Tribesmen of Gor [Gor Series Book 10] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by John Norman
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: In this tenth volume of John Norman's Gor series, Tarl Cabot must prove his final loyalty to the harsh and caste-bound planet known as counter-earth. "Surrender Gor," reads a message sent from the Others, a mysterious people from the worlds of steel. Either the proud rulers of Gor submit or be destroyed. Now Tarl Cabot is leaving the decadent city of Port Kar to wander in the wilds of Gor, taking up the sword to defend his rulers and enemies, the Priest-kings. For he knows that the fate of his home planet, earth, is inextricably tied to the fate of Gor. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the first book of the Gorean Saga, TARNSMAN OF GOR, E-Reads is proud to release the very first complete publication of all Gor books by John Norman, in both print and ebook editions, including the long-awaited 26th novel in the saga, WITNESS OF GOR. Many of the original Gor books have been out of print for years, but their popularity has endured. Each book of this release has been specially edited by the author and is a definitive text.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 1976
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2002
This eBook is part of the following series:
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THE HALL OF SAMOS
There were bells, three rows of them, small and golden, thonged tightly about the girl's left ankle.
The entire floor of the chamber, shining, richly mosaiced, broad, reflecting the torchlight, was a map.
I watched the girl. Her knees were slightly bent. Her weight was on her heels, freeing her hips. Her rib cage was lifted, but her shoulders, relaxed, were down.
Her abdominal muscles, too, were relaxed, loose. Her chin was lifted, haughtily. She did not deign to look at us. Dark hair flowed behind her.
"There are many things I do not understand," said Samos to me, I reached for a slice of larma fruit, and bit through it. "Yet," said Samos, "I think it is important that we come to the truth in this matter."
I regarded the vast map on the floor of the chamber. I could see, high on the map, Ax Glacier, Torvaldsland, and Hunjer and Skjern, and Helmutsport, and, lower, Kassau and the great green forests, and the river Laurius, and Laura and Lydius, and, lower, the islands, prominent among them Cos and Tyros; I saw the delta of the Vosk, and Port Kar, and, inland, Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning, and Thentis, in the mountains of Thentis, famed for her tarn flocks; and, to the south, among many other cities, Tharna, of the vast silver mines; I saw the Voltai Range, and Glorious Ar, and the Cartius, and, far to the south, Turia, and near the shore of Thassa, the islands of Anango and Ianda, and on the coast, the free ports of Schendi and Bazi. There were, on this map, hundreds of dries, and promontories and peninsulas, and rivers and inland lakes and seas.
The left ankle of the girl, under the bells, the brown thong, the golden metal, was tanned.
"Perhaps you are mistaken," I told him. "Perhaps there is nothing to it."
"Perhaps," he smiled.
At the corners of the room, helmeted, with spears, stood men-at-arms.
The girl wore Gorean dancing silk. It hung low upon her bared hips, and fell to her ankles. It was scarlet, diaphanous. A front corner of the silk was taken behind her and thrust, loose and draped, into the rolled silk knotted about her hips; a back corner of the silk was drawn before her and thrust loosely, draped, into the rolled silk at her right hip. Low on her hips she wore a belt of small denomination, threaded, overlapping golden coins. A veil concealed her muchly from us, it thrust into the strap of the coined halter at her left shoulder, and into the coined belt at her right hip. On her arms she wore numerous armlets and bracelets. On the thumb and first finger of both her left and right hand were golden finger cymbals. On her throat was a collar.
I took another piece of larma fruit. "I gather," I said, "you have information?"
"Yes," said Samos. He clapped his hands. Immediately the girl stood beautifully, alert, before us, her arms high, wrists outward. The musicians, to one side, stirred, readying themselves. Their leader was a czehar player.
"What is the nature of your information?" I asked.
"It is nothing definite," he said.
"Perhaps it is not important," I suggested.
"Perhaps not," he admitted.
"Kurii, Others," I said, "following the failure of the northern invasion of native Kurii, halted in Torvaldsland, have been quiet, have they not?"
"Beware of a silent enemy," said Samos. He looked at the girl. He clapped his hands, sharply.
There was a clear note of the finger cymbals, sharp, delicate, bright, and the slave girl danced before us.
I regarded the coins threaded, overlapping, on her belt and halter. They took the firelight beautifully. They glinted, but were of small worth. One dresses such a woman in cheap coins; she is slave. Her hand moved to the veil at her right hip. Her head was turned away, as though unwilling and reluctant, yet knowing she must obey.
"Come with me," said Samos.
I swilled down the last swallow of a goblet of Paga.
He grinned at me. "You may have her later," he said. "She will dance from time to time during the evening."
Samos stepped from behind the low tables. He nodded his head to cup companions, trusted men. Two briefly clad, lovely female slaves withdrew before him, kneeling, heads down, their serving vessels in their hands.
To one side, stripped, bound tightly in black leather, hand and foot, straps crossing between her breasts and circling her thighs, to which her wrists were secured, in buckled cuffs, knelt a whitish-skinned girl, blond, frightened. Her shoulders, like those of most females of Earth, were tight, tense. The tone of her body, like that of most Earth women, was rigid, defensive. Like most others she had been acculturated in a thousand subtle ways to minimize, to conceal and deny the natural, organic sweetnesses of her musculature and structure, conditioned into a dignified, formal physical neutership, the stiffness, reserve and tightness so much approved of in females in a mechanistic, industrial, technological society, in which machines govern and present the symbols and paradigms of movement, understood as repetition, measure, regularity, precision and function. Human beings move differently in a technological society than in a nontechnological society; they hold their bodies differently; a man or woman's acculturation is visible in their demeanor. Few people understand this; most view as natural motions and body positions which are the consequences of a subconsciously conditioned, mechanistic ballet, a choreography of puppets, imitating the models, the stridencies, in which they find themselves enmeshed. Yet, somewhere beneath the conditioned behavior lies the animal, which moved naturally before there was a civilization to teach it the proprieties of mechanism. It is little wonder that the Earth human, when unobserved, even the adult, sometimes throws itself on the ground and rolls and cries out, if only to feel the joy of its own movement, the unleashing of the tensions inflicted by the rigidities of the civilized restraints. Invisible chains are those which weigh the most heavily.
I looked down at the girl. She was terrified, miserable. "Tell her," said Samos, "to watch a true woman, and learn to he female." He indicated the Gorean dancer.
The girl had not been long on Gor. Samos had purchased her for four silver tarsks on Teletus, with many others, for various amounts. This was the first time out of the pens for her in his house. She wore her brand on the left thigh. A simple band of iron had been hammered about her neck by one of the metal workers in the employ of Samos. She was poor stuff, not fit for a lock collar. I probably would have sold her for a kettle girl. Yet, looking more carefully upon her, examining her with candor, as she looked away, miserable, I saw that she might not be without promise. Perhaps she could be taught. The basic characteristic expected of a Gorean woman is, interestingly, femaleness; this is, I note, certainly not the basic characteristic requested of an Earth woman; indeed, femaleness in a woman of Earth, as I recalled, was societally discouraged, it complicating the politically expedient neuterlike relationships valuable in a technologically sophisticated social structure, to which sexual relationships were irrelevant, if not inimical. Western industrialized societies on Earth optimally would be manned by metal creatures, sexless, smoothly functioning, programmed to tend, preserve and replicate the metal society. Man, on Earth, had finally succeeded, after long centuries, in creating a society in which he had no essential place; he had, at last, built a house in which he could not live, in which he had left not one room suitable for human habitation; he called it a home; in it he was a stranger; his habitat, by his own efforts, became inhospitable to him; his efficiencies, his machines, his institutions, in his hands, had at last succeeded in evicting him from his own realities; women were shamed to be women; men terrified of listening to their blood, and being men; in their plastic cubicles, amidst the hum of their machineries, men at night squirmed and wept, hating themselves, castigating themselves for not meeting the standards of a world alien to their sensate truths; let robots weep for not being men, not men weep for not being robots; the strong, the fine, the mighty, is not wicked; only the vile and small, incapable of power, speak it so; but there was little hope for the men of Earth; they feared to listen, for they might hear ancient drums.
