Selestor's Men of Atlantis, by Clara Iza von Ravn, , at sacred-texts.com
Warning of the sage and setting out of the Atlantian navy to meet the foe.
The blue waves dimpled in the morning light and all Atlantis met in fête, nor thought that nearer, nearer drawing yet were barques by hundreds—hurrying wolves of war that hovered nigh and waited for the night, to set their feet on forest bordered spot and march on home and wrest its treasures all, in human life and gems and gold.
To wrest the marvels that the years—the centuries—had wove, had beaten, wrought, in weeks, in years a single piece, enwrought with thoughts that spring from other climes and planets.
The fête—the birthday of the monarch's son, young Ambisamis, born to wear a crown in that same year when the great sea-fight fell; for died his sire ere the sun set upon that fête day.
Loud the music called to banquet hall or dance, or yet to prayer, for them whose days were few and who did turn their eyes to gods, as then, and only then the people learned to pray. Prayed they with mind so set on higher mood, that Earth was all forgot and roamed the soul afar as body knelt, and in the suppliant's eyes a light that borrowed not from Earth.
All sudden, faint and far away, the call of trumpet crossed the cadence sweet of voices raised in song, and instruments of strings that fingers smote all deftly—the harps of air or yet the water harp whose music rose and fell so soft and low, then loud and clear as bell from tower calling men to war.
"A herald!" spake the king who sat at meat in splendor of his office—gold and gems and silken robe and crown that seemed as stars.
Adown the board his ministers, clad all in gaily painted robes of state. Some showing roses twined in garlands bright, some golden, painted, waving ears of corn, some vines with tendrils, Nature's beauties all. Each statesman holding in the hand which showed his monarch's ring—a gift all prized—a goblet fair of that rare fluid, yellow shot with rose, a wine distilled with care. Elixir made for kings alone.
The trumpet's call grew louder, near.
"A herald!" murmured each. "Who dareth on this day to send our king a message?"
Spake the king: "Our mood is sore displeasure! Let him wait."
And waited he. Out on the carven marble of the outer court reclined in angry mood a man of lordly mien who bode alone and drank such wisdom rare as few may hope to gain.
"I wait, indeed! when in my hand's palm hold I the life of all who bide upon this isle! This isle is doomed, speak they not fair as I had deemed my king might speak to me!" And swift as spear thrust came the thought to him—the king: "A favor granted is a blessing gained when stress of pleasure holds. Bring to us him who calleth for our ear," spake he.
A kingly form in robes of plainest jet. No gem upon his hand nor on his breast. Black browed, with curling lips. A warrior frame, yet born denying strife. Vigils long o’er tomes and studies of the farther globes and planets marked the far off mood of heavy lidded eyes.
"I come," he spake in answer to the call, "to show my monarch that his country's good is my delight.
[paragraph continues] The voice of Nature speaks to me in silent tones. Eye glance hath told me not this hour, but later shall. The dip of galley oars fill now mine ears.
"The Northmen come for plunder; fiercer yet, the men of Asia hover where the line of sea and island verdure hides. Tonight they fain would creep upon our land and fell destroy. I speak, but thou art king, thy galleys swift and thou a man of action." Low he bent, then left the banquet hall.
A thrill ran through the frame of each who heard. The message called to mind a woeful state. The king rose slowly, braided glass in hand that trembled as he spake: "Men, rise and cast aside those robes of fête and to the boats bid every slave that pulls a galley's oar! Each captain of a host, of twenty men the leader!
"Bugles blow the call! the leeches to their towers—men who make the body whole when rent by spear—and those grim souls who bare the body Death hath smote and make it fit for funeral pyre, come all!
"We need a leader. I, thy king know battle not. What warrior leads today our fête that blooms to battle's fuller rose whose petals, dyed in blood, shall meet the sun?
"To northward lies the fleet. Aye, fleets, the sage hath said who never error made, nor had his fathers of the olden line who came from that dim land where forests wave above a slimy river.
"Men, to battle on the sea!"
None shrank from duty. All had strength of mind to so upbear him in his monarch's eye none faltered:
"We are thine, O king! For life and death! For battle, too, are we! Set sail, we, in this hour."
Loud rang the bells that called the men to quays. Wine drunken some were treated to the flow of
fountain filled with nauseous drink and soon their muddled brains drank the command.
"To war!" The cry rang through the festooned streets, rose garlanded in honor of the prince.
Stern faces looked with love on weeping maids, and mothers sighed in meeting eyes of him who first lay on her breast—the son, perchance, to look no more with reverence on her aging form.
The galleys swung in line; a showing brave they made. Less than a thousand in that day and yet—the timbers new, the axes clasped with hide, spears burnished bright—the slave that rowed whose former langour nothing spake in sinews for the beating waves.
