ATLANTIS VERSUS PELASGIA
A few days later the Atlantean fleet sailed to the eastward to invade this upstart Pelasgia—these Pelasgians that had come from Western Asia by way of the Cyclades to make an abiding place in the Greece of to-day, as well as the islands of the Ægean Sea.
A mysterious people were the Pelasgians. Their appearance among the past known races of the earth was sudden; their extinction has been complete. Yet we know they were peaceful, and fond of agriculture; that, under the favoring skies of their adopted land, they became the greatest merchants and sailors of most ancient times, antedating the renowned Phœnicians; that from Greece they passed over to Southern Italy, there, perhaps, to inaugurate that “golden age of Saturn,” when peaceful agricultural pursuits superseded the piratical habits of the Carians and Leleges. But this is little.
However, their monuments endure. These are the vast Cyclopean remains of Greece and Asia that puzzle while they amaze. Evidently intended for fortification, they were built of huge polygonal stones, fitted together without cement and mortar, so perfectly as to survive the structures of succeeding ages and races. These are all that are left to point to a people who, though forced everywhere to yield to the conqueror, must yet have been possessed of indomitable energy and perseverance. Though ineffaceable are their invisible imprints for good.
Under Pelasgus, their leader and king, this colony won renown so quickly that it is no wonder Atlano should doubt its existence. But this knowledge proved the impetus he had been desiring. Now there was new life in the mere thought of the stifling of this menacing people.
Thus the fleet went gaily sailing along the Middle Sea, so high were the hopes, so positive the convictions of success.
The skies were favorable: and the time dragged not, because of the ravages made upon the coasts to the left. At length the islands off the southern shore of Greece were sighted; and there came into view what could only be some Pelasgian vessels. As the great fleet bore down upon them, these took to flight, and made such good speed, the while warning other vessels they met, that all were out of sight before reaching the southern point of Attica.
Up the western coast they speeded to their port, whilst the Atlanteans, mistaking their route, rounded Attica to sail up its eastern coast. Nothing here invited them except some outlying hamlets, which they pillaged and destroyed. When well along between Attica and Euboea, the fleet lay to, and many warriors disembarked.
These advanced through Bœotia, the surprised Pelasgians fleeing before them into Thessaly. But quickly did Thessaly prepare for defense, calling as leader Deucalion, who, with his family, dwelt at Larissa, on its southern shore.
This Deucalion was revered and beloved; and it was whispered that he possessed mysterious powers that could come only of the gods. So none but himself must lead these ready Thessalonians.
He, most willing, hastily gathered his neighbors. And then these Pelasgians of Thessaly met the invaders, gave them fierce battle, and forced them back, even through Bœotia, and into Attica. Meanwhile, a few of the Atlantean vessels had proceeded along the coast of Attica and Bœotia, seeking pillage; and, all too soon, came upon Larissa, whose simple homes and cultivated lands were on either side of its gentle stream and by the coast. Here, at this inviting spot, they paused to descend upon its women and children, every man having gone with Deucalion. When home after home had been pillaged and destroyed, these defenseless ones fell before the red warriors to plead, agonized, for mercy. But when unanswered, spurned, their importunities changed to despairing cries for Deucalion, which the marauders were only too quick to distinguish.
Thus the leader inquired of one of the shrieking women, in a tone she could not fail to understand, “Deucalion?”
She, foolish one, by her gestures and pointing, made them comprehend that this Deucalion had led his fellows southward to meet the invading foe.
Grim was then the laughter of the Atlanteans. To this succeeded desire to know which was Deucalion’s home. They were about to inquire, when the same woman, of her frenzy, cried:
“See—Pyrrha, Pyrrha! The wife of Deucalion!”
The Atlanteans, following her glance, again comprehended. Under some trees, at a little distance, were kneeling, entwined, a woman and two children. The leader eagerly asked:
“Is that the wife of Deucalion?”
The woman, understanding, bowed in affirmation.
“And the children of Deucalion?”
