she left Nais to lie in peace, or had she stolen her away to
suffer indignities elsewhere? Or had she ended her sleep with
death, and (as a grisly jest) left the corpse for my finding? I
could not tell; I dared not guess. Never during a whole hard-
fighting life have my emotions been so wrenched as they were at
that moment. And, for excuse, it must be owned that love for Nais
had sapped my hardihood over a matter in which she was so privately
It began to come to my mind, however, that the infernal uproar
of the earth tremor was beginning to slacken somewhat, as though
Zaemon knew he had done the work that he had promised, and was
minded to give the wretched city a breathing space. So I took my
fortitude in hand, and clambered up on to the flat of the stone.
The lightning flashes had ceased and all was darkness again and
stifling dust, but at any moment the sky might be lit once more,
and if I were seen in that place, shaggy and changed though I might
be, Phorenice, if she were standing near, would not be slow to
guess my name and errand.
So changed was I for the moment, that I will finely confess
that the idea of a fight was loathsome to me then. I wanted to
have my business done and get gone from the place.
With hands that shook, I fumbled over the face of the stone
and found the clamps and bars of metal still in position where I
had clenched them, and then reverently I let my fingers pass
between these, and felt the curves of my love's body in its rest
beneath. An exultation began to whirl within me. I did not know
if she had been touched since I last left her; I did not know if
the drug would have its due effect, and let her be awakened to
warmth and sight again; but, dead or alive, I had her there, and
she was mine, mine, mine, and I could have yelled aloud in my joy
at her possession.
Still the earth shook beneath us, and masonry roared and
crashed into ruin. I had to cling to my place with one hand,
whilst I unhasped the clamps of metal that made the top of her
prison with the other. But at last I swung the upper half of them
clear, and those which pinned down her feet I let remain. I
stooped and drew her soft body up on to the flat of the stone
beside me, and pressed my lips a hundred times to the face I could
Some mad thought took me, I believe, that the mere fierceness
and heat of my kisses would bring her back again to life and
wakefulness. Indeed I will own plainly, that I did but sorry
credit to my training in calmness that night. But she lay in my
arms cold and nerveless as a corpse, and by degrees my sober wits
returned to me.
This was no place for either of us. Let the earth's tremors
cease (as was plainly threatened), let daylight come, and let a few
of these nerveless people round recover from their panic, and all
the great cost that had been expended might be counted as waste.
We should be seen, and it would not be long before some one put a
name to Nais; and then it would be an easy matter to guess at
Deucalion under the beard and the shaggy hair and the browned
nakedness of the savage who attended on her. Tell of fright? By
the Gods! I was scared as the veriest trembler who blundered
amongst the dust-clouds that night when the thought came to me.
With all that ruin spread around, it would be hopeless to
think that any of those secret galleries which tunnelled under the
ground would be left unbroken, and so it was useless to try a
passage under the walls by the old means. But I had heard shouts
from that frightened mob which came to me through the din and the
darkness, that gave another idea for escape. "The city is
accursed," they had cried: "if we stay here it will fall on us.
Let us get outside the walls where there are no buildings to bury
If they went, I could not see. But one gate lay nearest to
the royal pyramid, and I judged that in their panic they would not
go farther than was needful. So I put the body of Nais over my
shoulder (to leave my right arm free) and blundered off as best I
could through the stifling darkness.
It was hard to find a direction; it was hard to walk in the
inky darkness over ground that was tossed and tumbled like a frozen
sea: and as the earth still quaked and heaved, it was hard also to
keep a footing. But if I did fall myself a score of times, my dear
burden got no bruise, and presently I got to the skirts of the
square, and found a street I knew. The most venomous part of the
shaking was done, and no more buildings fell, but enough lay
sprawled over the roadway to make walking into a climb, and the
sweat rolled from me as I laboured along my way.
There was no difficulty about passing the gate. There was no
gate. There was no wall. The Gods had driven their plough through
it, and it lay flat, and proud Atlantis stood as defenceless as the
open country. Though I knew the cause of this ruin, though, in
fact, I had myself in some measure incited it, I was almost sad at
the ruthlessness with which it had been carried out. The royal
pyramid might go, houses and palaces might be levelled, and for
these I cared little enough; but when I saw those stately ramparts
also filched away, there the soldier in me woke, and I grieved at
this humbling of the mighty city that once had been my only
But this was only a passing regret, a mere touch of the
fighting-man's pride. I had a different love now, that had wrapped
herself round me far deeper and more tightly, and my duty was
towards her first and foremost. The night would soon be past, and
then dangers would increase. None had interfered with us so far,
though many had jostled us as I clambered over the ruins; but this
forbearance could not be reckoned upon for long. The earth tremors
had almost died away, and after the panic and the storm, then comes
the time for the spoiling.
All men who were poor would try to seize what lay nearest to
their hands, and those of higher station, and any soldiers who
could be collected and still remained true to command, would
ruthlessly stop and strip any man they saw making off with plunder.
I had no mind to clash with these guardians of law and property,
and so I fled on swiftly through the night with my burden, using
the unfrequented ways; and crying to the few folk who did meet me
that the woman had the plague, and would they lend me the shelter
of their house as ours had fallen. And so in time we came to the
place where the rope dangled from the precipice, and after Nais had
been drawn up to the safety of the Sacred Mountain, I put my leg in
the loop of the rope and followed her.
Now came what was the keenest anxiety of all. We took the
girl and laid her on a bed in one of the houses, and there in the
lit room for the first time I saw her clearly. Her beauty was
drawn and pale. Her eyes were closed, but so thin and transparent
had grown the lids that one could almost see the brown of the pupil
beneath them. Her hair had grown to inordinate thickness and
length, and lay as a cushion behind and beside her head.
