Poseidon’s Paradise: The Romance of Atlantis by Elizabeth G. Birkmaier, chapter name THE ABDUCTION


The queen, Æole, and Hellen had returned from the seashore, where they had been watching a swimming bout of the young nobles and the crowning of the victor. After the glare of the hot sands, they were impatient to be in their favorite cool nook of the garden. This was a large green plat quite inclosed in sycamores and acacias that bordered the side stream to the east. Here, when her ladies had served some refreshment and been dismissed, the queen spoke anxiously:

“Æole, Hellen, I read the looks ye cast far over the sea. Would ye could forget.”

“Dear Queen Atlana,” returned Æole, “it is our wish not to forget. The lotus is not for us. Most dear art thou, as thou knowest. But ever, at sight of the sea, cometh this wish to breast it, that we may learn of our home. Ah, the drawing! Ah, the pain!”

“Yea,” added Hellen, “when we look upon the sea, we can but dash against our bars. This causeth us to go so little to the shore. At sight of the luring, mocking water that leadeth to Pelasgia, we grow sick of our longing.”

“Had I my will, ye should go this day. If the king would but heed my prayers.”

“Dear Queen, we know how often thou dost beseech him for us, and we tremble.”

“Fear not that he would harm me. Too well doth he need me.”

She smiled pathetically. Then into her face came such a weary expression and succeeding far-away look that the two fell to talking in subdued tones of lighter matters; and, as they talked, Æole took up her embroidery, which Hellen at once began to examine and admire.

While thus engaged with each other, the queen aroused from her reverie, and regarded them intently.

Æole was looking as the lilies in her white linen robe embroidered in blue, which she herself had wrought from spinning to completion. Wonderfully fair and perfect was the face, and aglow with intelligence, character, sweetness, purity. Of a strange beauty was the gold red hair that curled from the low, straight forehead to fall long from the pearly fillet; whilst her eyes were dark blue stars, and touching the grace of every pose and movement of her lovely form.

As she gazed, the queen agonized, for perils were threatening this innocent one; and she wondered if Hellen had any inkling of these, any suspicions. He was so handsome, fiery, generous, brave. It was not in him to brook scorn or insult. Besides, how well did the two love each other! What one would suffer in the other!

The queen again closed her eyes to lose herself in sorrowing over them, but not for long. Soon footsteps were heard beyond the trees. She aroused to speak the dread words:

“The king.”

Æole also half arose, with the wild intent to run away. Then, regaining self-possession, sat again; though, when the king appeared she was trembling and paling so as to alarm Hellen. “Strange,” he thought, “this dread of Æole for the king. She knoweth liking for all save him.”

To the homesick Æole, this presence of the king was doubly unbearable. She wished Hellen had not been there, that she might have slipped away. The queen, who comprehended her feeling, could only motion to Atlano to sit beside herself, the while murmuring:

“We have been to the sands.”

“I saw you as ye drove back. Thou goest there but little, Æole.”

She bowed in affirmation.

“Thou likest not the water?”

“King Atlano, I like the water, but it causeth me the more to think of my home.”

“It is time thou didst forget thy home, Æole. Hellen, thou hast no such longing?”

“King Atlano, my sister and myself feel the same. At sight of the sea we sicken for our home.”

The king frowned.

“How old art thou, Hellen?”

“King Atlano, I am nineteen.”

“Thou art of age to be a warrior. Wouldst thou be a captain?”

“I would be a warrior like my father. I care not to war for the sake of it, but I would joy to war if it was to save my land, my home.”

The queen glanced at him in reproof. His honesty and fearlessness she was ever dreading. The king glared for a moment, then, smiling, inquired:

“Æole, how old art thou?”

“King Atlano, I am sixteen.”

“Thou art of age to be a handmaid. Æole, wouldst thou be a handmaid in the great temple?”

The queen checked a cry of dismay, and became so white that Hellen, in his fear, moved nearer her.

Æole, also, was alarmed, though, after taking the queen’s hand, she spoke out with a fine bravery:

“King Atlano, I would not be a handmaid. I would stay with Queen Atlana while I am here.”

“While thou art here? Hast thy stay a limit?”

“I fear it hath not a limit. But I am happy if I stay with Queen Atlana. She holdeth the next place to my parents and Hellen.”

And she looked at the queen with most loving eyes.

Upon the king’s face came an expression that only Atlana beheld. Her head whirled, and she fell back upon her chair as if about to swoon. Hellen was quick to raise her, while Æole flew for some water that chanced to be upon the rustic table. The two then bathed her brow and chafed her hands as they begged her to revive.

Atlano watched, unimpressed. When Atlana had sat up with an arm of each faithful one about her, he said sarcastically:

“Well didst thou manage, Atlana.”

