For a moment Tarzan thought that by some strange freak
of fate a miracle had saved him, but when he realized the
ease with which the girl had, single-handed, beaten off
twenty gorilla-like males, and an instant later, as he saw
them again take up their dance about him while she addressed
them in a singsong monotone, which bore every evidence of
rote, he came to the conclusion that it was all but a part
of the ceremony of which he was the central figure.
After a moment or two the girl drew a knife from her girdle,
and, leaning over Tarzan, cut the bonds from his legs.
Then, as the men stopped their dance, and approached, she
motioned to him to rise. Placing the rope that had been
about his legs around his neck, she led him across the
courtyard, the men following in twos.
Through winding corridors she led, farther and farther
into the remoter precincts of the temple, until they came to a
great chamber in the center of which stood an altar. Then it
was that Tarzan translated the strange ceremony that had
preceded his introduction into this holy of holies.
He had fallen into the hands of descendants of the ancient
sun worshippers. His seeming rescue by a votaress of the
high priestess of the sun had been but a part of the mimicry
of their heathen ceremony--the sun looking down upon him
through the opening at the top of the court had claimed him
as his own, and the priestess had come from the inner
temple to save him from the polluting hands of worldlings--
to save him as a human offering to their flaming deity.
And had he needed further assurance as to the correctness
of his theory he had only to cast his eyes upon the brownish-
red stains that caked the stone altar and covered the floor
in its immediate vicinity, or to the human skulls which
grinned from countless niches in the towering walls.
The priestess led the victim to the altar steps. Again the
galleries above filled with watchers, while from an arched
doorway at the east end of the chamber a procession of females
filed slowly into the room. They wore, like the men,
only skins of wild animals caught about their waists with
rawhide belts or chains of gold; but the black masses of their
hair were incrusted with golden headgear composed of many
circular and oval pieces of gold ingeniously held together to
form a metal cap from which depended at each side of
the head, long strings of oval pieces falling to the waist.
The females were more symmetrically proportioned than
the males, their features were much more perfect, the shapes
of their heads and their large, soft, black eyes denoting far
greater intelligence and humanity than was possessed by
their lords and masters.
Each priestess bore two golden cups, and as they formed in
line along one side of the altar the men formed opposite them,
advancing and taking each a cup from the female opposite.
Then the chant began once more, and presently from
a dark passageway beyond the altar another female
emerged from the cavernous depths beneath the chamber.
The high priestess, thought Tarzan. She was a young woman
with a rather intelligent and shapely face. Her ornaments
were similar to those worn by her votaries, but much more
elaborate, many being set with diamonds. Her bare arms
and legs were almost concealed by the massive, bejeweled
ornaments which covered them, while her single leopard
skin was supported by a close-fitting girdle of golden rings
set in strange designs with innumerable small diamonds.
In the girdle she carried a long, jeweled knife, and in her
hand a slender wand in lieu of a bludgeon.
As she advanced to the opposite side of the altar she
halted, and the chanting ceased. The priests and priestesses
knelt before her, while with wand extended above them she
recited a long and tiresome prayer. Her voice was soft and
musical--Tarzan could scarce realize that its possessor
in a moment more would be transformed by the fanatical
ecstasy of religious zeal into a wild-eyed and bloodthirsty
executioner, who, with dripping knife, would be the first to
drink her victim's red, warm blood from the little golden cup
that stood upon the altar.
As she finished her prayer she let her eyes rest for the first
time upon Tarzan. With every indication of considerable
curiosity she examined him from head to foot. Then she
addressed him, and when she had finished stood waiting, as
though she expected a reply.
"I do not understand your language," said Tarzan.
"Possibly we may speak together in another tongue?"
But she could not understand him, though he tried French,
English, Arab, Waziri, and, as a last resort, the mongrel
tongue of the West Coast.
