This is the first hand accounting of William Laurence on the matter of the first Sinking of Atlantis, written by Sun Kai in the year 1807. Translated from Chinese to English by Arthur Hammond in 1812.
It should be noted that the anecdote was part of a private conversation and was recorded completely without Mr. Laurence's knowledge.
It was early June in 1800 – I was the First Lieutenant on board the HMS Goliath back then. It was my last voyage as her First Lieutenant in fact, though I suppose that's beside the point.
We'd all heard rumours about the place, of course – second and third hand tales from traders and your usual hearsay. I had seen the place before, much earlier in my career on board another ship mind you. Back then, it was still as it had always been – a barren rock, inhospitable and nearly lifeless. It couldn't, I thought as everyone else did, support any sort of settlement.
And then someone settled there.
There were jokes at first, and no one took it seriously. Any day we thought we'd hear what an abysmal failure the settlement was, and how the settlers were forced to leave, their tails between their legs. It was inevitable, everyone agreed. And then the stories started growing more and more elaborate – and more worrisome.
The trading, that was the thing. The cheap, pure salt they traded with. And of course, the water. The sweetest, clearest fresh water you could ever hope to drink, and they'd found it on that rock that everyone thought before then was next to worthless.
To understand the importance of it you must realise two things. One, the amount of supplies required to make a sea voyage across the Atlantic and how much of that is by necessity fresh water. And two, the location of that previously barren rock. Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic, it marks the midpoint of nearly all trade routes to the New World. To establish a trade port on that island has been the dream of every transatlantic merchant since the Americas were discovered. But no one could because of one reason – there was no fresh water on the island.
Not before now.
When the existence of the colony on the island – which we didn't then know was called Atlantis by the settlers – was proven by an East-India Company's merchantman on its return from the Caribbean, it turned quite a few heads. Someone in London calculated the profits and savings generated by a trade port on the island to be in the tens of millions – and anyone could see how useful it would be. To be able to just refill water on the island would be invaluable, but a trade port…
Of course we were sent to capture the island for almost purely financial reasons, but there was a strategic element to it too. After all, if we could see the value in the island, so could our enemies. And the damage to our trade were the French to capture the island and establish a stronghold there would be far worse than anyone was willing to consider.
So we were sent. Three ships in total – the HMS Goliath and two smaller frigates to escort her. Everyone was secure in the knowledge that the island wouldn't have any true defences and that an even smaller force would have been enough. We were also very confident that the news had reached us first and that we had a clear head start on all our enemies.
We were of course wrong on both counts. The French were hot on our heels, and Atlantis is the furthest thing from defenceless as you can imagine. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Officially, the engagement started on the 14th of June. We arrived on the 13th, however, and laid anchor just off of what we assumed was the more commonly used side of the island. There were signs of traffic there, and some fishing gear had been laid out on the beach, possibly to dry. It was also where most of the buildings were. And what buildings they were…
Previously, there was nothing on the island. Nothing – no trees, barely any grasses, nothing you could really use as building materials. Certainly nothing like what we saw. Walls as high as the Goliath's keel, their stones cut so smooth it was as if they were one single stone, all throughout. And behind them were trees, vibrant and green, and the tops of buildings. All of them were made of stone, pale grey and cut and polished smooth – everything from the walls to the roofs and the numerous pillars supporting them. All of it was stone.
How they got it all there, where they got it from and how they kept getting more of it, I haven't the faintest notion. And it wasn't just the stone that struck us as strange and awe-inspiring, it was also the stonemasonry that had gone into the building. It was the sort of craftsmanship you don't see outside what's been left behind by more ancient civilisations. Any one of the buildings on Atlantis would be at home in ancient Rome, or Greece.
That, I think, was what made our Captain so cautious about our first contact. At that point, our planned strategy did not even include any type of fighting. Atlantis was a young settlement, we thought – a mere show of force would be enough. If they were smart, they'd strike down their colours themselves.
Of course, Atlantis didn't even have a flag to strike, then.
Still, that stone work was a startling sight, and so far from what we'd been expecting. Huts, at best, were what we were thinking of – tents, most likely. But we were met not with the crude dwellings we were thinking of, but with a town with walls of stone and buildings which even at a distance had a certain worrisome potency to them. And it wasn't just the dragon statues on their roofs, sitting as silent sentinels over the place.
The level of engineering and architecture present spoke of a group stronger, larger, and far more resourceful than we were expecting. Especially so when we couldn't explain where they even got the building materials in the first place. There was no question of them being imported – a fleet of ships couldn't have brought all that stone to the island in the time the settlement had existed.
So, sensing some larger force behind the settlement, Captain Foley was cautious. Our first contact was under the white flag of truce.
I, as the First Lieutenant of the Goliath, had the pleasure of being part of that first meeting. Of course I wasn't alone – there were a small number of our junior officers as well as the representative from the government, Mr. Stafford Levitt, whose job it was to officially accept Atlantis' surrender and, I suspect, to become its first governor.
