Those Lips Conspire In Treachery

 

 




You've all seen the movie.

First Qualopec says something like "We condemn you, Natla of Atlantis, for your crimes and for the flagrant misuse of your powers. We condemn you for breaking the free bond of consent that our people are ruled and secured under, and for invading Tihocan and myself with our own army. Our warriors were emptied from the pyramid so that you could use the pyramid - its powers of creation - for your own mindless destruction."

Then Tihocan says something like "You used the sacramental place as a source for your individual pleasure, as some sort of freak factory. A slaughter heap now. We're going to lock you in limbo. Make your veins, heart, feet, and that diseased brain stick solid with frozen blood. Greet your eternal rest, Natla."

And then they freeze me.

How, I hear you ask, could things have come to such a pass? How could such a loving Royal Family turned against one of its own in such a fashion? Of course there is nobody left to gainsay me, and so I may be an unreliable narrator, but what follows is my version of events. Judge it as you will.

For a coup d'etat to occur there has to be a vacuum of power. The City and the Ten Kings had disappeared beneath the waves and therefore ... imagine a United States of America in which Washington is a radioactive wasteland and in which the President and Senate are dead, leaving, perhaps, only the House of Representatives alive. Imagine all this against the background of a crumbling infrastructure and of armed revolts across the continent, where previously subject tribes begin to assert their independence and to demand compensation, and where slaves - previously secure in their place at the base of the pecking order - began to demand the rights of citizenship.

In the immediate aftermath of the Deluge, there was a diaspora of Atlanteans. Qualopec, his mechanical body having crawled to safety across the sea bed whilst he himself was unconscious, had taken the remnants of the Maian Regiment across the Ocean to the Aztlan Confederacy. The Seven Sisters might have been prepared to complain at the loss of the Maian had not Chloe of Achaea put the Amazons (and by extension, the Sabines) at their disposal. The Lapithae Regiment had more or less ceased to exist, whilst the Aean Regiment - being made of artificial beings - were not very welcome on the new continent, even assuming that I had been prepared to release them.

Meanwhile Tihocan, finding himself in possession of the deserts in the Territory of the East, had discovered that whole regions had been rendered fertile by the change in the water table, and so was busy rebuilding and replanting, styling himself "Pharaoh of the Upper Nile." Similarly Astarte, having survived the Deluge on the ship of Admiral Utnapishtim, was making the region around Mount Nemesis a haven for survivors and a repository for the religious texts and tenets of the disappeared City. The Family communicated using the temperamental remnants of the aetheroscope network, a relic of empire, but still functioning.

That left myself, Chloe, the Seven Sisters and the fractious mobs based on the new islands and peninsulas formed out of what had been Mount Pelion and Mount Ida competing for control of the remains of the Territory of the West. The Mount Ida community was now known as the Kingdom of Crete and the Mount Pelion community as the Kingdom of Attica. (Of the City itself there was little left but the lip of a crater, arid and unliveable.)

Some time after the Flood a strange tale came to my ears. One of the Lapithae Regiment, present with us on the edge of the Balearic Sea as the Dam collapsed, had an unlikely escape. Captain Aorion, surviving his immediate immersion in the Deluge, had bobbed to the surface relatively unscathed. There he would have drowned from exhaustion had not a dolphin taken pity on him, and led him to shore. Now Aorion, retired from the military, had become a famous poet and songster. He was renowned for the invention of the Dithyramb, a wild hymn to Dionysus, and his ode "Beautiful" was sung by many a love-struck maiden to her latest girlfriend. However; there were rumours of a dark secret; maybe an occult alliance with criminals, maybe an outre sexual nature. Of course all of this only added to Aorion's allure for the immature at heart, but I admit that even I was curious.

