The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
The palace festival hall was a blaze of light as the prisoners were ushered in. Its tables were arranged in a wide U, and the diners had apparently rearranged their places in expectation of something to come. Ru sat by the side of Rana, and back of them were ranged the priests of Minos. The guard was heavily disposed inside the door.
Morse looked around, first for Kiron and then for Laidlaw, but both men were absent.
Morse and Leola had been placed upon their feet outside the entrance, their lower bonds loosened in order that they might walk, and then forced into the dining hall by their captors. Rana regarded them with the eyes of a basilisk, and Ru with more complacency but none the less assurance.
"So, my sister," said Rana fiercely, "it seems that you are more human than we thought. You—the woman who styled the other sex stupid—have succumbed to the seduction of a stranger."
Leola surveyed the queen calmly, as if she had not spoken, and Ru took up the denunciation.
"Priestess of Pasiphae, you are forsworn," he said, and the nobles about the tables craned their necks to listen. "The fire mountain shows the anger of the gods. The lake itself is an emblem of their growing wrath. We have consulted the oracles with anxious questionings, and they have answered."
In the silence that fell upon the hall as Ru paused, the heavy breathing of the audience betrayed their fear and superstition. Ru looked at them with the air of an animal trainer who had been doubtful whether his performers had forgotten their tricks, but now he knew that they were held well in hand.
"The oracle has said: 'From fire and water was Atlantis born. When fire and water mingle, then the beginning shall be the end. Watch carefully, lest destruction come from without. Desert not the gods, lest in time of peril they in turn desert you.'
"'When fire and water mingle!' The lake will soon begin to boil unless the danger can be averted. Vapor hangs over it tonight—vapor born of the mingling of
the elements. 'Watch carefully, lest destruction come from without.' Within our midst, in the very center of our age-old worship of the eternal gods—Leola has been unfaithful to her vows, a priestess who has flouted the gods and made a mockery of them before their own altars!"
A muttering broke out along the line of tables. Rana alone said nothing, but she bent a venomous gaze upon her sister who looked through her as if she had not been present.
"From the outside have come strangers with talk of peoples who are so much more powerful than Atlantis. If they are so great and wise, why do they come to spy upon us? Why are they not content to remain in their own land as we are in Atlantis? Yet, we would have treated them courteously, but they have conspired with this recreant priestess to pollute our sacred shrines. Their penalty must be death!"
The mutterings grew louder, but under Ru's piercing stare no one dared show signs of dissent.
"And simple death cannot atone for, nor avert, the gathering displeasure of the gods. Sacrifice alone will appease them!"
A slight tremor rocked the building, and the lamps swung on the chains that supported them. Ru's eyes blazed with triumph.
"See!" he cried. "The gods answer and accept!"
The mutterings changed to audible exclamations of awe and wonder. Into the faces of the nobles, men and women alike, crept the look that they had worn in the amphitheater. Their eyes hardened and their mouths grew cruel. There had been no human sacrifices in Atlantis for some time; it would be a rare spectacle.
"The false priestess shall stand upon the Spot of Sacrifice while Re touches with his shining finger the rays of his emblem," said Ru. "As for the stranger, let him learn the embrace of the Bull of Minos."
Morse, wondering what horrors might lie in the fate decreed for Leola, dimly sensed what his own would be. He knew the ancient torture of the Minoans described in the frescoes of Cnossus, where strangers were "presented" to the bull, shut up within the belly of a brazen image made red-hot to receive them. Doomed
and without hope as he believed them, strangely, death seemed far away, unfathomable. His mind was misty, and idly, without feeling, he wondered what they would do to Laidlaw, and if the scientist had already been condemned.
Dimly he heard the thrill, almost the pleasure, in the tones of the nobles as they repeated: "The Bull of Minos!"
He turned to Leola, and her eyes held an open avowal of love before they saddened to farewell.
"Forgive me," he said hoarsely. The mist was clearing from his mind as the hands of the guards took hold of him.
"There is nothing to forgive," Leola answered quietly. "You have given me love, and that is more than life!"
"Silence, you wanton!" It was the shrill voice of Rana, cracking in its malignity and unsuppressed anger. The queen had risen, and her face was convulsed with a deadly hatred. Ru laid a restraining hand upon her arm.
Leola smiled. "Yours is a hollow victory, my sister. I win far more than I lose, and you lose what you could never have won."
Rana snatched a sharp-cutting dagger from the table and threw it with all her strength and fury. Hate thwarted her aim, and the blade sank into the shoulder of a guard who stood close by.
Ru motioned the captives away.
