The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
The games were held in an amphitheater hewn from living rock on a volcanic islet not far from the mainland. Laidlaw was quickly ushered off into a group of priests, and Morse found that he was to share a seat in the royal lodge between the two monarchs.
Rana claimed his attentions immediately.
Morse looked to Kiron who merely shrugged and smiled. But when the opportunity afforded itself, he whispered: "Beware of the Flower of Everlasting Sleep. Do not inhale the fragrance. It intoxicates, but it is fatal."
The Atlantean games opened with a procession of maidens, singing and bearing great armfuls of flowers with which they strewed the arena. Trumpeters with long-necked instruments circled the arena, accompanied by a band of priests. They halted at the royal lodge and hailed its occupants by name. Morse was surprised to hear himself included.
A second halt was made on the opposite side of the arena before a purple canopy. Morse was able to make out the figure of Ru—and beside him Laidlaw—as the hailing ceremony was repeated.
A strange perfume arose from the crushed petals that filled the arena. The air was clear, and the rays of the sun were warm and dazzling for the mid-afternoon spectacle. Morse fought to stay clear of Rana's intense being and a repetition of their first meeting. He concentrated on the arena, asked questions profusely, and finally with a slight smile Kiron came to his aid—to the obvious displeasure of his co-ruler.
The monarch spoke of many things: of traditions and ancient festivals, of horses—unknown in New
[paragraph continues] Atlantis and known only through the lore of the past—of cattle. Kiron revealed that they possessed cattle, but their herd had shrunk and bulls were a scarcity. They were used only upon very special occasions—"of which this is one," he added diplomatically.
A quartet of footraces began the arena activities, and when they had been completed wreaths of gilded leaves were bestowed upon the victors by the monarchs. Immediately following, a bull made its appearance. It was a magnificent creature, white, spotted with black, with gilded horns and hoofs, and a garland of roses about its neck. The crowd acclaimed it, calling it by name as if it were some stage favorite.
To those who were thirsty for blood-letting, this was a disappointment. Bulls were too scarce to be killed and served merely as a motive for an exhibition of marvelous agility. Youths and maidens armed with long spears and shorter darts attacked the brute, but the points of their weapons were short, and hardly drew blood. The bull was driven into a frenzy and finally into a sullen fit. A girl vaulted lightly to its neck, seized its horns, and rode off in triumph as her companions prodded the creature to an exit.
The gladiatorial games that followed provided the cue for general excitement. The weapons were real and the men in earnest. They fought in bands at first, then in couples: a javelin thrower, clad only in a linen breechcloth, protected by a partner with broad-bladed sword and a shield almost as long as himself. So dexterous were they that few serious wounds were dealt in the minutes allowed to each bout by the arena master. Still, there was blood enough to bring fierce shouts from their adherents on the benches.
Morse turned away from the action. He saw the beautiful mouth of Rana take on cruel lines, saw her eyes glaze with crimson like some fierce beast. There was no hypnosis here. Morse knew Rana now; knew she could never hold him in trance again. He turned to Kiron who watched somewhat wearily, while making expert comments on the moves of the battlers.
The finest gladiators had been reserved for single combat, and the crowd shouted for its favorites. Occasionally, a winner, still breathing heavily, would
advance to a spot before a group of nobles and offer a challenge to the amateurs. There would be a pause, and finally a young aristocrat would rise, cast away his outer garments amidst the cheers of the spectators, and descend to the arena. At times, the professionals were hard pressed, but for the most part they treated their opponents with a good-humored tolerance born of conscious superiority.
Last of all came the boxers, deep-chested giants of heavier mold—men who flailed at each other within the limits of a square indicated by upright posts. Their hands were protected with leather bands bound about the knuckles, fastened at the wrists, and studded with bronze. Two slaves fought ferociously for a prize of freedom, one felling the other with a savage blow upon the temple, and watching with a grin as the loser was dragged away, dying and insensible.
The Atlanteans fought stripped save for the cestus on the knuckles, and adhered to rules that precluded wrestling and kicking. The fights ended with one combatant owning himself beaten or unable to continue. The winners that came for their victory wreaths were badly bruised, but apparently they were Rana's favorites for she added to their wreaths gold coins from a bag brought by an attendant.
Few of the boxers challenged the spectators, and there were no takers, a fact which brought jeers of derision from the populace. Apparently they were not keen to face a possible disfigurement or bad beating.
The final bout ended with a victory for the champion of Atlantis. He was a massive man, weighing well over two hundred and fifty pounds, his powerful body a mass of gnarled muscles and brute strength. The sympathy of the spectators was with his opponent, a lighter, younger man who circled about his foe, raining upon him a torrent of quick swinging blows. The champion waited patiently, dodging and guarding some of the blows, but taking many full upon his features. Finally, the lighter man slowed his attack, breathing heavily from his exertions. And this seemed to be a signal for the champion's strategy. He leaped forward with ponderous arms swinging, too suddenly for his tired opponent to dodge completely away. A glancing blow slowed him, and then
one great blow from the champion caught the challenger full on the base of the skull. The latter crumpled without a sound.
