Read an Excerpt
The Fall of Atlantis
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-7157-1
At the sound of sandaled feet upon stone, the Priest Rajasta raised his face from the scroll he held open on his knee. The library of the Temple was usually deserted at this hour, and he had come to regard it as his peculiar privilege to study here each day undisturbed. His forehead ridged a little, not with anger, for he was not given to anger, but with residual annoyance, for he had been deep in thought.
However, the two men who had entered the library had aroused his interest, and he straightened and watched them; without, however, laying aside the scroll, or rising.
The elder of the two was known to him: Talkannon, Arch-Administrator of the Temple of Light, was a burly, cheerful-faced man, whose apparent good nature was a shrewd dissemblance for an analytical temperament which could turn cold and stern and even ruthless. The other was a stranger, a man whose graceful dancer's body moved slowly and with effort; his dark smile was slightly wry, as if lips shut tight on pain could grimace more easily. A tall man, this stranger, deeply tanned and handsome, clad in white robes of an unfamiliar pattern, which glimmered with faint luminescence in the sunlit shadows of the room.
"Rajasta," the Arch-Administrator said, "our brother desires further knowledge. He is free to study as he will. Be he your guest." Talkannon bowed slightly to the still-seated Rajasta, and, turning back to the stranger, stated, "Micon of Ahtarrath, I leave you with our greatest student. The Temple, and the City of the Temple, are yours, my brother; feel free to call upon me at any time." Again Talkannon bowed, then turned and left the two men to further their acquaintance.
As the door scraped slowly shut behind the Arch-Administrator's powerful form, Rajasta frowned again; he was used to Talkannon's abrupt manners, but he feared that this stranger would think them all lacking in civility. Laying down his scroll, he arose and approached the guest with his hands outstretched in courteous welcome. On his feet, Rajasta was a very tall man, long past middle age; his step and manner disciplined and punctilious.
Micon stood quite still where Talkannon had left him, smiling still that grave, one-sided smile. His eyes were deeply blue as storm-skies; the small creases around them spoke of humor, and a vast tolerance.
This man is one of us, surely, thought the Priest of Light, as he made a ceremonious bow, and waited. Still the stranger stood and smiled, unheedful. Rajasta's frown returned, faintly. "Micon of Ahtarrath-"
"I am so called," said the stranger formally. "I have come here to ask that I may pursue my studies among you." His voice was low and resonant, but held an overlay of effort, as if kept always in careful control.
"You are welcome to share in what knowledge is mine," Rajasta said with grave courtesy, "and you are yourself welcome-" He hesitated, then added, on a sudden impulse, "Son of the Sun." With his hand he made a certain Sign.
"A fosterling, only, I fear," said Micon with a brief, wry smile, "and overly proud of the relationship." Nevertheless, in answer to the ritual identifying phrase, he raised his hand and returned the archaic gesture.
Rajasta stepped forward to embrace his guest; they were bound, not only by the bonds of shared wisdom and search, but by the power behind the innermost magic of the Priesthood of Light: like Rajasta, Micon was one of their highest initiates. Rajasta wondered at this-Micon seemed so young! Then, as they stepped apart, Rajasta saw what he had not noticed before. His face shadowed with sorrow and pity, and he took Micon's emaciated hands in his and led him to a seat, saying, "Micon, my brother!"
"A fosterling, as I said," Micon nodded. "How did you know? I was-told-that there is no outward scarring, nor-"
"No," Rajasta said. "I guessed. Your stillness-something in your gestures. But how did this come upon you, my brother?"
"May I speak of that at another time? What is-" Micon hesitated again, and said, his resonant voice strained, "-cannot be remedied. Let it suffice that I-returned the Sign."
Rajasta said, his voice trembling with emotion, "You are most truly a Son of Light, although you walk in darkness. Perhaps-perhaps the only Son of that Light who can face His splendor."
"Only because I may never behold it," Micon murmured, and the blank eyes seemed to gaze intently on the face they would never see. Silence, while that twisted and painful smile came and went upon Micon's face.
At last Rajasta ventured, "But-you returned the Sign-and I thought surely I was mistaken-that surely you saw-"
"I think-I can read thoughts, a little," Micon said. "Only a little; and only since there was need. I do not know, yet, how much to trust to it. But with you-" Again the smile lent brilliance to the dark, strained face. "I felt no hesitation."
