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 mistress.
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 and thickly.
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 the chamber.
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 office.
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 strong.
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 him.
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 servant."
"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 the Three."
"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 order it."
"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 longer life."
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 never lies."
"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 before."
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 replaced.
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 the pass.
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 them.
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 her lips.
"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, Deucalion."
"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 prodigious.
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 attack.
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 surprise?"
"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 beneath.
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 just now.
"News has been carried to the Three, my King, of what is threatened."
"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 Nais."
"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 deemed fit.
"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 upon yourself."
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 faithful servant."
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 remedied now."
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 devotion.
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 its only tenants, and they are here already. Zaemon's will in the matter is not to be twisted by you or by me. He has a message to be delivered to the Gods, and (if I know him at all), he grudges every minute that is lost in carrying it to them."
I left her then, and went out again up the stair, and stood once more on the roof of the Ark. On the Mountain top men still ran about distracted, but gradually they were coming to where the Ark rested on the highest point. For the moment, however, I passed them lightly. The drowning of the great continent that had been spread out below filled the eye. Ocean roared in upon it with still more furious waves. The plains and the level lands were foaming lakes. The great city of Atlantis had vanished eternally. The mountains alone kept their heads above the flood, and spewed out rocks, and steam, and boiling stone, or burst when the waters reached them and created great whirlpools of surging sea, and twisted trees, and bubbling mud.
In the space of a few breaths every living creature that dwelt in the lower grounds had been smothered by the waters, save for a few who huddled in a pair of galleys that were driven oarless inland, over what had once been black forest and hunting land for the beasts. And even as I watched, these also were swallowed up by the horrid turmoil of sea, and nothing but the sea beasts, and those of the greater lizards which can live in such outrageous waters, could have survived even that state of the destruction. Indeed, none but those men who had now found standing-ground on the upper slopes of the Sacred Mountain survived, and it was plain that their span was short, for the great mass of the continent sank deeper and more deep every minute before our aching eyes, beneath the boiling inrush of the seas.
But though the great mass of the soldiery were dazed and maddened at the prospect of the overwhelming which threatened them, there were some with a strength of mind too valiant to give any outward show of discomposure. Presently a compact little body of people came from out the houses and the temples, and headed directly across the open ground towards the Ark. On the outside marched Phorenice's personal guards with their weapons new blooded. They had been forced to fight a way through their own fellow soldiers. The poor demented creatures had thought it was every one for himself now, till these guards (by their mistress's order) proved to them that Phorenice still came first.
And in the middle of them, borne in a litter of gold and ivory by her grotesque European slaves, rode the Empress, still calm, still lovely, and seemingly divided in her sentiments between contempt and amusement. Her two children lay in the litter at her feet. On her right hand marched Tatho gorgeously apparelled, and with a beard curled and plaited into a thousand ringlets. On the other side, plying her industry with unruffled defence, walked Ylga, once again fan-girl, and so still second lady in this dwindling kingdom.
The party of them halted half a score of paces from the Ark by Phorenice's order. "Do not go nearer to those unclean old men. They carry a rank odour with them, and for the moment we are short of essences to sweeten the air of their neighbourhood." She lifted her eyebrows and looked up at me. "Truly a quiet little gathering of old acquaintances. Why, there is Deucalion, that once I took the flavour of and threw aside when he cloyed me."
"I have Nais here," I said, "and presently we two will be all that are left alive of this nation."
"Nais is quite welcome to my leavings," she laughed. "I will look down upon your country cooings when presently I go back to the Place behind the stars from which I came. You are a very rustic person, Deucalion. They tell me too that three or four of these smelling old men up here have named you King. Did you swell much with dignity? Or did you remember that there was a pretty Empress left that would still be Empress so long as there was an Atlantis to govern? Come, sir, find your tongue. By my face! you must have hungered for me very madly these years we have been parted, if new-grown ruggedness of feature is an evidence."
"Have your gibe. I do not gibe back at a woman who presently will die."
"Bah! Deucalion, you will live behind the times. Have they not told you that I know the Great Secret and am indeed a Goddess now? My arts can make life run on eternally."