There was no flicker of breath; there was none of that pulsing
of the body which denotes life; but still she had not the
appearance of ordinary death. The Nais I had placed nine long
years before to rest in the hollow of the stone, was a fine grown
woman, full bosomed, and well boned. The Nais that remained for
me was half her weight. The old Nais it would have puzzled me to
carry for an hour: this was no burden to impede a grown man.
In other ways too she had altered. The nails of her fingers
had grown to such a great length that they were twisted in spirals,
and the fingers themselves and her hands were so waxy and
transparent that the bony core upon which they were built showed
itself beneath the flesh in plain dull outline. Her clay-cold lips
were so white, that one sighed to remember the full beauty of their
carmine. Her shoulders and neck had lost their comely curves, and
made bony hollows now in which the dust of entombment lodged black
Reverently I set about preparing those things which if all
went well should restore her. I heated water and filled a bath,
and tinctured it heavily with those essences of the life of beasts
which the Priests extract and store against times of urgent need
and sickness. I laid her chin-deep in this bath, and sat beside it
to watch, maintaining that bath at a constant blood heat.
An hour I watched; two hours I watched; three hours--and yet
she showed no flicker of life. The heat of her body given her by
the bath, was the same as the heat of my own. But in the feel of
her skin when I stroked it with my hand, there was something
lacking still. Only when our Lord the Sun rose for His day did I
break off my watching, whilst I said the necessary prayer which is
prescribed, and quickly returned again to the gloom of the house.
I was torn with anxiety, and as the time went on and still no
sign of life came back, the hope that had once been so high within
me began to sicken and leave me downcast and despondent. From
without, came the din of fighting. Already Phorenice had sent her
troops to storm the passageway, and the Priests who defended it
were shattering them with volleys of rocks. But these sounds of
war woke no pulse within me. If Nais did not wake, then the world
for me was ended, and I had no spirit left to care who remained
uppermost. The Gods in Their due time will doubtless smite me for
this impiety. But I make a confession of it here on these sheets,
having no mind to conceal any portion of this history for the small
reason that it does me a personal discredit.
But as the hours went on, and still no flicker of life came to
lessen the dumb agony that racked me, I grew more venturesome, and
added more essences to the bath, and drugs also such as experience
had shown might wake the disused tissues into life. I watched on
with staring eyes, rubbing her wasted body now and again, and
always keeping the heat of the bath at a constant. From the first
I had barred the door against all who would have come near to help
me. With my own hands I had laid my love to sleep, and I could not
bear that others should rouse her, if indeed roused she should ever
be. But after those first offers, no others came, and the snarl
and din of fighting told of what occupied them.
It is hard to take note of small changes which occur with
infinite slowness when one is all the while on the tense watch, and
high strung though my senses were, I think there must have been
some indication of returning life shown before I was keen enough to
notice it. For of a sudden, as I gazed, I saw a faint rippling on
the surface of the water of the bath. Gods! Would it come back
again to my love at last--this life, this wakefulness? The ripple
died out as it had come, and I stooped my head nearer to the bath
to try if I could see some faint heaving of her bosom some small
twitching of the limbs. No, she lay there still without even a
flutter of movement. But as I watched, surely it seemed to my
aching eyes that some tinge was beginning to warm that blank
whiteness of skin?
How I filled myself with that sight. The colour was returning
to her again beyond a doubt. Once more the dried blood was
becoming fluid and beginning again to course in its old channels.
Her hair floated out in the liquid of the bath like some brown
tangle of the ocean weed, and ever and again it twitched and eddied
to some impulse which in itself was too small for the eye to see.
She had slept for nine long years, and I knew that the
wakening could be none of the suddenest. Indeed, it came by its
own gradations and with infinite slowness, and I did not dare do
more to hasten it. Further drugs might very well stop eternally
what those which had been used already had begun. So I sat
motionless where I was, and watched the colour come back, and the
waxenness go, and even the fullness of her curves in some small
measure return. And when growing strength gave her power to endure
them, and she was racked with those pains which are inevitable to
being born back again in this fashion to life, I too felt the
reflex of her agony, and writhed in loving sympathy.
Still further, too, was I wrung by a torment of doubt as to
whether life or these rackings would in the end be conqueror.
After each paroxysm the colour ebbed back from her again, and for
a while she would lie motionless. But strength and power seemed
gradually to grow, and at last these prevailed, and drove death and
sleep beneath them. Her eyelids struggled with their fastenings.
Her lips parted, and her bosom heaved. With shivering gasps her
breath began to pant between her reddening lips. At first it
rattled dryly in her throat, but soon it softened and became more
regular. And then with a last effort her eyes, her glorious loving
eyes, slowly opened.
I leaned over and called her softly by name.
Her eyes met mine, and a glow arose from their depths that
gave me the greatest joy I have met in all the world.
"Deucalion, my love," she whispered. "Oh, my dear, so you
have come for me. How I have dreamed of you! How I have been
racked! But it was worth it all for this."
18. STORM OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN
It was Nais herself who sent me to attend to my sterner
duties. The din of the attack came to us in the house where I was
tending her, and she asked its meaning. As pithily as might be,
for she was in no condition for tedious listening, I gave her the
history of her nine years' sleep.
The colour flushed more to her face. "My lord is the
properest man in all the world to be King," she whispered.
"I refused to touch the trade till they had given me the Queen
I desired, safe and alive, here upon the Mountain."
"How we poor women are made the chattels of you men! But, for
myself, I seem to like the traffic well enough. You should not
have let me stand in the way of Atlantis' good, Deucalion. Still,
it is very sweet to know you were weak there for once, and that I
was the cause of your weakness. What is that bath over yonder?
Ah! I remember; my wits seem none of the clearest just now."
