/ Language: English / Genre:sf_epic, / Series: Chronicles of Counter-Earth

Mercenaries of Gor

John Norman

War on Gor is a rousing and fearful affair — and when the armada of Cos landed and began its sweeping arch against the mighty city of Ar, Tarl Cabot was swept up in their drive. Outcast from Port Kar, rejected by the Priest Kings, Tarl fought now for his own redemption. With comrades at his side, barbarian warriors and daring women, free and slave, his plans went forward — until the mercenaries of Dietrich of Tarnburg disrupted the struggle as a mysterious third force. MERCENARIES OF GOR brings into action all the magic and conflict of that counter-Earth, as Tarl became the center of intrigue and treachery in the city of his greatest enemies.

MERCENARIES OF GOR

(Volume twenty-one in the Chronicles of Counter-Earth)

by John Norman

1 What Occurred Outside Samnium

"I do not know about other women," she said, "but I am one who wishes to belong to a man, wholly,"

"Beware your words," I cautioned her.

"I am a free woman," she said. "I can speak as I please."

I could not gainsay her in this. She was free. She could, accordingly, say what she wished, and without requiring permission. She stood before me. She had dared to brush back her hood. She had unpinned her shimmering veils, permitting them to fall about her throat and shoulders. A soft movement of hands and a shake of her head had thrown her long, dark hair behind her back. She had dark eyes. Her face was softly rounded. It was delicate and beautiful.

"You have unpinned your veil," I observed.

"Yes," she said.

"You are brazen," I said.

"Yes," she said, insolently.

I mused, considering this. It is not difficult, of course, to take insolence from a woman.

"Why have you unpinned your veil before me?" I asked.

"Perhaps you will like what you see," she said.

"Bold female," I observed.

She tossed her head, impatiently.

"Do you have the least inkling as to what it might be, to belong to a man, wholly?"

"Do you find me pleasing?" she asked.

"Answer my question," I said.

"Yes," she said.

I wondered if this is true. It might be. She was Gorean. "Now, she said. "Answer mine!"

"Do not court an altercation in your condition, unless you are prepared to accept it, in its full consequences," I said.

She shuddered. She lowered her eyes. "It is said that there is in every woman that which I sense so fearfully, yet longingly, in myself."

"I wonder if that is true," I said.

"I do not know," she said, "but I know that it is in me, passionately, strongly, irresistibly."

"You are bold," I said.

"A free woman may be bold," she said.

"True," I granted her.

"I need this for my fulfillment, to be one with myself," she said.

"Speak clearly," I said. She was free. I saw no point in making it easy for her. "I want to be a total woman, in the order of nature," she said.

I shrugged.

"My heart cries out," she wept, "with the need to be accepted, to be acquired, to be owned, to be mastered, to be forced to submit, to be forced to will-lessly and selflessly serve and love!"

I did not respond to her.

"I beg this of you, for you are a man," she said.

"Speak with greater precision," I said.

She shook her head. "Please, no," she said.

I shrugged.

"Mine is the slave sex!" she said, angrily, defiantly.

"The slave sex?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"And you are a member of that sex?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said, angrily.

"I see," I said.

"I am tired of trying to be like a man!" she said. "It is a lie which robs me of myself!"

I said nothing. "I want to be true to myself," she said. "I want to be fulfilled!" "Such a thing is not reversible by your will," I said.

"I am well aware of that," she said.

"There are many sorts of masters," I said, "and you would be at the disposal of any of them, and totally,"

"I know," she whispered.

I said nothing.

"You have still not answered my question," she said. "Do you find me pleasing?" "It is difficult to say," I said, "bundled and covered as you are." "She looked at me, frightened.

"Strip," I said. She would be assessed.

She reached to the veils about her throat and shoulders and, taking them, dropped them softly to the grass. She stood not more than a hundred yards from the gate of Tesius, in the city of Samnium, some two hundred pasangs east and a bit south of Brundisium, both cities continental allies of the island ubarate of Cos. She slipped softly from her slippers. She must then have felt the touch of the grass blades on her ankles. She looked at me. Her hands went to the stiff, high brocaded collar of her robes, the robes of concealment, to the numerous eyes and hooks there, holding it tightly, protectively, about her throat, up high under her chin.

"Do not dally," I told her.

In a few moments she had parted her robes, and slipped them, first the street robe, that stiff, ornate fabric, and then the house robe, scarcely less inflexible and forbidding, from her small, soft shoulders. Clad now only in a silken sliplike undergarment, she then looked at me.

"Completely," I said, "absolutely."

She then stood before me, even more naked than many a girl up for vending, waiting to be thrust to the surface of the block, for she wore no collar, no chains, no brand. A merchant on his way to the gate of Tesius paused, to gaze upon her. So, too, did two soldiers, guardsmen of Samnium. She stood very straight, inspected. None of these wrinkled their noses nor spat upon the ground. "What is your name?" I asked.

"Charlotte, Lady of Samnium," she said.

"Turn slowly before me, Lady Charlotte," I said. "Now place your hands, clasped behind the back of your head, and arch your back. Good. You may now kneel. Do you know the position of the pleasure slave? Good."

"How does it feel to be kneeling before a man?" I asked.

"I have never been like this before a man," she said.

"How does it feel?" I asked.

"I do not know," she said. "I am so confused. It is so overwhelming. I am uncertain. I do not know what I feel like. I am almost giddy."

"Lift your chin," I said.

She complied immediately, unhesitantly.

"Spread your knees more widely," I said. Again, unhesitantly, immediately, she complied.

I regarded Lady Charlotte. I saw that she might be suitable. She was beautiful, and extremely feminine. I saw one of the soldiers licking his lips.

"These are difficult and dark times," I told her. "I tell you nothing you do not know when I tell you that. Too, I now inform you that where I go, it will be dangerous."

She looked up at me.

"Remain in the city," I said. "There you will be safe, there you will be secure."

"No," she said.

"No?" I asked.

"No," she said, firmly. "I am not yours. I do not need to obey you." "Assume a position on your hands and knees," I told her.

"Yes," I said. I removed a slave whip from my pack.

"I am free!" she said.

"I think it will do you good to feel this," I said, shaking out the five, soft, broad blades. I then went behind her.

"Ai!" she cried, struck. "It hurts, so!" she wept, now, a moment later, beginning to feel the pain in its fullness, now on her stomach, disbelief in her eyes. "I did not know it was like that."

"I struck you but once, and not hard," I told her.

"That was not hard?" she gasped, striped, stung, sobbing, terrified.

"No," I told her. "Go back now to the city, and be safe."

"No," she sobbed. "No!"

I crouched near her, looking at her closely.

"No," she said. "No, no!"

I regarded her.

"Please," she said.

"Very well," I said.

She looked at me, wildly, elated. I thrust her face down to the grass. She sobbed with relief, with pleasure. I drew forth a slave collar from my pack. Roughly, unceremoniously, I placed it on her neck, snapping it shut, locking it. "Good," said the merchant, turning away. "Good," said the two soldiers, too, turning away.

I regarded her.

She was now collared. She was now a slave. She was now mine.

She looked up at me, frightened. "I am yours," she whispered.

"Yes," I said.

"Please strike me once more," she said, "that I may this time feel the blow as a slave."

I said nothing.

"I want to feel your whip, as your slave," she said.

"Very well," I said. I then, by the hair and an arm, drew her again to her hands and knees. I again then stood behind her but this time I did not strike her immediately, but let her wait, as a slave, that she might anticipate the blow, and grow apprehensive of it, and not know precisely when it would fall. Then the blades hissed suddenly down upon her and again she cried out, sobbing, flung to the grass, which she clutched with her fingers. "You punish me," she said. "You can do with me as you please. I am your slave! I am yours!"

I looked down upon her. She was not unattractive. I had not planned to take a slave with me from Samnium, but I did not truly object to doing so. She could cook for me, and serve me, and keep me warm in the furs. It was late in Se'Kara. I would find her a useful convenience, a lovely one. Every man needs such a convenience. Then, when I wished, I could give her away, or dispose of her in some market.

"Do you think you were struck hard?" I asked.

"I do not know, Master," she said.

"You were not," I informed her.

"Yes, Master," she whispered, frightened, sensing what might have been done to her but had not been. To be sure, I had struck her harder than the first time, for she was now a slave, and slaves, of course, are whipped differently from free women, but I had not, truly, struck her with great force.

"Can men strike harder than that?" she asked.

"Do not be absurd," I said. "I struck you with only a tiny fraction of the force that an average fellow, if he wished, might bring to such a task. Too, I struck you only once, and in only one area, one less sensitive to pain than many others."

"I see, Master," she said, shuddering. She had then sensed what it might be to be a whipped slave girl. And whipping, of course, is only one of the punishments to which such a girl might be subjected. "I will try to be a good slave, Master," she whispered, frightened, understanding now perhaps some what better than before something of the categorical and absolute nature of her new condition.

"Who were you?" I asked.

"Lady Charlotte, of Samnium," she said.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"A slave, only a slave, yours," she said.

"What is your name?" I asked.

"I have no name," she said. "I have not yet been given one. My master has not yet given me a name."

"Your responses are correct," I said.

She sobbed with relief.

"Do you wish a name?" I asked.

"It is all within the will of the Master," she said. "I want only only what Master wants. I desire only to please."

"It will be a convenience for me to have a name for you," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"You are, «Feiqa' I said, naming her. "Thank you, Master," she breathed, elated, "Feiqa' is a lovely name. It is not unknown among dancers in the Tahari.

Other such names are "Aytul' "Benek', "Emine', "Faize', "Mine', "Yasemine' and " Yasine'. The "qa' in the name "Feiqa', incidentally, is pronounced rather like "kah' in English. I have not spelled it "Feikah' in English because the letter in question, in the Gorean spelling, is a "kwah' and not a 'kef'. The "kwah' in Gorean, which I think is possibly related, directly or indirectly, to the English "q', does not always have a "kwah' sound. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not; in the name "Feiqa' it does not. Although this may seem strange to native English speakers, it is certainly not linguistically unprecedented. For example, in Spanish, certainly one of the major languages spoken on Earth, the letter "q' seldom, if ever, has the "kwah' sound. Even in English, of course, the letter "q' itself is not pronounced with a "kwah' sound, but rather with a "k' or "c' sound as in "kue' or "cue'.

I gathered my shield and weapons from the grass near us, where they lay with my pack. I slung my helmet over my left shoulder. I set my eyes to the southeast, away from the high gray walls of Samnium.

"Fetch my pack, Feiqa," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said. She would serve as my beast of burden.

I watched her as she, unaided, struggled with the pack. Then she had it on her back. Her back was bent. "It is heavy, Master," she said. I did not respond to her. She lowered her head, bearing the pack. The wind moved through the trampled grass. She shivered. It was now late in Se'Kara. Already on Thassa the winds would be chill and the cold waves would be dashing and plunging to the bulwarks and washing the decks with their cold floods. I regarded the girl. In warmer seasons, or warmer areas, one may take one's time in making the decision as to whether or not a female is to be permitted clothing. Some masters keep their slaves naked for a year or more. The girl is then grateful when, and if, she is permitted clothing, be it only a bit of cloth or some rag or other. In this latitude, however, and in this season, I would have to see to the slave's garmenture. I looked back at the discarded clothing on the grass. She could take none of that, of course It was no longer proper for her. It was the clothing of a free woman. That sort of thing was now behind her. I could have her fashion something from a rough blanket perhaps, and find her something to wrap her feet in. Too, I might be able to find her something, which might function as a cloak. That she could clutch about her head and shoulders.

"Do you know how to heel, Feiqa?" I asked.

"Yes, Master," she said. She was a Gorean woman, familiar at least superficially with the duties and obligations of slaves. To be sure, as a recently free woman, she might perhaps find herself astounded and horrified at some of the things that would now, even routinely, be required of her. I did not know. Certain things which are not only common knowledge to slaves but, even a normal, familiar part of their lives seem to be scarcely suspected by free women. These are the sorts of things about which free women, horrified and scandalized, scarcely believing them, sometimes whisper, fearfully, delightedly, among themselves. Some Earth-girl slaves brought to Gor, incidentally, do not even know how to heel. Incredibly, they must be taught. They learn quickly, of course, in the collar, and subject to the whip.

I looked back, again, to the walls of Samnium. It had been spared the savageries of the war, doubtless because of its relationship with Cos. I then set out to the southeast. I did not look back. I was followed by Feiqa.

2 There Are Hardships in These Times

I looked up from Feiqa, moaning in my arms, clutching at me. I had heard a tiny noise. I thrust her back, and away, she whimpering. I reached to my knife, and stood up, in the darkness. I stood on the lowered circular floor, dug out of the earth, packed down and tiled with stone, behind a part of a wall. It was the remains of a calked, woven-stick wall. It was now broken and charred. I could see the dark sky, with the moons, over its jagged, serrated edge. I could hear the whisper of other leaves outside. They were blown to and fro, like dry, brittle, fugitives, on the small, central commons between the huts.

We had made our camp here, in the burnt, roofless, half-fallen ruins of one of the huts. It had given us shelter from the wind. The village had been deserted, perhaps, judging from the absence of crockery, household effects and furnishings, even before it had been burned. It stood like most Gorean villages at the hub of its wheel of fields, the fields, striplike, spanning out from it like spokes. Most Gorean peasants live in such villages, many of them palisaded, which they leave in the morning to tend their fields, to which they return at night after their day's labors. The fields about this village, however, and near other villages, too, in this part of the country, were now untended. They were untilled and desolate. Armies had passed here.

"Is there someone there?" asked a voice, a woman's voice.

I did not respond. I listened. "Who is there?" she asked. The voice sounded hollow and weak. I heard the whimpering of a child.

I did not respond.

"Who is there?" she begged.

I moved a little in the shadows, slowly, and back and toward the center of the hut. In moving slowly, one tends to convey, on a very basic level, that one is not intending harm; to be sure, even predators like the larl occasionally abuse this form of signaling, for example, in hunting tabuk, using it for purposes of deception; more rapid movement, of course, tends to precipitate defensive reactions. In moving back I had also tended to reassure the figure in the doorway that I meant no harm, this movement, too, of course, had the advantage of ensuring me reaction space; in moving toward the center of the hut I made it possible for her to see me better, this tending too, one supposes, to allay suspicions; in this way, too, of course, I secured myself weapon space. These things seemed to be instinctual, or, at least, to be done with very little conscious thought. They seem very natural. We tend to take them for granted. It is interesting, however, upon occasion, to speculate upon the possible origins of just such familiar and taken-for-granted accommodations and adjustments. It seems possible they have been selected for. At any rate, they, or their analogues, are found throughout the animal kingdom.

The small figure stood just outside what had once been the threshold of the hut. It had come there naturally, it seemed, as if perhaps by force of habit, or conviction, although the door was no longer there. It seemed forlorn, and weary. It clutched something in its arms.

"Are you a brigand?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"It is a free woman," whispered Feiqa, kneeling on the blankets.

"Cover your nakedness," I said. Feiqa pulled her tiny, coarse tunic about her self.

"This is my house," said the woman.

"Do you wish us to leave?" I asked.

"Do you have anything to eat?" she asked. "A little," I said. "Are you hungry?"

"No," she said.

"Perhaps the child is hungry?" I asked.

"No," she said. "We have plenty."

I said nothing.

"I am a free woman!" she said, suddenly, piteously.

"We have food," I said. "We have used your house. Permit us to share it with you."

"Oh, I have begged at the wagons," she said suddenly, sobbing. "It is not a new thing for me! I have begged! I have been on my knees for a crust of bread. I have fought with other women for garbage beside the road."

"You shall not beg in your own house," I said.

She began to sob, and the small child, bundled in her arms, began to whimper. I approached her very slowly, and drew back the edge of the coverlet about the child. Its eyes seemed very large. Its face was dirty.

"There are hundreds of us," she said, "following the wagons. In these times only soldiers can live."

"The forces of Ar," I said, "are even now being mustered, to repel the invaders. The soldiers of Cos, and their mercenary contingents, no matter how numerous, will be no match for the marshaled squares of Ar."

"My child is hungry," she said. "What do I care for the banners of Ar, or Cos?" "Are you companioned?" I asked.

"I do not know any longer," she said.

"Where are the men?" I asked.

"Gone, she said. "Fled, driven away, killed. Many were impressed into service. They are gone, all of them are gone."

"What happened here?" I asked.

"Foragers," she said. "They came for supplies, and men. They took what we had. Then they burned the village."

I nodded. I supposed things might not have been much different if the foragers had been soldiers of Ar.

"Would you like to stay in my house tonight?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Build up the fire," I said to Feiqa, who was kneeling back in the shadows. She had put her tunic about her. Too, she had pulled up the blanket about her body. As soon as I had spoken she crawled over the flat stones to the ashes of the fire, and began to prod among them, stirring them with a narrow stick, searching for covert vital embers.

"Surely you are a brigand," said the woman to me.

"No," I said.

"Then you are a deserter," she said. "It would be death for you to be found." "No," I said. "I am not a deserter."

"What are you then?" she asked.

"A traveler," I said.

"What is your caste?" she asked.

"Scarlet is the color of my caste," I said.

"I thought it might be," she said. "Who but such as you can live in these times?"

I gave her some bread from my pack, from a rep-cloth draw-sack, and a bit of dried meat, paper thin, from its tied leather envelope.

"There, there," she crooned to the child, putting bits of bread into its mouth. "I have water," I said, "but no broth or soup."

"The ditches are filled with water," she said. "Here, here, little one." "Why did you come back?" I asked.

"I came to look for roots," she said, chewing.

"Did you find any?" I asked.

She looked at me quickly, narrowly. "No," she said.

"Have more bread," I said, offering it.

She hesitated.

"It is a gift, like your hospitality," I said, "between free persons. Did you not accept it I should be shamed." "You are kind," she said. "Not to make me beg in my own house." "Eat," I said.

Feiqa had now succeeded in reviving the fire. It was now a small, sturdy, cheerful blaze. She knelt near it, on her bare knees, in the tiny, coarse tunic, on the flat, sooted, stained stones, tending it "She is collared!" cried the woman, suddenly, looking at Feiqa.

Feiqa shrunk back, her hand inadvertently going to her collar. Too, her thigh now wore a brand, the common Kajira mark, high on her left thigh, just under the hip. I had had it put on her two days after leaving the vicinity of Samnium, at the town of Market of Semris, well known for its sales of tarsks. It had been put on in the house of the slaver, Teibar. He brands superbly, and his prices are competitive. No longer could the former Lady Charlotte, once of Samnium, be mistaken for a free woman.

The free woman looked at Feiqa, aghast.

"Belly," I said to Feiqa.

Immediately Feiqa, trembling, went to her belly on the stained, sooted stones near the fire.

"I will not have a slave in my house!" said the free woman.

Feiqa trembled.

"I know your sort" cried the free woman. "I see them sometimes with the wagons, sleek, chained and well-fed, while free women starve.

"It is natural that such women be cared for," I said. "They are salable animals, properties. They represent a form of wealth. It is natural to look after them as it is to look after tharlarion or tarsks."

"You will not stay in my house!" cried the free woman to Feiqa. "I will not keep livestock in my house."

Feiqa clenched her small fists beside her head. I could see she did not care to hear this sort of thing. In Samnium she had been a rich woman, of a family well known on its Street of Coins. Doubtless many times she would have held herself a thousand times superior to the poor peasant women, coming in from the villages, in their bleached woolen robes, bringing their sacks and baskets of grain and produce to the city's markets. Her clenched fists indicated that perhaps she did not yet fully understand that all that was now behind her. "Animal!" screamed the free woman.

Feiqa looked up angrily, tears in her eyes, and lifted herself an inch or two from the floor on the palms of her hands. "I was once as free as you!" she said. "Oh!" cried Feiqa, suddenly, sobbing, recoiling from my kick, and then "Aii!" she cried, in sharp pain, as, my hand in her hair, she was jerked up to a kneeling position.

"But no more!" I said. I was furious. I could not believe her insolence. "No, Master," she wept, "no more!"

I then with the back of my hand, and then its palm, first one, and then the other, back and forth, to and fro, again and again, lashed her head from side to side. Then I flung her on her belly before the free woman. There was blood on my hand, and about her mouth and lips.

"Forgive me!" she begged the free woman. "Forgive me!"

"Address her as "Mistress, I said. It is customary for Gorean slaves to address free women as «Mistress and free men as "Master."

"I beg your forgiveness, Mistress!" wept the girl. "Forgive me, please, I beg it of you!"

"She is new to the collar," I apologized to the free woman. "I think that perhaps even now she does not fully understand its import. Yet I think that perhaps she understands something more of its meaning now than she did a few moments ago. "Shall I kill her?"

Hearing this question Feiqa cried out in fear and shuddered uncontrollably on her belly before the free woman. She then clutched at her ankles and, putting down her head, began to cover her feet with desperate, placatory kisses. "Please forgive the animal!" wept Feiqa. "The animal begs your forgiveness! Please, Mistress! Please, gracious, beautiful, noble Mistress! Forgive Feiqa, please forgive Feiqa, who is only a slave!" I looked down at Feiqa. I think she now understood her collar better than before. I had, for her insolence and unconscionable behavior, literally placed her life in the hands of the free woman. She now understood this sort of thing could be done. Too, she would now understand even more keenly how her life was completely and totally, absolutely, at the mercy of a Master. It thus came home to her, I think, fully, perhaps for the first time, what it could be to be a Gorean slave.

"Are you sorry for what you have done?" asked the free woman.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, Mistress!" wept Feiqa, her head down, doing obeisance to one who was a thousand times, nay, infinitely, her superior, the free woman of the peasants.

"You may live," said the free woman.

"Thank you, Mistress!" wept Feiqa, head down, shuddering and sobbing uncontrollably at the free woman's feet.

"Have you learned anything from this, Feiqa?" I asked.

"Yes, Master," she wept.

"What?" I asked.

"That I am a slave, she said.

"Do not forget it, Feiqa," I told her.

"No, Master," she sobbed, fervently.

"Will you stay the night?" asked the free woman.

"With your permission," I said.

"You are welcome here," she said. "But you will have to sleep your animal outside."

I glanced down at Feiqa. She was still shuddering. It would be difficult for her, I supposed, at least for a time, to cope with her new comprehension concerning the nature of her condition.

"I do not allow livestock in my house," said the free woman.

I smiled, looking down at Feiqa. To be sure, the former rich young lady of Samnium was now livestock, that and nothing more. Too I smiled because of the free woman's concern, and outrage, at the very thought of having a slave in the house. This seemed amusing to me for two reasons. First, it is quite common for Goreans to keep slaves, a lovely form of domestic animal, in the house. Indeed the richer and more well-to-do Gorean the more likely it is that he will have slaves in the house. In the houses of administrators, in the domiciles of high merchants, in the palaces of Ubars, for example, slaves, and usually beautiful ones, for they can afford them, are often abundant. Secondly, it is not unusual either for many peasants to keep animals in the house, usually verr or bosk, sometimes tarsk, at least in the winter. The family lives in one section of the dwelling, and the animals are quartered in the other.

"Go outside," I told Feiqa.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"Would you like a little more food?" I asked the free woman. "I have some more." She looked at me.

"Please," I said.

She took two more wedges of yellow Sa-Tarna bread. I put some more sticks on the fire.

"Here," she said, embarrassed, She drew some roots, and two suls, from her robe. They had been freshly dug. Dirt still clung to them. She put them down on the stones, between us.

I sat down cross-legged, and she knelt down, opposite me, knees together, in the common fashion of the Gorean free woman. The roots, the two suls, were between us. She rocked the child in her arms.

"I thought you could find no roots," I smiled.

"Some were left in the garden," she said. "I remembered them. I came back for them. There was very little left though. Others obviously had come before me. These things were missed. They are poor stuff. We used to use the produce of that garden for tarsk feed."

"They are fine roots," I said. "and splendid suls."

"We even hunt for tarsk troughs," she said, wearily, "and dig in the cold dirt of the pens. The tarsk are gone, but sometimes a bit of feed remains, fallen between the cracks, or missed by the animals, having been trampled into the mud. There are many tricks we learn in these days."

"I do not want to take your food," I said.

"Would you shame me?" she asked.

"No," I said. "Share my kettle," she said.

"Thank you," I said. I took one of the roots and broke off a bit of it in my hand. I rubbed the dirt from it. I bit into it. "Good," I said. I did not eat more however. I would let her keep her food. I had done in this matter what would be sufficient. I had, in what I had done, acknowledged her as the mistress in her house; I had shown her honor; I had "shared her kettle."

"Little Andar is asleep," she said, looking at the bundled child.

I nodded.

"You may sleep your slave inside the threshold," she said.

3 Tula

"Throw back your hoods, pull down your veils, females!" laughed the wagoner. The women crowding about the back of the wagon, many with their hands outstretched, the sleeves of their robes falling back, cried out in consternation.

"a€”if you would be fed!" he added.

These women must be new, I thought. Probably they had come only recently to the wagons, probably trekking overland from some contacted village, perhaps one from as far away as fifty pasangs, a common range for the excursions, the searches and collections of mounted foragers. Most of the women I had seen following the wagons, at any rate, knew enough by now to approach them only bareheaded, as female supplicants, too, to be more pleasing to the men who might possibly be persuaded to feed them, with their hair visible and loose as that of slaves. Similarly, most had already discarded or hidden their veils, even when not begging. They did not even wear them in their own small, foul, often-fireless makeshift camps near the wagons, camps, to be sure, to which men might sometimes come. It had been discovered that a woman who is seen with a veil, even if she has lowered the veil, abjectly and piteously face-stripping herself, is less likely to be fed than one with no veil in evidence. Too, of course, it had been quickly noted that such women, too, tended to be less frequently selected for the pleasure of the drivers. The men with the wagons had not seen fit to permit the women the dignity of veiling. In this, of course, they treated them like slaves. "Please!" cried a woman, thrusting back her hood and tearing away her veil. "Feed me! Please, feed me! The others, too, then almost instantly, hastily, each seeming to hurry to be before the others, some moaning and crying out in misery, unhooded and unveiled themselves.

"That is better, females," laughed the driver.

Many of the women moaned and wept.

They were now, to be sure, I mused, in their predicament and helplessness, even though free women, as the driver had implied, little more then mere females. One could probably not be more a female unless one was a slave.

"Feed us!" they cried piteously to the driver, many of them with their arms outstretched, their hands lifted, their palms opened, crowding and pressing about the back of the wagon. "We beg food!" "We are hungry!" "Please!" "Feed us, please!" "Please!"

I looked at their faces. On the whole they seemed to be simple, plain women, peasant women, and peasant lasses. One or two of them, I thought, might be suitable for the collar.

"Here!" cried the driver, laughing, throwing pieces of bread from a sack to one and then another of the women. The first piece of bread he threw to the woman who had been the first to unhood and face-strip herself, perhaps thereby rewarding her for her intelligence and alacrity. He then threw pieces to certain others of the women, generally to those who were the prettiest and begged the hardest. Sometimes, not unoften, these pieces of bread were torn away from the prettier, more feminine women by their brawnier, huskier, more masculine fellows. Where there are no men, or no true men, to protect them, feminine women will, in a grotesque perversion of nature, be controlled, exploited and dominated by more masculine women, sometimes monsters and mere caricatures of men. Yet even such grosser women, sometimes little more than surrogates for males, can upon occasion, in the hands of a strong uncompromising master, be forced to manifest and fulfil, realizing then for the first time, the depths of their long-denied, long-suppressed womanness. There are two sexes. They are not the same.

"More, more, please!" begged the females.

Then, amusing himself, the driver tossed some bits of bread into the air and watched the desperate, anxious women crowd and bunch under it, pushing and shoving for position, and trying to leap upward, thrusting at one another, to snatch at it.

"More, please!" they screamed.

I saw again a large straight-hipped woman seize a piece of bread fiercely from a smaller woman, one with a delicious love cradle. Then with both hands she thrust it in her mouth and, bending over, shouldering and thrusting, fought her way back to where, crouching down, watching for others, she could eat it alone. None could take it away from her, save a man, of course, who might have done it easily.

"That is all!" laughed the driver.

"No!" wept women.

"Bread!" wept others.

It was clear that something, in spite of what the driver had said, remained in the sack. He grinned and wiped his face with his arm. It had been a joke.

"Another crust, please!" begged a woman.

"Feed us!" cried another.

"You are the masters!" wept one of the women, suddenly.

"Feed us! Please feed us!"

The driver laughed and drew forth a handful of crusts from the sack, which crusts apparently constituted the remainder of its contents. Then he flung those over the heads of the women, well behind them. They turned about and, running flinging themselves to their hands and knees in the dirt, scrambling about, snatching and screaming, fought for them.

The driver watched them for a time, amused. Then he turned away, and, stepping among the bundles in the wagon bed, went to the wagon box. This type of box serves both as the driver's seat, or bench, and as a literal box, in which various items may be stored, usually spare parts, tools and personal belongings. It usually locks. He lifted the lid of the wagon box, which lid served also as the surface of his seat or bench, and dropped the empty sack within, and then shut the box. Also, from near the box, in front of it, near where his feet would rest in driving, he picked up a tharlarion whip. He had had experience with such women before, it seemed. "No more!" he said, angrily. "No more!"

Women now again, pathetic and desperate, robes now wrinkled and dirty from where they had knelt, and crawled and fought for the crusts and crumbs in the dirt, began to approach the wagon. The whip lashed out, cracking over their heads. They fell back.

"More!" they begged. "Please!"

"It is all gone," said the driver. "It is all gone now! Get away, sluts!" "You have bread!" wept one. This was true of course. The wagon's lading was Sa-Tarna bread, and also, incidentally, Sa-Tarna meal and flour. It creaked under perhaps a hundred and fifty Gorean stone of such stores. These supplies, of course, were not intended for vagabonds or itinerants who might be encountered on the road but for the kitchens set up at the various nights' encampments.

"Back, sluts!" he cried. "I carry stores for soldiers!"

"Please!" wept more than one woman.

"I see that it was a mistake to have fed you anything!" he cried angrily. "No, no!" cried a woman. "We are sorry!" We beg your forgiveness, generous sir!" "Please, more bread!" wept others.

He lifted the whip, menacingly. It was a tharlarion whip. I would not care to have been struck with it.

"Get back!" he cried.

Some crowded yet more closely about the wagon. "Bread!" they begged. "Please!" Then the whip fell amongst them and they, though free women, fell back, away from it, crying and in pain, and scattering.

"Tomorrow then," he cried, angrily, "if you wish, there will be nothing for any of you!"

"No, please!" wept the women.

"Kneel down," he said. Swiftly they fell on their knees, behind the wagon. "Heads down to the dirt," he commanded. They complied. I was not certain that it was proper to command free women in this fashion. It was rather as one might command slaves. Still, women, even free women, look well, obeying. The slave, of course, must obey. She has no choice. "You may lift your heads," he said. "Are you contrite?" he inquired. "Yes," moaned several of the women.

"Perhaps you are moved to beg my forgiveness?" he asked.

"We beg your forgiveness, generous and noble sir!" called a woman.

"Yes, yes!" said others.

"Well," he said, seemingly perhaps a bit mollified, "we shall see." He then put down the whip and took his place on the wagon box. He released the brake, pulling its wooden handle back on its pivot with his left hand, freeing its leather-lined shoe from the front wheel. "Ho!" he cried to the tharlarion and, with a crack whip, a creak of wood, a rattle of chain traces, and a grunt from the beast, was on his way. I watched the wagon for a moment or two, trundling down the road on its wooden-spoked, iron-rimmed wheels. I tied a rope on Feiqa's neck. "Come along," I told her.

In a few moments I had caught up with the wagon. I looked back. The women in the road were only now getting to their feet. Doubtless they were still terribly hungry. Many, too, seemed weary and dazed. They had apparently come only this morning from some village to the road. They had now begun to learn what it was for a woman to follow the wagons.

I took my pack from Feiqa's back and threw it, and my spear and shield, into the wagon. I then climbed up to the wagon box beside the driver. "Tal," said he, looking over at me.

"Tal," said I to him. I tied Feiqa's neck rope to the side of the wagon. She stayed close to the side of the wagon, almost so close that I could reach out and touch her. She was frightened, I think, at the looks she received from some of the free women at the side of the road. "No," said the driver, sternly, more then once, lifting his whip, as such women rose to their feet, as though to approach him. Not all of these women, of course, followed the wagons. Some, doubtless, merely came from their village, or the remains of their villages, down to the side of the road to beg as the wagons passed. In such villages, I supposed, there might be some food. When that was exhausted perhaps these women, too, would put their belongings in a bundle and trek after the wagons. One of the women did come up beside the wagon with a switch and struck Feiqa in fury three times. Feiqa, on her rope, moving, shrank small before her, trying to cover her face and body. There is little love lost between free women and slaves, particularly during these times.

"Oh!" cried Feiqa, suddenly stung by a stone, hurled by another woman. She then walked weeping, almost pressed against the side of the wagon. She could not even think of daring to object to such treatment, of course. In the hut of the free woman, last night, she had learned, unconditionally, that she was a slave. I wondered if the former rich young woman of Samnium had herself, in bygone days, accorded slaves similar treatment. I supposed so. It is not uncommon on the part of free women. Now of course, as a slave herself, she would understand clearly what it was to be the one who is subjectable to such treatment Perhaps free women would treat slaves somewhat differently if they understood that one day it might be themselves whom they might find in the collar. In these attacks, of course, Feiqa was in no danger of being seriously injured, or disfigured or maimed. Accordingly, I did not take any official notice of them.

The wagons, for the most part, were well scattered apart on the road. Their intervals were irregular and sometimes one or another of them stopped. We had come to the vicinity of the road, the Genesian Road, early this morning.

Surmounting a rise, we had seen it below us, and the wagons, in their long line, stretched out in the distance. We had then descended the gentle declivity slowly, through the wet grass, to its side. I had some idea of the forces of Cos which had made their landing at Brundisium earlier in Se'Kara. I had seen the invasion fleet entering upon its peaceful harborage at Brundisium. Never before on Gor, I suspected, had such forces been marshaled. It was an invasion, it seemed, not of an army, but of armies. To be sure, many of its contingents were composed of mercenaries sworn to the temporary service of diverse fee captains, and not Cosian regulars. It is difficult to manage such men. They do not fight for Home Stones. They are often little more than armed rabbles. Many are little better than thieves and cutthroats. They must be well paid and assured of ample booty. Accordingly the tactics and movements of such groups, functions of captains who know their men well, and must be wary of them, are often less indicative of sound military considerations, strategic or otherwise, than of organized brigandage. I did not think that such men would stand well, even in their numbers, against the well-trained soldiers of Ar.

"I trust you are not a brigand," said the driver, not looking at me.

"No," I said.

"You would not get much here," he said, "except Sa-Tarna meal and such." "I am not a brigand," I said.

"Have you fled from some captain?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"You are a big fellow," he said. "Are you in service?"

"No," I said.

"Do you, seek service?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"You own your own weapons?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Raymond, he of Rive-de-Bois, is recruiting," he said. "So, too, is Conrad of Hochburg, and Pietro Vacchi." These men were mercenary captains. There were dozens of such companies. If one owns one's own weapons, of course, one need not be armed at the expense of the company. Too, if one owns one's own weapons, it may usually be fairly assumed that one knows how to use them. Such men, then, may receive a certain preference in being added to the rolls. They are likely to be experienced soldiers, not eager lads just in from the farms. In many mercenary companies, incidentally, there are no uniforms and no issuance of standard equipment. Too, many such companies are, for most practical purposes, disbanded during the winter, the captain retaining then only a cadre of officers and professionals. Then, in the spring, after obtaining a war contract, sometimes obtained by competitive bidding, they begin anew, almost from the beginning, with recruiting and training.

It is quite unusual, incidentally, for such men as Raymond and Conrad to be recruiting now, in Se'Kara. It was really a time in which most soldiers on Gor would be thinking about the pleasures of winter quarters or a return to their own villages and towns. There are usually diverse explanations, depending on the situation, for the type of forced recruiting to which men in some of the villages had been subjected. Sometimes a passing army desires merely to amplify its forces, or replace losses, particularly among the lighter arms, such as bowmen, slingers and javelin men. Sometimes the recruiting is done more for the purposes of obtaining a labor force, for siegeworks and entrenching camps, than for actual combat. Sometimes the mercenary captains, whose negotiated, signed contracts call for the furnishing of certain numbers of armed men for their various employers, have little choice but to impress some reluctant fellows, that their obligatory quotas may be met. More than one fellow has sworn an oath of allegiance with a sword at his throat. Most mercenaries, of course, join their captains voluntarily. Indeed, skilled and famous captains, ones noted for their military skill and profitable campaigns, must often close down their enlisting tables early in En'Kara.