She shook her head, and it seemed that there was a note of
weariness in her voice as she motioned to the priests to
continue with the rites. These now circled in a repetition of
their idiotic dance, which was terminated finally at a command
from the priestess, who had stood throughout, still
looking intently upon Tarzan.
At her signal the priests rushed upon the ape-man, and,
lifting him bodily, laid him upon his back across the altar,
his head hanging over one edge, his legs over the opposite.
Then they and the priestesses formed in two lines, with
their little golden cups in readiness to capture a share of the
victim's lifeblood after the sacrificial knife had accomplished
In the line of priests an altercation arose as to who
should have first place. A burly brute with all the refined
intelligence of a gorilla stamped upon his bestial face was
attempting to push a smaller man to second place, but the
smaller one appealed to the high priestess, who in a cold
peremptory voice sent the larger to the extreme end of the line.
Tarzan could hear him growling and rumbling as he went
slowly to the inferior station.
Then the priestess, standing above him, began reciting
what Tarzan took to be an invocation, the while she slowly
raised her thin, sharp knife aloft. It seemed ages to the
ape-man before her arm ceased its upward progress and the
knife halted high above his unprotected breast.
Then it started downward, slowly at first, but as the
incantation increased in rapidity, with greater speed. At the
end of the line Tarzan could still hear the grumbling of the
disgruntled priest. The man's voice rose louder and louder.
A priestess near him spoke in sharp tones of rebuke. The knife
was quite near to Tarzan's breast now, but it halted for an
instant as the high priestess raised her eyes to shoot her swift
displeasure at the instigator of this sacrilegious interruption.
There was a sudden commotion in the direction of the
disputants, and Tarzan rolled his head in their direction
in time to see the burly brute of a priest leap upon the
woman opposite him, dashing out her brains with a single
blow of his heavy cudgel. Then that happened which Tarzan
had witnessed a hundred times before among the wild denizens
of his own savage jungle. He had seen the thing fall
upon Kerchak, and Tublat, and Terkoz; upon a dozen of the
other mighty bull apes of his tribe; and upon Tantor,
the elephant; there was scarce any of the males of the forest
that did not at times fall prey to it. The priest went mad,
and with his heavy bludgeon ran amuck among his fellows.
His screams of rage were frightful as he dashed hither
and thither, dealing terrific blows with his giant weapon, or
sinking his yellow fangs into the flesh of some luckless victim.
And during it the priestess stood with poised knife above
Tarzan, her eyes fixed in horror upon the maniacal thing
that was dealing out death and destruction to her votaries.
Presently the room was emptied except for the dead and
dying on the floor, the victim upon the altar, the high
priestess, and the madman. As the cunning eyes of the latter
fell upon the woman they lighted with a new and sudden lust.
Slowly he crept toward her, and now he spoke; but this
time there fell upon Tarzan's surprised ears a language he
could understand; the last one that he would ever have
thought of employing in attempting to converse with human
beings--the low guttural barking of the tribe of great
anthropoids--his own mother tongue. And the woman answered
the man in the same language.
He was threatening--she attempting to reason with him, for it
was quite evident that she saw that he was past her authority.
The brute was quite close now--creeping with clawlike hands
extended toward her around the end of the altar.
Tarzan strained at the bonds which held his arms pinioned
behind him. The woman did not see--she had forgotten
her prey in the horror of the danger that threatened herself.
As the brute leaped past Tarzan to clutch his victim, the
ape-man gave one superhuman wrench at the thongs that held him.
The effort sent him rolling from the altar to the stone
floor on the opposite side from that on which the priestess
stood; but as he sprang to his feet the thongs dropped from
his freed arms, and at the same time he realized that he
was alone in the inner temple--the high priestess and the
mad priest had disappeared.
And then a muffled scream came from the cavernous mouth
of the dark hole beyond the sacrificial altar through which the
priestess had entered the temple. Without even a thought for
his own safety, or the possibility for escape which this rapid
series of fortuitous circumstances had thrust upon him,
Tarzan of the Apes answered the call of the woman in danger.