Again the woman bowed her “Yes.”
There was a swift movement of the chief and his men toward the group. Perceiving this, Pyrrha, with her children, arose, and the three stood in passive dignity. But less swift grew the approach of the marauders, as they the better beheld this Pyrrha, this fair, noble, most lovely woman, who, with the mother fear in her eyes, was holding tightly a youth well grown and a little maiden. For the moment a feeling akin to reverence came upon the fierce men, so that they halted. But the leader, overcoming this, went still nearer, and demanded:
“Give me the children!”
Of her intuition, Pyrrha understood. Tighter grew her grasp, as she besought mercy with her eyes. But the chief hardened only the more, for he was calculating upon the ransom that these children must bring. So he laid his hand upon the youth, strong in his purpose.
Then fine it was to behold the youth’s flashing eyes, his proud crest, and the brave air with which he turned to repel this mighty-looking warrior. Though Pyrrha, by tone and grasp, endeavored to restrain him, as she, in her Pelasgian, pleaded for mercy. Vain, however, were her sweet tones. The chief’s hands went about young Hellen; the cruel men pressed sore; and Pyrrha and her daughter, bereft, sank upon their knees, heart pressed to heart, to cry to heaven for help.
But again went the hands at their work. The mother was drawn back ruthlessly, and the maiden wrenched from her arms. Brave, unyielding, Pyrrha struggled to her feet, prepared to follow, to drag her children back. But the evil spirits held high their captives, and gathered about them in mass as they moved onward to the ships. Dark became everything to Pyrrha; her lovely body tottered, and she fell unconscious. Heaven at last was kind.
The other women, with their children, collected about her. But to all efforts for her revival, she responded not. So they forbore, to fall on their knees, and gaze dumbly at the vessels, which, with booty and captives, were already beginning the journey southward. When these were out of sight, they arose, their thought only for the miserable creature who had revealed Deucalion’s family to the despoilers. As one, they fell upon her with their tongues; and of her it need hardly be told that, for the balance of her life, it would have been better had she never been born.
The despoilers hastened southward to hear evil. The brave Atlanteans who had disembarked to destroy these Pelasgians, had met with defeat. Yes, Atlano had been pressed back into Attica by Deucalion, and there had been routed by a small army under Pelasgus. In consequence the ranks of the Atlanteans could only tear their way to the coast, many dying as they went of exhaustion or wounds, so that Atlano with the other survivors appeared but as a handful to those awaiting them on the ships.
When Atlano was again on his own vessel, his rage and humiliation were so intense that none dared to venture near him to tell of the presence of the two young captives. Even Maron, his chief attendant, kept aloof and eyed him in fear—the great, grim, swarthy Maron, who had never known awe until now.
But the king had not been long on board when, as he stood gazing upon the shore of this uncrushed Pelasgia, he heard a sound as of sobbing, and that not far from him. Surprised, he listened for some seconds, and then signed to Maron. The latter came forward eagerly, while the others of the vessel scarcely breathed in their interest.
“What is that noise, Maron?”
“Most gracious king, it cometh from the two children made captive on the coast above, at a place where some of our vessels landed for booty.”
“Who took them?”
“Most gracious king, it was the chief captain, Zekil.”
“Let them be brought before me.”
Maron signed to an officer, who hastened to the middle of the vessel, where there was a small apartment used for storage, to return with the two miserable ones. When these beheld the fierce, dark red face of the king, they cried out in alarm.
“Bring the rod,” ordered the king, “and let Zekil come before me.”
The two children had fallen on their knees to supplicate for deliverance. This Atlano well understood from their signs, their tones, their agony. With contempt he looked down upon them until the bronze rod was brought. At his word a blow upon the back of each brought the hapless pair to their feet. But their tears had ceased, and, with eyes shining of indignation, they held to each other. Their shoulders were smarting, but the pain was as nothing beside the indignity, for these children had known only tenderness and reverence hitherto.
