“Bothon” by Henry S. Whitehead with H.P. Lovecraft, part 2

Into ancient Atlantis, with love and war.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Bothon”

Henry S. Whitehead with H.P. Lovecraft

part 2

These dreams had been continuous and consecutive since their beginning several nights before, but on this night after the rather elaborate investigation of the words and syllables, Meredith began in earnest to get the affair of his environment in the strange city of the flames and conflicts and confusion and of a roaring ocean, cleared up with a startling abruptness. His dream impression that night was so utterly vivid–so acutely identical with the terms of the waking state–that he couldn’t tell the difference between his dream slumber and wakeful consciousness!

Everything that he had derived mentally out of that night’s sleep was clearly and definitely present in his mind. It seemed to him precisely as though he had not been asleep; that he had not emerged from an ordinary night’s rest into the accustomed circumstances of an early morning’s awakening. It was, rather, as though he had very abruptly passed out of one quite definite life into another; as though, as it came to him afterwards, he had walked out of a theatre into the wholly unrelated after-theatre life of Times Square.

One of the radical phases of this situation was not only that the succession of dream experiences had been continuous, with time-allowances for the intervening periods of those days-in-between which he had spent here in Dr. Cowlington’s quiet house; not only that, extraordinary as this realization seemed to him. The nearly consecutive dream experiences had been the events of the past few days in a life of thirty-two years, spent in that same environment and civilization of which the cataclysmic conditions which he had been envisaging appeared to presage a direful end.

He was, to set out plainly what he had brought out of that last night’s dream-experience, one Bothon, general of the military forces of the great district of Ludekta, the south-westerly provincial division of the continent of Atlantis, which had been colonized, as every Atlantean school child was well aware, some eighteen hundred years before by a series of emigrations from the mother continent. The Naacal language—with minor variations not unlike the differences between American speech and “English English”—was the common language of both continents.

From his native Ludekta the General Bothon had made several voyages to the mother land. The first of these had been to Ghua, the central eastern province, a kind of grand tour made just after his finishing, at the age of twenty-two, his professional course in the Ludekta College of Military Training. He was thus familiar by experience, as were many other cultivated Atlanteans of the upper classes, with the very highly developed civilization of the mother continent. These cultural contacts had been aided by his second visit, and further enhanced not long before the present period of the dream-experiences when, at the age of thirty-one, Bothon, already of the rank of general, had been sent out as Ambassador to Aglad-Dho, joint capital of the confederated south-eastern provinces of Yish, Knan, and Buathon, one of the most strategic diplomatic posts, and the second most important provincial confederation of the mother continent.

He had served in his ambassadorial capacity for only four months, and then had been abruptly recalled without explanation, but, as he had soon discovered upon his arrival home, because of the privately communicated request of the Emperor himself. His diplomatic superiors at home offered him no censure. Such Imperial requests were not unknown. These gentlemen were, actually, quite unaware of the reasons behind the Imperial request. No explanations had been given them, but there had been no Imperial censure of any kind.

But the General, Bothon, knew the reasons very well, although he kept them strictly to himself. There was, indeed, only one reason, as he was acutely and very well aware.

The requirements of his office had taken him rather frequently to Alu, the continental capital, metropolis of the civilized world.

Here in the great city of Alu were assembled from all known parts of the terrestrial globe the world’s diplomats, artists, philosophers, traders and shipmasters. Here in the great warehouses of solid stone and along the innumerable wharves were piled the world’s goods—fabrics and perfumes; strange animals for the delectation of the untraveled curious. Here in the endless stalls and markets were dyed stuffs and silks; tubas and cymbals and musical rattles and lyres; choice woods and implements for the toilet—strigils, and curiously carved hand-fitting little blocks of soapstone, and oils innumerable for the freshening of beards and the anointing of bodies. Here were tunics and sandals and belts and thongs of soft-tanned, variously perfumed leathers. Here were displayed carved and cunningly wrought pieces of household furniture—glowing, burnished wall-mirrors of copper and tin and steel, bedsteads of an infinite range and design, cushions of swans’ feathers, tables of plain and polished artizanship and of intarsia with metal scrolls set flush to their levels; marquetry work of contrasting woods-chairs and stools and cupboards and chests and foot-rests. Here were ornaments innumerable—fire—screens, and spindles for parchment-rolls, and tongs, and shades for lamps made of the scraped skins of animals; metal lamps of every design, and vegetable oils for the lamps in earthenware jars of many sizes and shapes. Here were foods and wines and dried fruits, and honey of many flavors; grains and dried meats and loaves of barley and wheat-meal past computation. Here in the great street of the armorers were maces and axes and swords and daggers of all the world’s varieties and designs; armor of plate and chain–hauberks, and greaves and bassinets, and shelves with rows and rows of the heavy plate and helmets standardized for the use of such fighting men as Bothon himself commanded in their thousands.

