THE LOST CONTINENT by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
15. Zaemon’s Summons
Since the days when man was first created upon the earth by Gods who looked down and did their work from another place, there have always been areas of the land ill-adapted for his maintenance, but none more so than that part of Atlantis which lies over against the savage continents of Europe and Africa. The common people avoid it, because of a superstition which says that the spirits of the evil dead stalk about there in broad daylight, and slay all those that the more open dangers of the place might otherwise spare. And so it has happened often that the criminals who might have fled there from justice, have returned of their own free will, and voluntarily given themselves up to the tormentors, rather than face its fabulous terrors.
To the educated, many of these legends are known to be mythical; but withal there are enough disquietudes remaining to make life very arduous and stocked with peril. Everywhere the mountains keep their contents on the boil; earth tremors are every day’s experience; gushes of unseen evil vapours steal upon one with such cunningness and speed, that it is often hard to flee in time before one is choked and killed; poisons well up into the rivers, yet leave their colour unchanged; great cracks split across the ground reaching down to the fires beneath, and the waters gush into these, and are shot forth again with devastating explosion; and always may be expected great outpourings of boiling mud or molten rock.
Yet with all this, there are great sombre forests in these lands, with trees whose age is unimaginable, and fires amongst the herbage are rare. All beneath the trees is water, and the air is full of warm steam and wetness. For a man to live in that constant hot damp is very mortifying to the strength. But strength is wanted, and cunning also beyond the ordinary, for these dangerous lands are the abode of the lizards, which of all beasts grow to the most enormous size and are the most fearsome to deal with.
There are countless families and species of these lizards, and with some of them a man can contend with prospect of success. But there are others whose hugeness no human force can battle against. One I saw, as it came up out of a lake after gaining its day’s food, that made the wet land shake and pulse as it trod. It could have taken Phorenice’s mammoth into its belly, and even a mammoth in full charge could not have harmed it. Great horny plates covered its head and body, and on the ridge of its back and tail and limbs were spines that tore great slivers from the black trees as it passed amongst them.
Now and again these monsters would get caught in some vast fissuring of the ground, but not often. Their speed of foot was great, and their sagacity keen. They seemed to know when the worst boilings of the mountains might be expected, and then they found safety in the deeper lakes, or buried themselves in wallows of the mud. Moreover, they were more kindly constituted than man to withstand one great danger of these regions, in that the heat of the water did them no harm. Indeed, they will lie peacefully in pools where sudden steam-bursts are making the water leap into boiling fountains, and I have seen one run quickly across a flow of molten rock which threatened to cut it off, and not be so much as singed in the transit.
In the midst of such neighbours, then, was my new life thrown, and existence became perilous and hard to me from the outset. I came near to knowing what Fear was, and indeed only a fervent trust in the most High Gods, and a firm belief that my life was always under Their fostering care, prevented me from gaining that horrid knowledge. For long enough, till I learned somewhat of the ways of this steaming, sweltering land, I was in as miserable a case as even Phorenice could have wished to see me. My clothes rotted from my back with the constant wetness, till I went as naked as a savage from Europe; my limbs were racked with agues, and I could find no herbs to make drugs for their relief; for days together I could find no better food than tree-grubs and leaves; and often when I did kill beasts, knowing little of their qualities, I ate those that gave me pain and sickness.
But as man is born to make himself adaptable to his surroundings, so as the months dragged on did I learn the limitation of this new life of mine, and gather some knowledge of its resources. As example: I found a great black tree, with a hollow core, and a hole into its middle near the roots. Here I harboured, till one night some monstrous lizard, whose sheer weight made the tree rock like a sapling, endeavoured to suck me forth as a bird picks a worm from a hollow log. I escaped by the will of the Gods—I could as much have done harm to a mountain as injure that horny tongue with my weapons—but I gave myself warning that this chance must not happen again.
So I cut myself a ladder of footholes on the inside of the trunk till I had reached a point ten man-heights from the ground, and there cut other notches, and with tree branches made a floor on which I might rest. Later, for luxury, I carved me arrow-slit windows in the walls of my chamber, and even carried up sand for a hearth, so that I might cook my victual up there instead of lighting a fire in all the dangers of the open below.
By degrees, too, I began to find how the large-scaled fish of the rivers and the lesser turtles might be more readily captured, and so my ribs threatened less to start through their proper covering of skin as the days went on. But the lack of salads and gruels I could never overcome. All the green meat was tainted so powerfully with the taste of tars that never could I force my palate to accept it. And of course, too, there remained the peril of the greater lizards and the other dangers native to the place.
