The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
For a little way the tunnel was dimly lit by the daylight that came through the opening. Kiron reached above his head and tugged at a bronze handle attached to a lever working in a slot of metal in the wall. A sound of falling water came to their ears, and the daylight faded as the gates behind them closed upon the outer world.
"Hydraulic?" asked Laidlaw.
"The lake has thrice risen and flooded the lower dwellings," said Kiron. "The engineers drove a course-way through the rock that follows this tunnel and empties into a great cleft we shall presently cross. The flood waters open doors automatically and carry off the waste. Meantime we use a small supply to open and close the gates and raise the bridge."
Morse used only his flashlight, saving Laidlaw's and the extra batteries for an emergency. The power lens and reflector gave a brilliant light that was amply sufficient. The way led slightly upward through a shaft of volcanic origin. The flashlight revealed iridescent walls that occasionally changed in character, though always carrying the scars of ancient fires. At times great
stalactites hung from the roof, and once they walked through a realm covered with the yellow prisms of sparkling sulphur crystals. The steamy air was laden with brimstone. Laidlaw, testing the water that trickled down the sides, hastily withdrew a blistered finger.
To right and left, chambers and passages opened out. The floor had been roughly paved, and their progress was rapid. Ten minutes’ travel brought them to the cleft which Kiron had spoken of. Here, the sound of rushing waters beneath them could be plainly heard. But the gap was almost entirely covered by a bridge of bronze cantilever construction. The heels of Morse and Laidlaw clanged on its metal, and Kiron, once across, pulled another handle. The bridge swung upward on silent hinges, completely blocking the passage and leaving a deep gulf in front of it.
The tunnel showed increasing signs of man's work. Its steeper pitches had been made into series of low steps. At regular intervals along the sides, bronze brackets connected with an ornamental pipe that seemed to be designed for lighting.
"They are served from metal reservoirs at the far end which contain a gas that collects in the fissures of the mountain," explained Kiron. "The control is at Dor, and they are only lit on special occasions."
"There is volcanic fire also?" asked Laidlaw.
"Dor is beneath the shadow of a great volcano in which lava simmers," answered Kiron. "And in the temple, below the Spot of Sacrifice, is a deep shaft in which the fire of the altar of the gods always plays. Tele, the astrologer, whom you shall meet, will tell you that the wrath of the gods has not been manifested for more than fifty generations. Our traditions tell us that New Atlantis was born of fire and water, and by water and fire it shall be destroyed."
Presently the tunnel became quadrangular with smooth walls and ceiling. Frescoes appeared, painted upon a plaster background with occasional bas-reliefs in the same material, showing rows of processional figures treated in the style of decorations found in the ruins of early Greece and Egypt.
Before one of these Kiron halted while Morse turned his light upon the pictographs. They represented an
enormous creature, seemingly as large as a hippopotamus in proportion to other figures. It stood erect on hind feet, balanced by a great tail, it sides covered with scaly armor. Parallel lines of servants and warriors in crested helmets, with broad-bladed swords, framed the monster. On one side was the giant form of a man with the head of a jaguar, holding a bow, the arrows from which bristled from the chest of a great beast. Above was a cartouche filled with hieroglyphics which Laidlaw translated.
"Here Pta the King, Pta the Hunter, Pta the Lord of All that Breathes, killed the Beast of the Caves. Mighty is Pta!"
Laidlaw waved his hands excitedly. "The beast is a mylodon, one of the mammoth cave sloths of the Pleistocene and recent deposits. A fantastic find!"
"Its skeleton and skin are in the royal museum," said Kiron. "It is said that this was the last of its kind, but in the last three generations there have been reports that a great beast lives in the big caves at the southern end of the lake. What truth there is in this I do not know, but I have often meant to hunt it. If you wish, we will some day seek the beast together. Those death-giving tubes of yours should be more than a match for it, and you shall gain the wreath of victory."
Realizing that the king was offering them an honor coveted by himself, Morse thanked him. "Let us teach you the use of the tubes, and you shall not be outdone even by Pta himself."
Kiron remained silent, but his expressive features could not hide the pleasure that came to his face.
Abruptly, the tunnel turned to the right. They mounted a long flight of steps with daylight far above them. At the head of the staircase the way was closed with massive bronze gates, and beyond there loomed a beautifully paved terrace guarded by a balustrade of stone. Beyond this, traced against a cloudless sky, were the serrated summits of a volcanic ridge.