With a little bound he was at the gaping entrance to the
subterranean chamber, and a moment later was running down
a flight of age-old concrete steps that led he knew not where.
The faint light that filtered in from above showed him
a large, low-ceiled vault from which several doorways led off
into inky darkness, but there was no need to thread an unknown
way, for there before him lay the objects of his search--the
mad brute had the girl upon the floor, and gorilla-like
fingers were clutching frantically at her throat as she
struggled to escape the fury of the awful thing upon her.
As Tarzan's heavy hand fell upon his shoulder the priest
dropped his victim, and turned upon her would-be rescuer.
With foam-flecked lips and bared fangs the mad sun-worshiper
battled with the tenfold power of the maniac. In the
blood lust of his fury the creature had undergone a sudden
reversion to type, which left him a wild beast, forgetful of
the dagger that projected from his belt--thinking only of
nature's weapons with which his brute prototype had battled.
But if he could use his teeth and hands to advantage, he
found one even better versed in the school of savage warfare
to which he had reverted, for Tarzan of the Apes closed
with him, and they fell to the floor tearing and rending at one
another like two bull apes; while the primitive priestess
stood flattened against the wall, watching with wide, fear-
fascinated eyes the growing, snapping beasts at her feet.
At last she saw the stranger close one mighty hand upon
the throat of his antagonist, and as he forced the bruteman's
head far back rain blow after blow upon the upturned face.
A moment later he threw the still thing from him, and,
arising, shook himself like a lion. He placed a foot
upon the carcass before him, and raised his head to give the
victory cry of his kind, but as his eyes fell upon the opening
above him leading into the temple of human sacrifice he
thought better of his intended act.
The girl, who had been half paralyzed by fear as the two
men fought, had just commenced to give thought to her
probable fate now that, though released from the clutches of
a madman, she had fallen into the hands of one whom but a
moment before she had been upon the point of killing.
She looked about for some means of escape. The black mouth
of a diverging corridor was near at hand, but as she
turned to dart into it the ape-man's eyes fell upon her, and
with a quick leap he was at her side, and a restraining hand
was laid upon her arm.
"Wait!" said Tarzan of the Apes, in the language of the
tribe of Kerchak.
The girl looked at him in astonishment.
"Who are you," she whispered, "who speaks the language
of the first man?"
"I am Tarzan of the Apes," he answered in the vernacular
of the anthropoids.
"What do you want of me?" she continued. "For what
purpose did you save me from Tha?"
"I could not see a woman murdered?" It was a half question
that answered her.
"But what do you intend to do with me now?" she continued.
"Nothing," he replied, "but you can do something for me--you
can lead me out of this place to freedom." He made the
suggestion without the slightest thought that she would accede.
He felt quite sure that the sacrifice would go on from the
point where it had been interrupted if the high priestess
had her way, though he was equally positive that they would
find Tarzan of the Apes unbound and with a long dagger
in his hand a much less tractable victim than Tarzan
disarmed and bound.
The girl stood looking at him for a long moment before
"You are a very wonderful man," she said. "You are
such a man as I have seen in my daydreams ever since I
was a little girl. You are such a man as I imagine the
forbears of my people must have been--the great race of people
who built this mighty city in the heart of a savage world that
they might wrest from the bowels of the earth the fabulous
wealth for which they had sacrificed their far-distant civilization.
"I cannot understand why you came to my rescue in the
first place, and now I cannot understand why, having me
within your power, you do not wish to be revenged upon
me for having sentenced you to death--for having almost
put you to death with my own hand."
"I presume," replied the ape-man, "that you but followed
the teachings of your religion. I cannot blame YOU for that,
no matter what I may think of your creed. But who are you
--what people have I fallen among?"
