The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
Kiron came in upon the two Americans the next morning shortly after their plunge. Four automatic pistols and belts lay upon the low couch, and he picked up one of them.
"You expect trouble?" he asked seriously.
"We are going to start it, Kiron," answered Morse—"start it at the first hint that the other fellow is even thinking about it."
He buckled the belt about his waist. "After this, Laidlaw and I are going to feel a lot safer with these handy, and I'd appreciate it if you would send Maya and Xolo to us for some additional support. I've had enough of this sort of thing."
He exposed his leg, deep purple and yellow where the anaconda had crushed it.
"My middle's in the same shape," said Laidlaw. "Hereafter I've got a special grudge against snakes, including a certain two-legged one."
Kiron looked puzzled, and Morse related what had happened in the shrine of Pasiphae and the attempt to capture him afterward.
"There is no snake about the middle of the statue,"
said the king. "It must have been placed there to destroy you."
He mused thoughtfully. "Ru might have said that the snake appeared to resist the profanation of the shrine by strangers. But since you passed the ordeal successfully, you have some measure of protection. I don't think you will be attacked on the street, though I will send your Indians to you.
"There are strange things working in Atlantis. Unseen politics, disaffection among the soldiers. With no outer enemies to fear, our military is recruited for police duty, though every noble keeps up the practice of arms. Ru and the priests control a force of Indians who have been well trained. It is plain they constitute a menace. There has been grumbling over taxes, which are light enough, and a disposition to break through old rules regarding nobility; almost all the elements of rebellion are slowly fermenting.
"But these are not your troubles," he added. "I should not burden you with them. I came to ask you to breakfast with me."
"My stomach is in sad condition," grinned Laidlaw, "but this is a good chance to test it. And one should never discuss politics on an empty stomach."
As they ate, Kiron outlined the festivities of the month of Pasiphae. It was the month of planting, the wedding of seeds with the earth—an occasion in which the priestesses of the moon goddess took a prominent part. Many gifts were thrown into the lake to propitiate the god that dwelt beneath the water, and these Kiron expected to be unusually valuable and numerous owing to the gradually increasing warmth of the water. The festivals would end with a joint service in worship of the double-ax deities.
"Not too many years ago the priests used to sacrifice maidens to Minos," said Kiron, "and youths to Pasiphae. But this custom is no longer practiced, for which I am thankful. Ru resents this loss and loses no opportunity to prophesy trouble in consequence. But the people are tired of innocent blood being spilled.
"By the way, Morse," asked Kiron, "did Leola speak to you?"
Morse felt his face grow hot. Even as Kiron had
been speaking, his mind had been wandering to thoughts of this priestess. He had dreamt of her through the night, and he pondered a little that she had so filled his thoughts. At the same moment Kiron had questioned him, Morse was wondering if he had fallen in love.
"Yes," he answered, still embarrassed. "She did speak to me. As a matter of fact she referred to me as 'even a man,' as if she was issuing an order to her followers not to tread on worms."
"That's the way she feels about us," laughed Kiron. "I have a grudge against her myself. She won over the girl who was learning to return my love. Now she is Leola's first priestess."
"Who is she?" asked Laidlaw.
"Lycida," returned the king. "A beautiful creature, . and far more human than Leola. We'll see a good deal of both of them in the next day or so. If I were you,"—he looked warningly at Morse—"I wouldn't let Rana catch you looking in the direction of her younger sister. She's loved her a lot more since Leola took her stand against men and went off to Sele."
Rana welcomed Morse to the stand erected for the royal court upon the palace steps. She did not even acknowledge Laidlaw. Morse managed to conceal his limp, not caring to discuss its origin with her in front of Ru, who inquired after his health with a placid assurance of friendship. .