"You have made the beginning. Your strength will return to
you by quick degrees. But it will not bear hurrying. You must
have a patience."
"Your ear, sir, for one moment, and then I will rest in peace.
My poor looks, are they all gone? You seem to have no mirror here.
I had visions that I should wake up wrinkled and old."
"You are as you were, dear, that first night I saw you--the
most beautiful woman in all the world."
"I am pleased you like me," she said, and took the cup of
broth I offered her. "My hair seems to have grown; but it needs
combing sadly. I had a fancy, dear, once, that you liked ruddy
hair best, and not a plain brown." She closed her eyes then, lying
back amongst the cushions where I had placed her, and dropped off
into healthy sleep, with the smiles still playing upon her lips.
I put the coverlet over her, and kissed her lightly, holding back
my beard lest it should sweep her cheek. And then I went out of
That beard had grown vastly disagreeable to me these last
hours, and then I went into a room in the house, and found
instruments, and shaved it down to the bare chin. A change of robe
also I found there and took it instead of my squalid rags. If a
man is in truth a king, he owes these things to the dignity of his
But, if the din of the fighting was any guide, mine was a
narrowing kingdom. Every hour it seemed to grow fiercer and more
near, and it was clear that some of the gates in the passage up the
cleft in the cliff, impregnable though all men had thought them,
had yielded to the vehemence of Phorenice's attack. And, indeed,
it was scarcely to be marvelled at. With all her genius spurred on
to fury by the blow that had been struck at her by wrecking so fair
a part of the city, the Empress would be no light adversary even
for a strong place to resist, and the Sacred Mountain was no longer
Defences of stone, cunningly planned and mightily built, it
still possessed, but these will not fight alone. They need men to
line them, and, moreover, abundance of men. For always in a storm
of this kind, some desperate fellows will spit at death and get to
hand grips, or slingers and archers slip in their shot, or the
throwing-fire gets home, or (as here) some newfangled machine like
Phorenice's fire-tubes, make one in a thousand of their wavering
darts find the life; and so, though the general attacking loses his
hundreds, the defenders also are not without their dead.
The slaughter, as it turned out, had been prodigious. As fast
as the stormers came up, the Priests who held the lowest gate
remaining to us rained down great rocks upon them till the narrow
alley of the stair was paved with their writhing dead. But
Phorenice stood on a spur of the rock below them urging on the
charges, and with an insane valour company after company marched up
to hurl themselves hopelessly against the defences. They had no
machines to batter the massive gates, and their attack was as
pathetically useless as that of a child who hammers against a wall
with an orange; and meanwhile the terrible stones from above mowed
them down remorselessly.
Company after company of the troops marched into this terrible
death-trap, and not a man of all of them ever came back. Nor was
it Phorenice's policy that they should do so. In her lust for this
final conquest, she was minded to pour out troops till she had
filled up the passes with the slain, so that at last she might
march on to a level fight over the bridge of their poor bodies. It
was no part of Phorenice's mood ever to count the cost. She set
down the object which was to be gained, and it was her policy that
the people of Atlantis were there to gain it for her.
Two gates then had she carried in this dreadful fashion,
slaughtering those Priests that stood behind, them who had not been
already shot down. And here I came down from above to take my
share in the fight. There was no trumpet to announce my coming, no
herald to proclaim my quality, but the Priests as a sheer custom
picked up "Deucalion!" as a battle-cry; and some shouted that, with
a King to lead, there would be no further ground lost.
It was clear that the name carried to the other side and bore
weight with it. A company of poor, doomed wretches who were
hurrying up stopped in their charge. The word "Deucalion!" was
bandied round and handed back down the line. I though with some
grim satisfaction, that here was evidence I was not completely
forgotten in the land.
There came shouts to them from behind to carry on their advance;
but they did not budge; and presently a glittering officer panted
up, and commenced to strike right and left amongst them with his
sword. From where I stood on the high rampart above the gate,
I could see him plainly, and recognised him at once.
"It matters not what they use for their battle-cry," he was
shouting. "You have the orders of your divine Empress, and that is
enough. You should be proud to die for her wish, you cowards. And
if you do not obey, you will die afterwards under the instruments
of the tormentors, very painfully. As for Deucalion, he is dead
any time these nine years."
"There it seems you lie, my Lord Tatho," I shouted down to
He started, and looked up at me.
"So you are there in real truth, then? Well, old comrade, I
am sorry. But it is too late to make a composition now. You are
on the side of these mangy Priests, and the Empress has made an
edict that they are to be rooted out, and I am her most obedient
"You used to be skilful of fence," I said, and indeed there
was little enough to choose between us. "If it please you to stop
this pitiful killing, make yourself the champion of your side, and
I will stand for mine, and we will fight out this quarrel in some
fair place, and bind our parties to abide by the result."
"It would be a grand fight between us two, old friend, and it
goes hard with me to balk you of it. But I cannot pleasure you.
I am general here under Phorenice, and she has given me the
strongest orders not to peril myself. And besides, though you are
a great man, Deucalion, you are not chief. You are not even one of
"I am King."
Tatho laughed. "Few but yourself would say so, my lord."
"Few truly, but what there are, they are powerful. I was given
the name for the first time yesterday, and as a first blow in
the campaign there was some mischief done in the city. I was there
myself, and saw how you took it."
"You were in Atlantis!"
"I went for Nais. She is on the mountain now, and to-morrow
will be my Queen. Tatho, as a priest to a priest, let me solemnly
bring to your memory the infinite power you bite against on this
Sacred Mountain. Your teaching has warned you of the weapons that
are stored in the Ark of the Mysteries. If you persist in this
attack, at the best you can merely lose; at the worst you can bring
about a wreck over which even the High Gods will shudder as They
"You cannot scare us back now by words," said Tatho doggedly.