A circular gong of bronze, three feet in diameter, hung close to the gates. Beneath it, in a wall niche, was a knobbed stick, the end thickly coated with rubber. Kiron picked it up and handed it to Laidlaw.
"Strike, my brother," he said, "and strike your
mightiest, that Dor may know a king knocks at its gates. But strike only once. Kings summon with one call, one stroke, one trumpet cry, and others knock and wait."
Kiron's nakedness had been covered with a long strip of striped cloth from the Americans’ supplies. It was draped about him and belted to form a flowing skirt that fell halfway between knees and ankles, making a mantle that covered his shoulders and left his right arm bare. Xolo had made him a pair of sandals from broad forest leaves such as he himself wore.
Morse, watching Laidlaw grasp the rubber knob, smiled to himself at his companion's soiled and stained khaki, the trousers tucked into high, laced boots, a dingy solar helmet upon his head. He became aware of his own disarray and wondered briefly how this lost people might regard their travel-worn appearance.
Laidlaw swung his arm, and the rubber knob struck its target fair in the center. It tilted heavily at the ponderous blow, and the deep cry of its vibrations echoed in the tunnel and beat against their eardrums.
The sound had not reached its height before a man in a short skirt and a jacket that resembled a bolero appeared. The surprise upon his face changed to consternation as he beheld Kiron and the strangers. For a moment he hesitated in apparent bewilderment.
"Open!" pronounced Kiron somberly.
The man produced a curiously pronged key, inserted it in the lock, and turned it. As he pressed his foot upon a metal stud in the paving, the gates rolled noiselessly aside. The man groveled.
"Pardon, O great king!" he stammered. "I had thought—"
"Let it be your last one," said Kiron sternly. "Thoughts can be dangerous at a time like this. Send quickly and bring us litters.
"It would be better, I think," he said, as the man disappeared at a run, "if we go in closed litters to my wing in the palace. There we can attire ourselves fittingly. You will permit me to offer you clean linen?"
Morse accepted, pleased at the Atlantean's delicacy.
"Give me a long robe, Kiron," said Laidlaw, "that these legs of mine may not too early disgrace your standards."
"Would that mine bore as stout a body," replied Kiron. Then he continued: "The rains are over, and this is the month of Minos, the festival month of the reappearance of the Sun God. At noon, when he looks through the roof of his upper temple, the people will assemble and give thanks. Ru will address them and doubtless Rana will as well. She may lament my absence," he added satirically. "I shall be glad to be on hand to reassure her."
By this time three litters of carved wood inlaid with carved ivory panels on which the double ax was conspicuous were at hand. Morse and Laidlaw climbed into two of these, and pulled close the silken curtains at Kiron's direction. The strong shoulders of the bearers took them along in comfort.
Lying on his side, Morse could observe the lake through a crack in the curtains. Stretching toward purple hills, the water was dotted with islands. On the nearest one rose the white columns of a temple surrounded by trees. Boats with striped sails glided over the water.
The lake seemed to occupy the bowl of a great crater. Its waters were strangely blue and placid; the blue of another world. Off in the distance came the distant sound of trumpets. A deep-throated chant echoed mournfully across the water. But no one was encountered, and the bearer's feet padded along tirelessly in route to their unknown destination.
They entered a doorway and traversed a passage lined with white stone on which the double-ax sign was endlessly repeated. Finally, the litters were set down, and Morse and Laidlaw stepped out into a paved courtyard in the center of colonnades.
Palms grew in great vases between the pillars. The bearers disappeared noiselessly. Kiron stood beside the edge of a pool in which a fountain splashed in the sun.
"Welcome to Dor!" he greeted them. "I will show you your apartments; my own slaves will attend you."
He led them to a room of great size. The walls were frescoed in gesso duro, with unglazed window openings cased in bronze lattice, over which trailed flowering vines. Low couches and chairs shaped to the figure stood about. Through a doorway they caught an inviting glimpse of water in a pool.
Kiron pointed to another door of paneled wood.
"There is your bath," he said. "When you have bathed, will you join me in the pool?"
Morse gazed in astonishment at the lavatory fittings.
