THE PELASGIAN CAPTIVES
Sacred mountain, uplands, shore, and harbor became black with people, as the returning fleet drew inward. The enthusiastic welcomings were all that the proudest conqueror could wish. Yet these islanders, fearing they were but lukewarm in their manifestations to these so victorious, grew but the more enthusiastic—until it came upon them that the fleet was moving with ominous slowness, that few were the pennants, that there were no responses, and that the decks were looking wofully scant of men.
Almost as one they became mute; and each began to eye his fellows in doubt. Could it be that victory had not been with Atlantis? Fast fell their hopes, until wild became the speculations as to who were returning, who were left dead in a far-off clime.
Gradually, the cry of terror overspread harbor, shore, uplands, and mountain; and its sounds were the first to fall upon the king’s ears as the fleet drew into Luith’s outlet.
Quick were the king and his nobles in boarding the galleys awaiting them. No looks were there for the masses, looking gloomily on from shore and docks, though a few of the latter tried hard to shout welcomes that would stick in their throats. As the galleys began to move off, the gloom deepened, until amazement lightened it a little; for what meant these two fair children that Maron and an officer were bearing from the king’s vessel to a galley? Also, why was this galley keeping so near that of the king? The tongues were loosened, and conjecture ran high until the warmen and sailors began to disembark. These were at once surrounded by the impatient beholders on land; and, as Atlano and his nobles moved away, they knew the listeners were hearing of the dead, so eloquent of anguish grew the air.
Useless was it to stop their ears. What was the outer hearing to the powerful inward faculty that naught could render deaf?
Onward, up the beautiful Luith, glided the king and his nobles, their eyes ever turned from the galleys that had come to meet certain nobles nevermore to be seen in Atlantis. Of these Phiro was one—Phiro, the young, the ardent. Then they thought of the wives awaiting these, the non-returning, and grew abject in their humiliation and fear. Mute, they glided by the palaces whose marble landing places were covered with anxious observers.
When they reached the upper part of the stream and beheld banks and heights swarming with people, and many galleys coming toward them, the king drew more closely under his awnings, that he might not respond to the cheers of these loyal subjects who were content in that he was of those returning.
And there, at the royal landing place, were priests also awaiting him. In spite of the anxiety, shout after shout went up from all sides as his galley touched the granite steps. But terrible was the hush when the king came forth, unsmiling, unanswering. After the steps were ascended, his chariot entered, and he was driven off, they knew their every fear was verified.
Shivering with dismay, they looked on in silence as the downcast nobles, now that the king no longer needed their attendance, thought of their homes, and, entering their chariots, drove off. But there came diversion for the time when the half-fainting captives were borne to a chariot, and driven after the king.
The priests, who were of inferior rank, were about to drive to the temple when these children appeared. They waited until they were gone, when one spoke out to the captain of the galley that had borne them:
“Sir Captain, whence are those children?”
“Priest Kluto, Maron telleth that they are of Pelasgia, and the children of a great chief.”
“Well, I knew it!” exclaimed a swarthy man, a Kabyle of the Amazirgi. “Before I lost this arm, and when I was in Shaphana, I saw these Pelasgians. Fair were some even as these children, and of foreheads as straight. Marked ye their foreheads?”
“I marked them!”
Then, for the first time in the history of the island, these Atlanteans began to regard the receding foreheads everywhere about them with less than the usual favor.
Thereupon, another priest, of his shrewdness, warned:
“Such foreheads come not of the gods. Call to mind that ye spring from Poseidon. Was not the forehead of Poseidon even as our foreheads? Are not our foreheads as his? Then have a care. Else will ye mock!”
“But how fair, how white are they!” demurred a yellow man of the Eskaldi. “Of a truth, the gods love such a color!”
“Get thee beyond the mountains of Shaphana, whither we found thy tribe famishing,” scoffed the priest. “I speak but to Atlanteans. Atlanteans, we are of the gods—we are red. But other things are for our thoughts than skins and foreheads. We are the children of Poseidon. Let us look to it that we anger him not. For, what a day is this!”
Then, shaking his head in a manner that drew forth the cries and groans of the bystanders, he made the sign, and was driven off. The other priests followed.