Here were to be seen and examined costly canopies and the elaborate litters in which the slaves of the rich carried their masters through the narrow streets and broad, airy avenues of Alu. Rugs there were in an endless profusion of size and shape and design; rugs from distant Lemuria and from Atlantis and from tropical Antillea, and from the mountainous interior regions of the mother continent itself, where thousands of cunning weavers of fabrics worked at their looms; ordinary rugs of pressed felt, and gorgeous glowing rugs of silk from the southern regions where the mulberry trees grew; rugs, too, and thin, soft draperies of complex patterns made of the wool of lambs and of the long, silk-like hair of the mountain sheep.

Here in Alu, center of the world’s culture, were philosophers with their groups of disciples, small or great, propounding their systems on the corners of streets and in the public squares, wrangling incessantly over the end of man, and the greatest good, and the origin of material things. Here were vast libraries containing the essence of all that had been written down concerning science and religion and engineering and the innumerable fine arts, of the civilization of forty thousand years. Here were the temples of religion where the hierarchs propounded the principles of life, colleges of priests studying incessantly more and more deeply into the mysteries of the four principles; teaching the people the endless applications of these esoteric affairs to their conduct and daily lives.

Into this fascinating treasure house of a great civilization the ambassador Bothon had penetrated as often as possible. The excellence of his family background, his own character and personal qualities, and his official position, all combined to make him a welcome guest in the mansions of the members of the emperor’s court and of the highest stratum of social life in Alu.

An impressionable young man, most of whose life previous to his appointment as ambassador had been spent in hard training for his military duties and in the rigorous prosecution of these as he rose rapidly grade by grade by hard man’s work in camp and field during his many campaigns in the standing army of Ludekta, the general, Bothon, revelled in these many high social contacts. Very soon he found within himself and growing apace, the strong and indeed natural desire for a type of life to which his backgrounds and achievements had amply entitled him, but of which he had been, so far, deprived because of the well—nigh incessant demands upon him of his almost continuous military service.

In short, the ambassador from Ludekta very greatly came to desire marriage, with some lady of his own caste and, preferably, of this metropolitan city of Alu with its sophistication and wide culture; a lady who might preside graciously over his ambassadorial establishment; who, when his term of office was concluded, would return with him to his native Ludekta in Atlantis, there permanently to grace the fine residence he had in his mind’s eye when, a little later, he should retire from the Ludektan army and settle down as a senator into the type of life which he envisaged for his middle years.

He had been both fortunate and unfortunate in his actual falling in love. The lady, who reciprocated his ardent advances, was the Netvissa Ledda, daughter of the Netvis Toldon who was the emperor’s brother. The fortunate aspect of this intense and sudden love affair which set all social Alu to commenting upon it, was the altogether human one of a virtually perfect compatability between the two. Their initial mutual attraction had become a settled regard for each other almost overnight. Within a few days thereafter they were very deeply in love. Humanly considered, the affair was perfection itself. Every circumstance save one, and that a merely artificial side of the case, gave promise of an ideal union.

The single difficulty in the way of this marriage was, however, most unfortunately, an insuperable one. The Netvissa Ledda, niece of the emperor, belonged of right to the very highest social caste of the empire. The rank and degree of Netvis lay next to Royalty itself and in the case of the family of the Netvis Toldon partook of royalty. Against this fact basic in the structure of the empire’s long-established custom, the Ambassador, General Bothon of Ludekta–although a gentleman of the very highest attainments, character, and worth, whose family record reached back a thousand years into the dim past before the colonization of Atlantis, whose reputation was second to none in the empire–the General, Bothon, was a commoner. As such, according to the rigid system prevalent at the court in Alu, capital of the Empire, he was hopelessly ineligible. The marriage was simply out of the question.

The Emperor being called upon to settle this awkward affair, acted summarily, quite in the spirit of one who destroys a hopelessly wounded and suffering creature as an act of mercy. The Emperor took the one course open to him under these circumstances, and the General, Bothon, without any choice being open to him save submission to an Imperial request which had the force of law, took ship for Ludekta, leaving behind him in Alu the highest and dearest hope of his life, irreparably shattered.

For the subsequent conduct of the General Bothon, recently Ludektan Ambassador to Aglad-Dho, there were three very definite contributing reasons. Of these the first and most prominent was the depth and intensity and genuineness of his love for the Netvissa Ledda. Beyond all possible things, he wanted her; and the proud soul of Bothon was very grievously racked and torn at the sudden unexpected and arbitrary separation from her which the Imperial request had brought about.

