On a warm afternoon, a small boy eagerly trailed along behind a young man as they crossed an open field outside a large city. The child gazed up at the man from time to time with a gaze of pure hero worship. The object of his youthful admiration accepted the boy’s affection and deference with an air of amusement that was not entirely free of a sense of approval.
“Well, lad, what say you? Do you approve of the Field of Heroes? I think it combines the splendors of nature with the accomplishments of man in a pleasing manner!” said the auburn-haired man as he gestured to a row of golden statues that dotted the lush green landscape.
The boy gazed wide-eyed at the gleaming statues and darted forward as he drew closer to the first one. He stopped in front of a statue of a powerfully built warrior who stood in a posture of regal defiance. The warrior’s eyes contained a determination and courage mixed with something benign. “Arion, who is he, or who was he?” asked Bzil.
Arion, high mage of Atlantis, smiled at Bzil and said, “Well might you phrase your questions exactly as you did, for that great champion of old is indeed one who was, and yet may still be!”
“I don’t understand!” said the boy. “Please, tell me more!”
Arion nodded and spread his blue cape beneath him as he sat down in front of the statue, gazing out across the field outside the City of the Golden Gate. “Bzil, for you to fully understand, you must know all about that legendary hero,” replied Arion. “It falls to me to tell you all I know about him. It will be my pleasure to idle away this sunny day by telling you the story of the mighty Atlas himself!
“Long ago, before there was the City of the Golden Gates or even an Atlantean Empire, people lived in a barbaric manner without laws or rules or any code of basic human decency,” he began. “In those dark days, the strongest men could oppress weaker people without fear of retribution or the sting of justice. To make matters worse, in those unenlightened times, men made merchandize of their fellow men. Slavery was a common practice, and evil warlords and their armies made life a cruel burden to many helpless victims!”
“You mean, there was no king or mage to make things right?” said Bzil. “No one stood up for poor people against the warlords and slavers?”
“Bzil, in any age when there are those who do evil, there must also inevitably be men and women who fight for the cause of justice, law, and order!” said Arion. “Atlas was such a hero. He had good reason to risk his life against slavers and warlords, since in many ways his life first began when he stared up at the face of a man who was both of these things.
“Atlas had known happiness and security until his sixth year. That year marked the end of his childhood, as well as the last time in his youth that he could call one place home. You see, one morning, seemingly like any other day, a band of murdering slavers fell upon the village and killed or carried off to slavery everyone except for a frightened and shocked Atlas. The boy’s father had managed to hide the brown-haired, bright-eyed boy in a cave before he died trying to protect his wife. When their cries reached his hiding place, Atlas crawled forward to the mouth of the cave to find his home ablaze. Moments later, he saw his father’s body sprawled in the dirt, as the brave warrior had tried to stop several slavers from carrying off his lovely mother. Before Atlas could react, she had been taken away along with the other women of the village to face a life as a slave.”
“I don’t understand how the gods could let that happen!” asked Bzil.
“High mage that I am, even I am occasionally left to wonder why the Weaver spins his pattern as he does,” said Arion. “The chief slaver was cruel and saw humans as a means to grow wealthy. Perhaps he let his savage army vent their brutality upon the villagers in order to make his name more fearsome to the other communities within the region. Perhaps he merely had no choice but to kill so many of the people, since they were too proud and fierce to submit to life in chains. In any case, Atlas survived and emerged from the safety of the dark cave to confront his father’s killer.”