One day Magnesian and I were inspecting the basement of the Golden Pyramid of Aea. My workshops had survived the catastrophe, but now the Pyramid was a tidal island linked to the shore by a mere spit of land. Worse than that the basement levels had been flooded with molten lava, and to add to our difficulties the sealed and time-halted incubators of my seven unborn daughters, clones of Chloe of the Sabines, had sunk beneath the white-hot surface. No doubt they were still safe - not even melted rock could pierce the shield of Tihocan's stasis - but they were, for the moment, inaccessible.

"Thanks the heavens that we still have the Princess Chloe, Most August One" remarked Magnesian. "Imagine her multiplied by eight. The world would choke on such an abundance of personality."

"You are kind, loyal Magnesian," I replied. "But blessed as we are by Chloe of the Golden Hair, we must recover my other offspring."

"Nothing is more important to our tottering civilisation, Your Most Highness. We would rather starve than lose the Royal Princesses. Why allow serfs to safely till the soil, when instead they can be dredging through hundreds of tons of molten lava?"

"Again I bathe in the warmth of your solicitude, oh good and faithful servant."

We were diverted from our chatting by the arrival of a liveried messenger, who through a wax-sealed paper into my hands.

"What's this?" I said. "Why use this method when the aetheroscope would suffice?"

I slit the seal with my elongated fingernails and read.

"To the Most Royal and Blessed Natla of Atlantis from her most humble servant Aorion, formerly Captain of the Lapithae, greetings. For many months the recollection of an occurrence has weighed heavily on my mind, and now - sleepless with the burden of memory - I have decided to confide in Your Majesty. I can only hope that I, the bearer of this information, will not seal my own fate by arousing Your Majesty's indignation. On the day of the Deluge I was fulfilling my duty as a forward scout for the Lapithae, and thus I arrived at the site of your battle with the Ketos before the mass of the Army under the command of your Royal Brothers. I observed your heroic fight, but I also overheard some of the words that your Royal Daughter, Chloe of the Achaeans, addressed to the War Machine of Atlantis. I clearly heard her call out "This is not as we planned. This is not what the Lord of the Daylight Sky intended." I hesitate to offer any interpretation of these phrases but merely bring it to Your Majesty's attention. I salute you. Your most loyal subject. Aorion."

I must confess that initially I was more concerned that an ex-Captain of the Lapithae, a mere commoner, should address a letter directly to myself, rather than by any bizarre accusations that the letter might contain. It seemed that there was a new philosophy abroad in which any non-entity could take advantage of the sacred art of writing and thus enabled, felt free to address directly persons of far superior rank with no concern for the proprieties, I muttered to myself. What was this - another cretinous demonstration of "Demos Kretes"?

I took a horse along the new shore of the Hospitable Sea - now renamed by wags the "Inhospitable" due to its new size and new weather systems - to Astarte's realm near Mount Nemesis. The roads that had once allowed a fast chariot to pass had been broken and buried, whilst the enlarged sea was now too rough for a swift trireme, and so the journey was tedious and long.

"Greetings Astarte, Holy and August Ruler of Atlantis, High Priestess and Defender of the Faith, valued Royal Grand-Daughter of the Lord of the Sea in whose beneficence we all bathe," I said, embracing Astarte and trying not to crush too many of her breasts against me in the process.

"Greetings Natla of Atlantis, Ruler of the Territory of the East, Commander of the Regiment of Aea, Guardian of the Golden Pyramid of Aea and Beloved Royal Sister whom the Lord of the Sky smiles down upon in continual love," replied Astarte embracing me in return whilst trying not to get tangled in my wings.

We sat in a garden outside the Palace of Mount Nemesis shivering in the mountain air and sipping from hot mugs of mulled wine.

I handed her Captain Aorion's letter.

"Read that ... impertinence," I said.

Astarte smiled and began to read, but then her face became ashen. The scroll spilled from her fingers and her hands masked her features. I, anxious, placed an arm around her shoulders.

"Oh sister," whispered Astarte. "I have a deep secret and I wonder if this news is implicated in my silence."

"You can tell me anything," I said.

"That was not so in the case of Captain Attis."

"Attis? ... You still dwell on that? It was so many years ago."

"Yes, I still 'dwell' as you put it, with much bitterness."

