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Chapter 12 Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Doc, following cautiously up the bottom of the ravine, watching and listening ahead, lest he run into an ambush, gave no thought to any possible danger that might lurk behind him, and so he neither heard nor saw the silent thing that moved stealthily in his tracks.

With growing horror, Gretchen watched the construction of the altar that the lesser priests were hastily throwing together.

Strewn about the amphitheater were many fragments of flat limestone rock and these the priests were building into an oblong structure, about three feet high, with a more or less level top, four or five feet long and a couple of feet wide, its greater dimension lying due east and west.

During the building of the altar, two priests stood close upon either side of Dick, and now that it was finished, Gulm signaled to bring him forward and he also commanded the girl to approach. The lesser priests arranged themselves in a circle around the altar, at the foot of which stood Gulm.

"Take your place at the head of the altar, Kla," he said to the girl.

When the girl had done as he told her, Gulm nodded to the two priests, who held Dick, whereupon they lifted him to the altar, laying him there upon his back with his head toward the east end, where stood the new La.

One of the two priests who had placed Dick upon the altar stood at his feet to hold him, while the other stood close to Kla and held his arms. At a word from Gulm this one handed Kla his knife.

"It is your first sacrifice," said Gulm, addressing the girl. "A high priestess comes into full power only after her first sacrifice. The moment that the knife had drunk the blood of this creature you become in reality what you have been in name, high priestess of The Flaming God and ruler of the temple and the city that we shall build here. I shall repeat the prayer that later you will learn to repeat and the instant that I raise my hand above my head, you must strike."

"I cannot," said the girl.

"You cannot?" screamed Gulm. "But you will when you know that the fate of a high priestess, who refuses to make an offering to The Flaming God, is far more terrible than the death from which you would save this creature—a futile sacrifice on your part since, if you refuse, both of you shall die."

"What is he saying?" asked Dick in a whisper.

"He wants me to kill you with this knife," said Gretchen.

Dick closed his eyes. "What else did he say?" he asked.

"He said that if I do not kill you, they will kill you and they will kill me also."

Gulm was slowly chanting a long, monotonous prayer.

The priests were kneeling, their foreheads upon the ground.

"Do as he tells you," said Dick. "Doc is risking his life to save us. If we are both killed, it will be in vain. There is no chance for me, and I would rather feel that I am giving my life to save you than that I must die uselessly to gratify their lust for blood."

Gretchen closed her eyes and raised the knife high above her head.

Doc climbed cautiously upward and when he came to the body of Ulp, he stopped and withdrew his arrow from the lesser priest. As he did so, he became conscious, as we sometimes do, of a feeling that he was being watched—that unseen eyes were looking at him. He glanced quickly up the ravine in the direction the four sun worshippers had gone, but he saw no one. Then, he turned around, drawn by a horrid feeling that something was very close behind him.

With difficulty the boy smothered a horror-stricken scream. His knees weakened so that it was with an effort that he remained erect. He seemed to be held in a paralysis of fear that gripped every muscle in his body. He felt the goose flesh rise upon his cold skin, a sickening tremor ran up his spine and it seemed that his hair rose upon end.

Not five feet from him stood a great lion, its round, yellow-green eyes peering straight into his.

Doc tried to think of a prayer, but the only one he could remember was "Now I lay me down to sleep," and this he could only think, since his lips were stiff and his throat parched.

The time seemed to stretch to an eternity that the lion stood there glaring at him with those unblinking eyes, yet it was only a moment. Then the beast moved slowly toward him, but even then Doc could not break the spell of terror that held him paralyzed. Nearer and nearer came the dread carnivore. He could feel its hot breath upon his naked body. It rubbed its head against his side and then he felt its hot, rough tongue upon his hand.

Like a title flashed upon a screen, a sentence burned suddenly bright in Doc's memory: _"Do not touch him unless he comes and rubs his head against you."_

It was Jad-bal-ja!