"So is Dietrich of Tarnburg, of the high city of Tarnburg, some two hundred pasangs to the north and west of Hochburg, both substantially mountain fortresses, both in the more southern and civilized ranges of the Voltai, was well-known to the warriors of Gor. His name was almost a legend. It was he who had won the day on the fields of both Piedmont and Cardonicus, who had led the Forty Days' March, relieving the siege of Talmont, who had effected the crossing of the Issus in 10,122 C.A., in the night evacuation of Keibel Hill, when I had been in Torvaldsland, and who had been the victor in the battles of Rovere, Kargash, Edgington, Teveh Pass, Gordon Heights, and the Plains of Sanchez. His campaigns were studied in all the war schools of the high cities. I knew him from scrolls I had studied years ago in Ko-ro-ba, and from volumes in my library in Port Kar, such as the commentaries of Minicius and the anonymous analyses of "The Diaries," sometimes attributed to the military historian, Carl Commenius, of Argentum, rumored to have once been a mercenary himself.

It was Dietrich of Tarnburg who had first introduced the «harrow to positional warfare on Gor, that formation named for the large, rake-like agricultural instrument, used for such tasks as the further leveling of ground after plowing and, sometimes, on the great farms, for the covering of seed, In this formation spikes of archers, protected by iron-shod stakes and sleen pits, project beyond the forward lines of the heavily armed warriors and their reserves. This formation, if approached head-on by tharlarion ground cavalry, is extremely effective. It constitutes, in effect, a set of corridors of death through which the cavalry must ride, in which it is commonly decimated before it can reach the main lines of the defenders. When the cavalry is disorganized, shattered and torn by missile fire, and turns about to retreat, the defenders, fresh and eager, initiate their own attack.

He was also the initiator of the oblique advance in Gorean field warfare, whereby large numbers of men may be concentrated at crucial points while the balance of the enemy remains unengaged. This formation makes it possible for a given army, choosing to attack only limited portions of the enemy, portions smaller than itself, to engage an army which, all told, may be three times its size, and, not unoften, to turn the flank of this much larger body, producing its confusion and rout, Too, if the attack fails, the advanced force may fall back, knowing that the balance of their army, indeed, its bulk, rested and fresh, not yet engaged, is fully prepared to cover their retreat.

Most impressive to me, perhaps, was Dietrich of Tarnburg's coordination of air and ground forces, and his transposition of certain techniques and weapons of siege warfare to the field. The common military response to aerial attack from tarnsmen is the "shield roof" or "shield shed," a formation the same as, or quite similar to, a formation once known on Earth as the testudo, or "tortoise." In this formation shields are held in such a way that they constitute a wall for the outer ranks and a roof for the inner ranks. This is primarily a defensive formation but it may also be used for advancing under fire. The common Gorean defense against tharlarion attack, if it must be met on the open ground, is the stationary, defensive square, defended by braced spears. At Rovere and Kargash Dietrich coordinated his air and ground cavalry in such a way as to force his opponents into sturdy but relatively inflexible defensive squares. He then advanced his archers in long, enveloping lines, in this way they could muster a much broader front for low-level, point-blank firepower than could the narrower concentrated squares.

He then utilized, for the first time in Gorean field warfare, first at Rovere, and later at Kargash, mobile siege equipment, catapults mounted on wheeled platforms, which could fire over the heads of the draft animals. From these engines, hitherto employed only in siege warfare, now became a startling and devastating new weapon, in effect, a field artillery, tubs of burning pitch and flaming naphtha, and siege javelins, and giant boulders, fell in shattering torrents upon the immobilized squares. The shield shed was broken. The missiles of archers rained upon the confused, hapless defenders. Even mobile siege towers, pushed from within by straining tharlarion, pressing their weight against prepared harnesses, trundled toward them, their bulwarks swarming with archers and javelin men. The squares were broken. Then again the ponderous, earthshaking, bellowing, grunting, trampling, tharlarion ground cavalry charged, this time breaking through the walls like dried straw, followed by waves of screaming, heavily armed spearmen. The ranks of the enemy then irremediably broke. The air howled with panic. Rout was upon them. Spears and shields were cast away that men might flee the more rapidly. There was little left to be done. It would be the cavalries which would attend to the fugitives.

"I had thought rather," I said, "of perhaps joining the wagons for a time." "They need drivers," said the fellow. "Can you handle tharlarion?" "I can handle high tharlarion," I said. Long ago I had ridden guard in a caravan of Mintar, a merchant of Ar.

"I mean the draft fellows," said the driver.

"I suppose so," I said. It seemed likely to me that I could handle these more docile, sluggish beasts, if I had been able to handle their more agile brothers, the saddle tharlarion.

"They take a great deal of beating about the head and neck," he said.

I nodded. That was not so much different from the high tharlarion, either. They are usually controlled by voice commands and the blows of a spear. The tharlarion, incidentally, at least compared to mammals, seems to have a very sluggish nervous system. It seems almost impervious to pain. Most of the larger varieties have two brains, or, perhaps, better a brain and a smaller brain-like organ. The brain, or one brain, is located in the head, and the other brain, or the brain-like organ, is located near the base of the spine.

I looked down at Feiqa, walking beside the wagon, the rope on her neck.

"Tharlarion," I told her, expanding on the driver's remark, "show little susceptibility to pain."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"In this," I said, "they closely resemble female slaves."

"Oh, no Master!" she cried. "No!"

"No?" I said.

"No," she said, looking up earnestly, frightened, "we are terribly susceptible to pain, truly!"

"Doubtless you were as a free woman," I said. "but now you are a slave." "I am even more susceptible to pain now," she said, "for now I have felt pain, and know what it is like, and now I have a slave girl's total vulnerability and helplessness, and know that anything can be done to me! Too, my entire body has become a thousand times more responsive and sensitive a thousand times more meaningful and alive, since I have been locked in the collar. I assure you Master, I am a thousand times more susceptible to pain now than ever I was before!"

I smiled. Such transformations were common in the female slave. Just as their sensitivities to pleasure and feeling, sexual and otherwise, physical and psychological, conscious and subconscious, were greatly increased and intensified by being imbonded, so too, concomitantly, naturally, were their sensitivities to pain. The same changes that so considerably increased their capacities in certain directions increased them also in others, and put them ever so more helplessly, and hopelessly, at the mercy of their masters.

"Ah," she said, chagrined, putting down her lovely head, "Master teases his girl."

"Perhaps," I said.

She kept her head down. She blushed. She looked lovely, the light, locked, steel collar on her throat.

I reached down and lifted her up, by the arms, swinging her up, and back, into the wagon. She would be weary from her walking. "Thank you, Master," she said, much pleased. She then knelt behind us, rather close to us, on some folded sacks in the wagon bed, the rope attaching her to the wagon still tied on her neck. I began to consider in what ways I should have her this evening.

"Bread! Bread!" cried a woman to one side. There another Sa-Tarna wagon had stopped. The driver, who had apparently been adjusting the harness of his beast, was now again on the wagon box, his reins and whip in hand.

"Away!" cried the driver.

She threw herself before the wagon. "Bread!" she screamed. He cracked the whip and the beast lurched forward, the woman screamed, barely scrambling from its path. I had little doubt that had she not moved as she had she would have been run over.

"They will try almost anything," said my driver, as our wagon rolled past the woman. She was shuddering. She had just escaped death or crippling. "Sometimes they will send their children out beside the road to do the begging. They themselves hide in the brush. Sometimes I throw them some bread. Sometimes I don't. It seems the women themselves should beg, if they want the bread." "Perhaps they do not want to pay for it, in the way of women," I said. "They will pay for it, and in the way of women, when they are hungry enough," said the driver. I nodded. That was true, I supposed. This driver, incidentally, seemed to me a decent, good-hearted fellow. Certainly he had stopped and fed some of the women along the road. That I had seen. Too, he had doubtless done that in spite of the fact that he would now come in with a short load. Many of the drivers, I speculated, would not have behaved so. Also, he had not objected to my riding with him, nor to carrying Feiqa. Yes, he seemed a good fellow.

"How far ahead are the troops?" I asked.

"Their lines of march extend for pasangs, with intervals, too, of pasangs," he said.

I nodded. It would take days for them to pass through the country. They were apparently far from the vicinity of any enemy. Accordingly, they exhibited little concern with possible imperatives of assembly and concentration.

Interestingly, not even raiding parties, as far as I knew, had delayed or harried their advance. They might as well have been marching through their own countries in a time of peace.

"The rearward contingents of the units before us will be some ten pasangs up the road," he said.

"How many troops are there, altogether?" I asked.

"A great many," he said. "Are you a spy?"

"No," I said.

"Look," he said, gesturing.

I glanced to the right, and upward. On the summit of a small hill I saw some seven or eight riders, riders of the high tharlarion, the tharlarion shifting and clawing about under them, with tharlarion lances. They were clad in dusty, soiled leather, riding leather, to protect their legs from the scaly hides of the beasts, and helmeted. Two had shields slung at their back. Shields of the others hung at the left sides of their saddles. They were an unkempt, dirty, grim lot. About the beasts' necks, and behind the saddles, hung panniers of grain and sacks of woven netting containing dried larmas and brown suls. Across the saddle of one were tied the hind feet, crossed, of two verr, their throats cut, the blood now brown on the sides of the tharlarion. Another fellow had a basket of vulos, tied shut. Another had stings of sausage hung about his neck and shoulders. There was no herded tarsk or bosk with the group. Such animals were probably extremely rare now, at least within one or two day's ride of the march. Still the fellows seemed to have done very well. Doubtless they had fared far better than most engaged in their business. Too, I noted that their interests had not been confined merely to foodstuffs. From the saddle of more than one there dangled armlets, two handled bowls and cups. Too, from the saddle of one a long tether looped back to the crossed bound wrists of a female. Doubtless she had been found pleasing. Thus she had been brought along. Doubtless she was destined for the collar. Near the pawing feet of the leader's tharlarion, in their tunics of white wool, there stood two stout peasant lads, bound, heavy sticks thrust before their elbows and behind their backs, their arms bound to these at the back, their wrists, a rope across their bellies, held back, tied at the sides. They would be recruits for some captain, requiring to fill gaps in his ranks. They would probably bring their captors in the neighborhood of a copper tarsk apiece.

The fellows on the tharlarion looked down at the wagons and then moved down the hill and forward. Two or three women, I now saw, coming over the hill, had apparently been following them, probably on foot from some village. One of the fellows, shouting angrily, turned his tharlarion about and, waving his lance, urging it up the slope toward them, charged them. They scattered before him, and he, not pursuing them, turned about and, in a moment, had rejoined his fellows. The women how hung back, daring to follow no further. I looked after the riders, now two or three wagons ahead of us, the two peasant lads, and the female, stumbling behind them on her tether.

"Foragers," said the driver.

I looked back at Feiqa, and she lowered her eyes, not meeting mine.

"The units ahead of us," I said, turning about, "are the rear guard of the army, I take it."

"No," he said.

"Oh?" I said.

"There are units," he said, "and wagons, and units. I do not know how far it goes on. I was then silent, for a time. There must be an incredible amount of men, I surmised. I knew, of course, that considerable forces had been landed at Brundisium. What I was not sure of, however, was the current distribution, or deployment of these forces.

"You are sure you are not a spy?" he said.

"Yes," I smiled. "I am sure." I supposed, of course, that Ar must be attempting to keep itself apprised of the movements of the enemy. Presumably there would be spies, or informers of some sort, with the troops or the wagons. It is not difficult to infiltrate spies into mercenary troops, incidentally, where the men come from different backgrounds, castes and cities, and little is asked of them other than their ability to handle weapons and obey orders. Yet, if men of Ar, or men in the pay of Ar, were attending to these matters, and submitting current and accurate reports, Ar herself, for whatever reason, unpreparedness, or whatever, had not acted.

I looked at the string of wagons ahead.

How different things seemed from the marches of the forces of Ar, and others of the high cities. When the men of Ar moved, for example, and whenever possible they would do so on the great military roads, such as the Viktel Aria, they used a measured pace, often kept by a drum, and including rests, would each day cover a calculable distance, usually forty pasangs. At forty-pasang intervals there would generally, on the military roads, be a fortified camp, supplied in advance with ample provisions. Some of these camps became towns. Later some became cities. These roads and camps, and measures, made it possible to move troops not only efficiently and rapidly, but assisted in military planning. One could tell, for example, how long it would take to bring a certain number of men to bear on a certain point. The permanent garrisons of the fortified camps, too, of course, exercise a significant peace-keeping and holding role in the outer districts of a city's power. Too, training and recruiting often take place in such camps. To be sure, these forces of Cos could not be expected to have come over and taken a few months to attend to the leisurely construction of permanent camps along the route of their projected march. Still, judging from the nature of the supply column, or columns, their progress seemed very slow, almost leisurely. It was as though they feared nothing. Their numbers, I speculated, might have emboldened them. Why had Ar not acted, I wondered.

"Have you tarnsmen in the sky?" I asked.

"No," he said. Cos, of course, would have tarnsmen at her disposal. But even those, it seemed, were not patrolling the line of march.

"Why are there no guards with the supply train?" I asked.

"Surely that is unusual."

"I do not know," he said. "I have wondered about it. Perhaps it is not thought that they are necessary."

"Have there been no attacks?" I asked. Surely it seemed that Ar might be expected to apply her tarnsmen to the effort to disrupt the enemy's lines of supply and communication. Perhaps her tarnsmen had not been able to reach the wagons. If command in Ar had been in the hands of Marlenus, her Ubar, I had little doubt that Ar would have acted by now. Marlenus, however, as the report went, was not in Ar. He was supposedly on an expedition into the Voltai, conducting a punitive expedition against raiders of Treve. Why he had not been recalled, if it were possible, I did not understand.

"What would you do if tarnsmen of Ar arrived?" I asked.

"That is not my job," he said. "That is the job of soldiers. I am paid to drive. That is what I do."

"What of the other drivers?" I asked.

"They would do the same, I would suppose," he said. "We are wagoners, not soldiers."

"The entire train then," I said, "or at least these wagons, is open to attack. Yet Ar has not attacked. That is interesting."

"Perhaps," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I do not know. Perhaps they can't get here."

"Even with small strike forces, disguised as peasants?" "Perhaps not," he said. "I do not know."

It was now growing dark along the road. Here and there, back from the road, on one side or the other, there were small camps of free women. In some of them there were tiny fires lit. Some small shelters had been pitched, too, in some of these camps, little more than tarpaulins or blankets stretched over sticks. Sometimes some of the women about these tiny fires stood up and watched us, as we rolled past. I recalled the free woman I had met last night in her hut. She had not come down to the wagons as far as I knew. We had left her before she had awakened. I had left some more food with her, and had tied a golden tarn disk of Port Kar, from my wallet, in the corner of the child's blanket. With that she might buy much. Too, with it, or its residue, she might be able to make her way to a distant village, far from the trekking of armies, where she could use it as a bride price, using it, in effect, to purchase herself a companion, a good fellow who could care for herself and her child. Peasants, unlike women of the cities, tend to be very practical about such matters. She had shown me hospitality.

"We will be coming to the camp soon," said the driver.

I heard Feiqa suddenly gasp in horror, shrinking back. Beside the road, on the right, a human figure, head and legs dangling downward, on each side, was fixed on an impaling stake. The stake was some ten feet in height, and some four inches in diameter. It had been wedged between rocks and braced with stones. Its point was roughly sharpened, probably with an adz. This point had been entered in the victim's back and thrust through with great force. It emerged from the belly, and protruded some two feet above the body.

"Perhaps that is a spy," I said.

"More likely it is a straggler or a deserter," said the driver.

"Perhaps," I said. This was the first sign I had had today, that there were truly soldiers ahead of us on the road.

A girl looked up from the small fire in one of the roadside camps, and then, suddenly, rose to her feet and, in the shadows, darted out to the road. "Sir," she called. "Sir!" The driver did not stop the wagon. She began to run beside the wagon. "Sir!" she called. "Please! I am hungry!" Her face was lifted up to us. "Please, Sir!" she begged. "Look upon me! I am fair!" She hurried along beside us. "See!" she wept. She tore down her robes to her hips. "My breasts are well formed!" she said. "My belly is wet and hot! I will serve you even as a slave. I will do whatever you want. I do not ask for food for nothing. I will pay! I will pay!"

"Away," said the driver, "before I use the whip on you!"

"Stop," she wept. "Stop!" Then she ran to the head of the tharlarion and seized its halter. The beast grunting, slowed, dragging the girl's weight; she clung fiercely to the halter; it moved its head about, pulling her about, from side to side, shaking her; it tossed its head impatiently upward, lifting her literally from the ground. But she held firmly to the halter and was then, in a moment, still clinging to it, again on the ground. The beast stopped.

The driver angrily rose in his place and the long whip lashed out. "Ai!" she cried, in misery, struck for perhaps the first time with a whip. She released the halter and then stood there in misery, in the shadows, in the road, facing us, a foot or so from the jowls of the animal. "Let me please you!" she begged. Then the whip flashed forth again, like a striking snake, and she, struck once more, sobbing, stumbled back on the road. "Do you not know me?" she cried. He lowered the whip, looking out into the shadows.

"I am Tula from your village," she wept, "she who was too good for you, she who refused your suit!"

"You shame the village!" he cried.

"Whip me!" she wept.

He leaped down from the wagon box. Another wagon, to one side of us, rolled by. He dragged her, two stripes on her body, gray in the shadows, by the arm, back, and to the rear of the wagon. He stood her by the back, right wheel of the wagon. "Face the wheel," he said. "Hold the wheel rim!" She seized it, putting her head down. He lifted the whip, in fury. "Whip me," she said. Three blows fell upon her. "But feed me!" she begged. Two more blows struck her. Then she clung to the wheel, gasping, sobbing. As a male of her village it was his duty to discipline her for what shame she had brought on the village. "Do not strike me again!" she begged. She sank to her knees beside the wheel. Another wagon rolled by.

"So Tula, the proud, the beauty of our village, now bares her beauty before strangers," he said, "and begs to sell her body for a crust of bread!" She leaned against the wheel, sobbing.

"Disgraceful!" he said.

She held the spokes of the wheel, her head down.

"Shameful!" he cried.

"The strong women take what food there is," she said. "I am hungry." "Tula, the proud," he said, angrily, "has now become only another slut by the road."

"Yes," she said.

"What have you to say for yourself!" he demanded.

"Feed me," she said.

"Turn about," he said, angrily.

She turned about, facing him, on her knees.

"Pull down your robes," he said, "until they are about your knees, lying fallen, back upon your calves."

She did this and then lifted her head to him.

"On what conditions?" he asked.

"On yours, totally yours," she said.

"Pull up your robes, about your hips," he said. "You may follow the wagon." Sobbing with gratitude, she clutched at her robes and drew them up about her hips. He angrily returned to his place on the wagon box and with an angry cry and a fierce snap of the whip put his ponderous draft beast once more into motion, taking his place between two other wagons. It was now rather dark but the road shone clearly in the moonlight. It glistened, too, from tiny chips and plates of mica ingredient in its surface. The girl followed the wagon.

"Is the camp far ahead? I asked.

"No," he said.

4 Feiqa Serves in the Alar Camp

I heard the sudden, hesitant, choking cry of the newborn infant.

Genserix, broad-shouldered and powerful, in his furs and leather, with his heavy eyebrows, his long, braided blond hair and long, yellow, drooping mustache, looked up from the fire, about which we sat. The sound came from one of the wagons.

The bawling was now lusty.

"It will live," said one of the men, a sitting warrior near us.

Genserix shrugged. That would remain to be seen. Feiqa knelt behind me. We were now within the laager of Genserix, a chieftain of the Alars, a nomadic, wandering herding people, and one well known, like the folks of Torvaldsland, for their skills with the ax. The laager of the Alars, like that of similar folks, is a fortress of wagons. They are ranged in a closed circle, or concentric, closed circles, draft animals, and women and children within. Also, not unoften, depending on the numbers involved, and particularly when traversing, or sojourning in, dangerous countries, verr, tarsk, and bosk may also be found within the wagon enclosure. Sewage and sanitation, which might be expected to present serious problems, do not do so, because of the frequent moving of the camps.

"It is a son," said one of the women coming from the wagon, nearing the fire. "Not yet," said Genserix The wagons often move. There must be new grazing for the bosk. There must be fresh rooting and browse for the tarsk and verr. The needs of these animals, on which the Alars depend for their existence, are taken to justify movements, and sometimes even migrations, of the Alars and kindred peoples. Needless to day, these movements, particularly when they intrude into more settled area, often bring the folk of the laagers into conflict with other peasants and, of course, shortly thereafter, townsfolk and city dwellers who depend on the peasants for their foodstuffs. Also of course, their movements often, from a legal point of view, constitute actual invasions or indisputable territorial infringements, as when, uninvited, they enter areas technically within the jurisdiction or hegemony of given cities or towns.

Sometimes they pay for passage through a country, or pasturage within it, but this is the exception rather than the rule. They are a fierce folk and it would take a courageous town indeed to suggest the suitability or propriety of such an arrangement. From the point of view of the Alars, of course, they feel it is as absurd to pay for pasturage as it would be to pay for air, both of which are required for life. "Without grass the bosk will die," they say. "The bosk will live," they add. They often find themselves temporarily within the borders of a town's or city's lands, usually about their fringes, but sometimes, depending on the weather and grazing conditions, much deeper within them. Most often little official notice is taken of them, no war challenges being issued, and they are regarded merely as peripheral, unwelcome itinerants, uninvited guests, dangerous, temporary visitors with whom the local folks must for a time live uneasily. It is a rare council or citizenry that does not breathe more easily once the wagons have taken their way out of their lands.

The woman who had come to bear tidings to Genserix now turned about and returned to the wagon.

When there is weakness or chaos in an area, and when the ordinary structures of social order are disrupted, with the concurrent disorganization, failures of responsibility and discipline, it is natural for folks like the Alars to appear. They have a tendency to pour into such areas. Indeed, sometimes they can make them their own, settling within them, sometimes turning to the soil themselves, sometimes assuming the roles and prerogatives of a conquering aristocracy, and becoming, in their turn, the foundation of a new civilization. I had little doubt that it was the current weakness and disorder in this area, attendant on the Cosian invasion, which had drawn the Alars this far south. On the other hand, officially, as I had gathered from the driver with whom I had ridden on the Genesian Road, these Alars had been approached to serve as suppliers and wagoners to the troops. It was in this capacity that they were this close to the road. In accepting this arrangement, the Alars, of course, were in an excellent position to observe the course of events, and, if it seemed practical to them, take possible action. Here they could watch closely for opportunities, either monetary or territorial. Perhaps the men of Cos, no fools, had invited them inward that they might remain in this area, thus rendering more difficult its reoccupation by the forces of Ar. Perhaps, in virtue of gifts of lands, they hoped to make them grateful, pledged allies.

I could hear movement in the nearby wagon. A woman climbed into it carrying cloths and water. I heard the child crying again.

Besides the ax Alars are fond of the Alar sword, a long, heavy, double-edged weapon. Their shields tend to be oval, like those of the Turians. Their most common mount is the medium-weight saddle tharlarion, a beast smaller and less powerful, but swifter and more agile, than the common high tharlarion. Their saddles, however, have stirrups, and thus make possible the use of the couched shock lance. Some cities use Alars in their tharlarion cavalries. Others, perhaps wisely, do not enlist them in their own forces, either as regulars or auxiliaries. When the Alars ride forth to do battle they normally have their laager behind them, to which, in the case of defeat, they swiftly retire. They are fierce and redoubtable warriors in the open field. They know little, however, of politics, or in siege work and the taking of cities. In the cities, normally one needs only to close the gates and wait for them to go away, compelled eventually to do so by the needs of their animals.

A woman now descended from the wagon, carrying a small object. She came near to the fire and Genserix motioned for her to put the object down, to lay it on the dirt before him, between himself and the fire. She did so. He then crouched down near it, and gently, with his large hands, put back the edges of the blanket in which it was wrapped. The tiny baby, not minutes old, with tiny gasps and coughs, still startled and distressed with the sharp, frightful novelty of breathing air, never again to return to the shelter of its mother's body, lost in a chaos of sensation, its eyes not focused, unable scarcely to turn its head from side to side, lay before him. The cord had been cut and tied at its belly. Its tiny legs and arms moved. The blood, the membranes and fluids, had been wiped from its small, hot, red, firm body. Then it had been rubbed with animal fat. How tiny were its head and fingers. How startling and wonderful it seemed that such a thing should be alive. Genserix looked at it for a time, and then he turned it over, and examined it further. Then he put it again on its back. He then stood up, and looked down upon it.

The warriors about the fire, and the woman, and two other women, too, who had now come from the wagon, looked at him.

Then Genserix reached down and lifted up the child. The women cried out with pleasure and the men grunted with approval. Genserix held the child up now, happily, it almost lost in his large hands, and then he lifted it up high over his head.

"Ho!" called the warriors, standing up, rejoicing. The women beamed.

"It is a son!" cried one of the women.

"Yes," said Genserix. "It is a son!"

"Ho!" called the warriors. "Ho!"

"What is going on?" asked Feiqa.

"The child has been examined," I said. "It has been found sound. It will be permitted to live. It is now an Alar. Too, he has lifted the child up. In this he acknowledges it as his own."

Genserix then handed the child to one of the warriors. He then drew his knife. "What is he going to do?" gasped Feiqa.

"Be quiet," I said. Genserix then, carefully, made two incisions in the face of the infant, obliquely, one on each cheek. The infant began to cry. Blood ran down the sides of its face, about the sides of its neck and onto its tiny shoulders. "Let it be taken now," said Genserix, "to its mother."

The woman who had brought the child to the side of the fire now took up the blanket in which it had been wrapped, and, wrapping it again on its folds, took it then from the warrior, and made her way back to the wagon.

"These are a warrior people," I said to Feiqa, "and the child is an Alar. It must learn to endure wounds before it receives the nourishment of milk." Feiqa shrank back, frightened to be among such men.

On the face of Genserix, and on the faces of those about us, the males, were the thin, white, knife-edge lines, the narrow scars, by which it might be known that each had, in his time, undergone the same ceremony. By such scars one may identify Alars.

"I rejoice in your happiness," I said to Genserix, who had now resumed his place by the fire.

Genserix declined his head briefly, smiling, and spread his hands, expansively. "At a time of such happiness," said a fellow, his long dark hair bound back with a beaded leather talmit, "you need not even be killed for having come to our camp uninvited."

"Hold," I said, uneasily. "I was told in the camp of the wagoners, some of those in the supply trains of Cos, that there might be work here for me."

One or two of the men struck each other about the shoulders in amusement.

"I gather that is not true," I said.

"Shall we kill him anyway?" asked a fellow.

"Surely folks come often to the wagons," I said.

"Do not mind Parthanx and Sorath," said a tall, broad shouldered fellow sitting cross-legged beside me. He, too, like Genserix, had long, braided hair and a yellow mustache. Too like Genserix, he was blue-eyed. Many of the Alars are fair in complexion, blond-haired and blue-eyed. "They jest. They are the camp wits," he explained. "Many folks come to the wagons, as you know, informers, slavers, tradesmen, metal workers, craftsmen, peasants who will barter produce for skins and trinkets, and so on. If this were not so we could not easily have the goods we have, nor could we keep up as well with the news. If it were not so, we would be too cut off from the world. We would consequently be unable to conduct our affairs as judiciously as we do."

I nodded. Folk like the Alars tended to move in, and about, settled territories. They were not isolated in vast plains areas, for example, as were certain subequatorial Wagon Peoples, such as Tuchucks and Kassars.

The fellows identified as Parthanx and Sorath shoved at one another good-naturedly, pleased with their joke.

"Let rings be brought!" called out Genserix.

"I am Hurtha," said the blond fellow beside me. "You must not think of us as barbarians. Tell us about the cities."

"What would you like to know?" I asked. He would be interested, I assumed in such matters as the nature of their walls, the number of gates, their defenses, the strength of garrisons, and such.

"Is Ar as beautiful as they say?" he asked. "And what is it like to live there?" "It is very beautiful," I said. "And although I am not a citizen of Ar, nor of Telnus, the capital of Cos, it is doubtless easier to live in such places than among the wagons. Why do you ask?"

"Hurtha is a weakling, and a poet!" laughed Sorath.

"I am a warrior, and an Alar," said Hurtha, "but it is true that I am fond of songs."

"There is no incompatibility between letters and arms," I said. "The greatest soldiers are often gifted men."

"I have considered going abroad, to seek my fortune," he said.

"What would you do?" I asked.

"My arm is strong," he said, "and I can ride."

"You would seek service then with some captain?" I said.

"Yes," he said, "and if possible with the finest."

"Many are the causes on Gor," I said, "and so, too, many are the captains." "My first appointments," he said, "might be with anyone." "Many captains," I said, "choose their causes on the scales of merchants, weighing their iron against gold. They fight, I fear, only for the Ubar with the deepest purse."

"I am an Alar," said Hurtha. "The cities are always at war with us. It is always the fields against the walls. No matter then which way I face, nor whom I strike, it would be a blow, against enemies."

" I am a mercenary, of sorts," I said, "but I have usually selected my causes with care."

"And one should," agreed Hurtha, "for otherwise one might not improve one's fortunes."

I looked at him.

"Right," said Hurtha, "if that is what you are interested in, seems to me a very hard thing to understand. I am not sure there is really any such thing, at all. I have never tasted it, nor seen it, nor felt it. If it does exist, it seems likely to me that it would be on both sides, like sunlight and air. Surely no war has been fought in which both sides have not sincerely claimed, and presumably believed, for one reason or another, that they were right. Thus, if right is always on both sides, one cannot help but fight for it. If that then is the case, why should one not be paid as well as possible for the risks he takes?"

"Have you ever tasted, or seen, or felt honor?" I asked.

"Yes," said Hurtha. "I have tasted honor, and seen it, and felt it, but it is not like tasting bread, or seeing a rock, or feeling a woman. It is different." "Perhaps right is like that," I said.

"Perhaps," said Hurtha. "But the matter seems very complex and difficult to me." "It seems so to me, too," I said. "I am often surprised why it seems so easy to so many others."

"Yes," said Hurtha.

"Perhaps they are more gifted than we in detecting its presence," I speculated. "Perhaps," said Hurtha, "but why, then, is there so much disagreement among them?"

"I do not know," I admitted. Rings were then brought, heavy rings of silver and gold, large enough for a wrist or arm, and Genserix distributed these to high retainers. From the same box, he then distributed coins among the others. Even I received a silver tarsk. There were treasures among the wagons, it seemed. The tarsk was one of Telnus. In this small detail I suspected there might be found evidence of the possible relationship between the movements of Cos and the coming of the Alar wagons to the Genesian Road.

"Are there such women as these in the cities?" asked Hurtha, indicating Feiqa. "Thousands," I informed him.

"Surely we should study siege work," smiled Hurtha.

Feiqa shrank back a bit.

"Such women may be bought in the cities," I said, "in slave markets, from the houses of slavers, from private dealers. Surely you could have such among the wagons, if you wished. You could have strings brought out to be examined, or accepted, on approval. I see no problem in the matter." Interestingly, I had noted few, if any, slaves among the wagons. This was quite different from the Wagon Peoples of the far south. There beautiful slaves, in the scandalously revealing chatka and curla, the kalmak and the koora, tiny rings in their noses, were common among the wagons. "You mentioned, as I recall, that slavers among others, came occasionally to the wagons."

"Yes," he said, "but usually to buy our captures, picked up generally in raids or fighting."

"Why are there so few slaves among the wagons?" I asked.

"The free women kill them," said Hurtha.

Feiqa gasped. I decided that perhaps I had best be soon on my way. She was a beauty, and was extremely sexually exciting, sometimes almost maddeningly so, to men. I had no wish to risk her in this place. She was exactly the sort of female which, in her helplessness and collar, in her vulnerability and brief tunic, tends to inspire jealous hatred, sometimes bordering almost on madness, in free women, particularly homely and sexually frustrated ones. "Oh!" said Feiqa, as he called Sorath closed his hand about her upper arm. His grip was tight. There was no mistaking its nature. He had her in mind. "Hold," I said to him, putting my hand on his arm.

"Hold?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "Hold."

"You are not an Alar," he said. "I will take her."

"No," I said.

"This is our camp," he said.

"It is my slave," I said.

"Give her to me," he said. "I will give her back to you happier, and with only a few bruises."

"No," I said.

"In the camp I do what I wish," he said.

"I doubt that that is always the case," I said.

He stood up. I, too, stood up. He was a bit shorter than I, but was extremely broad and powerful. It is a not uncommon build among Alars.

"You have taken food here," said Sorath.

"And I have been pleased to have done so," I said. "Thank you."

"You are a guest here," said Sorath.

"And I expect to receive the respect and courtesy due a guest," I said. "Let him have her for a few Ehn," suggested Hurtha.

"He has not asked," I said.

"Ask," suggested a fellow to Sorath.

"He will not know the ax," said Hurtha. "He is not of the wagons." "Let them then be blades!" roared Sorath.

"The ax will be fine," I said. I had learned its use in Torvaldsland. I had little doubt that the Torvaldslanders could stand up to any folk in the use of the ax.

"Let the axes be headless," said Genserix. This proposal surprised me somewhat, but I welcomed it. It seemed a decent and generous gesture on the part of Genserix. Not every chieftain of the Alars, I supposed, would have been so thoughtful. In this fashion the worse that was likely to happen was that the loser would have his head broken open. The men about the fire grunted their agreement. They all seemed rather decent fellows. Sorath, too, I was pleased to see, nodded. Apparently he, at least after a moment of choler, upon a more sober reflection, had no special wish to kill me. He would probably be satisfied to beat me unconscious. In the morning then I might awaken naked, tied to a stake outside the wagons. In a few days, then, which I might have spent ruminating on my ingratitude, while living on water poured into a hole near me, and on vegetables thrown to me, like a tarsk, when the wagons moved I might have been freed, a well-used Feiqa then returned to me, perhaps with a fresh Alar brand in her hide, that I might be reminded, from time to time, of the incident.

Two of the long heavy handles were brought.

I hefted one. It had good weight and balance.

"Beware, friend" said Hurtha. "Sorath well knows the ways of the ax." "Thank you," I said.

Feiqa whimpered.

"Prepare yourself for the future," I said.

"Master?" she asked, puzzled.

"Shall the female be held?" asked a fellow.

"That will not be necessary," I said. "Stay, Feiqa"

"Yes, Master," she said. She would now keep her place, kneeling as she was, until a free person might permit her to move.

Sorath spit upon his hands and gripped the handle. He cut the air with a stroke or two.

I went to an open place near the fire.

"See?" said one of the fellows, "He takes a position with the fire at his back." Some of the others nodded, too, seemingly having noted this.

When possible, of course, given consideration of the land, warriors like to have both the sun and wind at their back. The glare from the sun, even if it is not blinding, can be wearing upon an enemy, particularly if the battle persists for Ahn. The advantages of having the wind at one's back are obvious. It flights one's arrows, increasing their range; it gives additional impetus to one's movements and charges; and whatever dust or debris it might carry is more likely to effect the enemy than oneself.

Sorath struck fiercely down at me with the handle and I blocked the blow, smartly. His blow had been a simple, obvious one, and unless he had intended to use it in wearing down my strength or perhaps breaking the handle I carried, it made little sense. He stood back, considering matters.

"Surely you would not have struck at an Alar like that," I said. He must be clear that I had not brought my handle back, under the blow, slashing upward to his neck, a blow that can, with the Torvaldsland ax, at least, cut the head from a man.

"True, Stranger," said a woman's voice. I stepped back a little, sensing that there was momentary truce between Sorath and myself, but also keeping track of him. He could not change position without my detecting it. "I have seen tharlarion who could handle and ax better than that," she said. Sorath reddened, angrily. It was apparently a free woman of the Alars, only she was not dressed as were the other women of the camp, in their coarse, heavy, ankle-length woolen dresses. She wore rather the garmenture of a male, the furs and leather. At her belt there was even a knife. She was strikingly lovely, though, I supposed, given her mien and attitude, she would not have taken such an observation as a compliment. She was about the same size as Feiqa, though perhaps a tiny bit shorter, and like Feiqa, was dark-haired and dark-eyed. I thought they might look well together, as a brace of slaves.

Sorath then, stung by her remark, flung himself wildly toward me and fought frenziedly, but rashly. I blocked blows, not wishing to take advantage of his recklessness. I refrained from striking him. Had we been using real axes, the handles armed with iron, I might have finished him several times. I do not know if he was fully aware of this, but I am sure some of the others were. Hurtha and Genserix, for example, judging from the alarm which I noted in their expressions, seemed to be under no misapprehensions in the matter. To be sure, had the handles been armed perhaps he would have addressed himself to our match with much greater circumspection. Panting, Sorath backed away.

