DEFENDING THE SUN CHILDREN.





Louder than ever rose the voice of Lord Hua, after witnessing the

fall of his ally, the high priest. In spite of the great odds

against the body-guards, he began to fear lest his intended prey

should even yet slip through his evil clutches.



Fiercer than ever rang forth his curses and imprecations upon the

head of the Aztec who thus dared the vengeance of all the gods by

lifting hand in arms against the anointed.



And then, his own nerve strung by those very efforts to inspire

others, Lord Hua forged nearer the front, eager to behold all his

hated enemies crushed to earth as by a single stroke. And then--



With vicious force he hurled his javelin straight for the white

throat of the Sun Child who had scorned his fawning advances, and

only the ever ready eye, the true hand, the strong arm of Aztotl

again warded off grim death from the Fair God's Child.



Caught upon that trusty shield one instant, the next turned

towards its original owner, to quiver for the barest fraction of

time in that vengeful grip, then, gloriously true to the hero's

will and intent, sped that javelin home.



Home to the false heart of false prince; grinding through skin

and flesh and bones, cleaving that hot organ with broad blade of

tempered copper, forcing one vicious screech from those tortured

lungs, then causing that bulk to measure its length upon the

blood-sprinkled sands.



Once again the heathen involuntarily recoiled, as death claimed a

high victim. Once more the band of true-hearts slightly

quickened their pace towards the temple, now nigh at hand. Yet

those lessened numbers never once betrayed fear, or doubt, or

faltering. Grimly true to their trust, they fell back in the best

of order, fighting as they moved, beating back the heathen hosts,

as though each man was a god, and their strong arms a wall of

steel.



Here and there a true-heart sank to earth with the hand of death

veiling his eyes, but he died in silence; no cry of fear, no moan

of pain, no pitiful appeal for mercy at the hands of his maddened

people. They knew their sworn duty, and like true hearts they

trod that narrow path unto the very end.



Although with gradually lessening numbers, the body-guard

remained practically the same. Still in a hollow square, with

the Children of the Sun God in the centre, they slowly, doggedly

fell back, ever facing the ravening foe, ever moving shoulder to

shoulder as a single man.



Then, just as Bruno Gillespie was refilling his emptied revolver,

the base of the tall pyramidal temple was won, and still

protecting their fair-haired charge, the body-guard ascended to

the second terrace, beating back such of the wild rabble as

pressed them too closely.



Again that wonderful barking-death came into play, and Bruno felt

a strangely savage joy gnawing at his heart as he saw more than

one stalwart warrior reel dizzily back from his hot hail.



"For Ixtli, you curs! That for Ixtli! Down,--and eat dirt,

dogs!"



Scarcely could his own ears catch those sounds, although he

shouted with the full power of his strong young lungs, so

indescribably horrid was the din and tumult.



Up another flight of steps, then yet another, although the crazed

rabble was not pressing them so very hard, just now. Still,

their number forbade a fourfold division as yet, and Aztotl

feared lest the blood-ravening mob attempt to head off their

flight by taking possession of the other stairs, thus being first

to occupy yonder flat arena high above the earth, whereupon he

hoped to still protect the Sun Children, even though he must lay

down his life to maintain their lease.



Lacking an acknowledged leader, the furious mass thought only of

crushing the faithful band by mere weight of numbers, taking no

thought in advance, else the end might well have been

precipitated.



Arrows, spears, javelins, stones from slings, poured upon the

body-guard in almost countless numbers, now and then claiming a

true-heart as victim, whereupon the rabble howled afresh in

drunken triumph; but where a single man died in the performance

of his oath-bound duty, half a score heathen bit the dust and

grovelled out his remnant of life yonder where most viciously

trampled the feet of his fellow brutes.



Pausing barely long enough to beat back the crazed rush which

came so close upon their retreat, the band of brothers would then

slowly, doggedly fall back another of those mighty steps, with

bared teeth and blazing eyes, longing to end all by one joyous

plunge into the thick of their assailants, dying with their

chosen dead!



Five separate times that upward flight, and five times the grim

pause to give death another portion of his red feast. Five times

the blood-lapping mob dashed against the band of brothers. Five

times they were hurled back, leaving more dead and dying there to

mark the savage struggle.



And then, sadly decimated at each halt, less in numbers as they

passed farther from earth to climb nearer the blue sky, the

survivors won the crest of the teocalli, still fighting, still

beating back such as followed their steps more closely.



Ere that brilliant retreat began, 'twould have taken close ranks

for the body-guard to find standing-room upon the temple-top; but

now--Aztotl called for a division of his force, since there were

four separate avenues of approach, of which the enemy was prompt

to avail itself.



"For the Sun Children, my brothers!" he cried, his voice rising

even above that awful tumult and turmoil. "Guard them with your

lives!"



Little need to waste breath in so adjuring. Of all thus

enlisted, not one of the true-hearts but proved worthy the trust.



Not one brave who took care for his own life. Not one but was

ready to die in order to save; and thus far not a single wound

had won so far as either Child of the Fair God.



Even now while the heathen were raging more viciously than ever,

crowding each terrace and jamming each flight of steps to the

verge of suffocation, strong arms were shielding them, true

hearts were thinking how best they might be served.



Time and again Aztotl warded away winged death as it sought to

claim Victo for its prey. And Bruno Gillespie, no whit less

brave if somewhat lacking in warlike experience, made Gladys his

especial care, sending shot or dealing knife-thrust in her

defence, barely giving thought to his own safety as a side issue.



Those broad terraces bore ugly pools and irregular patches of red

blood. The various flights of stone steps grew slippery and

uncertain as they likewise began to steam. Yet forward and

upward pressed the howling mob, and desperately fought the doomed

body-guard above.



Faster fly the deadly missiles, too many by far for even the

keenest eye to guard against them all. One and another of those

gallant defenders drop away; only because death had claimed them,

not because of fear or of bodily anguish.



Aztotl staggers,--an arrow is quivering in his broad bosom,--but

still he fights on, dealing death with each blow of his

blood-dripping hand-wood. A stone lays open his brow,--but

heavier and faster plays his terrible weapon. A javelin flashes

briefly, then the red copper vanishes from sight, while the ashen

shaft slowly dyes crimson, as the hot life-blood issues.



A last, dying stroke, and the Red Heron sinks at the feet of his

adoration, faithful unto the last, his brave soul going forth to

join with that of Ixtli; the last of a gallant family.



Victo gives a wild cry of vengeance, then snatches up bow and

quiver where let fall by a death-smitten warrior, and wings swift

death to the slayer of her captain of the guard.



An awful melee, where the odds were momentarily increasing; where

one man was forced to do the work of a score; where death

inevitable awaited all, unless a miracle should intervene. And

that miracle--



Shrilly rang forth the voice of Victoria Edgecombe as, amidst the

fury of battle, she caught sight of the air-ship swiftly darting

that way through the clear atmosphere, bent on saving, if saving

might be.



The peculiar sound which attended the exploding of a dynamite

cartridge heralded the death of more than one Aztec, and, as the

swift rattle of revolvers added to the uproar, there was an

involuntary recoiling, a terrified shrinking, which was employed

to the best advantage by the air-voyagers.



The aerostat barely landed upon the top of the temple, before

Cooper Edgecombe, with a wild scream of ecstatic joy, caught his

wife in his arms and hurried her into the car, while Waldo and

uncle Phaeton aided Bruno.





DEATH OF ELI AND HIS SONS. DIFFERENCE AND AGREEMENT; OR, SUNDAY MORNING facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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