Table of content

Chapter 3 Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Cowering from the storm, twenty frightful men huddled close for warmth, crouching beneath the scant protection of a rude shelter, hastily thrown together at the first warning of the impending deluge.

Matted hair covered their heads and faces, almost concealing their close-set, wicked eyes, and black hair grew no less profusely upon their shapeless bodies, their long, gorilla-like arms and their short, crooked, stubby legs.

They were bent and crooked men with low brows and beast-like faces. Like gnomes or hobgoblins they seemed; but they were not. They were men of a sort, men of a low and degraded type, bearing down through countless ages more of the attributes of the ape-like men from whom we are all supposed to be descended than are apparent in normal men.

These twenty were outcasts from the golden city of Opar, where La, the High Priestess of The Flaming God, reigns supreme, since Cadj, the wicked High Priest, is dead.

They had been the followers of Cadj and traitors all to La, and now, with Cadj dead, they had fled Opar and were wandering the trackless jungle in search of some secluded spot where they might build themselves a new temple.

All night they crouched in the cold and wet, but with the first faint gleam of dawn they stirred, one by one, and looked about them.

Gulm was the first to rise to his feet. In one hand he carried a knotted cudgel. A leather cord about his thick waist supported a crude knife. From beneath beetling brows he glowered about him through the darkness. He turned his face toward the east. The rain ceased. The sky was cloudless.

Gulm kicked those nearest him. "Up," he commanded. "Up and make ready to greet the coming of the Flaming God who brings a new day."

His fellows stirred. One by one they arose, sluggishly, beast-like. Some of them growled almost like animals. The sky in the east grew rapidly lighter. The Equatorial day was rolling out of the black heavens with all its wonted suddenness. It revealed the hideous twenty—uncouth, filthy. But what is this? It is no gnarled and awful man that lies huddled in the mud at the center of the fetid pack. Its body and its limbs are symmetrical; it's skin is white, even through the mud that is caked upon it. Matted hair covers its shapely head, but it is not coarse, black hair—it is fine and silky and blond.

Prodded by some of the creatures near it, it arose, stiffly, painfully—a girl, a little white girl with golden hair.

"Hurry!" commanded Gulm.

Two of the frightful men seized the girl and dragged her from the shelter out into the open. Gulm pointed toward the east, and mechanically, dully, the girl faced the rising sun and stood motionless, almost automatically.

Behind her the twenty sun worshippers knelt in the mud, facing the east, and Gulm led them in a weird, savage chant as the great, red orb of day rose slowly above the unseen horizon.

From the heart of the dense forest they could not actually witness the rising sun, but Gulm timed the matutinal exercise so that it might coincide as closely as possible with the event.

The brief ceremony concluded, the men turned their attention to breakfast. Everything was too water-soaked from the recent rain to permit of fire making and so from dirty loin cloths, bits of raw or half-cooked meat were produced and squatting in the mud, the brutes ate a meager and a cold breakfast.

Gulm, swallowing, turned to one of his fellows to speak.

"How much further, Blk," he demanded, "to the place you found where we may build a new temple to carry on our worship?"

"One march, maybe two," replied the low-browed Blk indifferently.

"It must not be long," said Gulm. "If we do not soon construct a temple to the Flaming God and offer Him a sacrifice, in His anger He will destroy us all—every one of us!"

"Have we not found Him a new high priestess?" demanded another.

"Aye," assented Gulm, "but He must have His sacrifice. The Flaming God must eat and He looks to Gulm, His High Priest, to furnish Him His food, and Gulm looks to you, the lesser priests of the Flaming God, to find and fetch it. With Cadj dead and La turned against the ancient sacrificial customs of the ages, the Flaming God has only us to serve Him. He is very angry. All the hardships that we have endured since we were driven from Opar were but evidences of His displeasure. The storm of yesterday was, I feared, a sign of the termination of His mercy. Gulm believed that we were to be destroyed with all the world; but He has permitted us to live yet a while longer. He has given us another chance. But it was a sign—a sign that we must no longer ignore. The Flaming God must have a sacrifice. If no other can be found it must be one of us!"

His eyes roved savagely about among his fellows—eyes lit with the flaming maniacal fire of religious insanity.

Ulp glanced toward the little girl and jerked his head in her direction.

"Why not she?" he demanded, for he knew that, not being overly popular with Gulm, he might as readily be chosen by the high priest as another if it became necessary to choose a sacrifice from among their own ranks.