"I am sorry to hear that."

"And thus my reluctance after that painful episode to share similar (if more dread) news with my logical but cold-hearted sister."

I felt a pang as if she had slapped me. "I regret it if that is how I am," I said, "although I fear you under-estimate my capacity for feeling."

"It is no matter. You inspire love in spite of it."

"So ... what is your mystery? I shall not attempt any action on admittance to it that you do not approve, and - if still a secret from all - I will remain lastingly lip-sealed."

Sometime ago, it transpired, Astarte had been asleep in her rooms when an apparition had appeared in her room. When she reached for the light, the visitor had asked her to leave the room in darkness.

"I felt as if I was entranced and so I obeyed, and it was in the same bewitched frame of mind that I allowed him, with great pleasure, to ravish me."

The occult lover had visited her a number of times until curiosity had gotten the better of her and she uncloaked a hidden lamp whilst he slept.

"As I gazed on his face I felt as if I recognised him. At first I thought him one of the ten twin kings, for he resembled my father, and then, laughing at my own fancy and infatuation, I thought how his beautiful face matched that of a god. Many a woman has fancied this of her bed-mate I expect."

The man had awakened, and was startled and then angry. Astarte, placing a calming hand on him, had smilingly, chidingly, asked for explanation.

"The answer I received shocked me to my toes," said Astarte, her eyes wide with recollection. "The man was none other than the Lord of the Sky, the Olympean."

I burst out laughing. "Oh gullible sister," I said. "Surely this is just the guile of a young rake trying to trick his way between your thighs?"

"No, Natla," she replied, and I was stilled by her use of my name, unadorned. "He said that his name was Diwo, Lord of the Daylight Sky, and that he had come down from the heavens to be with me, having espied my beauty from afar and been inflamed by the sight of my straight limbs and dark gaze."

I put my knuckles to my mouth. Atlanteans freely referred to the Lord of the Sky, but the phrase "Daylight Sky " ... that was one I had only seen once before, in Aorion's epistle.

"Furthermore he explained that the secrecy surrounding our love play was to protect me from the vengeance of his heavenly consort, Diwija of the Cow-like Eyes. Naturally I banned him from my bed on the instant and he, perhaps too readily, agreed."

I wrapped myself around with my red wings, totally enclosed so that the only light was that seeping through the membrane.

What is this? I said to myself. What is the implication? My mind flitted back and forth rapidly, making and unmaking connections, turning the pieces of information this way and that.

There was a tapping on the outside and I admitted my sister to my cocoon, and we sat, arms around each other, rocking.

"What did you tell him of us?"

"Everything. Of the ten kings, of us four, of your daughter and of the daughters of Atlas. I was spent with love and the pillow talk seemed harmless. I had no idea that he was the brother of Poseidon."

I held her tightly. "Remind me, learned sister, of the traditional weapon of the Lord of the Sky."

"A thunderbolt, such as that which struck the Atlantean War Machine."

"And the weapon of the Lord of the Sea?"

"Earthquake and tidal wave."

"Surely the fall of the City could not have been planned?"

We huddled together for a long time, even after the sun had gone down, the last time in that life that we embraced.

"His seed is within me still," said Astarte at one point. "It is within me and yet I am not pregnant." Her voice was hollow with horror.

There seemed only one destination for me after that and so, leaving Astarte safe with her community at Mount Nemesis, I set off in search of my daughter.

The Territory of the West, not only sundered geographically into islet and peninsula by the Deluge, had also begun - unofficially - to split into smaller units. Not unlike the Pentopolis of days gone by, every city and mountain if not in actual revolt maintained its own militia and was suspicious of strangers.

The Seven Sisters maintained a number of halls and fortifications in the region, but the one they frequented the most often - once on a hilltop but now on an island - was the Palace of Mount Sphacteria. I and my horse boarded a ferry from the new mainland and I soon stood in the main throne-room. O disorientating times!