The victor advanced with a lurching swagger toward the royal box. His bestial features, scarred in earlier fights, were livid and bruised where the blows of his most recent opponent had gone home. Tiny, piglike eyes glared at Morse from beneath scarred brows. A trickle of blood dripped from his nose, but the broad chest of the fighter rose and fell evenly—as if he had not even exerted himself.
"So, Aulus, you are still champion," said Rana as she bent to place the wreath upon the low brow and dropped some clinking coins into the cestus-bound palm. "This is but a tithe I won on you from the king today."
"I have always contested that Aulus is clumsy," said Kiron, as casually as if he had been discussing the points of a hound. "Some day a quicker, more intelligent man will come along. Diagoras was beaten before he tied on his cestus, beaten by a title."
"Which I still hold," grinned Aulus. "Diagoras will fight no more. I struck the marrow from his spine. Aulus is still champion—unless"—he hesitated for a moment, as if fearful of his own boldness—"unless someone should lift this and take away my wreath."
He stepped back, took off the bloodstained cestus from his left hand, raised it toward Morse, looking straight at him, and flung it to the sand in front of the royal box.
There could be no mistaking the directness of the challenge, nor the taunting leer in the gladiator's eyes. The arena caught the situation as one person and grew silent. Morse felt himself the target of a thousand eyes. Beside him, Rana leaned forward, her lips parted, her eyes bent upon his face. Across the wide arena he could distinguish Laidlaw standing upon his feet.
Kiron touched his arm and whispered to him. With Aulus still glaring at him, the silence was overwhelming. Morse dimly caught some words: "—a trick of Ru." But his blood was mounting under the eyes of the champion. If there were some trick, the only way to circumvent it would be to beat the champion at his own game or lose all prestige for himself and Laidlaw.
He rose, and the spectators lost their silence. They rose with him, cheered, pushed, and the arena became a bedlam. Morse vaulted lightly onto the victor's platform, ran down the steps to where the cestus lay, and held it aloft. The dark eyes of Rana caught his own. They tried to see into them, and a baffled look passed over the beautiful face. Morse knew that she was trying to calculate his chances of victory; she looked for fear, for courage, for stupidity, and looked for other intangibles. And Morse knew that she saw—nothing!
The noise of the arena gradually subsided, and Kiron's modulated voice called: "Thrice the amount of the bet against Aulus once again, Rana."
And Morse was surprised by the answer.
"You tempt me to discourtesy. I wager on our guest."
At these words, the face of Aulus turned into a scowl. He took up the cestus that Morse tossed upon the platform, and looked long into the crowd. Morse had turned without a word and followed the arena master into the gymnasium. Strange butterflies crawled within his stomach for he was not one to seek out a fight. Still, he told himself, the Atlantean boxers were clumsy—punchers. He believed in his own skill, and he had taken lessons from modern experts. Morse hoped that his boxing ability, his speed of hand and foot, and his conditioning would offset the superior weight and brute strength of Aulus.
The American was seized with an intense desire to defeat this swaggerer, and his butterflies disappeared.
In the gymnasium he stripped to a loin cloth and allowed himself to be rubbed with oils by a sad-eyed man who proclaimed himself the trainer of the slain Diagoras. When it came time to don the cestus, there were none save those belonging to the gladiators.
"Give me those of Diagoras," said Morse.
The trainer brought them reluctantly.
"I fear that they are covered with misfortune," he said.
"They are covered with the blood of Aulus," replied Morse grimly. "More of it will wipe away the evil."
"That is well spoken," said the trainer, and then in an aside: "Beware of his right arm. And if he appears
to weaken in any way, then be most wary."
Morse nodded understanding and stepped into the arena, knowing now that civilization was far behind. A throaty roar greeted him as he crossed the sand. Flowers flung by half the populace littered his path, as many tried to emulate their rulers by making him their favorite. But many were quiet, and Morse knew that they had wagered on the professional.
As he advanced Morse felt a strange sense of exultation as if some ancestor—or he himself in a former incarnation—had once trod the arena to pit his strength and skill against another's.
Aulus waited disdainfully, leaning his bulk against one of the pillars of the fight space. When his opponent was only a few paces away, he coiled suddenly like some great reptile ready to strike. Morse waited expectantly, but the arena master hurried between them, and with a few words led the two before the royal box. Right arms extended, they hailed the monarchs.
Rana gazed at them in anticipation of the savage sport that was to follow. The fire of her eyes held those of Aulus, but Morse turned his glance to Kiron's face. The monarch's lips moved silently and quickly, and the American read the words: "right lower ribs."
Accompanied by the arena master, the combatants moved in a measured step to the square that was to be their place of conflict.-The two were of a height, but the shoulders of Aulus were broader, and his chest and hips formed a square torso, in distinction to that of Morse, whose frame sloped inward to narrow hips. The American's muscles were long and less visible than those of the professional; and his legs, though well-developed, were saplings beside the huge boughs of the gladiator.