Again the silence, as of emotions stretched too tightly for speech; then, from the passageway, a woman's young voice called, "Lord Rajasta!"
Rajasta's tense face relaxed. "I am here, Domaris," he called, and explained to Micon, "My disciple, a young woman-Talkannon's daughter. She is unawakened as yet, but when she learns, and is-complete, she holds the seeds of greatness."
"The Light of the Heavens grant knowledge and wisdom to her," said Micon with polite disinterest.
Domaris came into the room; a tall girl, and proudly erect, with hair the color of hammered copper that made a brightness in the dark spaces and shadows. Like a light bird she came, but paused at a little distance from the men, too shy to speak in the presence of a stranger.
"My child," Rajasta said kindly, "this is Micon of Ahtarrath, my brother in the Light, to be treated as myself in every respect."
Domaris turned to the stranger, in civil courtesy-then her eyes widened, a look of awe drew over her features, and with a gesture that seemed forced, as if she made it against her will, she laid her right hand over her breast and raised it slowly to forehead level, in the salute given only to the highest initiates of the Priesthood of Light. Rajasta smiled: it was a right instinct and he was pleased; but he let his voice break the spell, for Micon had gone grey with a deep pallor.
"Micon is my guest, Domaris, and will be lodged with me-if that is your will, my brother?" At Micon's nod of assent, he continued, "Go now, daughter, to the Scribe-Mother, and ask her to hold a scribe always in readiness for my brother."
She started and shivered a little; sent a worshipful glance at Micon; then inclined her head in reverence to her teacher and went on her errand.
"Micon!" Rajasta spoke with terse directness. "You are come here from the Dark Shrine!"
Micon nodded. "From their dungeons," he qualified immediately.
"I-I feared that-"
"I am no apostate," Micon reassured firmly. "I served not there. My service is not subject to compulsion!"
Micon did not move, but the lift of his brows and the curl of his lip gave the effect of a shrug. "They would have compelled me." He held out his mutilated hands. "You can see that they were-eloquent in persuasion." Before Rajasta's gasp of horror, Micon drew back his hands and concealed their betrayal within the sleeves of his robe. "But my task is undone. And until it is completed, I hold death from me with these hands-though he companion me most closely."
Micon might have been speaking of last night's rain; and Rajasta bowed his head before the impassive face. "There are those we call Black-robes," he said bitterly. "They hide themselves among the members of the Magician's Sect, those who guard the shrine of the Unrevealed God-whom we call Grey-robes here. I have heard that these... Black-robes-torture! But they are secret in their doings. Well for them! Be they accursed!"
Micon stirred. "Curse not, my brother!" he said harshly. "You, of all men, should know the danger of that."
Rajasta said tonelessly, "We have no way of acting against them. As I say, we suspect members of the Grey-robe sect. Yet, all are-gray!"
"I know. I saw too clearly, so-I see nothing. Enough," Micon pleaded. "I carry my release within me, my brother, but I may not yet accept it. We will not speak of this, Rajasta." He arose, with slow carefulness, and paced deliberately to the window, to stand with his face uplifted to the warm sunlight.
With a sigh, Rajasta accepted the prohibition. True, the Black-robes always concealed themselves so well that no victim could ever identify his tormentors. But why this? Micon was a stranger and could hardly have incurred their enmity; and never before had they dared meddle with so highly-placed a personage. The knowledge of what had befallen Micon initiated a new round in a warfare as old as the Temple of Light.
And the prospect dismayed him.
In the School of Scribes, Mother Lydara was in the process of disciplining one of her youngest pupils. The Scribes were the sons and daughters of the Priest's Caste who showed, in their twelfth or thirteenth year, a talent for reading or writing: and thirty-odd intelligent boys and girls are not easy to keep in order.
Mother Lydara felt that no child in all her memory had ever been such a problem to her as the sullen little girl who faced her just now: a thin angular girl, about thirteen, with stormy eyes and hair that hung dishevelled in black, tumbled curls. She held herself very stiff and erect, her nervous little hands stubbornly clenched, taut defiance in her white face.
"Deoris, little daughter," the Scribe-Mother admonished, standing rock-like and patient, "you must learn to control both tongue and temper if you ever hope to serve in the Higher Ways. The daughter of Talkannon should be an example and a pattern to the others. Now, you will apologize to me, and to your playmate Ista, and then you will make accounting to your father." The old Priestess waited, arms crossed on her ample breast, for an apology which never came.