After a longish wait - I amused myself with a glass of ambrosia, some delicious cakes and some archery practice on the lawn - Maia of the Serene Countenance appeared, dressed from head to foot in an uncharacteristic robe.

"Well met, Royal Sister," I said embracing her.

"It is an honour to welcome you to our halls, Natla of Atlantis," replied Maia.

"This dull concealing raiment you wear - it is the new fashion in these regions?"

"It is the fashion for a young girl in my condition," she smiled.

I gave her a long look.

"You are with child?"

"Indeed, beloved sister."

"Begat by who? A Royal Personage, I hope?"

Maia led me to a chair and sat down near me. "It is a bizarre tale," she said. Turning to an alcove she called; "Sisters, you may enter!"

Two of the other Daughters emerged rather sheepishly, dressed in an identical fashion.

I stood.

"Greetings, fair Alcyone."

"Actually, Your Highness, I am Taygete."

"And greetings, sweet Sterope."

"I fear, Royal Natla, that I am called Electra."

"I apologise," I laughed. "You were all bred from the same egg and are most alike to one another. Let us all sit together and discuss your ... situations."

Maia took a deep breath and smoothed her forehead with cool fingers.

"This will be hard to credit, but we were visited by an Olympean ..."

"Dragon's teeth!" I exploded. "Please do not tell me that it was the Lord of the Sky? I've just had your sister Astarte recounting an amorous escapade with the Most Sacred Diwo, Blessings Be Upon Him."

The girls exchanged glances anxious glances.

"Why yes," said calm Maia. "For me, a pleasant experience; for my sisters, not."

"How so?"

"I - the Great God seduced with gentle words and scented flowers. These two - he ambushed and took, despite their pleas for mercy."

I frowned. An Olympean was an Olympean, but my natural deference was being put to the test.

"One cannot say no to a god," said Electra, or possibly Taygete, looking in equal parts shame-faced and defiant.

"And where was my Most Illustrious Royal Daughter, Chloe of the Achaeans, Commander of the Amazons and Chosen of the Sabines, when this unexpected but divine pillaging and ploughing was taking place? I thought she was supposed to be keeping a watchful eye on you lot."

"We did not involve her," said Taygete, or possibly Electra. "After all, she is not her sisters' keeper."

"And where precisely is the beloved fruit of my loins at this precise moment in time?"

"She is at the Court of Uncle Tihocan on the Nile, the Royal Tihocan having recently been acknowledged as her father," they told me.

Making them promise to take plenty of exercise, little ambrosia and five types of fruit and vegetables a day, I made my way back to land. I would see them and their fecund bellies later, I thought to myself. At least they had lain with Royalty, so all was not lost. The Royal Family could only have strength in numbers now that the central authority of the City had been drowned beneath the waves. I was disturbed, however, at the hidden adventures of Diwo of the Daylight Sky, and could still see a possible plot in which my beloved Atlantis had been sacrificed.

Generally the First Dynasty of Egypt is thought to begin with someone called Narmer. What is sometimes - always - overlooked is that the period between the Deluge and the reign of this semi-mythical Pharaoh - the so-called Predynastic Period - has had all evidence of its story submerged beneath generations of Nile mud. If anybody deserves to be called the First Pharaoh, it was Tihocan. For example, he built the first Egyptian pyramid - admittedly of sun-baked mud-bricks faced with gold - whilst his underground Tomb Complex made that of Tukankhamen look like a mere annex. The famous Library of Alexandria - "repository of all learning" - was a mere vestige, a mere record room, compared to Tihocan's Workshop, which stood in roughly the same region. When did the Library ever produce a Telos or a Scion?

I admit that I was somewhat impressed by the "new Atlantis" that he had caused to rise from the desert as I rode through his developing demesne.

Tihocan himself, however, was a lesser man, a golden statue with feet of clay, secretly wobbling and quaking, and hiding his attenuation behind a dark metal mask, and high gold epaulettes fashioned in the style of lightning bolts. His hair, once dark, had turned grey, a fact which he sought to conceal with saffron and turmeric dye, giving him an artificially yellow mane and beard.