I suppose it was very arrogant of all of us.
We were met on the shore by a… I suppose you could only call them a delegation. But what a delegation it was. They were all so very young – the oldest must have been younger than I was then, and I was barely twenty two myself. The others couldn't have been called anything other than children. Girls of perhaps eighteen at most. And of course their leader.
I think they called him the Child King of Atlantis in that article. Not altogether wrong, though he wasn't as young as all that. Harry Potter, as he introduced himself then, couldn't have been older than sixteen. He didn't act very kingly either, but it was clear enough that he was in charge.
What are the Atlanteans like…? I saw a lot of them during the week we spent at the island – perhaps more than anyone else ever has. And the thing that I still remember the best is how clean they all were. Especially during that first meeting – though we were all in our best, of course, there are certain aspects of a ship's life you can't quite escape. Although the Atlanteans wore clothing that was outrageously revealing and in some cases hardly covered anything, it was hard not to feel a little unkempt beside them.
You hardly ever notice how a person smells, but Atlanteans do not smell like anything at all.
I think they knew what we were on about straight away, though I suppose there was no hiding it. What ships they'd seen before had all been whalers or merchantmen at most – ours was a 74-gun ship of the line, and our escort was hardly less intimidating. Their purpose in life – and in that location – was rather obvious.
So, the reception we received was rather cold. I understand now that the Atlanteans aren't the friendliest of settlers – they never welcome anyone to stay and the quicker you leave their shores, the happier they are. But they were especially frosty with us, I think. And it's no wonder: we couldn't have made a worse impression had we greeted them at gunpoint.
That representative they sent was a fool. The only reason Mr. Levitt didn't immediately demand Harry Potter's surrender was because he was too flustered at being met by a child. He kept trying to talk to the oldest of the group – Charlie Weasley, his name was. "Sir, I am here as a representative of His Majesty's Government, to open negotiations and to establish –". As he went on, you could see the Atlanteans closing off.
"You're barking up the wrong tree there, mate," was I think what Mr. Weasley said to the litany, in what was distinctively a British accent, though I couldn't quite pinpoint its exact origin.
"But you're British!" said Mr. Levitt. "Oh, this changes everything – as a British settlement it means –"
"Means nothing, because it's not a British settlement. Atlantis is what it is," said Harry Potter to that. "Now what do you want? If you're not here to trade, you're not welcome."
It was by all accounts an abysmal first contact. Our representative kept insisting that Atlantis was British on account of both Mr. Weasley and Harry Potter being obviously British in origin. By the time he finally realised that he was getting nowhere, I think we'd quite given ourselves away. When it was obvious that the Atlanteans wouldn't see reason and do the sensible thing, as Mr. Levitt put it, he made his demand.
"You will surrender immediately, sir," he said to Harry Potter. "Or you will be met with deadly force."
And what did Harry Potter say to that? "No."
They are very abrupt people, the Atlanteans, short spoken and to the point – so much so that it's hard to take their mode of speech as anything other than impudence, never mind their accents. We didn't know that then, though – no, we thought, myself included, that our message had been misunderstood, that Potter didn't know what he was actually declining.
"Sir, you understand that the refusal to meet our demands means that we must take action," said Mr. Levitt, a little at a loss for words. "We will be forced to attack you."
"No you won't be," said Harry Potter to that. "You won't be forced to do anything. But you will anyway because you want the island."
"Then you must understand that you must surrender –"
"No, I don't," said Potter. "I mustn’t do anything and we won't surrender because we choose not to. But we will choose to defend ourselves."
"With what?" I think it was one of the junior officers who asked that, and rather incredulously at that. And I agreed with him. Even with the walls present, there wasn't a sign of any sort of true defences present, no shore batteries in sight.
Which is what made Potter's smile so alarming, I think.
We didn't attack then, of course. Our demands made and our ultimatums laid out, we retreated back to the Goliath, the Atlanteans watching us the whole way. Once on board, we deliberated on the matter, and how…unusual it all was. By all reason, the Atlanteans should've surrendered in the face of a mightier force, everyone agreed – and though someone scoffed at it as stupidity on their part… there was something worrisome to it.
You can't look at Atlantis and say that stupid people built it, after all. There's a cunning represented in the architecture alone that is impossible dismiss, and the people who built something like that in such a short period of time wouldn't be led by an ignorant simpleton. Harry Potter's easy refusal to surrender and his confidence in his ability to stand his ground could be nothing but make belief on his part… but on the other hand, it could be very real.
And we still had no answer to the question of where Atlantis got its building materials.
There was another thing too; and while it didn't seem to bother the representative of the government, it bothered some of us. Atlantis was, judging by what we'd seen, inhabited largely by children. And there was something truly vile about the thought of opening fire on them.
So, an alternate plan was made. The ships would put on a great-gun exercise on the following morning. It was an intimidation tactic, of course – you don't usually do such things so close to the shore. But it was the least destructive way of showing the Atlanteans what they were up against. It was, all agreed, a splendid plan. We were even looking forward to it.