The blondish girl put down her head. I gestured to the guard behind her. He thrust his hand in her hair. She cried out. Her head was rudely jerked up and back. She looked at me.
I pointed to the dancer.
The girl looked at her, horrified, offended, scandalized. She shuddered, and squirmed in the straps. Her fists were clenched at her thighs, beside which they were held in the cuff straps of her harness.
"Watch, Slave," I told her, in English, "a true woman." The girl's title and name had been Miss Priscilla Blake-Allen. Her nationality had been American. Then she had been branded.
She was now only nameless property in a slaver's house, no different from hundreds of other girls in the pens below.
The dancer was now moving slowly to the music.
"She is so sensual," whispered the blondish girl, in horror.
I turned to watch the dancer. She danced well. At the moment she writhed upon the "slave pole," it fixing her in place. There is no actual pole, of course, but sometimes it is difficult to believe there is not. The girl imagines that a pole, slender, supple, swaying, transfixes her body, holding her helplessly. About this imaginary pole, it constituting a hypothetical center of gravity, she moves, undulating, swaying, sometimes yielding to it in ecstasy, sometimes fighting it, it always holding her in perfect place, its captive. The control achieved by the use of the "slave pole" is remarkable. An incredible, voluptuous tension is almost immediately generated, visible in the dancer's body, and kinetically felt by those who watch. I heard men at the table cry out with pleasure. The dancer's hands were at her thighs. She regarded them, angrily, and still she moved. Her shoulders lifted and fell; her hands touched her breasts and shoulders; her head was back, and then again she glared at the men, angrily. Her arms were high, very high. Her hips moved, swaying. Then, the music suddenly silent, she was absolutely still. Her left hand was at her thigh; her right high above her head; her eyes were on her hip; frozen into a hip sway; then there was again a bright, clear flash of the finger cymbals, and the music began again, and again she moved, helpless on the pole. Men threw coins at her feet.
I looked to the blondish girl. "Learn to be a female," I told her.
"Never!" she hissed, in her harness.
"You are no longer on Earth," I told her. "You will be taught. The lessons may be painful or pleasant, but you will learn."
"I do not wish to do so," she said.
"Your will, your wishes, mean nothing," I told her. "You will learn."
"It is degrading," she said.
"You will learn," I told her.
"She is so sensual," said the girl, angrily. "How can men think of her as anything but a woman!"
"You will learn," I told her.
"I do not want to be a woman!" she cried out. "I want to be a man! I always wanted to be a man!"
She squirmed in the harness, fighting its restraints. The straps, the rings, held her, of course, perfectly.
"On Gor," I told her, "it is the men who will be men; and here, on this world, it is the women who will be women."
"I do not wish to move like that," she wept.
"You will learn to move as a woman," I told her. I looked down at her. "You, too, will learn to be sensual."
"Never," she wept, fighting the straps.
"Look at me, Slave," I said.
She looked up, tears in her eyes. "I will speak to you kindly for a moment," I said. "Listen carefully, for they may be the last kind words you will hear for a long time."
She regarded me, the guard's hand in her hair.
"You are a slave," I said. "You are owned. You are a female. You will be forced to be a woman. If you were free, and Gorean, you might be permitted by men to remain as you are, but you are neither Gorean nor free. The Gorean man will accept no compromise on your femininity, not from a slave. She will be what he wishes, and that is a woman, fully, and his. If necessary you will be whipped or starved. You may fight your master. He will, if he wishes, permit this, to prolong the sport of your conquest, but, in the end, it is you who are the slave; it is you who will lose. On Earth you had the society at your back, the result of centuries of feminization; he could not so much as speak harshly to you but you could rush away or summon magistrates; here, however, society is not at your back, but at his; it will abet him in his wishes, for you are only a slave; you will have no one to call, nowhere to run; you will be alone with him, and at his mercy. Further, he has not been conditioned with counterinstinctual value sets, programmed with guilt, taught self-hatred; he has been taught pride and has, in the very air he breathes, imbibed the mastery of females. These are different men. They are not Earthlings. They are Goreans. They are strong, and they are hard, and they will conquer you. For a man of Earth, you might never be a woman. For a man of Gor, I assure you, my dear; sooner or later you will be."
She looked at me with misery.
The dancer moaned, crying out, as though in agony. Still she remained impaled upon the slave pole, its prisoner.
"The Gorean master," I told the blondish girl, "commands sensuality in his female slaves."
She stared at the dancer, her eyes wide with misery. The hips of the dancer now moved, seemingly in isolation from the rest of her body, though her wrists and hands, ever so slightly, moved to the music.
"You cannot even move like that now," I told the blondish girl. "Yet muscles can be trained. You will be taught to move like a woman, not a puppet of wood." I grinned down at her. "You will be taught to be sensual."
Samos, with a snap of his fingers, freed the dancer from the slave pole. She moved, turning, toward us. Before us, loosening her veil at the right hip, she danced. Then she took it from her left shoulder, where it had been tucked beneath the strap of her halter. With the veil loose, covering her, holding it in her hands, she danced before us. Then she regarded us, dark-eyed, over the veil; it turned about her body; then, to the misery of the blondish girl, she wafted the silk about her, enmeshing her in its gossamer softness. I saw the parted lips, the eyes wide with horror, of the kneeling, harnessed girl, through the light, yellow veil; then the dancer had drawn it away from her, and, turning, was again in the center of the floor.
"You will learn your womanhood," I told the blondish girl. "And I will tell you where you will learn it."
She looked up at me.
"At the feet of a master," I told her.
I turned away from her and, following Samos, left the chamber.
"She will have to learn Gorean, and quickly," said Samos, referring to the blondish girl.
"Let slaves, with switches, teach her," I said.
"I will," said Samos. There was no swifter way for an Earth girl to learn (Gorean, providing that candies and pastries, and little favors, like a blanket in the pens, were mixed in. Learning was closely associated, even immediately, with reward and punishment. Sometimes, months later, even when not under the switch, a girl would, upon a mistake in grammar or vocabulary, wince, as though expecting a fresh sting of the switch. Goreans do not coddle their slave girls. This is one of the first lessons a girl learns.
"You learned little from her?" asked Samos.
I had interrogated the girl when she had first come to the house of Samos.
"Her story," I said, "is similar to those of many others. Abduction, transportation to Gor, slavery. She knows nothing. She scarcely understands, now, the meaning of her collar."
Samos laughed unpleasantly, the laugh of a slaver.
"Yet one thing you had from her seems of interest," said Samos, preceding me down a deep corridor. In the corridor we passed a female slave. She dropped to her knees and put her head down, her hair upon the files, as we passed.
"It seems a random thing, meaningless," I said.
"In itself meaningless," he said. "But, with other things, it induces in me a certain apprehension."
"The remark she overheard, in English, concerning the return of the slave ships?" I asked.