Meantime the beautiful Chloe of the Golden Hair, she who inspired my journey, I discovered sitting at the foot of Tihocan's throne. She, dutiful daughter of her Pharaoh father, situated herself on a humble wooden stool wearing a humble cotton shift looking as if - as the saying goes - "butter wouldn't melt" in her nectar flavoured mouth.

After the usual bowings and scrapings and title-calling and formulaic solicitudes, all before a new Court, I contented myself merely with handing the letter of Captain Aorion to my Royal Brother.

"What is it, my Royal Father?" said Chloe. Her manner was mouse-like and miniature, mincing and murmuring. I knew at that moment that she was guilty. A murderous, Medean mood began to bloom in my breast.

I gave them the strange news about the three Pleiades and their impregnation, my voice as calm as a judge, betraying no hint of the turmoil within me.

"This Aorion," said Tihocan at length, passing down the scroll with golden-leaved fingers, "you know that he has already been linked in rumour and gossip with the Seven Daughters of Atlas? He plays his lyre, and the ladies frolic in a drunken pastiche of a religious ceremony, allegedly dedicated to youth and the grape. "

"That I did not," I replied levelly, watching my daughter as she read.

"It seems as if this sacrilegious story of the Lord of the Sky may conceal a more earthy endeavour."

I turned my coldest blue gaze upon them. "Your sister Astarte claims the same lover, Diwo. Speak to her by aetheroscope if you wish confirmation."

Tihocan laughed hollowly. "Again, my Royal Sibling Astarte has a history of dalliance with the lower order. Fortunate, is it not, that this mythical paramour provides concealment? That, or else she is reliving the sordid past."

"What of the thunderbolt that struck the Machine at our Royal Procession? Is it not possible that the Lord of the Daylight Sky flung it down?"

That gave Tihocan pause, and elicited a faint gasp from Chloe. I saw that I had surprised them. "I saw no lightning strike, but a flaming meteor. It was chance, not design, a mere meteorological rock, maybe dropped by a hurricane of the upper air. You are an intelligent woman and yet you speak like a fool."

"And what of the earthquake that levelled the Dam? If not the handiwork of the Lord of the Sea, then what?"

Chloe, her face pale, looked up from the paper to her father. I had said something of significance and she awaited the reaction.

Tihocan clasped his breast tight, as if his heart was hurting him. "You seek madly for a conspiracy," he muttered eventually, "and in doing so you rake open the wounds within me. Loathe as I am to admit it ... it seems that the earth-shaking events that brought us to our present pretty pass ... may be due to my miscalculation." He let loose a sudden howl. "The everlasting guilt ... digests me."

I, disgusted by this camp and ostentatious display of self-pity, stood straight and addressed myself to my daughter.

"Admit your guilt," I said, "and I may yet forgive your part in the loss of the City. Admit that you wished to bring down the established order so that you and your clique might wrest control. Admit that you were dazzled by the promises of two Olympean Gods."

Chloe spread her hands. "Mother," she replied, "you accuse me unjustly.

It was as if I could see in her sea-blue eyes - my eyes - the floating, drowned babies in the wake of the tsunami, and my father, her grandfather, slipping from my hand and falling to his hideous death. The pearl, the centre, the navel of the world - the City - had been destroyed, whether by design or accident, by a silly little girl with delusions of grandeur who felt no regret and who admitted no responsibility. It was a great crime, a capital offence, effectively genocide. And this war criminal, this child, with no concept of duty and pity, stood to inherit the remains of Atlantis. Millions of people would become her playthings. My maternal feelings, such as they were, withered on the vine in the hot blast of my fury.

I stepped up to one of Tihocan's guards, and taking the spear from his hand, flung it at my daughter. Chloe of the Golden Hair, scarcely having time to react, was pierced through from sternum to spine, and fell dead upon the floor.

The Court roared with horror, and Tihocan, cradling his dead child and with tears flowing, cried "Arrest Natla of Atlantis! Arrest the accursed filicide!"