Doc's knees gave way entirely and he sat down suddenly upon the hard ground. The golden lion looked at him questioningly and Doc laid his hand upon the beast's mane and buried his face in the great black collar, sobbing.

It was just for a moment that the reaction of the nervous strain he had undergone held him in its grip. Then he gained control of himself and sprang to his feet. Not far away Dick and Gretchen were in danger. The girl had told him that if he were going to save Dick he must do it at once. Perhaps even now it was too late.

"Quick, Jad-bal-ja," he cried, and he turned and started up the ravine at a run.

The golden lion, knowing that he was on the right trail, did not wait for the boy, but leaped swiftly on ahead.

Gulm, chanting his monotonous prayer, approached its end.

Kla was looking at him now, her blue eyes wide in terror, but held by some horrid fascination upon the face of the gnarled high priest.

Suddenly Gulm stopped his monotonous chanting, and raised his hand above his head.

"Strike!" he cried.

"I cannot," wailed Kla.

"Strike, or you die!" thundered Gulm.

"Strike," whispered Dick. "It is the only way."

Suddenly a priest shrieked and pointed, and the others looked and saw a great lion scrambling over the narrow ledge that gave entrance to the amphitheater.

Instantly all was pandemonium.

Only Gulm remembered. "Strike!" he cried. "Strike and appease the wrath of The Flaming God."

The knife fell from the girl's hand as she sank in a swoon beside the altar. The lion bounded forward and the priests scattered, all but the fanatical Gulm. Snatching his own knife from its scabbard, he sprang forward, the blade raised high above his head, its point aimed at the heart of the courageous lad stretched upon the altar.

With a mighty bound, Jad-bal-ja cleared the altar and sacrifice and bore Gulm back to earth. Once, just once, those awful jaws closed upon the face of the high priest and then Jad-bal-ja stood above his kill and looked about him.

At the same instant a voice rang out from the summit of the rocky escarpment surrounding the amphitheater and the lion looked in the direction of the speaker and then lay down upon the body of the high priest.

With the agility of an ape Tarzan dropped quickly down the rocky precipice to the bottom of the amphitheater. The lesser priests recognized him and sought to flee, but he called them back in their own tongue, threatening to send Jad-bal-ja among them if they disobeyed. Sullenly they returned and clustered together at one side of the altar—the side opposite that upon which Jad-bal-ja still lay upon the dead body of their leader.

At the sound of Tarzan's voice, Dick had opened his eyes and then sat up. In an instant he saw what had transpired and knew that he was saved. Never in all his life had he seen a more welcome sight than that of the great lion lying at the foot of the altar and the half-naked ape-man moving quickly across the amphitheater toward him.

Tarzan's eyes had taken in the entire scene. "Where is Doc?" he demanded.

"Here I am," called a voice, and as Tarzan and Dick looked in the direction from which it had come, they saw Doc crawling over the edge of the rocky threshold of the amphitheater.

"Gee," he cried, "we are all saved, aren't we?"

"Oh, Doc," cried Dick, "I was afraid those fellows who went after you had gotten you."

"I'll say they didn't," said Doc, "You ought to have seen them just now. Jad-bal-ja and I came upon them from behind as they were coming back here after I got away from them, and say you ought to have seen them shin up the sides of that old ravine. They went so fast you could have played checkers on their coat tails, if they had any coat tails."

Tarzan had stopped and raised Gretchen in his arms. She opened her eyes and looked up into his face.

"Who are you?" she cried.

"Do not be afraid," he said, "I am Tarzan of the Apes."

With a little sigh, she closed her eyes and commenced to weep very softly—tears of relief and happiness.

Tarzan turned to the sun worshippers. "This is Tarzan's country," he said. "You may not remain here. If you would live, go back to Opar."

"If we go back to Opar, La will have us killed," said one of the priests sullenly.

"You will surely be killed if you do not go back as I tell you," said Tarzan, "but if you do go back and agree to serve La loyally, I believe that she will let you live. Which do you choose to do?"

The priests whispered among themselves for a few moments. "We will go back to Opar," said one of them, finally.

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