"Yes," said Samos. When I had probed the girl in the pens, mercilessly, forcing her to recall all details, even apparently meaningless scraps of detail, or information, she had recalled one thing which had seemed puzzling, disturbing. I had not much understood it, but Samos had evinced concern. He knew more than I of the affairs of Others, the Kurii, and Priest-Kings. The girl had heard the remark drowsily, half stupefied, shortly after her arrival on Gor. She, stripped, half drugged, the identification anklet of the Kurii locked on her left ankle, had lain on her stomach, with other girls, in the fresh grass of Gor. They had been removed from the slave capsules in which they had been transported. She had risen to her elbows, her head down. She had then been conscious, vaguely, of being turned about and lifted, and carried, to a different place in the line, one determined by her height. Usually the tallest girls lead the slave chain, the height decreasing gradually toward the end of the chain, where the shortest girl is placed. This was a "common chain," sometimes called a "march chain" or "trekking chain"; it was not a "display chain"; in the "display chain," or "selling chain," the arrangement of the girls may be determined by a variety of considerations, aesthetic and psychological; for example, blondes may be alternated with brunets, voluptuous girls with slim, vital girls, aristocratic girls with sweet, peasant wenches, and so on; sometimes a girl is placed between two who are less beautiful, to enhance her beauty; sometimes the most beautiful is saved for last on the chain; sometimes the chain is used as a ranking device, the most beautiful being placed at its head, the other girls then competing with one another constantly to move to a new wrist-ring, snap-lock or collar, one higher on the chain. She had been thrown to her stomach in the grass, and her left wrist drawn to her side and down. She had heard the rustle of a looped chain, and the periodic click of the wrist-rings. She felt a length of chain dropped across the back of her thighs. Then, about her left wrist, too, closed the wrist-ring, and she, too, was a girl in a coffle. A man had stood by, making entries in a book. When her identification anklet had been removed, after she was in the wrist-ring, the man removing it had said something to the man with the book, and an entry had been made. When the girls were coffled, the man with the book had signed a paper, giving it to the captain of the slave ship. She knew it must be a receipt for merchandise received. The cargo manifests, apparently, had been correct. She had pulled weakly at the wrist-ring, but it, of course, held her. It had been then that the man with the book had asked the captain if he would return soon. The man with the book spoke in an accent, Gorean. The captain, she gathered, did not speak Gorean. The captain had said, as she remembered it, that he did not know when they would return, that he had received orders that there were to be no more voyages until further orders were received. She was conscious of the departure of the ship, and the grass beneath her body, and the chain lying across her legs, and the steel of the wrist-ring. She felt the chain move as the girl to her right stirred. Her left wrist was moved slightly behind her. They lay in the shade of trees, concealed from the air. They were not permitted to rise. When one girl had cried out, she had been beaten with a switch. Miss Priscilla Blake-Allen had not dared to cry out. After dark, they were herded to a wagon.
"Why," asked Samos, "should the slave ships cease their runs?"
"An invasion?" I asked.
"Unlikely," said Samos. "If an invasion were to he launched soon, surely the slave runs would continue. Their cessation would surely alert the defense and surveillance facilities of Priest-Kings. One would not, surely, produce a state of apprehension and heightened awareness in the enemy prior to an attack."
"It does not seem so," I admitted, "unless the Kurii, perhaps, feel that just such a move might put the Priest-Kings off guard, that it would be too obvious to be taken as a prelude to full war."
"But this possibility, doubtless," smiled Samos, "too, is one which will not fail to be considered by the rulers of the Sardar."
I shrugged. It had been long since I had been in the Sardar.
"It may mean an invasion is being readied," said Samos. "But I think the Kurii, who are rational creatures, will not risk full war until reasonably assured as to its outcome. I suspect their reconnaissance is as yet incomplete. The organization of native Kurii, which would have constituted a splendid intelligence probe, and was doubtless intended primarily as such, yielded them little information."
I smiled. The invasion of native Kurii from the north, survivors and descendants of ship Kurii, for generations, had been stopped in Torvaldsland.
"I think," said Samos, "it is something other than an invasion." He looked at me grimly. "It is, I suspect, something which would render an invasion unnecessary."
"I do not understand," I said.
"I have much fear," said Samos. I regarded him. I had seldom seen him so. I looked at the heavy, squarish face, burned by the wind and salt of Thassa, the clear eyes, the white, short-cropped hair, the small golden rings in his ears. His face seemed drained of color. I knew he could stand against a hundred swords, unflinching.
"What is it," I asked, "which would render an invasion unnecessary?"
"I have much fear," said Samos.
"You said you had other information," I said.
"Two things," said Samos. "Follow me." I continued to follow him through various corridors, and down stairways in his house. Soon the walls became damp, and I gathered we were beneath the levels of the canals. We passed barred doors, heavily guarded. Passwords, appropriate to different levels and portions of the house, were given and acknowledged. These are changed daily. For a portion of our way, we passed through certain sections of the pens. Some of the ornately barred, crimson-draped cells, with brass bowls, and rugs, and cushions and lamps, were quite comfortable; some of the cells held more than one occupant; some of the girls were permitted cosmetics and slave silk; generally, however, girls in the pen are raw, totally, save for their collars and brands, as are male slaves; the costumer, the perfumer, the hairdresser then does with them what he is instructed; most retention facilities in the pens, however, are not so comfortable; most are simply heavy cages; some are small cement kennels, barred at the opening; some are tiny slave cages, sometimes separate, sometimes bolted together, sometimes tiered; others, about a yard square and four or five yards long are walled with chain links, fastened about metal stanchions; I saw the eyes of some of the girls in these latter housings, stripped and kneeling, wide with fear, as we passed; some had their fingers crooked about the linkage; the general neglect, and the darkness and the dampness, and the loneliness, are doubtless hard to bear, but, too, one supposes, the passage of a free man is frightening, one who is not merely a warder, providing, say, the nutritious slops and gruel on which they are fed; one supposes they wish to escape their incarceration, but, too, especially if they are new slaves, they are doubtless apprehensive concerning the intentions of the masters who come for them, with respect to their disposition; if they are more familiar with the collar they are likely to have little doubt as to their probable disposition, usually some sales chain, some sales shelf, some market block, hopefully in a city or town in which there is much affluence; the apprehension of the more experienced girl is likely to be rather as to the nature of the master at whose feet she will find herself; she will attempt to display herself well, in order that she may, as the bids heighten, obtain a well-to-do master, and presumably an easier life; to be sure, some such masters, aware of a girl's wiles, will see to it that she is so worked that she may soon regret that she was not purchased by a potter, a peasant, a herdsman, a keeper of kaiila; she is worked as a low-price girl but is expected to serve in the furs, under the discipline of the lash, as what she is, a high-price girl; once we walked over iron gratings, beneath which were cages; the slaves, male or female, who are housed in these pits are usually entered into them and extracted from them through what would be the ceiling of the pit; rope is used; on the other hand, barred cell doors, at the floor level, may be opened between the cages; this can allow, for example, male slaves to enter a cage occupied by females; normally, however, male and female slaves are kept separate; this permits the sexual needs of each to be better managed and more judiciously exploited by the masters; sometimes a female slave is thrown to male slaves, as a discipline for her, or as a dessert for them, something to go with the slops and gruel.
We passed through two processing rooms; off one corridor was a medical facility, with mats and chains; we passed exercise rooms, training rooms: we passed the branding chamber; I saw heated irons within; we passed, too, the dreaded room of slave discipline; there were, in this room, suspended rings, whips, a large, heavy stone table.
As we passed the cages, male slaves glared at us sullenly; slave girls usually shrank back. One girl thrust her hands through the bars. "I am ready to he sold to a man!" she wept "Sell me! Sell me!" A guard struck his leather switch against the bars before her face, and she fled back within the enclosure.
"She is not yet hot enough for the block," I said.
"No," said Samos.
