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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"I am La, high priestess of the Temple of the Sun, in the city of Opar.
The most perfect man, mentally and physically, is selected to be the husband of the high priestess."
Before he extinguished the single candle he had brought with him for the purpose, and the flickering light of which had cast the first alleviating rays into the impenetrable darkness of the buried chamber, that it had known for the countless ages since it had lain forgotten of man, Tarzan's mind reverted to that first occasion upon which he had entered the treasure vault, coming upon it by chance as he fled from the pits beneath the temple, where he had been hidden by La, the High Priestess
of the Sun Worshipers.
"At the end of that time, as you know, she shall be discarded, as is the law among us, but not, as is usual, to lead a quiet and honored life as high priestess
of some hallowed shrine.
It was the religion simply of the family laws, the religion of which her implacable little mother was the high priestess
. Twist the thing about as her generosity would, the one certain fact was that they had used force against her.