Selestor's Men of Atlantis, by Clara Iza von Ravn, , at sacred-texts.com
Arrival of the Northmen and their allies. Morning and the sea-fight.
Swift came the foemen's galleys ere the night fell down upon the sea.
They danced upon the waves and boded ill if supple, smiting hand of that invading army held to grim and wanton slaughter. Wolves, in truth, were they!
"They pray to gods with black, black hair and eyes!" sang Olaf merrily.
"To gods who so forget that sleep falls heavily upon the galley's lord who bides on shore while galleys swing to anchor.
"Sleep falls upon the watchmen at their gates, on youth trained well for battle.
"Age, too, sleeps, for so my gods do whisper in mine ear.
"My men, row gleefully, for night doth fall all soon and we must reach that border faint—outlined—the outline of an isle so ladened with its riches wonder we that it sinks not.
"O beauteous isle of sea and sun, I come with arms outstretched to seek a welcome!"
Loud he laughed and long, and others took the laughter from his mood, and voices mingling echoed on the waves.
Behind the wooded cape the stern Atlantians sat in galleys stilled but for the rippling sea. Each thought of home, of loved, of altars where the ashes of their dead were blessed and urned for centuries.
The leaders, every man a king in mien and thought, for unto him looked every soul for succor on his isle. He failed them not.
"The tide doth higher rise and closer we to shore must creep, nor show one spear to foeman yet." This was the order silently obeyed.
"Tonight our feet shall tread the flowery isle," sang Olaf's men, as near and nearer drew the galleys to the shore.
A league beyond the border!
Sunk the sun and bright as burnished silver swung the Tropic Moon, her million lamps all lighted. Day indeed it seemed again had dawned.
The wily men of Asia spake at length: “Ye men of Northland love the cold, white moon, but we who dwell where reach its smiting beams know well its virulence, its baleful power.
“The forest aisles are lit as well for beasts that prowl as man, and if, perchance, Atlantis’ king and guards sleep not, what better target for their spears than we who land with moonlight showing well each helm?
“Seek we not at night our booty. By the light of day let warriors wander through those aisles of green where serpents lurk and beasts, for ivory slain, go crashing.
“Seek the isle at morn and set us men as vanguards, to the rear—keen-eyed, alert, who know the island's speech and they are faithful to their leaders.”
Bold Olaf pondered and at last he spake: "Let bide the galleys near the shore; when day shall dawn we wander through those aisles of green indeed! for night shall see us reeking, heavy—piled with spoil."
Impatient bode they on the drifting barques throughout the night, and when the morning broke
again the isle which seemed as shadow rose full clear.
"Oh, beauteous isle we come!" sang Olaf loud, and flax-haired warriors joined again in song despite protesting of the Mongol hordes who took their joy in silence. No halting of the men whose homes were menaced, then, but from the sheltering curve, past wooded point, which well had hid their fleet, the galleys shot with speed.
By tens and tens they hurled them to the wondering eyes until the sea seemed filled with flying boats that caught the sun on spear-point, helm; and prow gave back the color of the rising sun. A glorious sight that in the heart must live long after all had passed, and Time grown old to tale, and men had died and others born again who sailed the selfsame waters.
The Northmen gazed and lips fell parting. "Whence comes the fleet?" they asked in awe-struck tones, and every face showed wonder—wonder turned to hate.
"Betrayed! Betrayed! what galley left our fleet? What traitor babbled to approaching hordes? Cut out his tongue when these Atlantian dogs, first beaten back to land, shall so divulge his name we know the traitor; Asiaite is he! Forth to battle, Men!"
Thus Olaf; and each Northman at the sound leaped to his spear, or axe or yet a stave that smote and cleft.
"To battle," was the cry.
"The snow land wolves are false!" the Asiaites softly spake. "We know their value! Know their blackened hearts, and after death is dealt to them of that proud, flying fleet we tear the wolves in twain, and hearts that beat in breasts of traitors
now, shall quiver on our lances! Aye, they all shall perish! lying dogs of snow!"