"Fight, Sorath," taunted the woman. "He is an outsider. Are you not an Alar?" "Be silent, woman," said Genserix, angrily.

"I am a free woman," she said. I may speak as I please."

"Do not seek to interfere in the affairs of men," said Genserix.

She faced the group, standing on the other side of the fire. Her feet were spread. On her feet were boots of fur. Her arms were crossed insolently upon her chest. "Are there men here?" she asked. "I wonder."

There was a rumble of angry sounds from the gathered warriors. But none did anything to discipline the girl. She was, of course, free. Free women, among the Alars, have high standing.

"Do you think you are a man?" inquired one of the warriors.

"I am a female," she said, "but I am not different from you, not in the least." There were angry murmurs from the men.

"Indeed," she said, "I am probably more a man than any of you here." "Give her an ax," said Genserix.

An ax, a typical Alar ax, long handled, armed with its heavy iron blade, was handed to the girl. She took it, holding it with difficulty. It was clear it was too heavy for her. She could scarcely lift it, let alone wield it.

"You could not use that blade, even for chopping wood," said Genserix. "What is your name?" I asked her.

"Tenseric," she said.

"That is a male's name," I said.

"I chose it myself," she said. "I wear it proudly."

"Have you always been called that?" I asked.

"I was called Boabissia," she said, "until I came of age, and chose my own name."

"You are still Boabissia," said one of the warriors. "No!" she said. "I am Tenseric."

"You are a female, are you not?" I asked.

"I suppose so," she said, angrily. "But what is that supposed to mean?" "Does it mean nothing?" I asked.

"No," she said. "It means nothing."

"Are you the same as a man?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

There was laughter from the warriors about the fire.

"It takes more than fur and leather, and a dagger worn pretentiously at one's belt, to make a man." I said.

She looked at me with fury.

"You are a female," called one of the men. "Be one!"

"No!" she cried.

"Put on a dress!" called another of the men.

"Never!" she cried. "I do not want to be one of those pathetic creatures who must wait on you and serve you!"

"Are you an Alar?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"No," said Genserix. "She is not an Alar. We found her, years ago, when she was an infant, beside the road, abandoned in blankets, amidst the wreckage of a raided caravan."

"One which had fallen to the Alars?" I inquired.

"No," said a fellow, chuckling.

"I wished it had fallen to us," said another. "From the size of the caravan, we conjecture the loot must have been considerable."

"There was little left when we arrived," commented another.

"Do not be misled," said Hurtha, smiling. "We do not really do much raiding. It does not make for good relations with the city dwellers."

His remark made sense to me. The Alars, and such folk, can be aggressive and warlike in seeking their grazing grounds, but, if left alone, they are seldom practitioners of unrestricted or wholesale raiding.

"We took the child in, and raised it," said Genserix. "We named it Boabissia, a good Alar name."

"You are not then really of the wagons," I said to the girl. "Indeed, you are quite possibly a female of the cities." "No!" said the girl. "I am truly of the wagons! I have lived among them all my life."

"She is not of the wagons, by blood," said a man.

She looked at him angrily.

"Slash my face! she cried.

"We do not slash the faces of our females," said a man.

"Slash mine!" she said.

"No," said Genserix.

"Then I shall do it myself!" she said.

"Do not," said Genserix, sternly.

"Very well," she said. "I shall not. I shall do as my chieftain asks." I saw that she did not wish, truly, to disfigure herself in the mode of the Alar warriors. I found that of interest. From the point of view of the men, too, of course, they did not desire this. For one thing she was not of the warriors and was thus not entitled to this badge of station; indeed, her wearing it, as she was a mere female, would be a joke to outsiders and an embarrassment to the men; it would belittle its significance for them, making it shameful and meaningless. The insignia of men, like male garments, become empty mockeries when permitted to women. This type of thing leads eventually both to the demasculinization of men and the defeminization of females, a perversion of nature disapproved of generally correctly or incorrectly, by Goreans. For another thing she was a beautiful woman and they had no desire to see her disfigured in this fashion. "Your chieftain is grateful," said Genserix, ironically.

"Thank you, my chieftain," she said. Reddening, inclining her head. She had little alternative, it seemed, in her anger other than to pretend to accept his remark at face value. I wondered why Genserix did not strip her and have her tied under a wagon for a few days. She looked at me in fury. "I am an Alar," she said.

Some of the warriors laughed.

"It seems more probable to me that you are a woman of the cities," I said. "No!" she said. "No!"

"Consider your coloring," I said, "and your shortness, and the darkness of your hair and eyes. Consider, too, the suggestion of interesting female curvatures beneath your leather and fur." Most of the Alar women are rather large, plain, cold, blond, blue-eyed women. "You remind me of many women I have seen chained naked in slave markets."

There was much laughter from the men.

"No!" she cried to them. "No!" she cried to me.

"It is true," I said.

"No!" she cried.

There was more laughter.

"I am an Alar!" she cried.

"No," said more than one man.

"Are you a man?" asked a fellow.

"No," she said. "I am a woman!"

"It is true," laughed a man.

"But I am a free woman!" she cried, with a look of hatred cast at Feiqa, who shrank back, trembling, beneath her fierce gaze.

"Lift up the ax you carry," said Genserix, "high, over your head, as though to strike one with it. Hold it near the end of the handle."

She, standing across from us, on the other side of the fire, tried to do this. But in a moment, struggling, unable to manage the weight, she twisted her body and the ax fell. Its head struck the dirt. The warriors were not pleased with this.

Some murmured in anger. "I cannot," she said. I myself would have had her kneel down and clean the blade with her hair. It can be a capital offense on Gor, incidentally, for a slave to so much as touch a weapon.

"Brandish it, wield it," said Genserix to her, sternly.

She tried again to lift the ax, and then again, lowered it, until she held it before her, as she had done before, with difficulty, with both hands, her hands separated well on the handle. "I cannot," she said.

"Then put it down, and leave," said Genserix.

"Yes, my chieftain," she said. She put down the ax, and then hurried away, angrily, into the darkness. I supposed that she, in her upbringing, had felt a little affinity with the Alar women. Certainly it seemed she had not cared to identify with them. Perhaps, too, as she was not an Alar by blood, they never truly accepted her. Yet it seemed she had bee, as is often the case with Alar children, raised with much permissiveness. Not identifying with the women, or being accepted by them, and perhaps coming to bitterly envy the men, their position and status, their nature and power, it seemed she may have turned toward trying to prove herself the same as them, turning then to mannish customs and garb, attempting thusly, desperately, angrily, to find some sort of place for herself among the wagons. As a result, it seemed she would be accepted by neither sex. She seemed to me confused and terribly unhappy. I did not think she knew her own identity. I do not think she knew who she was. Some of the men, perhaps, knew better than she herself did.

"Now," said Genserix, "let us continue the contest."

There were grunts of approval by the men.

Once again Sorath and I squared off against one another. This time, not mocked and taunted by the female, he fought extremely well. As Hurtha had warned me earlier, Sorath well knew the ways of the ax. Now that his temper had cooled he fought with agility and precision. The reckless and sometimes irrational temper of folks like Sorath, and it was a temper not unusual among the proud Alar herders, was something that they would be well advised to guard against. Too often it proves the undoing of such folks. Hundreds of times calculated defenses and responsible tactics have proved their worth in the face of brawn and wrath. The braveries of barbarism are seldom of little avail against a rational, determined, prepared foe. But let those of the cities tremble that among the hordes there might one day arise one who can unify storms and harness lightning. I slipped to the side and, swinging the ax handle inward caught Sorath in the solar plexus, that network of nerves and ganglia high in the abdominal cavity, lying behind the stomach and in front of the upper part of the abdominal aorta. I did not strike deeply enough to injure him, to rupture or tear open his body, slashing the stomach or crushing the aortal tube, only enough to stop him, definitely. For good measure I then, with the left side of the handle, swinging it upward, and then down, brought it down on the back of his neck as he, helpfully, expectantly, grunting, doubled over. I did not strike him hard enough to break the vertebrae. He slipped to his knees, vomiting, and then, stunned, half paralyzed, fell forward. I then stood behind him, the handle grasped at the ready, near its end. From such a position one can, rather with impunity, with an unarmed handle, break the neck to the side or crush the head. Had the handle been armed, of course, one might, from such a position, sever the backbone or remove the head. Sorath was fast. I was faster.

"Do not kill him!" said Genserix.

"Of course not," I said. "He is one of my hosts," I stepped back from Sorath. "You fought very well," said Genserix.

"Sorath is very good, don't you think?" asked Hurtha.

"Yes," I said. "He is quite good."

"Your prowess proves you well worthy to be a guest of the Alars," said Genserix. "Welcome to our camp. Welcome to the light and heat of our fire."

"Thank you," I said, tossing aside the handle.

"Are you still alive?" Parthanx inquired solicitously of Sorath, his friend. "Yes," reported Sorath.

"Do not be so lazy, then" said Parthanx encouragingly. "Get up." Parthanx, like the others, seemed to have enjoyed the fight.

"Let me help you," I said. I gave Sorath a hand, and half pulled him to his place by the fire. He looked up at me, shaking his head. "Well done," he said. "Thank you," I said. "You did splendidly yourself."

"Thank you," he said.

"Yes," said Genserix.

"Yes," said Sorath.

"Yes," said the others.

"Thank you," I said. "I am grateful for your welcome. I thank you, too, for the food and drink I have received here, for the heat and light of your fire, and for your fellowship. I thank you for your hospitality. It is worthy of the best things I have heard of Alars. I would now like, if I may, in my own way, and of my own free will, as it will now be clearly understood, to do something for you, something that will help, in a small way, to express my appreciation."

Genserix and his warriors looked at one another, puzzled.

I turned to Feiqa. "Strip," I said.

"Master?" she asked.

"Must a command be repeated?" I inquired.

"No, Master!" she cried. In an instant she was bared.

"Stand," I said. "Lift your arms over your head." Instantly she complied. She was then very beautiful, standing thusly in the light of the fire, before the barbaric warriors of Genserix, in the Alar camp.

"Such women," I said, "may be purchased in the cities." There were appreciative murmurs as the men drank in the fire-illuminated beauty of the naked slave. "Dance," I told Feiqa.

"I do not know how to dance, Master," she moaned.

"In every female there is a dancer," I said.

"Master," she protested.

"I know you are not trained," I said.

"Master," she said.

"There are many forms of dance," I said. "Music is not even necessary. It need not even be more than beautiful movement. Move before the men, and about them, Move as seductively and beautifully as you can, and as a slave, saying, crawling, kneeling, rolling, supine, prone, begging, pleading, piteous, caressing, kissing, licking, rubbing against them."

"Do I have a choice, Master?" she asked.

"No," I said, "absolutely not."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"Would you prefer your pretty flesh to be lashed from your bones?" I asked. "No, Master!" she said.

"And as the evening progresses, and as men might desire you," I said, "you will please them, and fully." "Yes, Master," she said.

"You are a slave, an absolute and total slave," I reminded her.

"Yes, Master," she said.

One of the fellows, then, began to sing, "Hei, Hei," and clap his hands. Feiqa danced.

The men cried out with pleasure, many of them joining in the song, and keeping time with their hands. I was incredibly proud of her. How joyful it is to own females and have absolute power over them! Seldom, indeed, I imagined, did the rude herders of the Alars have such a vision of imbonded loveliness in their camp, and in their arms. Such delicious females were not allowed in their camps, I gathered. The free women did not permit them. They probably had them hidden in wagons, until they could be sold off, or killed. How beautiful Feiqa was! What incredible power she exercised, though only a helpless slave, over men! How she pleased them and made them scream with pleasure! How incredibly basic, how fundamental, how real she was! I then felt a sudden, poignant sorrow for the women of Earth. How different Feiqa was from them. How far removed delicious, exquisite Feiqa was from the motivated artifices, the lies and fabrications, the propaganda, the demeaning, sterile, unsatisfying, reductive, negative superficialities of antibiological roles, the prescriptions of an unnatural and pathological politics, the manipulative instrumentations of monsters and freaks. I wondered how many of the women of Earth wished they might find themselves in a collar, dancing naked in the firelight before warriors in an Alar camp.

"Disgusting! Disgusting!" cried the free woman, Boabissia, in her leather and furs, having returned to the fire, and she rushed forward, a stout, thick, short, supple, single-bladed quirtlike whip in her hand. She began to lash Feiqa, who fell to her knees, howling with misery, a whipped slave. "We do not allow such as you in an Alar camp!" cried the free woman. Feiqa put her head down. Again the lash fell on her. I leaped to the free woman and tore the whip from her hand, hurling it angrily to the side. She looked at me, wildly, in fury, not believing I had dared to interfere. "What right have you to interfere?" she demanded. "The right of a man who is not pleased with your behavior, female," I said. "Female!" she cried, in fury. "Yes," I said. Her hand darted to the hilt of the dagger she wore at her belt. I regarded her evenly. She, frightened, quickly removed her hand from the hilt of the dagger, crying out in frustration, in rage. Then she lifted her fists and, with the sides of them, together, struck towards me. "Oh!" she cried, in misery, in frustration. I had caught both her small wrists. She could not begin to free them. "Oh!" she cried in misery, in protest, as, inexorably, slowly, I forced her down. Then she was kneeling before me, her wrists in my grip. I turned her about and flung her to her belly, and then knelt across her thighs. I removed her dagger from its sheath. "No!" she cried. I then, with her own dagger, cut her clothing from her body.

"Binding fiber," I said, not even looking, just putting out my hand. Some was fetched, a length of some five feet, or so, and, in a moment, with one end of the fiber, with a few loops and a knot, her wrists crossed, her hands were secured behind her back. I had tied her tightly, utterly helplessly, as I might have a slave. "Help!" she cried out to the warriors. "Help!" But none stirred to render her assistance. I then reversed my position on her body, kneeling now facing her feet, across the small of her back. I pulled her ankles up, behind her body, at an angle of about fifty degrees, and crossed them. I then, with the free end of the binding fiber, extending back from her wrists, tied them together, tightly, fastening them to her wrists. "Please!" she cried to the warriors but none leapt to her succor. I then lifted her up, in effect kneeling her, and then bent her back, her head back to the dirt, that the warriors might assess the bow of her beauty.

"She is pretty," said a fellow. "Yes," said another. It was true. She had a lovely figure. It had been hitherto muchly concealed from detection by the leather and furs she had worn, though even beneath them its subtle and tantalizing lineaments had been clearly suggested. "Come, see Boabissia," called a fellow, "trussed like a tarsk!" Some more fellows, and even some free women, came over to look. Boabissia now permitted to kneel upright, squirmed, fighting the fiber. She was helpless. "Feiqa will now again dance," I said. "If you wish, you may be hooded or blindfolded. She looked down, sullenly, angrily, and shook her head. "If you cry out," I said, "you will be gagged. Do you understand?" "Yes," she said.

I looked at Boabissia's throat. About it, tied on a leather thong, was a small, punched copper disk. "What is that?" I asked, pointing to it. She did not respond. I then put her to her back, her knees drawn up, her wrists behind her, under the small of her back. I then bent over her and lifted up the disk, examining it in the firelight. She did not resist. Bound as she was, there was little she could do. Too, resistance might have earned her perfunctory, disciplinary cuffs. The punched copper disk, threaded on its thong, was not large. It was about an inch or so in diameter. On it was the letter Tau and a number. "What is this?" I asked Genserix, indicating the disk. "We do not know," he said. "It was tied about her throat when we found her, years ago, a tiny infant, wrapped in a blanket, in the wreckage of the caravan."

"Surely you must have wondered about this?" I said to Boabissia.

She looked away, not responding.

"It must be a key to your identity," I said.

She did not respond.

I let the disk fall back, just below her neck. It, on its thong, was now all she wore, except for her bonds.

I looked to Feiqa, still kneeling, her back bright with the memory of the free woman's attentions.

"You may now continue to dance, Feiqa," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

The men cried out with approval, and smote their left shoulders with pleasure. In a moment Feiqa, vital and sensuous, liberated now from the fear of the free woman, and having felt the whip, in that perhaps being reminded of what might be the consequences of failing to please free persons, addressed herself once more, eagerly and joyously, marvelously and subserviently, to the pleasures of masters. I was so aroused I was in pain. I could hardly wait to get her back to the camp of the wagoners. From time to time I glanced at Boabissia. She was on her side, trussed, watching Feiqa. In her eyes there was awe, understanding what a woman could be.

After some Ahn, in the neighborhood of dawn, I returned to the camp of the wagoners. Feiqa walked behind me, slowly, weary, healing me, her body sore, her tiny tunic held over her left shoulder. Near the wagoners' camp I turned to face her. "Before you retire," I said, "I have business for you in my blankets. After that I will tether you for the night."

"Yes, Master," she smiled.

In a few moments we had come to the wagon of the fellow who had given us a ride earlier. Near the wagon, naked, chained by the neck to the back, right wheel, was the peasant girl, Tula. In the moonlight I examined her. Under her neck chain was a slave collar.

5 We Are on the Genesian Road

"What are you doing here?" I asked Hurtha.

"I am coming with you," he said. "I am interested in seeing the world, and will seek my fortune."

"You have no mount," I observed.

"Nor do you," he observed.

"That is true," I smiled.

"I sold it in the camp," he said, "for some coins. It did not seem practical to bring it. There seem to be few such mounts with the wagons. Too, I do now know where we are going, nor what we will do."

"The road I project is a difficult one," I said, "and it may be dangerous." "Splendid," he said.

I looked at him.

"I am easily bored," he explained.

"Oh," I said.

"You do not mind if I accompany you, do you?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"The matter is then fully settled," he announced.

"But you must feel free to part company from me at any time," I said. I had no wish to bring him into danger.

"If you insist," he said.

"I fear I must," I said.

"I accept your condition," he said.

"Good," I said.

"You drive a fierce bargain," he observed.

"Thank you," I said. "Half of my coins are yours," he said. "You are welcome to them." "That is very generous," I said.

"Just as half of yours are mine," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"As we will be traveling together," he said.

"How many coins do you have?" I asked.

"About seventeen copper tarsks," he said, "and two tarsk bits."

"That is all?" I inquired.

"Yes," he said.

"But you sold your tharlarion," I said, "and last night Genserix gave you, as he did me, a silver tarsk."

"True," he said, "but I used most of that to pay off a few debts. You would not wish for me to have left the wagons owing debts, would you?"

"Of course not," I said.

"Too," he said. "I purchased this splendid sword," He unsheathed it and swung it about. He handled it lightly. It nearly decapitated a passing wagoner. It was a long, cutting sword, of the sort called a spatha among the wagons. It is more useful than the gladius, from the back of a tharlarion, because of its reach. He also carried among his things the short, stabbing sword, similar to gladius, and doubtless related to it, called by his people the sacramasax. It is much more useful on foot, particularly in close combat. "Accordingly," he said, sheathing the sword, "I have with me only some seventeen, two. How much do you have?" "Somewhat more than that," I said.

"Splendid," he said. "We may need every tarsk bit."

"What?" I asked.

"I have expensive tastes," he explained. "Further, I am an Alar, and we Alars are generous, noble folk."

"That is a known fact," I granted him.

"We have a reputation to uphold," he said.

"Doubtless," I said.

"If we run short," he said, "I may always strike some good fellow on the head and take his purse."

"Surely you do not behave so in your own camp," I said. "No, of course not," he said, rather surprised. "But they are Alars." "I see," I said.

"Not outsiders, not city folks," he said.

"I must warn you," I said, "that even outside the wagons striking fellows on the head and taking their purses is often frowned upon."

"Oh?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "Many folks have strong opinions about such matters." "Interesting," he said.

"You would not like to be struck on the head, would you?" I asked.

"Of course not," he said.

"There you are," I said.

"But I am an Alar," he said.

"What difference does that make?" I asked.

"It makes all the difference in the world," he said. "Can you prove it does not?"

"No," I admitted.

"There you are," he said.

"I assure you," I said, "folks would not like it, and you might find yourself impaled, or cut to pieces."

"I am not impervious to such considerations," he said, "but I thought we were discussing purely moral issues."

"You should not behave in such a manner," I said.

"But it is not unseemly for me to do so, I assure you," he said. "Besides, such behavior lies well within my entitlements."

"How is that?" I asked.

"I am an Alar," he said.

"While we are traveling together," I said, "mainly because I do not wish to be impaled, or fed in bits to sleen, I would appreciate it if, as a favor to me, if nothing else, you would consider refraining from the exercise of certain of your Alar rights."

"Surely you would have no objection if fellows wished to make me loans or bestow gifts upon me?" he asked.

"Of course not," I said. "No one could possibly object to that." "Splendid," he said.

I relaxed.

"I was afraid you might be prone to eccentric reservations," he said.

"Not me," I said.

"Splendid!" he said, warmly.

We were in the camp of the wagoners, one of those associated with the supply trains of the soldiers of Cos and the Cosian mercenaries. It was in the neighborhood of dawn and now, after their breakfasts, wagoners were readying their wagons and harnessing their tharlarion and, indeed, some had already taken to the road. There seemed no numbering to their vehicles nor camp marshals in attendance. The trains, in spite of their length and numbers, and their diverse cargoes, seemed to me most casually organized. This differed considerably from the disciplines I would have expected to attend arrangements pertaining to the transportation and protection of such stores. I could not understand the apparent reluctance on the part of Ar to exploit these weaknesses.

"Are you ready?" inquired Mincon, our wagoner, he with whom Feiqa and I had traveled yesterday, jerking tight the harness of his tharlarion.

"In a moment," I said. "Hold still Feiqa."

Quite near to him, as he worked, knelt Tula. She tried to put her cheek against his left thigh. He brushed her away. Properly handled, women become as subservient and affectionate as dogs. They all desire to be totally prisoners of love, and they will never be fully content until they become so.

"Would you make me so much a slave, Master?" inquired Feiqa.

"Yes, I said.

"Then do so," she said.

Tula now wore a tunic. Mincon had fashioned it for her from her former garments, those she had worn yesterday as a free woman. It was brief and sleeveless, and of white wool. She had excellent legs. Another part of her former garments he had cut into a sort of shawl which she might clutch about her when the winds blew chill. Some other bits of them he had cut up and she had fashioned them into a form of footwear, which she had tied on her small feet. The stones of the Genesian Road, in Se'Kara would be cold. I considered again Tula's legs. They were well bared by her new tunic, as was appropriate for a slave. On Gor it is commonly only slaves, incidentally, who bare their legs, and although they usually do so eagerly, proudly and beautifully, they realize that, in the final analysis, whether they wish it or not, they will generally have little, if any, choice in the matter. Such things are up to the master. One need not speculate overly long, either, on the usual decision of the master, for most Gorean masters are vital, strong, dominant males. It is thus common for the enslaved females, and it is usually implicit in the only modes of garmenture most masters will permit them, that their legs, with all the delicious excitements of their thighs, calves and ankles, will be exposed to the gaze of free persons.

Contrariwise, almost no free woman would bare her legs. They would not dare to do so. They would be horrified even to think of it. The scandal of such an act could ruin a reputation. It is said on Gor, any woman who bares her legs is a slave. Indeed, in some cities a free woman who might be found with bare legs is taken in hand by magistrates, tried and sentenced to bondage. After the judge's decision has been enacted, its effect carried out upon her, reducing her to the status of goods, sometimes publicly, that she may be suitably disgraced, sometimes privately, by a contract slaver, that the sensitivities of free women in the city not be offended, she is hooded and transported, stripped and chained, freshly branded and collared, a property female, slave cargo, to a distant market where, once sold, she will begin her life anew, fearfully, as a purchased girl, tremulously as the helpless and lowly slave she now is.

"Oh," said Feiqa.

"Steady," I said to her. I wiped the needle. I then returned it to my sewing kit.

"Do not touch the wounds," I said.

She looked up at me. Her eyes were moist, and she seemed slightly afraid. In her eyes there was a sort of wonder, and awe. It seemed she found it hard to understand, truly, what had been done to her, from the Gorean point of view, the enormity of it.

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

"No," she said.

I wiped the tiny drops of blood away. I then fastened the tiny objects upon her. "They are beautiful," said Hurtha, admiringly.

"They are cheap," I said.

"That is all right," he said.

I did not want free women attacking the girl in rage, and perhaps tearing the objects free.

I turned Feiqa's head from side to side. Yes, they were lovely. She looked up at me. She now wore earrings.

I again regarded Tula's legs. True, the baring of the legs in that fashion, by so short a tunic, was truly an indication of slavery. Only a slave would be so bared. Mincon, of course, was proud of her. He owned her. He enjoyed showing her unmistakably as a slave. To be sure, it was not of the same degree of momentousness as certain other indications of slavery, irrefutable, irreversible, unmistakable indications, indications and degradations so fundamental that they would be likely to be inflicted only upon the most delicious and lowest of all slaves. It did not begin to compare, for example, with such things as the piercing of the ears.

"We are ready now," I told Mincon. "You may rise, Feiqa," I said.

"Go, stand behind the back of the wagon," said Mincon to Tula.

I put the rope on Feiqa's neck and then tied it to the side of the wagon, as I had before.

"Will it be necessary to chain you?" Mincon asked Tula.

"No, Master," she said.

"That is for me to decide," he said. He then took a length of chain from the wagon, that with which he had chained her to the wagon wheel last night, and, with a heavy padlock, fastened it on her neck. He then padlocked the other end of the chain to a stout ring, the central ring, at the rear of the wagon. She would walk behind the wagon, fastened to it by the neck.

"Yes, Master," she said, smiling, putting her head down.

Hurtha threw his things into the wagon. Among them was the heavy, single bladed Alar war ax. In the dialect of the Alars, if it is of interest, this particular type of ax is called the francisca. Among those, too, who have learned to fear it, it is often referred to by that name.

I decided that I would walk beside the wagon for a time. There did not seem room for both Hurtha and myself on the wagon box, beside Mincon.

"Ho!" called Mincon to his beast, shaking the reins with his left hand and cracking the tharlarion whip over its back with his right. Tula cried out, inadvertently, at the sharp crack of the whip, and Feiqa winced. Both were slaves and had some comprehension of the whip. To be sure, only Tula had felt the tharlarion whip, and I did not envy her her knowledge. Feiqa, on the other hand, had felt the five-bladed Gorean slave whip, used for the punishment and the correction of the behavior of females. Both, thus, were aware of what a whip could mean, from the slave' point of view. The wagon lurched and, moving unevenly, the wheels going over rocks and traversing ruts left from the traversing ruts left from the passage of other wagons, began its climb to the road.

"Hold!" I said, suddenly, to Mincon, as we came to the edge of the road. He pulled back on the reins.

The free woman hurried forward. I did not know where to find you," she said. "I knew you would come this way. I have been waiting by the side of the road." "Do you know this woman?" inquired Mincon.

"Yes," I said.

Mincon was eager to be on his way. His hand had tightened on the tharlarion whip. If this woman were merely another beggar he was ready, clearly, to strike her from his path.

"You are wearing a dress," said Hurtha.

"Yes," she said.

"Did you manage to free yourself?" he asked. "No," she said, reddening. "I could not free myself. I was absolutely helpless."

Hurtha regarded her.

"I was cut loose by Genserix this morning," she said.

"A free woman is present," I said to Feiqa. Immediately she knelt. "Head to the ground," I whispered to her. Immediately she complied, Behind the wagon Tula, frightened, immediately followed her example. Both, in a sense, particularly Tula, were new to the collar. Both must learn that they were nothing in the sight of free persons.

"You are wearing a dress," said Hurtha.

"Yes," she said.

He continued to regard her.

"What are you staring at?" she asked.

"You," he said.

"I?" she asked.

"I have never seen you in a dress before," he said.

"So?" she asked.

"It is nothing," he said. "It is only that I am surprised to see you thusly." Boabissia was not in furs and leather. She now wore one of the simple, corded, belted, woolen, plain, widely sleeved, ankle-length dresses of the Alar women. It was brown. She had belted it snugly, and had, too, drawn its adjustment cording snugly from its loop about the back of her neck down to her breasts where she had crossed it and then taken it back, both cords, between and under her breasts, again to her belt, tying it closely at the sides of her body. This is not uncommon among Alar women. Even though they are free they are apparently not above reminding their men that they are females. It is a simple arrangement, but not unattractive. It covers almost everything, with seeming modesty, but in such a way, that it is likely to lead a man to think in terms of removing it. Boabissia, however, was presumably unaware of these things. From her point of view, she had probably done nothing more than to garb herself in the accustomed manner of the Alar woman. Even so, however, putting herself in a dress, in itself, seemed to represent some sort of considerable change in her. She wore, too, as she had last night, her dagger in her belt. "I am entitled to dress in this fashion," she said defensively. "Then you are a woman," he said.

She did not deign to respond.

"Are you a woman?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, angrily. "I am a woman!"

"Then it is appropriate that you should wear a dress," he said.

"Perhaps!" she said. She looked at him angrily.

"When did you discover that you were a woman?" he asked. "Last night?" She did not deign to answer.

"Yes," he speculated, "it was doubtless last night."

Her small fists clenched.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"I want to come with you," she said. She put down her head.

"We must be on our way," said Mincon. Other wagons were emerging from the camp, coming up the small slope, and trundling onto the stones of the Genesian Road. The two slaves still knelt in their places, their heads down to the dirt. They had not yet been given permission to change their position.

"You had best remain within the safety of the wagons," said Hurtha. "This is the great outside world. You do not know what might become of you out here." "I am not afraid," she said.

"You might be killed," said Hurtha.

"I am not afraid," she said.

"You might be caught, and put in chains," said Hurtha. He did not even mention, explicitly, the horrifying word "bondage," In this he was tactful. She was a free woman.

"That I fear most," she said. "That would be a fate a thousand times worse than death."

Feiqa, kneeling near my feet, her head down to the dirt, stifled a sound of amusement. I kicked her, gently with the side of my foot, to silence her.

"Remain with the wagons," said Hurtha.

"No," said Boabissia.

"You are rather pretty," he said. (pg.73) "Do not insult me," she said.

"I wonder what you would look like, stripped, and branded and collared, as a slave," he said.

"Please, Hurtha," she said.

"Do you think you could please a man?" he asked.

"I have no interest in pleasing men," she said.

"But do you think you could do so?" he asked.

"I am sure I do not know." She said.

"In a collar," he said, "subject to the whip, you would doubtless attempt desperately to learn to do so, and quickly and well."

"Perhaps," she said angrily.

"Remain with the wagons," he said.

She looked at Hurtha, and then at me, and then again at Hurtha. She fingered the small copper disk, on its thong, tied about her throat, that disk which had been found on her in infancy, when she had been found by Alars in the wreckage of a burned, raided caravan, that disk on which a «Tau and a number had been inscribed. "No," she said.

Another wagon climbed to the road, and rolled by.

Hurtha looked at me. I shrugged. She was pretty, and she was free. I supposed she could do much what she wished. It was not as though she were naught but a banded chattel, like Feiqa and Tula.

"Do you have any money?" asked Hurtha.

"No," she said.

"Are you wearing that dress in the manner of the Alar woman?" he asked. "Yes," she said, reddening.

It was not winter now, but only Se'Kara. Accordingly all she now wore would be the dress. Beneath it she would be naked.

He then went to her and untied the strings which held the dagger sheath, with its small, narrow, sheathed weapon, with its ornamented, enameled handle, at her belt.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I am taking the dagger," he said. "I am going to throw it away, here, along the side of the road. Have no fear. It will not go unused. Someone will surely find it. "But then I will be defenseless!" she protested.

"Such a woman," he said, "might get you killed. It is better that you do not have it."

"But I will be defenseless without it," she insisted.

"You were defenseless with it," he said, "only you did not know it. Do you truly think that anyone who intended to take you, or harm you, would be dissuaded from doing so by that tiny weapon? Do not deceive yourself. Indeed, if he were not amused, he might even find it irritating, and see fit to turn it into your own heart. At the least, you would be likely to be punished severely for the pretensions of carrying it."

"What then are my defenses?" she asked.

"Those of the female," he said.

"Of the female!" she said.

"For that is what you are, Boabissia," he said.

"I see," she said.

"Docility, and total obedience," he said.

"I see," she said.

"Return to the wagons," he said.

"No," she said.

He looked at her.

"I want to come with you," she said.

"If you come with us," he said, "you come with us as a woman."

"I would then be helpless," she said, "with a woman's helplessness." "You have always been such, Boabissia," he said, "though perhaps, among the wagons, you did not realize it."

"I would have to depend on you, upon men, for my total protection," she said. "Yes," said Hurtha. "And such protection extends to you, of course, only in so far as you are a free woman."

"Of course," she said.

Slaves are goods. Thus, whether they are protected, or defended, or not, depends on the decisions of free persons, like the defense or protection of other goods, whatever they might be, for example, sacks of gold, crates of sandals, tethered tharlarion, caged vulos, and strings of fish. Many a caravan has saved itself by leaving lovely slaves behind in the desert, to slow the pursuit of marauders. So, too, more than one merchantman has saved itself by jettisoning beauties too luscious to be left behind by lustful pursuers. Better to lose part of a cargo, they reason, than all of it.

"Do you wish to come with us?" asked Hurtha.

"Yes," she said.

"Do you come with us as a woman?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "I will come with youa€”as a woman,"

He threw the dagger, with its sheath, to the side of the road.

She looked at it. I took her by the arm and conducted her to where Tula knelt, her head to the dirt. "This is a free woman," I told Tula. "She will be traveling with us," Tula, scarcely lifting her head, pressed her lips to the sandals of Boabissia, kissing them. "Mistress," she said. I then conducted Boabissia to the vicinity of Feiqa. Feiqa had once been the Lady Charlotte, of Samnium, a high lady in that city, one of aristocratic birth and upbringing, from one of her finest families, one prominent on her Street of Coins. Feiqa pressed her lips to the sandals of Boabissia, kissing them. "Mistress," she whispered. "What?" inquired Boabissia, imperiously. Feiqa again pressed her lips to Boabissia's sandals, kissing them. "Mistress," she said, trembling. "These slaves," I said to Boabissia, "as you are a free woman, are at your disposal. On the other hand, you do not own them. Accordingly you are not to mutilate them or cause them permanent harm or serious injury unless they prove themselves to be, in some small way, at least, disobedient or displeasing." "I understand," said Boabissia.

"Even then," I said, "it will be expected that you would first obtain the permission of their master."

"That is a common courtesy," said Boabissia.

"You may count, of course," I said, "on his understanding and sympathy, and his respect for your wishes, as those of a free woman."

"Of course," said Boabissia.

"In lesser matters of course," I said, "where lesser exactitudes and punishments might be in order, you may, as any free person, at your whim, and without consulting the master, subject them to typical disciplines, things useful in helping them to keep in mind what they are."

"I understand," said Boabissia.

The slaves trembled. She was a free woman. The slave has some defense against a vital powerful male, female submission behaviors, indeed, the piteous and desperate prostration of her beauty and service at the feet of his authority and lust. This defense, however, minimal and uncertain as it may be, seldom avails her against the displeasure of the hostile free female.

"Oh!" said Boabissia.

Hurtha had taken her under the arms and swung her up to the wagon box.

"Good," said Mincon. "We must be on our way."

To, be sure, the other wagons from this camp were now more than a pasang or two down the road.

"We will never catch up," said Mincon.

"On your feet, imbonded sluts," I said.

Tula and Feiqa leapt up, Tula in her neck chain, Feiqa with the rope on her neck.

"May I speak, Master?" asked Feiqa.

"Yes," I said.

She touched her earrings. I saw that she was incredibly pleased to have them. Not only were they beautiful, though, indeed, they were not expensive, but in Gorean eyes, they much confirmed, deeply and positively, her status upon her. I could see she was thrilled to wear them. What a slave they made her! "Master," she said, "may I sometimes be given slave silk?"

I smiled. None but a slave would put on slave silk. It is so tantalizingly beautiful and diaphanous that it seems to make a woman almost more naked than naked, and yet in such a way, driving a man almost mad with passion, that he can scarcely control himself, that he can scarcely rest, or think, having seen her in such a way, until he can put his hands on her, and part it, and thus reveal her as wholly bared, and helpless, and his. "Perhaps," I said.

"Thank you, Master," she whispered happily. I was pleased with Feiqa. She was now beginning to get in touch with her sexuality, indeed, with the deepest sexuality in the human female, that of the slave.

I saw the fists of Boabissia clench.

"Is anything wrong?" I asked.

"Put the slut back, behind the wagon," said Boabissia, "where she, like the animal she is, led, may follow with the other."

"Please?" I asked.

"Yes, please," said Boabissia, angrily.

