Guardians

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Chapter 13

Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco

Lord Christopher MacDougal sailed his yacht south along the Atlantic littoral of Western Europe, round Iberia and through the Straits of Gibraltar (or as he preferred to call them, the “Pillars of Hercules”). Once past the rocks he struck northeast across the Alboran and Balearic seas, toward the southeastern corner of France. It was a bit off his track, but it suited him to make a stop there, before returning to his course for the eastern Mediterranean.

The weather was far from tropical, but the Mercury a good six degrees Centigrade higher than it was in London that morning. Now the coast was coming into sight, the world-famous beaches and cliffs of Monaco straight ahead, and then its harbor, crowded with pleasure craft.

Many of those vessels dwarfed his boat. As far as he was concerned, gigantism was a matter of simple-mindedness and poor taste – if not decadence. Really, it was all rather vulgar, the green copper-roofed Casino, the gawking tourists lurking about the streets, hungry for a brush with glamour and affluence instead of tending to their own, smaller lives.

Yet, he found the occasional visit diverting, and saw no real harm in it for people of breeding. Besides, there was the beauty of the scenery, and the fact that even at its least tasteful Monte Carlo was infinitely more dignified than the concrete and neon eyesore that was Vegas. And it was not unsuited to the appointment he had that evening, an interview he’d agreed to grant a journalist, one Jeane Hansen, penning a piece for a God-awful American rag devoted to the paranormal who’d taken an interest in his present expedition to the Greek islands.

It was afternoon when MacDougal’s crewmen tied the yacht to the dock. He left most of them to their own devices until the next morning, then enjoyed his tea on deck while his man Pinkerton went ashore to pick up the vehicle they had arranged, a Bentley Mulsanne. That night Pinkerton chauffeured him to the Hotel de Paris, an extravagant white building across the street from the Casino, with a façade adorned by Belle Époque columns and spires.

With the energy of a man many years younger MacDougal strode up the steps past the gawkers to enter the baroquely gilded lobby. A bronze statue of Louis XIV on horseback stood in the center, the horse’s knees pale due to visitors’ habit of rubbing them for luck before heading across the street.

His destination was the restaurant on the top floor, the Grill. It was there that the reporter awaited him. They chatted amiably over their meal, with MacDougal answering the perfunctory questions about his life and career – largely, a matter of public record.

MacDougal flew with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War as a youth, aboard Halifax and Lancaster bombers making sorties over Germany. After the war ended he remained with Bomber Command, flying Valiant jet bombers in the Suez operation and during the Cuban Missile Crisis alert. The RAF transferred him to Vulcans after that, placing him in command of a squadron deployed to Singapore during the Konfrontasi with Indonesia. In 1973, he retired with the rank of Air Commodore.

After returning to civilian life MacDougal served on the board of the merchant bank Wellington & Weatherby, and following the elder MacDougal’s passing, took his father’s seat in the House of Lords.

Always the practical man of affairs, he admitted, as he was raised to be, but he had always loved the Classics, and the sea.

“Plato’s tale of Atlantis naturally exerted a powerful pull on my imagination from quite early on,” he said. “Alas, the great philosopher was able to tell us only so much, living so long after the event, and receiving the story at such a far remove from its original source.”

“What do you think of the theory that the devastation of Minoan civilization by the eruption of Thera was the basis of the Atlantis story?” Jeane asked.

Christopher laughed. “Yes, I’m well aware of the story. And I’ll allow that there are certain parallels. But it fails to satisfy in too many ways. For instance: that event dated to the sixteenth century Before the Common Era.

“However, this is far short of Plato’s dating the event to nine thousand years before his own time. Plato is also quite clear about the Atlanteans’ island being situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules, as it would have to be for the island to be ‘larger than Libya and Asia put together,’ and its imperium to extend eastward to encompass Libya to the Egyptian border, and Europe up to Tyrrhenia.

“It is a commonplace to assume that Plato’s numbers were off by an order of magnitude, but his naming of these places makes it clear that the Minoan civilization does not remotely match the description. Nor did the Minoans ever attempt the conquest of the Egyptians and the Hellenes to which Plato refers.”

“Still,” Jeane said, “Egypt and Greece don’t have histories going back to ten thousand B.C., do they?”

“There is evidence that ancient Egypt may be as old as that,” MacDougal said. “Take what we know about the weathering of the Great Sphinx of Giza, for instance. A scientific examination of the water erosion to which the Sphinx has been subject suggests it predates dynastic Egypt by many thousands of years. And while the Athens you learned about in school is that of the first millennium Before the Common Era, the area has been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times.

“Consider also the issue of the Atlantean threat to those societies, which they narrowly defeated. Atlantean civilization clearly excelled these other ancient cultures in material terms. Plato never taught that Atlantis was the progenitor of Greek and Egyptian civilization as so many later students of the issue suggest, but given these circumstances, and that we so often think of later Greek and Egyptian civilization – which would seem to have attained their ascendancy in the world following a comparative dark age – this interpretation is not implausible or unreasonable.

“Also consider that despite their material supremacy, the Atlanteans were defeated. It would seem that their weakness was of a quite non-material kind, described as the deterioration of the virtue that Plato speaks of their having prized above all things in the incomplete Critias. This was also the cause of the destruction of their island some time after their military defeat.

“These speculations seem extraordinary given the conventional history, but then we rarely consider how few our sources are for the orthodox version. And also, how often the stuff of myth turns into the stuff of history on closer examination. Until Schliemann, Troy, too, was thought to be a mere legend. Too little regard for the teachings of the ancients among the academics, I suppose,” he added, the note of disdain in his tone unmistakable.

That would probably go over well, he thought. The sort of people who read her publication were necessarily disposed toward such tweaking of the “conventional wisdom.”

“Which is all the more reason for interested amateurs to take an interest,” Jeane said agreeably.

“Exactly.” He sipped at his wine. “Something too little appreciated. Yet, I should acknowledge that some members of my team do have impeccable academic credentials, including Dr. Evelyn Fields, a tenured professor of maritime archaeology at the University of California . . .”

MacDougal thought he had the measure of this woman, an American expat who thought it was romantic to live from one uncertain paycheck to the next in Old Europe. Perhaps she even had fantasies of marrying a man with a title. (The “democratic” Americans tended to romanticize such things greatly, in his experience.) He knew full well that he was a little too old for her to be interested in him that way, at least without more encouragement than he had time or inclination to give her, but dinner with a genuine British lord clearly had its effect all the same.

Miss Hansen took her leave at dinner’s end, and MacDougal passed the rest of the evening at the gaming tables across the street, enjoying the benefits of his position as a man of leisure. Afterward he retired back to his yacht, aboard which he spent the night (in the cabin of Dr. Fields) prior to setting off again the next morning.

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