The Laelaps always catches what it sets out to hunt. From the moment it decided to choose for itself - to leave Heracles and find its own friends instead - it was bound to find its way back to Atlantis. Unerringly it bounded over land and sea, faster than the wind, its surroundings nothing but a streaked blur, its path nothing but a silver leash of instinct sewn to its nose by the gods. Before the first mermaids were arriving with their gifts of starfish and lampreys, the Laelaps had returned to the little island where Monstro were gathered.
Without the power of speech, the dog could not recount its adventures. But the Echidna (who had thought him dead) was so delighted to see the Laelaps alive that she gathered it up in her arms and wept tears of lanolin over it, until its wet coat was foamy. The foam soaked into her clothing – trickled - and tickled her with feelings of eagerness and urgency that made her laugh even louder. When the dog stole her straw hat, and ran three times towards the shore, she gathered up her skirts and bellowed at the assembled company to follow the animal wherever it led.
“Lead the way, boy! Take us where them children are.”
Typhon, as he went, pulled up the standing stones the locals had carved into the crude likeness of the gods. It was not an act of sacrilege – he just liked to have something rattling in his pockets.
Lungs aching, arms flailing, Hylas and Thoősa found themselves drowning for a second time. Hylas expected the mermaids to grab him – could remember the purple bruises left on his arm where the Dryopes had held on to him. But there were no mermaids swimming alongside the sinking Trambelus any more. The water there had become too hot for them. The whiteness rising from the sea was not fog, at all, but steam.
Beneath the keel, bombarded by starfish, figureheads and coral combs, as Poseidon’s treasure sank to the seabed, Brass Man Talos was heating up. Like a pan coming to the boil he trembled a little and bubbles streamed from his nostrils. It made it hard for him to see the children falling towards him through several fathoms of sea.
But he caught them, even so. One in each hand, he raised them high, in the hollow of his palms, as if offering them up to the daylight. It brought them a little way short of the air, but when they stood up, they just broke surface with their upturned faces, coughing, gasping, plastering back wet hair so as to see.
The ship was belching black smoke out of the gashes in its sides. Threads of scarlet marked where burning ropes looped in disarray, and the mast glowed like a log in the grate. From within the smoke came the cries and prayers of the pirates.
And sailing towards it, on a collision course, came a far bigger vessel – mountainous as an iceberg, and strewn with passengers clinging on like barnacles.
Feet set wide apart for balance, Typhon all but straddled Cetus the sea monster To the gaping pirates, he appeared to scrape clouds from the sky with his scalp. As the distance closed between them, he began pitching the stone carvings from his pockets, hammers snatched from the Giants, whole sheep, and even his own shoes. And all the while, he bellowed vows to slaughter every men who had conspired to steal his Lucky Boy. The Laelaps yapped at his ankle, tiny alongside the massive Prince of Darkness.
The pirates must have thought they had moored over a skylight in Hades, for all around them ranged a boiling sea, and coming towards them were nightmare creatures. They had no sooner cut down their own mast, to be rid of the caterwauling mermaids, than a thousand kinds of ugly arrived, bent on ramming them with a sea monster big enough to fill the whole horizon.
The tusks of Cetus stove in the Trambelus, and over the rail came a farmyard of hooves, udders, feathers and hide - a vague impression of animal life none of the crew fully took in. They were too busy staring up at Typhon.
As the boarders stormed the ship, down on the seabed Talos shouldered the keel and prevented it slipping beyond reach of revenge. Typhon incinerated the sails and brought them down on man and monster alike. His rages were indiscriminate. The horses Xanthus and Balius took men between their teeth. The Furies battened on them, tearing skin. The cyclopses laid about them with foundry hammers. But the Giants, weighing too much for such a fragile battle ground, accidentally put their feet through the woodwork, breaking the planks like eggshell. The army of Monstro looked down through the jagged holes and, seeing water gushing into the hold, withdrew to their own stinky vessel. As a parting gift, the Echidna squeezed naphtha from her breasts, leaving large, inflammable pools.
That was when Typhon turned his eightyfold curse on the Trambelus and spewed fire over it from every mouth. Above and below the waterline it burned, cooking the sea urchins and squid sacs still skidding about the deck, pillowing the smooth ocean with black smoke.
For a second time Hylas and Thoősa were pulled from the water and into Xyno’s little boat. With fawning solicitude, Xyno wrung the water from Hylas’ hair and clothes, while Panacea and Thoősa held each other close and wept at the ghastly sound of a ship going up in flames.
Shrugging the keel off his shoulder, Talos allowed the burned-out hulk to settle on to the sea bed: it looked like a great lobster pot in among Poseidon’s drossy treasure. Then he walked back in the direction he had come, following the ventral fin of the Cetus. The heat of the water had made the sea monster’s white belly blush pink.
“Pink as a piglet,” mouthed Talos, and rejoiced in having perfected his ‘p’s. ‘P’s are the hardest consonant.
When Poseidon found his treasure gone, he was at a loss to know who had stolen it. He sent the dolphins and porpoises to search, and they found the pitiful scattering of valuables, in shallow ocean, around the hulk of a wrecked pirate ship. So the blame lighted on the pirates whose bodies lay around the wreck of their ship and who said nothing in their own defence. How mortal pirates had pillaged his treasure was quite beyond guessing. But Poseidon’s rage was as magisterial as that of a child who finds his favourite toys broken – a stamping tantrum that sent tremors through the world-encircled sea, shook the teeth out of basking shark and opened up volcanic seams. His fist clutched the sea’s smooth surface and creased it, tore its fabric, ragged holes in it while the hooligan wind shrieked and whistled. The mermaids kept their distance, watching swamped ships tumble to the bottom of the ocean. It solaced their broken hearts to play their favourite game: bearing up drowning sailors for a tantalizing minute or two before letting them go again.
The little island of Atlantis, being the piece of land closest to Poseidon’s tantrum, subsided like a sandcastle at high tide, leaving a littler of wooden and wicker flotsam. It became no more than a hill in the submarine landscape, its sandy soil eroding, leaving only its well and bread ovens to bewilder the coral and sea slugs.
The storm itself was remembered for decades by those who survived it… but forgotten in moments by the sea god himself who, like his fishy subjects, had a very short memory.
Even Cetus, caught in the fringes of the storm, was rolled over and over by giant waves. But though it shed barnacles and sea lice, it shed no passengers. They had all put ashore long before, on an inviting stretch of blonde coast punctuated with pincushion pines.