Had she knelt at the bars, knees thrust through, her body, her face, tear-stained, pressed against them, arms extended, letting her arms be switched for the mere chance of possibly touching the guard's body, then, perhaps, she would have been hot enough. Girls are often sent trembling, burning with passion, to the block. Many times I have seen them, on their feet, shudder and tremble at the auctioneer's slightest touch. Sometimes, unseen by the buyers, they are aroused at the foot of the block, but not satisfied. They are then sent naked to the block to be sold, in this state of cruel frustration. Their attempts to interest the buyers in their flesh are sometimes fantastic. Some of them almost scream in misery, aching for the physical and psychological completion of what has been done to their bodies. I have seen girls whom the auctioneer had to beat from him with his whip, merely in order to display them adequately. These girls, of course, are slaves who have been previously owned. Women who have not been previously owned, like free women, for the most part, even if naked and collared, do not yet understand their sexuality. That can only be taught to them by a man, they helpless, in his power. An unowned girl, a free woman, thus, can never experience her full sexuality. A corollary to this, of course, is that a man who has never had an owned woman in his arms does not understand the full power of his manhood. Sexual heat, it might be mentioned, is looked upon in free women with mixed feelings; it is commanded, however, in a slave girl. Passion, it is thought, deprives the free woman to some extent of her freedom and self-control; it is frowned upon because it makes her behave, to some extent, like a degraded female slave; free women, thus, to protect their honor and dignity, their freedom and personhood, their individuality, must fight passion; the slave girl, of course, is not entitled to this privilege; it is denied to her, both by her society and her master; while the free woman must remain cool and in control of herself, even in the arms of her companion, to avoid being truly "had," so to speak, the slave girl is permitted no such luxury; no woman is so frequently, so profoundly, so uncompromisingly, so helplessly, so completely, so irresistibly "had" as she; her control, you see, is in the hands of her master, and she must, upon the mere word of her master, surrender herself, writhing, to the humiliating heats of a degraded slave girl's ecstasy. Only when a woman is owned can she be fully enjoyed.
A silken urt, with wet fur, brushed against my leg.
"Here," said Samos, at the end of the corridor, one of the lowest in the pens. He uttered the password through the beamed, metal-sheathed door. It swung open. Beyond it was another corridor, but one much shorter. It was dark and damp. Samos took a torch from the guard, and went to one of the doors. He looked through the tiny slit in the door, holding the torch up. Then he slid back the bolt and, bending over, entered the room. There was a foul stench of excrement from within.
"What do you think?" asked Samos.
He held the torch up.
The chained shape did not move. Samos took a stick from beside the door, with which the jailer thrust the pan of water or food toward the shape.
The shape was apparently either asleep, or dead. I did not hear breathing.
An urt scurried suddenly, unexpectedly, toward a crack in the wall. It disappeared within.
Samos touched the shape with the stick. Suddenly it turned and bit the stick through, eyes blazing. It hurled itself, some eight hundred pounds of weight, to the length of the six chains that fastened it, each chain to a separate ring, to the wall. The chains jerked at the rings, again and again. It bit at us. Claws emerged and retracted, and emerged again, from the tentaclelike six-digited appendages of the thing. I looked at the flat, leathery snout, the black-pupiled, yellowish-corneaed eyes, the ears flat back against its head, the wide, fang-rimmed orifice of a mouth, large enough to bite the head from a man. I heard the rings groan in the stone. But they held. I removed my hand from the sword hilt.
The beast sat back against the wall, watching us. It now blinked, against the light of the torch.
"This is the first one, living, that I have seen," said Samos.
Once before, in the ruins of a hall in Torvaldsland, surmounting a stake, he had seen the head of such a beast.
"It is a Kur, surely," he said.
"Yes," I said, "it is an adult Kur."
"It is a large one, is it not?" asked Samos.
"Yes," I said, "but I have seen many larger."
"As nearly as we can determine," said Samos, "it is only a beast, and not rational."
It was chained in six places, at the wrists and ankles, and about the waist, and again about the throat. Any of the chains might have held a bosk or a larl
It snarled, opening its fanged mouth.
"Where did you take it?" I asked.
"I bought it from hunters," said Samos. "It was taken southeast of Ar, proceeding in a southeasternly direction."
"That seems unlikely," I said. Few Goreans would venture in that direction.
"It is true," said Samos. "I know the chief of the hunting pride. His declaration was clear. Six men died in its capture."
The beast sat, somnolent, regarding us.
"But why would it, a Kur, venture to such a place?" I asked.
"Perhaps it is insane?" suggested Samos.
"What purpose would such a journey serve for a Kur?" I asked.
Samos shrugged. "We have been unable to communicate with it," he said to me. "Perhaps not all Kurii are rational," he said. "Perhaps this one, as perhaps some of the others, is simply a dangerous beast, nothing more."
I looked into the beast's eyes. Its lips, slightly, drew back. I smiled.
"We have beaten it," said Samos. "We have whipped it, and prodded it. We have denied it food."
"Torture?" I asked.
"It did not respond to torture," said Samos. "I think it is irrational."
"What was your purpose?" I asked it. "What was your mission?"
The beast said nothing.
I rose to my feet. "Let us return to the hall," I said.
"Very well," said Samos. We left the chamber. * * * *
The belled left ankle of the dancer moved in a small circle on the mosaiced floor, to the ringing of the bells, and the counterpoint of the finger cymbals.
Men lifted their cups to Samos as we re-entered the hall. We acknowledged their greetings.
Two warriors, guards, held, between them, a dark-skinned slave girl. She had long, black hair. Her arms were bound tightly to her sides, her wrists crossed and bound behind her. They thrust her forward. "A message girl," said one of them.
Samos looked at me, quickly. Then to one of those at the table, one who wore the garments of the physicians, he said, "Obtain the message."
"Kneel," said Samos. The girl, between the guards, knelt.
Samos loomed over her. "Whose are you?" he asked.
"Yours, Master," she said. It is common for the girl to be given to the recipient of the message.
"Whose were you?" asked Samos.
"I was purchased anonymously from the public pens of Tor," she said.
Certain cities, like Tor, dealt in slaves, commonly buying unsold girls from caravans, and selling, them at a profit to other caravan masters. The city's warriors, too, were paid a bounty on women captured from enemy cities, customarily a silver tarsk for a comely female in good health.
"You do not know who purchased you, or why?" asked Samos.
"No, Master," she said.
She would not know the message she bore.
"What is your name?" asked Samos.
"Veema," she said, "if it pleases Master."
"What was your number in the pens of Tor?" asked Samos.
"87432," she said, "Master."
The member of the caste of physicians, a laver held for him in the hands of another man, put his hands on the girl's head. She closed her eyes.
"Then," said I to Samos, "you do not know from whom this message comes."
"No," said he.
The physician lifted the girl's long dark hair, touching the shaving knife to the back of her neck. Her head was inclined forward.
Samos turned away from the girl. He indicated to me a man who sat at a far end of one of the low tables. He did not drink wine or Paga. The man, rare in Port Kar, wore the kaffiyeh and agal. The kaffiyeh is a squarish scarf, folded over into a triangle, and placed over the head, two points at the side of the shoulders, one in back to protect the back of the neck. It is bound to the head by several loops of cord, the agal. The cording indicates tribe and district.
We went to the man. "This is Ibn Saran, salt merchant of the river port of Kasra," said Samos.
The red salt of Kasra, so called from its port of embarkation, was famed on Gor. It was brought from secret pits and mines, actually, deep in the interior, bound in heavy cylinders on the backs of pack kaiila. Each cylinder, roped to others, weighed in the neighborhood of ten stone, or some forty pounds, a Gorean "Weight." A strong kaiila could carry sixteen such cylinders, but the normal load was ten. Even numbers are carried, of course, that the load is balanced. A poorly loaded kaiila can carry far less weight than one on whom the burden is intelligently distributed.
"Ibn Saran, in the past months, has heard an unusual thing," said Samos. "I learned of this from a captain, one known to him, with whom he spoke recently upon the salt wharf." Samos was first in the Council of Captains of Port Kar, which body was sovereign in the city. There was little of interest which did not, sooner or later, come to his attention.
