The Return of Tarzan

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 159

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

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