"Very well," I said. I decided I would do this, at least this time, in deference to the wishes of Boabissia. She was after all, a free woman. I gathered she did not wish to glance to the side and see the beautiful, collared, scantily clad slave. She preferred, for whatever reason, it seemed, but one apparently no unusual for free women, to have her behind the wagon, out of sight. I myself, on the other hand, would have preferred keeping Feiqa at the side of the wagon. Indeed, I would rather have enjoyed, from time to time, looking down approvingly on the helplessness and seminudity of my nearby, neck-roped chattel. Surely, too, I had a right to do this if, and whenever, I pleased. It was merely another of the many, unlimited prerogatives attaching to my relationship to her, that of master to slave. I considered keeping her where she was. Still, Boabissia did not want her there, and Boabissia was, after all, a free woman. I supposed I should respect her wishes, at least once in a while. Too, I had earlier decided to move Feiqa. There did not seem much point in changing my mind, now. Too, there was much to be said objectively for putting Feiqa back of the wagon. Perhaps in indulging my own pleasure in seeing her I had been, inadvertently, too permissive with her. Surely I did not wish her to grow arrogant. Too, considering what she was, it was fitting that she was behind the wagon, attached to it by her neck rope.

"Master?" asked Feiqa.

"Be silent," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

I untied her tether and led her to the back of the wagon. There were three rings there, the central ring, to which Tula had been chained, generally used for tethering, and two smaller, side rings, auxiliary rings, sometimes used for tethering, sometimes used for drawing a second wagon or cart. I tied her tether to the side ring on the right. She was smiling. I think she enjoyed being disturbing to Boabissia. To be sure, she should watch her step in such matters. I did tie her hands behind her back. I heard Boabissia gasp, and then she turned away. Such a tying makes a woman so helpless.

"We are ready," I called.

"Ho!" cried Mincon to his beast. He shook the reins and cracked the whip. The wagon moved forward, and rolled up onto the stones of the Genesian Road. In a bit we were moving forward. Hurtha and I walked beside the wagon. Boabissia, moving with the motion of the wagon, swaying with its motion, rode on the wagon box. Tula and Feiqa, her hands tied behind her, followed behind. I looked back, and they looked down, not meeting my eyes. Both were lovely. It was fitting, of course, that they followed on their tethers.

Both were domestic animals.

"We will never catch up," said Mincon, grumbling. Then he cracked the whip again.

6 Hurtha's Feast

"Hurtha," said I, "what have you there?"

"Fruits, dried and fresh, candies, nuts, four sorts of meats, choice, all of them, fresh-baked bread, selected pastries," responded he, his arms full, "and some superb paga and delicate ka-la-na."

"Where did you get such things?" I asked.

"They were intended for the mess of the high officers, up the road," he said. "They did not arrive there apparently," I said.

"Have no fear," he said. "I purchased them honestly."

"You bought them surreptitiously from sutlers," I speculated. "To be sure," he said, "the negotiations were conducted behind a wagon. On the other hand, it is surely not up to me to criticize the discretion of such fellows, nor how and where they conduct their business."

"I see," I said. I hoped earnestly that if these dealings were found out that any penalties which might be involved, in particular, such things as torturings and impalements, would be visited upon the sutlers and not on their customers, and particularly not on folks who might be traveling with their customers. To be sure, the rigors sometimes technically contingent upon such discoveries and exposures seldom actually resulted in the enactment of dismal sanctions, maimings, executions, and such, bribes instead, gifts and so on, usually changing hands on such occasions.

"Feast heartily," said Hurtha, unloading, half spilling, his acquisitions near the fire at our campsite.

"You should not have done this," I said to him.

"Nonsense," he said, depreciatingly, smiling, letting me know that lavish gratitude on my part, however justified, was not even necessary.

"This is the food of generals," I said.

"It is excellent," agreed Hurtha.

"It is the food of generals," I said.

"There is plenty left for them," Hurtha assured me.

"You should not of done this," I said.

"It is time that I paid my share of the expenses," he said.

"I see," I said. It was difficult to argue with that.

"These are Ta grapes, I am told," he said, "from the terraces of Cos." "Yes, they are," I said. "Or at least they are Ta grapes,"

"Cos is an island," he said.

"I have heard that," I said. "These various things must have been terribly expensive."

"Yes," said Hurtha. "But money is no object."

"That is fortunate," I said.

"I am an Alar," Hurtha explained. "Have a stuffed mushroom."

I pondered the likely prices of a stuffed mushroom in a black-market transaction in a war-torn district, one turned into a near desert by the predations of organized foragers, in particular, the price of such a mushroom perhaps diverted at great hazard from the tables of Cosian generals.

"Have two," said Hurtha.

My heart suddenly began to beat with great alarm. "This is a great deal of food," I said, "to have been purchased by seventeen copper tarsks, and two tarsk bits." That was, as I recalled, the sum total of monetary wealth which Hurtha had brought with him to the supply train, that or something much in its neighborhood.

"Oh," said Hurtha, "it cost more than that."

"I had thought it might," I said.

"Have a mushroom," said Hurtha. "They are quite good."

"What did all this cost?" I asked.

"I do not recall," said Hurtha. "But half of the change is yours." "How much change do you have?" I asked.

"Fourteen copper tarsks," he said. "You may keep them," I said.

"Very well," he said.

"I am quite hungry, Hurtha," said Boabissia. "May I have some food?" "Would you like to beg?" he asked.

"No," she said.

"Oh, very well," said Hurtha. He then held out to her the plate of mushrooms. It did not seem to me that she needed to take that many. "Ah, Mincon, my friend, my dear fellow," said Hurtha. "Come, join us!"

I supposed he, too, would dive into the mushrooms. Still, one could not begrudge dear Mincon some greed in this matter, for he was a fine driver, and a splendid fellow. We had been with him now four days on the road. To be sure, we had received a late start on each of these days, and each day later than the preceding. It was difficult to get an early start with slaves such as Tula and Feiqa in the blankets. Boabissia, a free woman, must wait for us, of course, while we pleasured ourselves with the slaves. I think she did not much enjoy this. At any rate, she occasionally seemed somewhat impatient. Too, her irritability suggested that her own needs, and rather cruelly, might quite possibly be upon her.

Feiqa and Tula, those lovely properties, hovered in the background. I supposed that they, too, would want to be fed. I dared not speculate at what time we might be leaving in the morning. I hoped we could arouse Mincon and Hurtha at least by noon. There was even paga and ka-la-na. Mincon began to pick mushrooms off the plate and feed them to Tula. Did he not know she was a slave? "Thank you, Master," she said, being fed by hand. Sometimes slaves are not permitted touch food with their own hands. Sometimes, in such a case, they are fed by hand; at other times their food might be thrown to them or put out for them in pans, and such, from which then, not using their hands, on all fours, head down, they must feed, in the manner of she-quadrupeds, or slaves, if it be the master's pleasure.

Another mushroom disappeared. Had Tula not had some bread earlier?

"Have a mushroom," said Hurtha. Mincon even gave a mushroom to Feiqa. I was watching. He was certainly a generous fellow with those mushrooms.

"No, thank you," I said. I wondered if, in the eating of such a mushroom, one became an inadvertent accomplice in some heinous misadventure.

"They are good," Hurtha insisted.

"I am sure they are," I said. I was particularly fond of stuffed mushrooms. There was no problem for the slaves, of course. No one would blame them, any more than one would blame a pet sleen for eating something thrown his way. Mincon and Boabissia might get off, I thought, watching them eat. After all, they did not know where the food came from. Mincon was a trusted driver, and a well-known good fellow. Boabissia was fresh from the wagons, She might be forgiven. Too, she was pretty. Hurtha, of course, might be impaled. I wondered if I counted as being guilty in this business whether I ate a mushroom or not. I knew where they came from, for example. It would be too bad to be impaled, I thought, and not have had a mushroom, at all. "What are they stuffed with?" I asked Hurtha.

"Sausage," he said.

"Tarsk?" I asked.

"Of course," he said.

"My favorite," I said. "I shall have one."

"Alas," said Hurtha. "They are all gone."

"Oh," I said. "Say," I said, "there seems to be a fellow lurking over there, by the wagons."

Hurtha turned about, looking.

It was undoubtedly a supply officer. I supposed it would be wrong to put a knife between his ribs. I did, however for at least a moment, feverishly consider the practicalities that might be involved in doing so.

"Ho!" cried Hurtha, cheerfully, to the fellow.

The fellow, who was a bit portly, shrank back, as though in alarm, near one of the wagons. Perhaps he was not a supply officer. He did not have a dozen guardsmen at his back, for instance.

"Do you know him?" I asked. "Of course," said Hurtha. "He is my benefactor!"

I looked again.

"Come," called Hurtha, cheerily. "Join us! Welcome!"

I feared the fellow was about to take to his heels.

"I am sorry the mushrooms are all gone," said Hurtha to me.

"That is all right," I said.

"Try a spiced verr cube," he suggested.

"Perhaps later," I said, uneasily. The portly fellow near the wagon had not approached, nor either had he left. He seemed to be signaling me, or attempting to attract my attention. But perhaps that was my imagination. When Hurtha glanced about he did not, certainly, seem to be doing so. I did not know him, as far as I knew.

"They are very good," said Hurtha, "though, to be sure, they are not a match for the stuffed mushrooms."

"Excuse me," said Mincon, "but I think that fellow over there would like to speak to you."

"Excuse me," I said to Hurtha.

"Certainly," he said.

In a moment I had approached the portly fellow by the wagon. "Sir?" I asked. "I do not mean to intrude," he said, "but by any chance, do you know the fellow sitting over there by the fire?"

"Why, yes," I said. "He is Mincon, a wagoner."

"Not him," said the fellow. "The other one."

"What other one?" I asked.

"The only other one," he said, "the big fellow, with yellow, braided hair, and the mustache."

"That one," I said.

"Yes," said he.

"He is called Hurtha," I said.

"Are you traveling with him?" he asked.

"I may have been," I speculated. "One sees many folks on the road. You know how it is."

"Are you responsible for him?" he asked.

"I hope not," I said. "Why?"

"Not an ahn ago," he said, "he leaped out at me from behind a wagon in the darkness, brandishing an ax. "The Alars, at least one, are upon you! he cried."

"That sounds like Hurtha," I admitted.

"It was he," averred the fellow.

"You might be mistaken," I said.

"There are not many like him with the wagons," said the fellow.

"Perhaps there is at least one other," I said.

"It was he," said the fellow.

"You can't be sure," I said.

"I am sure," he said.

"Oh," I said.

"He then, brandishing his ax, importuned me for a loan. I was speechless with terror. I feared he might mistake my reticence for hesitation."

"I understand," I said, sympathetically.

" "Take it, " I cried. " "Take my purse, my gold, all of it! " " "As a gift, he asked, seemingly delighted, though perhaps somewhat puzzled. "Yes, I cried. "Yes!

"I see," I said. To be sure, when Hurtha had seen this fellow a few moments ago, he had referred to him not as his "creditor," but rather, now that I recalled it, warmly, as his "benefactor."

"Shall I summon guardsmen from down the road?" he asked.

"I do not think that will be necessary," I said.

"In that purse," he said, "there were eighteen golden staters, from Tyros, three golden tarn disks, one from Port Kar, and two from Ar, sixteen silver tarsks from Tabor, twenty copper tarsks, and some fifteen tarsk bits."

"You keep very careful records," I said.

"I am from Tabor," he said.

"Probably you are a merchant, too," I said.

"Yes," he said.

I had feared as much. The merchants of Tabor are famed for the accuracy of their accounts. "Well?" he said.

"Would you care to join us?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"There is plenty to eat," I said.

"I am not surprised," he said.

"It is not my fault," I said, "if you, of your own free will, decided to make my friend a generous gift."

"Shall I summon guardsmen?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Well?" said he.

"Do you have a witnessed, certified document attesting to the alleged contents of your purse?" I asked. "Too, was the purse closed with an imprinted seal, its number corresponding to the registration number of the certification document?" "Yes," he said.

"Oh," I said.

"Here," he said. "I think you will find everything in order."

I had forgotten the fellow was from Tabor.

"This document seems a bit old," I said. "Doubtless it is no longer current, no longer an effective legal instrument. As you can see, it is dated two weeks ago. Where are you going?"

"To fetch guardsmen," he said.

"It will do," I said.

I then, without great pleasure, restored to the determined, inflexible fellow the amount in full which he had earlier, and of his own free will, as I did not fail to remind him, bestowed on my friend, Hurtha.

"I would also like something for my trouble," he said.

"A silver tarsk will be sufficient."

"Of course," I said. He then, now seemingly content, left. How little it takes to please some people. I decided I must speak with Hurtha. I returned to the campfire.

"I will take some of the spiced verr cubes," I said.

"Alas," said Hurtha, "we have finished them. You should have invited my friend to sup with us."

"I did," I said. "But he did not agree to do so." "It is perhaps just as well," said Hurtha, "as there is not much left. What did he want?"

"Oh, nothing," I said.

"Interesting," mused Hurtha.

"He just wanted to make certain that you were enjoying yourself," I said. "A splendid fellow," said Hurtha.

"Hereafter," I said, "before you decide to apply for a loan or consider accepting an unusually generous gift, particularly while carrying an ax, at least while we are traveling together, I would appreciate it if you would take me into your confidence, if you would consult with me about it first."

"Of course, my dear friend," said Hurtha, "anything you like."

I regarded him.

"Did I do anything wrong?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"That is a relief," he said. "One must be so careful in one's dealings with civilized folks."

"Hurthaa€”" I said.

"Yes?" he said.

"Nothing," I said.

"You told me, or led me to believe, as I recall, that there could be no possible objection to fellows making me loans or bestowing gifts upon me," he said. "That is true," I said.

"It is not my fault," he said, "if a complete stranger takes a liking to me and instantaneously decides to make me a fine gift,"

"Of course not," I said.

"You see," he said.

"Just consult with me first, hereafter, if you would," I said.

"Of course, my dear fellow," he said.

"I am now nearly destitute," I said.

"Have no fear," he said. "Half of what I have is yours!"

"That would come to about seven copper tarsks, as I recall," I said.

"Precisely," said Hurtha. "What is left to eat?" I asked.

"Not much, I am afraid," said Hurtha.

"Is there paga?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Give it to me," I said.

7 We get a late start; Boabissia Is Encouraged to Silence

"So at last we are upon our way, you lazy sleen," said Boabissia, lurching on the wagon box. "I thought it would never come about!"

"Please," said Mincon. "My head."

"It is well past noon!" said Boabissia.

"How do you feel?" I asked Mincon.

"I am sober now," said Mincon. "At least I see but one road ahead." "You did very well," Hurtha congratulated me. "I had not known those of the cities could drink so much."

"We can do many wonderful things," I said, "when we are properly motivated." If one kept one's eyes closed it was easier to avoid the glare from the light on the stones. One could hold onto the edge of the wagon bed with one hand. To be sure, it increased the likelihood of stepping into potholes.

Hurtha fell against the side of the wagon. "Are you all right?" I asked. "Certainly," he said.

"You are all monsters, and lazy sleen," said Boabissia. "I am sure, now, we will never catch up with the others, surely not until after dark!"

"That is my concern," said Mincon, blinking shaking his head.

"Then I suggest you attend to it," said Boabissia.

"Please," begged Mincon.

"I think I shall see that you are reported to the wagon officer," she said. "Surely he would have something to say about your broad-minded attitudes toward schedules, your unconscionable delays, your neglect of your duties. Do you think you are being paid to take your time? You have stores to deliver!" "Please," said Mincon. "Please!"

Boabissia had been a pain all morning. Scarcely had we been permitted to sleep. Even before dawn, when others were having their breakfasts, and later, in the vicinity of dawn, when the other wagons were preparing to leave camp, we had been urged to bestir ourselves.

"We are alone on the road," said Boabissia. "You have deprived us of the safety of numbers. This could well be dangerous! Why did you not listen to me? What if we should be set upon by brigands?"

I hoped that would not happen, as I was not certain I could find my sword. Ah, yes there it was, somehow in its sheath, over my left shoulder. The only problem, then, would be in attempting to dislodge it from its housing.

"Brigands might only slay you," said Boabissia, "but I am a free woman! I have much more to fear! I might be put in a collar, and made a slave. Like those sluts in the back! You could of thought of me! You never think of me!"

How is it, I wondered, that each time I put my foot down, my head hurts. That was interesting. Could it be normal? There was nothing in the codes of warriors, as I recalled, that explicitly demanded resistance to brigands, though perhaps it was presupposed. It was an interesting interpretative question, probably one calling for the attention of high councils. If I were beheaded by a brigand's sword. I mused, I would be ridded of this headache. To be sure, such a remedy can be used but once. That is a count against it. Too, it was not true that we never thought of Boabissia. We often thought of her. In fact, I was thinking of her now.

"Men are such beasts," she said, "tarsks, miserable drunken sleen!" Tula and Feiqa, too, however, if it had to be known, had not been feeling too well. They were both sleeping in the back of the wagon. It had been with difficulty that Hurtha and I had managed to put them there. We would not have left them, of course. We were far to alert for that. Too, one does not leave Tulas and Feiqas simply lying about. They are far too desirable, far too luscious. To be sure, we had forgotten to chain them up last night, or rather, this morning, but neither, it seemed, as far as we could tell, had pondered escape.

"Oh!" cried Hurtha.

"Wait!" I said to Mincon.

"Here," I said to Hurtha, going to where he had stumbled off the road. I drew him up, with two hands, from the ditch. Fortunately it was not deep. "Hold to the side of the wagon," I advised him. He clutched it with both hands. In a moment we were again on our way.

"Drunken tarsks, all of you!" said Boabissia.

We were not drunk, of course. Last night, perhaps, we might have been a little drunk.

"Would you like some paga?" asked Hurtha, hospitably, clinging grimly to the wagon.

"No," I said.

"There is none left," said Boabissia.

"It is all gone?" asked Hurtha, in dismay.

"Yes," she Boabissia.

"All of it?" he pressed.

"Yes," she said.

I did not find this report disquieting.

"It is possible, of course," said Hurtha. "I am an Alar."

I heard Tula twist in the wagon, and groan. They had been lovely last night, in the firelight, naked, in their collars. More than once we had put down some ka-la-na for them, in pans. Too, particularly when they had licked and begged, and with sufficient fervor and skill, and prettiness, we had put dishes on the ground for them. It was only the first time, I think, that Tula was genuinely surprised when she found herself caught at her dish by Mincon. How incredibly beautiful and desirable are women. How marvelous are slaves!

"If you had listened to me," said Boabissia to Mincon, "we would have been on the road more than four Ahn ago!" I swung up to the wagon box I looked about in the wagon bed.

"We would then not be so far behind the others," she said. "Oh!" she said. Boabissia looked at me angrily.

"Good," said Mincon.

With my thumb I pressed the small sack more deeply into her mouth, until her lovely sometimes irritating oral orifice was well stuffed with it. The small sack had drawstrings. These I took to the sides and yanked back, drawing them deeply back between her teeth, and then knotted them tightly behind the back of her neck. I could not make out what she was saying.

"Be silent," I said to her.

She stopped saying whatever it was she was saying.

"You will leave this as it is," I said, "until one of the men with the wagon sees fit to remove it."

She looked at me.

"If you should remove it yourself, or attempt to do so," I said, "it will be promptly replaced, or resecured, and you will be stripped and put in slave bracelets, your hands behind your back. Furthermore, you will then be put on a rope and will follow the wagon, naked, and so braceleted and gagged, as might a slave. Do you understand? If so, nod, Yes."

Boabissia looked at me in fury. And then, tears in her eyes, she nodded. I then returned to the road.

"It is more peaceful now," said Hurtha.

Boabissia struck down at the lid of the wagon box, serving as her bench, with her small fists. But she did not attempt to dislodge the device by means of which, in accordance with the will of men, she had been silenced.

"Yes," I said.

8 Evidence of a Disquieting Event Is Found

"There is smoke ahead," said Mincon, pulling back on the reins, halting the wagon. He and Boabissia rose to their feet, looking ahead. I climbed on the spokes of the front wheel, near Boabissia. It was now late in the afternoon. The gag which I had fixed on her somewhat after the noon hour, shortly after we had begun our day' journey, I had, after an Ahn or two, loosened and pulled free. She was then somewhat subdued, knowing that it could be instantly replaced at our least irritation. It now, if only as a reminder, on its strings, still wet, hung loosely about her neck.

"What is it?" asked Hurtha.

"I do not know," I said.

Feiqa and Tula, kneeling on sacks in the back of the wagon, moved about a little. They had been very quiet all afternoon. I think that they had not wished to call attention to themselves. After all, they were there, riding in the wagon, and not afoot, on their tethers, behind it. Was this not almost like being a privileged free woman? To be sure, they were in the back of the wagon, where cargo is kept, in collars and slave tunics, and were kneeling. Slave girls can be very clever in such ways. Mincon and I, of course, indulgently pretended not to notice this.

"What is it?" asked Boabissia.

"I do not know," I said.

Feiqa and Tula, frightened, kneeling in the back of the wagon, looked at one another. They were goods.

"Remain here," I said. "I will investigate."

"I am coming with you," said Hurtha.

I nodded. I would welcome the company of the Alar. "I think there is trouble," said Mincon.

"Watch for our signal," I said.

I stepped down from the wheel and unsheathed my sword. I began then to advance down the road. Hurtha took his ax from the wagon and followed me.

The man lifted his hand, weakly, as though to fend a blow.

"Do not fear," I told him.

"Are you not with them?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"They came," he said, "as though from nowhere."

"They emerged from covered pits," I said, "dug near the road."

"They were suddenly everywhere, all about us, crying out, with reddened blades," he said, "and merciless. They were swift. We could not resist them. We are not soldiers. Then they were gone."

"Are there any other survivors?" I asked.

"I do not know," he said.

"There are others," I said, looking over the road.

"Yes," he said.

Free women had come to the road. They were now poking through the wreckage and ashes, moving bodies about, hunting for loot, or food. I did not think there would be much left for them.

The smell of smoke hung heavy in the still air.

"When did this happen?" I asked.

"An Ahn, perhaps two Ahn ago," he said. "I do not know."

He sat wearily beside the road, his head in his hands.

"It was more likely two Ahn," I said. "Their work here has been finished." "There are only the women now," he said, bitterly.

"Yes," I said. "Now there are only the women."

I looked about myself. Had the terrain been properly scouted, had the wagons been properly guarded, this thing presumably could not have happened, or, surely, not in as devastating a fashion as this.

"Ar has struck," said Hurtha, grimly.

"I do not think this is the work of the troops of Ar," I said.

"But who else?" he asked.

"I do not know," I said.

"But what troops?" he asked.

"This does not look to me like the work of regular troops," I said. "Consider the wagons, the bodies."

The wagons had not merely been burned, that their cargoes might be destroyed, but, clearly, had been ransacked. Wrappings, sackings and broken vessels lay strewn about. Several bodies, it seemed, had been hastily examined. Some had been stripped of articles of clothing. I had found none with their wallets intact. In some cases digits had been cut away, presumably to free rings.

"Mercenaries," said Hurtha.

"It would seem so," I said. It is difficult to control such men. Most commanders, in certain situations, will give them their head. Indeed, in certain circumstances the attempt to impose discipline upon them can be extremely dangerous. It is something like informing the hunting sleen, eager, hot from the chase, his jaws red with blood, that he should now relinquish his kill. It must be understood, of course, that the average mercenary looks upon loot as his perquisite. He regards it, so to speak, as a part of his pay. Indeed, the promise of loot is almost always one of the recruiter's major inducements. "Cosian mercenaries?" asked Hurtha.

"Who knows?" I said. It did not seem to me impossible that some of the mercenary troops with the Cosian army might have doubled back to strike at one of their own supply columns. Surely the paucity of protection provided for such columns would not have escaped their notice.

I looked at the women, poking about amidst the wreckage. It had not taken them long to arrive. I could see some others, too, coming just now, from between the hills. Perhaps they had camps nearby. The wagons were in a long line, about a pasang long, Some, too, were off the road. Some were overturned. Most showed signs of fire. There were few tharlarion in evidence. Harnesses had been cut and they, it seems, had either been driven away or had wandered off. In one place there was a dead tharlarion, and the women, some crouching on it, were cutting it into pieces with knives, putting pieces of meat into their mouths, and hiding other pieces in their dresses.

"Jards," said Hurtha, in disgust.

I shrugged. These women were of the peasants. They were not given to the niceties of civilized women. Too, they were doubtless starving.

"Jards" said Hurtha.

"Even the jard desires to live," I said.

"It is not unknown that such women come to the fields," he said, "and even when not hungry."

"That is true," I said. Perhaps all women belonged in collars.

"We could probably follow the raiders," he said.

"Probably," I said. The trail was doubtless still fresh enough to permit this. One man, who knows what he is doing, can be extremely difficult to follow. It is extremely difficult, on the other hand, for a large group of men to cover their traces.

"Shall we do so?" asked Hurtha.

"Do you really wish to catch up with them?" I asked.

"I suppose not," he said.

"It is not our business," I said. "It is the business of those of Cos." Hurtha nodded.

"Perhaps you should signal Mincon," I said.

Hurtha walked back to the top of the small rise in the road. From there he could look back to where we had left the wagon. I saw him standing there, on the crest. He lifted his ax and beckoned that the others might now join us.

"Are you all right?" I asked the fellow by the side of the road.

"Yes," he said.

"Are you not hurt?" I asked. "I hid," he said. "I think no one saw me. I am sick. That is all. I am all right."

"We have a wagon," I told him. "You are welcome to ride with us to the next camp."

"Thank you," he said.

"You do not know who did this?" I asked.

"No," he said.

I saw the head of Mincon's tharlarion come over the rise, moving about, on its long neck, scanning the road, and then, in a moment, the wagon. I advanced to meet it.

Boabissia sat white-faced on the wagon box. I recalled that she was not Alar by blood. Her makeshift gag still hung about her neck. "It is not necessary to look," I told her.

"What went on here?" asked Mincon. "Those of Ar?"

"We do not know," said Hurtha.

Feiqa looked sick. Even Tula, of the peasants, was pale.

"Slaves," I said, "lie on your bellies in the wagon." This would bring their heads below the sides of the wagon.

Boabissia looked at me.

"There is nothing we can do," I said.

She nodded.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"If we had left this morning, with the others," she whispered, "we would have been here."

"Yes, I said. "But we might have survived. Doubtless some have survived. There are usually survivors. Even now word has probably been brought to the contingents ahead on the road."

"We would have been here," she said.

"That is true," I said.

I then went to the fellow whom we had found by the road and helped him to his feet.

"I would like for this fellow to sit on the wagon box, Boabissia," I said. "Please sit in the back."

Boabissia, saying nothing, crawled into the back of the wagon. She sat with her back against one side of the wagon bed. She said nothing. I helped the fellow up to the wagon box. He was unsteady. I think he was in shock. I put a blanket about him.

"Shall we go?" asked Mincon.

"Yes," I said.

We then began to thread our way among the burned wagons. Free women, now and then, as we passed, stopped to look up, and watch us. Twice Mincon, in rage, cracked his whip at them, and they fled back. But in a moment, as I ascertained, looking back, they had returned to their labors.

9 Torcodino

"Riders," said Mincon.

Hurtha and I, on foot beside the wagon, could not yet see them.

"It will be more Cosian cavalry," said Hurtha.

I thought this was probably true. Raiders would not be likely to move so openly. Nonetheless, I loosened the blade in my sheath. Too, several contingents of cavalry had swept by us earlier in the evening.

Boabissia, now again on the wagon box, beside Mincon, looked down at Hurtha, frightened. He did not notice this, however. He was looking ahead, gripping his ax.

"Get under the blanket," I said to Feiqa and Tula.

The wagons in our line slowed, and then stopped. A guard, nearby, on his tharlarion, stood in the stirrups.

"Who are they?" I asked Mincon.

"Cosian cavalry, I think," he said.

We heard trumpet calls ahead of us. These calls, like passwords, are frequently changed.

"Yes," said Mincon. "It seems they have the signs."

We were now two days past the scene of the massacre. Last night we had drawn into our assigned wagon space in a fortified camp. It was the first in this march the Cosians had prepared, as far as I knew. Such camps, of course, are common with Gorean armed forces, set at march intervals. They are usually constructed rather along the following lines. A surrounding ditch, or perimeter ditch, is dug about the campsite. The earth from this ditch is piled behind the ditch, thus forming, with the ditch, a primitive wall. Sometimes, materials permitting, a palisade is erected at the height of this wall. More commonly, in temporary camps, it may be surmounted with brush or archer's hurdles. The tents of commanders are usually placed on high ground near the center of the camp. This facilitates observation, defense and communication. I stood on the wheel of the wagon, my left foot on one of the spokes. "Yes," I said. "I think so." Hurtha was close to the side of the wagon. In a moment he would go behind it, or press himself against its side. I could now see the approaching riders. Too, once could no hear clearly the drumming of the approaching beasts. The force approaching us, it seemed, wore the blue of Cos on their lances. In a moment they would be sweeping past us, divided by the wagons like a stream in flight. I looked back into the wagon. Feiqa and Tula were on the floor of the wagon bed, their soft bodies on coarse sacking, which would leave its temporary print in their flesh, affording them some protection from the harsh planks of the wagon bed. They lay between sacks of grain, not moving, scarcely daring to breathe. They had drawn the dark blanked drawn over them. It would not do, I did not think, to display such goods to strong men. The female slave, sometimes considered nothing, supposedly, is yet in actuality valued commonly more highly than even gold, which, in its turn, is often valued for its capacity to buy such women, to bring them into your chains.

No, I did not think it would do to display them. Both were the most excruciatingly desirable type of female in existence, both were the sort of female for which men might kill, female slaves. I pulled at an edge of the blanket. It would not do for the curve of that delicious, branded flank, that of Feiqa, I believe, to suggest itself beneath the concealment of the heavy blanket.

In a moment, in a rush of bodies and blue, with the sound of weapons, the Cosian contingent had swept by. To one side, off the road, a Cosian guard, mounted, lifted his lance in salute. We had had such guards with the train within Ahn of the massacre. The wagons now, again, began to move.

"Tonight," said Mincon, "we will be safe, Tonight we will be in Torcodino." Torcodino, on the flats of Serpeto, is a crossroads city. It is located at the intersection of various routes, the Genesian, connecting Brundisium and other coastal cities with the south, the Northern Salt Line and the Northern Silk Road, leading respectively west and north from the east and south, the Pilgrim's Road, leading to the Sardar, and the Eastern way, sometimes called the Treasure Road, which links the western cities with Ar. Supposedly Torcodino, with its strategic location, was an ally of Ar. I gathered, however, that it had, in recent weeks, shifted its allegiances. It is sometimes said that any city can fall, behind the walls of which can be placed a tharlarion laden with gold. Perhaps, too, the councils of Torcodino, did not care to dispute their gates with forces as considerable as those which now surrounded them. The choice between riches and death is one that few men will ponder at length. Still I was surprised that Ar had not moved swiftly on behalf of her ally. Torcodino, as far as I knew, had been left at the mercy of the Cosian armies. The city was now used as a Cosian stronghold and staging area. Mincon, for example, after delivering his goods in Torcodino, was to return northward on the Genesian to Brundisium, where he was scheduled to pick up a new cargo. Certainly the movements of Cos seemed quite leisurely, particularly as it was late in the season. Mercenaries, as I may have mentioned, are often mustered out in the fall, to be recruited anew in the spring. To be sure, in these latitudes, cold though it might become, the red games of war need seldom be canceled.

"These are the aqueducts of Torcodino!" said Mincon.

"I see them," I said. The natural wells of Torcodino, originally sufficing for a small population, had, more than a century ago, proved inadequate to furnish sufficient water for an expanding city. Two aqueducts now brought fresh water to Torcodino from more than a hundred pasangs away, one from the Issus, a northwestwardly flowing tributary to the Vosk and the other from springs in the Hills of Eteocles, southwest of Corcyrus. The remote termini of both aqueducts themselves are usually patrolled and, of course, engineers and workmen attend regularly to their inspection and repair. These aqueducts are marvelous constructions, actually, having a pitch of as little as a hort for every pasang.

I pulled the blanket from the slaves. It there were to be inspections or halts before entering the gates of Torcodino it would be impossible to conceal them. Besides I enjoyed seeing them.

"How long will it take to reach the city?" asked Boabissia.

"The first wagons are doubtless near the gates now," said Mincon.

In something like a half of an Ahn we had come to Torcadino's Sun Gate. Many cities have a "Sun Gate" It is called that because it is commonly opened at dawn and closed at dusk. Once a Gorean city closes its gates it is usually difficult to leave the city. They are seldom opened and closed to suit the convenience of private persons. Sometimes rogues and brigands, and even slavers, hang about the gates, seeking to trap late comers against the walls. Many a lovely woman has fallen to the slaver's noose in just such a fashion. To be sure, a given gate, the "night gate" is usually maintained somewhere, through which bona fide citizens, known in the city, or capable of identifying themselves, may be admitted.

Two of the gate guards crawled into the wagon. Mincon presented his papers to the gate captain. "Mercenaries from the north," said Mincon to the captain, indicating Hurtha and myself. The captain nodded. "More come in each day," he said. "They smell loot."

"Who is this?" asked the captain, indicating Boabissia. He returned the papers to Mincon. They were apparently in order.

"I am an Alar woman," said Boabissia.

"No," said Hurtha. "She is only a woman who has been with the wagons of the Alars."

Boabissia's small hands clenched.

The captain removed a whip from his belt. He held it up for Boabissia to regard. "Do you know what this is?" he asked.

"Of course," she said, uneasily. "It is a slave whip."

"Is she a free woman?" asked the captain.

"Yes," said Mincon. "Yes," said Hurtha.

In the back of the wagon Feiqa and Tula knelt small, trembling, their heads down to the coarse sacking covering the boards of the wagon bed. One of the guards took Feiqa's head and pulled it up, and then bent her painfully backward, exposing brazenly, as is fully appropriate for slaves, the luscious bow of her owned beauty. He then did the same for blond Tula. "Not bad," he said. "There are many such in Torcodino," said the captain.

"Oh!" said Boabissia. He had, with the coiled whip, brushing it under her long skirt, lifted it up, over her knees, so that one could see the beginning of her thighs. "But there are not so many such as these," he said.

"Oh!" suddenly said Feiqa, squirming helplessly. "Oh!" wept Tula, startled, her body helplessly leaping.

"Yes," laughed one of the guards. "These are slaves."

Boabissia looked in fear at the captain. But he replaced the whip at his belt. Swiftly she pulled down her skirt.

"No," said the captain, regarding Boabissia, who looked straight ahead, terrified, the tiny metal disk on its thong about her throat, "there are not so many such as these, these days, free females, in Torcodino." His men left the wagon. He then motioned that we might proceed. In a moment or two we had passed under the gate. Feiqa and Tula looked at one another, frightened. They had been handled as the slaves and goods they were.

"Why did you not protect me?" Boabissia asked Hurtha.

"Sid you see how he looked at her?" Hurtha said to me.

"Certainly," I said.

"Why did you not protect me from his insolence, Hurtha?" she demanded. "Does Boabissia need protection?" asked Hurtha.

"Of course not!" she said.

"What are our finances?" asked Hurtha.

"We have very little," I said.

"What are we to do?" asked Hurtha, concerned.

"I am sure I do not know," I said.

"We can strip Boabissia and sell her," said Hurtha.

"Hurtha!" cried Boabissia. It was indeed an idea, I thought. "You saw the interest of the captain," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"She is not worth so much as the slaves," said Hurtha, "but doubtless she would bring something."

"We cannot sell her," I said, upon reflection. "She is a free woman." "But if we sell her," said Hurtha, "she would no longer be a free woman." "That is true," I granted him.

"But still you have reservations?" he asked.

"She is a free woman now," I said. "Perhaps that is worth some consideration." "Not at all," said Hurtha.

"Oh?" I asked, interested.

"Come now," said Hurtha. "Be realistic. Free women are often sold. No one expects you to give them away."

"That is true," I said.

"Where do slaves come from?" asked Hurtha. "Surely only a small percentage of them are bred."

"That is true," I granted him.

"If it were not for the bringing of free females into the toils of bondage, capturing them, getting them properly marked, seeing to the legal details, putting them up for sale, and so forth, there would be few slaves."

"True," I said.

"I shall not listen to such things!" said Boabissia. "Oh!" Hurtha's hand was on her ankle.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"I am tying your ankles together," he said.

"Untie me!" she said.

"Do not touch the cords," he said.

I observed her ankles. They looked well, lashed tightly together.

"Why have you done this?" she asked.

"I do not want you running away, while we are thinking about such things," he said.