"And as for magic, it will be met by magic. Phorenice has found by
her own cleverness as many powers as were ever stored up in the Ark
of the Mysteries."
"Yet she looked on helplessly enough last night, when her
royal pyramid was trundled into a rubbish heap. Zaemon had
prophesied that this should be so, and for a witness, why I myself
stood closer to her than we two stand now, and saw her."
"I will own you took her by surprise somewhat there. I do not
understand these matters myself; I was never more than one of the
Seven in the old days; and now, quite rightly, Phorenice keeps the
knowledge of her magic to herself: but it seems time is needed when
one magic is to be met by another."
"Well," I said, "I know little about the business either. I
leave these matters now to those who are higher above me in the
priesthood. Indeed, having a liking for Nais, it seems I am
debarred from ever being given understanding about the highest of
the higher Mysteries. So I content myself with being a soldier,
and when the appointed day comes, I shall fall and kiss my mother
the Earth for the last time. You, so I am told, have ambition for
He nodded. "Phorenice has found the Great Secret, and I am to
be the first that will share it with her. We shall be as Gods upon
the earth, seeing that Death will be powerless to touch us. And
the twin sons she has borne me, will be made immortal also."
"Phorenice is headstrong. No, my lord, there is no need to
shake your head and try to deny it. I have had some acquaintance
with her. But the order has been made, and her immortality will be
snatched from her very rudely. Now, mark solemnly my words. I,
Deucalion, have been appointed King of Atlantis by the High Council
of the Priests who are the mouthpiece of the most High Gods, and if
I do not have my reign, then there will be no Atlantis left to
carry either King or Empress. You know me, Tatho, for a man that
"Then save yourself before it is too late. You shall have
again your vice-royalty in Yucatan."
"But, man, there is no Yucatan. A great horde of little hairy
creatures, that were something less than human and something more
than beasts, swept down upon our cities and ate them out. Oh, you
may sneer if you choose! Others sneered when I came home, till the
Empress stopped them. But you know what a train of driver ants is,
that you meet with in the forests? You may light fires across
their path, and they will march into them in their blind bravery,
and put them out with their bodies, and those that are left will
march on in an unbroken column, and devour all that stands in their
path. I tell you, my lord, those little hairy creatures were like
the ants--aye, for numbers, and wooden bravery, as well as for
appetite. As a result to-day, there is no Yucatan."
"You shall have Egypt, then."
He burst at me hotly. "I would not take seven Egypts and ten
Yucatans. My lord, you think more poorly of me than is kind, when
you ask me to become a traitor. In your place would you throw your
Nais away, if the doing it would save you from a danger?"
"That is different."
"In no degree. You have a kindness for her. I have all that
and more for Phorenice, who is, besides, my wife and the mother of
my children. If I have qualms--and I freely confess I know you are
desperate men up there, and have dreadful powers at your
command--my shiverings are for them and not for myself. But I
think, my lord, this parley is leading to nothing, and though these
common soldiers here will understand little enough of our talk,
they may be picking up a word here and there, and I do not wish
them to go on to their death (as you will see them do shortly) and
carry evil reports about me to whatever Gods they chance to come
He saluted me with his sword and drew back, and once more the
missiles began to fly, and the doomed wretches, who had been
halting beside the steep rock walls of the pass began once more to
press hopelessly forward. They had scaling-ladders certainly, but
they had no chance of getting these planted. They could do naught
but fill the narrow way with their bodies, and to that end they had
been sent, and to that end they humbly died. Our Priests with crow
and lever wrenched from their lodging-places the great rocks which
had been made ready, and sent them crashing down, so that once more
screams filled the pass, and the horrid butchery was renewed.
But ever and again, some arrow or some sling-stone, or some
fire-tube's dart would find its way up from below and through the
defences, and there we would be with a man the less to carry on the
fight. It was well enough for Phorenice to be lavish with her
troops; indeed, if she wished for success, there were no two ways
for it; and when those she had levied were killed, she could
readily press others into the service, seeing that she had the
whole broad face of the country under her rule. But with us it was
different. A man down on our side was a man whose arm would
bitterly be missed, and one which could in no possible way be
I made calculation of the chances, and saw clearly that, if we
continued the fight on the present plan, they would storm the gates
one after another as they came to them, and that by the time the
uppermost gate was reached, there would be no Priest alive to
defend it. And so, not disdaining to fashion myself on Phorenice's
newer plan, which held that a general should at times in preference
plot coldly from a place of some safety, and not lead the thick of
the fighting, I left those who stood to the gate with some rough
soldier's words of cheer, and withdrew again up the narrow stair of
This one approach to the Sacred Mountain was, as I have said
before, vastly more difficult and dangerous in the olden days when
it stood as a mere bare cleft as the High Gods made it. But a
chasm had been bridged here, a shelf cut through the solid rock
there, and in many places the roadway was built up on piers from
distant crags below so as to make all uniform and easy. It came to
my mind now, that if I could destroy this path, we might gain a
breathing space for further effort.
The idea seemed good, or at least no other occurred to me
which would in any way relieve our desperate situation, and I
looked around me for means to put it into execution. Up and down,
from the mountain to the plains below, I had traversed that narrow
stair of a pass some thousands of times, and so in a manner of
speaking knew every stone, and every turn, and every cut of it by
heart. But I had never looked upon it with an eye to shaving off
all roadway to the Sacred Mountain, and so now, even in this moment
of dreadful stress, I had to traverse it no less than three times
afresh before I could decide upon the best site for demolition.