Those slaves were men in mien, for that past king bade all behold the soul within and live as free as One intended when He cast the mould of man about the ether form. Each slave of galley bore himself a stave, and in the thickest of the fight he bounded from the swivel bench and struck such blows as soldiers learn to strike and foemen fell, through him, on every hand.
"Far, far to sea!" the captains called to each full galley of their eager men. "We meet in war the wolves that come from North! The serpent of the forest lends his fleet to other nation! Thus hath said the Sage who never told what has not soon befallen."
And in their midst the galley of Ulsantis, a mighty admiral who first drew breath in galley; chosen son of old Hambrydisis—crafty lord of sea—who knew each isle and shore for leagues and leagues, and countries far, so far that none save he had set his foot, from that calm isle of men, upon their borders.
Chosen, too, his son that day to lead in battle; for the rightful lord of fleet lay writhing sore in
pain that none could soon allay, although the king's own leech sat by his couch with cooling mixtures.
Incense burned on coals that glowed within a chalice woven from the gold which had wrapped the king's own infant cradle; coals from pungent wood that cast an odor on the atmosphere for many paces round.
"Aye, let him lead until my pain be passed—Ulsantis," spake the stricken one. "His brain doth leap to message from my mind; so I direct that he will not mistake. Bid him be calm, O Herald! Bid him speak to men as slowly as the sun steps to its rounds from out the ocean when the morn is clear and naught disturbeth Nature.
"Bid him to speak as bell rings out its summons, clear and firm and true each order ringing to the ears of men."
Ulsantis in the galley, painted, broad, with lilies jasper set, and studded thick with metal made from foreign ores, rode at the head of fleet. Twelve galleys deep at left, a hundred at the right, the foremost line of chosen men those at his side; and thus they kept the long day through in order of their setting out.
Not one oar's length from its fellow forward rode, but prow to prow they glided, leaped the waves. The sun set like a fiery wheel, of air and many leagues to North the invading fleet still lay.
The galleys of the island rested not, but row on row of men sank down to rest while others filled their places, slowly rowing as the night fell down and stars hung glittering. All keenly felt the stress of caution. Lips were shut to speech. The breath came slowly. Muscles strained and chests expanded as the morn drew nigh and galley leaped to stroke.
"Bring from the casket deep the instrument which telleth of the presence of much life upon the wave,"
spake he, the great commander, as the light of dawn flashed o’er the sky.
They bared the casket from its silken folds, which checked the jar of rower's stroke, and bore it to the bower of the leader, perched high above the deck on which the soldiers lay, and yet were they above the rowers.
Carefully the hands let loose from casket that no jar might break the keen, absorbing sense of spring and bar that made the instrument a thing to fear. Springs of hair and metal wheels, and fastenings that were made from substance of the stars cast down on earth. The magnet of the moods of men mayhap it was, for the keen-eyed thing directed, so it seemed, that gods indeed had builded for the use of chosen ones.
And he alone of all that fleet might read—Ulsantis. Read he, too, with eager face the message from the springs when, set on pivot high, it took the meaning from the fresh sea air and turned in dizzy whirl, then stood at bay with finger pointing northward.
"There they lie—yet distant, for no shrinkage towards the core doth indicate their nearness. One hundred stadia they to northward lie. We meet them not this dawn. The sea laps yet another night our Galleys ere we conquer them," the warrior cried. He spake to him attending: "Set the instrument no longer. Bear away as carefully as thou wouldst bear thine eldest son were he by illness smitten.
"Careful lock in iron casket, cushioned rare with silk enwound, nor let the jar of oars disturb the rest which meaneth unto us a kingdom's liberty."
The smiles of Nature, hidden, burst at last as one faint flush chased others o’er the sea.
Slow crept the fleet. No trumpet sounded morn, nor bells clanged: "to thy prayers, the gods awake!"
No voice in song cleft shrill the freshening air, but whispers told the needs to all who sat at bow, at stern or in the galley sheet, that metal harbor for the one who spake the evening's approach.
The cup of warmth passed swift from lip to lip by youths who served. The broken meat still held, but sparingly they ate. "We feast anon when stress of war is passed," they murmured, "if the gods so will; if not, we feast on blossoms fraught with spice where nectar holdeth for the one who asks—but asketh, all is his who asks, indeed!"
Up higher rose the sun. The morning born was well towards its zenith when spake one who held his instrument to eye in galley of the leader: "Methinks the sky-line dark about the northern boundary of our isle."
"What? Hold the galleys! They are come indeed! Let low the anchors! Bide here till the night shall fall! The long night through the great Moon circles, gives us light to send the souls from bodies sheltering.
"Halt the barques within the shelter of yon wooded cape and close to shore, that not one prying eye may dream the soldier faithful guards his isle."
All swiftly sped the men, so sure of word none asked for repetition. Anchors cast, deep sheltering point with giant palms protected even from the Northmen's eyes.