THE SUN CHILDREN'S PERIL.





Not until the two young men passed beneath those heavy curtains

did either one of the Sun Children really give thought to their

own possible peril, but stood close together, arm of mother about

daughter as they listened to the ominous sounds without, so

rapidly growing in force and number.



Then, just as the deep tones of the war-drum boomed forth upon

the night air, the fallen Aztec betrayed signs of rallying wits,

giving a low sound which might have been groan of pain or curse

of baffled rage. Be that as it may, the sound served one

purpose: Victoria Edgecombe (to append her correct name for the

first time) drew her child farther away, her right hand reaching

forth to pluck a light yet effective spear from where it lay

against the wall.



"Mother, mother!" faintly panted the maiden, plainly at a loss to

comprehend all that had so recently transpired. "What is it?

What does it all mean? Surely that was Ixtli; and--the other?"



"A messenger from your father, child, and--"



"My father? I thought--he is not--not dead?"



"Thanks be to heaven, not dead!" with hysterical joy in face as

in voice. "Alive, and seeking us, Gladys! Coming to rescue us

from this death in life, and now--to your knees, my daughter; to

thy knees, and lift thanks unto the good Father who has at last

listened to my moans!"



Again the war-drum boomed forth in an awesome roll, but all

unheeding that ominous sound, paying no attention to the stirring

of yonder savage, whose lacerated scalp was painting his face a

deeper red than even nature intended, mother and daughter sank to

their knees, lifting hands and hearts towards the All-Powerful,

even as their gratitude floated towards the Throne of Grace.



Then arose the hoarse tones of Huatzin, bidding his allies find

and slay without mercy; cursing the treacherous Aztec who had

thus guided one of a strange tribe into the very heart of their

beloved city.



With a short, fierce ejaculation, Victo sprang to her feet, right

hand once again grasping shaft of javelin, its copper point

gleaming ruddily in the rays of lamp as though already moistened

by the heart-blood of yonder villain.



Far differently acted the maiden, her figure trembling with fear

and wonder commingled, her lips slightly blanched as she clung

closer to her mother. Yet through all ran a touch of girlish

curiosity which helped shape the words now crossing her lips.



"Who was it, mother? Who could the stranger be? And whither has

he gone?"



"With Ixtli, my child, and may the good God of our own people

grant them both life and liberty! If I thought--your father,

Gladys! Alive and looking for his beloved ones! See! from his

own dear hand, and he says--Hold! who comes there?"



But the alarm appeared to be without actual foundation, for the

sounds came no closer, remaining beyond the drapery past which

Lord Hua had staggered only a few brief seconds before.



Gladys rallied more speedily than one might have expected, and

she spoke with even greater interest than at first.



"My dear father, and alive? Oh, mother, why is he not here

to--why should he send another? And that one--he spoke our dear

language, mother; surely he is not--not as Ixtli?"



"No; he was of our own people, child, and I can hardly conceive

how he came hither, save that Ixtli must have acted as guide."



"And those awful warriors!" shivering as the war-cries followed

the muffled roar of the great drum. "If found, he will be slain!



Do you think there is any hope for him, mother? And he seemed

so--so--"



"He is gone with Ixtli, and Ixtli is true to the very core,"

Victo hastened to give assurance. "I would rather trust him than

many another of thrice his years and warlike experience. Ixtli

is true; ay, as true and tried as his father, Aztotl!"



"Who loves you, mother, and would win--"



"Hush, child!" just a bit sharply interposed the elder woman, yet

at the same time tightening that loving clasp. "Merely as the

daughter of his Sun God, Quetzalcoatl, and--ha!"



Once again there came the echoes of rapid foot-falls beyond the

heavy draperies, and again this Amazonian mother drew her superb

form in front of her shrinking child, poising the javelin in

readiness for stroke or casting, as might serve best.



A strong arm brushed the curtains aside sufficiently to admit its

owner's passage, but the armed warrior stopped short at sighting

the Sun Children, his proud head lowering, hands crossing over

his broad bosom in token of adoration,--for it surely was more

than mere submission to one held his superior.



With a low cry, Victo drew back a bit, weapon lowering as she

recognised friend in place of enemy.



"It is you, Aztotl?" she spoke, in mellow tones. "I thought--did

you remove the usual guards, this evening?"



"The blame falls to my share, Sun Child," the Red Heron made

answer, with a meekness strange in one of his build and general

appearance, that of a king among ordinary warriors.