"I am an Alar woman!" she said.

"No," he said. "You are only a woman who has been with the Alar wagons." She cried out in rage, her fists clenched.

"But she might not bring much," said Hurtha, disconsolately. "She is only a free female, and is not trained."

"True," I said.

"I gather," said Hurtha, "that you do not wish for me to accept spontaneous gifts from total strangers, or apply to them for loans."

I recalled the portly little fellow from Tabor. "I think I would prefer that you do not do so," I said. That time we had narrowly missed tangling with guardsmen. "How then can we make some money?" asked Hurtha.

"I suppose we could do some work" I said.

"Work?" asked Hurtha, in horror. He was an Alar warrior. To be sure, manual labor was not exactly prescribed by my own caste codes either.

"It is a possibility," I said. After all, desperate men will resort to desperate measures.

"Rule it out," said Hurtha.

"How then do you propose, within the limits of legality, that we obtain our supper?" I asked.

"You may sup with me," said Mincon.

"Thank you," I said. "But imposing on your hospitality could be at best a temporary expedient."

"I, personally, on the other hand," said Hurtha, "would not consider one or two meals thrust as a wedge between myself and starvation to be beneath contempt." "Besides, in the morning," I said, "I expect you will be returning to Brundisium."

"Yes," admitted Mincon.

"That would clear supper and breakfast," said Hurtha.

"I have a few coins left," I informed Hurtha.

"I thought you were merely being noble," said Hurtha.

"I am," I said. "It is always easier to be noble when one has the price of supper."

"That is almost poetic," said Hurtha, impressed.

"Thank you," I said. I had forgotten that Hurtha was a poet. This came then, I conjectured, as high praise. To be sure, he had hedged his declaration with the modification, "almost'. Still, when all was said and done, what could that matter?

"Aha!" said Hurtha.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I have an idea!" said Hurtha.

My blood turned momentarily cold.

"Selling Boabissia?" asked Mincon. Boabissia's ankles squirmed in the thongs. She could probably not stand upright as she had been bound. We would probably have to help her down from the wagon box, and carry her to where we decided to put her.

"No," said Hurtha. "It is a different idea."

"I am glad to hear that," said Boabissia.

"But it may be every bit as good, or better, than that one," said Hurtha. "I am eager to hear it, I assure you," said Boabissia.

"Would you like to hear it?" asked Hurtha of me.

"Certainly," I said, uncertainly. I felt a pang of anxiety.

"Surely you would have no objection to our selling a few things," said Hurtha. "What?" asked Boabissia. "Me?"

"Not yet, at least," said Hurtha.

"What could you sell?" I asked. "You do not have much clothing with you, or many possessions, it seems."

"True," he said, his eyes shining with excitement.

"Would you sell your ax?" I asked. It was an excellent one.

"Of course not," he said.

"What then?" I asked.

"Trust me," he said.

"Must I?" I asked.

"All I wish from you," he said, "as you are more experienced in the strange ways of civilization than I, is that you would have no objection to my selling a few things to raise money."

"No one could have any possible objection to that," I said. "Wonderful," he said, warmly. "I will then see you at the wagon yards!" He then turned about and disappeared.

"He is a good fellow," I said.

"Yes," said Mincon. "I wonder what it is that he intends to sell." "I do not know," I said.

"As far as I could tell," said Mincon, "he did not take anything with him," "That is true," I said. Hurtha's bag was still in the wagon.

"Maybe he will sell the ax," said Mincon. "He took that."

"I doubt that he would sell that," I said.

"What then?" asked Mincon.

"Perhaps he has precious stones, rare gems, sewn in his clothing, for an emergency," I said.

"That must be it," said Mincon.

"Yes," I said.

"At any rate," said Mincon. "Hurtha is a clever, splendid fellow. Doubtless he knows exactly what he is doing."

"Doubtless," I said.

"I have great confidence in him," said Mincon.

"So do I," I said.

"Untie me," said Boabissia.

"Not yet," I said.

"Ho!" called Mincon to his tharlarion. "Ho! Move!" We then drew again into the street and began to follow the rough signs painted on the sides of buildings to the wagon yards.

10 We Proceed to the Wagon Yards

"It is not necessary to look at those things," I said to Boabissia.

She had already put her head down.

Judging from the condition of the bodies, the effects of the predations of birds, some still about, jards primarily, and the tattering of the winds and rains, they had been there for several weeks. The ropes on the necks had been tarred to protect them from the weather, and indication that it had been intended they should remain in place for some time. These inert, suspended, desiccated weights, now little more than skulls and the bones of men, with some bits of cloth, fluttering in the air's stirrings, and threads and patches of dried flesh clinging about them, had been arranged in a line along the Avenue of Adminius, the main thoroughfare of Torcadino, near the Semnium, the hall of the high council, doubtless as some sort of mnemonic and admonitory display. They swung creaking, a few feet off the ground, some turning slowly, backward and forward, at the rope's terminations. A child reached up and struck the feet of one, to set it into motion.

"They are still up," said Mincon, angrily.

"I gather you have seen them before," I said.

"Twice," he said.

"I see," I said.

"There is no need, to reach the wagon yards, to pass this place," said Mincon, angrily.

"You know Torcadino then?" I said.

"To some extent," he said.

"We have followed the signs," I said.

"Of course," he said, bitterly. I nodded. Clearly it had been intended that those coming and going in Torcadino would take this route.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"Members of the high council, and lesser councils, and certain of their supporters," he said, "who favored the cause of Ar."

"I thought they might be," I said.

"Have you counted them?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"There are more than two hundred," he said.

"That is a large number," I said.

"Others perished too," he said, "but were not regarded as prominent enough, I suppose, to serve as warnings."

"I see," I said.

We then continued on our way.

"There must, by now, given the past weeks, be a great amount of supplies in Torcadino," I said.

"Yes," said Mincon.

"It is interesting that Ar has not struck," I said.

"Perhaps," he said.

"If Torcadino were to be stormed, and fired, and these supplies captured or destroyed, the Cosian movements would surely be hampered, if not altogether arrested. Such an action would frustrate and stall the invasion. This could give Ar the time she might require to deploy and arm for extensive action, what time she might need to meet the enemy in detail and force."

"The Cosian armies are in the vicinity," said Mincon. "It would require armies to cut through them."

"Perhaps there are other ways," I said.

"Not tarnsmen," said Mincon.

"Perhaps not," I said.

"It is hard to see at this time of the day," said Mincon. "But the sky over the city is crisscrossed with thousands of strands of tarn wire. Even in the daytime it can be hard to see. It is there, however, I assure you."

I did not doubt him. I could see mountings for it on several of the buildings. "The gates of Torcadino are firm," he said. "Her walls are high and strong."

"Doubtless," I said.

"Torcadino is impregnable," he said. "It cannot be taken."

"I know how I would take it," I said.

Boabissia was quiet. Feiqa and Tula, too, in the back, were quiet. I looked at some people in the streets. The streets were not too crowded. I saw a vendor with a cart. I saw a slave girl, in a brief tunic. She looked at me, and looked away. Beneath the tiny, brief skirt of that tunic it was almost certain that there would only be the girl. In such a way do Gorean masters commonly keep their women. Certainly we kept Feiqa and Tula that way. It helps the girls to keep clearly in mind that they are slaves. I glanced at Boabissia. Her head was still down. She had her long skirt pulled down, and closely, about her ankles. It thus hid the fact that they were lashed together.

"We will be in the wagon yards in a quarter of an Ahn," said Mincon.

"Good," I said.

11 We Decide Boabissia Will Help Out with our Finances

"Perhaps you remember me," said the fellow.

"No, not at all," I said, hastily.

"From several nights ago," he said, "on the Genesian Road, at one of the camps." "Oh?" I said.

"I am a merchant, from Tabor," he said.

"Ah, yes," I said. Indeed, it was the merchant from Tabor, that portly fellow who had been so inflexibly and boorishly determined to retrieve a gift, one which he had bestowed, of his own free will, as I had pointed out to him, on one of the fellow traveling with me, Hurtha, as I recalled. "How are you?" I asked. I feared the answer would not be reassuring.

"Fine," he said, somewhat bitterly I thought.

"That is good to hear," I said. But his demeanor suggested, and rather clearly, that it might actually be his intention to broach some new grievance. I had some suspicion, also, as to what it might be. It is good, in such situations, to be friendly, and smile a good deal.

"I see very little to smile about," he said.

"Sorry," I said.

He looked about himself. "That giant lout with the mustache and braided hair, and ax, is not about, is he?" he asked.

"To whom might you be referring?" I asked.

"To one who is called Hurtha," said the fellow. "Oh," I said.

"That is, at any rate, what you told me his name was, the last time we spoke of him."

"Yes," I said, "of course," Perhaps I had made a mistake, earlier several nights before, in revealing the Alar's name. Still I did not think he would be a difficult fellow to locate, even if his name were not known. There were not too many like him with the wagons. It did not seem to me a very complimentary way, incidentally, in which to refer to Hurtha. He was, after all, even if perhaps a giant lout, from some points of view, a poet, and was entitled to some respect on that account, particularly if one had not read his poems. Too, he prided himself on his sensitivity. "No," I said. "He is not about."

"Here!" said the fellow, firmly, thrusting a piece of paper toward me. There was some writing on it.

"Whose writing is this?" I asked.

"Mine," he said.

"Oh," I said. To be sure, Hurtha was illiterate, like most Alars. Boabissia, too, incidentally was illiterate. Illiteracy, however, has seldom deterred poets. Indeed, some of the greatest poets of all times were illiterate. Among folks as different as Tuchuks and Torvaldslanders, for example, poetry is seldom written down. It is memorized and sung about the fires, and in the halls, and thus is carried on the literary tradition. And poets such as Hurtha, it seemed to me, were even less likely to be deterred by illiteracy than many others. "He leaped out at me, from behind a wagon, with his ax!" said the fellow. " "I am a poet, he announced, his ax at the ready. "Would you care to purchase a poem? "Yes! cried I, for my very life, hastily scribbled on this slip of parchment."

"You did so, of your own free will," I noted, thinking it was important to emphasize this fact.

"I want my silver tarsk back!" he said.

"It is a very fine poem," I said.

"You have not read it," he pointed out.

"I have read others of his," I said. "I am sure it is every bit as good." Indeed, I had already read three others this very night. The Tabor merchant was the fourth fellow who had come by to look me up. Too, coincidentally, he was the fourth fellow who was demanding his silver tarsk back.

"To me," said the merchant, "it seems merely strange, or perhaps, at best, unmitigated trash, but then I am a simple man of business, and not a scribe. Doubtless such things come more within their jurisdiction than mine."

"That is true," I said, encouraging him.

"Would you care to interpret this line?" he asked, pointing to a line. "No," I said.

"What about this one?" he asked.

"I do not think so," I said.

"What about this?" he asked, " "Her eyes were like green moons. " "That is an easy one," I said. "Doubtless moons are supposed to suggest romance, and green the vitality and promise of life."

"It is addressed to a wounded tharlarion," he said.

"Oh," I said.

"I want my silver tarsk back," he said.

"Of course," I said, emptying my wallet into the palm of my hand. It was not hard to do. "Perhaps that tarsk is it," I said.

"I suspect so," he said. "You only have one there, and that is stamped with the mark of the mint of Tabor."

"So it is," I said, handing it back to him. One thing about Hurtha. He thought highly of his poems. He did not let them go for nothing. They were not cheap. He maintained his standards. Still, it seemed that a silver tarsk was a high price to pay for a poem, even if it were as good as one of Hurtha's, particularly one, one had to copy oneself. Indeed, many lovely women on Gor do not bring as much as a silver tarsk on the slave block.

"Thank you," said the merchant.

"Yes," I said. He was still there.

"I am surely entitled to something for my trouble," he said. The other fellows had not taken this attitude. Still, they had not been merchants.

"Here," I said, giving him a copper tarsk. That left me with two.

"Thank you," he said, after scrutinizing the change in my palm.

"Your welcome," I said. He then left.

"Alas," said Hurtha, coming up to me disconsolately," I fear I have made a terrible mistake."

"How could that be?" I asked.

"In my good-hearted enthusiasm to assuage our needs," he said, "I fear I may have suffered dishonor, if not ruination."

"How is that?" I asked. That was certainly an interesting thing to hear. "I have been selling my poems," he said, collapsing near Mincon's fire, by the wagon. He sat there, with his head in his hands.

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "Surely you recall the four silver tarsks I gave you earlier in the evening."

"Of course," I said.

"I received them from the sale of poems, my poems!" he said, shaking with emotion.

"No," I cried.

"Yes," he said, miserably.

"I had thought it must be from the sale of numerous rich gems, doubtless sewn in your jacket," I said.

"No," he said. "I looked about the yards, and when I found fine-looking, sensitive-looking chaps, splendid-seeming fellows, of apparent refinement and taste, those of a sort I thought might be capable of appreciating my work, I offered them one of my poems, and for no more than a mere token of appreciation, a silver tarsk."

"That was incredibly generous," I said.

"It was a terrible mistake," said Hurtha.

"I am glad you realize that," I said.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said.

"My poems are priceless," he said. "You think you should of asked for more than a silver tarsk?" I asked, alarmed.

"No," he said, "I should not have sold them at all."

"I see," I said, relieved. "But they are probably not really all that bad." "What," he asked.

"Nothing," I said.

"I realized it with the last poem," he said, miserably. "I looked down at the silver tarsk in my hand, and at the poem in the fellow's hand, and it all became clear to me. I saw then how terrible was the thing I had done, selling my poems, my own poems, my precious, priceless poems! They now belonged to another! Better I had torn my heart out and sold it for a tarsk bit!"

"Perhaps," I said.

"I then begged the fellow to take back his worthless tarsk, and return the poem to me."

"And did he do so?" I asked.

"Yes," said Hurtha, looking up at me.

"Well," I said, "it all ended well then.

"No," he said, tears in his eyes. "You do not understand."

"We are now short a tarsk?" I said.

"No!" cried Hurtha. "There were four other poems sold! I shall never be able to recover those poems! They are gone, gone!" He put his head again in his hands, sobbing. "I shall never be able to find all those fellows again." Scarcely had I sold them the poems then they all hastened away, covetous, lucky, greedy fellows, lest I change my mind. Now I shall never be able to find them again and appeal earnestly, fervently, to their better selves, and higher natures, to take back their filthy money. What a fool I was! My poems, gone! Sold for a mere four silver tarsks! Waste! Dishonor! Misery! Ruin! Tragedy! What if this story should ever get back to the wagons? I am unworthy of my scars!"

"Hurtha, old fellow," I said, gently.

"Yes," he said.

I placed my hand on his shoulder.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Look," I said. He lifted his head and looked up.

"Here," I said, softly. I held forth to him the four copies of poems which had been given to me earlier by his four customers, or patrons.

"Is it they!" he cried, wonderingly, tears in his eyes.

"Yes," I said.

"You knew!" he cried.

I shrugged.

"You could not let me go through with it!" he wept. "You sought them out! You purchased them back! You have saved me from myself, from my own folly!"

"It is little enough to do for a friend," I said.

He leaped to his feet and embraced me, weeping, tears in his eyes. I struggled for breath, clutching the four poems. I speculated that this must be much like the grip of the dreaded, constricting hith. Surely that, capable of pulverizing a fellow, crushing his bones and popping him like a grape, could scarcely be worse.

"How can I ever thank you?" he cried, stepping back, holding me, proudly, looking at me.

"Between friends," I said, "thanks are neither needed, nor possible." "You, too, are overcome with emotion!" he cried, sympathetically.

"I am trying to breathe," I told him.

"Let me have those poems," he said. He took them and put them with the one he kept, that retrieved from his last transaction, the one in which, happily, I had had no part. "I have them back, thanks to you!" he said.

I had now caught my breath, nearly.

"There they are," he said, blissfully, regarding them, "written down, in little marks."

"That is the way most things are written down," I said.

"Are they well transcribed?" he asked.

"I think so," I said. I took a deep breath.

"Are you all right?" asked Hurtha.

"Yes," I said. "Occasionally there is a line which is difficult to make out, and there seems to be a misspelled word here and there," That was to be expected, I supposed, given the fact that they had presumably been written in a condition of some agitation, under a condition of some stress. There was an occasional spot on the parchment. Perhaps sweat had dropped from someone's brow there.

"You are sure you are all right?" he said.

"Yes, I am all right now," he said.

"I am not surprised that a small mistake, perhaps a poorly formed letter, an irregular margin, or such, might have been made," said Hurtha. "Some of the fellows transcribing the poems were actually shaking. They seemed almost over-whelmed."

"I am not surprised," I said. "It was all part of the impact of the experience of hearing them for the first time, I suppose," I added.

"Yes," said Hurtha. "It would seem so."

"You do not know your own power as a poet," I said.

"Few of us do," said Hurtha.

"Well," I said, "fortunately, we have the five poems back. It would be too bad to have lost them."

"A tragedy, yes," said Hurtha, "but I have others."

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes, more than two thousand," he said.

"That is a great many," I said.

"Not really, considering their quality," he said.

"You are prolific," I said.

"All great poets are prolific," he said. "Would you care to hear them?" "Not at the moment," I said. "You see, I have just, this evening, read some of them. I do not know if I could take more, just now."

"I understand," said Hurtha. "I am one well aware of the complexities of coping with grandeur, of the exquisite agonies attendant upon wrestling with nigh ineffable sublimities, with the excruciating intensities of the authentic aesthetic experience, with the travails of poignant significance, with the exhausting consequences of confronting sudden and startling distillations of meaning. No, old friend, I understand these things full well. I shall not force you beyond your strength." "Thank you," I said.

He looked down at the poems in his hand. "Can you believe," he asked, "that these saw light only this evening, that I dictated them upon the spot?"

"Yes," I said.

He stood there, looking down at them, in awe of his own power.

"I wonder if poems should be written down," he said.

"I have a very poor handwriting," I said, "and I am particularly bad at lines that go from right to left."

"I am illiterate," said Tula, quickly, in the crisis of the moment forgetting even to request permission to speak.

"So am I," said Mincon, happily.

Boabissia, of course, was also illiterate. She sat on the ground with her back against the right, rear wagon wheel, her ankles still bound together.

Hurtha looked at Feiqa. She could read and write. She was highly intelligent, and had been well educated. She was of a well-known city. She had even been of high station, before being enslaved, before becoming only an animal subject to her masters. She turned white.

"She is a slave," I said.

"Oh, yes," said Hurtha, dismissing her then from his mind.

Feiqa threw me a wild look of gratitude. To be sure, much of the copy work, lower-order clerical work, trivial account keeping, and such, on Gor, was done by slaves. Hurtha, however, I thought, apparently correctly, might prefer having his poems transcribed by free folks. It had been a close call for Feiqa.

"I am starving," I said.

Hurtha consulted his internal states. "So, too, am I," he reported. "But I remain firm in my resolve not to sell my poems. Better starvation."

"Certainly," I said.

"What are our resources?" he inquired.

"Something like two copper tarsks, and some four or five tarsk bits," I said. "Not enough," he said. "I agree," I said.

"What are we going to do?" asked Hurtha.

"Work?" I speculated.

"Be serious," he admonished me. "We are in desperate straits. This is no joking matter."

"Untie my ankles," said Boabissia.

Hurtha and I looked at one another.

"You take her left hand and I will take her right," said Hurtha.

Boabissia tried to scramble to her feet but, bound as she was, she fell. Then we had her wrists, and pulled her back, by them, to the wagon wheel.

"What are you doing?" cried Boabissia.

I tied her left wrist back to one of the spokes, and Hurtha, similarly, fastened her right wrist back, to another spoke.

"What are you doing?" asked Boabissia.

"You have seen several of the fellows about looking at Boabissia, haven't you?" asked Hurtha of me.

"Of course," I said. "Though there are many slaves in Torcadino, and lovely ones, apparently there is a dearth of free women here, particularly ones not veiled."

"Veil me then!" she begged.

"It is time you earned your keep, Boabissia," said Hurtha.

"What do you mean?" she cried. "I am a free woman!"

"I think I can round up a few interested fellows," said Hurtha.

"What are you thinking of!" she cried. She struggled, helplessly.

"She wanted her ankles untied," said Hurtha.

"Yes," I said.

"No, no!" she cried. "Do not untie my ankles!"

Hurtha dropped the ankle cords to one side. She clenched her ankles tightly together. She pulled desperately, futilely, against the thongs that held her wrists to the spokes. Hurtha left the vicinity of the wagon.

"Relax, Boabissia," I encouraged her. "You have serious sexual needs, which you have been frustrating for too long. This has been evident in your temper, and in your demeanor and attitudes. This will do you a great deal of good." "I am not a slave!" she said, weeping, struggling. "I am a free woman! I do not have sexual needs!"

"Perhaps not," I said. To be sure, it was difficult, and probably fruitless, to argue with a free woman about such matters. Too, I might have misread what seemed to be numerous and obvious signs of need in her. Perhaps free women neither needed nor wanted sexual experience. That, I supposed, was their business. On the other hand, if they did not want or need sex, the transformation between the free woman and the slave becomes difficult to understand. To be sure, perhaps it is merely the collar, and the uncompromising male domination, which so unlocks, and calls forth, the passion, service and love of a female.

"What are you doing?" she asked, weeping.

"Doubtless men will be here soon," I said.

"What are you doing?" she wept.

I put the opaque sack over her head and tied it, with its own strings, under her chin, close about her neck, rather like a slave hood. "This will make it easier for you," I said. "I am veiling you. Too, this will enable you, by shutting out certain extraneous factors, to concentrate more closely on the exact nature of your sensations.

"Release me!" she wept.

"No," I said.

I heard a fellow near me. I looked about. "She is certified free?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "Examine her."

He thrust Boabissia's dress up, high over her breasts. He examined her thighs, and the usual brand sites on a Gorean female slave.

"How much?" he asked.

"She is only a free woman," I said. I put a copper bowl on the ground, beside her, at her left. "She is not trained. Only a tarsk bit," It was the smallest, least significant Gorean coin, at least in common circulation.

"In advance," I said. Men are commonly disappointed in free women, and almost certainly if they have experienced the alternative. They are not slaves, trained in the giving of pleasure to men. Some free women believe their role in lovemaking consists primarily in lying down. Should they become slaves the whip soon teaches them differently.

"Of course," he said. The coin rattled into the copper bowl.

"No,!" wept Boabissia. She clenched her ankles tightly together. Then her ankles, one in each hand of the fellow, were parted.

It was now late in the evening.

Hurtha happily shook the copper bowl. In it were several coins. I had not kept track. We were now, at any rate, once again solvent.

"How do you feel?" I asked Boabissia.

She twisted in the thongs and turned to the side. She whimpered, softly.

We had kept Tula and Feiqa under the blanket in the back of the wagon. We had not wanted them to distract our visitors.

I looked at Boabissia. She made another small, soft, whimpering noise. Some of the men, in their intense excitement, I feared, had been somewhat stronger, or ruder, with her than might have been appropriate for a free woman. Indeed, some had handled her almost as though she might have been a slave. We had not cautioned them to gentleness, however. After all, they had paid their tarsk bits.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"Yes," she whispered.

I put my ear down close to her. Her head in the sack, it tied on her, fastened under her chin, she did not know my nearness. I listened to the tiny, soft noises she made. It was like a soft moaning or tiny whimpering. It was almost inaudible. I knew such sounds. I smiled. She was still feeling, even now, wonderingly perhaps, the results of her havings. Perhaps she was trying, even now, in her depth of her femininity, to understand what had been done to her, to come to grips with her feelings, with those sensations which men had seen fit to induce in her.

I leaned back. "You are sure you are all right?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. I pulled down her dress, and freed her wrists. They were ringed with thong marks.

She, her palms on the dirt, half knelt, half lay, by the wheel. Her head, still in the sack, was down.

"Did you take me?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"Did Hurtha have me?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"Why not?" she asked.

"You are a free woman," I told her. I then removed the sack from her head. Her face was red, and broken out. Her hair was damp. I turned the sack inside out, that it might dry and air. Boabissia turned away from me, apparently not wanting to meet my eyes. I do not think she wanted us to see her face. She was afraid, I think, of what we might see there. We would respect this. She was, after all, a free woman. We would, similarly, in deference to her feelings, keep Feiqa and Tula under the blanket for a time, lest their eyes suddenly, inadvertently, meet hers, and women read in one another's eyes truths which might be deeper than speech.

"Good night," I said to her.

"Good night," she said.

I watched her pull her blanket about her. She suddenly shuddered. "Oh!" she said. Then she pulled the blanket more tightly about her shoulders. We would not chain her. She was not a slave. She was a free woman. She might leave, if she wished.

12 It Is a Standard, That of a Silver Tarn

"The city is taken!" I heard. "The city is taken!"

I lay absolutely still for an instant. I heard no clash of weapons. There were no sounds of rushing feet, of flight. No cries of pain, of men cut in their blankets.

I did hear the ringing of an alarm bar in the distance.

My eyes might have appeared closed to a careless observer. They were open. Peripheral vision is important at such times. In that first instant, every sense suddenly alert, I appeared to be still asleep. There was the wagon. There were the remains of the fire. I detected no movement in my immediate vicinity.

The first object that moves is often that which attracts the immediate attention of the predator. Too, the swiftest moving object, particularly that which moves silently and with obvious menace or purpose, is often construed, and generally correctly, by the attacker as the most dangerous, that to be dealt with first. Those overcome with surprise, those expostulating or cursing, those stunned, may be left for the instants later. There is a dark mathematics in such matters, in the subtle equations balancing reaction times against the movements of blades. One gambles. Is the instant one waits, that instant of fearful reconnoitering, that instant in which one hopes to convince a foe that one is temporarily harmless, an instant of loss, or of gain? Does it grant him his opportunity, or does it obtain you yours? Much depends on the actual situation. If one is roused by known voices, one generally rises quickly. The defensive is being assumed. If one does not know what is occurring, it is sometimes wise to find out before leaping up, perhaps into the weapons of enemies who might be as close as one's elbow. My right hand was on the hilt of my sword, my left on the sheath, its straps wrapped about it, to steady its draw. Doubtless I appeared to be still asleep. But no sounds of carnage rang about me.

I sat up quickly, freeing myself from the blankets. I did not draw the weapon. I saw no immediate need to do so. I slung it, on its strap, over my left shoulder. The scabbard can be discarded more quickly in this suspension than in one which crosses the body.

"Hurtha," I said, "wake up." I moved to his shoulder.

"What is it?" he said. "Is it not early?"

"Something strange is going on," I said. "Get up. There was an alarm bar ringing."

"I hear nothing," he said, sitting up.

To be sure, the bar had now stopped ringing.

"I do not understand it," I said. "A fellow was crying out that the city had been taken. I do not hear him now. Too, the alarm bar was ringing. I heard it." "It is very early," said Hurtha.

"Get up," I said.

I looked over at Boabissia. Her eyes were open. She was looking at me, frightened.

"Did you hear the alarm bar?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Get up Hurtha," I said. He had once again returned to his blankets.

"It is too early," he said. Actually it was not all that early. Some other folks were now up, too, about the camp.

"You may be in jeopardy of your life," I informed him.

"At this hour?" he asked, horrified.

"Yes," I said. "The enemy may be near."

"What enemy?" he asked.

"I do not know," I said.

"Report to me when you learn," he said, rolling over.

"I am not joking," I said.

"I feared not," he grumbled.

"Get up," I said.

"One cannot begin to fight until the fight has begun, can one?" he asked. "I hope it does not follow from that that fighting is impossible," I said.

"Of course not," he said. I began to sense and dread a lesson in Alar logic. "Well, in a sense," I said, "maybe not."

"Has the fight begun?" he inquired.

"No," I said.

"Then you cannot expect me to begin fighting," he said.

"Of course not," I said, hesitantly.

"When the fray begins," said he, "awaken me."

"Do you wish to be murdered in your bed?" I asked.

"I had never thought much about it," said Hurtha, "but now that I reflect actively upon the matter, no. Why? Who is going to murder me in my bed?" "I am considering it," I said.

"You will not do so," he informed me.

"Why?" I asked, genuinely interested.

"Among other things," he said, "your respect for poetry is to great." "You must be prepared for combat," I told him.

"I am preparing even now," he said, rolling over.

"How is that?" I asked.

"I am pacing myself," he said. "I am conserving my strength. Surely you are aware that a well-rested body and clear mind are two among several of the soldier's best friends."

"Perhaps," I granted him.

"They are important, too, to poetry," he said, "of the sturdy, manly sort, that is, not to the neurasthenic drivel of mere poetasters and versifiers."

"Doubtless," I said. He was then again asleep. Hurtha was one of the few folks I had ever known who had the capacity to fall asleep like lightning. Doubtless this was connected with a clear conscious. Alars, incidentally, are renowned for their capacity to wreak havoc, conduct massacres, chop off heads, and such, and then get a good night's sleep afterwards. They just do not worry about such things. I hoped that the enemy, if there was one, would not now fall upon the camp like a storm. Still, if they did, Hurtha might have escaped, sleeping through the slaughter. "Did you hear the alarm bar?" asked Mincon, coming over to me, his blanket over his arm.

"Yes," I said.

"I thought I might have dreamed it," he said.

"Boabissia heard it too," I said.

"It is not now ringing," he said.

"No," I said.

"The camp is pretty quiet," he said.

"Yes," I said. We could see folks going about their business, folding their blankets, seeking out the latrines, starting up their morning fires.

"It was a false alarm," he said.

"Apparently," I said.

"You are not certain?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"What could of happened?" he asked.

"I heard a fellow crying out that the city had fallen," I said.

"That is impossible," he said. "No enemy is within hundreds of pasangs. Torcadino is garrisoned. It is impregnable. It lies even, in these times, in the midst of allied armies."

"It could be done." I said.

"You would have to move an army through armies to take the city," he said. "Or over armies," I said.

"You would have to smuggle and army into the city," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Impossible," he said.

"With some modest collusion, not really," I said.

"You're joking," he said.

"No, I said."

"If there were such a thing," he said, "we would hear of it. There would be great fighting,"

"It is quiet here," I said. "That does not mean, however, that somewhere else in the city, even now, there might not be fighting. A few blocks away, unknown to us, men may be dying. The streets may be running with blood." "I see no smoke," he said. "There seem no signs of flames." "That could mean little," I said. "Perhaps it is desired to keep the city intact, to maintain the integrity of its walls, to preserve its resources." "Perhaps," he smiled.

"I looked at him, suddenly, surprised.

"There is one way to find out," he said.

"How?" I asked.

"Climb up here," he said, "to the wagon box,"

I joined him on the height of the wagon box. He pointed over the wagons, over the camp, over the buildings about the camp.

"Do you see the cylinder there?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"That is the central cylinder of Torcadino" he said, "the administrative headquarters of her first executive, whether it be Administrator or Ubar." "Yes," I said.

"Look to its summit," he said.

I did so.

"Do you know the flag of Torcadino?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"It does not matter," he said, "for of recent months what has flown there has not been the flag of Torcadino, but another flag, that of Cos."

"There is no flag there," I said. "I know the flag of Cos. I have seen it frequently. But there is no flag whatsoever there."

"Do you not find that interesting?" he asked.

"You are not a simple wagoner," I said.

"What do you see there?" he asked.

"I see a standard," I said.

"What sort of standard?" he asked.

"A military standard, I suppose," I said.

"Describe it," he said.

"It is silver," I said. "It is far off. It is hard to make out. The sun is glinting on it."

"It is the standard of the silver tarn," he said. "It is mounted on a silver pole. Near the top of the pole there is a rectangular plate on which there is writing. Surmounting this plate, clutching it in its talons, is a tarn, done in silver, its wings outstretched."

"You can see that," I asked, "at this distance?"

"No," he said. "But I know the standard. I have seen it before."

I regarded him.

"Do you know the standard?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"You are an astute fellow," he said. "The city has indeed fallen. Furthermore, if I am not mistaken, you understand how this could of taken place."

"Through the aqueducts," I said.

"Of course," he said. "They were entered, one near the Issus, the other in the Hills of Eteocles, more than a hundred pasangs away. Soldiers in double file, wading, moving sometimes even over the heads of Cosian troops, traversed them." "Brilliant," I said.

"Guards of one watch were purchased by gold," he said. "Those of another had their throats cut by partisans within the city."

"Whose standard is it?" I asked.

"It is the standard of my captain," he said, "Dietrich of Tarnburg."

13 We Proceed to the Semnium

I heard the crying of confused, frightened children, the lamentations of women. "That way, go that way," said a soldier, closing off a street.

In the streets there was much movement, much of it between soldiers, directed movement, movement toward the great gate of Torcadino. Many folks had packs on their backs.

"Look out, fellow!" said a voice.

I moved aside, to let a two-wheeled cart, laden with baggage, drawn by a fellow, pass. The streets were crowded, filled with refugees.

"Follow me," said Mincon. "You will be safe. Keep closely together." "I want my ax," said Hurtha.

"Keep closely together," I said. "Do not get separated."

A number of dwellings along the way had been roped off. We could catch occasional glimpses within them, through opened doors, and sometimes, through windows. Too, we could hear shouts, and other sounds, such as furniture being broken. Within these buildings, soldiers were looting. From the high, opened windows of another building, some four or five feet below the sill, some forty feet or so above the street, its back against the stuccoed surface of the wall, there hung a body.

"What is that?" I asked Mincon.

"I cannot read," said Mincon. "There is a sign on its neck, What does it say?" " "Looter, " I said. "Then that is what it was," said Mincon.

"There is much looting going on," I said. "In more than a dozen buildings we have seen it."

"That was a civilian," said Mincon. "It is illegal for such to loot. They are not authorized to do so."

"I see," I said.

"There must be order in Torcadino," said Mincon.

"Of course," I said.

"I want my ax," said Hurtha.

"Just keep close to us," I said.

We had surrendered our weapons at the entrance to the wagon camp, as, in the company of Mincon, we had left it a few Ehn ago. A strict weapon control had been instituted in Torcadino. Possession of an unauthorized weapon could be construed as a capital offense, the penalty for which, at the discretion of any soldier, could be exacted in place, instantly and without recourse or appeal. The talons of the silver tarn did not grasp weakly. Yet this had been done in a legalistic fashion. In my wallet was a scrap of paper with a number on it, a number which matched another, that left with my weapons, left behind near the weapons table, that set up at the entrance of the camp.

We were jostled in the throngs.

"That way," said a soldier, gesturing. "That way."

In the streets there was no smell of smoke. Smoke, like stifling clouds, did not block the sun, turning the day to choking dusk. Our eyes did not sting and water. One could breathe without difficulty. Sometimes, when a town is taken, you can feel the heat of burning buildings even blocks away. But Torcadino was not aflame.

"That way," said another soldier.

We hurried along in the crowds, following Mincon.

We passed a slave girl, kneeling, chained by the neck to a slave ring. It was fixed in the side of a building, fastened to a bolted plate, about a yard above the level of the street. Her face was stained with tears. She had her hands clutched desperately on the chain, near the ring. I did not know if her master had put her there, intending to return for her, or if she had been abandoned. She was naked. She would remain where she was. She was chained there. "Come along," said Mincon. We continued on, through the throngs. "Keep together," he said. We did so, as best we could. I was behind him, closely, and then came Hurtha, and then, close behind him, Boabissia. Behind Boabissia, ropes on their necks, the captor's termini of these hempen confinements in the grip of Hurtha, came Feiqa and Tula. How fearful they had been this morning to learn that the city had now a new master. How frightened they had been, exchanging glances. So, too, I supposed, might have been tharlarion and sleen, other forms of animals, if they, too, were aware of such things, or saw fit to consider them. Yet Feiqa and Tula, objectively, had far less to fear in the fall of a city than a free person. They had, objectively, little more to fear than other domestic animals. They presumably, like them, would merely find themselves with new masters. We had not put the tethers on Feiqa and Tula because we feared they might try to slip away from us in the crowds, but to keep them with us, to make certain that they were not swept from us, or perhaps seized and pulled away into the crowd. Near us we heard the bleating of a pair of domestic verr. A woman was pulling them along beside her in the throng. They, too, like Feiqa and Tula, had ropes on their necks.

"It seems hard to make headway now," I said to Mincon.

"The press is being held," he said. "There are several barriers. Then there are separated lines, leading to the great gate. There searches are made, lest it be attempted to carry valuables from the city."

"The civilian population is being ejected from the city." I said.

"Yes, he said. "Let us move ahead. One side, one side!"

We moved slowly, single file, through the crowds.

"Move aside," said Mincon.

"Where are you taking us?" I asked.

"To the Semnium," he said.

"Why?" I asked. "It is my intention to obtain for you letters of safety," he said. "I would welcome such," I said.

"You need not accept them," he said, turning about.

