The Lost Continent, by Cutcliffe Hyne, , at sacred-texts.com
NOW when we came up with the coasts of Atlantis, though Tob, with the aid of his modern instruments, had made his landfall with most marvellous skill and nearness, there still remained some ten days more journey in which we had to retrace our course, till we came to that arm of the sea up which lies the great city of Atlantis, the capital.
The sight of the land, and the breath of earth and herbage which came off from it with the breezes, were, I believe, under the Gods, the means of saving the lives of all of us. For, as is necessary with long cross-ocean voyages, many of our ship's companies had died, and still more were sick with scurvy through the unnatural tossing, or (as some have it) through the salt, unnatural food inseparable from shipboard. But these last the sight and the smells of land heartened up in extraordinary fashion, and from being helpless logs, unable to move even under blows of the scourge, they became active again, able to help in the shipwork, and lusty (when the time came) to fight for their lives and their vessels.
From the moment that I was deposed in Yucatan, despite Tatho's assurances, there had been doubts in my mind as to what nature would be my reception in
[paragraph continues] Atlantis. But I had faced this event of the future without concern: it was in the hands of the Gods. The Empress Phorenice might be supreme on earth; she might cause my head to be lopped from its proper shoulders the moment I set foot ashore; but my Lord the Sun was above Phorenice, and if my head fell, it would be because He saw best that it should be so. On which account, therefore, I had not troubled myself about the matter during the voyage, but had followed out my calm study of the higher mysteries with an unloaded mind.
But when our navy had retraced sufficiently the course that had been overrun, and came up with the two vast headlands which marked the entrance to the inland waters, there, a bare two days from the Atlantis capital, we met with another navy which was beyond doubt waiting to give us a reception. The ships were riding at anchor in a bay which lent them shelter, but they had scouts on the high land above, who cried the alarm of our approach, and when we rounded the headland, they were standing out to dispute our passage.
Of us there were now but five ships, the rest having been lost in storms, or fallen behind because all their crews were dead from the scurvy; and of the strangers there were three fine ships, and three galleys of many oars apiece. They were clean and bright and black; our ships were storm-ragged and weather-worn, and had bottoms that were foul with trailing ocean weed. Our ships hung out the colors and signs of Tatho and Deucalion openly and without shame, so that all who looked might know their origin and
errand; but the other navy came on without banner or antient, as though they were some low creatures feeling shame for their birth.
Clear it seemed also that they would not let us pass without a fight, and in this there was nothing uncommon; for no law carries out over the seas, and a brother in one ship feels quite free to harry his brother in another vessel if he meets him out of earshot of the beach—more especially if that other brother be coming home laden from foray or trading tour. So Tob, with system and method, got our vessel into fighting trim, and the other four captains did the like with theirs, and drew close in to us to form a compact squadron. They had no wish to smell slavery, now that the voyage had come so near to its end.
Our Lord the Sun shone brilliantly, giving full speed to the machines, as though He was fully willing for the affair to proceed, and the two navies approached one another with quickness, the three galleys holding back to stay in line with their consorts. But when some bare hundred ship-lengths separated us, the other navy halted, and one of the galleys drawing ahead, flew green branches from her masts, seeking for a parley.
The course was unusual, but we in our sea-battered state were no navy to invite a fight unnecessarily. So in hoarse sea-bawls word was passed, and we too halted, and Tob hoisted a withered stick (which had to do duty for greenery), to show that we were ready for talk, and would respect the person of an ambassador.
The galley drew on, swung round, and backed till its stern rasped on our shield rail, and one of her people clambered up and jumped down upon our decks. He was a dandily rigged-out fellow, young and lusty, and all healthy from the land and land victual, and he looked round him with a sneer at our sea-tatteredness, and with a fine self-confidence. Then seeing Tob, he nodded as one who meets an acquaintance. "Old pot-mate," he said, "your woman waits for you up by the quay-side in Atlantis yonder, with four youngsters at her heels. I saw her not half a month ago."
"You didn't come out here to tell me home news," said Tob; "that I'll be sworn. I've drunk enough pots with you, Dason, to know your pleasantries thoroughly."
"I wanted to point out to you that your home is still there, with your wife and children ready to welcome you."
"I am not a man that ever forgets it," said Tob, grimly; "and because I've got them always at the back of my mind, I've sailed this ship over the top of more than one pirate, when, if I'd been a single man, I might have been e’en content to take the hap of slavery."
"Oh, I know you're a desperate enough fellow," said Dason, "and I'm free to confess that if it does come to blows we are likely to lose a few men before we get you and your cripples here and your crazy ships comfortably sunk. Our navy has its orders to carry out, and the cause of my embassage is this: we wish to see if you will act the sensible part and give
us what we want, and so be permitted to go on your way home, with a skin that is unslit and dry."