"The noble Samos has been most kind," said Ibn Saran. "His hospitality has been most generous."
I extended my hand to Ibn Saran and he, bowing twice, brushed twice the palm of his hand against mine.
"I am pleased to make the acquaintance of he who is friend to Samos of Port Kar," said Ibn Saran. "May your water bags be never empty. May you have always water."
"May your water bags be never empty," I said. "May you have always water."
"If it pleases you, noble Ibn Saran," said Samos, "would you speak before my friend what heard you in Kasra."
"It is a story told by a boy, a tender of kaiila. His caravan was small. It was struck by storm, and a kaiila, maddened by wind and sand, broke its hobble, plunging away into the darkness. Foolishly the boy followed it. It bore water. In the morning the storm had passed. The boy dug a shelter trench. In the camp was organized the wheel."
A shelter trench is a narrow trench, some four or five feet deep and about eighteen inches wide. The sand, struck by the sun, can reach temperatures on its surface of more than 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Set on rocks, boards of metal some two feet in length, and six inches wide, exposed to the sun, are sometimes used by the nomad women in frying foods. Only a foot or two below the surface, these temperatures are reduced by more than fifty degrees. The trench provides, most importantly, shade from the sun. The air temperature is seldom more than 140 degrees in the shade, even in the dune country. The trench, of course, is always dug with its long axis perpendicular to the path of the sun, that it provide the maximum shade for the longest period of time.
One does not, alone, without water, move on the sands during the day. Interestingly, because of the lack of surface water, the nights, the sun gone, are cool, even chilly at times. One would, thus, if not in caravan, move at night. The conservation of body water is the crucial parameter in survival. One moves little. One sweats as little as possible.
The "wheel" is a search pattern. Herdsmen, guards, kaiila tenders, leave the camp along a "spoke" of a wheel, spacing themselves at intervals. The number of men in the caravan determines the length of the "spoke." No one in the caravan departs from it by more than the length of the wheel's spoke, pertinent to the individual caravan. The boy, for example, presumably, if he had his wits about him, would not follow the kaiila long enough on foot to place himself outside the "rim" of the "wheel." As the "wheel" of men turns about its axis, the camp, at intervals the men draw arrows in the dirt or sand, or, if rocks are available, make arrows, pointing to the camp. When the search is discontinued, after success or failure, these markers are destroyed, lest they be taken by travelers for water arrows, markers indicating the direction of water holes, underground cisterns or oases. The caravan kaiila, incidentally, both those which are pack animals and those used as mounts for guards and warriors, are muchly belled. This helps to keep the animals together, makes it easier to move in darkness, and in a country where, often, one cannot see more than a hundred yards to the next dune or plateau, is an important factor in survival. If it were not for the caravan bells, the slow moving, otherwise generally silent caravans, might, unknowingly, pass within yards of men in desperate need of succor. The kaiila of raiders, incidentally, are never belled.
"By noon," said Ibn Saran, "the boy was found. Hearing the bells of a guard's mount, he emerged from the shelter trench, and, attracting the man's attention, was rescued. He was, of course, muchly beaten, for having left the caravan. The kaiila, of its own accord, returned later, for fodder."
"What," I asked, "was the story of the boy?"
"What, in pursuing the kaiila, he found," said Ibn Saran. "On a rock there was scratched this message: Beware the steel tower."
Samos looked at me. I made little sense of this.
"Near the rock, dead," said Ibn Saran, "blistered, blackened by the sun, dried, weighing no more than a child or woman, was a man. He had torn off his clothing and drunk sand."
It would not have been a pleasant death. Doubtless he had died, mad, thinking he had found water.
"It, judging from discarded accouterments," said Ibn Saran, "was a raider."
"Was there no kaiila?" I asked.
"No," said Ibn Saran.
"From how far had the man come?" I asked. "How long had he been on the desert?"
"I do not know," said Ibn Saran. "How well did he know the desert? How much water had he?"
The man might have come thousands of pasangs before the kaiila had died, or fled.
"How long had he been dead?" I asked.
Ibn Saran smiled thinly. "A month," he said. "A year?"
In the desert decomposition proceeds with great slowness. Bodies, well preserved, had been found which had been slain more than a century before. Skeletons, unless picked by birds or animals, are seldom found in the desert.
"Beware the steel tower," I repeated.
"That was scratched on the rock," said Ibn Saran.
"Was there any indication from which direction the man had come?" I asked.
"No," said Ibn Saran.
"Beware the steel tower," said Samos. I shrugged.
Samos rose to his feet and, touching twice the palm of the right hand of Ibn Saran, took his leave. I noted that Ibn Saran ate only with the right hand. This was the eating hand, and the scimitar hand. He would feed himself only with the hand which, wielding steel, could take blood.
The dancer whirled near us, then enveloped me in her veil. Within the secrecy of the veil, binding us together, she moved her body slowly before me, lips parted, moaning. I took her in my arms. Her head was back, her eyes closed. I pressed my lips to hers, and with my teeth cut her lip. She, and I, together, tasted the blood and rouge of her subjugation. She drew back slightly, blood at the side of her mouth. Fist by fist, my hand on the back of her small, delicious neck, preventing her from escaping, I slowly removed her veil from her, then threw it aside. Then with my right hand, the Tuchuk quiva in it, while still holding her with my left, as she continued to move to the music, I, behind her back, cut the halter she wore from her. I then thrust her from me, before the tables, that she might better please the guests of Samos, first slaver of Port Kar. She looked at me reproachfully, but, seeing my eyes, turned frightened to the men, hands over her head, to please them. Never in all this, of course, had she lost the music in her body. The men cried out, pleased with her beauty.
"The message girl is ready," said the man who wore the green of the physicians. He turned to the man beside him; he dropped the shaving knife into the bowl, wiped his hands on a towel.
The girl, bound, knelt between the guards. There were tears in her eyes. Her head had been shaved, completely. She had no notion what had been written there. Illiterate girls are chosen for such messages. Originally her head had been shaved, and the message tattooed into the scalp. Then, over months, her hair had been permitted to regrow. None but the girl would know she carried such a message, and she would not know what it might be. Even those for a fee delivering her to the house of Samos would have considered her only another wench, mere slave property.
I read the message. It said only "Beware Abdul." We did not know from whence the message came, or who had sent it.
"Take the girl to the pens," said Samos to the guards. "With needles remove the message from her scalp."
The girl was jerked to her feet.
She looked at Samos.
"Then," said Samos, to the guards, "use her as a low work-slave in the pens, primarily as a cleaning slave. A month before her hair is regrown, and she is fit for sale, wash her and put her in a stimulation cage and train her intensively."
The girl looked at him, agonized.
"Then sell her," said Samos.