But as the months began to mount into years, and the brute part of my nature became more satisfied, there came other longings which it was less easy to provide for. From the ivory of a river horse’s tooth I had endeavoured to carve me a representative of Nais as last I had seen her. But, though my fingers might be loving, and my will good, my art was of the dullest, and the result—though I tried time and time again—was always clumsy and pitiful. Still, in my eyes it carried some suggestion of the original—a curve here, an outline there, and it made my old love glow anew within me as I sat and ate it with my eyes. Yet it did little to satisfy my longings for the woman I had lost; rather it whetted my cravings to be with her again, or at least to have some knowledge of her fate.
Other men of the Priests’ Clan have come out and made an abode in these Dangerous Lands, and by mortifying the flesh, have gained an intimacy with the Higher Mysteries which has carried them far past what mere human learning and repetition could teach. Indeed, here and there one, who from some cause and another has returned to the abodes of men, has carried with him a knowledge that has brought him the reputation amongst the vulgar for the workings of magic and miracles, which—since all arts must be allowed which aid so holy a cause—have added very materially to the ardour with which these common people pursue the cult of the Gods. But for myself I could not free my mind to the necessary clearness for following these abstruse studies. During that voyage home from Yucatan I had communed with them with growing insight; but now my mind was not my own. Nais had a lien upon it, and refused to be ousted; and, in truth, her sweet trespass was my chief solace.
But at last my longing could no further be denied. Through one of the arrow-slit windows of my tree-house I could see far away a great mountain top whitened with perpetual snow, which our Lord the Sun dyed with blood every night of His setting. Night after night I used to watch that ruddy light with wide straining eyes. Night after night I used to remember that in days agone when I was entering upon the priesthood, it had been my duty to adore our great Lord as He rose for His day behind the snows of that very mountain. And always the thought followed on these musings, that from that distant crest I could see across the continent to the Sacred Mount, which had the city below it where I had buried my love alive.
So at last I gave way and set out, and a perilous journey I made of it. In the heavy mists, which hung always on the lower ground, my way lay blind before me, and I was constantly losing it. Indeed, to say that I traversed three times the direct distance is setting a low estimate. Throughout all those swamps the great lizards hunted, and as the country was new to me I did not know places of harbour, and a hundred times was within an ace of being spied and devoured at a mouthful. But the High Gods still desired me for Their own purposes, and blinded the great beasts’ eyes when I slunk to cover as they passed. Twice rivers of scalding water roared boiling across my path, and I had to delay till I could collect enough black timber from the forests to build rafts that would give me dry ferriage.
It will be seen then that my journey was in a way infinitely tedious, but to me, after all those years of waiting, the time passed on winged feet. I had been separated from my love till I could bear the strain no longer; let me but see from a distance the place where she lay, and feast my eyes upon it for a while, and then I could go back to my abode in the tree and there remain patiently awaiting the will of the Gods.
The air grew more chilly as I began to come out above the region of trees, on to that higher ground which glares down on the rest of the world, and I made buskins and a coat of woven grasses to protect my body from the cold, which began to blow upon me keenly. And later on, where the snow lay eternally, and was blown into gullies, and frozen into solid banks and bergs of ice, I had hard work to make any progress amongst its perilous mazes, and was moreover so numbed by the chill, that my natural strength was vastly weakened. Overhead, too, following me up with forbidding swoops, and occasionally coming so close that I had to threaten it with my weapons, was one of those huge man-eating birds which live by pulling down and carrying off any creature that their instincts tell them is weakly, and likely soon to die.
But the lure ahead of me was strong enough to make these difficulties seem small, and though the air of the mountain agreed with me ill, causing sickness and panting, I pressed on with what speed I could muster towards the elusive summit. Time after time I thought the next spurt would surely bring me out to the view for which my soul yearned, but always there seemed another bank of snow and ice yet to be climbed. But at last I reached the crest, and gave thanks to the most High Gods for Their protection and favour.
Far, far away I could see the Sacred Mountain with its ring of fires burning pale under the day, and although the splendid city which nestled at its foot could not be seen from where I stood, I knew its position and I knew its plan, and my soul went out to that throne of granite in the square before the royal pyramid, where once, years before, I had buried my love. Had Phorenice left the tomb unviolated?
I stood there leaning on my spear, filling my eye with the prospect, warming even to the smoke of mountains that I recognised as old acquaintances. Gods! how my love burned within me for this woman. My whole being seemed gone out to meet her, and to leave room for nothing beside. For long enough a voice seemed dimly to be calling me, but I gave it no regard. I had come out to that hoary mountain top for communion with Nais alone, and I wanted none others to interrupt.
But at length the voice calling my name grew too loud to be neglected, and I pulled myself out of my sweet musing with a start to think that here, for the first time since parting with Tob and his company, I should see another human fellow-being. I gripped my weapon and asked who called. The reply came clearly from up the slopes of mountain, and I saw a man coming towards me over the snows. He was old and feeble. His body was bent, and his hair and beard were white as the ground on which he trod, and presently I recognised him as Zaemon. He was coming towards me with incredible speed for a man of his years and feebleness, but he carried in his hand the glowing Symbol of our Lord the Sun, and holy strength from this would add largely to his powers.