"You have come to the wrong bird here for a plucking," said Tob, with a heavy laugh. "We took no treasure or merchandise on board in Yucatan. We stayed in harbor long enough to cure our sea victual and fill with wood and water, and no longer. We sail back as we sailed out, barren ships. You will not believe me, of course; I would not have believed you had our places been changed; but you may go into the holds and search if you choose. You will find there nothing but a few poor sailormen half in pieces with the scurvy. No, you can steal nothing here but blows, Dason, and we will give you those with but little asking."
"I am glad to see that you state your cargo at such slender value," said the envoy, "for it is the cargo I must take back with me on the galley, if you are to earn your safe conduct to home."
Tob knit his brows. " You had better speak more plain," he said. "I am a common sailor, and do not understand fancy talk."
"It is clear to see," said Dason, "that you have been set to bring Deucalion back to Atlantis as a prop for Phorenice. Well, we others find Phorenice hard enough to fight against without further reinforcements, and so we want Deucalion in our own custody to deal with after our own fashion."
"And if I do the miser, and deny you this piece of my freight?"
The spruce envoy looked round at the splintered ship and the battered navy beside her. "Why, then,
[paragraph continues] Tob, we shall send you all to the fishes in very short time, and instead of Deucalion standing before the Gods alone, he will go down with a fine ragged company limping at his heels."
"I doubt it," said Tob, "but we shall see. As for letting you have my lord Deucalion, that is out of the question. For see here, pot-mate Dason; in the first place, if I went to Atlantis without Deucalion, my other lord, Tatho, would come back one of these days, and in his hands I should die by the slowest of slow inches; in the second, I have seen my lord Deucalion kill a great sea-lizard, and he showed himself such a proper man that day that I would not give him up against his will, even to Tatho himself; and in the third place, you owe me for your share in our last wine-bout ashore, and I'll see you with the nether Gods before I give you aught till you've settled that score."—
"Well, Tob, I hope you'll drown easy. As for that wife of yours, I've always had a fancy for her myself, and I shall know how to find a use for the woman."
"I'll draw your neck for that, you son of a European," said Tob; "and if you do not clear off this deck I'll draw it here. Go!" he cried, "you father of monkey children! Get away, and let me fight you fairly, or by my honor I'll stamp the inwards out of you, and make your silly crew wear them as necklaces."
Upon which Dason went to his galley.
Promptly Tob set going the machine on our own Bear, and bawled his orders right and left to the
other ships. The crew might be weak with scurvy, but they were quick to obey. Instantly the five vessels were all started, and, because our Lord the Sun was shining brightly, got soon to the full of their pace. The whole of our small navy converged, singling out one ship of their opponents, and she, not being ready for so swift an attack, got flurried, and endeavored to turn and run for room, instead of trying to meet us bows on. As a consequence, the whole of our five ships hit her together on the broadside, tearing her planking with their underwater beaks, and sinking her before we had backed clear from the engage.
But if we thus brought the enemy's number down to five, and so equal to our own, the advantage did not remain with us for long. The three nimble galleys formed into line: their boatswain's whips cracked as the slaves bent to their oars, and presently one of our own ships was gored and sunk, the men on her being killed in the water without hope of rescue.
And then commenced a tight-locked mêlée that would have warmed the heart of the greatest warrior alive. The ships and the galleys were forced together and lay savagely grinding one another upon the swells, as though they had been sentient animals. The men on board of them shot their arrows, slashed with axes, thrust and hacked with swords, and hurled the throwing fire. But in every way the fight converged upon the Bear. It was on her that the enemy spent the fiercest of their spite; it was to the Bear that the other crews of Tatho's navy rallied as their own vessels caught fire, or were sunk or taken.
Battle is an old acquaintance with us of the Priestly Clan, and for those of us who have had to carve out territories for the new colonies, it comes with enough frequency to cloy even the most chivalrous appetite. So I can speak here as a man of experience. Up till that time, for half a life-span, I had heard men shout "Deucalion" as a battle-cry, and in my day had seen some lusty encounters. But this sea-fight surprised even me in its savage fierceness. The bleak, unstable element which surrounded us; the swaying decks on which we fought; the throwing fire, which burned flesh and wood alike with its horrid flame; the great, gluttonous, man-eating birds that hovered in the sky overhead; the man-eating fish that swarmed up from the seas around, gnawing and quarrelling over those that fell into the waters, all went to make up a circumstance fit to daunt the bravest men-at-arms ever gathered for an army.
But these tarry shipmen faced it all with an indomitable courage, and never a cry of quailing. Life on the seas is so hard, and (from the beasts that haunt the great waters) so full of savage dangers, that Death has lost half his terrors to them through sheer familiarity. They were fellows who from pure lust for a fray would fight to a finish among themselves in the taverns ashore; and so here, in this desperate sea-battle, the passion for killing burned in them, as a fire stone from Heaven rages in a forest; and they took even their death-wounds laughing.