"Hot and cold water!" he exclaimed. "Silver fittings, ivory combs! And a mirror, no less!"
He surveyed himself disconsolately in a tall plate of polished metal.
"A nice pair of scarecrows we are!" he said. "Fine visitors for a palace. Look at this luxury, Laidlaw. You take it as if you had registered at the Ritz."
"I expected it," said Laidlaw. "The Cretans were fully our equals in sanitary science. Thank the Lord for a bathtub. I wonder when we eat?"
"You're impossible," laughed Morse. "What do you think they'll serve us? Peacock and mullet, I suppose. I'm hungry myself."
A series of light knocks sounded on the door.
"Come in," called Laidlaw.
A pair of bronzed youths entered. One bore a ewer of gold in a deep bowl in which snow was closely packed with two goblets inserted bowl downward in the cool crystals. The other carried linen cloths and a cake of what might have been soap. They retired without uttering a word.
"Kiron's silent system," commented Laidlaw. "I wish this soap-weed cake were edible."
"What's in the pitcher?" asked Morse.
"Try it." Laidlaw poured the silver cups full of a ruby-colored liquor that smelled of spices and grapes. It was sweet, cloying to their palates, but nonetheless invigorating. After a hot bath, they crossed the main apartment to where Kiron awaited them.
Without a word, the three moved simultaneously, diving into the inviting, emerald water and racing for the far end of the marble tank, a hundred feet away. Just as the fingers of Morse and Kiron were outstretched to touch its side, Laidlaw, with a mighty surge, forged in ahead of them, the winner of the undeclared race. More youths awaited them as they emerged, dripping, clad them in loose linen wraps, and escorted them to couches. There they were massaged with sweet
scented oils. A servant brought a pile of garments, dividing them into three groups. The youths assisted Morse and Laidlaw to invest themselves in the strange attire, after one had passed a comb through Laidlaw's tawny hair and beard, to his passive disgust. Kiron and Morse were shaved quickly and smoothly by attendants with wedge-shaped razors that were as well-tempered as any American product.
Laidlaw was garbed in a pleated skirt of dull red that fell to his insteps and was bordered with a fringe of gold. His misshapen dwarf legs were well concealed. A golden girdle, scaled and flexible as a snake's skin, held it in place. Above was a tunic of fine wool, purple in hue, the left arm short-sleeved and the right bare, showing Laidlaw's Herculean proportions to their full advantage. Gilded sandals, bound with thongs of soft leather, and a fillet of the same material about his brows completed the costume.
Like some lord of ancient Assyria, he walked the length of the pool, squaring his shoulders before the critical eyes of Kiron.
Morse wore a double chiton of white wool, sleeveless, caught at the shoulders with gold fibulae brooches, and belted with vermilion leather incrusted with gold filigree set with pale-green olivines. The skirt of this singular garment touched his knees, and its cloth was bordered with golden brocade. His sandals were scarlet, his garb almost a duplicate of Kiron's.
Morse enjoyed the freedom and coolness of the costume, and his naturalness brought an exclamation from Laidlaw.
"You look like an Atlantean to me, Morse."
The discarded clothing lay on one of the couches of the main apartment when they entered. Kiron showed them a space in the wall, masked so cunningly by a part of the design that the uninitiated eye would never suspect its existence. In it they stowed their goods, and Kiron revealed the secret of its opening by pressing the paneled eye of a big cat creeping over ivy-covered rocks and about to spring upon a pheasant-like bird.
"Now," said the Atlantean, "let us eat. We have an hour before the middle day."
Laidlaw did not try to suppress a sigh of pleasure.
In the courtyard, a trestle table and seats had been arranged. Glossy leaves bearing red waxen flowers were entwined between goblets and platters of gold on a white cloth. The peacocks of Morse's imagination did not make an appearance, but the mullets were typified by a lake fish of delicate flesh, served in a sauce of thyme and cucumber. This was followed by a pudding of meal, surrounded by a number of enormous frogs’ legs. A sweet pudding filled with chopped fruits ended the repast, at which time even Laidlaw attempted to loosen the links of his girdle.