The voyage from Aglad-Dho to Ludetka, across two sections of the globe’s great oceans and through the ship canals and lakes which bisected the southern continent of the western hemisphere, occupied seven weeks. During this period of enforced inaction the bitter chagrin and deep disappointment of Bothon crystallized itself by means of the sustained reflection inevitable under the circumstances. General Bothon arrived in Ludekta in a state of mind which made him ready for anything, provided only it was action. This state of mind was the second of these contributory factors. The third was the immediate satisfaction of his desire for activity. During the course of his voyage home the ghoulish and, indeed, sub-human factory slaves, the shockingly Simian Gyaa-Hau, had inaugurated a revolt. This had spread, by the time of Bothon’s arrival, throughout the entire province of Ludekta. The state sorely needed the efficient services of this, the youngest and most brilliant of its generals, and his reception on landing was more nearly that of a savior of his country than what a virtually disgraced diplomat might expect.

Into this campaign, which he prosecuted with the utmost vigor and a thorough-going military effectiveness, Bothon threw himself with an abounding energy which even his most ardent Ludektan admirers had not anticipated. At the end of an intensive campaign of less than three weeks, with this very dangerous revolt completely crushed and the leaders of the Gyaa-Hau hanging to a man by great hooks through their neck muscles in dreadful rows along the outer city walls on either side of the great archway that pierced the defense of Ludekta’s capital, the General Bothon found himself the hero of Ludekta and the idol of his admiring troops. A rigid disciplinarian, the attitude of the officers and men of the Ludektan standing army towards this general had hitherto been based upon the respect which his great abilities had always commanded. Now he found himself the recipient of something almost like worship because of this last brilliant campaign of his. It had been a tour de force.

Although it is highly probable that they would have advanced him because of this achievement in any event, the actual occasion for the action of the Ludektan Senate in rewarding Bothon with the supreme command of the standing army was the speech before that body of the aging generalissimo Tarba. Old Tarba ended his notable panegyric by laying his truncheon, emblem of the supreme command, on the great marble slab before the presiding senator, with a dramatic gesture.

Bothon thus found himself suddenly possessed of that intensive hero worship which would cause the state to acquiesce in anything which its object might suggest. He was, at the same time, in supreme command of the largest sectional standing army of the entire continent of Atlantis; an army, thanks chiefly to his own efficiency, probably the best trained and most effective fighting unit then extant.

Under the combined effect of the contributing causes and his new authority, General Bothon made up his mind. On the eleventh day after his triumphal entry into Ludekta’s capital city, forty-seven Ludektan war vessels freshly outfitted, their oar-slaves supplemented by a reserve of the Gyaa-Hau, selected for the power and endurance of their gorilla-like bodies, with new skin sails throughout the fleet, and the flower of the Ludektan army on board, sailed out from Ludekta westward for Alu under the command of the General Bothon.

It was precisely simultaneous with the arrival of this war fleet off the shores of the great city of Alu that there began unprecedented natural disturbances affecting the entire area of the mother continent. These were comparable to nothing recorded in the capital’s carefully kept slate and parchment records, which went back over a period of thousands of years.

The first presage of these impending calamities took the form of a coppery tinge which replaced the blue of the sky. Without any warning, the long ground-swell of this Western Ocean changed abruptly, along with the color of the water into a kind of dull brick-grey, to short, choppy, spray-capped waves. These tossed even the great Ludektan war galleys so violently as to shatter many of the sweeps. The wind, to the consternation of several of Bothon’s captains, appeared to come from every quarter at once! It tore the heavy skin sails of the Ludektan galleys away from their copper rings and bolts in some cases. In others it split the sails in clean straight lines as though they had been slit with sharp knives.

Undaunted by these manifestations and the reports of his augurs who had cast their lots and slain their sheep and fowls in a hasty series of divinations to account, if possible, for this unfavorable reception at the hands of the elements, the indomitable will of Bothon forced his fleet to an orderly landing. He sent forthwith as his herald to the Emperor himself, his highest ranking sub-general, accompanied by an imposing guard of honor. On slate tablets, Bothon had set forth his demand in his own hand. This was in the form of a set of alternatives. The Emperor was asked to receive him as Generalissimo of the military forces of Ludekta, and to consent to his immediate marriage with the Netvissa Ledda; or, he, Bothon, would proceed forthwith to the siege of Alu and take the lady of his heart by force and arms.

The message prayed the Emperor to elect the first alternative. It also set forth briefly and in formal heraldic terms the status of the ancient family of Bothon.

The Emperor had been very seriously annoyed at this challenge, as he chose to regard it. He felt that his office and dignity had been outraged. He crucified Bothon’s entire delegation.

The siege of Alu began forthwith under that menacing copper-tinted sky and to the accompaniment of a rumbling series of little earthquakes.

 

Continued in part 3.