On our side the battle-cry was "Tob!" and the name of this obscure ship-captain seemed to carry a confidence with it for our own crews that many a
well-known commander might have envied. The enemy had a dozen rallying cries, and these confused them. But as their other ship commanders one by one were killed, and Dason remained, active with mischief, "Dason!" became the shout which was thrown back at us in response to our "Tob!"
However, I will not load my page with further long account of this obscure sea-fight, whose only glory was its ferocity. One by one all the ships of either side were sunk, or lay with all their people killed, till finally only Dason's galley and our own Bear were left. For the moment we were being mastered. We had a score of men remaining out of all those that manned the navy when it sailed from Yucatan, and the enemy had boarded us and made the decks of the Bear the field of battle. But they had been over busy with the throwing fire, and presently, as we raged at one another, the smoke and the flame from the sturdy vessel herself let us very plainly know that she was past salvation.
But Tob was nothing daunted. "They may stay here and fry if they choose," he shouted, with his great boisterous laugh, "but for ourselves the galley is good enough now. Keep a guard on Deucalion, and come with me, shipmates!"
"Tob!" our fellows shouted in their ecstasy of fighting madness, and I too could not forbear sending out a "Tob!" for my battle-cry. It was a change for me not to be leader, but it was a luxury for once to fight in the wake of this Tob, despite his uncouthness of mien and plan. There was no stopping this new rush, though progress still was slow. Tob with
his bloody axe cut the road in front, and we others, with the lust of battle filling us to the chin, raged like furies in his wake. Gods! but it was a fight.
Ten of us won to the galley, with the flames and the smoke from the poor Bear spurting at our heels. We turned and stabbed madly at all who tried to follow, and hacked through the grapples that held the vessels to their embrace. The sea-swells spurned the Bear away.
The slaves chained to the rowing-galley's benches had interest neither one way nor the other, and looked on the contest with dull concern, save when some stray missile found a billet among them. But a handful of the fighting men had scrambled desperately on board of the galley after us, preferring any fate to a fiery death on the Bear, and these had to be dealt with promptly. Three, with their fighting fury still red-hot in them, had most wastefully to be killed out of mischief's way; five, who had pitched their weapons into the sea, were chained to oar looms, in place of slaves who were dead; and there remained only Dason to have a fate apportioned.
The fight had cooled out of him, and he had thrown his arms to the sea, and stood sullenly ready for what might befall; and to him Tob went up with an exulting face.
"Ho, pot-mate Dason," cried he, "you made a lot of talk an hour ago about that woman of mine, who lives with her brats on the quay-side in Atlantis yonder. Now, I'll give you a pleasant choice; either I'll take you along home, and tell her what you said before the whole ships’ company (that are for the
Click to enlarge
“TOB WITH HIS BLOODY AXE”
most part dead now, poor souls!), and I'll leave her to perform on your carcass as she sees fit by way of payment; or, as the other choice, I'll deal with you here now myself."
"I thank you for the chance," said Dason, and knelt and offered his neck to the axe. So Tob cut off his head, sticking it on the galley's beak as an advertisement of what had been done. The body he threw over the side, and one of the great man-eating birds that hovered near picked it up and flew away with it to its nest among the crags. And so we were free to get a meal of the fruits and the fresh meats which the galley offered, while the oar-slaves sent the galley rushing onward towards the capital.
There was a wine-skin in the aftercastle, and I filled a horn and poured some out at Tob's feet in salutation. "My man," I said, "you have shown me a fight."
"Thanks," said he, "and I know you are a judge. ’Twas pretty while it lasted; and, seeing that my lads were, for the most, scurvy-rotten, I will say they fought with credit. I have lost my lord Tatho's navy, but I think Phorenice will see me righted there. If those that are against her took so much trouble to kill my lord Deucalion before he could come to her aid, I can fancy she will not be niggard in her joy when I put Deucalion safe, if somewhat dented and blood-bespattered, on the quay."
"The Gods know," I said, for it is never my custom to discuss policies with my inferiors, even though etiquette be for the moment loosened, as ours was then by the thrill of battle. "The Gods will decide
what is best for you, Tob, even as They have decided that it is best that I should go on to Atlantis."
The sailor held a horn filled from the wine-skin in his hand, and I think was minded to pour a libation at my feet, even as I had done at his. But he changed his mind, and emptied it down his throat instead. "It is thirsty work, this fighting," he said, "and that drink comes very useful."
I put my hand on his blood-smeared arm. "Tob," I said, "whether I step into power again, or whether I go to the block to-morrow, is another matter which the Gods alone know, but hear me tell you now, that if a chance is given me of showing my gratitude, I shall not forget the way you have served me in this voyage, and the way you have fought this day."
Tob filled another brimming horn from the wineskin and splashed it at my feet. "That's good enough surety for me," he said, "that my woman and brats never want from this day onward. The lord Deucalion for the block, indeed!"