Crown Prince Ranji Barka left the safety of his palace before dawn and began his long trek to the slopes of Mount Vesper. This was an auspicious part of his preparation for marriage. Tradition dictated that he must consult with the Oracle Cassandra before his wedding. A silk purse, embroidered with pure gold threads, contained his offerings for the wise woman. Rich black tea from the land of his bride and a small jade vial, infused with the essence of jasmine, from the palace garden. The sacred offerings represented the fertility of the land and when blessed by Cassandra, would seal the future unity of two great empires.
An hour into Prince Ranji’s journey, Rakar, the Sun God, rose from behind the shadows of the most Holy mountain, bringing new life to Ranji’s kingdom. The early morning light bounced off the gold capstones of pyramids containing the remains of revered ancestors. Giant statues and obelisks, dedicated to the Gods, lined the broad avenue that led to the distant Abbey of the Virgins, Cassandra’s palace.
Rakar had climbed to it’s highest point in the sky when the weary prince reached his destination. As was the custom, Ranji stopped at the pool of souls and removed his boots and tunic. Naked, he immersed himself in the ice cold waters of the pool. His body cleansed of the dust from his journey and his spirit revitalised by the refreshing ‘Tears of Vesper’, Ranji proceeded into the cool shade of the cloisters.
Light from a thousand fragrant candles flickered and bounced off the tall pillars that led the way to Cassandra, who sat waiting on a simple granite rock. Two disciples of Gaia stood to each side of her. All five mystics were swaying, as if in ecstasy, to a silent beat that seemed to pulse from the air itself. As one, they opened their eyes and gazed solemnly at the naked man. Cassandra rose to her feet and commanded the prince to prostrate himself before Gaia, mother of all mothers.
Ranji obeyed and lay face down on the marble floor, averting his eyes from the soothsayer. One nun removed the purse from his outstretched hand and passed it to Cassandra. Another held a silver chalice, into which Cassandra poured the black leaves and jasmine extract. Cassandra recited secret incantations, as each nun added an offering to the cup, a pinch of dried earth from one, drops of holy water from another, a breath from the lips of the third. Finally, the fourth nun cast the mixture into flames licking up from an ancient fire pit .
As the scent of burnt offerings filled the room, the four nuns retreated from the chamber, leaving the young prince to consult with the high priestess. Cassandra bade him to sit beside her on the granite rock, and after a moment's reflection spoke.
“Prince Ranji, you must heed my words. Mother Gaia is displeased. She sees her people treating the Holy Mother with contempt. They believe that they have mastered creation. Your marriage can unify the people into a long and harmonious future. Listen carefully, my prince, respect Mother Earth. Remember, you enjoy the bounty of the world only through the will of Gaia. Tomorrow on your wedding day you must display to the people your love and respect for the Mother. Humble yourself by walking barefoot from your palace to the Temple of Gaia. There, I will join you with your bride and cement your union with the divine spirits.” Cassandra uttered this prophecy in a soft, gentle voice that carried the wisdom of the ages.
The following morning Prince Ranji was alive with anticipation of the day’s festivities. His servants dressed him in clothes crafted by the empire's finest tailors They anointed him in fragrant oils and placed purple slippers on his feet. He stared at his reflection and impressed at how regal he looked, dismissed the notion of walking barefoot or humbling himself before the people. The arrogant prince ordered that Trumpeter, his finest elephant, be dressed in full ceremonial armour. He would make peace with Cassandra at another time.
Ranji rode out from the Palace, escorted by his most trusted soldiers and servants. He made his way along the coast towards the temple of Gaia. The road was thronged by crowds of his adoring subjects. The way strewn with rose petals. A cacophony of horns and drums adding to the noise of the screaming multitudes.
Gaia was angry beyond words. This was the fifth time the children of man had defied her. Four times she had vented her fury in these vain creatures. Four great civilisations had been destroyed. Still they defied her. Again, they invited vengeance. Her anger grew into a boiling frenzy. The ground beneath the oceans began to tremble. Great chasms opened up on the seafloor. White hot rock spewed out from the Earth, turning the waters into a surging frothing maelstrom.
Ranji looked resplendent on the back of Trumpeter. He was cooled by slaves waving giant palm leaves to create a gentle breeze. Gazing out at the ocean, he marvelled as the sea withdrew, in awe of his presence. It ebbed out further than the horizon, glorifying this magnificent King of Kings.
Without warning the sea returned, a towering wall of frenzied energy. It carried all the pent up rage of a Goddess scorned by Man. The sea reached up and tore Ranji from Trumpeter. It took hold of him and dragged him into the depths. Trumpeter shrugged free from the restraints of his battle armour and swam to freedom.
Mount Vesper exploded in a deafening roar, spewing ash and lava. In an instant, the mighty empire of Atlantis vanished beneath the ocean, becoming a place of myth and legend.
Over the millennia Gaia was forced to cleanse the earth many times. Each time she used Cassandra to warn the people of her anger. These warnings went unheeded. Men invited their own destruction through pride and conceit.
It is January twentieth. A new prince commands the greatest nation ever known. Gaia, angry once more, has issued fresh warnings in the new language of science. Perhaps this prince will listen.