Ah, bright the sun bore on the armored hordes!
A trumpet from Atlantis’ fleet called low. Called louder, and fierce thousands caught the note and swelled the sound in volume floating o’er the sea. Low calls, low answers. Louder yet the strain had swelled again. The answer seemed a challenge to the foe. It rose triumphant; every listening heart was thrilled with that wild prelude to the fight.
It brought to eye the vision of the strife. There clung the clutching warriors, heard the calls of captains calm, the hurry of the conflict when the foe fell thickest; then there came the tranquil strain that marked the end when victory was won.
The foemen heard and wondered at the cloud of sound. The troubled, shivering waves seemed waters dark indeed.
The trumpet's call a voice from Hecla's base: "Come hither! Hither! Hither!" floating died, in moans.
The brow of Olaf dampened, turned to ice. His heart sunk, laughed he loud withal: "What play of children! Warriors! look to swords. We still yon harper's notes! death-gurgle sounds shall be all sweet beside that strangling wail of trumpet in barbarian's sinewy, grimy hand."
His locks were yellow as the light on corn, his form as pine the straightest, his mien a king's indeed, but—Olaf—!
Asia in her borrowed boats felt thrill; a sound, in mind, familiar spake to them of lands where once their blood had run in veins now ashes—dust; perchance the things that grew upon the plains afar where now their homes awaited after—victory? each asked the question doubting in his heart.
"We fight with gods," they muttered, man to
man. "What hope have we with such, who hold in sway the voice of birds, of nightingales, the moan of ravens, reed-gull calling to her young?"
Their leaders felt the mood and swiftly spake: "To war! To spoil! To black-eyed maids whose lips shall speak of love as slow the summer days wear on!
"To spoil! To sands where grains of gold doth lie! Great garlands of bright gems! Where piles of silk hold scent that makes the rose seem rank as any weed! To spoil!"
The sullen men of Zambesi but fixed their eyes on the well favored men who from Atlantis oft had sailed unto their shores in boats unlike their own yet equal in their worth, and strength and swiftness.
Sullen spake these men: "We war not on Atlantis."
"To the gyves! To chains, they go!" called he, the leader, head of that bold band of Mongols.
But one captain eager spake, who peril saw—one captain of Zambesi:
"Men, we may not fight this day within the narrow confines of our galleys, on our brothers warring—brothers in our need. They gave us freedom, chance for equal spoil. Atlantis is our foe, since we are part of this great army which hath set to war."
Thus in the galleys of the plunderers peace prevailed.
Swift rowed the invaders; Olaf of the north at head of fleet to right; to left, the yellow men, and black and strong as tiger old and hardened in his fights rode men of Zambesi beside.
Atlantis with her eagles, yellow bloom of lilies at her prow, came swiftly; heeded not the stroke of missiles at her left and right.
Ten slaves to the front of bold Ulsantis stood with shields of metal rare that blunted spear and
warded stroke from that proud head whose brain directed all.
"Ho, men of snow," they shouted, "come ye nigh! We feed the fish upon thy northern bulk today, a dainty rare for sharks.
"Ho, robbers! Wanderers! Ye of Asia! Plotting in your line for centuries, keep thy lances for thy victims less, alas, than we!"
Then from the throats of all there burst the long, sad wail presaging war or death. A wail that shook the fleet with trembling mood. A wail that o’er the desert have I heard when mighty men were met in savage war. A cry, which, handed down the line gave foe in Egypt, centuries after, fear.
It was the cry of Ram and Phenox, Ses and other gods "who victory gave."
The Northmen's cry rang out, at first but trembling; for the foemen's cry spake tombs and places where the souls of Northmen trend, not to their minds.