A stimulation cage is an ornately barred, low-ceilinged cage; it is rather roomy, except for the low ceiling, about five feet high. The girl cannot stand erect in it without her head inclined submissively. In such a cage, and in training, when not in such a cage, the girl who is housed in the stimulation cage is not permitted to look directly into the eyes of a male, even a male slave. This is designed, psychologically, to make the girl extremely conscious of males. When she is sold, then only, if the master wishes, he may say to her, "You may look into the eyes of your master." When she, frightened, tenderly, timidly, lifts her eyes to him, if he should deign to smile upon her, she then, in gratitude and joy, at last permitted to relate to another human being, often falls to her knees before him, an adoring slave. When next she looks up, his eyes will be stern, and she will look down, quickly, frightened. "I will try to serve you well, Master," she whispers. The accouterments of the stimulation-cell are also calculated with respect to their effect on the slave. There are brushes, perfumes, cosmetics, slave jewelries, heavy necklaces, armlets, bracelets and bangles; there is no clothing; there are also cushions, bowls of copper and lamps of brass. Importantly, there are also surfaces of various textures, a deep-piled rug, satins, silks, coarsely woven kaiila-hair cloths, brocades, rep-cloth, a tiled corner, a sleen pelt, cloths woven of strung beads, cloaks of leather, mats of reeds, etc. The point of this is that the senses and body of the slave, stripped save for brand and collar, and whatever perfumes, cosmetics or jewelries she may wear under the instruction of her trainer, are being taught to be alive, to sense and feel with great sensitivity; the senses and skins of many human beings, in effect, are dead, instead of being alert and alive to hundreds of subtle differences in, say, atmospheres, temperatures, humidities, surfaces, etc. A girl with living senses and a living body, of course, is far more passionate than one whose senses and body sleep. The skin itself, in a trained girl, becomes an extensive, glorious, marvelously subtle sensory organ. Every bit of the slave, if she is well trained, is alive. This is done, of course, to make her more helpless under the touch of a master. When she does yield to the master, her guts half torn out with the love of him, then, of course, she is a more satisfactory slave. These indignities, of course, are not inflicted on free women. They are permitted to go through life with their eyes half closed, so to speak. In this way they can maintain their self-respect. Sometimes inert, esteemed Gorean free women cry out in rage, not understanding why their companions have forsaken them for the evening, to go to the Paga tavern; there, of course, for the price of a cup of Paga, he can get his hands on a silken, belled girl, a slave; the free woman must denounce her companion, crying out, for his lusts; too busy for this, however, are the sweet, dark-eyed, sensuous sluts of the Paga tavern; they do not have time to denounce the lusts of their master's customers; they are too busy serving and satisfying them. The trainer directs the girl in the cage, or in the exercises, tending, observing, and prescribing, honing her with expertness into a delicious, responsive slave animal, the Gorean girl, collared, in bondage, trained to drive a man mad with desire, and then serve that desire, vulnerably, frequently and absolutely. The girl was thrust through the door, between the guards. I wondered what the trainer would prescribe for her. Girls differ, trainers differ. I glanced at the blondish girl, kneeling to one side, the former Miss Priscilla Blake-Allen. I, if her trainer, would probably put her frequently, at least at first, and later for discipline, in a rope slave harness. After a night in such harness, her wrists braceleted behind her that she might not remove it, I expected Miss Blake-Allen would be suitably docile, and eager to attend to her lessons.
When the girl had been forced through the door leading to the pens, I turned to Samos.
"Who is Abdul?" I asked.
Samos, puzzled, looked at me.
"Who is Abdul?" I repeated.
"I do not know," said Samos. He turned and went to his place behind the low table.
Those at the table paid us little attention. All eyes were on the dark-haired dancer, the skirt of diaphanous scarlet dancing silk low upon her hips. Her hands moved as though she might be, starved with desire, picking flowers from a wall in a garden. One saw almost the vines from which she plucked them, and how she held them to her lips, and, at times, seemed to press herself against the wall which confined her. Then she turned and, as though alone, danced her need before the men.
"There is much here that appears to make little sense," said Samos. "Yet, there must be a meaning, a pattern." With an eating prong, a utensil now more common in the northern latitudes than earlier, Samos tapped the table before him. He looked at me. "Little has of late occurred in the Wars of Priest-Kings and Others."
"Beware of a silent enemy," I said.
Samos smiled. "True," he said. Then he pointed the eating prong at the leather-harnessed American girl, on the tiles to our right, naked, two guards with spears at her side. The heavy butts of their spears rested, one to each side of her. Her fists were clenched in the leather, buckled cuffs of her harness, held to her thighs by the thigh straps. "We learn from this slave," he said, indicating the former Miss Blake-Allen, "that, until further orders, slave runs from Earth to Gor have been canceled."
"Yes," I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"Have the runs actually been stopped?" I asked.
"Information from the Sardar," said Samos, "suggests that that is true, that they have been stopped. There has not been a detection, let alone a pursuit, in three weeks."
The Gorean week consists of five days. Each month consists of five such weeks. Following each month, of which there are twelve, separating them, is a five-day Passage Hand. The twelfth Passage Hand is followed by the Waiting Hand, a five-day period prior to the vernal equinox, which marks the Gorean New Year. It was currently in the late winter of Year of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains in Port Kar, the year 10,122 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar. I had, two months ago, returned from Torvaldsland, where I had attended to certain matters of the sword.
"Further," said I, "into your keeping has come a captive beast, clearly a Kur."
"It seems irrational," said Samos. "Only a beast."
"I think it is rational," I said. "Its intelligence, I suspect, is the equal of ours, if not greater."
Samos regarded me.
"It may not, of course, be able to articulate Gorean. Few of the Kurii can. It is extremely difficult for them to do so."
"You understand the direction in which it was traveling?" asked Samos.
"Yes," said I.
"Strange," said Samos.
The beast had been taken southeast of Ar, while moving southeast. Such a path would take it below the eastern foothills of the Voltai and to the south. It was incredible.
"Who would enter such a place?" asked Samos.
"Caravans, crossing it," I said. "Nomads, grazing their verr on the stubble of verr grass."
"Who else?" asked Samos.
"The mad?" I smiled.
"Or the purposeful," said Samos, "someone who had business there, who knew what he was intending?"
"Perhaps," I admitted.
"Someone who had a mission, who knew precisely for what he was searching?"
"But there is nothing there," I said. "And only the mad, deeper into the area, depart from marked caravan routes, proceeding from oasis to oasis."
"A tender of kaiila, a boy, lost from his camp," said Samos, "found a rock. On this rock was inscribed 'Beware the steel tower.'"
"And the message girl," I said. "We do not know, I gather, whom this Abdul is of whom we are warned to beware."
"No," said Samos, puzzled. "I know of no Abdul."
"And who would send such a message, and why?"
"I do not know," said Samos.
I idly observed the dancer. Her eyes were on me. It seemed, in her hands, she held ripe fruits for me, lush larma, fresh picked. Her wrists were close together, as though confined by the links of slave bracelets. She touched the imaginary larma to her body, caressing her swaying beauty with it, and then, eyes piteous, held her hands forth, as though begging me to accept the lush fruit. Men at the table clapped their hands on the wood, and looked at me. Others smote their left shoulders. I smiled. On Gor, the female slave, desiring her master, yet sometimes fearing to speak to him, frightened that she may be struck, has recourse upon occasion to certain devices, the meaning of which is generally established and culturally well understood. I shall mention two such devices. There is, first, the bondage knot. Most Gorean slave girls have long hair. The bondage knot is a simple looped knot tied in the girl's hair and worn at the side of her right cheek or before her right shoulder. The girl approaches the master naked and kneels, the bondage knot soft, curled, fallen at the side of her right cheek or before her right shoulder. Another device, common in Port Kar, is for the girl to kneel before the master and put her head down and lift her arms, offering him fruit, usually a larma, or a yellow Gorean peach, ripe and fresh. These devices, incidentally, may be used even by a slave girl who hates her master but whose body, trained to love, cannot endure the absence of the masculine caress. Such girls, even with hatred, may offer the larma, furious with themselves, yet helpless, the captive of their slave needs, forced to beg on their knees for the touch of a harsh master, who revels in the sport of their plight; does he satisfy them; if it is his will, yes; if it is not his will, no. They are slaves.
The girl now knelt before me, her body obedient still, trembling, throbbing, to the melodious, sensual command of the music.