During this conversation more galleys had approached; and from one got out a few warmen and sailors. These were at once questioned by men, women, and children. But short was the listening, when the air was rent with anguish. Then those unbereaved led the mourners to their homes, themselves sick of shame and despair.
What had come upon Atlantis? Never had a king been so humiliated. Never before had the ships returned without brilliant booty. Fun-hi was as a grain of sand to this. And, ah, the non-returning! Woe to the stricken ones—the desolated homes!
The thinking ones, in their places of retirement, trembled at what this might mean.
The king, with his attendants, drove on to the palace court. He alighted; and, waving off the clustering ones, passed on to the queen’s apartments. He would tell Atlana that this had come of her croakings.
But Atlana was standing alone in her bower room, her arms outstretched, the glad tears pouring. She hastened to embrace him, crying:
“Atlano, I see thee again, and not harmed! The gods be thanked forever!”
“Yea, thou seest me again. Though better were it had I been left to feed the birds in Pelasgia!”
“Could I but cheer thee.”
She kissed his hand and yearned for the embrace that would not come.
“It is because of thy croaking, Atlana. From the first thou didst look with cold eye upon it. And the other women of the land have helped thee. Thy bodings of evil, and theirs, have helped towards our loss, our ruin! Knowest thou not the power of thought?”
“Say not so, Atlano. Say not our thoughts could have such power. Small cheer would it bring to mourning wives and daughters. Ah, wretched Atlanteans—wretched women! And to think I could greet thee with smiles, with these sorrowing ones about us! It is cruel—cruel! But my heart will leap that thou hast come back, though with no kiss—no fond clasp within thine arms.”
She bent her head as a tall lily might when overborne by a bitter blast, and then raised her eyes appealingly.
“Yea, I have come back, and in what manner? Hard is it to raise my head, harder to look about me. I am craven! Small heart have I for kiss or clasp. But here they are, since thou dost ask for them.” And he proceeded to do both so coldly that she drew away from him in haste, her eyes flashing, her cheeks crimsoning, that she had thus besought him. But her indignation was short. It was plain that he was suffering sore in his humiliation; and her wifely pity triumphed when he began to pace moodily. Only love and tenderest sympathy shone in her eyes when at last he ejaculated:
“Could I but hide myself. Would I were a priest!”—the last being uttered in derision.
Hoping to divert him, she whispered:—
“Atlano, knowest thou the high priest is dying?”
“Nay.” He stopped, interested.
“They have looked for him to pass away through the night.”
“And Oltis—is he dying likewise?” Grim was his laugh.
“Oltis is well. He hath been cruel to his father. Yet, to the people, he mourneth as a tender son.”
“The sly, smooth face! So he is to be high priest as I come back. It bodeth evil.”
“What meanest thou?”
“It bodeth evil for Atlantis that I come back with my spirit sore to find Oltis stepping into the place of high priest. Would this matter had naught to do with line. It would be well if the chief priests came not of the blood of the kings. It could be changed.”
This last idea seemed to please him, as he grew absorbed over it, and even smiled. But the queen shuddered. Well she dreaded any further departure from the ancient customs. Already had there been enough such to cause her faithful, devout spirit untold suffering and fear. She waited a little, and then said cheerfully:
“Let us hope that Oltis wilt do better as high priest.”
“Thou knowest as well as I there is no good in him.”
The queen sighed, and said almost under her breath: “Well was it for his wife that she died early. But his poor children!”
“And his poor, poor niece, poor of a truth before he hath done with her!”
“Atlano, since thou didst leave, he hath kept Electra from me. He hath pleaded the sore state of Olto, that he hath ever need of her.”
“Hath Olto been sick so long?”
“From the time thou didst leave, he failed. Soon he was too weak to serve in the great temple even. The other temples thou knowest he had not visited in a year.”
“And now Oltis will have charge over them all. Would the law were not as this. Would it could be changed.”
“Call to mind that Oltis hath no son. His nephew Urgis cometh after him.”
“Yea, that followeth that Urgis will leave the temple at Chimo, to be the chief priest in our temple when Oltis is high priest. I could take cheer in the thought that one is of like cunning with the other. So Oltis will be high priest, and Urgis chief priest of our great temple. The two will need a firm hand, Atlana.” Again his laugh rang grim.