Instead the girl burst out tearfully, "I won't! I have done nothing wrong, Mother, and I won't apologize for anything!" Her voice was plangent, vibrating with a thrilling sweetness which had marked her, among the children of the Temple, as a future Spell-singer; she seemed all athrob with passion like a struck harp.
The Scribe-Mother looked at her with a baffled, weary patience. "That is not the way to speak to an elder, my child. Obey me, Deoris."
"I will not!"
The old woman put out a hand, herself uncertain whether to placate the girl or slap her, when a rap came at the door. "Who is it?" the Priestess called impatiently.
The door swung back and Domaris put her head around the corner. "Are you at leisure, Mother?"
Mother Lydara's troubled face relaxed, for Domaris had been a favorite for many years. "Come in, my child, I have always time for you."
Domaris halted on the threshold, staring at the stormy face of the little girl in the scribe's frock.
"Domaris, I didn't!" Deoris wailed, and, a forlorn little cyclone, she flung herself on Domaris and wrapped her arms around her sister's neck. "I didn't do anything," she hiccoughed on a hysterical sob.
"Deoris-little sister!" chided Domaris. Firmly she disengaged the clinging arms. "Forgive her, Mother Lydara-has she been in trouble again? No, be still, Deoris; I did not ask you."
"She is impertinent, impudent, impatient of correction and altogether unmanageable," said Mother Lydara. "She sets a bad example in the school, and runs wild in the dormitories. I dislike to punish her, but-"
"Punishment only makes Deoris worse," said Domaris levelly. "You should never be severe with her." She pulled Deoris close, smoothing the tumbled curls. She herself knew so well how to rule Deoris through love that she resented Mother Lydara's harshness.
"While Deoris is in the Scribe-School," said the Scribe-Mother with calm finality, "she will be treated as the others are treated, and punished as they are punished. And unless she makes some effort to behave as they behave she will not be long in the School."
Domaris raised her level brows. "I see... I have come from Lord Rajasta. He has need of a scribe to serve a guest, and Deoris is competent; she is not happy in the school, nor do you want her here. Let her serve this man." She glanced at the drooping head, now snuggled into her shoulder; Deoris looked up with wondering adoration. Domaris always made everything right again!
Mother Lydara frowned, but was secretly relieved: Deoris was a problem quite beyond her limited capabilities, and the fact that this spoilt child was Talkannon's daughter complicated the situation. Theoretically, Deoris was there on an equal footing with the others, but the daughter of the Arch-Administrator could not be chastised or ruled over like the child of an ordinary priest.
"Have it as you will, Daughter of Light," said the Scribe-Mother gruffly, "but she must continue her own studies, see you to that!"
"Rest assured, I shall not neglect her schooling," said Domaris coldly. As they left the squat building, she studied Deoris, frowning. She had seen little of her sister in these last months; when Domaris had been chosen as Rajasta's Acolyte, the child had been sent to the Scribe-School-but before that they had been inseparable, though the eight years difference in their ages made the relationship less that of sisters than of mother and daughter. Now Domaris sensed a change in her young sister that dismayed her. Always before, Deoris had been merry and docile; what had they done to her, to change her into this sullen little rebel? She decided, with a flare of anger, that she would seek Talkannon's permission to take Deoris again under her own care.
"Can I really stay with you?"
"I cannot possibly promise it, but we shall see." Domaris smiled. "You wish it?"
"Oh yes!" said Deoris passionately, and flung her arms about her sister again, with such intensity that Domaris's brow furrowed into lines of deep trouble. What had they done to Deoris?
Freeing herself from the clinging arms, Domaris admonished, "Gently, gently, little sister," and they turned their steps toward the House of the Twelve.
Domaris was one of the Twelve Acolytes: six young men and six young women, chosen every third year from the children of the Priest's Caste, for physical perfection, beauty, and some especial talent which made them archetypal of the Priest's Caste of the Ancient Land. When they reached maturity, they dwelt for three years in the House of the Twelve, studying all the ancient wisdom of the Priest's Caste, and preparing themselves for service to the Gods and to their people.
Excerpted from The Fall of Atlantis by Marion Zimmer Bradley Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.