But once the point was fixed, there was little delay in getting
the scheme in movement. Already I had sent men to the storehouses
amongst the Priests' dwellings to fetch me rams, and crows, and
acids, and hammers, and such other material as was needed, and
these stood handy behind one of the upper gates. I put on
every pair of hands that could be spared to the work, no matter
what was their age and feebleness; yes, if Nais could have walked
so far I would have pressed her for the labour; and presently
carved balustrade, and wayside statue, together with the lettered
wall-stones and the foot-worn cobbles, roared down into the gulf
below, and added their din to the shrieks and yells and crashes of
the fighting. Gods! But it was a hateful task, smashing down that
splendid handiwork of the men of the past. But it was better that
it should crash down to ruin in the abyss below, than that
Phorenice should profane it with her impious sandals.
At first I had feared that it would be needful to sacrifice
the knot of brave men who were so valiantly defending the gate then
being attacked. It is disgusting to be forced into a measure of
this kind, but in hard warfare it is often needful to the carrying
out of his schemes for a general to leave a part of his troops to
fight to a finish, and without hope of rescue, as valiantly as they
may; and all he can do for their reward is to recommend them
earnestly to the care of the Gods. But when the work of destroying
the pathway was nearly completed, I saw a chance of retrieving
We had not been content merely with breaking arches, and throwing
down the piers. We had got our rams and levers under the living
rock itself on which all the whole fabric stood; and fire stood
ready to heat the rams for their work; and when the word was
given, the whole could be sent crashing down the face of the cliffs
beyond chance of repair.
All was, I say, finally prepared in this fashion, and then I
gave the word to hold. A narrow ledge still remained undestroyed,
and offered footway, and over this I crossed. The cut we had made
was immediately below the uppermost gate of all, and below it there
were three more massive gates still unviolated, besides the one
then being so vehemently attacked. Already, the garrisons had been
retired from these, and I passed through them all in turn,
unchallenged and unchecked, and came to that busy rampart where the
twelve Priests left alive worked, stripped to the waist, at heaving
down the murderous rocks.
For awhile I busied myself at their side, stopping an occasional
fire-tube dart or arrow on my shield and passing them the tidings.
The attack was growing fiercer every minute now. The enemy had
packed the pass below well-nigh full of their dead, and our
battering stones had less distance to fall and so could do less
execution. They pressed forward more eagerly than ever with their
scaling ladders, and it was plain that soon they would inevitably
put the place to the storm. Even during the short time I was
there, their sling-stones and missiles took life from three more of
the twelve who stood with me on the defence.
So I gave the word for one more furious avalanche of rock to
be pelted down, and whilst the few living were crawling out from
those killed by the discharge, and whilst the next band of
reinforcements came scrambling up over the bodies, I sent my nine
remaining men away at a run up the steep stairway of the path, and
then followed them myself. Each of the gates in turn we passed,
shutting them after us, and breaking the bars and levers with which
they were moved, and not till we were through the last did the roar
of shouts from below tell that the besiegers had found the gate
they bit against was deserted.
One by one we balanced our way across the narrow ledge which
was left where the path had been destroyed, and one poor Priest
that carried a wound grew giddy, and lost his balance here, and
toppled down to his death in the abyss below before a hand could be
stretched out to steady him. And then, when we were all over, heat
was put to the rams, and they expanded with their resistless force,
and tore the remaining ledges from their hold in the rock. I think
a pang went through us all then when we saw for ourselves the last
connecting link cut away from between the poor remaining handful of
our Sacred Clan on the Mountain, and the rest of our great nation,
who had grown so bitterly estranged to us, below.
But here at any rate was a break in the fighting. There were
no further preparations we could make for our defence, and high
though I knew Phorenice's genius to be, I did not see how she could
very well do other than accept the check and retire. So I set a
guard on the ramparts of the uppermost gate to watch all possible
movements, and gave the word to the others to go and find the rest
which so much they needed.
For myself, dutifully I tried to find Zaemon first, going on
the errand my proper self, for there was little enough of kingly
state observed on the Sacred Mountain, although the name and title
had been given me. But Zaemon was not to be come at. He was
engaged inside the Ark of the Mysteries with another of the Three,
and being myself only one of the Seven, I had not rank enough in
the priesthood to break in upon their workings. And so I was free
to turn where my likings would have led me first, and that was to
the house which sheltered Nais.
She waked as I came in over the threshold, and her eyes filled
with a welcome for me. I went across and knelt where she lay,
putting my face on the pillow beside her. She was full of tender
talk and sweet endearments. Gods! What an infinity of delight I
had missed by not knowing my Nais earlier! But she had a will of
her own through it all, and some quaint conceits which made her all
the more adorable. She rallied me on the new cleanness of my chin,
and on the robe which I had taken as a covering. She professed a
pretty awe for my kingship, and vowed that had she known of my
coming dignities she would never have dared to discover a love for
me. But about my marriage with Phorenice she spoke with less
lightness. She put out her thin white hand, and drew my face to
"It is weak of me to have a jealousy," she murmured, "knowing
how completely my lord is mine alone; but I cannot help it. You
have said you were her husband for awhile. It gives me a pang to
think that I shall not be the first to lie in your arms,
"Then you may gaily throw your pang away," I whispered back.
"I was husband to Phorenice in mere word for how long I do not
precisely know. But in anything beyond, I was never her husband at
all. She married me by a form she prescribed herself, ignoring all
the old rites and ceremonies, and whether it would hold as legal or
not, we need not trouble to inquire. She herself has most nicely
and completely annulled that marriage as I have told you. Tatho is
her husband now, and father to her children, and he seems to have
a fondness for her which does him credit."
We said other things too in that chamber, those small repetitions
of endearments which are so precious to lovers, and so beyond the
comprehension of other folk, but they are not to be set down on
these sheets. They are a mere private matter which can have no
concern to any one beyond our two selves, and more weighty
subjects are piling themselves up in deep index for the historian.