"I am La, high priestess of the Temple of the Sun, in the
city of Opar. We are descendants of a people who came to
this savage world more than ten thousand years ago in search
of gold. Their cities stretched from a great sea under the
rising sun to a great sea into which the sun descends at night
to cool his flaming brow. They were very rich and very
powerful, but they lived only a few months of the year in
their magnificent palaces here; the rest of the time they
spent in their native land, far, far to the north.
"Many ships went back and forth between this new world
and the old. During the rainy season there were but few
of the inhabitants remained here, only those who
superintended the working of the mines by the black slaves,
and the merchants who had to stay to supply their wants,
and the soldiers who guarded the cities and the mines.
"It was at one of these times that the great calamity occurred.
When the time came for the teeming thousands to return none came.
For weeks the people waited. Then they sent out a great galley
to learn why no one came from the mother country, but though
they sailed about for many months, they were unable to find
any trace of the mighty land that had for countless ages
borne their ancient civilization--it had sunk into the sea.
"From that day dated the downfall of my people.
Disheartened and unhappy, they soon became a prey to the
black hordes of the north and the black hordes of the south.
One by one the cities were deserted or overcome. The last
remnant was finally forced to take shelter within this mighty
mountain fortress. Slowly we have dwindled in power, in
civilization, in intellect, in numbers, until now we are no
more than a small tribe of savage apes.
"In fact, the apes live with us, and have for many ages.
We call them the first men--we speak their language quite
as much as we do our own; only in the rituals of the temple
do we make any attempt to retain our mother tongue. In time
it will be forgotten, and we will speak only the language
of the apes; in time we will no longer banish those of our
people who mate with apes, and so in time we shall descend
to the very beasts from which ages ago our progenitors may
"But why are you more human than the others?" asked
"For some reason the women have not reverted to savagery
so rapidly as the men. It may be because only the
lower types of men remained here at the time of the great
catastrophe, while the temples were filled with the noblest
daughters of the race. My strain has remained clearer
than the rest because for countless ages my foremothers were
high priestesses--the sacred office descends from mother
to daughter. Our husbands are chosen for us from the noblest
in the land. The most perfect man, mentally and physically,
is selected to be the husband of the high priestess."
"From what I saw of the gentlemen above," said Tarzan,
with a grin, "there should be little trouble in choosing from
The girl looked at him quizzically for a moment.
"Do not be sacrilegious," she said. "They are very holy
men--they are priests."
"Then there are others who are better to look upon?" he asked.
"The others are all more ugly than the priests," she replied.
Tarzan shuddered at her fate, for even in the dim light of
the vault he was impressed by her beauty.
"But how about myself?" he asked suddenly. "Are you
going to lead me to liberty?"
"You have been chosen by The Flaming God as his own,"
she answered solemnly. "Not even I have the power to
save you--should they find you again. But I do not intend
that they shall find you. You risked your life to save mine.
I may do no less for you. It will be no easy matter--it may
require days; but in the end I think that I can lead you beyond
the walls. Come, they will look here for me presently, and
if they find us together we shall both be lost--they would
kill me did they think that I had proved false to my God."
"You must not take the risk, then," he said quickly. "I will
return to the temple, and if I can fight my way to freedom
there will be no suspicion thrown upon you."
But she would not have it so, and finally persuaded him
to follow her, saying that they had already remained in the
vault too long to prevent suspicion from falling upon her
even if they returned to the temple.
"I will hide you, and then return alone," she said, "telling
them that I was long unconscious after you killed Tha, and
that I do not know whither you escaped."
And so she led him through winding corridors of gloom,
until finally they came to a small chamber into which a little
light filtered through a stone grating in the ceiling.
"This is the Chamber of the dead," she said. "None will
think of searching here for you--they would not dare. I will
return after it is dark. By that time I may have found a
plan to effect your escape."
She was gone, and Tarzan of the Apes was left alone in
the Chamber of the dead, beneath the long-dead city of Opar.
Return of Tarzan Chapter 19
... Return of Tarzan Chapter 21