"Why would I not desire such letters?" I asked.

"The decision will be yours," he said.

"I do not understand," I said.

"Follow me," he said, turning about, pressing once again through the crowd. We came then to a barrier, several poles on tripods, set across the main way in Torcadino. The crowd was arrested at this barrier. Some pressed back, against those behind them, to keep from being forced against it.

"Hold," said a soldier, his spear held across his body, behind the barrier. Mincon uttered a password. The barrier was opened. It was a relief to walk freely. Some two hundred yards down the street we could see another segment of the crowd, it, too, doubtless, waiting behind some barrier. We then, in a few Ehn, passed that barrier, and then another.

To one side, when we crossed the first of these second two barriers, there was a great pile of objects. In it were such things as furniture, cushions, rugs, wall hangings, tapestries, bolts of cloth, robes, clothes, chests, coffers, utensils, vessels, and plates. A soldier went to the pile and emptied a pillow-case out at its foot. I supposed that its spillage, a short, clattering rain of goblets, would scarcely be noticed in such an accumulation. Yet, doubtless, in just such a way had that mountain of artifacts been constructed. It was more than ten feet high. It was cheap booty, probably on the whole to be sold by contract to dealers.

"Look!" said Boabissia, pointing ahead and to our left, as we crossed an intersection, that beyond the third barrier.

There, some fifty yards away, kneeling, huddled together against the brick wall of a public building, the wall composed of the flat, narrow bricks common in southern Gorean architecture, was a group of some one hundred to one hundred and fifty females. They were naked. They were chained together by the neck. They were in the keeping of two soldiers, with whips.

"More booty," said Mincon.

"Slaves!" said Boabissia disparagingly, in disgust.

"Or to be slaves," said Mincon.

"Oh," said Boabissia, frightened.

"Surely they are slaves," I said.

"Many," said Mincon, "are the women, and daughters, of those who were adherents of Cos in Torcadino. They, thus, have been apprehended for branding and bondage."

"I see," I said.

"Their seizure lists were prepared weeks ago," he said.

"Of course," I said. An action of the sort now accomplished in Torcadino, in which judicious selections and discriminations are to be made among the civilian populace, necessitates a sensitive preparation.

We were now closer to the women.

One of them stood but, immediately, the lash fell upon her, and she returned to her knees, sobbing. "Hands on thighs," called the soldier, "spread your knees, back straight, chin up!" He pushed up her chin with the coiled whip. She looked straight ahead, tears streaming down her face. "You will be struck twice more," he said. She cried out in misery, twice, each time shaken, each time almost thrown forward on her belly to the pavement. The blows were perfunctory, but, I suppose, to the one who receives them, they seemed intensely personal and meaningful. "Position," said the soldier. She resumed the position to which she had been earlier commanded, promptly and exactly. In her eyes now, with their tears, there was also fear and contrition. Now that we were closer I could see that the women were all on a single chain, fastened on it by side-loops, of the same chain, secured with sturdy padlocks. It is a simple, practical, inexpensive arrangement. On the upper portion of their left breasts there were numbers written.

"Oh!" said a bound girl, being brought to the group.

"Oh!" said Boabissia, at the same time. She had turned about, from watching the disciplining of the neck-chained girl, and struck against the new girl. "Clumsy slave!" cried Boabissia, angrily. Twice then, angrily, she struck the new girl with the sides of her small fists. The new girl was, by the solider in whose custody she was, thrust rudely to the pavement before Boabissia, his hand in her hair, forcing her head down to Boabissia's sandals. "Beg forgiveness!" he said.

"Forgive me! Forgive me!" wept the new girl.

" "Forgive me, what?" asked the soldier, tightening his grip in her hair. "Forgive me, Mistress!" wept the new girl, her head down, her back bent forward, her small hands twisting helplessly in the cords that held them behind her back. "Clumsy slave!" scolded Boabissia.

"Forgive me, Mistress," wept the girl. As far as I could see the new girl was not a slave. She was, at least, neither branded nor collared. On the other hand, doubtless she was destined to soon receive those lovely adornments proclamatory of the uncompromising condition of Gorean bondage, those adornments which so enhance the beauty of a woman, those adornments significatory that all institutional niceties pertinent to her bondage have been properly and legally completed. Accordingly, the fellow was doubtless being quite merciful, and helpful, to the female. He was preparing her, in a small way, not for what it would be her role in life, but for what in her new life would be her total and uncompromising actuality.

"Kiss her feet," said the soldier.

Obediently the frightened girl kissed Boabissia's feet, desperately, fervently. "Clumsy slave," said Boabissia, angrily.

"Please forgive me, Mistress," wept the girl.

The soldier drew up her head and bent her backwards, before Boabissia. "Shall I kill her for you? he asked. I saw the girl had a number, like the others, written on the upper portion of her left breast, I gathered that he had been sent to pick her up, and to mark her with that number. It had to do with records.

"No," said Boabissia. "That will not be necessary."

The soldier pulled the girl up straight, and released her hair. She remained kneeling before us, her head down. "Thank you, Mistress," she whispered. "Sir," said the soldier, suddenly straightening his body.

"Lift you head and throw your hair behind your back, girl," said the officer, newly arrived, come up from the side, with a backing board and sheaf of papers. "Put your head back as far as it will go," Immediately the girl complied. The officer then, there being no impediments now to his vision, checked the number on her left breast. He then referred to his papers, turning some over. "Name, female?" he asked the girl.

She began to shudder.

"Speak up, quickly, while you still have one," he said.

The soldier kicked her.

"Euphrosyne, Lady of Torcadino," she gasped.

"Family, and caste?" he inquired.

"Daughter of the matron Aglaia, Lady of Torcadino," she said, "of the Myrtos lineage, she high in the trade of spices, Confirmation Treasurer of the Spice Council of Torcadino, She of the Merchants."

"Ah, yes," said the officer. "I believe your mother is already on the chain." The girl looked about, wildly. Doubtless she would have covered her breasts, and nakedness, if she could have. What a foolish gesture in one who was soon to be a slave.

"I do not know if you will see her again, or not," he said, "except perhaps at a distance. Too, fraternization may not be permitted between slaves.

"I am not a slave," she moaned.

"Now," he said, for a moment or two more you may think of yourself as Euphrosyne, as your mother was hitherto permitted for a time to think of herself as Aglaia. In a time, of course, you may receive new names. "Euphrosyne' is a name a bit too fine, I think, for a slave. You will probably soon become something else, perhaps a «Puta or a "Sita." In the meantime, you are, for our purposes, and for your own purposes, Four-three-seven. That is your capture name, and you will think of yourself only as that. You may not inquire as to the former names of others nor reveal to them, even if they should ask, your own. Similarly, you may not make inquiries pertaining to such things as their families, stations and castes, nor reveal to others, even if asked, any such information pertaining to yourself. You are merely, and simply the captive Four-three-seven. Your mother, incidentally, is Two-six-one. You are now to think of her, as she is now to think of herself, as only that. She was more important than you, and thus has an earlier number."

Four-three-seven, of course, was the number written on the girl's left breast. As her number was 437 and there were only some one hundred or one hundred and fifty or so females in the chain, near the wall, I assumed there was probably one or more collection points elsewhere, perhaps nearer the Semnium, the Council Hall. On the other hand perhaps there were merely more females to come in. The numbers, it seemed, were prearranged numbers, and not merely numbers indicating the order of capture. The officer, for example already had had her number on his list, probably with her name. In this fashion, the girls being added to the chain as captured, this chain, or any others, might have diverse numbers upon it. I had gathered, for example, from what the officer had said, that the girl's mother, number 261 on the list, was somewhere in this very chain, which would have been unlikely if its prisoners were being added to it in a strict numerical sequence. A strict numerical order, if desired, of course, could always be set up later, at the leisure of the captors. In the meantime, it was the list that was crucial.

The officer looked down at the girl. "You may bring your head forward," he said. Gratefully, she did so.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Euphrosyne, Lady of Torcadino", she sobbed.

He looked at her, reprovingly.

"Four-three-seven!" she said quickly.

"Anything else?" he asked.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "No!"

The soldier then pulled her to her feet by the hair and thrust her before him, toward the chain. In a moment she was on the chain, kneeling, her throat snugly enclosed in a side-loop of the same chain, it fastened shut on her by a padlock. "Do you expect to find all the women on your seizure lists?" I asked the officer.

"Most of them," he said. "Doubtless some will elude us, at least for a time." "Many," said Mincon, "will be apprehended at the gates. They will not know they were on the lists. They will then be stripped, bound, marked with their number and brought to a collection point."

"After tomorrow, too," said the officer, "unauthorized civilians will not be permitted within the walls. The penalty for the unauthorized male will be swift and honorable execution, that for the unauthorized female being fed to sleen, or, if she is comely enough, and zealous enough to please, perhaps bondage." "There is little point in trying to hide in the city," said Mincon. "Eventually all the houses will be searched. Too, when they are hungry enough they will creep out at night to seek food. They may then, sooner or later, with the aid of tracking sleen, be taken."

"I see," I said.

"With the nature of Torcadino," said the officer, "the walls, and our control of the city, it is highly unlikely, sooner or later, that we will have every one of the women on our list."

I nodded. The listed females, under the particular circumstances currently prevailing in Torcadino, had little chance of escape. To be sure, many were not yet female slaves. For most practical purposes, for the Gorean female slave, properly identified, branded and collared, there is no escape. If she escapes from one master, which is exceedingly unlikely, she will doubtless soon find herself in the chains of another, and one who is perhaps worse. Certainly the new master will know that she is an escaped slave and will be likely to treat her with great harshness and keep her under the strictest confinements. He will probably make certain, as well, that sleen have her scent. Too, the penalties for running away can be severe, in the second case generally involving being fed to sleen or being hamstrung, to be used perhaps thereafter as a begging slave. "What is to be done with these women?" I asked the officer.

"Most of them will be sold in lots to contractors," he said.

"Like much of the other loot?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "The general contracts, for pickups of loot, projected quantities, and such, were let weeks ago."

"Of course," I said.

I noted one of the soldiers. He moved about, here and there within the chain lines, among the women. Occasionally he would put his whip before the lips of one of them. She would then kiss it.

"But some of these females are quite beautiful." I said.

"For example, 437 is extremely lovely."

"Her mother, 261, is also quite lovely." He said. "Certain of these women, of course, the better ones, like the more expensive loot, will not go to the contractors, but will be kept for distribution, the less beautiful ones to the troops, the more beautiful ones to the officers."

I nodded. These arrangements were typical.

"I have already made notations with respect to several of them," he said, indicating his papers, "including 437 and 261. In advance of course, when one enters them, if at all, only in the robes of concealment, one does not know which are the most beautiful."

"Such determinations now, of course," I said, "may be easily made." "Yes," he said.

I regarded the women. For the past weeks, they had been going about their business, ignorantly, naively, unsuspectingly, totally unaware of how they might be included as humble objects in the plans of masters. Doubtless they had given much attention to the matters of their day, to their various competitions, pursuits, vanities, occupations and concerns. All that time they did not know that already, in dried, indelible ink, their names were recorded on seizure lists. I observed them. They knelt, chained. On the upper portion of the left breast of each was number. It was the number which had followed their name on the seizure lists. That number was theirs. It had been theirs for weeks. But only now, to their horror, did they learn so, and find it literally inscribed on their bodies.

I saw the soldier hold the whip before 437. She bent forward and kissed it. "Come along," said Mincon. "We must go to the Semnium."

We then followed him, Hurtha and I, and Boabissia, the hempen leashes of Tula and Feiqa in the grasp of Hurtha.

14 The Semnium; The Outer Office

"These are new bodies, fresh bodies," I said.

"Of course," said Mincon.

We were at the foot of the low, broad steps of the Semnium, the hall of the high council, which building, it seemed, might now serve as the headquarters of the new masters of Torcadino. These steps extended before the building, for the entire length of its portico.

"Who are they?" I asked.

There were some two to three hundred new bodies hung now from tarred ropes along the Avenue of Adminius, in the vicinity of the Semnium.

"Collaborators, traitors, men who were of the party of Cos, betrayers of the alliance with Ar, and such," said Mincon.

"As those earlier were similarly adherents of Ar?" I asked.

"Perhaps," said Mincon.

"Some of those here," I said, regarding the dismal lines of bodies, dangling in the tarred halters, "are perhaps the same as those who had been active in bringing about the downfall of those who hung here formerly."

"Of course," said Mincon.

"The winds have shifted in Torcadino," I said.

"Yes," said Mincon.

"It seems your captain is in the pay of Ar." I said.

"Of that you may judge yourself," he said, "shortly."

"I?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"I do not understand," I said.

"Follow me," he said. I then, and the others, followed him up the steps of the Semnium. I stopped once, at the entrance, to look back, at the bodies. I briefly recalled the girl at the chain, 437, and her mother, 261. Her mother, before her capture, I had gathered, had been important, having been the confirmation treasurer of one of Torcadino's commercial councils, the Spice Council. She had also, in her position, I had gathered, and doubtless by her influence and acts, supported the cause of Cos. This inclination, incidentally, is not all that uncommon among individuals whose fortunes tend to be intimately involved in such matters as importation and exportation, the location and exploitation of foreign markets, and, in general, the overseas trade, the Thassa and island trade. This is understandable. The navies of Tyros and Cos, for most practical purposes command the green waves of gleaming Thassa. They control many of the most familiar and practical trade corridors. Few coasts are free from their patrols. Few ports could scorn their blockades. 261, however, aside from all such considerations, was a citizeness of Torcadino, and Torcadino had been sworn to the cause of Ar. She had, it seemed, for whatever reason, presumably opportunism or greed, betrayed the pledge of her Home Stone. In the case of a man this can be a capital offense. She was not a man, however but a female. It was thus, doubtless, that she had not been placed on a proscription list, but only on a seizure list. It was her sex which had saved her. Had she been a man she would have been hung.

Within the entrance to the Semnium was a marble-floored, lofty hall. Passageways and stairways led variously from this broad vestibule. The walls were adorned with mosaics, scenes generally of civic life, prominent among them were scenes of public gatherings, conferences and processions. One depicted the laying of the first stone in Torcadino's walls, an act which presumably would have taken place more than seven hundred years ago, when, according to the legends, the first wall, only a dozen feet high, was built to encircle and protect a great, sprawling encampment at the joining of trade routes. Within the hall were several soldiers, and several officers, at tables, conducting various sorts of business. To one side, permanent fixtures, immovable and sturdy, their supports fixed in the floor, were several rows of long, narrow, marble benches. It was on these that clients and claimants, with their various causes, grievances and petitions, would wait until their turn came to be called for their appointments or hearings. It was here, too, that witnesses, and such, might wait, before being summoned to give testimony on various matters before the courts.

"It is in here, I gather," I said, "that these letters of safety may be obtained." I eyed the various tables.

"Yes," said Mincon, making his way toward a guard station at the opening to one of the long corridors leading from the vaulted vestibule.

"Are we not to petition for these letters at one of the tables?" I asked, looking back.

"No," he said.

We were then following him down the corridor. He was known, it seemed.

"Is the city being administered from this building?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "in most things, in most ways."

"The city is under martial law," I said. "Why is it not being administered from the central cylinder, or its arsenal?"

"This building supplies and appearance of civic normality," he said. "Thus it is more as though one form of municipal administration had merely succeeded another."

"I see," I said. "Your captain, however," I said, "is doubtless reigning in the central cylinder."

"No, he is conducting business in this building," said Mincon, continuing down the hall.

I said nothing. This seemed to me, however, politically astute, particularly since the city was not currently under attack. I had realized for years, of course, that Dietrich of Tarnburg was a capable mercenary, and one of Gor's finest commanders. I had not found mention, however, in the annals, or diaries, which had been generally concerned with marches and campaigns, a sufficient appreciation of this other side of his character. He was apparently not only a military genius but perhaps also a political one. Or, perhaps they are not really so separate as they are often considered to be. Territory must be held as well as won. "Civilians are being ejected from the city," I said. "Surely they are not being given letters of safety."

"No," said Mincon.

"You think, however that we might need them?" I asked.

"It seems very likely," said Mincon, "considering where you are going." "I do not understand," I said.

"I have gathered that you are familiar with the sword," he said, "and that you re from Port Kar,"

"I know something of the sword," I said. "And I have a holding in Port Kar." "Perhaps you are even of the scarlet caste," he said.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Port Kar is at war with Cos," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"We are here," he said. We stopped before a large door. He ushered us between guards. We found ourselves in a reception room. An officer was at a table at one end of the room, with two more guards. Behind him and to his right was another door. In this fashion, to pass him, as is common, one would have to pass him on his sword-arm side.

"Anything so simple as letters of safety could have been issued in the main hall," I said.

Mincon spoke to the officer at the table, who, it seemed, recognized him.

"I would think so," said Hurtha, righteously, adding "whatever a letter of safety might be." He looked about, with his Alar distrust of bureaucracy and enclosed spaces. "I trust there will be no necessity for me to read such a letter," he said, "as this would be difficult, as I cannot read."

"You could learn," I said, somewhat snappishly.

"Between now and when we receive the letters?" asked Hurtha, incredulously. "Alars do not read," said Boabissia, proudly. "And we are Alars."

"I am an Alar," said Hurtha.

"Doubtless we will get the letters from that fellow," I said, indicating the officer to whom Mincon was speaking. "My letter of safety would be my ax," said Hurtha, "if I had it." Mincon, however, to my surprise, went through the door behind the officer. "I frankly do not understand what is going on," I said.

"I have sometimes had that experience," said Hurtha.

"Mincon is behaving strangely," I said.

"What can you expect?" said Hurtha. "He is not an Alar."

"Neither am I," I said.

"I know," said Hurtha.

"This whole business makes little sense to me," I said.

"Civilization is bizarre," said Hurtha.

"Perhaps you can get a poem out of this," I said.

"I already have," he said, "two. Would you care to hear them?"

"There is no time now," I said.

"They are quite short," he said. "One is a mere fifty liner,"

"By all means, then," I said.

" "In the halls of Torcadino, " he began. " " "neath sacks of noosed bonesa€” " "You have composed more than one hundred lines of poetry while we have been standing here?" I asked.

"Many more," he said, "but I have eliminated many lines which did not meet my standards. "In the streets of Torcadino, "neath bundles of brittle bonesa€”" "Wait," I said. "That is not the same line."

"I have revised it," said Hurtha.

At this moment, Mincon, naively, his timing, from his point of view, tragically awry, emerged from the inner office. "What news, good fellow?" I called to him. "Please go in," he said to me. "The rest of you please remain here." We looked at one another.

"Please," he said.

"Very well," I said, resigned.

"Would you care to hear two poems?" asked Hurtha.

"Of course," said Mincon. He was a fine fellow. "Bara," said Mincon to Tula. "Bara," said I to Feiqa. Both slaves immediately to their bellies, their heads to the left, their wrists crossed behind their backs, their ankles also crossed. It is a common binding position. We did not bother to bind them, however. It was enough that they lay there in this position. Hurtha dropped their leashes to the tiles beside them. His hands were now freed for gestures, and important contributory element in oral poetry. "Would you care to hear two poems?" Hurtha asked the officer at the table. "What?" he asked.

Then I had entered the inner office.

15 The Semnium; What Transpired in the Inner Offices

I whipped my head to the side. The blade moved past me and with a solid sound, followed by a sturdy vibration, lodged itself in the heavy wood of the door. "Excellent," said a voice. "You have had some training."

I looked down the room. At the end of the room, standing behind a functionary's desk, some forty feet away, there stood a soldier.

"Perhaps you are of the scarlet caste?" he asked.

"Perhaps," I said. I removed the blade from the wood behind me, over my shoulder, not taking my eyes off the fellow behind the desk.

"You are quick," he said. "Excellent. It is doubtless as Mincon had suspected. His judgement is good. You are a soldier."

"I have fought," I said. "I am not now in fee."

"Tal, Rarius," said he to me then. "Greetings Warrior,"

I regarded him, He did not seem to me the sort of fellow from whom one might expect letters of safety, license of passage, or bureaucratic services. He wore no insignia. His men, I gathered, must know him by sight. His presence, I suspected, whether in the camp or in the march, in the mines, on the walls, in the trenches or fields, would not be unfamiliar among them. They would know him. He would know them. His dark hair was graying at the temples, unusual among Goreans. He reminded me something of Centius of Cos, though he had not the latter's gentleness. In him I sensed practicality, and mercilessness, and intelligence and power. On the table before him, resting on what appeared to be state papers, was a sword.

"Tal Rarius," I whispered.

"Come forward," he said. "It was only a test. I even favored you, to your left. Do not be afraid."

I approached the fellow, who then took his place behind the desk.

At the side of the desk, to its right, as you faced it, on the bare tiles, there lay a chained, naked woman. She was dark-haired, and beautiful. It was not surprising to me that such a woman should lie at the side of his desk. He was obviously a man of great strength. Many Goreans believe that woman is nature's gift to man, that nature has designed her for his stimulation, pleasure and service. Accordingly, they seldom hesitate to avail themselves of this gift. Too, they are sensitive to the pleasures of power. They know the pleasures of power, and they honestly and candidly seek, appreciate and relish them. They know there is no thrill in world comparable to having absolute power over a female. These feelings, like those of glory and victory, to which they are akin, are their own reward. Goreans do not apologize for such natural and biologically validated urges. Too, they do not feel guilty over them. Indeed, to feel guilty over such natural, profound, deep and common urges would be, from the Gorean point of view, madness. The male is dominant, unless crippled. Without the mastery there can be no complete male fulfillment, and, interestingly, without complete male fulfillment there can be no complete female fulfillment.

"How do you call yourself?" he asked.

"Tarl," I said.

"You are from Port Kar?" he said.

"I have a holding there," I said.

"Are you a spy for Ar?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Perhaps for Cos?" he asked.

"No," I said. I put the knife on the desk, before him.

"Your sympathies, I assume, are with Ar?" he said.

"I have no special love for Ar," I said. Once I had been banished from that city, being denied there bread, salt and fire.

"Good," he said. "That way it will be easier for you to retain your objectivity."

"You are no simple officer," I said, "from whom may be obtained letters of safety."

"You are no simple man-at-arms," he said.

"Oh?" I said.

"These days," he said, "dozens of captains are buying swords. Yet you do not seem to be in fee. Further, I gather from Mincon, my friend, that your financial resources are quite limited."

I said nothing.

"It was clever of you to use the free woman with you in the manner of a rent slave. Some men will pay higher use rents for a free prisoner."

I shrugged.

"But you would make only a handful of copper coins in that sort of thing," he said. "It is not like receiving the weight of your sword in gold coin." "True," I said.

"You may also, of course, have ruined her for freedom," he said.

"Possibly," I said.

He rose from the desk and went to its side. He kicked the woman who lay there. She recoiled and whimpered, with a rattle of chain.

"What do you think, Lady Cara?" he asked.

"Yes, Master," she said. "I think possibly, Master."

I saw, interestingly enough, that he seemed to be genuinely interested in her opinion. This did not, of course, in any way alter the categorical relation in which they obviously stood to one another.

"Have you been spoiled for freedom?" he asked her.

"What you have done to me!" she wept. "I beg the brand! I beg it! Put the mark on me! Collar me! Confirm it on my body! Confirm it on me with fire and iron, and with the circlet of locked steel, for all the world to see, what you have done to me, what you have made me!" "She is still free," I observed.

"Yes," he said.

"Do not shame me by keeping me free," she said. "Mark and collar me, so that I may at last be free to be what I now know I am!"

"Do you wish to feel the lash again, Lady Cara?" he asked.

"No, Master," she said, shuddering.

It seemed to me that the woman, obviously, was now ready for enslavement. To be sure, whether it was to be granted to her or not was up to her captor. At any rate, whether she was to be put legally into slavery or not she was now clearly bond, psychologically, intellectually and emotionally. She would now never be anything else.

"This is the Lady Cara. Of Venna," he said. "Once she was overheard making remarks disparaging of Tarnburg. Perhaps I shall take her there one day, and keep her there as a house slave.

The prone woman groaned. Her chains slid a little on the tiles.

"Or would you prefer, Lady Cara," he asked, "to serve there only as a cleaning prisoner, simply as a confined servant, a mere housekeeper in captivity?" "No," she sobbed, "as a slave, a full slave."

"Why," he asked.

"It is what I am," she said.

I regarded her. She looked luscious at our feet, in her chains. Clearly, too, she had been "ruined for freedom." I wondered about Boabissia. I wondered if she, too, had been ruined for freedom. To be sure, she still spoke much like a proud free woman. Still, too, she often seemed bitter, selfish, frustrated, haughty and arrogant. Too, she had never been put under slave discipline. I had noticed, however, unless it were only my imagination, that she now seemed to move her body somewhat differently under her dress than she had before, before we had prostituted her to replenish our resources.

"And so," asked the fellow, "what of your free tart? Did her rent uses spoil her for freedom?"

"Perhaps," I said. "I do not know." "Well, if so," he said, "you may always sell her and be done with it." "True," I said. I thought it might be fun to sell Boabissia. She occasionally got on one's nerves. Too, as a free woman, she could be something of a nuisance. Too, I thought she might make a fine slave. Too, like any other woman, she would look lovely in a collar.

"If you have a holding in Port Kar," he said, "I gather you have no fondness for Cos."

"No," I said. "I have no fondness for Cos," I had fought against her, and Tyros at sea. I had once served on a Cosian galley. Once, in last carnival time in Port Kar, before the Waiting Hand, her Ubar, gross Lurius of Jad, had sent an assassin against me. His dagger I had thrust into his own heart.

"Yet," said he, "you were traveling with a Cosian supply train, using the cover of the train to move southward in troubled times. This is an act of audacity, of inventiveness, of courage."

I said nothing.

"I respect such things," he said.

I had little doubt he did. I also had little doubt who it must be, he with whom I spoke. I had stood in awe of this man for years. I had studied his campaigns, his tactics and strategems. Yet nothing had prepared me for the presence I felt in this room, a simple room, a bare room, with a large window behind, suitable for a minor functionary in the bureaucracy of Torcadino. How odd it seemed that I should meet this man here, in such a place, rather than in a feast of state, in the corridors of a conference, or on a bloodstained field. The power of this man seemed to radiate forth from him. This is a difficult thing to explain, unless one has felt it. Perhaps in another situation, or in another time I would not have felt this. I do not know. Certainly it had nothing to do with pretentiousness or any obvious demonstrations of authority on his part. If anything, he seemed on the surface little more than a simple soldier, perhaps no more than merely another unpretentious, candid, efficient officer. It was beneath the surface that I sensed more. This was perhaps a matter of subliminal cues. I had little doubt that when he chose he could be warm and charming. Too, I supposed he could be hearty and convivial. Perhaps he was fond of jokes. Perhaps one might enjoy drinking with him. His men would die for him. I thought he must be much alone. I suspected it might be death to cross his will.

"I suspect," he said, "that you were heading toward Ar."

"I have business in Ar," I said.

"Do you know the delta of the Vosk?" he asked.

"I once traversed it," I said.

"Tell me about it," he said.

"It is treacherous, and trackless," I said. "It covers thousands of square pasangs. It is infested with insects, snakes and tharlarion. Marsh sharks even swim among its reeds. In it there is little solid ground. Its waters are usually shallow, seldom rising above the chest of a tall man. The footing is unreliable. There is much quicksand. It protects Port Kar from the east. Few but rencers can find their way about in it. Too, for most practical purposes, they keep it closed to traffic and trade."

"That, too is my impression." He said.

"Why do you ask?" I asked.

"Do you understand much of military matters?" he asked.

"A little," I said.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

"I think so," I said.

"Do you know why I have brought you here?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Why do you think Torcadino has been taken?" he asked.

"To stall the invasion," I said. "To give Ar time to arm. It is a powerful and decisive stroke. Torcadino is Cos's major depot for supplies and siege equipment. You have now seized these things. They are now yours. You may remain indefinitely in Torcadino with these vast quantities of supplies. Too, though you will be doubtless invested. Cos now lacks the equipment to dislodge you. Similarly, because of their new shortage of supplies, they will have to withdraw many of their troops from this area. Presumably they will also have to be divided, marched into diverse areas to facilitate the acquisition of new supplies. You have thus scattered and disrupted your enemy. Too, I suspect your ejection of the civilian population from Torcadino is not merely political, to appear to show concern, generosity, and mercy, not merely expedient, to remove them from the city, thus conserving supplies and removing possible Cosian sympathizer from behind your back, but to increase the intensity of Cos's supply problems."

"Very good," he said.

"Cos will not dare let these refugees starve," I said, "as they are citizens if a city which had declared for them, which had gone over to them. If they did not care for them, this would be a dark lesson, and one favoring Ar, to every wavering or uncommitted village, town and city within a dozen horizons." "Quite," he agreed.

"What was done with the garrison of Torcadino?" I asked.

"Most were surprised in their beds," he said. "Their weapons were seized. Resistance was useless. We then expelled them, disarmed, from the city." "So that they, too, like the civilians, would aggravate the problems of Cos." "Yes," he said.

"Did you march them beneath a yoke?" I asked. This is usually formed of three spears, two upright and the third bound horizontally across the first two. The prisoners are then usually marched in a long line, two abreast, between the uprights. They cannot pass under the horizontal spear, a weapon of their enemy, without lowering their heads and bending their backs. Some warriors choose to die rather than do this. A similar yoke is sometimes used for the captive women of a city, but it is set much lower, usually such that they must pass under it on their belly. After all, they are not men; they are women. Too, it is usually formed not of spears but of brooms, brought from the conquering city, and the horizontal bar is hung with dangling slave beads. In this, although the original meanings are perhaps lost in antiquity, most commentators see symbolized the servility and sensuousness which, as they are to be slaves, is henceforth, upon pain of death to be required of them. It is an impressive sight to see the women of a captive city, single file, stripped and on their bellies, in a long line winding through the streets and across the piazza, moving between soldiers with whips, crawling toward the yoke. As they crawl beneath it, the slave beads touch their back. On the other side of the yoke, while they are still on their bellies, they generally feel a collar locked on their neck. It is one of many, and it, like the others, has been attached in its turn, and at its interval, to a long chain. They are now in coffle. They will probably not be removed from this coffle until, in one way or another, they have been sold. "No," said the fellow with me.

I nodded.

"They are good fellows," he said. "Too, perhaps one day some of them will bear arms in my company."

"I understand," I said.

He turned about and looked through the window. We could see the walls of Torcadino from the window and one of the aqueducts. He then turned about and faced me, again. "You did not try to kill me," he commented.

"Another test?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"I thought so," I said. "Else you would not have been likely to turn your back on an unknown stranger."

"True," he smiled.

"I considered it," I said.

"It would have been difficult to cross the table," he said. "Too, it would be difficult, in the time I gave you, to pick up the knife, or sword, without rustling papers."

"Also you were anticipating the possibility of an attack," I said. "It is difficult to move surreptitiously on a person under such circumstances. Also the female here, at the side of the desk, would presumably have moved, or gasped or cried out."

"Would you have cried out, Lady Cara?" he asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"In spite of all I have done to you?" he asked.

"Because of what you have done to me!" she wept. "I would die for you!" "Why?" he asked.

"A slave girl owes all to her master, her passion, her being, her life, everything. It is yours, my Master!"

"Belly," said he to her, and she lay then on her belly, beside the desk, in her chains.

"But I did not think you would attack me," he said to me. "You are too rational, I think. Too, you would have, at least now, no adequate motivation for such an attack. Also, you suspect, or are not sure, but what we may share certain common objectives."

"There are other reasons, too," I said. "For one, even if I succeeded in such an attack, I would not be likely to escape from the Semnium alive."

"The window is a possibility," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"But you had not examined it for ledges, and such," he said.

"No," I said.

"There is no extended ledge," he said.

I nodded.

"You said there were "reasons, " he said.

"Another would be," I said, "my respect for you, as a commander, as a soldier." "In many men," he said, "emotion functions to the detriment of policy. Perhaps it is so with you."

"Perhaps, sometimes," I said.

"I shall remember that about you, he said. "I may be able to use it sometime." "Your entrance through the aqueducts, and using both, rather than one, as an insurance attack, was brilliant," I said.

"It is an obvious strategem," he said. "I have considered it for years, but I did not use it until now."

"Had you used it earlier," I said, "it would now be a part of military history, of the lore associated with your name, something which all garrisons in appropriate cities would now anticipate and take steps to prevent."

"Of course," he said.

"You saved it," I smiled, "for an occasion worthy of it."

"For a Torcadino," he said. "Of course," I said.

"The aqueducts have now been closed by the Cosians, and their flows diverted," he said.

"There is no shortage of water in the city," I said. "You are now depending on the original wells, dating from before the aqueducts, which, with the ejection of the civilian population, are now more than ample for your needs."

He smiled.

"But I fear that you may not have anticipated all things," I said.

"It is seldom possible to do so," he said.

"I am troubled by certain obvious problems," I said.

"Speak," he said.

"There is no road from Torcadino," I said. "It would seem that you have trapped yourself here. The walls are surrounded. Your army is small. Cos will maintain a considerable force in the area, at least compared to what is at your disposal. I do not think you will be able to fight your way out. I am sure you do not have enough tarns to evacuate your men."

"Interesting," he said.

"Obviously you have made strict arrangements with Ar," I said.

"No," he said. "I have no understanding with Ar."

"You must have!" I said.

"No," he said.

"Are you not in the pay of Ar?" I asked, astonished.

"No," he said.

"You have done this of your own initiative?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "The powers of Ar and Cos must be balanced. The victory of either means the end of the free companies."

"But you are depending on Ar to raise the siege? Surely," I said.

"Of course," he said.

"What if she does not do so?"

"I that that would be quite unfortunate," he said.

"You could negotiate with the Cosians," I said. "I am sure they would agree to almost any terms, offering suitable inducements for withdrawal, guarantees of safety for yourself and your troops, and such, in order to regain Torcadino,"

"Do you think, after what we have done here, and the considerable delays we have caused them, they would just let us walk out of Torcadino?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Nor do I," he smiled.

"Everything depends on Ar," I said.

"Yes," he said.

"You have taken great risks for Ar," I said.

"For myself, and the free companies," he said.

"Ar would seem to have no choice but to act as you expect," I said.

"It would seem so," he said.

"Yet, you seem troubled." I said.

"I am," he said. "Come with me."

We then went out through a side door, into another room. I looked back, once. I saw Lady Cara, in her chains, beside his desk. She was still on her belly. She had not been given permission to rise. She looked after us.

"What do you think of this little bird on her perch?" he asked me.

"It is hard to say," I said.

He pulled up her head with his fist in her hair. He was not gentle with her. She cried out, whimpering, her head bent back.

"Lovely," I said. Her neck was encircled by a collar. She was branded. As he had her head pulled back her back was pulled back against the short, horizontal wooden post behind which her arms were hooked. This horizontal post was mounted on a short vertical post, in the manner of a "T." She was kneeling on the platform, about a yard high, on which this «T was fixed. Her ankles were chained together, behind and about the vertical post. Manacles, and a length of chain, running across her belly, completed the closure that kept her arms in place, holding her wrists back, at her sides. "Perhaps she is a captain's woman."

"More than that," he said. "She was a general's woman."

She whimpered. Her eyes were almost glassy with terror. He released her hair. Her head fell forward, her long, dark hair before her body. I pulled the chain out a bit from her belly. There were marks in her flesh, from where it had been tight on her. She whimpered.

I regarded her. Jewels did not bedeck her. Her silks were now gone. No cosmetics now adorned her, begging to be licked and kissed from her lips. No scent of perfume now clung to her. There were smells which were perhaps those of sweat and fear. "Too, she had soiled the platform. She had been beaten, doubtless quite a rare experience for high slave. If she had once worn a golden, bejeweled collar it was now gone. On her neck now was a simple iron collar, hammered shut, such as might be put on the neck of any slut picked up by any soldier in a flaming city.

"What is your name, my dear?" he inquired.

"I have no name, no name!" she said, quickly.

"How do you know?" he asked. "Perhaps I have given you one."

"I have no name that I know," she said, terrified, jerking in her metal bonds, fearing that she might be being tricked into earning herself punishment. "I do not yet know my name, if I have one. If Master has named me, he has not yet informed me! If I have a name, it will be as Master pleases! I am a slave! I am his, only his! If I have a name, I beg to know it, that I may answer to it obediently and promptly!"

"You have no name," he said.

"Yes, Master," she said, weakly putting down her head again.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Lucilina," she said.

The fellow regarded me. "Do you know the name of the high officer of the Cosian forces in the south?" he asked.

"Myron, Polemarkos of Temos, cousin to Lurius of Jad, Ubar of Cos," I said. "And what do you think might have been the name of his preferred slave?" he asked.

"I gather it was Lucilina," I said.