Morse's trip through the jungle had left him in fine condition, without an extra ounce of weight. Aulus was a trifle gross with good living, although his wind had seemed excellent in the earlier combat. Morse remembered the wild swings of the Atlantean boxers and planed to treat the populace to an exhibition of jolting straight arm punches. He hoped they would be a disconcerting surprise to Aulus, who owned a sixty pound weight advantage. "Jabbing and footwork," he told himself.
The combatants took their places, and after a look to Kiron, the arena master dropped his baton, the signal that commenced the battle.
Distaining his opponent for a moment, Aulus carefully placed his right foot forward, the left hand on guard, and the right hand opposite his breast in the now familiar Atlantean form. Morse opposed him loosely, hands high, poised on both feet ready to move in and out with lightning thrusts.
The arena had fallen silent again, and the battlers could hear the chirp of a bird from an outer tier. Aulus stood like a rock, derisively smiling with swollen lips that disclosed teeth broken from cestus blows. Morse felt a fury to erase the mocking grimace. He advanced, feinted with his left, drawing up the right hand of Aulus. Instantly Morse led with his right hand, and followed with a low smash to the ribs, side-stepping the wild counter swings.
Aulus grunted as the blow smashed home, and Morse knew that at some time his man had been injured sufficiently for him to favor a spot that might hold a weakness. The cruel cestus studs had ripped the skin, and blood ran down the gladiator's flanks, bringing a shout from the benches. Raging, Aulus wheeled and charged with a flurry of blows. So swift and determined was the attack that Morse had barely time to deliver a straight left hand to the face before he was forced to cover and retreat. The hammering of the great arms, hard as bronze, threatened to smash down his defense.
Feeling left his forearms. And while a clinch would have given him a breather, grappling was forbidden in the arena. A roar told him that he had retreated beyond the limits of the square, and he side-stepped nimbly to gain the center. Aulus floundered after him, and Morse saw that he had opened up a flowing wound above the eye and on the cheek bone. The Atlantean dashed the blood aside and charged with a thunderous growl, only to run into another straight jab. Morse ducked under a wild swing, and as the gladiator pivoted off balance he was pounded heavily below the heart.
Aulus' left eye was closing fast. He bellowed his rage at this agile opponent who fought in so unorthodox a manner. Morse danced in and out with quick, sharp
blows, but he did not go untouched. Once a glancing swing had all but paralyzed his shoulder and left arm, and on another occasion the cestus had cut his cheek. He felt the blood dripping down as he countered to the lower ribs and once again got a responsive grunt of pain. Morse's arms ached from blocking punches, but Aulus’ face was now a gory mask. And yet there was no weakening to the Atlantean's blows.
Aulus now stood in the center of the square, revolving like some clumsy turret as Morse moved around him. His unclosed eye glowered red with a venomous determination, and as Morse planted an uppercut squarely on his jaw, the gladiator shook off the blow with a laugh. The man appeared as invincible as an oak.
The sound from the benches seemed far away, as breaking waves on a distant beach, and the American found himself longing for Queensbury rules and the attention of deft seconds during a breathing spell.
With a third blow to the ribs Aulus staggered back, mouth open, face distorted, arms lowered. Morse leaped forward to press his attack. And suddenly the gladiator. regained his full strength, his features demoniac with anticipated triumph. Morse knew that he had been lured into the trap against which he had been warned. A smashing blow stung him sideways, and before he could regain his balance another pushed past his guard and caught him over the heart. His lungs failed; the air grew dark; he reeled dizzily. Only the absolute condition of his legs kept him on his feet as he crouched instinctively. Thunder sounded in his ears, and he felt that the end had come.
But no blows fell. The mist cleared away, and he looked out from under his guard. Aulus was on the ground. The force of the misjudged blow he had meant to end the combat had brought him crashing to the sand. Morse summoned all his reserve and sprang at him like a tiger. The gladiator was rising from his left knee, his right arm extended upward. There was a livid bruise on the ribs where Morse had made his target, and as Aulus straightened to full height the American punched with all his force to this spot. Aulus groaned and dropped his hands. The blow had cracked his ribs, sending the splintered bone inward. Morse's right hand went home
to the jaw, his left to the Adam's apple.
The giant tottered. His knees sagged and he confusedly raised one arm to clear the blood from his eyes, now both blinded. Instinctively he tried to protect his head. Morse shifted all his weight to his left foot, and put every ounce of power into a final punch. It caught Aulus between the parting of the ribs, battering the force of its impact through the muscles of the diaphragm.
Morse caught the look of unfeigned agony on the chopped countenance and stepped back. The mighty bulk wavered, the coordination between brain and nerve and muscle failed, and he crashed to the ground, a palpitating mass.
Morse stood aside as the arena master hurried up. The air was rent with salvos of applause and cries of consternation and disbelief. The official beckoned to the American. Aulus was writhing in pain as Morse bent over him.
"It is enough!" he cried. "I am undone. Beaten and blind. Bear me away, Milo. I yield my wreath."