"After the festival," whispered Rana—she had a trick of making the most trivial utterances sound confidential—"I have planned an entertainment at my villa at the southern end of the lake. Cnidus, the poet, has written a drama—'The End of Eros,' he calls it—that is a satire on our affairs. And we are all going to take part in it. You and Kiron may go hunting the cave beast while we rehearse if you promise not to get hurt."
upon leaned toward him languorously, her breath upon his cheek, her bare arm, soft as satin, lightly touching the length of his. Morse felt unusually irritant. His leg throbbed, and he had much the same feeling that a bird has when its feet first stick to a lined twig. He answered shortly, and Rana drew back, half-offended.
"You are ill-tempered this morning," she said.
[paragraph continues] "One would think you were your friend over there. Look at that sulky brute!"
Morse could not retain his smile as he glanced at Laidlaw, who was not in the least sulky.
"That's better," breathed Rana; "I had almost begun to hate you." She shot him a glance that held more than a hint of temper. Morse remembered his promise to Laidlaw and spurred himself to lighter talk, wondering in the meantime how he could escape the threatened visit to the villa.
The morning was magnificent. At the far end of the lake, twenty-five miles away, the crater was outlined in sharp relief. The water was a deep sapphire. Here and there boats carrying large numbers of spectators came on under sail and oar, straddling like giant water bugs. A ceremonial barge from Sele was midway to the shore, and the sweet voices of the priestesses came faintly to them. The causeway that bordered the lake was strewn ankle deep with flowers, and water bearers passed along refreshing them so that they might render their full fragrance as they were crushed beneath the feet of the procession.
A blare of trumpets came from the temple steps, and a company of priests in gleaming golden robes made their way to the landing to greet the priestesses of Pasiphae. Ru, after making his courtesies, had disappeared from the royal box.
The route was lined with spectators of all ages, and shifting colors from their bright-hued garments gave the effect of a flower garden in a breeze. Behind the palace the volcano cast its morning shadow across that quarter of Atlantis, and a fume of vapor issued from its snow cap in irregular puffs.
Silence fell as the spectators craned their necks. A long fanfare of trumpets ended, and the sound of chanting became more and more pronounced. The procession had started.
First to appear were a company of children, some of whom sang in shrill, sweet voices. Others played a simple tune upon a double pipe. Older youths and maidens followed, leading with garlands a snow-white bull with gilded horns and hoofs, a wreath about its massive neck—all that remained of the grisly minotaur worship
once found in ancient Crete.
The priest's guard was headed by a giant Indian, of that strange race who were long servitors to the Atlanteans. Clad in jaguar skins, a crested helmet, and with a chain of gold upon his great chest, he glanced insolently about him. Forewarned by Kiron's talk at breakfast, Morse detected an arrogance, a swagger, dominating the entire bodyguard, and he believed that rebellion was contained here only by the prospect of license to come.
Ru rode in their center in an open litter, his head shaded by a heavily fringed canopy held by four slaves. Behind him marched a column of priests, carrying for a standard the emblem of the double ax. More of the Indian bodyguard appeared, with sullen jaguars held in check by short bronze chains. The front ranks of the spectators shrank back until a body of gladiators paraded before them. Among them was Aulus, who cast a malevolent glare at Morse as he passed.
Athletes of both sexes walked with the bulls of the arena. A break in the procession was closed by maidens strewing white-petaled, fresh flowers, and others carrying wicker cages from which they released white doves, emblems of Pasiphae. The Americans had an unpleasant reminder as a dozen girls marched by with serpents twining about their arms and throats and white bodies. But these snakes were boars, none over ten feet in length, and mild-dispositioned pets of the temple.
A hundred priestesses, dark hair bound with fillets of silver to uphold a crescent-moon disk, sleeveless garments shot with the same metal, swung by disdainfully, chanting as they went. Morse barely noticed them, waiting for the approach of the high priestess. He sat erect, his face alight, his eagerness unconcealed. Rana leaned back, watching him intently, as if suddenly suspicious of his interest. Kiron, too, was now alert, shaken from the usual blasé pose which he wore in public.