"No!" screamed Gulm and leaping upon Ulp he struck him down. "Who dares think harm to the High Priestess of The Flaming God should die."

Ulp scrambled to his feet and ran quickly out of Gulm's reach.

"I did not think harm," Ulp cried; "I but asked a question."

"Ask no more questions," warned Gulm. "No more questions at all."

"No," promised Ulp.

"I shall see that you do not have the opportunity," Gulm assured him, "for if we do not soon find a more suitable sacrifice you will be chosen."

Gulm growled and was silent.

Ulp squatted on his heels in the mud and devoured the remainder of his breakfast. So slightly removed from the lower orders was he that the threat of imminent death did not affect his appetite. However, he did not wish to die and so his cunning, brutal brain was occupied with muddy schemings for diverting Gulm's dislike from him to some other unfortunate member of the band.

While the brute-men ate so also did the little girl. From a pocket of her torn and dishevelled clothing she took a bit of cooked meat that she had saved from the last meal.

Ravenous, overpowering hunger had long since broken down the last barrier of fastidiousness and like any other starving animal she ate to live, little though her palate relished the cold, tough, unseasoned meat that formed the bulk of her diet.

Even through the dirt and the evidences of hardship and hunger that were written so plainly upon her face and figure it was quite apparent that the little golden-haired girl had been very pretty. Indeed, she was still very pretty, but in a wan, thin, hopeless way that yet suggested the rounding contours, the rosy cheeks, the happy, smiling countenance of another day.

No one, to look at her, could have thought it possible that she had always lived among these hideous men or that she was in any slightest way related to them.

Nor had she always lived among them, nor was she related to them.

For two months they had held her in captivity and, according to their standards, they had treated her well. In no way had they harmed her and they had protected her from the dangers and hardships of the jungle to the best of their abilities and to the extent of their limited knowledge.

They had let no savage beasts attack her, they served her with the choicest of their rough, scant food, they built a shelter for her at night, and during the storm they gathered thick about her that the warmth of their bodies might save her from the harmful results of her exposure to the cold rain.

They did not do these things because of any sentiments of kindness or humanity, since they were not endowed with such; but selfishly for the furtherance of their own ends because they believed that it pleased The Flaming God to be represented on earth by a high priestess and because they had been taught that this cruel God of theirs would accept no sacrifice except at the hands of a woman, or rather that he preferred to be thus served by a priestess rather than by a priest. Why, they did not know.

During the two months of her captivity they had taught the girl their crude and simple language, which is also the language of the great apes, though the vocabulary of the sun worshippers contains many words that are not in the vocabulary of the great apes.

They had taught her many of the simple duties of her office, leaving the more elaborate temple rites to the time that they should have located a new temple site and built their first altar.

They called her Kla, which is a contraction of the two words meaning New La, and already they worshipped her quite as fanatically as they had worshipped La herself.

The child, for Kla was only that, was no longer actually afraid of these terrible men, for she had learned that they would not harm her, but none the less was she unhappy and miserable among them, pining for her own home and her parents, longing for clean clothing, for the luxury of a bath, for good food and a warm bed; but most of all for the love and companionship and understanding of a people of her own kind—whom she was afraid she would never see again.

She did not hate Gulm or the others, for there had never been any hate in the heart of this little twelve-year-old girl, who was all sweetness and beauty and purity.

If they had searched the world over Gulm and his fellows could scarce have discovered another more fit to be a high priestess than was little Kla, had they been looking for a high priestess of love and charity and humanity; but the devotees of the Flaming God cared nothing for these attributes in their High Priestess and so after all Kla was not at all suited to their purpose, as they must surely discover when the time came that she must take part in some of the more terrible of their religious rites, and it was well for the little girl that she could not foresee all that was to be demanded of her in the days to come.

Breakfast concluded, the party set forth once more in the direction of the new temple site that Blk had discovered and toward which he had been guiding them for several days.

They had proceeded for perhaps an hour or possibly two when Blk, who was in the lead, suddenly halted, giving a signal that sent the entire twenty silently out of sight into the concealing verdure of the surrounding jungle.

Silence reigned. The soaking jungle steamed beneath the Equatorial sun. Faintly, from afar, came the sound of footfalls, but long before he could hear these Blk had known that something was approaching them along the great game trail they chanced to be following at the moment.

Some sense, unknown to the dim faculties of civilized men, had warned the jungle creature.

What was it that came down the game trail toward the twenty frightful men?

Table of content