There was a sudden rush of sandaled feet, and the hall was filled with the indignant priestesses of Pasiphae. Their heads were topped with crested helmets, their waists girdled with swords. Some carried long shields that covered their bodies and bore spears, while the remainder were armed with bows and arrows. They surrounded Leola, the feathered shafts threatening Rana and Ru. The guards fell back sullenly; the determination of these women warriors was not to be held lightly.
One of the two priestesses who had been carried abreast of Leola in the afternoon procession—it was not the girl who had glanced at Kiron—advanced halfway the length of the tables and addressed Ru.
"By what right," she demanded, in a tone of arrogance and anger, "do your guards seize the person of our high priestess upon the isle of Sele, within the holy borders of the shrine?"
Ru answered evenly:
"The priests of Minos have always held the right of entry upon Sele. But wait—" he cried, as the priestess started to bring up her spear. "Hear me out. We followed in the footsteps of this stranger, believing that he intended to violate the sacred precincts of the isle to keep a tryst with Leola."
There was a movement of disbelief, of repulsion, among the priestesses, and their gaze fastened on Leola's face.
"We found her," continued Ru, "in his embrace. She cannot deny it. Ask her," he cried, as the priestesses protested in indignation.
The spokeswoman turned to Leola, half-fearfully. The unasked question was in her silent glance.
"It is true," the high priestess admitted calmly.
As swiftly as waves retreat from a sloping beach, the priestesses of Pasiphae drew back from Leola as a thing abhorred, whose touch would befoul them. Only one remained close to her; it was the one whom Kiron had called Lycida. She hesitated for a moment as the others moved away sullenly. Then she stepped to Leola's side, lifting her head fearlessly, and checked the high priestess before she could speak.
"Then I, too," she said, looking scornfully at her fellows, "abjure my vows. My respect for her is stronger than my devotion to Pasiphae. The vows of friendship to flesh and blood are stronger than those to a goddess in the souls of whose followers humanity is as lifeless as the flame that died last night upon the altar of the shrine."
Her voice rang out fearlessly, and her dark eyes flashed.
"So be it," said Ru grimly. "You have cast your lot with flesh and blood, and your fate is entwined with the fate of Leola. The gods will appreciate another offering. Tomorrow, at dawn, you may have cause for regret when you face an offended Pasiphae at the entrance of the underworld."
Lycida shivered, but stood as straight as an arrow.
"We will give them into your keeping," continued Ru to the priestesses. "We will await you in the Hall of Sacrifice an hour before sunrise."
It was a shrewd move that allied the irate votaries of Pasiphae with him in the judgment that he had declared. He had no wish to offend them at the present. There was time enough for that later on.
The first priestess, whose eyes already held a look of satisfied ambition, hesitated for only a moment. At a sign from her, the armed priestesses closed in about Leola and her companion and led them from the hall.
The sound of their departure had barely died away when there was a noise of confusion in the antechamber. The clang of a shield, the quick clatter of weapons, and the imperious voice of Kiron ordered the guards to stand aside.
A little phalanx of nobles entered, swords in hand. They were armored in helmets, breastplates, and greaves, and their sword arms were protected from wrist to elbow by plates of bronze. With them were the personal attendants of the young king, the Indians Maya and Xolo who flanked Laidlaw, and Kiron himself. The scientist and the two Indians held rifles. Thrusting the guards aside, they surrounded Morse, their shields welded into an unbreakable barrier.
"This time, Ru, you have usurped your prerogatives," said Kiron. "This man and this"—he indicated Morse and Laidlaw—"can hardly be called strangers. On the contrary, they are citizens and nobles of Atlantis, members of the Brotherhood of Kol, epoptae and mystae of the ritual over which you presided. They can be judged only by the will of the people."
Ru's face grew scarlet, and the veins on his forehead stood out as if he had been lashed.
"This we will not countenance!" he shrieked. "Our shrines have been profaned. Their lives are forfeit. Be careful that you do not involve yourself!"
He struck a gong that hung upon a tripod close by him. Above its sound broke a heavy detonation, and again the palace shook to its foundations.
"Listen to the voice of Minos," cried Ru. "Atlantis
is shaken. We lie in the hollow of his palm. Beware or he will close it and crush us."
In answer to the sound of the gong, a company of guards appeared behind Ru to strengthen his position. Consternation reigned among the feasters. The violence of the tremor and the ferocity of Ru's speech frightened them, and the priest was quick to recognize this. The terror of the moment had invested him with all the ancient powers of his office.