"Then the waters will presently test them hard," I said, but there the talk was taken into other lips. Zaemon went forward to the front of the litter with the Symbol of our Lord the Sun glowing in his hand, and burst into a flow of cursing. It was hard for me to hear his words. The roar of the waters which poured up over the land, and beat in vast waves against the Sacred Mountain itself, grew nearer and more loud. But the old man had his say.
Phorenice gave orders to her guards for his killing; yes, tried even to rise from the litter and do the work herself; but Zaemon held the Symbol to his front, and its power in that supreme moment mastered all the arts that could be brought against it. The majesty of the most High Gods was vindicated, and that splendid Empress knew it and lay back sullenly amongst the cushions of her litter, a beaten woman.
Only one person in that rigid knot of people found power to leave the rest, and that was Ylga. She came out to the side of the Ark, and leaned up, and cried me a farewell through the gathering roar of the flood.
"I would I might save you and take you with us," I said.
"As for that," she said, with a gesture, "I would not come if you asked me. I am not a woman that will take anything less than all. But I shall meet what comes presently with the memory that you will have me always somewhere in your recollection. I know somewhat of men, even men of your stamp, Deucalion, and you will never forget that you came very near to loving me once."
I think, too, she said something further, concerning Nais, but the bellowing rush of the waters drowned all other words. A great mist made from the stream sent up by the swamped burning mountains stopped all accurate view, though the blaze from the fires lit it like gold. But I had a last sight of a horde of soldiery rushing up the slopes of the Mountain, with a scum of surge billowing at their heels, and licking many of them back in its clutch. And then my eye fell on old Zaemon waving to me with the Symbol to shut down the door in the roof of the Ark.
I obeyed his last command, and went down the stair, and closed all ingress behind me. There were bolts placed ready, and I shot these into their sockets, and there were Nais and I alone, and cut off from all the rest of our world that remained.
I went to the place where she lay, and put my arms tightly around her. Without, we heard men beating desperately on the Ark with their weapons, and some even climbed by the battens to the top and wrenched to try and move the door from its fastenings. The end was coming very nearly to them now, and the great crowd of them were mad with terror.
I would have given much to have known how Phorenice fared in that final tumult, and how she faced it. I could see her, with her lovely face, and her wondrous eyes, and her ruddy hair curling about her neck, and by all the Gods! I thought more of her at that last moment than of the poor land she had conquered, and misgoverned, and brought to this horrid destruction. There is no denying the fascination which Phorenice carried with her.
But the end did not dally long with its coming. There was a little surge that lifted the Ark a hand's breadth or so in its cradle, and set it back again with a jar and a quiver. The blows from axes and weapons ceased on its lower part, but redoubled into frenzied batterings on its rounded roof. There were some screams and cries also which came to us but dully through the thickness of its ponderous sheathing, though likely enough they were sent forth at the full pitch of human lungs outside. And when another surge came, roaring and thundering, which picked up the great vessel as though it had been a feather, and spun it giddily; and after that we touched earth or rock no more.
We tossed about on the crest and troughs of delirious seas, a sport for the greedy Gods of the ocean. The lamp had fallen, and we crouched there in darkness, dully weighed with the burden of knowledge that we alone were saved out of what was yesterday a mighty nation.
20. ON THE BOSOM OF THE DEEP
The Ark was rudderless, oarless, and machineless, and could travel only where the High Gods chose. The inside was dark, and full of an ancient smell, and crowded with groanings and noise. I could not find the fire-box to relight the fallen lamp, and so we had to endure blindly what was dealt out to us. The waves tossed us in merciless sport, and I clung on by the side of Nais, holding her to the bed. We did not speak much, but there was full companionship in our bereavement and our silence.
When Atlantis sank to form new ocean bed, she left great whirlpools and spoutings from her drowned fires as a fleeting legacy to the Gods of the Sea. And then, I think (though in the black belly of the Ark we could not see these things), a vast hurricane of wind must have come on next so as to leave no piece of the desolation incomplete. For seven nights and seven days did this dreadful turmoil continue, as counted for us afterwards by the reckoner of hours which hung within the Ark, and then the howling of the wind departed, and only the roll of a long still swell remained. It was regular and it was oily, as I could tell by the difference of the motion, and then for the first time I dared to go up the stair, and open the door which stood in the roof of the Ark.