"She was as greedy as she is beautiful," said the officer. "She had much freedom in the Cosian camp, given even her own quarters, in which the Polemarkos could call upon her. In these quarters, amidst her cushions and silks, surrounded by her jewel boxes, attended to by female slaves assigned to her for her own use, to whom she was as absolute mistress, she held sway almost as might have a Ubara. Comfortably secure in the favor of her powerful and highborn master, esteemed and pampered, she, though only a slave, gathered power about herself."

I became angry hearing this. A female slave is not to have power. Rather she is to be subjected to it, totally.

"Her influence with the Polemarkos became well known. She had his ear. A word from her, for or against a fellow, as she pleased, could promote or ruin a career. In her tents she would receive visitors, callers and petitioners.

Dozens, coming to understand her power, came soon to sue for her favor. There were gifts for her, naturally. Surely that was only fitting. Her jewel boxes began to brim with precious stones. Rings were brought to her worth the ransom of a Ubar. Her cosmetic cases could boast perfumes that might have been the envy of a Ubara."

"Better chains of iron and a whip for her," I said, bitterly.

"Among these petitioners came one fellow bring with him the promise of a gift of wine, a wine supposedly secret, the rare Falarian, a wine only rumored among collectors to exist, a wine supposedly so rare and precious that its cost might purchase a city. She, of course, would test this. She, though only a slave, would choose to sip it."

"Arrogant slave," I said. The woman put down her head even more, whimpering, trembling. No slave takes wine without the permission of the master. And even then, as often as not, she takes it only on his command, and under his eye, usually kneeling before him. Sometimes, even, he puts his hand in her hair, bends her head back, and pours it down her throat. It is done by his will. "The wine, of course," he said, "was to precious to have been brought with him, but it is in his tent. She summons her palanquin and bearers, male slaves, and is to be carried to this place. Too, in this fashion the matter may best be kept secret from her attendants. She is often carried about the Cosian camp in her closed palanquin by bearers. This excites little curiosity. In his tent she will taste the wine, demanding even that he pour it for her. It is done. She looks at him, startled. Can this wine, which seems like a cheap ka-la-na, be the rare Falarian? But in a moment she is unconscious. Arrangements have already been made with the bearers, of course. They will receive their freedom. It could have been done otherwise but this is best. They were known. Had we substituted others for them we would have increased our risks. Too, left behind they might well have been killed, absurdly enough, by the Cosians, an unnecessary and foolish waste of able men, in my opinion, whereas I now have four more grateful, loyal fellows in my ranks, any one of whom I think would willingly die for me." "Of course," I said.

"The palanquin is then brought within the walls of the outer tent. Meanwhile the female is stripped. She is placed, unconscious, in the palanquin. Binding thongs, about her ankles, her legs spread, about her wrists, they tied down at her sides, and about her thighs, belly, above her breasts and below her arms, and about her throat, fasten her to it, securing her tightly in place. When she awakens she will discover she can scarcely move a muscle. She is then gagged. Lastly the curtains of the palanquin are closed. She is now ready to be transported."

"She has been drugged of course," I said.

"Not heavily," he said. "She will remain unconscious, by our intent, for only a few Ehn, for little longer than it takes to strip, bind and gag her. We want her to awaken quite soon, while still in the Cosian camp, and, awakening, to be fully appreciative of her predicament. We want her to lie there, helpless, fully conscious of what is being done to her."

"Excellent," I said.

"My man checked in on her once," he said. "Her eyes were wild, frantic, over her gag. He then, again, closed the curtains."

"It is a splendid coup," I said, "to have stolen the preferred slave of the Polemarkos of Temos."

"Had it not been for your arrogance and greed, it would not have been so easy, would it my dear?" he said to the woman.

"No, Master," she said.

"But you are not arrogant and greedy anymore, are you, my dear?" he asked. "No, Master!" she said.

"We brought her to Torcadino," he said. "As you may remember, she had had my man, though she was a slave, pour wine for her."

"I remember," I said.

"Her first beating, thus," he said, "she received from him."

"Naturally," I said.

"Her next four beatings, at given intervals, she received from the four fellows who had been her bearers formerly, now free men."

"Naturally," I said.

"At times we had to caution them, and restrain them," he said, "that they not kill her."

"I understand," I said.

"She was then ready to be interrogated," he said.

"Interrogated?" I said.

"Certainly," he said. "Do you think I find this slut of any personal interest or worth?"

"I can see how some men might," I said.

"She is vain, and shallow," he said. "Aren't you, my dear?"

"Yes, Master," she said.

"But we are going to work hard to overcome those flaws, aren't we, my dear?" he inquired.

"Yes, Master!" she said.

He put his hand on her.

She cried out, startled, She jerked back against the stout post. Her hands jerked in the metal fastenings. She regarded him with disbelief, with horror. "You are no longer a high slave," he said. "You are going to have to get used to being touched like this."

She looked at him, wildly. Her hands twisted. She could not close her legs. "I thought you might have had her stolen," I said, "in order to do insult to Myron, the Polemarkos."

"Please, no!" she cried.

"No," he said. "I would not risk men in such an unnecessary and gratuitous enterprise. My major concern is with the expeditious and efficient attainment of certain ultimate objectives. I seldom indulge in the gratifications of such transient vanities unless they lead to these objectives, or, at the least, are not inimical to their attainment. Such an insult, stinging as it would be, would not serve any particular purpose at the moment, for example, stirring a foe to a fury of vengeance which might lead to miscalculation on his part. In this particular situation it would presumably only make it more difficult to deal with the Polemarkos, to whom I must soon give the appearance of inviting bona fide negotiation."

"No, no, no," whispered the girl.

"In that way you will delay attacks and buy time," I said.

"Yes," he said.

"No, no," whimpered the girl. "No!"

"Besides," he said. "I bear the Polemarkos no ill will. He is a clever, if weak, officer.

"No, no!" said the girl. "Oh, yes," she cried, suddenly, "Yes!" Her eyes were wild. "Yes, please! she said. She squirmed. She closed her eyes. Her knees moved piteously. "Yes, please!" she said.

"She is vital," I observed.

"Yes," agreed the officer.

"Perhaps the Polemarkos would not be pleased to observe how you have her leaping under your touch."

"Perhaps not," he said. "But he would presumably understand I mean no insult by it. She is, after all, only a slave."

"True," I said.

"Please, do not stop," she said. "Please do not stop!"

"Do you move like this under the touch of the Polemarkos?" he asked her. "No," she said. "No, never. I did not know it could be like this!" The officer stepped back. Her eyes opened. They were wild. There were tears in them. "Please," she said. "Please!" She thrust her body forward, toward him, piteously begging the continuation of his attentions.

"How is that you would have had her stolen, not for her own beauty, for she is prize collar meat, which I would think would have been a sufficient reason for doing so, nor as an insult to the Polemarkos, but merely to interrogate?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Yes, yes!" she cried, gratefully. "Thank you, Master! Thank you, Master!" "She is only a slave," I said.

"Now, she is only a slave," he said.

«Yes, she whimpered. "Oh, yes!"

"But before," he continued, "she was also the confidante of the Polemarkos. By means of her wiles and beauty she had ingratiated herself with him and there were few secrets of state to which she, in one way or another, was not privy. She even attended certain meetings of war, though concealed in her silks behind a modesty screen. Her presence there, as you might imagine, even concealed behind the screen, considerably discomfited several officers. It was partly as a result of their resentful, guarded comments, overheard by certain spies, that I came to realize her importance." He paused for a moment. "Are you important now, my dear?" he asked.

"No, Master!" she said.

"What are you now?" he asked.

"A slave, only a slave, your slave!" she said.

He then renewed his attentions to her body.

"Yes, yes, yes!" she said.

"What was your name?" he said.

"Lucilina!" she gasped.

"You are not responding like a Lucilina," he said. She moaned, and squirmed. "You are responding more like a Luchita," he said.

"Yes, Master," she said. "Yes, Master!"

"You are Luchita," he said.

"Yes, Master," she said, named. I thought this a good name for her. It was a good name for a hot helpless, dominated slave. "Are you a high slave, Luchita?" he asked.

"I do not know," she said.

"No," he said. "You are not. You are now among the lowest of low slaves." "Yes, Master," she said.

"And I will give you, accordingly," he said, "to one of my lowest soldiers, to a rude and common fellow, one of the lowest rank."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"You will serve him well," he said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"You will be treated as the slave you are."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"But have no fear," he said. "You will receive, I assure you, in this sort of bondage, low and common, and absolutely uncompromising, your complete fulfillment, both as a female and a slave."

"Yes, Master," she said.

She then licked and kissed his hands, cleaning them. He then wiped his hands on her sweat-dampened hair. He then left the room. I following him. I glanced back. The slave on the perch was looking after him, her dark, wet hair much before her chained body, her eyes were filled with awe. She was pretty I thought, the slave, Luchita.

"What did you learn from her?" I asked, once the door was closed."

"You may kneel, Lady Cara," he said.

The woman from Venna, with a movement of chains, rose from her belly to kneel beside his desk. She knelt in the position of the pleasure slave, back on her heels, back straight, head up, knees spread, palms of her hands on her thighs. "We learned a great deal, in a sense," he said, "but most of it we already knew, or suspected, from various other sources. Two things, however, came as a surprise to us."

"May I inquire?" I asked.

"Of course," he said. "Otherwise I would not have brought you here in the first place. It is because of these things I had you brought here."

"Speak, please," I encouraged him. "Should I be fetched from the room, Master?" asked Lady Cara. Because of the nature of her ankle chaining, it would have been difficult for her to walk.

Suddenly cuffed, she fell to her side, blood at her mouth. "Did you ask permission to speak? he asked. In a situation of this sort it was common, though not always required, that a slave request permission to speak. Apparently this officer, in this sort of situation, did require his women to request such permission. Lady Cara, after this, would be in no doubt about this.

"No, Master," she said. "Forgive me Master."

He snapped his fingers. Immediately she resumed her former position.

"The main forces of Cos are here," he said, "in the vicinity of Torcadino, now, at the moment, investing it."

"I am sure that is common knowledge," I said.

"One would think so," he said, "but two things which disturb and puzzle me we have learned recently, only this morning, from our little informant in the other room. First, a movement of Cosian troops, originating in Brundisium, apparently several regiments, are moving eastward, parallel to the Vosk."

"Toward Ar's Station?" I speculated. This was Ar's stronghold on the Vosk. It was situated on the southern bank, east of Jort's Ferry and west of Forest Port, both on the northern bank.

"Presumably so," he said.

"It must be a diversion," I said.

"Presumably Ar's Station, if subjected to attack, could be relieved by a small force," he said, "and a countermarch to the coast could cut off the Cosians from their base in Brundisium."

"I would think so," I said.

"Why then, according to our information, and this is the second item of interest here, is Ar preparing, if this is correct, to launch its main forces northward toward Ar's Station?"

"That would be madness," I said.

"That is the information which the spies of Cos in Ar have transmitted to the Polemarkos," he said. "They must be must be mistaken," I said.

"Perhaps," said the officer, moodily.

"The main forces of Cos are here, by Torcadino," I said. "If the main might of Ar is sent northward there would be a free road from the trenches about Torcadino almost to the gates of Ar themselves. The land between here and Ar, and the city itself, would be in effect without defense."

"I think there can be only one plausible explanation for this," said the officer, "a€”That the councils of Ar do not know that the main force of Cos is here."

"That seems incredible," I said.

"What other explanation could there be?" he asked.

"That the spies of the Polemarkos are simply mistaken," I said.

"Perhaps," he said.

"There is, of course, another," I said.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Treachery in Ar," I said.

"Of this enormity?" he asked.

I shrugged.

"Unthinkable," he said.

"Surely you have thought it," I said.

"Yes," he said, "I have considered it."

"Why did you ask me about the delta of the Vosk?" I asked.

"Because I think the move toward Ar's Station is a diversion," he said. "And because the Cosians could be too easily cut off from Brundisium."

"You think they will withdraw into the delta?" I asked.

"I would," he said.

"So, too, would I," I said.

"And the main forces of Ar may be marching toward Ar's Station," he said, grimly.

The hair on the back of my neck rose.

"They could not be lured into that area," I said.

"I would think not," he said.

"No sane commander in such a situation could issue orders to enter the delta in force," I said, "certainly not without obtaining guides, accumulating transportation, organizing supplies and support, treating with the natives of the area, and so on."

"In such a place an army might disappear" he said.

"Never will Ar march northward in force," I said, "not with Cos entrenched outside Torcadino."

"Why has Ar not yet moved?" he asked.

"I do not know," I said.

"I can hold Cos here for the winter," said the officer. "That is probably all." "What would you like of me?" I asked.

"Gnieus Lelius," said he, "high councilor, first minister to Ar, is regent in the absence of Marlenus. I have here letters to be delivered to him. They outline the dispositions of the main forces of Cos and the situation in Torcadino. Too, I have letters here for Seremides, high general of Ar. They bear the seal of the silver tarn. I do not think you will have difficulty obtaining an audience with him" I had once known a Seremides in Ar. To be sure, such names are common.

"I understand," I said.

"With these letters, of course," he said, "I shall include letters of safety." "How shall we pass through the forces of Cos?" I asked. "Such letters may have their weight with those of Ar but would scarcely seem designed to impress Cosians."

"You and your party will seem to be ejected from the city with other civilians," he said, "some thousand or so who will held until tomorrow. I do not think you will attract much attention. Indeed, Cos encourages the dispersion of these refugees, as it has little inclination to care for them."

"I see," I said.

"You were intending to Ar anyway, were you not?" he asked.

"Yes," I admitted.

"You will, of course, be well paid for your trouble," he said. He threw a weighty purse upon the table.

I looked at it.

"It is mostly silver," he said, "and some copper. Gold would provoke suspicion." "I would suppose I am not the first you have entrusted with such a mission," I said.

"No," he said. "You are the fifth. I have sent others with such letters, warnings, and such, as long ago as Tarnburg, and as recently as the banks of the Issus."

"Your messages then must have been already received," I said.

"Apparently not," he said. "I have, at any rate, as yet, received no responses." "This could be dangerous," I speculated.

"I think that is quite possible," he said. "I would exercise great caution, if I were you."

"What if I do not wish to do this?" I asked.

"You need not do it, of course," he said. "Beyond that, for your trouble, and with no hard feelings, I shall give you letters of safety which will conduct you and your party safely through my men."

"That is very generous," I said.

"I place you under no pressure whatsoever," he said.

"I shall do it," I said.

"I knew you would," he said.

"And that is why you place me under no pressure?" I asked.

"Of course," he said.

"I share your general view on these matters," I said.

"I gathered that," he said.

"Do you wish me to take an oath, to pledge my sword?" I asked.

"No," he said, "that will not be necessary."

"I see," I said.

"If you succeed in this matter, of course, I will be grateful," he said. "Of course," I said.

"Whereas I have a reputation of being merciless to enemies, at least when it suits my purpose," he said, "I, too, have a reputation of being generous to my friends."

"I have heard such," I said.

"Some expression of my gratitude would be in order," he said. "Perhaps a bag of gold, perhaps a hundred prize Cosian women?"

"No," I said. "I shall do this labor of my own will, and for my own purposes." "Warrior," said he.

"Warrior," I, in turn saluted him.

I eyed the papers on the desk.

"Sleep this night in the Semnium," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"It will be safer," he said.

"My weapons, and goods," I asked, "and those of my party?"

"Give the receipts, yours and those of your friends, to the officer outside," he said. "They will be delivered in the morning."

"Why will it be safer to sleep in the Semnium?" I asked.

"Who knows whom one can trust?" he asked.

He sat behind the desk. He began to sign various documents. The signature was forward-slanting, ascendant and bold.

"Shall I wait for the letters?" I asked.

"No, Captain," he said.

"Captain?" I asked.

"Surely you have served, in some capacity or another, in one place or another, with that rank or one at least equivalent to it," he said.

"How did you know?" I asked.

"You carry yourself like a captain," he said.

There was no reason for me to receive the letters, of course, until I was ready to leave. I now sensed, however, more than before, the security in which he wished to hold them, and how important they might be. To be sure, developments might occur during the night, events to which pertinent references might be judiciously included.

"It has been my experience," he said, looking up, "that a judgment too hastily entered upon is sometimes, in the light of cooler reflection, regretted." "Sir?" I asked.

"Consider carefully, tonight," he said, "in repose, and at length, whether or not you wish, truly to carry these letters." "I have agreed to do so," I said. I felt sweat about the back of my neck, and on my back, and in my palms. There was apparently more danger in being the bearer of these messages than I had hitherto realized.

"I shall wait upon your considered decision in the morning," he said.

"And if I then do not choose to carry them?" I asked.

"You may keep the coins," he said. "Too, you and your party will still receive letters of safety."

"You are incredibly generous," I said.

"Not really," he said. "What is the cost, really, of some scraps of parchment and a few drops of ink?"

"The coins," I said.

"A contribution from the treasury of Torcadino," he said.

"If I do not accept the commission," I said, "I shall return them to you." "As you wish," he smiled.

I thrust the coins in my wallet.

They were more than enough, I had gathered, to get myself, and the others, too, if they wished to accompany me, to Ar.

He finished signing the papers before him, and stood up.

He regarded me. "Captain?" he asked.

I found myself reluctant to leave the presence of this man. I stood in awe of him.

"Captain?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said.

He looked down at the free woman, Lady Cara, of Venna, kneeling beside the desk. "I need contentment," he said.

She straightened herself, with a tiny sound of chain.

"You may leave, Captain," he said.

"Sir," I said.

"Yes?" he said.

"Recently; on the Genesian Road, north of Torcadino, there was an attack on a portion of the Cosian supply trains, a massacre. Were your men responsible for that?"

"No," he said.

"Do you know what party, or parties, were?" I asked.

"No," he said. "But it was done by mercenaries," I said.

"Doubtless," he said.

I then turned about and went toward the door. "Oh!" said Lady Cara. I heard the sounds of her chains. At the door, turning, I saw her on her feet, naked, in her chains, being held closely against him, looking up into his eyes. Then he threw her on her belly on the desk, on the papers, and the various documents of state. I then took my leave.

16 A Night in the Semnium

I turned in the blankets, brought by soldiers, on the tiles of the vestibule of the Semnium. There were perhaps two hundred people, many of them civilians, being housed there this night. Near me, a free female, one of those to be counted among the spoils of Torcadino, was chained on one of the client's marble benches, one of several serving on such benches, women who, one after the other, in turn, were replaced by others.

I was troubled. I wished to go to Ar, but I had my own business there. I did not think I needed a mercenary's coins to buy my way there. Too, as an unknown fellow, it seemed I might be able to enter her gates without great difficulty. Letters of safety, aside from the difficulties they might involve me with Cosian sentries or outposts, which might be considerable, would presumably not be needed by everyone entering Ar. To be sure, if I wished to enter the presence of the first minister, or the high general, they might be of some use, but the letters for them, sealed with the sign of the silver tarn, might do as well. Besides, if I chose not to deliver these letters, who would know the difference. Others may have defaulted, for some reason or another, in this, or a similar mission. The officer, at any rate, seemed not, as yet, at least, to have received replies to such missives.

The woman on the bench, groaning and ravished, on her belly on it, clutching it, her legs chained on either side of it, was now alone. She lay on the cool marble, clutching it. "Master, Master!" she had wept. Nearby, to her right, and my right, only feet way, almost at our elbows, some sitting, some lying down, crowded together, chained, huddled, in the half darkness, illuminated by a tiny lamp on the wall, against one wall of the Semnium, was a large group of choice free women, probably gathered here as the cream of Torcadino's free flesh loot, doubtless to be distributed as gifts in the near future. Most would doubtless go to high officers and agents. Some on the other hand, I supposed, perhaps lesser beauties, might receive a different disposition, being bestowed perhaps on local civilian supporters or given as good-will emoluments to suppliers and contractors.

Nearby, Hurtha and Boabissia were asleep. Mincon, apparently a trusted agent of his captain, had quarters, or business, elsewhere. His Tula he had taken with him. Feiqa was now far to the left, against the far wall, chained there by the ankle with a number of other slaves. They did not wish to mix the slaves and the free females. From her collar there was suspended a small rectangle of cardboard. This was attached to the collar by a small, closed-looped string. This is first put through a hole in the cardboard and drawn through itself, fastening it to the cardboard; it is then passed under or over the collar, the cardboard thrust through it, and then pulled down, snugly, about the collar, the cardboard now dangling from it. On the cardboard there was a number, matching a number on a similar piece of cardboard now in my wallet. By means of this tag I would claim her in the morning.

I wondered why the officer had not, as yet, received any replies to his messages. Perhaps, of course, the message had gotten through. Perhaps it was only that the recipients did not deign to reply, or that their replies, perhaps, had been intercepted.

The woman on the bench moaned, holding it. Elsewhere I saw another woman being removed from a similar bench, and being returned to the common chain.

I wondered if some of these women had been here before, perhaps as clients, or petitioners or even witnesses. I supposed so. It seemed likely.

A new female was brought to the further bench. She was sat upon it, straddling it. Her ankles were chained together beneath it. Her wrists were similarly secured, the length of chain running under the heavy, fixed-position marble bench. She was then, by the hair, drawn forward, to lie upon her belly on the cool marble.

All of these women, I suspected, had been in the Semnium before, in one fashion or another, or for one purpose or another, if only to meet friends or to examine and admire the interior appointments and mosaics. It is, after all, one of Torcadino's great buildings. But doubtless none of them had ever before been here in their present capacity, casual love meat set forth for the delectation of passers-by, or even of the idle or curious.

A new woman was being brought to the common chain now, to a place quite near me. She was a dark-haired, sweetly bodied beauty. On her neck was a hempen leash. Her hands were tied behind her back. In a moment she wore a heavy collar, and was on the chain. Her leash was then unknotted, and, with a quick, whiplike motion, as she winced, jerked away from her. Her hands, too, then, were freed. She was now on the chain, and no different from the others.

The woman on the bench near to me whimpered. She moved her body a little on the cool marble, piteously, clutching it with her hands, her legs chained on either side of the smooth, inflexible expanse.

The woman who had just been added to the chain rubbed her wrists. Apparently she had not been tied gently. I wondered if she, a free woman, not yet a slave, had dared to express less than total deference before a man, or if she were important.

"Mother," whispered a voice, from among the other captives, "is it you?" "Is it you?" whispered the new woman, startled, wildly, turning about. "Yes," said the other. "Yes!"

"Daughter!" she whispered.

The other, with a movement of chain, crawling, emerged from the other captives. They embraced, on their knees, weeping.

"Be quiet," said another woman, whispering. "Do you want us to be beaten?" "Mother! Mother!" wept the girl. "Daughter!" wept the woman.

"Be quiet," said the other woman.

"Are we permitted to speak?" asked the daughter, fearfully.

"We have not been told we may not speak," said another woman. "But I would not be too loud about it. Do not draw attention to yourselves."

"I do not even know if I may speak to you or not," sobbed the girl.

"We are women," said her mother. "If men do not wish us to speak, they will tell us, with their whips."

"Mother, mother," wept the girl, holding her.

"I had thought you might have escaped," said the older woman.

"No," said the girl. "The collar is on my neck."

"Who are you?" asked the mother.

"437," whispered the girl. "Who are you?"

"I am 261," she said. She then drew back, holding her daughter at arm's length. "You see?" she said. "You may read it upon my breast."

"As you may read mine upon mine," said the daughter.

They then again embraced, sobbing, on their knees.

"What has become of us?" sobbed the girl.

"It is a common fate for women," she said.

"What will become of us?" asked the girl.

"Doubtless, the collar, and the service of a man," she said.

"I do not want to serve men!" said the girl.

"As a slave you will have no choice but do so, and perfectly," said the woman. "I do not want to serve them!" wept the girl. "I am afraid of men! They are brutes! I hate them!"

"Surely, from time to time," said the woman, "you have considered what it would be like to be their slave and serve them, fully, in all things."

"Mother!" said the girl. "You are my mother! How can you dare to even think of speaking to me like that!"

"You are not a little girl any longer," said the woman, gently. "You are now old enough to begin to understand such matters, Indeed, I think you do, or begin to, but do not admit this to me." "Mother!" said the girl, reproachfully.

"You are no longer a child," she said. "The years have passed. Are you not clear as to what has happened to you? Do you not understand the meaning of the wondrous changes which have transformed you into what you now are, the meaning of your new sensibilities, and feelings, and desires and instincts, and curves." "Do not speak to me like this!" said the girl.

"You are no longer a child," she said. "You are now a grown woman, indeed, a beautiful young woman, a desirable young woman."

" "Desirable! " she said, scandalized. But I could tell she was thrilled to hear this.

"That at any rate, whatever you may personally think about it, is the judgement of men, who are the arbiters and masters in these matters," she said. "Indeed, that much is attested to by your presence on this chain."

"Am I desirable," she asked, "truly desirablea€”as a female?"

"I believe so," said the mother. "And I am sure, sweet and dear daughter, that when you find yourself helpless in the arms of men, kicking and crying out, and squirming, their lust will make it quite clear to you."

"You needn't put it just that way," said the girl. She shrank back in the collar and chain. She put her hand to the collar. It was closed with a padlock. The collars these women wore had rings. It was by means of these rings, one to each collar, at the right side of the collar, and a second padlock, the bolt of which passed through the ring and a link of the chain, that the collars were attached to the common chain. In this fashion, a woman could be removed from the chain and yet be kept in a closed, padlocked collar. This was a different arrangement than had held the larger groups of women earlier, outside, at various points on the Avenue of Adminius. To be sure these were choice wenches. It was not surprising, then, that they should now find themselves the captives of a somewhat more refined constraint system. Additional security can be achieved, and often is, particularly when moving women, or when they are to be kept on the chain for a longer time, by riveting the collars shut. Needless to say, there is a large number of collar types, chaining arrangements, and security devices, the choices among them largely dictated by the motives and tastes of the master, and sometimes by his cultural background, all of which serve to keep women in perfect custody.

"True," said the woman.

"But you do think I am desirable?"

"Yes," said the woman.

"Oh," said the girl pleased.

"You are now ready for the collar," said the woman.

"No!" said the girl.

"You will find you have little choice in the matter," she said.

"I will resist! said the girl. "I will be strong!"

"And doubtless, after a test period, if they are so kind as to give you one, you will simply be killed."

"Killed?" she gasped.

"Yes," said the woman. "Men are only human. They do not, nor should they have, endless patience, particularly with the sort of animal which you will then be. It is not like having a foolish free companion, one who knows no better, who will patiently work with you for years, trying to help you become a woman." "I will try to be strong!" she wept.

"Such expressions often constitute but transparent concealments for envy and resentment," she said. "Consider whether or not this might be true in your case. Similarly, even worse do not use them to disguise your fear of men and of your own true nature. Too, they are but ill used when put forth to praise what may be actually only sexual inertness, neurotic rigidity or false pride. Do not concern yourself in this matter, sweet daughter, with the values of others, and particularly of men, or of those who desire to be imitative of men, but seek to find your own female values, the deepest and most feminine values in your being, those of your deepest self. Try to find out who you are, in the depths of your most complete femaleness, and then dare to be what, truly, you are." "You are my mother," she said. "You must not talk to me in this way." "Perhaps you are right," said the woman. "And perhaps I would not myself even dare to do so if I were not here with you, naked, in a collar, too, with a number on my breast."

"It is shameful for you to speak so!" said the girl, angrily.

"I want you to live," said the woman. "And I want you to be happy, truly happy." "Shame," scolded the girl.

"It is my love that prompts me to speak so," said the woman.

"I hate you!" said the girl.

"Have I truly touched something so deep in you, so familiar, so recurrent, yet so frightening, that you dare not face it," she asked, "that you would lash out so at me?"

"You are a terrible person!" said the daughter.

"I am one who loves you, more deeply than you can ever know," said the woman. «Liar, wept the girl.

"No," she said. "I am trying to tell you an end to lies."

"Naked female!" said the girl.

"You said earlier, when first we discovered one another here, both stripped prisoners, the loot of soldiers, on a common chain, when I said that I had thought you might have escaped, that you had not, that the collar was on your neck."

"Yes," said the girl.

"Is it on your neck?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," said the girl. Almost inadvertently, lifting both hands, she touched it.

"Then there is no escape for you," she said.

"I know," whispered the girl. "Nor for you."

"I know," said the woman.

The girl sobbed.

"Surely you understand what this means," she said. "Soon, my lovely daughter, you will learn the delicate, lascivious draping of slave garments and the tying of slave girdles, in such a way as to accentuate your beauty for the pleasure of a master. You will be taught to kneel, and caress, and do things you have not now dreamed of. You will learn to wear chains attractively and to move in them in such a way as to drive men wild with passion. You will be taught to cook and sew, and to polish boots and scrub floors. You will learn to bring a whip to a man in your teeth, on your hands and knees, head down. You will learn to love, and to serve. You will learn to be a slave.

"No! No!" said the girl.

"Soon your lovely thigh will feel the kiss of the blazing iron, and you will be sold," she said. "You will then have entered upon your new reality. You will then have begun your new life.

"Mother," protested the girl.

"Beware of free women," said the woman, "for you will be altogether different from them."

"Do not speak to me in this fashion!" begged the girl.

"I must speak to you," she said. "I do not know how long we might have to speak together."

"What do you mean?" asked the girl.

"At any moment a man might put a whip between us, and stop our talking," she said. "Too, soon we may never see one another again."

"Mother," she said, frightened.

"Surely you do not think we will be kept together," she said. "Soon we will both be evaluated, not as mother and daughter, but merely as women, and be taken on our diverse ways."

"You," asked the daughter, skeptically, "being evaluated as a woman." "Yes," my dear," she said, "the same as you."

"That seems absurd," said the girl.

"I am nonetheless a woman," she said.

The girl looked down, angrily.

"Does it disturb you to think of me in that fashion?" asked the woman. "Yes," said the girl, angrily.

"That is the way men will think of me, and look at me, I assure you," she said. "Absurd," said the girl. "What are you even doing here? Why are you here?" "I am here," she said, "for the same reason you are,"

"Why is that?" asked the girl.

"Surely you can guess," she said.

"Why?" asked the girl.

"I was not brought here, and put here among these women, because I was your mother, I assure you," she said.

"Why then?" asked the girl.

"I do not wish to speak," she said, "before you,"

"Speak," demanded the girl.

"I have been found attractive by men," she said.

"You?" asked the girl, scornfully.

"Yes," she said. "Is it so hard to understand, or accept, that men might find your mother an attractive female, a desirable property, a lovely animal, a sex slut of interest, one whom they might think worth owning, one whom they might not mind having on their chain?"

"You, too, then might have to crawl to men," said the girl, "and to serve them?" "Yes," said the woman, "and with the same perfection as you, my dear." "Absurd," said the girl.

"I will doubtless be taken my way, and you yours," she said, "as no more than separate females. I see the thought offends you."

"Yes," said the girl.

"I am sorry," she said. "But I will be owned, as much as you."

"You would have to please a master, as I?" said the girl.

"Yes," she said.

"I cannot believe that," said the girl. "It makes no sense to me." "Do you think it will be only your fair self, with all its beauty, which will soon be at the bidding of a master?" she asked.

"But you are my mother," she said.

"Surely you must understand that I must have been attractive to at least one man, at least once," she said, and smiled. "Your presence would seem to attest to that." "Not necessarily," said the girl.

"True," smiled the woman.

"You are my mother," said the girl.

"Do you think that means my body is now like ice or wood," she asked, "that I am not a human female, that I do not have feelings, that I do not have needs? "You cannot have needs," wept the girl. "It is improper. You are my mother!" "Your father did not much care for me," she said. "Too, I think you, too, took me much for granted, as little more than an object in your environment. I have been terribly lonely."

"You are my mother!" said the girl.

"I am many things," she said, "or have been many things,"

"You cannot have needs," said the girl.

"Look at me," said the woman. "Do you think a woman so bared and chained, so exposed and dominated, cannot have needs? These things free me to have needs. They free me to be myself."

"Disgusting!" said the girl.

"All my life," she said, "I have wanted to kiss, and lick, and serve a man, and make him happy."

"Disgusting!" said the girl.

"Now, perhaps," she said. "I shall have the opportunity to do so." "I cannot believe you are speaking to me in this fashion," said the girl. "Look at me," she said. "I have a collar on my neck. I cannot remove it. It attaches me to a chain, with others. I am naked. Men may look upon me as they please. There is a number on my breast. I am 261, among the catches of mercenaries. I will be sold. Do not tell me how I can speak. I am, like you, a woman on a chain!"

"I am afraid, Mother," said the girl, suddenly. "I am so afraid!"

"We are all afraid," she said, holding her.

"I do not know what will happen to me," said the girl.

"None of us do," said the woman.

"I do not want to be owned," wept the girl. "Think of it from a man's point of view," she said. "You are quite beautiful. Think of what pleasure men will take in owning you. Think how happy it will make them."

"I would then have value?" asked the girl.

"Yes," said the mother. "In time you might even become a treasure." "No, no," said the girl, suddenly. "We must never think of things from the man's point of view."

"Why?" asked the woman.

"I do not know!" she said. "But what pleases them, what fulfills them, what makes them so masculine, so powerful and strong, so different from us, must be denied to them!"

"Why?" asked the woman.

"I do not know," wept the girl.

"To make them piteous and weak, so that we may dominate them?" asked the mother. "I do not know," said the girl.

"So, that we can pretend we are more like them?"

"I do not know," said the girl.

"As a free female you might, if you wished, for whatever purposes, hatred or envy, the seeking of power, or whatever it might be, attempt to do them such hurt, such insidious and grievous injury, but such terrible and grotesque crimes, for which legal penalties are not even prescribed, my lovely daughter, when you are a slave, will not be permitted to you."

"I am afraid to be a slave," she said.

"We all are," said the mother.

"I do not understand slaves," said the girl.

"You understand them only too well," said the mother.

"Why is it that so many of them, owning not even a bowl for their food, or their rags and collars, seem to be among the happiest of women, so radiant and fulfilled?"

"They have masters," she said.

"Mother," said the girl, timorously.

"Yes, my daughter," said the mother, encouragingly.

"This morning, near noon, on the Avenue of Adminius, I was forced to call a man Master."

"So, too, were we all," said the mother, soothingly. "It is just their way of accustoming us to obedience, and what lies before us."

"There was something else," she whispered.

"Yes," asked the mother.

"I had to kiss a man's whip," she whispered.

"So, too, did we all, I am sure," said the mother, kindly.

"But it is worse," she whispered. "I fear to speak."

"Tell me," said the mother, soothingly, taking the girls head upon her breast. "I had feelings," said the girl. "I had never felt just those feelings before." "I understand," said the mother.

"When I felt the stout leather thrust against my lips, I trembled," she said. "Then, as bidden, I kissed, and licked it, lingeringly. I looked up at him. I saw the ferocity, and the strength, and the uncompromising determination, in his eyes. Then, again, I bent to my work. I felt thrilled to the quick. My belly became hot. My thighs flamed. I felt wet."

The mother kissed her, and caressed her hair, softly, soothingly.

"I am a terrible person," said the girl.

"Such feelings are perfectly natural," said the mother. "Do not be ashamed of them. They tell you what you are. It is not wrong to be what you are. It is good to be what you are, exactly what you are, whatever it may be."

"Have you ever had such feelings?" asked the girl.

"Yes," said the mother.

"What can possibly be their meaning?" asked the girl, frightened.

"It is simple," said the mother.

"What?" asked the girl.

"That we are females," said the mother.

"Females?" said the daughter.

"Yes," said the mother. "Such feelings, of need and helplessness, are natural for us. Do not be afraid of them. They tell us what we are."

"Are wea€”are we slaves, Mother?" asked the girl.

"Hush," said the mother, quickly. "One approaches; a guard." Quickly they separated, each looking down. The mother rested now on her right thigh and hip, her hands on the floor of the Semnium, the girl on her left thigh and hip, her hands, too, on the Semnium's floor. They did not lift their heads. They did not wish to risk meeting the eyes of the guard, calling attention to themselves. They looked well in the collars, both affixed to the chain.

The woman near me, on the marble bench, grasped it more tightly. The padlock on her collar moved on the marble. The guard was removing her ankle shackles. He then sat her upright, and unchained her wrists. The ankle chain and wrist chain he left lying over the bench, in front of her. He then took her by the hair and drew her from the bench. He walked her, bent over, to a place on the chain. A second padlock was there, marking what had been her place. He knelt her there, and then opened the padlock on the chain. Without removing it from the chain he pushed its bolt through the ring on her collar and snapped it shut. She was again part of the chain. She lay down on the floor, in her place. The guard looked over the nearby women. None met his eyes. He was the same fellow who, earlier had brought in the newest arrival, bound and leashed, in the Semnium. "261," he said.