The Atlanteans beat us to it. I understand that they do it every night, now – they did it every night we were there, certainly, and I've heard from other ships and traders that they've seen it as well. Some sort of ceremony of theirs, though one can't help but pale at the waste of it. Because it was so very grand.
The fireworks started at sundown – a single trail of white whirl exploded into a grand display of red and gold above the island. It was followed by another, a pure gold light that exploded into expanding rings. And then another, and another. All told, the fireworks lasted for half an hour – half an hour of continuous bombardment of light.
We were speechless. Yes, it was very beautiful to look at. I have never seen such a display, even the Chinese fireworks compare. But the implication present in it was what struck us silent. Atlanteans had fireworks and that meant they had gunpowder. Which in turn might mean any number of things – any number of weapons – that they might have access to.
It was a quiet night on the ship, following that bombardment. Dinner that night was… quite sullen.
We performed our gun exercises the following morning as planned. It went without a hitch, of course – the Goliath and her escorts all had fine crews, well-adjusted to their duties. It was as beautiful a gun exercise as you could hope for – and it certainly caught the attention of the Atlanteans. They flocked to the shore to watch, and it improved our spirits quite a bit. It was hard to listen and watch the guns go off down in the decks below your feet and not feel a certain confidence about it. Still, it did lack the pointed showmanship of a fireworks display in the dead of the night.
And of course, there were the Atlanteans on the shores – dozens of them, and all of them too young to be truly called adults. That certainly dampened our spirits a little, especially when some of them actually cheered at the exercises. Like children enjoying a show. The innocence of their enjoyment, faced with our grim duty to capture the island by any means necessary…
We set out for shore again that noon, and again Harry Potter met us, this time with a larger delegation – though I suppose most were there just to witness the meeting, not to actually take part in it. Our representative from the government re-issued his ultimatums, making not so subtle references to the great-gun exercise, ordering Potter to see sense.
Mr. Levitt even motioned at the audience – mostly children – and asked Potter if he really wished to see them hurt by his recalcitrance.
"It's not my recalcitrance that will hurt us if you attack," said Potter to that. "That'll be on you, not me."
His answer didn't change – and judging by what I saw, no one on that island disagreed with him. They wouldn't surrender – and they didn't fear an attack from us. It was oddly upsetting, I admit. Even with the fireworks display, we still felt as if we had a distinct advantage over them, and there was a dreadful tone to it all. And they were, we felt, forcing our hand.
We retreated back to the ship and contemplated our next move. Some suggested a single swift attack, enough to show the Atlanteans what we truly could do. Others, older men with children of their own, hesitated and wanted to try and talk sense to the settlement. Others suggested more devious means of bringing the island to heel.
It was ultimately one of those devious means we chose to use.
We waited until nightfall on that second day, until just after that fireworks display. When it ended, I set out on a jollyboat. There were four other men with me – Captain Riley was one of them actually, still a Second Lieutenant then. All of us were clad in our darkest so that our clothing would not betray us as we circled to what we hoped was a less used side of the island, to get on shore undetected.
The plan was made with a certain optimistic idea of avoiding true conflict. The idea was that we'd steal our way onto the island and then capture its leader – capture Harry Potter – when his defences were down. With their leader captured and in our possession, we could claim the island without bloodshed. It still left a bitter taste in my mouth, to sneak around in such a fashion, but less so than opening fire on the island would have.
Getting to the island was no problem – whatever watchmen there were present on the island were concentrated on watching the Goliath and her escorts, and the rest of the island's people were either asleep or still, we hoped, occupied by the aftermath of the fireworks. No one noticed us as we got to the island, and so we made our way to the walls surrounding the island proper.
I know now that the walls were built to defend the island from storm tides, not from invaders – Atlantis sits fairly low, and even its highest point would be submerged in a proper storm. The Atlanteans were forced to build their flood barriers to protect the settlement from such events, and as with seemingly all things, they decided to build them grand. I would not say that the walls they built would've protected them from a true bombardment – but I cannot imagine them being wholly useless either. They are solid stone, throughout, and nearly two feet thick. It would take more than a single cannon ball to knock any one of them down.
Getting over them was no problem, however. They weren't impossibly high, and we managed to boost each other up and over. And there, on the other side of that wall, we were met not with any sort of opposition… but with sunflowers. An entire field of them, full to the brim with men height flowers, all of them in full bloom. It is, I now know, the most common plant on Atlantis – but back then it was the furthest thing from what we were expecting.
We had a type of map we made from the approximate locations of the buildings and the walls and what little we could see over them – the buildings were largely concentrated onto one area, aside from a few scattered further away. We knew that some sections of the island must've been used as farm lands of some sort. We were expecting grain, perhaps potatoes. Not flowers. It set a strange sort of mood over us.
So much of what we experienced so far wasn't what we'd been expecting. It does take its toll on a man's equilibrium, to be so befuddled so often.