She came at last, abreast with two other litters of ivory on which her lieutenants reclined. Above them were silken awnings of azure, studded with silver stars. A single priestess dared a swift, shy glance at the court, then turned away as Kiron stirred in his seat.
Leola lay indifferent to the crowd, her face as serene as the full moon, the exquisite outline of her form revealed by her clinging drapery. One bare, rounded arm lay so that the taper fingers drooped over the edge of the litter, one arched, silver-sandaled foot peeping from the brocaded hem of her robe.
There was confusion among the gladiators. Two of the bulls were out of control, and the procession halted. Irresistibly attracted, Morse gazed at Leola, his heart in his eyes. Slowly under his gaze the high priestess turned her head toward him as golden poppies turn toward the sun. The white lids—he could trace the tiny blue veins upon them—lifted, and her dark eyes looked into his. An invisible bridge was formed. Morse felt his spirit stealing out upon it, and knew that hers had come to meet it. A rosy blush transfused her face, the blush spreading to her neck and flooding the ivory of her army to the fingertips, like Pygmalion's marble Galatea slowly coming to life under the sculptor's compelling love.
Trumpets sounded and the procession resumed its march. Leola's litter passed. The connection established by their glances snapped as an electric current dies with the turn of a switch, and Morse gave an involuntary sigh that released the breath he had been holding in.
Beside him, he became suddenly conscious of Rana's presence; he turned. The queen's face was sphinxlike, and the spots of rouge she affected stood out against her pallor like crimson bruises. Her eyes were as hard and glittering as those of the anaconda at the shrine.
"So," she spoke slowly, picking her words, "you and. my sister seem attracted by each other! It is strange, indeed, for she has disavowed men both by preference and by oath. She may change one, but do not tempt her to break the other. It would mean death for both of you—unless—"
She stopped speaking, her hands shaking like a wintry leaf, her voice trembling! "You have seen her before?" she almost hissed.
Morse answered her quietly, wondering at his own calmness.
"She rescued me last night when some of your
[paragraph continues] Atlantean cutthroats set upon me. I suspect I have her to thank for my life."
"Ah!" Rana relaxed, and some of the cruelty left her eyes, though suspicion still lurked in their depths. "Who were these men?"
"They came at me swiftly," he replied, "and later they slunk quietly into the shadows. They were Indians, but not slaves. They wore swords."
Rana's brows met, and she compressed her lips. "They shall be punished," she said aloud; and to herself: "And you, my sister, shall be watched."
The court rose after the procession had passed, making their way, first by litter and then by boats, to a great float roofed with silken curtains. Here they feasted and watched the ceremony of propitiation. Ru and his priests descended the water stairs of the temple, and as the men chanted, cast objects into the water that glittered as they whirled and shot out colored sparks from the gems that incrusted them. Then they ranged themselves on either side, as Leola and her attendants repeated the action. The populace lined the balustrade, waiting for a signal for their share in the sacrifice.
It came with a blast of trumpets, and a shower of ornaments rained into the lake. The trumpets were repeated, and at each blast gold and gems broke the water's surface. Kiron tossed in a miniature replica of the double ax, but Morse noticed that the nobles cast their share not overliberally.
"It is all a great waste," said Rana, as she slipped a magnificent bracelet from her wrist. Still, it satisfies the people and keeps the artificers busy. You, too, must sacrifice, now that you are a noble of Atlantis."
"I have nothing valuable but what you have given me," said Morse. He spoke as a matter of fact, but Rana smiled and laid her hand upon his arm with a lingering pressure.
"That was a courtier's speech," she said. "Give me that fibula."
He took the golden ornament that was strangely like an elaborate safety pin from his mantle and handed it to her. She plucked a silver cord from the fringe of her rainbow-plaided girdle and tied the pin to her bracelet, then turned and tossed the two offerings into the air
together. The knot slipped, and the offerings fell apart before they reached the water. There was an involuntary silence among the nobles, and Kiron smiled. Rana shot him a murderous look, her face distorted like that of Medusa.