Phorenice, it seemed, had more rage against the Priests' Clan
on the Mountain and more bright genius to help her to a vengeance
than I had credited. Her troops stormed easily the gates we had
left to them, and swarmed up till they stood where the pathway was
broken down. In the fierceness of their rush, the foremost were
thrust over the brink by those pressing up behind, before the
advance could be halted, and these went screaming to a horrid death
in the great gulf below. But it was no position here that a lavish
spending of men could take, and presently all were drawn off, save
for some half-score who stood as outpost sentries, and dodged out
of arrow-shot behind angles of the rock.
It seems, too, that the Empress herself reconnoitered the place,
using due caution and quickness, and so got for herself a full
plan of its requirements without being obliged to trust the
measuring of another eye. With extraordinary nimbleness she must
have planned an engine such as was necessary to suit her purposes,
and given orders for its making; for even with the vast force and
resources at her disposal, the speed with which it was built was
There was very little noise made to tell of what was afoot.
All the woodwork and metalwork was cut, and tongued, and forged,
and fitted first by skilled craftsmen below, in the plain at the
foot of the cleft; and when each ponderous balk and each
crosspiece, and each plank was dragged up the steep pass through
the conquered gates, it was ready instantly for fitting into its
appointed place in the completed machine.
The cleft was straight where they set about their building,
and there was no curve or spur of the cliff to hide their handiwork
from those of the Priests who watched from the ramparts above our
one remaining gate. But Phorenice had a coyness lest her engine
should be seen before it was completed, and so to screen it she
had a vast fire built at the uppermost point where the causeway was
broken off, and fed diligently with wet sedge and green wood, so
that a great smoke poured out, rising like a curtain that shut out
all view. And so though the Priests on the rampart above the gate
picked off now and again some of those who tended the fire, they
could do the besiegers no further injury, and remained up to the
last quite in ignorance of their tactics.
The passage up the cleft was in shadow during the night hours,
for, though all the crest of the Sacred Mountain was always lit
brightly by the eternal fires which made its defence on the farther
side, their glow threw no gleam down that flank where the cliff ran
sheer to the plains beneath. And so it was under cover of the
darkness that Phorenice brought up her engine into position for
Planking had been laid down for its wheels, and the wheels
themselves well greased, and it may be that she hoped to march in
upon us whilst all slept. But there was a certain creaking and
groaning of timbers, and laboured panting of men, which gave
advertisement that something was being attempted, and the alarm
was spread quietly in the hope that if a surprise had been planned,
the real surprise might be turned the other way.
A messenger came to me running, where I sat in the house at
the side of my love, and she, like the soldier's wife she was made
to be, kissed me and bade me go quickly and care for my honour, and
bring back my wounds for her to mend.
On the rampart above the gate all was silence, save for the
faint rustle of armed men, and out of the black darkness ahead, and
from the other side of the broken causeway, came the sounds of
which the messenger bad warned me.
The captain of the gate came to me and whispered: "We have
made no light till the King came, not knowing the King's will in
the matter. Is it wished I send some of the throwing-fire down
yonder, on the chance that it does some harm, and at the same time
lights up the place? Or is it willed that we wait for their
"Send the fire," I said, "or we may find that Phorenice's
brain has been one too many for us."
The captain of the gate took one of the balls in his hand, lit
the fuse, and hurled it. The horrid thing burst amongst a mass of
men who were labouring with a huge engine, sputtering them with its
deadly fire, and lighting their garments. The plan of the engine
showed itself plainly. They had built them a vast great tower,
resting on wheels at its base, so that it might by pushed forward
from behind, and slanting at its foot to allow for the steepness of
the path and leave it always upright.
It was storeyed inside, with ladders joining each floor, and
through slits in the side which faced us bowmen could cover an
attack. From its top a great bridge reared high above it, being
carried vertically till the tower was brought near enough for its
use. The bridge was hinged at the third storey of the tower, and
fastened with ropes to its extreme top; but, once the ropes were
cut, the bridge would fall, and light upon whatever came within its
swing, and be held there by the spikes with which it was studded
I saw, and inwardly felt myself conquered. The cleverness of
Phorenice had been too strong for my defence. No war-engine of
which we had command could overset the tower. The whole of its
massive timbers were hung with the wet new-stripped skins of
beasts, so that even the throwing-fire could not destroy it. What
puny means we had to impede those who pushed it forward would have
little effect. Presently it would come to the place appointed, and
the ropes would be cut, and the bridge would thunder down on the
rampart above our last gate, and the stormers would pour out to
their final success.
Well, life had loomed very pleasant for me these few days with
a warm and loving Nais once more in touch of my arms, but the High
Gods in Their infinite wisdom knew best always, and I was no rebel
to stay stiff-necked against their decision. But it is ever a
soldier's privilege, come what may, to warm over a fight, and the
most exquisitely fierce joy of all is that final fight of a man who
knows that he must die, and who lusts only to make his bed of slain
high enough to carry a due memory of his powers with those who
afterwards come to gaze upon it. I gripped my axe, and the muscles
of my arms stood out in knots at the thought of it. Would Tatho
come to give me sport? I feared not. They would send only the
common soldiers first to the storm, and I must be content to do my
killing on those.
And Nais, what of her? I had a quiet mind there. When any
spoilers came to the house where she lay, she would know that
Deucalion had been taken up to the Gods, and she would not be long
in following him. She had her dagger. No, I had no fears of being
parted long from Nais now.
19. DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS
A tottering old Priest came up and touched me on the shoulder.