Low fell the cry of Asia. Plains and sands, to them familiar, seemed afar, and thoughts turned from the water to the waste and made the voice to falter, yet the blood of stern resolve took fire at last and ran in fire and made the hand to spring to weapon, fierce the cry rose then.
Thus galley met with galley. Spears which gleamed drank of a redder fluid than the light that showered over, heeding not the fray that reddened sea, made waves to dance as body leaped on body, thrown to sea by mad encounter that would rock the land and cause the sea to bubble, foam and roar, and waves dashed high as sped the galleys on.
Fierce cries marked battle of the common horde, but silent on his swivel bench the slave, bold eyed with lips a-twitch with wrath, had held his oar till at
some well aimed stroke he fell all palsied and his duty done.
Atlantis, silent from the first long cry, dealt blow on blow. The master mind, that drank from him who lay in pain upon his couch, directing all with even words and calm, through instrument which made his voice to sound familiar in the ear of every man who fought in galley of his land.
Ten galleys did engage ten of the foes. Reserves flew swift to aid when one succumbed to stroke, and thus a wall of warriors met each charging boat. Condensed the numbers, so that none might say: "The gap is made! The break we pass with speed!"
The empty galleys swiftly bore to rear. The wounded followed in the cushioned barques, and fierce as tiger dam twelve long-speared warriors guarded well each boat, so that no foeman dared to brand the dead, or captive make of wounded.
Thus taught the men of Mars, and thus Atlantian sages learned. The galleys of the Northmen sought to lock with the Atlantian, but their three-edged spears beat hard on wood and clave it, broke to left and right, the Atlantians, nor halted.
"Fare away!" cried they.
The galley slaves who rowed with wondrous skill, made boats as rams that fight and drave the foemen far, some overturned, some cleft by axe so sharp that steel itself was bitten; rent in twain the stoutest timbers by the Atlantian's spik’ed sides and valves of fire at prow, that men ne’er dreamed were heated by a force drawn from the air, but showed not fire, was keen surprise indeed which boded death to every man who made a point of entry where the balls hung low from iron caskets, but ornament in truth they seemed.
With numbers sought the Mongol to maintain his vantage.
Flesh is frail when formed in wall, and every fierce advance was checked by missile-throwers of Atlantis who fought, nor made attack, for thus Atlantians were forbade, but held protection of the life and home a duty all must learn.
As creature playing with the thing which lieth dead by one soft stroke, the island soldiers fought till came an hour when Law was all forgot and man leaped forth a demon of the sea.
One boat held priests who prayed with men who died—young priests who side by side had strove with these, their brothers of the spear, when from an island of the southern sea came men for plunder.
The Northmen spake: "They shrive their dead!" they smiled. "What need have warriors for the parting boon when war absolves from sin they who have died? Sail out with me. The man who battles not in galley now must die! The fish of foul portent shall batten upon priestly fare today!" And so three galleys sailed to beat to nothingness the galley of the priests.
Swift sailed they and swift halted; their intent so sudden that the men of peace turned pale though fearing not for self but for the wounded men who called on gods with pain-drawn, quivering lips.
A crash! A crash! the ladened galley sank at blows of Northmen. Far to sea it lay.
Like lions roused to anger rose the men of that great island fleet. "Behold! the blood ye shed shall be as naught to that which we this day shall spill, to redden sea for league on league of Northmen's, Asia's blood! Look well!"
’Tis done! The serpent-shapen caskets took for aiming the clayed, death-dealing matter, great spears were set and staves made ready in the hands of slaves and silent-lipped as wings of Death fold down swept every galley—each for every foe.
Fell slaughter reigned. The great and three-edged spears held by Atlantians fell as swift as shafts of lightning on the helm of steel or toughened fiber; deep on skull they drave. A pulpy mass it seemed beneath the metal made by science learned from nations far, and planet-men and they with brain so tuned to subtle notes of usage that it seemed as gods had talked to men with lips to ear.