"Not justly, nor through fault of your own, my good and true

friend," the elder woman made haste to give assurance. "Not even

thy lips shall speak slander of Aztotl the True-heart, my

brother."



With a swift advance the Red Heron caught the unarmed hand, to

bend over it until his lips barely brushed the soft, perfumed

skin. Then he sank to one knee, bowing his head until his brow

touched the floor beneath her sandalled feet.



Swiftly, gracefully, these movements were made, and where they

would have appeared fulsome or degraded in some, with this

warrior the effect was far from disagreeable to see or to

experience.



Victo flushed warmly and drew back a little farther, for the

memory of those words let fall by Gladys came back with

unpleasant distinctness. And was she so certain that Aztotl

looked upon her as merely a god-descended priestess?



The Red Heron arose easily, head rising proudly above his shapely

shoulders as he met those great blue eyes,--eyes as pure and as

fathomless as the cloudless sky in midsummer.



And then, more like one giving a bare statement of facts than one

offering a defence for himself, Aztotl spoke of a faithless

subordinate, who was guilty of either careless neglect, or worse.



"It may be that Tezcatl lost his wits through strong waters, Sun

Child, or even that he took evil pay from still more vile hands.

You have seen the last of him, though, Child of Quetzal'l."



"You surely do not mean that--"



Aztotl lightly tapped the knife-hilt showing above his maxtlatl,

coldly adding words to that significant gesture:



"There is no place for fool or traitor upon the body-guard of the

Sun Children. Tezcatl sinned; he has paid full forfeit. And

just so shall all others perish who dare cast an evil glance

towards--ha!"



Another outcry arose from the other side of the curtained recess,

and the Red Heron instantly sprang away in that direction, hands

gripping weapons in readiness for instant use in case of need.



Almost as swiftly, Victo and the maiden followed, one through

fear, the other through utter lack of fear, for herself.



Those savage cries came from the lips of none other than the

chieftain whose now bare head bore significant traces of Bruno

Gillespie's handiwork, and he seemed bent on rushing directly

into the presence of the Sun Children, until Red Heron

interposed, stern and icy-toned:



"Stand back, my Lord Hua!" he ordered, left hand advanced with

open palm, but its dexter mate armed and ready for hot work if

that must come. "Venture no closer, on thy peril, chief!"



Huatzin recoiled a bit, though that might have been more through

surprise than because he feared this proud warrior. He gripped

his knife-hilt, and partly drew the blade from its supporting

sash. A hissing oath escaped his lips, and he crouched a trifle,

as a wild beast gathers its deadliest force prior to making a

death leap.



"Darest thou bar my path, Aztotl?" he cried, hoarsely. "Make

way, I bid thee; make way, for I will see the Sun Children and--"



"Not so, my Lord Hua," coldly interrupted the master of guards,

that warning palm still turned to the front. "You are here

without law or leave, and know what the edict says: from the

going to the return of the sun, these stones are sacred from all

feet save those of the Sun Children and their regular

body-guard."



"What care I for laws? Or for such as thou, Red Heron? I will

that such a thing shall be, and it comes to pass. And--thou dare

to bar my way, Aztotl?"



"Ay. By words if they prove sufficient. By force if called for.

By death if worst must come; even the death of a mighty chieftain

like Lord Hua would not be too great a feat."



For a brief space it seemed as though Huatzin would make a leap

to which there could be but one termination, death to one or to

both. But Aztotl coldly spoke on:



"I have given you fair and friendly warning, Lord Hua. Go, now,

while the path of peace lies open. Go, else I sound the call,

and my guard will take you in charge, just as they would any

other rascally intruder."



"Your precious son, for instance?" retorted the 'Tzin, viciously.

"He came with one whom--one of a different race from our own,

Aztotl! A traitor in thy own family, yet thou darest hint at--"



Aztotl lifted a bent finger to his lips, sounding a shrill,

far-penetrating whistle. The response was prompt indeed, an

armed force advancing with weapons held ready, awaiting only word

from commander to punish that rash intruder by hurling him to

death over the terraces.



Although nearly beside himself with fury, Huatzin glared defiance

at both guard and its commander, then turned more directly upon

the Sun Children, speaking in savage tones:



"Unto you, proud Victo, I'll either win you as my--"



"Go on, Lord Hua," coldly spoke the woman, as his voice choked.



"I'll win and wear you as my squaw, or else give you to the stone

of sacrifice!" he snarled, then turned away as Aztotl motioned

his guards to clear the temple of all intruders, then see that

none other dared enter.





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