Author’s Note The Registration is told in chapters corresponding to ten days: Registration Eve, Day One, Day Two and so on. I further organized the story with chapter subtitles to indicate the time of day. A precise recording of hourly time was problematic since timekeeping through sundials and waterclocks was not the practice of the average Atlantean. Therefore, I have indicated various periods of day and night through colloquial expressions. The Atlanteans measured days from sunrise to sunrise, and I have noted below the roundabout modern day equivalents of Atlantean periods of day and night along with their corresponding Registration activities.
Kindling – dawn, approximately 7:30am, waking time, sunrise prayers
Boys go into the Registration. They come out men. That’s what all the sporting coaches, philosophy instructors and proud fathers were saying about Atlantis’ quadrennial festival for boys of royal birth, but fifteen-year old Aerander was not so sure. It was just nine days of athletic competitions, temple services, and parties where the parents would brag about their sons. Despite all the talk about great, profound things happening, all anyone really cared about was who would win the contests; and the boys who ended up with gold medallions around their necks wouldn’t be any more grown up than before they had entered the Registration (though perhaps a whole lot more fat-headed).
Still, with one last chance before the contests started, Aerander woke at sunrise, met up with Calyiches and snuck down to the canal dock for practice. It wasn’t to honor his family ancestors as the priests were always lecturing at temple. Aerander and Calyiches had a pact.
The two boys sat in their scull boat with one oar balanced against the dock. Aerander peered through his bronze monocular and locked in on the lofty tower bridge in the distance. A team of blue-caped sentinels was clearing the platform for its morning rotation. A three-decked galley was moored on the other side waiting to make passage. Aerander looked to the underside of the bridge’s southern tower. There were men fastening bridles to the oxen lined up around the iron turnstiles that would raise the drawbridge. Aerander angled his eyepiece and found the sentry at the tower pinnacle. The man was bringing forward a long brass instrument. Aerander turned his head and nodded to Calyiches. They strapped on their terracotta racing masks – Aerander’s, a painted warrior head and Calyiches’, a purple feathered hawk. The sentry’s horn blared.
The two boys launched from the dock and swept their blades through the water on a straight line toward the bridge. The oxen cleared one turn of the circular girder; its chain pulley separated the bridge platform into two iron leaves, and each one slowly lifted from the canal. The boys kept their heads tucked against the wind and worked together in a steady rhythm. Aerander, in the bow position, squinted toward the bridge, heart racing and his mop of dark hair damp with sweat.
The canal was empty at the early morning hour. The scull swept past a row of the city’s white stone estates on one side and the tall ridge of the Citadel on the other. The sun-streaked cobbled pathway along the canal was practically deserted. But here and there, the early rising merchants and aproned street sweepers stopped their work and wandered to the water’s edge to watch the boys’ boat cut through the channel.
They were only halfway to the bridge, and Aerander could see that its two leaves were already forty-five degrees in the air. He called out to his blond-haired partner, and Calyiches worked up a greater effort. They were surging forward faster than at any of the practices. They had to make it, Aerander told himself. They had perfect conditions – barely any waves on the channel and not much of a breeze to fight against. He kept in rhythm with Calyiches’ sweeps and gritted his face.
They approached the bridge. Its platforms tilted high into the air, and Aerander glimpsed the sailors on the galley raising the anchors to pass through. Just a little more! he willed himself. Calyiches must have sensed it. The two found a greater store of energy and threw it all into their oaring. The curled tip of the boat pointed straight between the bridge’s centermost girders. It also pointed to the bow of the galley beyond the bridge, but that was not on Aerander’s mind.
They cruised between the two towers. The tower sentry sounded a second blare. Both sides of the bridge had lifted. But it didn’t matter. The boys dropped their oars, threw off their masks and let out a wild holler. They’d done it – making it from the practice dock to the Citadel Bridge before the oxen could raise the platforms. Aerander turned to Calyiches, and they locked hands, beaming with pride.
It was only then that Aerander noticed the commotion. A group of sentinels was calling down from the bridge, and the galley sailors were shouting furiously. Aerander glanced forward. Their scull boat was a few yards from the galley and aimed to crash into its bow.
“Turn!” he cried.