"Poseidon refuses your combination, cousin," mocked Kiron. "The omens are not favorable."
"I hate you!" she hissed. Kiron only laughed, and Rana bent an inscrutable look upon Morse. There was tragedy here, and apprehension, and a purpose that he could not quite understand.
"The ceremonial is over," she said abruptly. "It is useless to wait longer. Let us return to the palace."
She rose petulantly, summoning the boats, but she did not ask him to join her for the return. With open relief, Morse took a seat beside Laidlaw.
The conclusion of the ritual was a signal for the crowd to depart. This was done in a confusion of oars and sails that produced much laughter and shouting. Somehow, a lane was cleared for the ceremonial barge of the high priestess of Pasiphae, a cumbersome, top-heavy craft with a shrine built high upon its stern. It was towed by ropes from two galleys, rowed by lesser priestesses and neophytes.
A sudden wind blew from the cliffs and sent the cluster of boats into a hopeless entanglement. Laughter was replaced by cries of consternation. Morse saw that the royal float had been torn from its moorings, and, impelled by the strong wind upon its awnings and curtains, it bore down on the overladen boats.
The float was high out of water, and heavily built; it was a formidable engine of destruction as it drove before the fury of this sudden gale. Women and children screamed, and men fought hard to clear their boats from its path. It smashed into an open shallop, driving the craft beneath the water as its occupants were dragged aboard a larger vessel. A second float was destroyed, and the float now threatened the barge of the priestesses.
The oarswomen towing the barge faltered in their stroke, undecided as to a course of action. Morse, recognizing the frail construction of the barge, urged his rowers forward. In the face of imminent danger,
[paragraph continues] Leola remained calm, but below her women huddled together in fear. The heavy float crashed into the stern of the barge, and the shrine, insecurely attached, first rocked and then toppled into the water amid the shrieks of the onlookers.
Leola moved suddenly as the platform tottered, springing to clear herself. As she reached the water, weighted down as she was by her heavy, silvered robes and ritual ornaments, she fought to swim away from the wreck, but the supports of the silken awning struck her and she sank below the surface.
A score of boats raced to the rescue of the high priestess, and the one which carried Morse and Laidlaw was as close as any. Morse flung off his outer garment and dived into the water. An oar struck him a glancing blow on the side of his head as he leaped, but it did not deter him. He surfaced, wiped the mingled blood and water from his eyes, and sought his direction.
The blue-and-silver awning floated thirty feet away, and there beyond it he made out a gleam of silver tissue And the clutching fingers of a hand that barely showed above the surface; then disappeared. Morse pushed himself through the water with frantic strokes, and, nearing the point where he had glimpsed the hand, he dove. Below him he saw a confused mass of garments outspread in the current, and streaming from them a mass of golden hair. He reached for the hair, seized it finally, and struggled upward. His lungs seemed about to burst before he broke the surface into the world of bright sunlight. For half a minute there was silence about him, and then a roar of excited cheers.
Morse turned on his back, paddling with his legs and one hand, letting go of the girl's hair and managing to throw his free arm about her shoulders. Leola's body, heavy with the soaked robes, dragged down, but her head was securely on his shoulder. Her face, pale as the petals of a water lily, dark eyes closed, lay turned toward his chest.
Laidlaw suddenly loomed above the couple, anchored squarely in the stern of the boat. A moment later, his powerful arms gathered in the limp form of Leola, and Morse was pulled over the side by two oarsmen.
"Row to the float!" Morse ordered gaspingly, as he
fought for his breath. The sudden gale was over, and the big platform that had caused the damage had been secured. Now it swung on its broken cable, held by men in boats who had come up too late for the rescue.
Morse stepped onto the float and took Leola from Laidlaw's arms, laying her gently on the rugs and cushions that had been provided for the royal party. He knelt over her. There were no visible bruises. The support had struck the mass of her hair, tearing it from its combs and fastenings, but the thick pad of it had caused the blow to stun and not injure her. And her insensibility had prevented her from swallowing a dangerous amount of water.