Proud Olaf fell beneath a mass of dead, and sullen rowed his slaves far out to sea and followed many.
"We take no captives here! We ask no wolf to share our beauteous isle! The sea may swallow and the fish may eat!" was each Atlantian's thought.
The men of Asia fiercer battled yet Zambesi's warrior's silent fought with spear that drank not deep of the Atlantian blood.
The shock on shock of galleys sent by oars that snapped not, neither failed in object sought, made noise as muttered thunder; the fiery missiles swiftly flung from hand so skilled that never man escaped; the shouting, shrieking of the rabble of Zambesi's horde, when closely pressed, fell like frail reeds before the silent thrust and deft—shot showers of fiery balls.
One galley sunk another followed close, sucked down, or shattered by the bolts of stone fierce-heated, which Atlantis’ steel-clad galleys bore.
The Northmen's last fierce effort to surpass that silent army was a gallant thing to witness:
King Olaf's son, a youth of tender years, stood at the helm of galley turning from retreat; with armed hand and breast secured from spear by rows of steel-shod shields by mighty men upborn, and in his wake one hundred galleys bore with remnant of the Northmen, caught the Admiral's eye.
Like thorn-set stems the Northmen's bristling
spears protruded, ten on ten, and staves glanced high, and missile-throwers’ shot, from tridents.
"Lost the Atlantians now, nor dare their men throw missiles save in extremest moments," spake the youth, for thus was told the island's custom.
Those northern galleys flew across the waves and smote with prow such galley as the captains marked to smite, with force like that flung out by giant's hand.
Men staggered, fell, nor fell in death, perchance, but rose sore bruised in body yet with soul so willed to battle that each hand clutched harder yet the spear.
All loved the foeman youth for that brave front, and not one spear was pointed, stave was thrown at that proud flaxen head, whose locks strayed bright beneath the heavy casque.
And stood he proudly still, young Olaf, when had fallen twelve hundred warriors; fell in sea or writhing sore in galleys, bearing dead and wounded, which was sunk by Atlantis’ spear-like spikes resembling those about a palace tower set.
There clouds of fire. There silent, sullen, mien; there galleys smiting charges hold the foe at bay and show their hopeless mission and the day was done!
There dead-filled galleys pile on earlier pile; the fish float heavy from their feed of dead, and to the northward hastening are seen such numbers as have chosen flight to glorious death.
"We homeward turn, O men, O gods of this great isle of sea!" so wailed the foe in song.
"The day is done! the chance for victory o’er! we to the desert go!" With glittering eyes the Mongol softly spake.
Zambesi's somber men spake scarce a word, but, hopeless, glared:
"A king of this Atlantis is our friend; behold!
henceforth his subjects, we. What ho! We swear our fealty," loud the leaders spake.
And galley met with galley, back to Atlantis bore the slaves of him, Zambesi's king, who later pardoned all, the fragment of a band. And over all, the shattered, saddened souls who bode in battered galley—bode in shell of body still, there fell a calm when voice of trumpet spake.
The night lust falling. Soft and low the call as mother's to her babe, then loud and clear, then angry murmur swelling, later fell in fierce glad cry of victory as sunk the sun to rest, the sun which vied in blood-red glow with foam upon the waves of stranger hue, all spotted with the life-blood from the veins of men so brave their names were spake with reverence by younger lips that followed o’er the sea.
Atlantis laid her dead in funeral barge and slowly homeward set. The trumpets plaint the long night through foretold disaster to the waiting ones, and to their ears it numbered all their dead, but spake no fell defeat.
"The dead are warriors, such their fate," they spake, but far beyond the shining Moon their souls are wending.
"We mourn not for them; they are quaffing glory from the Fount.
"Their life-pulse beateth on the ether planes.
"We still of earth may envy but not grieve, and yet our galleys number less by half than when we fared us forth.
"But, joy! Our foe hath ridden out to sea in battered hulk—a remnant of that army mocking us this morn."