The two boys pushed off the right side of the boat. Meanwhile, the sailors cried down to the oarsmen in the lower deck of the galley to reverse their direction. The boys’ scull lurched to the left at a precipitous angle. There wasn’t time for a clean turn. At best, they were going to skim the hull of the galley. Aerander and Calyiches gathered the oars through their riggings and braced themselves. But with all of their weight shifted to one side, the narrow shell tipped over. It was just in time. The scull boat drifted away from the galley, and the two boys held themselves against it, looking up to the colossal ship in amazement.
Shoving the boat over, the boys repositioned themselves on its benches and paddled their way to the bank. There was a crowd of armored sentinels waiting for their landing. The men’s eyes set seethingly on the waterlogged pair.
“By the order of Consul Pylartes, you are under arrest for conspiring to sabotage one of his Navy’s fleet,” spoke the Captain of the group.
Hunched over and breathless, Aerander slowly raised his head. The Captain caught sight of the bronze shoulder clasp holding up Aerander’s indigo chlamys. The ornament had the trident insignia of the House of Atlas. The Captain waved his hand back to his men.
“Our apologies, Prince Aerander,” the Captain said. “But what in the world were you doing?”
“Practicing for the boat race,” Aerander said. He shook off some of the wetness from his head.
The Captain looked to Aerander’s teammate. Prince Calyiches of the House of Mneseus had become widely recognized since his arrival to the kingdom’s capital city. He wore a leather headband and a pair of gold hoops in his ears. The registrants weren’t supposed to leave the Citadel grounds without a house guard since there were peasants protesting the festival. The Captain and his charges stood at blank attention while the boys tended to their vessel on the bank.
“Any other bright ideas before the games start tomorrow?” Calyiches said.
Aerander smirked. He pulled the bolts from the oar riggings, and Calyiches started gathering up the long paddles inside the boat. They were always in sync like that. Aerander often forgot that they had only met two weeks ago. That’s when all the boys of registering age from the kingdom’s ten royal houses had been quartered in his father’s palace for athletic practices and preliminary competitions. Being the Consul’s son meant that everyone was friendly to you, but no one really wanted to be your friend. But Calyiches walked right up to Aerander at the first day of practices. They talked about their favorite fighters at the Hippodrome’s Tournament of Champions and made fun of their instructors. Calyiches told Aerander stories about his homeland, Lemuria, the ancient continent. Calyiches grew on an island too, but it was in the middle of a lake and there were volcanoes.
“With speed like that, there’s not a single team that’ll be able to catch us,” Aerander said.
“We have to be nominated by our Houses first,” Calyiches pointed out.
Aerander did not like to think about that stipulation. The Registration’s boat race paired together one oarsman from each House – a token of Inter-House fraternity in the tournament, but the entrants would be chosen by a vote of their peers. Aerander was virtually assured of getting the House of Atlas’ nomination. He was the only son of the House Governor, Pylartes, who was also serving his four-year term as leader of the Governors’ Council. Calyiches on the other hand had an older brother, and even though he was the best sculler in his family, the Houses favored their senior registrants. It wasn’t fair. He and Calyiches had teamed up from the start of the practices, and everyone knew that they wanted to compete together.
Aerander and Calyiches hoisted the shell up on their shoulders and carried it from the bank.
“Shall we take that for you, Prince Aerander?” the Captain asked.
“No,” he replied. “We’re in training.”
The two boys carried the boat up to the canal path on a line to the boathouse beyond from the bridge.
“Going to catch it from your father?” Calyiches asked.
Calyiches jostled the boat to set Aerander off balance. Aerander caught his footing and passed Calyiches a wise look. Still, he felt exuberant. The fresh morning air, the bright sun and alone with Calyiches. He took off at a brisk pace to see if Calyiches could keep up with him.
Aerander tripped forward onto his knees and lost hold of the shell. He looked behind him and watched Calyiches fumble to support the weight then throw the boat off and collapse to the ground. Aerander’s lip rose to a snicker. Then he felt the ground trembling beneath him. He turned to Calyiches, and they eyed each other in silence. Tremors come, and tremors go. When the rats flee, then you’ll know. The saying played over in Aerander’s head. When a big quake hit the city of Tartessos on the mainland a few months back, the survivors reported that all of the rats, snakes and weasels had disappeared the night before. Too bad he hadn’t taken inventory of the rats in the palace cellar last night.