At the other side of the sunflowers we were met with another wall, equally high and thick as the one we'd crossed over before. We made our way over it, and were in another field of sun flowers. They section all their fields with walls like that, I think, possibly to minimise damage to their crops if one of the walls is breached by ocean water. Sensible habit on such a place, but extremely vexing – never mind taxing on the body – when one is trying to sneak around. There are only so many walls you can scale before it starts to take a toll on you.
By the time we made it to the actual settlement, we were tired, dirt stained, and never did wish to see another sunflower again – and the idea that we had to go back the same way, only with a prisoner, did not appeal. Except of course we didn't do that, in the end.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that I was the first outsider to know, but I was certainly one of the first. Tom Riley was the one who spotted the first one, however.
Lying there, on the side of what I assume is the main street of the town of Atlantis, was a dragon. I now know to estimate his size to be around midweight – he was about a Yellow Reaper's size, I think, or slightly smaller even. But when it's dark and you're certainly not expecting to see a dragon, that size expands to gigantic and looms over you.
No one knew about the dragons of Atlantis before that exact moment. We had no idea – no one had any idea. It was a secret the Atlanteans had kept well to themselves, and might indeed be part of the reason why they are so against visitors in the first place. And we had well inundated ourselves to the idea that we had superior military might compared to the Atlanteans, so the shock struck us pale and speechless.
And then, just as I had managed to convince myself that we might be able to sneak around this one dragon, that surely it was the only one… we saw the rest. They slept in heaps all over the main street, more than I could quickly count – easily over a dozen. Some of them were only lightweights, about a Winchester's size, others were light combat weights… but there were so many of them. It was then that we figured out why Potter had been so confident. With this many dragons, and the gunpowder they obviously had easy access to, it would've been no problem for the Atlanteans to destroy our three ships in one fell swoop.
There was no conceivable way we could either get to Potter or get him away undetected, not with the dragons present. A single noise out of the ordinary and they would've all woken. It wasn't a risk we were willing to take. And, with the dragons not only present, but with our forces wholly unaware of them… our first priority became to get back to the ships, and warn them.
We failed at that. I don't quite know what happened – one of the dragons woke, perhaps, or we were simply discovered. I remember… flashes of light in the darkness, and then nothing. I won't venture a guess about what precisely took place – though some suspected a toxic gas of some sort, one that the Atlanteans could release from a bottle. But the effect was instant and very real.
We woke up in captivity, with the very person we were sent to capture beyond a set of stone bars that sat between him and us. It wasn't the first time that I had been captured, and it wasn't the last – but it was, by far, one of the least hopeful. Because while Potter was our interrogator, his dragon was our guard.
Yes, the leader of Atlantis had a dragon. While I cannot claim perfect certainty, I'm fairly sure that Atlantis is ruled by a council of five, and that Potter is both a member and their ultimate leader, and that every member of the council has a dragon.
I don't know how many dragons there are on Atlantis – easily over two dozen, judging by what I saw during my captivity. There were four breeds from what I could tell – the middle weight that I saw, two light combat weights, and the light weight. Potter's dragon – Lantica her name was – was one of the light weight breeds, a red dragon with a mane of golden horns. She looked a little like a lion, actually.
Potter was neither surprised nor pleased to see us. And while we naturally refused to part with any information, his guesses weren't far from the truth. It was during that general interrogation that I started to realise why this slip of a boy led the island. There was a sort of survivor's sharpness in Potter. And I have no doubt that should he be forced to it, he could easily turn it into military cunning.
It's been years since then – Potter would be an adult now, and he's been defending Atlantis for years. I can only imagine what kind of a General he is, these days.
In any case, Potter now had prisoners and a very good reason to keep them contained. After all, we'd learned the truth of Atlantis. Or so we thought, anyway. "Now we shall see how Mr. Levitt will spin this one," Potter said as his parting words after that first session. "I suppose this will be our fault too."
I have been thinking about that for a long time ever since, about something Potter was always so very adamant about. He always blamed us. And while I cannot deny that he was right in doing so, he made it a point, a very sharp point. I wonder why.
We didn't see much of Potter that first day, not after that initial interrogation. I found out later that Potter and Mr. Levitt had numerous meetings over us throughout that day, and that many threats were exchanged and that Potter refused to release us. Truth be told, I thought he never would – the secret of Atlantis was, I felt, too precious to be so revealed. Children though they were, I thought they'd rather execute us, than let outsiders know what they had.
But I was thinking as a military man, then. Atlantis, however, has no military. And though Potter might exhibit the sly intellect of a military strategist at times… he isn't one. He's a governor and his first interest is the happiness of his people. The people who were largely children. While Potter might have been able to kill us to protect his people, I doubt that most of the people on that island would have.
Despite all the dragons and all the power and their isolationistic views, Atlantis is a peaceful place. And nothing stands in stronger testimony of that, I think, than their dragons.