"Seize them!" he cried, and the guards rushed at the little force who stood firm to the attack, outnumbered though they were. A clash of bronze upon bronze sounded as Kiron and his men fiercely resisted the crush of men who sought to cut them down by shear weight of numbers.
Morse and Laidlaw, joined by Maya and Xolo, forced their way into the front ranks, and opened fire, the first use of firearms that the Atlanteans had ever witnessed. The noise of the rifles and automatics was almost lost in the fierce combat, but Ru's guards saw the spitting fire and shrank back before the stream of lead that smashed through flesh and bone and left a dozen of their number on the floor.
Morse caught a glimpse of the head and shoulders of Ru behind the mass of guards, and he fired without taking aim. The bullet smashed against the golden headpiece that the high priest wore and sent it banging to the floor. Ru bobbed low with surprising alacrity and kept out of sight behind his guards.
"Quickly!" shouted Kiron, as the attack slackened. "Before they can cut us off."
Still facing their opponents, the little band backed slowly through the door and then hastened along the corridor to Kiron's quarters. A few of the party had been wounded in the short conflict, and these were treated as Kiron revealed his doings to the Americans.
"I sent a messenger to your apartments and learned from the Indians that you had left instructions not to be disturbed. After a little while Ru was interrupted by some of his men who talked excitedly, although I could not hear what was said. An evil but satisfying look came over his face as he exchanged a word with Rana,
and then his men rushed off with new instructions.
"As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I slipped away to your apartments. Maya admitted that you were not there, and I set out to find you. The boat that I had lent you was gone, and a little distance from there I found a fisherman who told me of an incoming barge that held prisoners from Sele. Messages were sent to Laidlaw and these men whom I felt certain I could count on, and we armed ourselves. You know the rest. What do you know of Leola?"
Morse told him and the king's face became pale and hard as he heard of the devotion of the priestess, Lycida.
"They left the palace by another way," he said slowly. "If I had met them…" he paused and let his sentence go unfinished, fighting deep emotion. Finally he gained control of himself.
"We cannot stay here indefinitely. The doors are solid, but Ru will inflame all of Atlantis against us. They are already in mortal fear from the earth tremors. The fisherman told me that the western waters are white with dead fish, and the paint on his boat was blistered with the heat. The volcanic cloud is red with the reflection of fire."
He turned to the nobles who had fought for him. "I do not wish to embroil you in this quarrel, my friends. Yet, I am afraid that you are already marked men."
"Your cause is ours, Kiron," one of them answered for all.
"Good! If I can get word to my villa, there are fifty men there who are well-trained in the use of arms. But our numbers will still remain too few," he mused sadly.
"Leola and her friend must be rescued," interposed Morse quietly but firmly. "Ru plans to sacrifice them at dawn. We must reach them somehow. A raid on Sele—"
"We would be cut down before we reached the boats," said Kiron.
"Then a bold stroke in the temple. Can you gain us entrance somehow? If we could hide ourselves until the right moment, seize the girls, and fight out way to the tunnel, we might have a chance. The guns will hold
them off if we can take them by surprise."
Kiron looked at Morse doubtfully.
"It is the only thing we can do," he agreed finally. "It is a desperate chance. Your death tubes may aid us to win through, but I think Ru will be certain to guard the tunnel. But I can gain access to the temple by the royal entrance. It opens only to my touch, and even Ru does not have the secret. The passage leads from here to the chamber of Tele, the astrologer. He will help us, for he has no love for Ru. The priests hate him because he will not read the stars to suit their will."
A fierce hammering sounded on the metal doors that shut off the wing from the rest of the palace. Maya appeared to tell them that Ru's forces had mustered for an attack.
"If the doors will hold them for awhile, " said Morse, "we can collect our ammunition and make our way to your astrologer."
On the outside, men battered savagely at the doors. It took only a few moments to secure the arms, the flashlights, and the field glasses. They stepped into the large room that housed the king's pool, and Kiron moved to its side, reaching for some unseen object beneath the water's surface. There was a rush of water, and the pool emptied rapidly.
Kiron turned and motioned them down a flight of steps.
Along the side of the pool, a series of bronze rings were set for handholds. The king inspected them carefully, selected one, and gave it a peculiar twist to the side. A low door appeared, and they passed through, followed by the nobles who had cast their lot with the king. The passage was pitch dark. Laidlaw switched on his flashlight and by its light Kiron found a lever set in the wall. As he pulled it, the door behind them closed quickly, and the sound of water was easily distinguishable. The pool was being refilled.
"The doors should hold them," said Kiron hopefully. "I made sure that they were well built. By the time they have them down, the pool will have reached its normal level. Let me lead. There are other tricks that make this hidden way secure."