The shaking stopped. Aerander hesitated on the ground for a moment. Just a little tremor. Like the one they had last winter. He got up on his feet.
“You all right?” he asked Calyiches.
“That was brilliant!” Calyiches said.
“C’mon. Let’s get to the boathouse.”
Calyiches stood and looked around in awe. They didn’t have earthquakes where he was from. The boat had rolled down the bank a few yards, and Aerander went to retrieve it.
Rearing Aerander felt a little sorry for the wide-hipped, balding man at the center of the Citadel amphitheatre. He was really trying. It was the man’s last philosophy lecture before the start of the Registration, and his face was pink from projecting his voice over all of the murmuring voices. But the twelve dozen or so boys sitting around the stadium were much more interested in talking about the tremor earlier that morning. Plus one of the registrants from the House of Amphisus was circulating a story that peasants were rioting in the streets to protest tomorrow’s Opening Day parade.
Aerander sat in an upper tier with Calyiches and two straw-haired, blotchy faced boys: Dardanus and Evandros, brothers from the House of Gadir. Dardanus, or Dardy as he was called by his friends, was fifteen, and Evandros was a year younger. Aerander and Calyiches had met up with the two at archery practice. The Registration was for boys thirteen to eighteen. Since the four of them were among the youngest in the group, they had fallen easily into a tight band.
The philosophy instructor was going on with some treatise about the seventeen essential types of manly honor. Aerander had lost track of the lecture after the second.
“Everyone’s talking about you two taking on your father’s navy this morning,” Dardy said.
“Dardy’s got the younger boys believing that we rammed and sank the Admiral’s boat,” Calyiches said.
“I thought it would help Calyiches’ chances getting his House’s vote for the boat race,” Dardy defended.
“Nah – it always goes to first borns,” Calyiches said.
“That’s not true,” Dardy said. “At the fourteenth Registration, House of Eudemon picked Rutulus for the race over their first-born son. Rutulus wasn’t even a second born. He had two older brothers. He teamed up with Gordius from the House of Amphisus, and they went on to win it.”
“Sure, but one of Rutulus’ brothers was blind, and the other one was a simpleton,” Evandros pointed out.
“Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone voting for your brother,” Dardy said.
The four boys’ eyes traveled to the opposite side of the amphitheatre. High up in the upper tier, there was a round-shouldered, dark-haired boy, lost in a mopey scowl. There were many empty marble seats around him. Oleon.
Dardy and Evandros snickered. Aerander cracked a grin, but he noticed Oleon pass a severe look over his friends. He turned back to the instructor. The old man was up to “honor in marriage.” Something about faithfulness and not striking one’s wife excessively. Was this number seven or number eight?
“Dardy’s got another campaign going,” Evandros said.
His brother’s face flushed.
“He wants to be set up with Pyrrah from House of Mestor on Courtship Day.”
Aerander sorted through his head to place the girl. All of the registrants’ sisters and female cousins had come along to watch the games, and there had been daily feasts with all of the families in the palace’s Grand Pavilion. Later in the festival, the parents would negotiate the boys’ marriages.
“She’s totally ideal,” Dardy confided.
“But he can’t ever talk to her. He gets all nervy,” Evandros said.
Aerander remembered. The House of Mestor girls were a pretty bunch, drifting through the hallways with their plaited hair and drapey gowns. Pyrrah was the one that caught most of the boys’ attention.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself?” Aerander asked.
“Nah,” Dardy sighed. “She’d never go for me. She’s probably after someone more like Calyiches.”
Calyiches’ eyes danced away. Evandros let out snorting laugh. The amphitheatre went dead still. Heads turned. The philosophy instructor’s robed arm pointed straight at Aerander’s group.
“Might I have a little more attention from the ‘Friendly Four’ in the back?” the instructor said.
The four boys’ faces turned crimson. A few chuckles around the stadium broke the tension. Aerander set his eyes straight ahead at the instructor. One turn to the left or right and the sight of one of his friend’s puffed up faces was sure to make him break out in laughter.
“Honor in war…,” the instructor went on.
How many more to go? Aerander bristled.