There were litters in attendance, and the three were borne from the palace behind silken curtains. When they halted in a paved alley between high walls, Kiron dismissed the bearers and led the way to an entrance barely the height of Morse. The Atlantean struck his foot upon a disk of metal that protruded slightly from the threshold, and the bronze gateway slid into the wall. Fifty steps stretched down to a corridor leading to a blank wall. A flower of bronze, hollow-centered, projected from a stone slab.
Kiron advanced and spoke into the petals. Immediately there was a light sound of clicking. A section of the wall descended into the floor. Kiron turned his head to Laidlaw.
"We, too, have our inventions," he said proudly as they passed through the opening. "This is a hidden entrance to the temple."
A long incline appeared before them, rising to the antechamber of a great hall, and ending in a high screen woven from golden threads into a weird design of foliage and fruit. The workmanship was so fine that the light pierced it, and through it came the sound of a high, querulous voice.
"That is Ru," said Kiron, anger rising in him.
A blare of trumpets followed; a burst of voices in a swelling harmony. A strange incense penetrated the antechamber. A woman's deep contralto, ineffably sweet and alluring, reached them.
"Re has removed the veil from his face and smiles once more. Great is Re. The blossoms are invested with his breath and speak of golden fruit. The land sends up incense. The hearts of youth listen to the mating
cries of the birds and are glad. Atlantis smiles beneath the glory of Re that now descends upon us."
And now a chant sounded:
Beyond the screen, the hall was suddenly flooded with a golden glow. Presently the woman's voice broke the silence.
"The golden flower opens! Lo, our prayers are acceptable! Gladness shall come to Atlantis, and fertility. Yet there is a shadow upon the radiance that showers down. Kiron, our king, beloved of Re, is missing from the festival, absent from this gathering."
A cry arose of "Kiron! Kiron!"
But Kiron did not move, and a sardonic smile crossed his face.
"Wait! Rana has not yet ended."
"You call for Kiron, and he answers not," said the queen. "Some grave misfortune must have befallen him. The oracles are silent, though Ru, your spirit lord, has besought them. The holy fires smoldered sullenly at his questioning."
"Kiron! Where is Kiron?" called a voice, quaveringly. "Has he lost favor with the gods?"
"I cannot answer you, my people," said Rana. "Like you, I can only ask: 'Where is Kiron?'"
Beckoning Morse and Laidlaw to follow, Kiron strode around the screen. Bearded priests in flowing robes encircled a platform. A slender woman stood before a throne of gold that glittered with gems. Beside it, a second royal chair was empty. The emblem of the
double ax, gleaming blades on ebony staffs, loomed between them. From an opening in the roof, a shaft of sunshine poured in. Beyond it the Americans vaguely glimpsed a multitude of shifting forms.
"Here!" repeated Kiron, one arm upraised, advancing until he stood in the center of the dancing motes of sunray. "Kiron is here, and unto Re the Sun God gives his salutation."
A cheer from a thousand throats echoed from roofs and walls.
Morse saw Rana shrink back, terror in her eyes. A priest whose robes were heavy with brocade down which his long beard broke in a silver shower stepped to her side and whispered. She straightened her slim length and advanced to the edge of the dais. Her eyes were transformed into crimson orbs of hate, which she quickly masked with lowered eyelids.
"Zeus be praised!" she said. "Kiron, chosen of Re, Rana the queen rejoices with our people."
She extended a hand that was like a white flower. Kiron chose to ignore it and ascended the platform as the people roared their approval.
"People of Atlantis," he began, "I bring to you my brothers, strangers who are not strange, visitors who bring tidings from the remote past, of Minos, king of kings, bearers of great news. See, Re shines on them and hails them as his own!"
The shifting shaft of sunbeam had enveloped Morse and Laidlaw where they stood.
"Disperse to the feasting and the dance," said Kiron. "Presently Ru, high priest of Minos and of Re, shall address you. We would be alone with our new brothers."
Morse and Laidlaw felt the challenge of keen glances. Morse found the gaze of Rana directed at him with an admiration that she made no attempt to hide. Laidlaw's amber eyes encountered another kind of look. For there was both challenge and threat centered in the narrow look of Ru.
As the crowd departed, Kiron addressed himself to Rana. "The vultures feed on the carrion you sent to give them daintier food. Are you not glad to greet me, cousin?"
"You speak in strange riddles, Kiron," she answered softly in a voice that held the magic of united strings. "Truthfully, I am glad to see you. Present me to your brothers."