The Gods of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 94

saw one who
sat during the rites with closed eyes while a slave narrated to her the
events that were transpiring within the arena.

The first event of the day was the Tribute to Issus. It marked the end
of those poor unfortunates who had looked upon the divine glory of the
goddess a full year before. There were ten of them--splendid beauties
from the proud courts of mighty Jeddaks and from the temples of the
Holy Therns. For a year they had served in the retinue of Issus;
to-day they were to pay the price of this divine preferment with their
lives; tomorrow they would grace the tables of the court functionaries.

A huge black entered the arena with the young women. Carefully he
inspected them, felt of their limbs and poked them in the ribs.
Presently he selected one of their number whom he led before the throne
of Issus. He addressed some words to the goddess which I could not
hear. Issus nodded her head. The black raised his hands above his
head in token of salute, grasped the girl by the wrist, and dragged her
from the arena through a small doorway below the throne.

"Issus will dine well to-night," said a prisoner beside me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"That was her dinner that old Thabis is taking to the kitchens. Didst
not note how carefully he selected the plumpest and tenderest of the
lot?"

I growled out my curses on the monster sitting opposite us on the
gorgeous throne.

"Fume not," admonished my companion; "you will see far worse than that
if you live even a month among the First Born."

I turned again in time to see the gate of a nearby cage thrown open and
three monstrous white apes spring into the arena. The girls shrank in
a frightened group in the centre of the enclosure.

One was on her knees with imploring hands outstretched toward Issus;
but the hideous deity only leaned further forward in keener
anticipation of the entertainment to come. At length the apes spied
the huddled knot of terror-stricken maidens and with demoniacal shrieks
of bestial frenzy, charged upon them.

A wave of mad fury surged over me. The cruel cowardliness of the
power-drunk creature whose malignant mind conceived such frightful
forms of torture stirred to their uttermost depths my resentment and my
manhood. The blood-red haze that presaged death to my foes swam before
my eyes.

The guard lolled before the unbarred gate of the cage which confined
me. What need of bars,

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