The sweet air came gushing down to freshen the foulness within, and as the Ark rode dryly over the seas, I went below and brought up Nais to gain refreshment from the curing rays of our Lord the Sun. Duly the pair of us adored Him, and gave thanks for His great mercy in coming to light another day, and then we laid ourselves down where we were to doze, and take that easy rest which we so urgently needed.
Yet, though I was tired beyond words, for long enough sleep would not visit me. Wearily I stared out over the oily sunlit waters. No blur of land met the eye. The ring of ocean was unbroken on every side, and overhead the vault of heaven remained unchanged. The bosom of the deep was littered with the poor wreckage of Atlantis, to remind one, if there had been a need, that what had come about was fact, and not some horrid dream. Trees, squared timber, a smashed and upturned boat of hides, and here and there the rounded corpse of a man or beast shouldered over the swells, and kept convoy with our Ark as she drifted on in charge of the Gods and the current.
But sleep came to me at last, and I dropped off into unconsciousness, holding the hand of Nais in mine, and when next I woke, I found her open-eyed also and watching me tenderly. We were finely rested, both of us, and rest and strength bring one complacency. We were more ready now to accept the station which the High Gods had made for us without repining, and so we went below again into the belly of the Ark to eat and drink and maintain strength for the new life which lay before us.
A wonderful vessel was this Ark, now we were able to see it at leisure and intimately. Although for the first time now in all its centuries of life it swam upon the waters, it showed no leak or suncrack. Inside, even its floor was bone dry. That it was built from some wood, one could see by the grainings, but nowhere could one find suture or joint. The living timbers had been put in place and then grown together by an art which we have lost to-day, but which the Ancients knew with much perfection; and afterwards some treatment, which is also a secret of those forgotten builders, had made the wood as hard as metal and impervious to all attacks of the weather.
In the gloomy cave of its belly were stored many matters. At one end, in great tanks on either side of central alley, was a prodigious store of grain. Sweet water was in other tanks at the other end. In another place were drugs and samples, and essences of the life of beasts; all these things being for use whilst the Ark roamed under the guidance of the Gods on the bosom of the deep. On all the walls of the Ark, and on all the partitions of the tanks and the other woodwork, there were carved in the rude art of bygone time representations of all the beasts which lived in Atlantis; and on these I looked with a hunter's interest, as some of them were strange to me, and had died out with the men who had perpetuated them in these sculptures. There was a good store of weapons too and the tools for handicrafts.
Now, for many weeks, our life endured in this Ark as the Gods drove it about here and there across the face of the waters. We had no government over direction; we could not by so much as a hair's breadth a day increase her speed. The High Gods that had chosen the two of us to be the only ones saved out of all Atlantis, had sole control of our fate, and into Their hands we cheerfully resigned our future direction.
Of that land which we reached in due time, and where we made our abiding place, and where our children were born, I shall tell of in its place; but since this chronicle has proceeded so far in an exact order of the events as they came to pass, it is necessary first to narrate how we came by the sheets on which it is written.
In a great coffer, in the centre of the Ark's floor, the whole of the Mysteries learned during the study of ages were set down in accurate writing. I read through some of them during the days which passed, and the awfulness of the Powers over which they gave control appalled me. I had seen some of these Powers set loose in Atlantis, and was a witness of her destruction. But here were Powers far higher than those; here was the great Secret of Life and Death which Phorenice also had found, and for which she had been destroyed; and there were other things also of which I cannot even bring my stylo to scribe.
The thought of being custodian of these writings was more than I could endure, and the more the matter rested in my mind, the more intolerable became the burden. And at last I took hot irons, and with them seared the wax on the sheets till every letter of the old writings was obliterated. If I did wrong, the High Gods in Their infinite justice will give me punishment; if it is well that these great secrets should endure on earth, They in their infinite power will dictate them afresh to some fitting scribes; but I destroyed them there as the Ark swayed with us over the waves; and later, when we came to land, I rewrote upon the sheets the matters which led to great Atlantis being dragged to her death-throes.
Nais, that I love so tenderly—
[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The remaining sheets are too broken to be legible.]