They don't wear harness, the dragons of Atlantis. That is, I think, why I never felt it strange to let Temeraire go without. I have no notion about how they go about the matter of harnessing their dragons – because it is obvious that they do, the companionship between Potter and Lantica and all the other dragons and their people I saw was distinctively the closeness of a dragon and captain in harness. But they wear no harness and, judging by what I saw, they don't fly in formation.
Though, of course, they didn't fly at all while we were there. They were hiding after all. Still, the dragons of Atlantis aren't trained in combat, I am certain of that.
What do they do if they're not military? I am not entirely certain. I've heard about passing ships that witnessed the dragons of Atlantis flying over those massive fish farms that they set a few miles off the island, so I suppose they serve as transport if nothing else. And I think there was that one merchant who stayed by Atlantis for a few days to do repairs, and witnessed the dragons playing ball, though I don't know how accurate that is. In truth, I have no idea for what reason they keep dragons. Perhaps just to keep them.
The bigger question is where they got them, but no one knows the answer to that.
Lantica, Potter's dragon who was our guard for most of our imprisonment, wasn't very forthcoming, and she offered very little answers to our many questions. She did ask many questions of her own, however, mostly about the world outside Atlantis – so I believe all the dragons hatched on Atlantis, from the first to last. Lantica did boast about being the first, the oldest of the dragons on the island. I did wonder if that made Potter the island's leader, him having harnessed the first dragon of Atlantis.
"No. I became the leader of dragons because my Harry is the leader of the people," Lantica said to that, so I suppose not.
They treated us very well, while they had us. We were well fed – mostly fish soup, but it was usually accompanied by an enormous bowl of salad. I now know that the salad was mostly made of sunflowers, it being the most eaten green on the island. And of course… there was water aplenty. Indeed, that very night we were taken to Atlantis' bathhouse to wash ourselves. And while not quite as pleasant as the heated baths of Loch Laggan, it was… something.
So in no way were we mistreated during our captivity, but it lasted for days and for most of those days we were kept in our cell, under the watchful eye of dragons. The only time we saw people was when they brought our food, and while those people sometimes lingered, they offered no information, only questions.
It was through them that we figured out why Atlantis refused the title of a British settlement. While there were British people present, there were many others. An Indian girl named Parvati was one of our guards while Lantica was elsewhere – she too was captain to a dragon, a little green lightweight. There was also a black boy with a blue-grey dragon – Dean, I think his name was. There were others – in passing, I heard French, Russian and many other languages spoken on the island. It was a multinational settlement and Lord only knows how it came about.
On the second day, I was taken from our cell alone. They knew I was the highest ranking officer in the group, and Potter wanted to interrogate me alone. It was a short and somewhat strange interrogation. It happened at what I assume was the central square of the town – with people and dragons wandering in and out and watching all the while. We were sat on the edge of a beautiful water fountain and it was almost as if I was a guest on a tour, and not a prisoner.
"How likely are they to actually open fire on us?" was the first question Potter asked. And in that face of the treatment we'd gotten, and the reality of the settlement, I couldn't be anything other than honest.
"So long as they are unaware of the dragons… very," I admitted. "Atlantis' location is immeasurably valuable, and you made it liveable. So long as they think that there is any chance of capturing it, they will not stop trying to do so. Eventually, they will resort to firing on the settlement. They will fire a warning shot first, to show what we are capable of. And if that doesn't force your surrender…"
Potter had suspected as much, and for all of his confidence about the settlement's ability to defend itself, he was not so confident about it coming out of such a bombardment unscathed.
"I was hoping to get out of this without any excessive use of force," Potter admitted grimly. "But I guess there is no way around it. If they won't stop and leave without being forced to… then we will force them."
What he planned precisely, I had no way of knowing then. I assumed the dragons might attack the ships, dropping bombs from aloft. If they had bombs to use and if their aim was true, they could have easily destroyed all of the ships as long as they stayed out of the range of the pepper guns. It would be a devastating attack and many men would die no matter what.
I thought I understood then why Potter wished to stop things from getting to that. For a seemingly peaceful settlement, it was an excessive use of force and the message it would send was very brutal.
In the end, though, what Potter planned was not executed that day – or even the day after.
Because that was the day when the French arrived.
All of this is what I learned after the event from those who actually saw it. For that entire day, those of us who were captured by the Atlanteans were wholly out of the loop. But what transpired has been well enough recoded, and I think I can give an accurate enough description.
The French ships – five of them – were spotted late in that afternoon, and Captain Foley made his decision there. While there was no question about the Goliath being able to hold her ground even in a more dire situation, it wasn't something anyone wished to risk in such a shaky situation. Our three against the French five wasn't a favourable position, unless another element could be added.
Defending Atlantis from the French would be easier than taking it from them – and if even a couple of guns could be transported from on board one of our ships to the island, it would give a fourth angle to the fight, which, while limited in its range, could decide the battle before the end. And if nothing else, a few sharpshooters stationed on the island could do considerable damage on the French forces from behind the fortifications of Atlantis' walls.