The queen had become very pale. Noting this, Atlano continued, “But, to change, I have brought thee a gift.”
“A gift!” She smiled rosily.
“I have brought thee thy wish, children. Ah, thou dost not see! We have taken two captives, the son and daughter of a great Pelasgian chief. If ransom cometh not, they are thine. Thou wilt care for them, wilt cause them to be taught our tongue and habits. Here, in this palace, will they stay to be treated as are the children of the king.”
Much did he enjoy her astonishment, and the yearning look that came into her eyes.
“But how old are they, Atlano?”
“The boy is sixteen years; the girl, thirteen.”
“And their parents are dead?”
“Nay, nay, they live!”
“They live, and without their children?”
“Yea, yea, and without their children!”
“It is a horror.”
“It is a delight.” Most mocking was his laugh.
“Thou meanest it not.”
“But I do. These are the children of Deucalion. To him we owe our loss, ruin. If ransom cometh not, I can well pay him. Atlana, the girl is most fair.”
The queen shivered, and her eyes fell.
“The boy is noble of look and brave. He will be a warrior, and, in the coming time, can help to fall upon Pelasgia. What delight if, in battle, he should slay his father!”
The queen turned from him, and a cry of torment escaped her.
“Atlana, there was enough of such noise ere I went from thee. I mean this I tell thee.”
She was ghastly in her paleness.
“Atlana, thou lookest far from well. It may be thou art not able to look upon these captives now. I will show them to thee on the morrow.”
“I would see them now, now!”
The king pulled a cord hanging from the wall, and the queen’s pygmy entered.
This pygmy, who was but four feet in height, had been captured in Afrita near the middle part, together with many of his tribe of Akka; and it was ten years since the forlorn creatures had entered upon servitude in Atlantis. But Azu was fortunate in that he had been given to the queen. Her heart had gone out to him, as it ever did toward the wretched; and, of her kindness, she often questioned as to his former life, receiving crude descriptions of his tribe’s home in the great forest, and boastful accounts of its ability and prowess—for quickly had he learned Atlantean, being but a child when captured, and now scarcely twenty.
Very bright was Azu, and affectionate, though most peculiar of look because of his large round head, snout-like projection of the jaws, receding chin, flat chest, huge paunch, and angular, projecting lower limbs. Further, his grotesqueness of body was enhanced by his garb. This, in color, was flaming red, and consisted of a tunic, close-fitting, short lower garments, pointed cap, and pointed shoes. He looked a goblin. His one beauty was his hands, which were small and well formed. Moreover, his teeth were strong and pearly, and served somewhat to lighten the darkness of his visage, as he grinned without ceasing.
With feet turning inward and a waddling or lurching of the body, he approached, to fall most suddenly flat on his face before the king. Smiling, Atlano ordered:
“Azu, arise. Speed to Maron, who is in the first small room. Bid him bring hither the captives.”
Azu then arose, and backed to the door with head bent low. When he went out, the queen sank on a couch, and shaded her eyes with her hands. In a few moments, he reëntered to lurch, bow, and say:
“Gracious King, Maron and the children are without.”
“Bid them come in.”
Azu went out. Then entered Maron, half bearing Æole, whilst Hellen walked feebly beside him. Maron laid Æole on a couch, and then made his obeisance to the queen, who had arisen. After receiving this, she bade him place a chair for the youth near his sister. Into this Hellen sank in weariness. Then Atlana moved beside them to gaze upon Æole, who lay back with eyes closed, breathing faintly. And, as she gazed, the queen thought the maiden’s loveliness more of heaven than earth. Shortly, with tears starting, she turned to look upon the noble, handsome youth, who was regarding her so despairingly, and she the more marveled. Where got these children their exceeding fairness, their straightness of feature, their grace of form and face? What a color was the maiden’s hair, so rich in its brownish red, so golden where the sun was kissing it! What must her eyes be, for the youth’s were blue as the deepest skies!