I stood tall and arranged my features and limbs in a pose of haughty implacability. "'Let no one think of me as humble or weak or passive," I said to his soldiers and his court, who were closing in to arrest me, the lights from my jewels flashing blood-red on the ring of faces and rebounding from the tasteless walls. "Let them understand I am of a different kind, dangerous to my enemies, loyal to my friends. All here must now bear witness! Justice has been done, by a Queen of Atlantis!"

After letting loose a blinding flash of golden flame, I took to my wings. Before they could detain me I was airborne and gone.

There is little else to say of that day. I flew off from that place, my heart empty. I took ship across the Ocean and left the Old World behind.


*******************************************************

I loved the new continent from the moment I set foot upon it, and I've never changed my opinion.

Qualopec was sanguine about my presence in the Aztlan Confederacy. I was, after all, a retired member of the Royal Family with reputation and no power, and no supporters. The Aean Regiment had been left behind, and now divided their time between defending the centaurs of Mount Pelion and defending their hatcheries in the Golden Pyramid of Aea, nominally still loyal to me, but in effect their own master. I was yesterday's Queen.

The years began to pass.

Through the aetheroscope I kept in touch with the Old World. Astarte - ever since her interlude with the Lord of the Daylight Sky - had produced clutches of children one after the other, despite having had no other lover in the interim, and I would often find myself speaking to her whilst she dangled two handfuls of infants from the many breasts.

As for the Seven Sisters, not only the three mentioned earlier had produced offspring. Alcyone and Celaeno claimed to have been brought to motherhood by the Lord of the Sea, Poseidon himself, although to what extent this was a convenient myth engendered by sibling rivalry nobody was entirely sure. Merope, the youngest, had taken to hanging around with Aorion the Poet and was often seen on his arm at the most fashionable dinner parties. The last of the Seven, Sterope, had made the trip to the Aztlan Confederacy ostensively to maintain diplomatic links with the Maian Regiment, but in fact to take up a position as Qualopec's secret mistress. I wished them all well and was secretly glad that I was not responsible for picking the bones out of the smelly fish chowder that the Royal Succession was becoming.

One mystery became, if not clearer, more notorious as time passed. There was a rumour that an inspection of the remains of the Atlantean War Machine showed that only two of the three brains had been damaged by the lightning strike; according to an ingenious conspiracy theory, the brain of Captain Esus was left intact. Apparently Chloe had argued revolution with the three heads, but had been unable to convince any but Esus, whom she had known whilst he was still in his young man's body. If their original plan had been for Esus to defeat the armies of Atlantis in battle allowing Chloe and the Sabines to take charge with the Amazon Regiment (which wags said had deliberately hung back from the fight), nobody knew. Similarly none of the gossip-mongers could explain why Esus had redirected his efforts toward the Dam. It was a conundrum never to be solved - a campfire story for succeeding generations.

Back in the New World I had been given a general's house in the Headquarters of the Maian Regiment, stocked with sufficient slaves and horses to my needs, and with ample billeting for my immediate household. There had been a little local difficulty about the presence of Nike and Ma'at in my rooms - the Aztlan Confederacy was a more or less mutant-free zone - but I was given diplomatic privilege. I spent my days inspecting the Regiment, dictating letters and, best of all, exploring the new lands.

One place - the hilly region around the Tepuyes Mountains - was a particular favourite. There, by some quirk of geography, lived the last remnants of some ancient and unique animal races, obviously bred for a much colder climate but still able to survive in the cool uplands. There was a giant elephant - the mammoth - as well several species of giant ground sloth. Also - of certain interest to a scientist like myself - there flourished there a veritable cornucopia of unusual plants, ferns and lichens.