Sentimentality for the young settlers of Atlantis meant little when faced against an oncoming enemy, after all. And I suppose there was an element of protectiveness too – surely the settlers would have far better chances of survival with British forces fully in control.
And so it was decided, and as quickly as possible, an attack was mounted. What men could be spared from preparing the ships for the battle packed onto jollyboats and made for the island, with every intention of capturing it by force.
It was an ugly affair, I understand. Potter met the men on shore as he always did and was immediately put at gun point along with everyone in his delegation, all concern for the youth of those in that delegation wholly gone on our side. There was something of a scuffle – while Potter himself wasn't hurt, some of his people were struck. No one died, but I understand that it was a close thing. In the end, Potter surrendered, and led the men to the town proper.
And at that point, the dragons of Atlantis made their presence known. Lantica was with us at that time, watching over us as she usually did, but she was gone at the first sound of a dragon's roar. And while we were left alone and confused behind impenetrable stone bars, we heard only the roar of dragons and the occasional crack of gunfire. The distinctive sounds of battle.
It wasn't a long battle, however. And it wasn't entirely without casualties. The dragons took some hits, I understand, as did Potter's people – and of what came of our forces, eight people died. Not, as the stories say, to being eaten alive.
They were burned alive.
In the end, the battle ended almost as quickly as it had begun. It was messy, chaotic, and brutal, and it is a small miracle that we didn't lose more people than we did. In one moment, Atlantis went from what we thought was a feeble, naïve colony to a considerable military might. And though the dragons of Atlantis are only middling in size even at their biggest, there is great strength in their numbers.
And in the fact that at least a small number of them could breathe fire.
In any case, it put a quick and brutal end to the battle. The force sent to attack and capture the island was quickly and efficiently rounded up. And as they were brought to join us in our imprisonment, the confusion on board the ships themselves only grew. While they knew not what had transpired, they saw the dragons at least – a number of them flew to shore afterwards. So now our forces had not only the French to contend with, but the unexpected draconic forces of Atlantis herself, and the loss of the men sent to the island as well.
The men who joined us in our captivity were a sorry sight. Singed and burn-marked and horrified, few of them could do more than gibber in horror – one wept openly the whole night. He'd seen a friend of his burned alive, and I do not think he ever recovered from it. Even those who came out of the battle relatively unscathed were rattled and confused. It was from them that we learned about the French and the approaching danger. It was from us that they learned about how badly a position we were truly in.
Even then, it took a good while for them to understand what had happened – what they had been up against.
Potter, in the meanwhile, was furious. While I know that Atlanteans hadn't lost anybody, there had been numerous injuries, and the dragons were stirred up and angry – a lot of them had received gunshot wounds as well. It was a small wonder that they didn't launch an all-out assault on our ships there and then.
"There is a fourteen year old girl here who almost lost her life, who might yet lose her leg," he told us later. "I hope it was worth it."
Of course we defended ourselves – our losses were far heavier than theirs. We lost men; eight good men had actually died to their dragons. Potter was utterly unsympathetic about that. "You attacked us," he said and nothing else. And judging by how the dragons watching over us afterwards growled at us, they felt no sympathy for our cause either. No one on the island did.
It was, indeed, a small wonder that the dragons didn't attack our ships, but they didn't. After securing their defences and making sure that the invaders were imprisoned, they sat on the shore like watch dogs, keeping a keen eye on the ships – sitting well in cannon range, but presenting numbers that was both alarming and confusing. Where had Atlanteans kept the dragons, and how could they feed them all on that small island? No one had answers, and no time to ponder on them – for the French were approaching fast.
They must've seen the dragons at a distance, for they came under a white flag of truce, keeping a distance from our ships and approaching the island by all accounts peacefully. I have no doubt that their orders were the same as ours, though the French had one clear advantage over us. They hadn't made such an abysmal first impression.
So far we had consistently insulted the Atlanteans and threatened them; we had tried to attack them in secret, and a small number of us had been captured by the Atlanteans; and now we had attempted and failed horribly at invasion. All told, we had made the worst showing of our good will we possibly could have. It is something of an understatement that the Atlanteans held no love for us, never mind the fact that the majority of them seemed to be English.
The French were far more cautious, and with the dragons present and growling at any move made by our ships, there was little the British could do but watch as the French sent a delegation of their own. No one knows how it went – Potter met the French representatives on the shore, with dragons all around them watching the whole meeting. They spoke for about half an hour, and eventually the French delegation returned to their ship. Though there is no way of knowing what was truly covered in that meeting, I think I can guess at it with some accuracy, hypothesizing from the nature of Atlanteans as far as I knew it.
And of course there is the evidence from the years that followed. There are no embassies on Atlantis, and no outsider has ever been allowed to settle there. Neither the British, the French, nor the Americans – Atlantis' most common trade partners – have been allowed to even stay for a prolonged period of time in the island's vicinity.