The three stared at him, confounded.

He continued: “Thinkest thou any good can come of this acting? Of a truth, if I cause thee such trouble, it would be well to stay from thee ever.”

“Atlano, talk not thus!”

“I go now.” And he arose. “But I have to tell thee that Æole and Hellen will leave thee.”

She also arose. “Hellen and Æole will leave me? Thou wouldst jest!”

“Another handmaid is needed in the temple. Æole hath been called. A messenger is wanted between the temple and this place. Hellen is chosen.”

A dread faintness came upon the queen. But she urged:

“Æole will die if she leaveth me. Spare her to me. Thou knowest my fond feeling.”

“Æole will go, on the morrow, to the temple.”

“Atlano, call to mind that thou gavest me these children.”

He laughed derisively. “I gave but to take away.”

“Atlano, have mercy. The temple is no place for Æole—for any maiden—any woman.”

“Beware,” he vociferated, in warning tone. “Thou ravest. Have a care. Thou wouldst mock.”

“Mock!” Such meaning was in her look that his lips paled. “Mock! Thou dost use that word, and to me.”

“Atlana, cease, or thou wilt have sorrow.”

“Sorrow! What sorrow is like to this, to take Æole from me. Say thou wilt not.”

“Oltis is firm. Æole will serve in the temple. Hellen will be the messenger.” And he turned as if to avoid further insistence.

She seized his hand, and implored, “What shall I say—do—that thou wilt hear?”

“Thou canst say naught. I leave thee to think upon it.”

With this, he roughly withdrew his hand, and turning, strode away.

Most direful was this shadow. As nothing were the longings, the homesickness. Æole became so wrought with terror, that Atlana set aside her own woe in order to comfort. As for Hellen, he paced as if beside himself for a little. Then paused before the queen, declaring:

“Æole shall not go to that temple. May her life cease ere then. Thinkest thou, dear Queen, that I have no eyes, no ears?”

“Hellen, what knowest thou?”

“I know—that—for all its fair outward look—evil worketh within. The gods are thought of only in form. Those priests would be gods, would rise in their flesh to heaven. Have I not heard the whisperings of the people as to the noise and mirth of the inner parts? Is not Oltis without truth, full of guile? Is not the worship mocked? Are not the animals yielded on the altar, yea, the serving of handmaids, mockeries of the olden holy laws? Handmaids, in truth!”

Of his agony, he paused.

“Hellen, what more knowest thou?”

“What more? Is not this enough? What more knowest thou?”

There was no reply. But Æole spoke feebly:

“Hellen, may I die rather than go there. To be near the king and those priests!” Her shuddering was so excessive that Hellen was obliged to support her, while he implored:

“Æole, be brave. There will be a way out of this.”

“She hath not gone. I have a voice.” The queen drew Æole to her, and whilst caressing her, and looking upon her in her grace and innocence, thought:

“Ah, Æole, I could hate thee, but that thou art so dear! If I could die in my shame. If we could both die. And once I was happy, in the young days of my fond trust. How ages far they seem. It is that I have lived before. Is this Atlano?”

She fell to weeping in a quiet, hopeless way, so that Hellen and Æole, in their turn, essayed what comfort they could. Thus passed the weary day.

The next morning, Maron was announced with a message from the king. Æole was bidden to leave the palace at noon. As the queen had been expecting this, she was ready.

“Maron, bear to the king my word that Æole shall not leave me. I ask that he will no more of it.”

Maron withdrew.

In an hour, appeared two officials of the temple, bearing a written order from the high priest. The queen dismissed them with a message that the king would come to her. But answer was immediately returned that the king was engaged, and that Oltis’ order must be obeyed, as it was given of the gods.

To the officials, Queen Atlana merely said:

“Bear the word to the high priest—that I will not yield in this.”

The officials departed.

Shortly they returned with two others, and presented an order for Æole’s immediate presence signed by Atlano and Oltis. The queen’s answer was:

“Ye will bear to the king and high priest my word that Æole shall not go.”

“But, gracious Queen,” demurred Ludor, the spokesman, “this is to please Amen.”

“Who sayeth it is to please Amen?”

“The high priest told me thus—after his most gracious self, the king.”

“I believe it not.”

The four drew back in dismay. How dared she to dispute king and high priest. It was sacrilege. Never had such been known.

Courteously waving them off, she added:

“Go to them with my words.”

Notwithstanding their orders to use force, if necessary, they withdrew in reverence, for the queen’s majesty and fearlessness were most impressive as well as provocative of sympathy.

Upon the appearance of the unsuccessful four, the furious king hastened to the palace; and burst into the bower room to meet only the lady Rica, who informed him that the queen was in the room adjoining. He entered this to find Atlana leaning over Æole, whom she was vainly trying to comfort. Drawing back, he beckoned to her to follow him to an unoccupied apartment to one side.