However best of all, ferocious in battle, but as shy as debutants, there existed a prehistoric species of large cat. These killers, white-furred and with over-extended scimitar teeth, were known generally by the nomenclature "smilodonti". My sport involved the hunting of these beasts accompanied, on horseback, by favoured officers from the cavalry. We rarely brought one down as we allowed ourselves only the most primitive of weapons, this last in order to honour the pride and majesty of these toothy predators. This limitation meant that many a weak or stupid soldier was weeded out from the Maian Regiment, usually with both of her carotids slashed open in one ivory bite. I had the head of an especially terrifying male smilodon that I had slain with a single arrow mounted on a plaque above the desk in my reception room, a reminder to all my visitors that I was not going soft.

And thus I might have happily lived out the rest of my life on the New Continent except for one thing - my Esteemed Royal Brother, the Pharaoh of the Upper Nile and self-proclaimed God of the Annual Irrigation, Tihocan.

Tihocan had always been weak, weak of will and weak of mind. His only talents had been for engineering and music, and for the mastering of beautiful young boys, and now that his subconscious guilt had driven him mad, he relieved his nightmares by blaming the fall of the City entirely on me. Throughout the former Territories of the West and of the East he caused every inscription, stele, mural and painting, every book, letter, statue and aetheroscope recording that concerned either me or my acts to be defaced, erased and expunged. He toppled a particular tall stone statue of me, and used the pieces of my face to create that of a giant sphinx, positioned to guard one of the entrances to a Tomb Complex between its gargantuan paws. In a sealed room below the belly of the same sphinx, encased in gold and preserved using natrum desiccation, and with her pickled heart and lungs and brains stored in canopic jars, he placed the remains of our daughter, Chloe of Achaea. If any one act should have telegraphed his burgeoning insanity, this last one was it.

Every now and again Tihocan would demand that Qualopec bring me to justice, to which Qualopec would shrug tiredly and explain that even if he felt he had the authority to try a descendent of the Lord of the Sea - which he didn't - that I had been perfectly within my rights as a materfamilias to kill my own daughter for whatever reason I saw fit. When Tihocan protested that I had robbed Egypt of a heir, Qualopec would curtly instruct him to either choose one of his many sisters, nieces or nephews to succeed after him, or else to harness up a nubile new wife and plunge his seed into her like a man.


*******************************************************

Then, a few days before my one hundredth birthday, Qualopec summoned me for a meeting.

I was shown into an annex of his Tomb, where he was seated slumped on a large stone throne, in a room cared out of the living rock deep far beneath the mountain top. All around was the murmurs of underground breezes and the dripping of long hidden waters. I kept looking around at the noise as pebbles and rocks settled in the dark distance.

The servants led me, holding aloft flaming torches, to this gloomy place.

Qualopec was immobile and apparently unconscious, flanked by two fierce-some warriors. The servant approached as if on tiptoe and coughed.

There was a whirring sound and some illumination from my Royal Brother's carapace, and Qualopec slowly raised his head.

"Greetings my Royal Sister Natla, Ruler of the Territory of the West," he wheezed.

I rushed forward and placed a concerned hand on his human arm.

"Qualopec! What has happened? Why are you down here in the dark as if already in your sepulchre?"

"I am dying. I can only manage an hour or two of activity at a time, and I knew not when my injured organs will finally fail. I come down here and switch off all my systems away from the prying eyes of my subjects, hoping to recover."

"But ... surely there is medical aid?"

Qualopec looked me in the eye, and there was a hint of the old warrior there. "I will not be seen to be weak," he whispered. "I will die in harness, as befits a Grandson of the Lord of the Sea."

"I am sorry," I said, starting to weep in spite of myself. "If it had not been for me, we would not be here."

"Nonsense, beloved sister. The hoofs of a centaur or the thrust of a spear - what does it matter to a seasoned campaigner? You have paid more than enough for any alleged crime. Sadly ... not everybody is of my opinion."

He gestured, and an aetheroscope was wheeled out.

The recording, in style much like a modern newsreel, showed the most recent events from the Old World.

