The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
After his one speech to Rana in which he acknowledged her treachery, Kiron, strangely, made no further mention of it. To Morse's astonishment, he spoke to his cousin in a cordial and open manner, as if the subject were forgotten.
Kiron occupied his throne, settled himself naturally, and directed Laidlaw to relate his story to the ring of priests. Rana, in the meantime, had beckoned Morse to her side with a slight motion and a strange magnetic look in her deep and unfathomable eyes. In spite of his knowledge—and he could not shake the picture of Kiron lying bound upon the ledge as food for the vultures—he felt an attraction to this beautiful woman. He fought it wonderingly. Rana was beautiful by any standards, and her manner was an entrancing combination of swiftly changing vivacity and languor. Insensibly Morse began to place much of the blame of her actions upon Ru, who made no attempt to hide his antipathy for the strangers, even as he acknowledged the wonder of Laidlaw's story.
The ring of priests stood wide-eyed as Laidlaw told of the discovery of the cup, and showed keen interest in his account of the island of Crete and its history. There was unbridled enthusiasm at the disclosure of a living race who were at least remotely related to them. And there was wonder and disbelief as Laidlaw promised to display a collection of photographs of Greek art and architecture, the American describing as simply as he could the nature of a "sun picture."
Ru listened with a scowl deepening on his brows, alternately watching Laidlaw and Morse, or noting the satirical smile that continually played across the face of Kiron.
Rana plied Morse with a thousand questions, and her expressive eyes and red, pouting lips were a magnet to him. "Were there many men like him in his own
land? Yes. Ah, he was surely too modest. In Atlantis such a man might aspire to anything; even a throne!"
Morse, in almost a hypnotic trance, tried to affect an ignorance of her plain speaking. She halted and appraised him, a trace of puzzlement on her brow. And all at once the vivacity flamed again. She covered him with a flattery that made no attempt to hide her delight in his person. She praised his Greek and promised to be his personal tutor of Atlantean idioms. She outlined a tour with a score of things to see with her as guide. And she made it clear that any attempt to include Laidlaw would prove distasteful to her.
"Let him prate to the priests," she said. "He is old and I do not like his legs." Evidently her keen eyes had judged their hidden proportions, despite the long robes. "His face is hairy, and he is a musty creature. Knowledge is for age, when the joys of manhood are mere fruit husks. Let us not waste our time upon rinds when the luscious pulp is before us."
At last Laidlaw was finished, but there was further talk with the priests. There were games in the afternoon, and what better time was there that Ru might present the strangers to the people?
"He can sit in the priests’ benches," said Rana, indicating Laidlaw. "You shall sit with me."
Somehow, the imperiousness, the totality of her manner began to penetrate his consciousness, and beyond the outwardly beautiful shell he began to see her more clearly. Morse began to wonder what her purpose was in showering him with attention.
He was limp and perspiring when he left her spell; aware that he had been fighting with himself for nothing more than his own right to think; aware of her beauty and her magnetism; and suddenly and vividly aware of how Kiron had been tied and left to die at her command. He shuddered.
Laidlaw was full of talk and excitement. He was in his element. He had talked past a meal and had not even missed it. Now that the great archeologist had a few minutes apart from this hidden people, he could not silence his hoarse voice. And while he had been addressing
[paragraph continues] Morse all along, he suddenly realized that his fellow American was there.
"The queen is a beautiful woman," he began, a question in his voice.
"She is that," replied Morse unfeelingly.
"Remember Kiron," admonished Laidlaw, for once laconic.
Morse nodded slowly, and was silent for a time.
"There is something about her," he said at last, searching carefully for words. "When she was near me it was almost as if that part of me that knew what she had done was blocked out—there was something powerful about her… She is powerful!"
"Ru is powerful, too," said Laidlaw. "He hates us, and someday he means to fill a throne. If that day comes … " Laidlaw stopped and drew a finger across his throat suggestively. Then he continued:
"The old struggle between church and state is here. And the Atlantean priesthood is losing its grip. The people are overcivilized, too sophisticated. They demand to be amused, and the theologians are unable to satisfy them. Ru recognizes this and realizes that his only way of retaining power is to seize the throne. Oh, I found out a few things," said Laidlaw. "Didn't talk all of the time!
"Kiron is a cultured aristocrat, the kind out of style in most of the world. He was born to privileges that he will not give up lightly. Rana is a woman. One thing only dominates her—sex. It is her weapon, her armor, her delight; the one thing that Ru plays upon. He has her convinced that Kiron's indifference is scorn, and she hates him.
"Ru has no love for either of us, but he fears you because you could become a permanent fixture—if Rana can dominate you."
Morse looked at him quizzically. "You seem to have a keen insight into the ways of women."
"I? Risk myself in that kind of labyrinth?" Laidlaw laughed, but there was a touch of bitterness in his voice. Morse wondered whether there was a claw mark somewhere that had not entirely healed.
"Rana," summed up the scientist, "has been spoiled by adulation. As princess and queen, she has been
accustomed to cry for the moon and keep on crying until she got it. Now that she's in power, she is incorrigible."
"Don't you believe in suffrage, Laidlaw?"
"Suffrage and sex—the fair sex don't make a team. Over there"—he pointed to the island they had seen from the litter where the columned temple rose from its setting of tropical verdure—"is the home of Atlantean suffrage minus sex. It is the island of Sele, inhabited by a cult of women who have deliberately subordinated sex to the pursuit of knowledge and power. Their leader is none other than Rana's sister, Leola, who is said to be more beautiful than Rana herself. But Rana is not jealous. Leola abjures mankind. She is the high priestess of Pasiphae, the moon goddess, sharer of the double ax."
Morse looked at the island with curiosity. An island of beautiful virgins who had deliberately chosen to challenge men's prerogatives was intriguing to him.
"Only the priesthood is allowed to land there," said Laidlaw, interpreting his friend's glance. "Ru and his followers are also celibates. I don't imagine that Leola and her followers are overpopular. The population of Atlantis is on the wane."
"Do you think they have any chance of achieving their ambitions?" asked Morse.
"To become the equal of man? I doubt it. Mentally and physically they are handicapped by the sex instinct. It would take many generations to overcome that, and by their own laws future generations are impossible. They can only add to their numbers by fresh recruits who are largely influenced by the chance of becoming more or less conspicuous. The priestesses of Pasiphae are very important at festival functions."
"If you had been Adam, the world would never have been populated," laughed Morse. "Eve would have had a lonely time of it."
"It is because there is some of the old Adam in me that I am on my guard," replied Laidlaw to his friend's astonishment. "I am not a bachelor from choice, Morse. I am as human as you are."
"I'm afraid that you met the wrong woman once," thought Morse, but he did not speak his thoughts. Instead, he asked: "Did you notice that the lake water is noticeably warm?"
"The priests mentioned it," Laidlaw replied. "They say it is a recurrent phenomena that precedes activity in the volcano, and they are rather glad of it. I imagine it gives them an opportunity to renew their grip on the credulity of the people by ceremonials. They can magnify their own importance and supposedly ward off the calamity by appeasing the wrath of the gods."