After the philosophy lecture, the boys filed out of the amphitheatre en route to the Citadel Palace. Dardy and Evandros shot off, explaining that their grandfather Governor Hesperus was bringing in a troupe of dancing courtesans to entertain the House of Gadir at their family compound. Aerander walked the shaded pathway to the Palace with Calyiches. Most of the other boys had rushed ahead with plans for games of skittles or field hockey and family parties that would go on late into the night. Aerander would be stuck inside his family’s apartment with his stepmother and younger sisters. His father said that he should spend Registration Eve with his family, even though Pylartes likely would not return from his ministerial chambers until everyone had turned in for the night. Aerander slackened his pace. Calyiches didn’t seem to mind.
Boys go into the Registration, and they come out men. Maybe it was an exaggeration, but tomorrow, everything was going to change. It was supposed to be the most exciting time of his life, but Aerander felt out of sorts. He had qualified to compete in the wrestling and sprinting contests and was one of the favored recitalists in the poetry competition. Calyiches was entered in all six of the Registration’s athletic events. They’d be ushered from one venue to another, and then Calyiches would be returning to his father’s colony in Lemuria.
“Good luck with the House vote tomorrow,” Aerander said.
Calyiches nodded. He was kicking up pebbles from the pathway with his sandaled feet. Aerander joined him. They made a contest out of seeing who could kick a stone the furthest. Calyiches sent one flying so far Aerander could not make out where it had landed.
Aerander stopped in his place. Calyiches halted after a few paces and turned to Aerander. Calyiches’ nose twitched. He was the only person that Aerander had ever met who shrugged his nose when taken by surprise.
“Let’s swap rings,” Aerander said.
Aerander pulled off the signet band from his ring finger. It was molded with the trident House of Atlas crest. All of the registrants had gotten House rings at the start of practices. They were supposed to wear them until the end of the festival, but other boys had swapped them. For some, to show off their friendship. For others, to signify something else. Aerander held the ring out in his open palm.
“Maybe it’ll bring you luck,” he said.
Calyiches scoffed, but he took off his hawk-head House of Mneseus band and they exchanged their rings. Calyiches smiled and brushed his shoulder against Aerander’s. Aerander’s face lit up.
Calyiches stepped along the path, and Aerander caught up to him. They didn’t say a single word on their way back to the palace, but somehow it didn’t matter.
Kindling The night sky is divided into twelve constellations: one for Poseidon, one for his wife Cleito, and one for each of their sons. Aerander gazed at the dawning sky from the terrace of his father’s corner megaron. It was late summer, and the House of Atlas and part of Gadir’s were faint pinpoints in a brightening canvas. Aerander looked to the western horizon and picked out his favorite cluster of stars: the Pleiades. They were Atlas’ virgin daughters, placed in the heavens by their father to remind his descendants to rule with justice and morality. Aerander’s childhood tutor Alatheon had taught him to recognize each of them by name. He could spot Alcyone first, since she shined the brightest, then her five sisters arced around her to the right: Asterope, Maia, Taygete, Electra, and Merope.
Atlas had a seventh daughter, but she was lost, it was said. Alatheon had told Aerander an old rhyme:
Supposedly, anyone who saw the Seventh Pleiade star and spoke her secret would release her from her exile and receive a great reward. Aerander brought out his bronze monocular and scanned around the sparkling cluster. There was nothing there. It was probably just a folktale to entertain little kids.
Four flights above the Citadel grounds, Aerander’s terrace was the second highest overlook in the palace, just below the southwest watchtower. Aerander gazed onto the city, lit up in the early morning sun. The landscape was a gilded labyrinth of canals, many angled boulevards and pinnacled bridges. Aerander looked beyond the terracotta rooftops, cistern towers and glistening domes and all the way to the Great Harbor with its colossal statue of Poseidon standing guard with his forked spear. There was a group of sailed galleys drifting toward the harbor. Thousands of men and women from all over the kingdom were coming to watch the Registration games. Despite the House of Amphisus boy’s story of violent protests yesterday, everything looked peaceful.
Aerander stepped through the columned entrance to his bedchamber. His valet Punamun, a tan-faced immigrant from Lemuria with a bowl-shaped head of hair, was slumped over at a gypsum bench by the curtained doorway to the megaron’s interior landing. Aerander passed by Punamun, heavy footed, and onward to his bedchamber’s recess. It was a place for prayers and remembrances, and on the center of its curved mantle, there was a white clam shell painted with a miniature relief in shades of blue.