"Well?" I said sharply, having small taste for interruption
"News has been carried to the Three, my King, of what is
"Then they will know that I stand here now, brother, to enjoy
the finest fight of my life. When it is finished I shall go to the
Gods, and be there standing behind the stars to welcome them when
presently they also arrive. They have my regrets that they are too
old and too feeble to die and look upon a fine killing themselves."
"I have commands from them, my King, to lay upon you, which I
fear you will like but slenderly. You are forbidden to find your
death here in the fighting. They have a further use for you yet."
I turned on the old man angrily enough. "I shall take no such
order, my brother. I am not going to believe it was ever given.
You must have misunderstood. If I am a man, if I am a Priest, if
I am a soldier, if I am a King, then it stands to my honour that no
enemy should pass this gate whilst yet I live. And you may go back
and throw that message at their teeth."
The old man smiled enviously. He, too, had been a keen soldier
in his day. "I told them you would not easily believe such a
message, and asked them for a sign, and they bore with me, and
gave me one. I was to give you this jewel, my King."
"How came they by that? It is a bracelet from the elbow of
"They must have stripped her of it. I did not know it came
from Nais. The word I was to bring you said that the owner of the
jewel was inside the Ark of the Mysteries, and waited you there.
The use which the Three have for you further concerns her also."
Even when I heard that, I will freely confess that my obedience
was sorely tried, and I have the less shame in setting it
down on these sheets, because I know that all true soldiers will
feel a sympathy for my plight. Indeed, the promise of the battle
was very tempting. But in the end my love for Nais prevailed, and
I gave the salutation that was needful in token that I heard the
order and obeyed it.
To the knot of Priests who were left for the defence, I turned
and made my farewells. "You will have what I shall miss, my
brothers," I said. "I envy you that fight. But, though I am King
of Atlantis, still I am only one of the Seven, and so am the
servant of the Three and must obey their order. They speak in
words the will of the most High Gods, and we must do as they
command. You will stand behind the stars before I come, and I ask
of you that you will commend me to Those you meet there. It is not
my own will that I shall not appear there by your side."
They heard my words with smiles, and very courteously saluted
me with their weapons, and there we parted. I did not see the
fight, but I know it was good, from the time which passed before
Phorenice's hordes broke out on to the crest of the Mountain. They
died hard, that last remnant of the lesser Priests of Atlantis.
With a sour enough feeling I went up to the head of the pass,
and then through the groves, and between the temples and colleges
and houses which stood on the upper slopes of the Sacred Mountain,
till I reached that boundary, beyond which in milder days it was
death for any but the privileged few to pass. But the time, it
appeared to me, was past for conventions, and, moreover, my own
temper was hot; and it is likely that I should have strode on with
little scruple if I had not been interrupted. But in the temple
which marked the boundary, there was old Zaemon waiting; and he,
with due solemnity of words, and with the whole of some ancient
ritual ordained for that purpose, sought dispensation from the High
Gods for my trespass, and would not give me way till he was through
with his ceremony.
Already Phorenice's tower and bridge were in position, for the
clash and yelling of a fight told that the small handful of Priests
on the rampart of the last gate were bartering their lives for the
highest return in dead that they could earn. They were trained
fighting men all, but old and feeble, and the odds against them
were too enormous to be stemmed for over long. In a very short
time the place would be put to the storm, and the roof of the
Sacred Mountain would be at the open mercy of the invader. If
there was any further thing to be done, it was well that it should
be set about quickly whilst peace remained. It seemed to me that
the moment for prompt action, and the time for lengthy pompous
ceremonial was done for good.
But Zaemon was minded otherwise. He led me up to the Ark of the
Mysteries, and chided my impatience, and waited till I had given it
my reverential kiss, and then he called aloud, and another old man
came out of the opening which is in the top of the Ark, and climbed
painfully down by the battens which are fixed on its sides. He was
a man I had never seen before, hoary, frail, and emaciated, and he
and Zaemon were then the only two remaining Priests who had been
raised to the highest degree known to our Clan, and who alone had
knowledge of the highest secrets and powers and mysteries.
"Look!" cried Zaemon, in his shrill old voice, and swept a
trembling finger over the shattered city, and the great spread of
sea and country which lay in view of us below. I followed his
pointing and looked, and a chill began to crawl through me. All
was plainly shown. Our Lord the Sun burned high overhead in a sky
of cloudless blue, and day shimmered in His heat. All below seemed
from that distance peaceful and warm and still, save only that the
mountains smoked more than ordinary, and some spouted fires, and
that the sea boiled with some strange disorder.
But it was the significance of the sea that troubled me most.
Far out on the distant coast it surged against the rocks in
enormous rolls of surf; and up the great estuary, at the head of
which the city of Atlantis stands, it gushed in successive waves of
enormous height which never returned. Already the lower lands on
either side were blotted out beneath tumultuous waters, the harbour
walls were drowned out of sight, and the flood was creeping up into
the lower wards of the great city itself.
"You have seen?" asked Zaemon.
"I have seen."
"Then let me tell you all. This is the beginning, and the end
will follow swiftly. The most High Gods, that sit behind the
stars, have a limit to even Their sublime patience; and that has
been passed. The city of Atlantis, the great continent that is
beyond, and all that are in them are doomed to unutterable
destruction. Of old it was foreseen that this great wiping-out
would happen through the sins of men, and to this end the Ark of
the Mysteries was built under the direction of the Gods. No mortal
implements can so much as scratch its surface, no waves or rocks
wreck it. Inside is stored on sheets of the ancient writing all
that is known in the world of learning that is not shared by the
common people, also there is grain in a store, and sweet water in
tanks sufficient for two persons for the space of four years,
together with seeds, weapons, and all such other matters as were
"Out of all this vast country it has been decreed by the High
Gods that two shall not perish. Two shall be chosen, a man and a
woman, who are fit and proper persons to carry away with them the
ancient learning to dispose of it as they see best, and afterwards
to rear up a race who shall in time build another kingdom and do
honour to our Lord the Sun and the other Gods in another place.