He came close to me and made the sign of the Seven, which I returned to him, with its completion, with due form and ceremony. And then he saluted me in the manner prescribed as messenger appointed by the High Council of the Priests seated before the Ark of the Mysteries, and I made humble obeisance before him.
“In all things I will obey the orders that you put before me,” I said.
“Such is your duty, my brother. The command is, that you return immediately to the Sacred Mountain, so that if human means may still prevail, you, as the most skilful general Atlantis owns within her borders, may still save the country from final wreck and punishment. The woman Phorenice persists in her infamies. The poor land groans under her heel. And now she has laid siege to our Sacred Mountain itself, and swears that not one soul shall be left alive in all Atlantis who does not bend humbly to her will.”
“It is a command and I obey it. But let me ask of another matter that is intimate to both of us. What of Nais?”
“Nais rests where you left her, untouched. Phorenice knows by her arts—she has stolen nearly all the ancient knowledge now—that still you live, and she keeps Nais unharmed beneath the granite throne in the hopes that some time she may use her as a weapon against you. Little she knows the sternness of our Priests’ creed, my brother. Why, even I, that am the girl’s father, would sacrifice her blithely, if her death or ruin might do a tittle of good to Atlantis.”
“You go beyond me with your devotion.”
The old man leaned forward at me, with glowering brow. “What!”
“Or my old blind adherence to the ancient dogma has been sapped and weakened by events. You must buy my full obedience, Zaemon, if you want it. Promise me Nais—and your arts I know can snatch her—and I will be true servant to the High Council of the Priest, and will die in the last ditch if need be for the carrying out of order. But let me see Nais given over to the fury of that wanton woman, and I shall have no inwards left, except to take my vengeance, and to see Atlantis piled up in ruins as her funeral-stone.”
Zaemon looked at me bitterly. “And you are the man the High Council thought to trust as they would trust one of themselves? Truly we are in an age of weak men and faithless now. But, my lord—nay, I must call you brother still: we cannot be too nice in our choosing to-day—you are the best there is, and we must have you. We little thought you would ask a price for your generalship, having once taken oath on the walls of the Ark of the Mysteries itself that always, come what might, you would be a servant of the High Council of the Clan without fee and without hope of advancement. But this is the age of broken vows, and you are going no more than trim with the fashion. Indeed, brother, perhaps I should thank you for being no more greedy in your demands.”
“You may spare me your taunts. You, by self-denial and profound search into the highest of the higher Mysteries, have made yourself something wiser than human; I have preserved my humanity, and with it its powers and frailties; and it seems that each of us has his proper uses, or you would not be come now here to me. Rather you would have done the generalling yourself.”
“You make a warm defence, my brother. But I have no leisure now to stand before you with argument. Come to the Sacred Mountain, fight me this wanton, upstart Empress, and by my beard you shall have your Nais as you left her as a reward.”
“It is a command of the High Council which shall be obeyed. I will come with my brother now, as soon as he is rested.”
“Nay,” said the old man, “I have no tiredness, and as for coming with me, there you will not be able. But follow at what pace you may.”
He turned and set off down the snowy slopes of the mountain and I followed; but gradually he distanced me; and so he kept on, with speed always increasing, till presently he passed out of my sight round the spur of an ice-cliff, and I found myself alone on the mountain side. Yes, truly alone. For his footmarks in the snow from being deep, grew shallower, and less noticeable, so that I had to stoop to see them. And presently they vanished entirely, and the great mountain’s flank lay before me trackless, and untrodden by the foot of man since time began.
I was not shaken by any great amazement. Though it was beyond my poor art to compass this thing myself, having occupied my mind in exile more with memories of Nais than in study of those uppermost recesses of the Higher Mysteries in which Zaemon was so prodigiously wise, still I had some inkling of his powers.
Zaemon I knew would be back again in his dwelling on the Sacred Mountain, shaken and breathless, even before I had found an end to his tracks in the snow, and it behoved me to join him there in the quickest possible time. I had his promise now for my reward, and I knew that he would carry it into effect. Beforetime I had made an error. I had valued Atlantis most, and Nais, my private love, as only second. But now it was in my mind to be honest with others even as with myself. Though all the world were hanging on my choice, I could but love my Nais most, and serve her first and foremost of all.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK
 TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Professor Reeder of the Wyoming State University has recently unearthed the skeleton of a Brontosaurus, 130 ft. in length, which would have weighed 50 tons when alive. It was 35 ft. in height at the hips, and 25 ft. at the shoulder, and 40 people could be seated with comfort within its ribs. Its thigh bone was 8 ft. long. The fossils of a whole series of these colossal lizards have been found.