As Morse knelt down, the blood from his scalp wound dropped upon her robe. He gently raised the ivory arms above her head and lowered them again to promote respiration. After a dozen motions, he was rewarded by a quiver of her eyelids and the slow, perceptible heave of her breast. Someone handed him a crystal flask, and he dropped a little of the pungent liquid between her slightly parted lips that disclosed the even, pearly teeth. Her eyes opened and gazed into his, blankly at first, before the light suddenly shone in them. She sighed.
Morse thought he distinguished some syllables and bent lower. He was not mistaken. It was his name that she murmured for a second time—not the harsh surname—but his first name, softened by the Greek tongue to "Stan-na-li." Then her eyes closed as he whispered her name in return. A faint tinge of rose appeared in her cheeks.
A group of protesting priestesses surrounded them. Two of them knelt, and Morse remembered one as the girl who had glanced up at Kiron from her litter. She pillowed Leola's head upon her lap and attempted to make her comfortable. Morse was surprised at the angry voices and glances that he drew, and allowed Laidlaw to draw him to one side where Kiron spoke to him.
"Come into my boat, both of you. You have done all you can; at least, all they'll let you do."
The barge had sunk. The priestesses had been taken in by the boats that had towed them, and they were now
on the float seeking to shield their high priestess from the gaze of men.
"They seem to be angry that you saved her life," said Laidlaw, helping Morse bind a strip of linen about his head.
"They are," he said. "You have profaned the person of Pasiphae's representative. They will have- to hold votive ceremonies for a month to wipe out the ignominy of the touch of a man. I wish I'd had your chance, though," he added ruefully.
"With Leola?" asked Laidlaw.
"Not with Leola," admitted the king. And he went on: "Rana looks furious. I watched her during the rescue and I think she sensed your anxiety. If I were you, I'd make that wound of yours an excuse for staying away from the banquet tonight. Otherwise the praise that you are bound to receive from those who do not share the priestesses' view of profanation is going to provoke Rana into a display of temper. You're not hurt are you?"
"Nothing but a scrape," replied Morse. "Sorry if I called down the wrath of Pasiphae."
But he did not look very unhappy as he said it, and Kiron rallied him.
"Leola didn't raise any objection when she revived," he said with a smile.
Morse grinned in reply. "I'll send my excuses to Rana. Laidlaw, will you take them?"
Laidlaw grunted. "You need a nurse," he said.
Later, an hour after Laidlaw had departed for the banquet, Morse rose suddenly from the lounge on which he had been lying. Strange thoughts had been running through his mind—thoughts of Leola. Since their meeting, his nature seemed to have changed, developed into a condition that left him feverish and uncertain. He had never been in love; he avoided it; he had exposed himself little to its conditions. Occasionally, when he was in New York after wanderings in little-known lands, he would find it necessary to attend some elaborate function of relatives or family friends. But here he would remain the silent, almost unseen
guest, lurking in some out-of-the-way corner and dreaming of his next exploration—much to the chagrin of many of the women whose main objective seemed to be "seeing Stanley married and securely tied down."
Morse knew that he was not cut out for such a life, that he was out of place in the society that bred him. But in Le-ol-a, priestess of Pasiphae, there was much to lure him. Le-ol-a, mentally alert, throwing out a challenge to men that, failing her standard, she would have none of; blessed with a beauty that was flawlessly alien to the women he knew; possessing an element of the very mystery that drew him irresistibly, time and again, to the unexplored and unknown. Leola…
From the first moment of meeting he had sensed the magic, the electricity between them. Now he knew what he had not seen before, hidden as it had been by this new feeling: that Leola must become his mate … jungle or civilization, it made no difference. And he knew, too, that he had pierced the armor of her reserve. Her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, the murmur of his name upon her lips; they told him.