Of her admiration and compassion, the queen leaned over and kissed the sweet, straight forehead with such fervor that Æole opened her eyes. One look from their beautiful blue depths so stirred Atlana that she kissed her again and again. Then, as she perceived Hellen gazing in woe upon her, she felt a sudden love for both.
“Altano, they are mine. My heart leapeth. They will be my children. At last the gods pity me!”
“As thou wilt, Atlana. They are thine unless ransom cometh. Though, I have the mind not to yield them.”
“Ransom! Ah, I forgot! They have a mother, a father. What is there more than woe to lose such children! I beseech thee, send them this day to their home.”
“Thou art a driveler!” With fierce look he turned to leave; and, as he strode away, added, “Fit wife art thou for Olto!”
But she went after him. “Again I ask that thou wilt send them to their home, and this day. Choose between them and me.”
He half turned, and cast at her a peculiar look, in which showed wavering. Then, in smooth, persuasive tone, said:
“Atlana, it is for thee to wait. I have to please my nobles in this. They look for ransom. It is best to seem to hearken to them for the time. After the sting of this loss is less keen, they will the better yield. Further, have a care for thyself. Where is thy trust as a wife?”
“Thou wouldst do better had I less trust, as thou callest it. There are some who have no eye for such—some who can be stirred only by lack of thought, lack of feeling, lack of faith, until they become as full of life as were the dying under that draught of our cousin, Viril!”
“Thou meanest that draught that gave youth, never-ending youth?” asked he, eagerly, unmindful of her reproach.
“Would we knew that draught, if it was found, for Viril died.”
“We know that he lived long, so long that he came to wish for death. Without doubt, he ceased to take it.”
“Would he had left the word to us. Would it could again be found! Would we, in our seeking, could”—He paused in fear. He had been incautious. But Atlana, unheeding his words, for her thought had returned to the captives, implored:
“Think well upon it, Atlano. In a few days come to me with the word that these children will go back to Pelasgia.”
Relieved, he answered mildly, “Trouble me not with it now.” And again would have gone.
“Yield to me.”
“Take away thy hand. I must to Oltis, whom thou likest so well. Later will we think upon this.” And, pushing aside her detaining hand, he passed from the apartment.
The queen again leaned over Æole; but shortly beckoned to Hellen. Taking his hand, she sat beside them, looking from one to the other with such affection that they revived somewhat. This was the first sympathy they had received, and no mother’s could have been tenderer.
After a little Æole sat up, and the relieving tears fell fast. When the queen had wiped these well away, she spoke reassuringly to Hellen; and then the two, by their signs, made her to understand how grateful were her sympathy and quick affection.
Soon Azu brought them some refreshment, the while refreshing their spirits to the extent that they even laughed. Here was a novelty of novelties. Whereupon, and out of his goodness of heart, he became overjoyed, and to express this, executed some extraordinary leaps that made them laugh the more. Finally, at the queen’s behest, he struck off into a wild, weird dance that he had learned in the inmost recesses of the Afrite forest. At this their tears were paralyzed, and the laughing, strengthened.
They were now in good condition for the services of the lady Elna. She showed them to rooms near the queen, ordered for them fresh clothing, and bade Azu conduct them to the bath. Afterward they reposed.
As the days passed, they became more cheerful, owing to the thoughtfulness of the queen. Every morning, they drove with her about the environs of the sacred mountain, even going long distances on the great plain to the left. This plain much amazed them, so boundless was it, so intersected with canals and streams, so cultivated in every tree and plant that could please the eye and gratify the palate. Moreover, marvelous was the great ditch about it, that, they were told, was hundreds of miles in circumference; whose depth of a hundred feet was almost incredible; whose width was as that of a river.
Further, there were the great quarries to the north end of the sacred mountain, from which were taken out the stones red, white, and black, that were used in building the palaces. Here many men worked; and even the pygmies, who showed a strength and endurance wonderful for their size.
Also, there were fountains leaping everywhere, great cisterns roofed over, many bath houses, and race courses with their attendant horses.
Stupendous were the pyramids, several of which arose on the great plain. With astonishment was it heard that these contained the dead. That of the royal family arose towards the summit of the sacred mountain, to the westward of a purling stream. In front of it was the temple of Poseidon and Cleito, that now was never opened, its sanctity being preserved by an inclosure of gold. They were not long in comprehending that here had been the home of Poseidon and Cleito, here the birthplace of their ten sons.