I looked into the cupped hands, held toward me. They might have been linked in slave bracelets. They might have held lush larma. I reached across the table and took her in my arms, and dragged her, turning her, and threw her on her back on the table before me. I lifted her to me, and thrust my lips to hers, crushing her slave lips beneath mine. Her eyes shone. I held her from me. She lifted her lips to mine. I did not permit her to touch me. I jerked her to her feet and, half turning her, ripping her silk from her, hurled her to the map floor, where she half lay, half crouched, one leg beneath her, looking at me, stripped save for her collar, the brand, the armlets, bells, the anklets, with fury. "Please us more," I told her. Her eyes blazed. "And do not rise from the floor, Slave," I told her. The music, which had stopped, began again.
She turned furiously, yet gracefully, extending a leg, touching an ankle, moving her hands up her leg, looking at me over her shoulder, and then rolled, and writhed, as though beneath the lash of masters.
"You discipline her well," said Samos, smiling.
The girl now, on her belly, yet subtly to the music, crawled toward us, lifted her hand piteously to us.
I heard a cry of dismay, of protest, from the horrified, once Miss Blake-Allen.
Samos regarded her. He was not pleased. "Free her legs of the harness," said Samos to one of the guards.
The guard took the straps which had bound her ankles together, and, untying them, slipped them through the metal ring, glinting, sewn into the back of the leather collar of the harness, worn over the simple curved collar of iron which marked her, even should she be clothed, and her brand not visible, as slave. The straps had run from the sides of the collar to her ankles, holding her in a kneeling position. Two straps are used so that the master, if he wishes, may fasten each ankle separately. In this fashion the ankles may be bound, but need not be bound together. This permits an arrangement similar to a common variety of "use chains" or "love chains," in which the left wrist is chained to the left ankle, and the right wrist to the right ankle. There is, of course, a large variety of Gorean chaining and tying arrangements. Chaining and tying, as is well known, tends to be sexually stimulatory to a female. This probably has to do with dominance and submission, that mastered females are more sexually responsive, that helplessness is an aphrodisiac for women, that being owned releases, multiplies and intensifies female orgasms, and such. Her legs were now free. The ankle straps then, sewn to the sides of the collar, and now circled about the collar and crossing in back, and now run through the ring on the front of the collar, served as leash. The harness is designed to provide a large number of ties. The girl, her legs freed, looked at Samos with horror. But he was no longer regarding her.
The dancer now lay on her back and the music was visible in her breathing, and in small movements of her head, and hands. Her hands were small and lovely.
She lay on the map floor, her head turned toward us. She was covered with sweat.
I snapped my fingers and her legs turned under her, and she was kneeling, head back, dark hair on the tiles. Her hands moved, delicate, lovely. Slowly, if permitted, she would rise to an erect kneeling position; her hands, as she lifted herself, extended toward us. Four times said I "No," each time my command forcing her head back, her body bent, to the floor, and each time, again, to the music, she lifted her body. The fifth time I let her rise to an erect kneeling position. The last portion of her body to rise was her beautiful head. The collar was at her throat. Her dark eyes, smoldering, vulnerable, reproachful, regarded me. Still did she move to the music, which had not yet released her.
With a gesture I permitted her to rise to her feet. "Dance your body, Slave," I told her, "to the guests of Samos."
Angrily the girl, man by man, slowly, meaningfully, danced her beauty to each guest. They struck the tables, and cried out. More than one reached to clutch her but each time, swiftly, she moved back.
Samos rose from behind the table and strode to the map floor. I went with him.
He stopped at a point on the smooth, mosaiced floor. I looked at him. "Yes," he said, "somewhere here."
I looked down at the intricately wrought mosaiced floor. Beneath our feet, smooth, polished, were hundreds of tiny, fitted bits of tile, mostly here, in this area, tan and brown. The bits of tile seemed soft, lustrous, under the torchlight.
On the map at our feet, where we stood, where Samos had indicated, was a representation, several feet in extent, of a vast desert, the greatest desert of known Gor.
There was little detail on the map in this area. Most of it was unexplored.
I heard a swirl of music.
I glanced back, to regard again the dancer.
She continued to move before the low tables. The eyes of the men gleamed. Before each man, for moments seemingly his alone, she danced her beauty.
"There is one thing more," said Samos, "which I have not told you."
I returned my attention to Samos.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Kurii have delivered to the Sardar an ultimatum."
"An ultimatum?" I asked.
"Surrender Gor, it said," said Samos.
"Nothing more?" I asked.
"Nothing more," said Samos.
"This makes little sense to me," I said. "For what reason should this world be surrendered to Kurii?"
"It seems insane," said Samos.
"Yet Kurii are not insane," said I. "There was no alternative specified?" I asked.
"None," said Samos.
"Surrender Gor--" I repeated.
"It seems a mad imperative," said Samos.
"But if it is not?"
"I am afraid," said Samos.
"And how has the Sardar responded to this?" I asked. "Have they repudiated it, scoffingly, ridiculed the preposterousness of this demand?"
Samos smiled. "Misk, a Priest-King," said he, "one high in the Sardar, has asked Kurii for a further specification of details."
I smiled. "He is buying time," I said.
"Of course," said Samos.
"What response, if any, was made?" I asked.
"Surrender Gor," said Samos. "A repetition of the original imperative. Then there was communication silence."
"Nothing more has been heard from Kurii?" I asked.
"Nothing more," said Samos.
"Doubtless it is a bluff on the part of Kurii," I said. "Priest-Kings would not well understand that sort of thing. They are quite rational generally, unusually logical. Their minds seldom think in terms of unwarranted challenges, psychological strategies, false claims."
"Sometimes I think Priest-Kings do not well understand Kurii. They may be too remotely related a life form. They may not have the passions, the energies, the hatreds to fully comprehend Kurii."
"Or men," said Samos.
"Or men," I agreed. Priest-Kings surely had energies and passions, but, I suspected, they were, on the whole, rather different from those of men, or, indeed, those of Kurii. The nature of the sensory experience of Priest-Kings was still, largely, a mystery to me. I knew their behavioral world; I did not know the world of their inner experience. Their antennae were their central organs of physical transduction. Though they had eyes, they seldom relied upon them, and were perfectly at ease in total darkness. Lights, in the Nest, were for the benefit of humans and other visually oriented creatures sharing the domicile. Their music was a rhapsody of odors, many of which were, to human olfactory organs, not even pleasant. Their decorations were largely invisible lines of scent traced with great care on the interiors of their compartments. Their most intense, pleasurable experience was perhaps to immerse their antennae in the filamented, narcotic mane of the golden beetle, which would then, piercing them with its curved, hollow, laterally moving jaw-pincers, drain them of their body fluid, feeding itself, slaying them. The social bond of the Priest-Kings is Nest Trust. Yet, in spite of their different evolutionary background and physiology, they had learned the meaning of the word 'friend'; too, I knew, they understood, if only in their own way, love.
I smiled to myself. "Sometimes," once had said Misk to me in the Nest, "I suspect only men can understand Kurii." Then he had added, "They are so similar."
It had been a joke. But I did not think it was false.