But Morse did not blind himself. Rana was jealous. Leola was a priestess with vows that excluded men from her life. Love for him would expose her to a scorn—perhaps more—from the priestesses of Sele, and perhaps the virulence of Ru. Yet, if she loved him? His soul kindled at the thought. He loved her. She was the mystery that he had sought unknowingly over all the world. He would win her.
And Kiron would aid him. The king, beneath his practiced indifference, was a man, and he hid a passion for another priestess of that woman's isle. They would flee Atlantis, its intrigues and threat of revolution.
Morse's thoughts could not wait. Before him was a night of freedom. Unseen, he could slip across to the isle of Sele, forbidden though it was to men, and confront Leola in the very shrine of Pasiphae, if that were necessary.
He dressed himself with scrupulous care and lingered before the metal mirror in a fashion that would have been laughable to the Morse of a day before.
[paragraph continues] It had been only twenty-four hours since he had first seen her. Since then she had looked at him with eyes that hinted at understanding and spoken with lips that had betrayed her.
He called Maya and Xolo and cautioned them to tell any inquirers that he was asleep—that he could not be disturbed. These bronzed watchmen could be relied upon in case a message came from Rana. Then he slipped away toward the water stairs.
The night was brilliant, the deserted causeway illuminated by moon and stars. The nobles were at the palace fete; the populace, tired with the day's excitement, in their homes.
Kiron had given him the key to a bronze lock that chained a light boat, and Morse stepped into it. He took up the strange, square-bladed oars and rowed the shallop swiftly from the shore, sending wavelets back along the calm surface. As the boat left the landing, two forms, clad in the tawny kilts of the priest's guard, rose from the shadow and slipped away in the direction of the palace.
Morse turned his head and saw the isle of Sele, its temple columns white beneath the moon. A bluish ray, made more conspicuous by the smoke that curled in the spreading shaft of light, lifted from behind the pillars. The lake was destitute of other craft, and an almost invisible mist hung over it in patches. Morse ran his hand through the water and was startled at the temperature. It had been warm when he rescued Leola, but now it seemed to be almost the temperature of blood.
As he approached the island, the sound of singing came to his ears. It was the chant of women's voices in a simple, pleasing harmony carried to him on the breeze. He faced the city, gray against the background of trees and cliff. The snowy cone of the volcano appeared silver, and from it came great puffs of cloud, Purple-bodied, laced at the edges by the moonlight. Morse noticed that they were on the increase from the morning.
Soon he was in the shadow of the isle. The water was deep close up to the steep and rocky shore which was thickly set with tall trees and a profusion of palms
and semi-tropical undergrowth. Flowers grew everywhere—on the ground—amid the shrubbery, in the treetops, and between them the vivid blossoms of orchids swung free, hanging from branches or trailing along the lianas.
Morse avoided the main landing, and paddled along easily, looking for a place to step ashore. The chanting came faintly through the trees, and above them the blue, vaporous ray showed ominously. He was aware of the danger of being discovered on the sacred island, and remembered the anger of the priestesses after his rescue of Leola. These women were trained in the use of arms, Kiron had said, and boasted of their ability to equal man in all athletic pursuits. Morse was inclined to believe in their capability. Yet, he reflected, they had screamed and shown signs of indecision in their alarm at the float. Perhaps they were unable to banish all feminine attributes.
A long, narrow cove appeared, and he headed into it silently. At its extreme the surface was covered with enormous circular leaves, the size of a table-top, among which floated huge, pink water lilies. Morse stepped ashore to a velvety turf, secured the boat, and moved through a wood in the direction of the singing. The trees were thick, and it took him a long time to make his way through the dense underbrush in the extreme darkness. Finally he broke through, and only by gripping some stout creepers did he hold himself back from a fall that would have meant instant discovery.