When she had obeyed, and they could not be heard, he vociferated:

“Thou darest to set me at naught?”

“It is not Amen, nor Poseidon, then.” Atlana was grand in her brave dignity.

He looked at her sidelong, and said more smoothly:

“I am but their worker.”

“I have said that I believe it not.”

He seized her hands, and even shook her as he hissed:

“Thou wouldst set thyself against me, then. Dost thou forget I am the king? That I can do with thee as I will?”

“Shake me to death, if thou wilt. Yield me upon thine altar, even. But thy sorrow and pain will follow.”

He laughed mockingly.

“Thou dost forget the prophecy of thy father on his bed of death, ‘With Atlana at the palace no evil befalleth Atlano’?”

He drew his breath hard, and averted his eyes before her steady look. With assumed indifference, he replied:

“It was but the babble of age.”

“Then am I free to visit Khemi—to visit the kindred of my mother.”

“Never, Atlana! Thou hast sworn to me ever to stay at this palace unless I grant thee leave.”

“Thou believest that prophecy. Thou canst never harm me.”

“Atlana, I wish thee no evil, but thou hast to obey me. Thou hast to yield in this going of Æole.”

“Æole shall not go.”

He leaned toward her, and whispered:

“Wouldst thou see her yielded on the altar? The priests will have her either as gift or handmaid. We have to please Amen that he may favor us.”

The queen cried out in horror. It was too true that human blood had defiled the altar. Shortly before the invasion of Pelasgia, Oltis, then chief priest of the temple, had offered as sacrifice, within the inner sanctuary, an African captive—a king—at behest of Atlano, who desired vengeance because of the latter’s refusal to reveal where certain treasure of his massacred tribe was hidden. Worse, the excuse for this great profanation had been that Amen and Poseidon needed propitiation. All this Atlano had confided to his wife.

The queen, of her horror, spoke not for a little. Then she towered almost to his height, as she cried:

“Tell me not that Amen and Poseidon are as men! Ye would make them as such—as frail, as wicked—in that they give favor for favor! Mock them no further. Make them no longer gods to suit your weak minds, your base thoughts! They are gods—gods—above such feeble doings of the flesh. Have done with this shield that they must be vilely served to give favor, and all the other shields!”

Atlano was confounded.

“Yea, and the curse is already upon thee for that dread mockery. The blood of that poor king is a blight upon this island, a mildew; and thou wouldst add another, further mock the gods. If thou hast heed for their favor, hast thou no thought for their anger? Hast thou no faint, deep feeling that evil broodeth over this island? Hadst thou my dreams! Night after night they come.”

“Atlana, thou art getting an old woman.”

His tone was contemptuous, but his eyes had lost their boldness.

“More than that. I am ages old. Each night of brooding care hath been as years.”

“What care canst thou have known?”

Was he in earnest, or did he speak thus to hide even from himself knowledge that she had suffered, and through him? Atlana could not tell, but she would not upbraid. Such had never been her fashion. Though better might it have been if Atlano could have seen himself, as in a glass, through her wifely chidings—at times.

He continued in a tone strangely conciliatory:

“Thou art not well. New air will help thee. Too long hast thou staid here in this palace. What thinkest thou of a short stay on the western coast where the breezes most have power—say Chimo? There the new pyramid riseth high. Wilt thou go?”

“With thee, yea.”

“But I have not time to go. In a few days is the festival of our Father Poseidon.”

“I may take Æole?”

“Æole will leave for the temple now. It is time her bearers were here.”

“Thou meanest she will go by force?”

“If it needeth.”

“It is only over my dead body she will go!” And Atlana, spurred by her terror, fairly ran back to the retiring room.

But close upon her was Atlano, as she leaned over the shrinking girl. Then, as they faced each other defiantly, the king gave a low call to which came the answering of many soft footsteps.

The dazed queen next heard Rica shriek, and fall as in a swoon. Then the hangings were thrust aside, and there hastened in several of the guards of the great court of the temple. At this outrage, the brave spirit might well have succumbed; but instead, she threw herself upon Æole and held her tight.

Severe was the struggle between husband and wife; but Atlana held on with that strength that comes of desperation, until the king produced a taper, which one of the guards lighted, and held to her nostrils. Then the dauntless lady fell back into the arms that should have been her stay, her shield, senseless; and was placed on a couch, there to lie as if in deep slumber.

Æole, who had fainted, was borne on a chair to the courtyard, where a closed chariot was awaiting her; whilst the mystified attendants looked on, and listened to the plausible explanations of her bearers.

Atlano remained with his wife until the day waned. And none knew the secret of the queen’s yielding.