It was the only image Aerander had of his birth mother Sibyllia. She had died when Aerander was three, and his father had remarried a few months later. Aerander didn’t remember anything about his mother, but he lit a tallow by the clam shell on every one of his birthdays and on the anniversary of Sibyllia’s death. The last candle that Aerander had lit, three months past for his birthday, had melted down into its brass holder.
He should remember his mother on Registration Day, Aerander decided. Aerander found his pocket knife, carved the wax out of the holder, and retrieved a fresh tallow from his pinewood chest. He trimmed the wick and lit it. Aerander stared at the image of his mother cast in flickering light.
Sibyllia had only been a few years older than Aerander when the artist painted her. Years ago, whenever Aerander’s aunts came by to visit, they would go on about how Sibyllia had passed along to Aerander his slate blue eyes and singular name. Aerander – it should have been Aeran-dros like all the other Atlantean boys’ names, but Aunt Guercia said Sibyllia wanted his name to be exotic, like the men from the wintry continent of Azilia. According to his aunt, Aerander’s mother picked up the strange idea the Atlantean race had descended from the northern peoples, apparently from spending too much time with foreign scholars. His father never spoke of Sibyllia. He had once overheard his aunts gossiping about a stormy relationship between the two and whispers that Sibyllia committed suicide.
The sound of footsteps carried from the landing. Aerander turned to the door. His stepmother Thessala broke through the curtain. Punamun shifted, started, and then took to his feet.
“I didn’t think you’d be awake,” Thessala said. She looked from Aerander to the candle and breezed past Punamun to take a seat on the bed. She was holding a sallow wood box tied up with a garland of carnations.
Aerander drew up beside her. Thessala nudged the box toward him. “Your first gift for the Registration. From your father and me.”
It was more from Thessala than his father, Aerander figured, but he smiled, pulled off the garland and opened the box. Inside, there was a leather belt with a molded silver buckle. He took it out and ran his hand down the cool strap.
“A man needs a belt,” Thessala said.
“Shall I get a new necklace?” Aerander asked.
“This one gives me bad dreams.” Aerander took out an amulet from under his sleeping tunic. Its simple copper links were tarnished, and it held an unusual ornament – a three pronged fork, springy and translucent like a fish bone. Aerander’s father had given it to him at the start of the Registration practices. Pylartes said it was supposed to bring good luck, but the fish bone was creepy. Last night, Aerander had shook from his sleep with the image of a red, glowing skull and two giant snakes, curled back to strike.
Thessala smoothed out Aerander’s wavy hair. “There are memories held in old things. Like a conch shell washed up from the island’s shoals. When you hold it up to your ear, you can hear its story in the language of the sea.”
Aerander spun the fishbone pendant with a flick of his finger.
“It’s a great honor to wear that amulet,” Thessala said. “It was worn by Poseidon himself. He gave it to Atlas before his death, then Atlas to his own son and so on.”
Aerander screwed up one corner of his mouth. Old and haunted, he didn’t care; he didn’t like the necklace.
“You’re just worried about the Registration games,” Thessala said. “As well you should be.”
She faced him with a smirk. Thessala was really somewhere between a mother and an older sister. Aerander was already taller than her, but he leaned his head against her shoulder. Thessala’s dark hair was loose since she had just gotten out of bed, but it still smelled like the lavender oil that she used for washing.
“Your father didn’t sleep well either,” Thessala said. “He tossed and turned and was already off to his chambers by the time I woke. He’ll never admit it, but he’s a wreck over the festival. Which leaves the rest of us to suffer along with him.”
Aerander laced his hands together at his knee. Thessala’s gaze delayed over the hawk-head signet band on his ring finger.
“House of Mneseus? Have you pawned your House ring? Worried that one of your sisters shall take your inheritance?”
Aerander blushed. She knew who it was from and what it meant. He and Calyiches had spent every afternoon together since the start of practices, and Calyiches had been over to the family compound a ton of times.
“It’s good to have a boyhood friend,” Thessala said.
“We’re teaming up for the boat race,” Aerander said.
Thessala nodded. Hesitantly.
“May the ancestors carry you to victory,” Thessala said. “But don’t let your father see that you’ve exchanged bands. It’s all tradition with him.”
She climbed down from the bed and stepped toward the door. “Now enough brooding. There’s much awaiting you today. You’ll only go through the Registration once. You should enjoy it.”