Morse had reached the rim of a grassy bowl that sloped before him in a sharp incline toward an oval of level ground at its center. The grass in the bowl was starred with gorgeous, night-blooming flowers. At one end of the oval twelve exquisitely carved columns were set in a circle. They were unroofed and unconnected and fashioned so skillfully and elaborately that they seemed to be shafts of magical growth, rather than pillars of solid stone. In the center of their circle stood an altar upon which burned the flame that formed the blue ray. Two priestesses stood beside it, one pouring oil occasionally into the reservoir that fed the flame, while the other from time to time cast into it a powder that produced the color and gave out a resinous
In the open space before the shrine, a figure, clad only in a diaphanous robe, postured within a group of priestesses who lay motionless on the ground, their vestments covering them in filmy folds. Surrounding them in double ranks were the singers, waving long branches of palm in rhythm to their chant. The sound of strings and notes of piping arose from somewhere in their midst.
Brilliant moonlight illumined the scene almost as vividly as by day, yet invested it with a mystery that caused it to seem unreal, the vision of a dream.
Crouched in the thicket, his gaze fixed on the center figure whose limbs moved with exquisite grace, Morse listened to the words of the song:
The chant ended, and the prostrate votaries arose. With arms aloft, they wove in and out the measures of a stately dance about their high priestess who stood in an attitude of appeal. Her arms were extended to the moon, its beams full upon her face, subduing the pale gold of her hair to frosted silver. Faster and faster
moved the dancers, their garments streaming with the pace until they formed a continuous, swiftly moving chain of shimmering silk, lowering their arms to shoulder level and linking fingers, while their naked feet seemed hardly to touch the ground.
The motion was reversed, the steps slackened, and the chain broke into separate links, each with a silent, motionless figure of supplication. The palm branches were raised moonward. The altar attendants left their fire and advanced toward Leola. From one of them she took a bow, and from the other four arrows. Impaled upon the latter, close to the points, were strips of papyrus. Leola bent the bow, and the first shaft sped upward, glittering as it curved in a graceful arc to fall beyond the rim of the basin among the trees.
The high priestess turned as she loosed one of the prayer-bearing messengers to each quarter of the heavens. The last arrow dropped within a few feet of Morse, its head buried in the turf. He reached out cautiously, secured it, and placed it within the folds of his chiton.
The altar fire was dying down. The singers and musicians had formed ranks and marched toward a path that led through the forest to their temple. The dancers followed. Only Leola remained.
When the oval was deserted, she moved slowly toward the shrine and knelt beside the altar. The flame fluttered and vanished. The high priestess regained her feet, passed her hands across her brows, then raised them toward the moon. Morse caught the sound of a faint sigh. The procession had disappeared. The words of the chant to which they marched were scarcely audible:
He cupped his hands and called softly but distinctly. "Le-ol-a!"
The high priestess started, set a swift hand to her heart, and looked toward him as he repeated her name. He stepped free of the thicket and advanced down the slope toward the shrine. She came toward him, her
arms motioning him away.
"Go back!" she cried. "You must not be seen-here. It means death. Go back!"
Morse's heart gave a sudden leap. She did not want him discovered. She wanted to shield him, high priestess though she was.
"I will not go back unless you come with me," he said simply.
"With you—where?" she answered, a little wildly.
"To the edge of the forest, where your last arrow fell at my feet."
"Where my last arrow fell?" she repeated slowly, a strange look of awe upon her face.
"Yes," he insisted. "Come!"
He held out his hand, and she slipped her cool fingers into it unresistingly. Instantly he thrilled to her touch, and knew that she shared the emotion.
At the fringe of the thicket she paused and attempted to withdraw her hand.
"I must not, I will not!" she cried. "What magic have you wrought on me, O stranger?"
"Not a stranger, but 'Stan-na-li,'" he said. The moonlight could not efface the rosy color that stole into her face. "As for the magic, it was not I who used it; it was you, Leola."
"You. For never until now did I know for what I have been seeking. As you have lived without need of man, Leola, so did I live without need of woman—until I met you. Then, as the seed breaks through the dark earth and bears a blossom, my spirit flowered. But the flower blooms only for you."