So, whatever the French offered, Potter's answer was no doubt the same as it had been for us. The French made several trips to the shore to talk further, possibly to offer Atlantis treaties and gifts, but even those trips were recorded to be short, and they always ended with the French returning to their ships. As far as we know, Atlantis never accepted anything but fair trade from the French. Or anyone else for that matter.
What followed after the French had made their offers was a tense period of waiting. The British watched the French, the French watched the British, and everyone was being watched over by over two dozen extremely vexed dragons. For a good day or so, no one dared to do anything, only waiting for the first to break the sudden three way standoff. And all the while, the French tried to treat further with the Atlanteans. Even with the Atlanteans’ obvious disinterest in the French’s offerings, it wasn't a good position for us either. Something had to give.
It wasn't until the second day after the French had set anchor that Captain Foley dared to send a man – a single man, one of his younger midshipmen actually – on shore. Humbly, he asked the Atlanteans to make their terms, to lay down the conditions under which they would be willing to release their prisoners.
I don't think Potter had been expecting that. He was prepared for nothing but opposition – he was prepared to fight to keep his ground. Even if he now had a far larger number of prisoners and all the reason in the world to bear a grudge, he wasn't expecting us to bend first; he wasn't expecting compromises.
I think that was why I was taken out to meet him again. I remember it very clearly – it was just past noon, and the sun was at its brightest. I was taken to one of the sunflower fields, one where the flowers were still young, their buds heavy and still bent low. Another strange place for an interrogation.
"What do your people want?" Potter asked me, pacing back and forth along the field, obviously displeased.
I admit I wasn't quite prepared for the question, or the vehemence with which Potter asked it. "Of Atlantis?" I asked cautiously.
"I know what you want of Atlantis – you want your bloody port here, to make your trade and transatlantic travel easier," Potter answered. "But what do I need to do to get you to go away? You and the bloody French."
What we wanted was indeed a port on Atlantis, but I knew now that it was an unachievable goal. Try as I might, I could not come up with a conceivable way that it could be achieved even in the future, not with Atlantis' firm standing on the island, and their dragons. Small though they were, they had the home advantage – they controlled the land and they obviously had the means to feed their dragons. And at least one of the breeds present was a fire breathing one.
Of course now we know that it wasn't just one. It was all of them – every dragon on Atlantis, from the first to last, can breathe fire.
No, I am not exaggerating in the least. Every single dragon on Atlantis can breathe fire. It's well documented and I believe it's the reason why the belief that all dragons breathe fire is so far spread. On Atlantis, they do indeed. There was even a treatise by that naturalist, I'm afraid I've quite forgotten his name, the one who happened to be on-board a merchantman anchored off the shore of Atlantis when they had one of their fire ceremonies. I understand it's an aerial dance by the dragons of Atlantis in which they breathe fire in patterns. I hear it's an incredible sight, though I have never seen it myself.
I didn't know then that they were all firebreathers, however. But even one firebreather can devastate a fleet of ships. There is nothing more dangerous to a ship than a firebreathing dragon.
So no, I could not think of a way that we could ever capture the island. So with that and the failed attack still fresh on my mind, I decided to again be honest with Potter. "If we can be secure in the knowledge that our enemies will not establish fortifications here," I said. "While not the optimal solution for us, it would be… preferable to the alternative."
"Right," Potter said. "If you can't have it, then no one should."
Something of a cynic, the leader of Atlantis. But considering what he was up against – and what he had to protect – I suppose he had the right.
"That's not enough for me, though," he said. "What do I need to do to make sure you don't just come back with more ships?"
I didn't give an answer to that – there was no answer I could give. Though Atlantis was in a fairly good position as it stood, it was still only a single solitary island. And though its resources were obviously plentiful enough to feed its people and dragons both, I did not think those resources were infinite. The island's location remained valuable, never mind the value of the island's firebreathing dragons – something the Parliament would have given anything to possess.
While I doubted that anyone could take the island, I didn't think no one would ever try. There would be attempts. There would be many attempts.
"I see," Potter said at my silence. "Fine, then."
I wasn't there when Potter laid out his own ultimatum to our forces, but it's been written down some hundreds of times. I even know the actual wording of what Potter said to Mr. Levitt. "I will give you your men back and you will leave. If you don't, I will sink your ships one by one until one way or the other you'll be gone."
The full conditions that Potter gave were much like his original ones. Atlantis would welcome merchants in the future, even British ones. But if a British Navy vessel came anywhere near Atlantis again, it would be summarily sunk. I understand the French got a similar warning, though theirs was perhaps less severe than the one we got.
That evening, we were shuffled off to the shoreline, where our dead had already been laid out, eight bodies wrapped respectfully in white linens. It took two jolly boats to get us back to the Goliath, where Captain Foley met us with grim relief.
"Can we take the island?" he asked me.
And I said, simply, "No."