First there was a scene showing the centaur commanders of the Aean Regiment shaking hands with a grimly grinning Tihocan. Apparently he had managed to win them over using the tale of Mount Pelion, and my part in the slaying of my own dear Hylonome the Centauride. History had been rewritten so that I, instead of being the creator and champion of the created creature, was now their persecutor.

The Golden Pyramid of Aea was now Tihocan's and he was using it to churn out many clones of human soldiers, creating an enormous Army of Retribution. Every harbour on the shores of the new Middle sea was building ships for an Armada to carry the troops across the Ocean.

"Tihocan your Pharaoh demands that the renegade Natla of Atlantis be brought to trial for the crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. A new age is dawning in which none is above the law, and the execution of the evil Natla will ring in that age. Hand her over for trial or face military intervention."

As the presentation ended Qualopec snorted.

"He can indeed invade the New World, kill many people and cause chaos to my fledgling society, but it is only a will o' the wisp, burning bright in the swamp, soon gone. It is a fool's errand, a house build on quicksand. He could not hope to control both the Old and New under a global rule. The moment he leaves the remains of Atlantis, rebellions will spring up and he will be forced to return."

I smoothed the lapels of my robes and folded my wings neatly behind me.

"This is madness and unjust, but I cannot allow any more people to die on my behalf. It is, as you say, without point. I will submit to a show trial if it will maintain the civilisation of Atlantis, however thinly spread. It is my duty as a Ruler."

Qualopec smiled, one of the old smiles, the sort he had smiled when he was a fine, beautiful young man.

"Naturally," he said. "I expected nothing else. But think on; I have not lost my head for the planning of a covert campaign, however destroyed my body."

"I will stand trial," I insisted.

"Yes, you will, but Tihocan is an idiot. I have a scheme whereby we satisfy him whilst appealing to his vanity. The stratagem will leave you alive to rule another day. He can only mount this expedition once and when he is gone, you will be returned to your present position."

And so in due course the place for trial and execution had been constructed, well away from the centres of civilisation and especially well away from the disgruntled Maian Regiment who would have fought to the death to protect me if asked. The Execution Platform was placed in the area now known as New Mexico, at the very edge of the Atzlan Confederacy.

As the proceedings came to a close - I cannot recall the exact details nor the speeches nor the cross-examinations - I looked up at the giant idealised statues of Qualopec and Tihocan that had been constructed to overlook the theatre of justice. I reflected that where there were two, there once would have been four. So passes the glory of the world.

In the centre of the Execution Platform Tihocan's engineers had constructed one of his inventions, namely, a large cylindrical statis chamber. Qualopec (by flattery) had persuaded Tihocan that this was a fit end for a traitor and reminded him that neither he, Qualopec, nor even Tihocan, had the authority to murder a Grand-Daughter of an Olympean, however judiciously.

"We would be accused of fratricide in the same way as Natla is guilty of filicide," said cunning Qualopec.

I have already recorded some of the script that was written for us - both accused and court - to act out for the aetheroscopic recording devices. The broadcast was world-wide.

Then, finally, the hour for me to die had arrived.

Two mutants guards - Tihocan had insisted on these symbols of his dominance over the wishes of Qualopec - dragged me forward and pushed me to my knees.

"As part of your punishment I will strip out of the signs of your most evil of deeds," said Tihocan, producing a white-hot sabre.

He struck the red wings from my shoulders, instantly cauterising the wounds. I was filled with so much agony I could barely remain conscious, but instead of screaming I merely bowed my head.

I was in a dream when they dressed me in a suit and helmet of Tihocan's devising, designed to protect my body and brain from the temporal freezing process.

I found myself thinking of the children in the courtyards of the cities of the Pentopolis, playing with their wooden training swords. We had killed them all.

"Wasters," I said, as they placed my arms in two clamps, leaving me hanging in a T-shaped crucifixion.

Then Tihocan cried out for all to hear "Let's just finish it," or words to that effect.

He gestured to his mutant soldiers and they threw two levers built into the columns flanking the device.

I waited for something to happen.

And waited.

And waited some more.




The Wicked Witch Of The West