But their chief entertainment was found in the great hall of the palace and its corridors. This hall ran through the center of the rectangle forming the front of the palace, and to the court; whilst its corridors ran to the right and left, and overlooked the court. Everywhere were the walls covered with sculptured slabs of alabaster, twelve feet in height, representing events in the history of the island. There were recorded battles, sieges, triumphs, and exploits of the race course and chase. Even the ceremonies of religion were portrayed. Beneath these slabs were pictures engraved on copper, also historic. Above the slabs were paintings of the different kings and queens inclosed in borders of fine designs and brilliant coloring. The pavement was of sculptured slabs of marble, representing flowers and trees. At every doorway were colossal winged lions or bulls, some human faced; and all either of alabaster or greenstone. And numerous were the columns of orichalcum, engraved, and the statues of greenstone.
Yes, here was entertainment, and almost forgetfulness that there were such strange faces, such unknown tongues about them.
Before the month had passed, they were able to take up certain duties, as well as to enter upon the study of the alphabet and language of Atlantis. Every morning they received instruction in the bower room; and, rather strangely, when they had mastered the rudiments of the language, the queen took it into her head to study Pelasgian. It was not long before the bower room was a tower of Babel on a small scale, as it rang with young voices, and even laughter in which the queen had full part. Well was it for Atlana that some lightness had entered into her days.
Thus it happened that the queen accused herself when her heart leaped at hearing from Atlano that the nobles would not permit the captives’ return. It had even been determined that they must enter upon their initiation into the industries of the island at once. In consequence, Hellen began to go about the adjacent parts with an attendant, in order that he might obtain knowledge of agriculture, sheep raising, and metal working. And Æole quickly became proficient in embroidery, in the spinning and weaving of cotton and wool, in flower culture, and in poultry raising. Soon, like Queen Atlana, she had her own particular flower garden, and her pets among all our fowls of to-day with the exception of the turkey. Soon, even, she was wearing robes similar in fashion to the queen’s, of her own weaving and embroidering. The queen never tired of exclaiming to the king at the progress of this youth and maiden.
But, though busy and outwardly cheerful, Hellen and Æole ever longed for Pelasgia. They could not reconcile themselves to this new life, in spite of its charm of novelty, its many wonders. When they looked upon the magnificent temples and luxurious palaces, they thought of the plain homes of Larissa to sigh, to grow faint. Ever were the enchanting gardens fading away before their dimming eyes, giving place to the simply cultivated fields of Pelasgia, instead. The canals, aqueducts, and pyramids were wonders they never could have dreamed of, but, oh, for the river, the springs, the modest tombs of their home! Pelasgia knew not this perfection of cereals and fruits, these great race courses, the mighty elephants, the lavish adornments of gold, silver, orichalcum, and precious stones. Also, it knew not the lack of truth and honor, the profligacy, the sensuality of these degenerate islanders. Thus, the two, when alone together, could talk but of their parents and home, as well as their dread of the glitter and falsehood about them. Their only balm was the love of the queen.
The king they feared and disliked. Keen were they to perceive the shadow he ever left upon the queen. She, it was plain to see, was daily growing sadder. And, about the palace it was whispered that the king’s profligacies were causing this, as he had steadily progressed in wickedness since his return from Pelasgia.
Thus these two Pelasgian captives grew to be Atlana’s comfort, her alleviation. Indeed, she became bound up in them as the weary months went by.
The first year passed, and no offer of ransom arrived; but Hellen and Æole ceased not to hope. The second and third years dragged, and no word had been received. Then each confessed a dread that their parents were no more.
When the third year had passed, the nobles often hinted of the desirability of another invasion of Pelasgia; but always Atlano advised delay, for his martial spirit had weakened under the sloth and indulgence of these later years. He lived but for ease and sensuality.
So, as the time was ripe, he put in operation long-devised plans. Hellen and Æole were now to realize in the fullest their most forlorn, helpless situation. The tears that were but beginning to dry were about to fall faster than ever.