Unfortunate though it might be, I doubted and, I think, realistically, that Priest-Kings, those large, golden creatures, so gentle and delicate seeming, so content to mind their own affairs, truly understood their enemy, the Kurii. The persistence, the aggression, the fevers of the blood, the lust, the territoriality of such beasts, would be largely unintelligible to them. There was little place in the placid, lucid categories of Priest-Kings for comprehending the bloods and madnesses of either men or Kurii. They, Kurii and men, understood one another better, I suspected, than the Priest-Kings understood either. As long as the Kurii remained behind the fifth ring, that determined by the orbit of the planet called on Earth Jupiter, on Gor, Hersius, after a legendary hero of Ar, the Priest-Kings were little concerned with them. They had no objection if such ravening wolves prowled their fences, and scratched at their very gates. "They, like men, are an interesting life form," once had said Misk to me. But now the Kurii worlds, sensing the weakness of the Sardar, following the Nest War, damages that had destroyed their basic power source and had split the very Nest open to the sky, prowled more closely. The worlds, now, or several of them, we understood, concealed, shielded, lurked well within the asteroid belt. Contact points, bases, had been established, it seemed, on the shores of Earth itself. The major probe of Kurii, the organization of native Kurii by ship Kurii, had taken place recently. It had failed. It had been stopped in Torvaldsland. Ship Kurii, still, then, did not know the extent to which the power of Priest-Kings remained crippled. This was the major advantage which we now held. Kurii, cautious, like sharks, did not wish to commit their full attack until assured of its success. Had they known the weakness of the Sardar, and the time required to restore the power source, regenerating itself now at inexorable concentration rates determined by natural law, they would have surely launched their fleets. Most, we conjectured, they feared a ruse, a display of pretended weakness that would lure an attack, then to be decimated. Moreover, I knew there were factions among Kurii. Doubtless they had individuals who were bolder, and those who were more cautious. The failure of the Torvaldsland probe might have had great impact in their councils. Perhaps a new party had come to power among them. Perhaps now, a new strategy, a new plan, was afoot.
"Surrender Gor--" said Samos, looking down at the portion of the map beneath his feet.
I looked to the map. Was this where the new plan of Kurii, if there was such a new plan, touched this primitive world?
"The path of the captured Kur," said Samos, pointing, "would have taken it here."
"Perhaps he intended to cross it?" I asked.
Samos pointed with his finger, west of Tor. "No," said he, "surely one would circle the area, taking the routes west of Tor, where there is ample water."
"One would surely need a caravan, and guides," I said, "to survive east of Tor?"
"Of course," said Samos. "Yet the beast was alone."
"I suspect," said Samos, "that the beast's destination lay not on the other side of this area, but within it."
"Incredible," I said.
"Why should a Kur go to such a place, and enter such a country?" I asked.
"I do not know," said Samos.
"Strange that at this time, too," said I, "the slave runs should cease, and the imperative, inexplicable, to surrender Gor should be served upon the Sardar."
"What did the Kur seek in such a country?" asked Samos.
"And what," I asked, "of the message on the stone, 'Beware the steel tower'?"
"It is a mystery," said Samos, "and the answer lies here." He pointed to that dread area of Gor.
I looked downward. Even in the reduced scale of the map the desert seemed vast. It's mere representation, as earlier indicated, covered several square feet of the floor. It was roughly in the shape of a gigantic, lengthy trapezoid, with eastward leaning sides. At its northwestern corner lay Tor. West of Tor, on the Lower Fayeen, a sluggish, meandering tributary, like the Upper Fayeen, to the Cartius, lay the river port of Kasra, known for its export of salt. It was in this port that the warehouses of Ibn Saran, salt merchant, currently the guest of Samos of Port Kar, were to be found. This city, too, was indicated in the cording of his agal, and in the stripes of his djellaba.
The area, in extent, east of Tor, was hundreds of pasangs in depth, and perhaps thousands in length. The Gorean expression for this area simply means the Wastes, or the Emptiness. It is a vast area, and generally rocky, and hilly, save in the dune country. It is almost constantly windblown and almost waterless. In areas it has been centuries between rains. Its oases are fed from underground rivers flowing southeastward from the Voltai slopes. The water, seeping underground, eventually, in places, due to rock formations, erupts in oasis springs, or, more usually, is reached by deep wells, some of them more than two hundred feet deep. It takes more than a hundred and fifty years for some of this water to make the underground journey, seeping hundreds of feet at times beneath the dry surface, moving only a few miles a year, to reach the oases. Diurnal air temperatures in the shade are commonly in the range of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Surface temperature, diurnally, is, of course, much higher. In the dune country, by day, if one were so unwise as to go barefoot, the bright sand would quickly cripple a man, abrading and burning the flesh from his feet in a matter of hours.
"It is here," said Samos, pointing to the map, "that the secret lies."
The dancer turned from the tables and, hands high over her head, approached me. She swayed to the music before me. "You commanded me to dance my beauty for the guests of Samos," said she. "You, too, are such a guest, Master."
I looked upon her, narrow lidded, as she strove to please me.
Then she moaned and turned away, and, as the music swirled to its maddened, frenzied climax, she spun, whirling, in a jangle of bells and clashing barbaric ornaments before the guests of Samos. Then, as the music suddenly stopped, she fell to the floor, helpless, vulnerable, a female slave. Her body, under the torchlight, shone with a sheen of sweat. She gasped for breath; her body was beautiful, her breasts lifting and falling, as she drank deeply of the air. Her lips were parted. Now that her dance was finished she could scarcely move. We had not been gentle with her. She looked up at me, and lifted her hand. It was at my feet she lay.
I gestured her to her knees, head down. She obeyed. Her hair fell to the map floor.
It touched the portion of the map which, together, Samos and I had been contemplating. I regarded the lettering, in Gorean script.
"The secret is there," said Samos, pointing to the map, "in the Tahari."
Delicately, timidly, the dancer reached out, with her two hands, to touch my ankle. She looked at me, agonized.
I signaled to the guards. She cried out with misery as she was dragged by the ankle across the floor and thrown over two of the small tables.
I would let others warm her.
The men cried out with pleasure.
Her final yieldings I would force from her later, when it pleased me.
She who had once been Miss Priscilla Blake-Allen, a free Earth girl prior to her enslavement, struggled to her feet, her eyes wide with horror, trying to struggle backward, but the guards' hands on her arms, she now only a nameless slave, for her master had not yet given her a name, held her in place.
She looked at her master, Samos of Port Kar. He gave a sign. She screamed.
She fought the harness.
She, too, was thrown across the tables.
Ibn Saran, salt merchant of Kasra, did not rise from behind the table behind which, cross-legged, he sat. His eyes were half closed. He paid no attention to the raping of the slaves. He, too, it seemed, contemplated the map.
"Either girl's use, or that of both, is yours, noble Ibn Saran," said Samos, "if you wish."
"My thanks," said he, "Noble Samos. But it will be in my own tent, on the submission mats, that I will teach a slave to be a slave."
I turned to Samos. "I will leave in the morning," I said.
"Do I understand," asked Ibn Saran, "that your path leads you to the Tahari?"
"Yes," I said.
"That direction, too, is mine," said Ibn Saran. "I, too, leave in the morning. Perhaps we might travel together?"
"Good," I said.
Ibn Saran rose to his feet, and brushed his hand against the right palm of Samos, twice, and against my right palm, twice. "May your water bags be never empty. May you always have water."
"May your water bags be never empty," I said. "May you always have water."
He then bowed, turned, and left the room.
"The Kur," I said. I referred to the beast in the dungeons of Samos.
"Yes?" said Samos.
"Free it," I said.
"Free it?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Is it your intention to follow it?"
"No," I said. Few, if any humans, in my opinion, could long follow an adult Kur. They are agile, highly intelligent beasts. Their senses are unusually keen. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to trail, perhaps for weeks, such a keen-sensed, wary, suspicious creature. It would be almost suicidal, in my opinion, to attempt it. Sooner or later the beast would become aware of the pursuit. At that point the hunter would become the hunted. The night vision of the Kur is superb.
"Do you know what you are doing?" asked Samos.
"There are factions among Kurii," I said. "It is my feeling that this Kur may be our ally."
"You are mad," said Samos.
"Perhaps," I granted.
"I shall release the Kur," said Samos, "two days after you have departed Port Kar."
"Perhaps I shall meet it in the Tahari," I said."
"I would not look forward to the meeting," he said.
"You leave in the morning?" asked Samos.
"I shall leave before morning," I said.
"Are you not traveling with Ibn Saran?" asked Samos.
"No," I said. "I do not trust him."
Samos nodded. "Nor do I," he said.