The woman is within the Ark already, and seated in the place
appointed for her, and though she is a daughter of mine, the burden
of her choosing is with you. For the man, the choice has fallen
I was half numb with the shock of what was befalling. "I do
not know that I care to be a survivor."
"You are not asked for your wishes," said the old man. "You
are given an order from the High Gods, who know you to be Their
Habit rode strong upon me. I made salutation in the required
form, and said that I heard and would obey.
"Then it remains to raise you to the sublime degree of the
Three, and if your learning is so small that you will not
understand the keys to many of the Powers, and the highest of the
Mysteries, when they are handed to you, that fault cannot be
Certainly the time remaining was short enough. The fight
still raged down at the gate in the pass, though it was a wonder
how the handful of Priests had held their ground so long. But the
ocean rolled in upon the land in an ever-increasing flood, and the
mountains smoked and belched forth more volleys of rock as the
weight increased on their lower parts, and presently those that
besieged the Mountain could not fail to see the fate that
threatened them. Then there would be no withholding their rush.
In their mad fury and panic they would sweep all obstruction
resistlessly before them, and those who stood in their path might
look to themselves.
But there was no hurrying Zaemon and his fellow sage. They
were without temple for the ceremony, without sacrifice or incense
to decorate it. They had but the sky for a roof to make their
echoes, and the Gods themselves for witnesses. But they went
through the work of raising me to their own degree, with all the
grand and majestic form which has gathered dignity from the ages,
and by no one sentence did they curtail it. A burning mountain
burst with a bellowing roar as the incoming waters met its fires,
but gravely they went on, in turn reciting their sentences.
Phorenice's troops broke down the last resistance, and poured in a
frenzied stream amongst the groves and temples, but still they
quavered never in the ritual.
It had been said that this ceremony is the grandest and the
most impressive of all those connected with our holy religion; and
certainly I found it so; and I speak as one intimate with all the
others. Even the tremendous circumstances which hemmed them in
could do nothing to make these frail old men forget the deference
which was due to the highest order of the Clan.
For myself, I will freely own I was less rapt. I stood there
bareheaded in the heat, a man trying to concentrate himself, and
yet torn the while by a thousand foreign emotions. The awful thing
that was happening all around compelled some of my attention. A
continent was in the very act and article of meeting with complete
destruction, and if Zaemon and the other Priest were strong enough
to give their minds wholly up to a matter parochial to the
priesthood, I was not so stoical. And moreover, I was filled with
other anxieties and thoughts concerning Nais. Yet I managed to
preserve a decent show of attention to the ceremony; making all
those responses which were required of me; and trying as well as
might be to preserve in my mind those sentences which were the keys
to power and learning, and not mere phrasings of grandeur and
But it became clear that if the ceremony of my raising did not
soon arrive at its natural end, it would be cut short presently
with something of suddenness. Phorenice's conquering legions
swarmed out on to the crest of the Mountain, and now carried full
knowledge of the dreadful thing that was come upon the country.
They were out of all control, and ran about like men distracted;
but knowing full well that the Priests would have brought this
terrible wreck to pass by virtue of the powers which were stored
within the Ark of the Mysteries, it would be their natural impulse
to pour out a final vengeance upon any of these same Priests they
could come across before it was too late.
It began to come to my mind that if the ceremony did not very
shortly terminate, the further part of the plan would stand very
small chance of completion, and I should come by my death after all
by fighting to a finish, as I had pictured to myself before. My
flickering attention saw the soldiers coming always nearer in their
frantic wanderings, and saw also the sea below rolling deeper and
deeper in upon the land.
The fires, too, which ringed in half the mountain, spurted up
to double their old height, and burned with an unceasing roar. But
for all distraction these things gave to the two old Priests who
were raising me, we might have been in the quietness of some
ancient temple, with no so much as a fly to buzz an interruption.
But at last an end came to the ceremony. "Kneel," cried Zaemon,
"and make obeisance to your mother the Earth, and swear by the
High Gods that you will never make improper use of the powers
over Her which this day you have been granted."
When I had done that, he bade me rise as a fully installed and
duly initiated member of the Three. "You will have no opportunity
to practise the workings of this degree with either of us, my
brother," said he, "for presently our other brother and I go to
stand before the Gods to deliver to Them an account of our trust,
and of how we have carried it out. But what items you remember
here and there may turn of use to you hereafter. And now we two
give you our farewells, and promise to commend you highly to the
Gods when soon we meet Them in Their place behind the stars. Climb
now into the Ark, and be ready to shut the door which guards it, if
there is any attempt by these raging people to invade that also.
Remember, my brother, it is the Gods' direct will that you and the
woman Nais go from this place living and sound, and you are
expressly forbidden to accept challenge or provocation to fight on
any pretext whatever. But as long as may be done in safety, you
may look out upon Atlantis in her death-throes. It is very fitting
that one of the only two who are sent hence alive, should carry the
full tale of what has befallen."
I went to the top of the Ark of Mysteries then, climbing there
by the battens which are fastened to the sides, and then descended
by the stair which is inside and found Nais in a little chamber
waiting for me.
"I was bidden stay here by Zaemon," she said, "who forced me
to this place by threats and also by promises that my lord would
follow. He is very ungentle, that father of mine, but I think he
has a kindness for us both, and any way he is my father and I
cannot help loving him. Is there no chance to save him from what
is going to happen?"
"He will not come into this Ark, for I asked him. It has been
ordained from the ancient time when first the Ark was built, that
when the day for its purpose came, one woman and one man should be