It was largely thanks to Mr. Levitt that we did not set sail immediately – he refused to give up; he refused to accept that we had failed in our mission – but part of that was also due to the French. It was a precarious position we were in, and though we were both being banished from Atlantis, there was a chance that it would still come down to a battle between us – indeed, we were expecting it. So we hesitated and lingered – we thought we had some time before the dragons would attack, and we could still get away. We convinced ourselves that we had time to prepare.
So instead of setting sail immediately, we kept an eye on the French, lamented on the frustrating waste of it all, cursed Atlantis and its dragons, and mourned our dead. And so, an hour passed. And while we were waiting for the dragons to set to wing and start their attack, and for the French to set sail, and for the wind to turn as it was…
One of our ships started to take in water.
It just started sinking, with no warning and no discernible damage – water simply started seeping in through the seams, and holes broke open seemingly for no reason at all, and for all that the ship's crew attempted to patch her up, nothing stopped it. Shoring gave away and oakum didn't hold and all the while the ship took in more and more water. Within an hour, the bilge was full to the brim. Half an hour after that, they began transporting goods to the Goliath post-haste, the situation having been declared hopeless.
The French had a similar problem – the smallest of their frigates, a pretty little 34-gun, was already sinking deeper than our 38-gun escort. One ship sinking without visible reason could have been chalked off as some strange, peculiar accident, but two of them at the exact same time in the exact same fashion?
Atlantis delivered her threat swiftly and brutally – she sank two ships in a single go, and to this day no one knows how they did it. Oh there are theories aplenty – the most popular one is that along with their firebreathing dragons, the Atlanteans must have tamed sea serpents as well, and at their demand the sea serpents attack whomever the Atlanteans deem their enemy. There is no proof of that, no proof of anything – only of their undisputed ability to sink any ship in the near vicinity if they want to, at any point they wish to. Indeed, every survivor of a Sinking of Atlantis swears that nothing attacked them. They simply sank.
I think so far Atlantis has sunk more than a dozen ships during various engagements, perhaps more. While I still hold that with the dragons present the island is nearly impossible to take, the dragons hardly ever take part in Atlantis' engagements. They simply don't need to.
It is an efficient and strangely gentle way of ending a battle. No one was hurt during the sinking of those first two ships, no one drowned. The ships' descent to the bottom was slow enough that they could not only be easily evacuated, but their stores could be largely saved as well. While the men and the goods they had preserved were transported on board the Goliath, we watched helpless as the ship sank – shortly followed by the little French frigate.
And all the while, the Atlanteans watched from the shore – Harry Potter among them, with Lantica sitting beside him. They didn't cheer, they made no noise. They simply watched. That, somehow, made the whole thing even worse.
The moment we had our men and goods on board, we began hastily preparing for the sea. The French did the same. There was no question about the Atlanteans’ commitment anymore – they would sink all our ships, one by one, if we stayed. So, we made to leave. But before we did – just as we started unfurling our sails – Atlantis delivered its last warning.
It began with a ball of fire that shot out from shore, flew between our two forces and fell to the ocean where it finally sizzled out.
It's the ability of one of their dragons – Lantica's breed, though I unfortunately do not know its name. It's yet another mystery of Atlantis, how it is possible, but that particular breed of dragons has the ability to spit out a sustained ball of flame that can achieve a good two hundred yards and more of distance. I think it was suspected that they spit out a flaming liquid of some sort, similar to acid spitting perhaps, which will then burn as long as there is liquid left to sustain the flame.
The first fire ball was followed by two, flying in tandem and splashing down into the water nearly at equal distance. And then four. And finally six, all of them achieving same distance, landing near in the same spot. A rhythmic, choreographed showing of force, the distances and accuracy their dragons could achieve.
At any time they could have set our ships aflame, had they so wished, and their dragons would have never needed to even spread their wings. I can only imagine what sort of distances they can achieve from aloft.
It was in a bitter and hollow mood that we finally left the Island of Fire behind.
We still have more questions about Atlantis than we have answers – the initial question of where they get their building materials is the least of them all. I've seen drawings of what Atlantis looks like these days. They've added a good number of buildings, some of them more than four stories tall. They've added a harbour to the island as well, with a stone pier that extends a good hundred yards off the shore. They now buy goods solely to trade them away. And, of course, they still admit no settlers and allow no true visitors.
Where do their dragons come from? No one knows. And though I have heard of attempts to trace their origins, there are still no definite answers. Where did the Atlanteans themselves come from, and how did they end up settling on the island in such a fashion? No one knows that either. How did they find water on the island? It's among the best kept secrets of the island.
Will it ever be conquered? So long as the Sinking of Atlantis remains within their capability, I highly doubt it.
Overall, I do not think the Atlanteans are evil people, no matter what others say. They are unfriendly, no question about it, and ferociously isolationistic. And so long as Potter lives, I doubt it very much that Atlantis would ever side with another nation. So long as they remain self-sufficient, they will keep to themselves. But that is not inherently evil. And perhaps it is best for everyone involved in this war that Atlantis remains aloof.
Would I like to visit the place again? Perhaps.
But not, I think, whilst on board a warship.