Then, as the youth Hellen turned from his sister to flash at him a look as haughty, as fierce, Atlano smiled in derision, and asked:
“Maron, is this the son of a king?”
“Most gracious King, he is the son of a great chief. Zekil knoweth; and yonder he cometh.”
Soon Zekil was on board, and kneeling to the king. When bidden to arise, he stood up as if well satisfied with himself.
“Zekil, whence came these children?”
“Most gracious King, we brought them from the coast above.”
“Whose children are they?”
“Most gracious King, the people whom we fell upon were ever calling upon their father, as if he had all power. It was ‘Deucalion!’ ‘Deucalion!’ on every side.”
“Deucalion!” Atlano gasped the word. Then, of his astonishment and exultation, cried:
“Ha—Deucalion! Art thou sure?”
“Most gracious King, their father is Deucalion.”
“Knowest thou who is Deucalion? Knowest thou who he is, Zekil?”
Even Zekil was shrinking back at the fury of his tone.
“He is the one who headed the horde—that drove us back—into the way of loss, ruin. But for Deucalion, we would have swept from earth this Pelasgia!
“Yea, and as they thronged about him, and pressed against us, it was to the cry of ‘Deucalion—Deucalion!’ And we fled before this ‘Deucalion!’” He hissed the word at the terrified children.
“Now to pay him—now to pay him! And it shall be fine ransom! Ah, what ransom will I have for you, ye thrice-cursed children of Deucalion!”
He raised his hand as if to smite. Æole, comprehending, looked full in his face, calmly but beseechingly. And, as he, for the first time, obtained a clear view of the sweet, innocent, fair, lovely countenance of this child of thirteen, and received the appealing look of eyes beautiful like violets, eyes of a color unknown in Atlantis, the hand, losing force, fell to his side.
Further, as he continued to stare into these eyes, and note the gestures of the small, perfect hands, he understood that she was imploring their return to Pelasgia. But, at his frowning shake of the head, she desisted, to speak in quick, firm tone, to his comprehension:
“Then free my brother, and I will stay.”
At perceiving the king’s threatening hand, Hellen had raised his own to ward off the blow. Great was his astonishment when the king’s hand fell to his side, as he was not aware of Æole’s look or gestures. But, at her words, he started, shocked, and faced her.
“Æole, thou knowest not what thou askest. Thinkest thou I will go, and leave thee here, to the mercy of these?” And he looked with scorn at King Atlano, who was quick to interpret his words.
In spite of himself, Atlano could not but admire Hellen’s courage. He glanced from one to the other, the uncowed demeanor of both so impressing him that he said to those in attendance:
“They are a noble pair, this brother and sister. If we take naught of the spoil of Pelasgia with us to Atlantis, we are rich in them, for their value must bring us fine ransom, and before the sun of the morrow. Meanwhile, let them be held in honor. Maron, lead them whence they came.”
Then he turned to speak apart with Zekil. And Maron conducted the youth and maiden to the outside room.
Later, there was a conference of the king and his few surviving nobles and chief captains when it was decided that the Atlantean fleet would remain where it was, and, on the morrow, dictate terms for the ransom of the captives.
After Atlano had sent away his nobles and captains, he went to look upon the sufferers, and found them reclining upon some cushions, in the very stupor of grief. They heeded him not as he stood and watched them. And many forms did his thoughts take as he noted their beauty and grace. The one that would recur most often was, “I would almost keep them in spite of many ransoms.”
But, as it proved, there was no ransom on the morrow. For, that night, the vessels of the Pelasgians, hurriedly brought together from every available point, so harassed and destroyed a portion of the Atlantean fleet that the remainder was forced to speed off in the early morning, leaving to an uncertain future the wished-for ransom.
Thus the invading fleet passed away. And the bitterly weeping children stood straining their eyes at the beloved, the fast disappearing shores. At about the time that their dear Pelasgia was beyond their view, Deucalion rejoined his still unconscious wife, and learned from those about her of this terrible bereavement.