"You must not talk to me this way," she said. "I spoke to you—I came this far with you only to repay the life you saved this afternoon."
"Only for that, Leola? Swear to me that it was for that reason alone, and I will believe you and go." He forced her to meet his gaze.
"You are not kind," she murmured.
"Listen," said Morse. "I heard the words of the chant to Pasiphae."
She drew back with a gleam of anger in her eyes. "You dared—"
"I dared," he answered quietly. "And you know why I dared, Leola. It was not to witness forbidden rites. But I heard the last of the singing. You asked the moon goddess to receive the prayers impaled upon your darts. You believe that she can answer them?"
He took the arrow from his robe and read the linear script inscribed upon the papyrus:
"Grant, O Pasiphae, the dearest wish of our hearts."
"It fell at my feet," he said. "Your hand guided its upward flight, but surely the goddess directed its descent. Am I not the answer?"
He had dared a great deal, and resentment flamed in her glance. Then it softened.
"I do not know why I stay here talking with you," she said. "My vows—"
The moonlight faded. Clouds formed from the vapors of the volcano were being driven across the face of the planet by a breeze which was beginning to stir the tree tops in back of them.
"Look!" said Morse. "Pasiphae is mighty, but Eros conquers her and veils her face. Love has come to both of us, Leola. It spoke from our eyes as they met when the procession halted. Was it for nothing that you came ashore last night as I was being captured, for nothing that I found you in the waters of the lake and rescued you? It was the will of the gods, Leola. Fate mocks at vows, except the ones she prompts; and Fate vowed you and I to each other long ago when she willed that we should meet, though half the world divided us."
A heavy mass of vapor completely shrouded the moon and chased the watchful shadows. Morse placed his arms about her and drew her to him. For a moment she resisted, then suddenly accepted the embrace. Her face was lifted slowly to his, as if fighting against surrender. He set his palm against the masses of her hair and bent his lips to her. They were tremulous, but warm with life, and met his in a kiss that joined them irrevocably.
Men broke through the undergrowth, seized Morse from behind, and tore Leola from his arms. Her hair
caught upon a trailing vine and showered down in a rain of pale gold as the moon's disk cleared. Morse struggled in silence as more men flung themselves upon him, but Leola shook off the lighter grasp of the two that held her.
"How dare you!" she gasped. "How dare you! One cry and my followers will come and slay you for your profanation!"
A man took a step from the band. He was bearded and dressed in priestly vestments. Morse recognized him as one of Ru's advisers.
"You have no followers, Leola," he said sternly. "It is you who have profaned your own shrine. Do you think the priestesses of Pasiphae will obey one who has forsworn her vows and brought the worship of the goddess into disrepute?"
Leola was silenced. Rude hands were clapped across Morse's mouth before he could prevent it. The next moment he was trussed and helpless, and being carried to the cove where he had landed. Beside his shallop was a galley manned by slaves. He was tossed into its stern like a bundle, and the next moment Leola, also bound and gagged, was laid beside him.
Morse was sick at the thought of what he had brought upon the woman he loved, and he twisted until the hide strips sank into his flesh. His arm rested against Leola's, and her fingers interlaced themselves in his with a pressure that was forgiveness perhaps, perhaps love.
The galley was poled out of the cove, and under lusty strokes raced toward the mainland. As Morse lay there, the wind lifted a fragrant tress of Leola's hair, and it fell across his face like a caress. He touched it with his lips.
The boat glided against the landing, and the prisoners were lifted out silently and carried up the water stairs. Morse saw the cone of the volcano lifting its peak against the stars, its hoary crest gleaming frostily. The puffs of vapor had turned into an uninterrupted flow of smoke that funneled out to a dense mass, part of which streamed leeward like a dusty, pointing finger. The lower part of the cloud was tinged with a lurid, pulsating glow.