"Please, no," she said.

He regarded her.

"Master," she said, putting her head down.

A young girl, near her, gasped, hearing her mother use this word to a man. 261 was freed from the chain. He sat her on the bench, straddling it.

"Please," she said, "do not. My daughter is near." Then her ankles were shackled, the chain running under the heavy fixed-position bench. Then her wrists were enclosed in the wrist rings, the chain from them, too, running under the bench. He then put her down on the bench. She lay on it, on her stomach, her legs on either side of it. Her throat still wore the padlocked collar. The other padlock, that which had held the collar to the chain, he left on the chain. It marked the place to which she would be returned. He then left her. In a few Ahn it would be dawn. I had not slept well. I must make the decision soon, whether or not to carry certain letters. I gathered this couriership might be not without its dangers.

I glanced at the female on the bench. She was lusciously desirable. I put her from my mind.

I had reservations about taking Hurtha and Boabissia into danger. Even if they were willing, and informed, at least to the extent I was, I did not think I should permit them to accompany me. It might be too perilous for them, how perilous, of course, I did not know.

The female stirred on the bench. There was a tiny sound of chain. I forced the thought of her from my mind. She was excitingly desirable.

I had little doubt, however, that Hurtha would cheerfully come along, if asked, and perhaps if not asked, abounding with his customary indefatigable optimism whatever might be the odds. He had already complained, more than once, that his ax was getting rusty. This is an Alar way, I took it, of saying that it had not been used lately. That was perhaps just as well. If Hurtha came with me, however, it seemed that Boabissia should be left behind. If she were left behind, however, I did not doubt but what she would soon find herself in a collar. She was that attractive. I put the woman on the bench again from my mind. I wondered what Boabissia would look like on the bench, in such a predicament. Rather well, I supposed. I might slip from the city, without them, I thought. In that way I would not carry them into danger. That would be thoughtful on my part. If I did that, of course, I should speak to Hurtha and Boabissia. I wondered if I should slip from the city. I did not know what to do. It was hard to sleep.

"Oh!" said the woman on the bench, stiffening, my hand on her.

"Do not relax your body," I said. "Keep it tight against my hand." She moaned.

"You are a free woman, are you not?" I said.

"Yes," she said.

"You may relax your body," I said.

Quickly she drew herself forward on the bench, frightened, an inch or so.

"Move back," I said.

She moaned, and slid back a tiny bit.

"More," I said.

She complied, fearfully.

"More," I said.

She was now back where she had been before. "I do not know where your hand is," she said.

"It is here," I said, lifting a finger, touching her.

"Oh!" she said.

"You look well in a collar, and chains," I said.

"Please," she said. "Do not touch me."

"Why," I asked.

"My daughter is near," she said.

"What is that to me?" I asked.

"She can see, she can hear! she whispered. "Ohh!" She shuddered, caressed. "You are a lusciously bodied female," I said. "Doubtless you will bring your seller a good price."

"Ohh," she said.

"When you were brought in," I said, "it seems your wrists were quite tightly bound behind you, more than with the customary tightness ample to keep a female in perfect custody.

"Sir?" she asked.

"You may call me Master," I said.

"Master?" she said.

"The way you rubbed your wrists, that suggests you were not merely bound with customary tightness, but punishment bound."

"Perhaps," she said.

"Perhaps you had showed less than absolutely perfect deference to men?" I speculated.

"No, Master," she said. "I am not a fool." "I would guess then," I said, caressing her, "that the tie was intended to be an informative, or admonitory one, one from which you were to gather something of the meaning of your reduction in station."

"Yes," she said.

"Doubtless, then, you were formerly of some importance."

"Yes," she said. "I was important."

"Are you important now?" I asked.

"No!" she gasped.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes, yes!" she gasped.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"I ama€”261!" she said.

I pulled her to a sitting position, before me, and then bent her backward and turned her body. "Yes," I said, "you are 261." I then put her back on her stomach. "And who is your daughter?" I asked.

"437," she said.

"Are you more beautiful than your daughter?" I asked.

"I do not know," she wept, clutching the bench.

I heard a gasp from the side, from our right, from among the other women.

I stepped from the bench, looking at the other women. "You," I said to a girl there. "Kneel, straighten your back, put your chin up, throw your hair behind your back." She did these things. "You are 437," I said, reading her number. "Yes," she said.

"Yes, what?" I asked.

"Yes, Master," she said, quickly.

"Yes," I said to the woman on the bench, "she has something of your beauty." "Something!" gasped the girl.

"You are both quite beautiful," I said to the woman on the bench, returning to her. "I suppose it would be difficult to say who, ultimately, under proper slave disciplines, will prove the most beautiful, but, clearly, now, at the moment, if these things are pertinent to the issue, you would bring the highest price." "I?" asked the woman before me, wonderingly. "Yes," I said. "But she has something of your coloring and characteristics, and is quite beautiful, and I think it likely, in time, with more experience in life and love, she might aspire to equal your beauty." The girl gasped.

"Please," said the woman. "We are mother and daughter."

"You are only two women," I said, "two women in collars, and, at this time, you, my chained beauty, would bring a higher price on the auction block, a price she could not hope, for perhaps years, to equal or excel. To be sure, I think you are both excellent collar meat."

The woman moaned. I then renewed my attentions to her body.

"I gather it has been a long time since you have been touched," I said. "Yes," she said. "Are you disappointed in me? Do I take too long to respond?" "Mother!" cried the girl, scandalized.

"You are not a slave," I said. "You do not have trained, honed reflexes. Smoldering fires have not been set in your belly, never far from the surface, ready to leap into flame at the smallest touch. You are a free woman. I do not expect much of you."

"Oh!" she cried, suddenly.

"Still," I said, "you seem to have in you the promise of vitality." "Oh," she said.

"Interesting," I said.

"Oh!" she said. "Oh!"

"Perhaps, as in all women," I mused, there is a slave in you."

She moaned.

"Or perhaps it is not so much that there is a slave in you," I mused, "as that you are simply a slave."

"Please do not make me yield!" she begged, suddenly. I continued to caress her. "Be silent!" she said. "Be silent! Can't you see I am in the hands of a man!" "Mother!" cried the girl. "Oh!" cried the woman.

"You squirm like a slut!" cried the girl.

"What you are doing to me!" cried the woman, half rearing up on the palms of her hands, the chains on her wrists.

"Lie down," I instructed her.

She then lay there, on the cool marble, clutching it, tensely, her eyes wild, her head to the left.

"Is anything wrong?" I asked.

She lay extremely still, almost rigid, tensely, on the bench. She gripped the marble tightly. It seemed she did not dare to move.

"Yes?" I asked.

"Do not make me yield," she begged. She was very beautiful, and very helpless. Such a female would indeed, I thought, bring a high price.

"Why?" I asked.

She moaned.

"Why?" I pressed. It was not necessary to beat her for not having responded promptly to my question. She was a free woman. Such tardiness in a slave, of course, is not acceptable. It can mean the whip for her.

"Please," she said.

"You want to yield, do you not?" I asked.

"No, no," she said.

"I think it has been a long time since you have yielded, if ever before you have truly yielded to a man."

"Yes," she whimpered.

"Did you ever before, truly, yield to a man?" I asked.

"No," she whispered.

"I think you now suspect what it might be like to do so," I said.

"Yes, yes," she whispered, tensely.

I touched her, slightly. "Oh," she said, grasping the marble even more tightly. "Be strong, Mother," called the girl.

Tears fell from the woman's eyes, falling to the marble. The padlock, holding her in the close-fitting metal collar, moved a little on the smooth marble. It made a small sound. She had long, dark hair.

"I think you want to yield," I said.

"No, no," she said.

I touched her, gently, "Ohhh," she said.

"I think you want to yield," I said.

"No, no!" she said.

I again caressed her, this time with an exquisite delicacy, a brief, sweet touch that brought her, in her present condition, to the brink of an uncontrollable response. If I should continue I had little doubt but what she would, in a moment or two, be jerking on her belly, crying out in a rattle of chain, writhing helplessly on the marble, then bruising and marking the soft interiors of her lovely thighs against it, so tightly gripping it.

"No man can make you yield, Mother!" cried the girl.

I gathered she was a mere virgin. Doubtless in the next few weeks she would learn better.

"Be silent, you stupid girl!" wept the mother.

"Mother!" protested the girl.

"Why do you not wish to yield?" I asked the woman.

"My daughter," she gasped. "My daughter is here!

"But you would be willing to yield if she were not present," I asked.

"Yes, yes!" said the woman.

"Interesting," I said.

"Mother!" protested the girl, horrified.

"Do you think I would have her removed from the room?" I asked.

"Please! said the woman.

"No," I said.

She moaned.

"Do you not want her to know what a pleasure and a joy you can be to a man?" I asked.

"I am her mother! she wept.

"You are only another woman in a collar," I said. "And, soon, you will be going your different ways. Besides, I do not think she is your equal in these things. Perhaps sometime she might possibly be your equal. I do not know. Perhaps you, in your love, could hope that for her, and even give her training, and advice. At present, however, dear lady, it is you, I assure you, who are the prize, you whom strong men would relish most on her belly before them. Who knows? Perhaps you will both find yourselves eventually in the same household. It might be interesting to see you competing for the favor of the same master. I have little doubt it would be you, properly enslaved, my dear, and not she, who would be most often drawn by the hair to the master's couch."

The woman sobbed.

"What has been the relationship between you and your daughter?" I asked. The woman did not respond.

"I gather it has been distant," I said. "I gather that you love for her has been little reciprocated, that your sacrifices, your concerns and efforts in her behalf, have been little understood or appreciated. I gather that she, in the customary, unquestioning self-centeredness and vanity of her youth, seemingly so inevitable in the young, has given little concern to your feelings, to your reality as an independent woman and human being, that she has scarcely thought of you, or understood you, in these ways, that she has, typically, much taken you for granted, considering you often as little more than a convenience, a tool and fixture, in her world, as little more than her servant and satellite." "No, no!" said the daughter.

The woman was silent.

"But such things are over now," I said.

"Yes," whispered the woman.

"You are now only two women," I said, "each in the custody of impartial iron, each destined to stand by herself on the sawdust of the slave block, each, separately, to helplessly submit to, and endure, the objective scrutiny of buyers. There it will not matter that you are mother and daughter. Probably you will not even be sold in proximity to one another, but in the order of your numbers, or in some order deemed aesthetically or commercially appropriate by professional slavers. There you will be evaluated, bid upon and purchased, as different animals, as separate properties, merely as independent items up for sale, solely on your own merits. Then you will go your own ways, doubtless never to see one another again, doubtless each to the chains of a separate master. I wonder who will make the better slave?"

I then touched her, gently, again.

"Ohhh," she said, softly.

"Who would be the best?" I asked.

"I do not know," said the woman.

"Mother!" scolded the girl.

"Doubtless, in the end, under the suitable tutelage of strong men, you will both become superb," I speculated.

"Yes," whispered the woman.

"Perhaps, in the end, when you are both marvelous, there will be little to choose from between you," I speculated.

The woman said nothing.

"But now," I said, "there is a great deal to choose from, between you." The girl cried out in anger.

The woman groaned, clutching the bench.

"Can you imagine your daughter in slave silk?" I asked the woman. "Can you imagine her in a collar, kneeling and obeying?"

"Yes," whispered the woman.

"Do not speak so," begged the daughter.

"Can you imagine her naked, kicking in her chains," I asked, "crying out, begging for a man's touch.

"Yes," said the woman.

The daughter put her head in her hands, sobbing.

"Hush, dear," said the woman. "It will be so."

"Men are horrid," wept the girl.

"No," she said, "they are the masters. They are as they are, as we are as we are."

"I will never yield to them," wept the girl.

"Then you will be killed," said the woman.

The girl gasped, shrinking back in the chains. "I could pretend to yield," she whispered.

"That is the crime of false yielding," said the mother. "It is easy to detect, by infallible physiological signs. It is punishable by death."

"What, then, can I do?" she wept.

"Yield truly, or die," she said.

"What chance have I, then?" asked the girl.

"None," said the mother. "You will be a slave."

"If you like," I said to the woman, "I can go over there and, in moments, one hand on the back of her neck, my other hand free, have her leaping like a child's toy."

"No," said the woman. "It will be soon enough done to her, such things. She will learn soon enough, what it is, a bond maid, to be owned by men."

"Do not worry so much about her," I said.

"I am her mother," she said.

"I would worry more about myself, if I were you," I said. "I think you will find that you will prove to be a much more frequent object of male aggression than she. Merely to see you is to want to strip you and put you in a collar." "No!" gasped the woman.

"I am a man, and I can vouch for it," I said. I gave her an intimate, friendly pat.

"Please!" she said.

"Be silent," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"I assure you," I said, "you are at present much more likely to excite the predations of men, to be viewed as a mere imbonded lust object, than your daughter. You are much more likely than she, at least at present, in my opinion, to discover that you have, perhaps to your terror and distress, and with predictable consequences to yourself, then a slave, occasioned their interest. "No!" said the girl.

"Be silent, low slave," I said to her.

"Low slave!" she cried.

"I am now attending to this other woman," I said. "I find her of interest." "You are a free woman, Mother," said the girl. "You are not a slave. You do not have to yield to him. Resist him. Do not yield to him." "Do not fret, daughter," said the woman. "Can you not see? Even though he is a man, he consents to speak kindly to us. Appreciate such things, for you do not know when you will hear such words again."

"He is a brute! said the daughter.

"The master is merciful to me," said the mother. "Can you not see? In virtue of your presence, and in respect for the delicacy of our situation, he has permitted me to almost entirely subside."

" "Subside'!" said the daughter, scandalized.

"Yes," said the woman. "Thank you, Master."

"Oh!" said the woman.

"Do you think I am merciful?" I asked her. I feared she had misunderstood my intent.

"He is touching me again! said the woman. She clutched the marble bench again. "Do you truly think I am merciful?" I asked.

"No, no!" she said.

"Do you think any true man would let a curvaceous, luscious beauty like you, a mere prisoner set out for pleasure, a future slave, off the hook in a situation like this, that he would not press home his advantage, so to speak," I said. "Tell him that that is exactly what a true man would do!" said the daughter. "Don't be stupid," said the woman. "We are not talking here about weaklings who call themselves "true men, trying to disguise their weakness under false titles, but true men." Then she suddenly moaned. I found that of interest. She had not, apparently, subsided to the extent that either of us had thought. The coals of slave heat, it seemed, had not ceased to glow in her belly.

"I ask mercy," she said.

"It is denied," I informed her.

"Resist him!" said the daughter.

"His hands are strong and powerful," said the woman. "He knows what he is doing! I am soft, and female!"

"You wish to yield," I told her. "It is not difficult to tell." "I must not, Master," she said. "My daughter is here. She would never again respect me! Ohh!"

"Is it so wrong for her to know that her mother is a hot slut?" I asked. "Please," she begged.

"You are, you know," I said, commending her.

"I can't help it!" she wept.

"You are like a she-sleen in heat," I said. "You squirm well. You are almost as hot as a slave. It is interesting to consider what you might be like when truly in bondage."

"Please," she wept.

"You belong in a collar," I said.

"I must try to resist," she whispered tensely.

"You could, instead, of course," I said, "provide your daughter with an instructive exhibition of how a female can give incredible rapture to a man. She might profit from this lesson, carrying it to her advantage into slavery with her. You might even give her your impression, as far as your current understandings of such things might go, of such things as will soon be expected of her, of how a slave might respond to a master."

"If you take me," she said, "I will remain inert. I will not participate in your pleasure."

"You do not seem very inert to me," I said.

She squirmed.

"Was that a threat?" I asked. I lifted her head up by the hair, with both hands. The padlock on the collar swung free. I could dash her brains out on the marble bench.

"No," she said. "No, Master!"

I let her put her head down. The padlock again lay on the marble bench. There was a sound from the chains on her wrists. Beneath the bench the chain linking her ankles moved on the floor of the Semnium.

"There are many ways to take a woman," I said. "All of them are pleasurable. Much depends on the situation, and the time of day, and the preferences of the master. If you think that the pleasure of the man is inextricably linked with the pleasure of the woman you are naA?ve. That is a common misunderstanding of the free woman. That is much (pg.194) like thinking that the fruit cannot be enjoyed if it has not first begged to be plucked from the tree. That is simply not true. One can simply take it and enjoy it. Indeed, there is something to be said for such takings. In them one simply imposes one's will upon the helpless other. In them one senses imperiousness and power. Those who have felt such things know their value."

"I am yours to do with as you wish," she said, "and you know it well." "I wonder if I should force you to yield," I mused.

She lay quietly now, tense, muchly aroused, not knowing what my decision would be. Whatever it was, helpless as she was, she would abide it.

Her wrists suddenly jerked up, and were then stopped by the chain. The chain under the bench, on her ankles, moved, too, as her feet moved under the bench. "Lie still," I told her.

I then began, with care, and exquisite delicacy, not hurrying, to exploit her profound needs, and the remarkable vitality of her body. I thought she would, in time, make a splendid slave. It would be a lucky fellow, who would have her in his collar.

"He is making me yield!" she said.

I continued to draw her gently, and as implacably as though she were bound and on a leash, up the long stairwell of her need and helplessness. It was as though, then, that I had brought her, whimpering and needful, with me, again in the Gorean fashion, down a long, patient, narrow-walled, heavily carpeted corridor, one in which her bare feet could feel the deep, soft piling of the carpeting, and through a heavy, barred door, one which I had locked behind me, showing her that there was no escape for her, and had then put her, mine, to her place at the foot of my couch.

"Take me! she cried. "I beg you to take me!

"I wonder if I should force you to yield," I said.

"I beg to yield! she wept.

"Mother!" cried the girl.

"But your daughter is present," I reminded her.

"I beg to yield! she wept, "I beg to yield!" "No, Mother!" cried the girl. "Do not permit him to so degrade you!" "Be silent," wept the mother. "He has put me in his power."

"When you are instructed to do so," I said, "you will yield."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"Do not yield, Mother!" cried the girl.

"You will now yield," I told her.

"Yes, Master," she said.

I now rolled again in my blankets. It was an Ahn or so until dawn. I must try to catch a bit of sleep. I felt content. I felt good. The female on the bench had now been returned to the common chain. She had been the last placed on that bench this night. When I had finished with her I had sat for few Ehn on the bench, beside her, and had put my hand down before her. She had licked and kissed it, in gratitude, the padlock on her collar moving gently on the marble. I gathered that she had desperately needed what I had done to her. This was particularly interesting, as she was not even, as yet, a slave.

"What a slut your are! the daughter whispered chidingly, angrily, to her mother. Her mother now lay near her, on her side, her legs drawn up.

"Yes, my daughter," said the mother.

"You were like a slave!" said the daughter.

"I will soon be a slave, truly," said the mother, "and so, too, do not forget, will you, my darling daughter."

"I do not respect you any longer," said the daughter. "You do not deserve respect any longer."

"I do not ask for your respect," said the woman. "Neither do I need it, nor any longer want it. There are things better and deeper than respect. That I have now learned. Too, when we are both enslaved, neither of us will be entitled to that commodity. Our conditions then, I assure you, will be far deeper and more biological than respect. I ask, rather, your understanding, and a little love." "I hate you!" cried the girl. "As you will," said the woman.

Suddenly the daughter lashed out and struck her. The mother cried out, softly, and drew her legs up more, but did not attempt to defend herself, nor to return the blow.

"Hateful slut! hissed the daughter.

"Is it so hard for you to understand that I, like you am a female," asked the mother, "only that, and one now, like you, naked, and in a collar?"

"Slut!" hissed the daughter.

"Are you angry," asked the woman, "that some men might prefer me to you?" "No!" said the daughter, intensely.

"Did you wish it was you, and not I, who was chained on your belly to the bench, helplessly put out for the pleasure of strangers?"

"No!" she said angrily.

"Are you truly so jealous of me?" asked the woman.

"No, no!" said the daughter, almost crying out, wildly.

"Be silent," said another woman on the chain. "You will get us all whipped." "Mother," whispered the girl. "I am chained, and naked, and afraid." "Of course you are, my dear," said the woman. She then sat up. "Come here, sweet," she said. She took her daughter gently in her arms, and held her head against her shoulder.

"What is to become of us?" asked the girl.

"We are to become slaves," said the woman softly, kissing her gently on the side of the head.

"Men will have their way with us, fully," whispered the girl.

"Of course," said the mother.

"We will exist merely for their service and pleasure," said the girl.

"Yes," said the mother, kissing her.

"I want it, Mother," whispered the girl.

"I know," said the mother, soothingly.

"How terrible I am," whispered the girl.

"No, no, you are not," smiled the mother, caressing the girl's head. "Are we slaves, Mother?" asked the girl.

"Yes," said the mother, kissing her. "Now, rest."

"I love you, Mother," said the girl.

"I love you, too, very much," said the mother.

"Good night, Mother," whispered the girl, "261."

"Good night, 437," said the woman gently, "my daughter."

* * *

I awakened to the hand of Mincon on my shoulder. "It is time to rise," he said. I sat up in the blankets. I glanced over to where the fair prisoners had been kept. They were gone now. They had been moved out.

Mincon handed me a packet of letter. "Here," he said. "They are all here." "How do you know I am going to carry them?" I asked.

"Aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, and thrust them into my tunic.

"I have had your weapons, and other things, brought," he said. "Do you have the claim ticket for Feiqa?"

"Yes," I said. "It is in my wallet."

"Most of the other girls have already been picked up," he said.

"Surely it is still early?" I said.

"Not really, my friend," he said. "Even Hurtha is up."

"That late?" I marveled. It was well known that Hurtha often slept past dawn. To be sure I occasionally permitted myself a similar indulgence, particularly after a pleasant evening with drink and slaves.

"Yes," said Mincon. "He and Boabissia are waiting for you, outside." "I must speak to them," I said. "It is necessary to inform them of the dangers we might face. They might not wish to accompany me."

"I have already spoken to them," said Mincon. "Boabissia is determined to go to Ar. It seems she seeks there the answer to some mystery pertaining to her past. Hurtha, too, naturally, is undeterred."

"Naturally," I said.

"He seeks adventure," said Mincon. "Wonderful," I said.

"He likes you," said Mincon.

"Oh?" I asked.

"Yes," said Mincon. "He appreciates finding someone who listens gladly to his poetry."

"Gladly?" I asked.

"He has already composed a poem this morning," said Mincon. "He considers it a humorous poem. It is a jolly teasing of folks who sleep late."

"Hurtha is composing such a poem?" I asked.

"Yes," said Mincon. "Too, aside from adventure, and such, I think he regards himself as being on Alar business."

"What is that?" I asked.

"He plans on scouting out the territories of Ar, to see if they are worth seizing by Alars."

"I think he does not quite understand what is involved," I said.

"True," said Mincon.

"I will pick up Feiqa," I said.

"Your things are over there," said Mincon.

In a few moments I was descending the outside steps of the Semnium, Feiqa heeling me, carrying my pack.

"Tal Rarius!" called Hurtha, heartily.

"Tal Rarius!" I said to him.

"Greetings," said Boabissia.

"Greetings," I said to her. She seemed to me very pretty this morning, smiling, in the long Alar dress. I think she was wearing it a little differently. I think she had corded it a bit more snugly. Clearly the delights of her figure were more evident now within it. Perhaps I should speak to her about that. She might not realize what that sort of thing might do to men, how it might stimulate and effect them, particularly strong men. Ever since we had set her out for the fellows at the wagon camp, making some coppers on her, a subtle change had seemed to come over her, indeed, a sort of transformation was becoming more and more evident every day. She seemed to be becoming more radiant, and female. I noted she even wore the yellow metal disk on her neck, on its thong, a bit more snugly than she had before. The thong was looped twice about her neck now.

"I wish you well, all of you," said Mincon.

We bade him farewell.

"Even you, pretty, enslaved Feiqa," he said.

"Thank you, Master," she said. "And I, too, wish you well."

Mincon then motioned to a guard. The man approached. Mincon spoke to him as though we might be strangers, unknown to him, just emerged from the Semnium. "Put these civilians with the others," he said. "Usher them forth, with the others, from the city."

"Move," said the guard, going behind us, prodding us with his spear. "Over there. Get over there, with the others."

"Do not resist," I said to Hurtha.

"Very well," he said, agreeably.

"Oh!" said Feiqa, suddenly. The guard apparently, for his amusement, touched her with his spear blade, probably putting it between her legs and moving it upward, brushing it against the interior of her thigh.

As we passed another guard she cried out, again, softly. He had apparently lifted her brief skirt with the blade of his sword, considering her. Then we were with the larger group.

"Master," said Feiqa.

"Yes," I said.

"Let it be you," she said.

I regarded her. I saw that the attentions she had received had much aroused her, the merciless weapon metal of men about her legs and belly. Her needs were much upon her. She had passed the night alone, a checked item, awaiting a morning pickup, on a holding chain. Such attentions as she had received, particularly when they literally touch the body, are sometimes called the caresses of the master's steel.

She shuddered, facing away from me, hearing the draw of my steel. She stood very straight. She was quite pretty. I waited for a few moments, and then touched her, and then, after a time, lifted her skirt, that she could feel the air upon her, and then, after a longer time, when I was pleased to do so, let it fall. "Please, Master," she begged. "Perhaps tonight," I said. "All right," said a voice. "Now, move, all of you! I resheathed the steel and, with Hurtha and Boabissia, now again followed by Feiqa, moved along with the throng down the Avenue of Adminius toward the great gate of Torcadino.

"How terrible it must be to be a slave," said Boabissia, "and to have to submit to whatever men choose to do to you."

I did not respond.

"Don't you think so?" she asked.

"What do you have in mind?" I asked.

"Like having your body touched with their steel," she said, "as poor, dear little Feiqa."

"I did not realize you were so solicitous for her," I said.

"She is a sweet little slave," said Boabissia, condescendingly.

Feiqa, behind us, made a tiny, angry noise. She had been, of course, at one time, before being collared, a free woman of high station, of the city of Samnium. This word, incidentally, is, in effect, the same word as "Semnium', although in the western coastal dialects it is commonly pronounced as I have given the spelling here. Its original meaning is apparently "Meeting Place," and its application to a building, or a hall for the meeting of councils, is, it seems, a later development. In Feiqa's opinion, of course, Boabissia, having come from the Alar camp, was little better, if any better, than a simple barbarian.

"Did you say something, Feiqa?" I asked.

"No, Master," she said, quickly, humbly. She did not want to be beaten. "The touching of the naked body of the slave with steel," I said, "helps her to understand that she is subject to the master in all things, totally."

"I suppose you are right," said Boabissia.

"Conceive of it touching your body," I said, "particularly as you might have to wait for it, expecting it, and knowing it was to come, and that you had to submit to it, the cool, cruel touch of it, the caress of it, and as you might be bound, or chained.

"Yes, perhaps," said Boabissia, uneasily. "Sometimes slaves oil much more quickly after such a touch," I said. " «Oil' she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"What a horrid expression," she said.

"Not at all," I said. "It is an intimate, wonderful, exciting, succulent expression. Her body is being prepared for use."

" "Use'! " she said.

"Of course," I said. "She is a slave."

"That is true," granted Boabissia.

"And the intimate and exciting odors attendant upon such oilings, those of the helplessly aroused female, prepared for the master's use, are quite stimulatory to a male."

"Doubtless," she said.

"And so," I said, "it is not uncommon that after such a touch, the caress of the master's steel, that the slave, cognizant then of her utter helplessness and the master's power, and her complete dependence upon his mercies, that she is totally and absolutely under his domination, yields to him quickly and lusciously."

"I see," she said. Momentarily she trembled.

We continued to move along the Avenue of Adminius. There were some two or three hundred of us. We were some two-thirds of the way, or so, back in the group. This seemed to me a good position. I thought it possible that any guards who might have the duty of supervising our exit from the city, or perhaps the duties of inspecting or searching us, might, given the numbers involved, be somewhat lax or a bit less diligent in their efforts by the time we reached them, and we were not so far back that, the guards perhaps perking up, the end of the group in sight, we might find ourselves the target of some burst of compensatory ardor. We were now beyond the lines of suspended bodies outside the Semnium. I was not sorry to leave them behind me.

We continued to move slowly along the avenue, toward the great gate. I saw a naked slave girl kneeling to one side, at the side of a building, on the stones, her hands chained behind her to a slave ring. About her neck hung a sign on which was written, "Free for Use," As our eyes met she swiftly lowered her head.

"Keep moving," said a guard.

Such women had apparently been put out as a municipal convenience, and to help keep order in the city. She might also, of course, have been put out for punishment, but, given the current conditions in the city, that seemed unlikely. "What a slut," said Boabissia.

"A pretty one," I said. "And free for use, too."

"I wish they would not put them out like that," she said.

"Do you object to public drinking fountains?" I asked.

"No," she said. "But that is different."

"Oh?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "Men are beasts, and seeing such women may get ideas. Perhaps free women would be less safe."

"The existence of such women on Gorean streets, particularly in times of stress," I said, "tends to keep free women safer."

She was silent.

"It is true," I said.

"Perhaps," she said.

"Few men will trouble themselves to steal a dried crust of bread, perhaps even at great personal risk, if a free banquet is set forth before them. To be sure, some men are unusual."

"I am not a dried crust of bread," she said, irritably.

"It is only a figure of speech," I said.

"I am not a dried crust of bread," she said.

"You are a free woman," I said.

"If I chose to be, if I were in the least interested in that sort of thing," she said. "I could prove to be a quite tasty pudding for a man."

" "Tasty pudding'? " I asked, pleased to hear her speak in this way. "Yes," she said.

"That is a common misconception of untrained free women," I said. "They think themselves attractive and skilled, when they know little of attractiveness and almost nothing of skill." "Skill?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "There is more in pleasing a man than taking off your clothes and lying down."

"Perhaps," she said, irritably.

"Indeed," I said, "sometimes you do not take off your clothes, and you do not lie down."

"I see," she said, angrily.

"Perhaps you could get lessons from Feiqa," I said.

"Oh, no, please, Master!" cried Feiqa, fearfully. "Please, no!"

I smiled. I did not think, under the circumstances, it would be necessary to beat her. It had, after all, been a joke on my part, a capital one. To be sure, not everyone appreciates my splendid sense of humor. Boots Tarsk-Bit had not always done so, as I recalled.

"That would be absurd," said Boabissia, angrily.

"Yes, Mistress!" said Feiqa, quickly.

"To be sure," I said to Boabissia, "you are in somewhat greater danger than many free women for you have not chosen to veil yourself."

"Alar women do not wear veils," she said. "They are an artifice of civilization, fit rather for perfumed girls who would be better off in collars."

"You are not an Alar woman," said Hurtha.

"I grew up with the wagons," she said, angrily.

"That is true," he admitted, it seemed almost reluctantly. I supposed if Hurtha had encountered Boabissia under somewhat different circumstances his relationship to her would have been considerably different, for example, if he had bought her in a slave market. Her background with the wagons had perhaps, rightly or wrongly, inhibited him somewhat, I feared, keeping him from viewing her as what she essentially was, a rather juicy possibility for a female.

"You do want to be safe, don't you?" I asked Boabissia.

"Of course, of course," she said, irritably.

"Then perhaps you should not object to the occasional chaining out of slaves." I said.

"Perhaps," she said.

"And perhaps you should veil yourself." "Nonsense," she said.

"But you do want to be safe?" I asked.

"Of course," she said.

"Then veil yourself," I said.

"No," she said.

"Well, perhaps it does not matter," I said.

"Why is that?" she asked.

"You are probably right," I said.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You are probably not pretty enough to interest anyone," I said.

"Nonsense," she said. "I am beautiful. And men would pay a high price for me." Hurtha roared with laughter.

Boabissia turned about and glared at him. I was pleased she no longer possessed her dagger.

"Do not laugh," I laughed.

I, too, then, I fear, had she been armed, might have had to defend myself. "You are stupid, both of you," she said, "like all men. You simply do not know what to make of free women."

"I am an Alar," said Hurtha. "I know what to make of free women."

"What?" she asked.

"Slaves," he roared.

"I am pretty, aren't I?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes," I said. "You are. We are teasing."

"And I would bring a high price, would I not?" asked Boabissia.

"I would think so," I said, "at least for a new, untrained slave, for slave meat a master has not yet seasoned and prepared to his taste."

"You see?" she asked Hurtha.

Hurtha snorted with derision.

"Am I not attractive, Hurtha?" she asked.

"You?" he asked.

"I," she said, angrily.

"You are of no more interest than a she-tharlarion," he said, "and if you were a she-tharlarion, I do not even think a male tharlarion would be interested in you." He threw back his head, laughing.

"If you saw me all soft and naked, at your feet, and perfumed and painted, and in a collar and chains, you would want me," she said, angrily.

Hurtha stopped laughing. Suddenly he seemed angry. His hand closed on the ax handle over his shoulder. His other hand clenched into a fist.

"Do, not fear, Hurtha," she said, "you big simple beast, that pleasure will never be yours."

Hurtha did not respond, but glared angrily, fixedly ahead.

We continued on our way.

"He does think I am attractive, doesn't he?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"And you would like to have me, too, wouldn't you?" she asked.

"Under certain circumstances, perhaps," I said.

"If I were a slave?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Of course!" she laughed.

"Move along," said a guard, one of several along our route.

Boabissia began to hum an Alar tune. She seemed in fine spirits. I glanced over at her. A great transformation had come over her since the night before last, since she had been put on her back, her wrists tied to the spokes, a copper bowl resting on the dirt beside her. I wondered if she might make a suitable slave. It seemed possible. I imagined what she might look like with a collar on her neck, instead of the familiar thong and disk. I supposed it might be nice to have her. It was not too late, really, I supposed, to enslave her. One could then have her when and as one pleased.

"What is wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said.

"Move, move along," said another guard.

"Ah," said another, regarding Boabissia. She was, of course, not veiled. "Move," said another.

"You, too, free wench," said another, irritably. Boabissia would walk straightly by these fellows, regally, her head high, seemingly ignoring them, apparently not even deigning to glance at them. To be sure, I was confident she was only too keenly and pleasurably aware of their scrutiny, their appraisal and appreciation. She was now, after her experiences of the night before last, too much of an awakened female not to be aware of, and pleased at, the effects she could exercise upon men.

"Do you think it wise to behave in such fashion?" I asked her.

"In what fashion?" she asked, innocently, smiling.

"Never mind," I said.

She laughed.

To be sure, what had she to fear from them? She was a free woman. She had nothing to fear from them, absolutely nothing to fear from them, unless perhaps, one day, she should become a slave. Then she might have much to fear from them. In the distance I could see the great gate of Torcadino.

"Slut," said one of the soldiers.

Boabissia laughed, not looking at him.

"Collar meat," he called out.

She laughed again, giving him no other notice.

How well, if haughtily, she now walked. I considered the walks of free women, and of slaves. How few free women really walk their beauty. Perhaps they are ashamed of it, or fear it. Few free women walk in such a way as to display their beauty, as, for example, a slave must. I considered the length of garments. The long garments, usually worn by free women, such as that now worn by Boabissia, might cover certain defects of gait perhaps, but when one's legs are bared, as a slave's commonly are, one must walk their beauty and grace. Too, given the scantiness of many slave garments, it is sometimes necessary to walk in them with exquisite care.

The slave, for example, and this is commonly included in her training, seldom bends over to retrieve a fallen object. Rather she flexes her knees, lowering the body beautifully, and retrieves the object from a graceful and humble crouch. Sometimes, to be sure, commonly in serving at the parties of young men, certain objects, sometimes as part of a game, objects with prearranged significances among the young men, are thrown to the floor, and she must pick them up in less than graceful fashion. Whatever object she first touches determines to whose lusty abuse she must then submit. This game is sometimes played several times in the evening. I considered Boabissia. Her walk now seemed something between that of a free woman and a slave. It was, if haughty, quite good, and it showed, I thought, definite signs of slave promise. There seemed little doubt that, with some tutelage, and perhaps a collar on her neck, the beauty could be kept in it, and considerably improved, and the sullying haughtiness removed. I glanced again at her. Yes, it seemed to me that Boabissia might even be ready to walk in a slave tunic. I had little doubt but what several of the fellows she had passed, her nose in the air, would, with whips, have been more than willing to give her instruction in the matter, with or without the tunic.

"Are you sure you want to go to Ar?" I asked her. "it might be dangerous." She touched the copper disk at her neck. "Yes," she said. "I will learn who I am."

"And who do you think you are?" I asked.

"I do not know," she said. "But I was found, as I understand it, in the remains of what had apparently been a large and wealthy caravan. Perhaps it was the caravan of my father."

"Perhaps," I said.

"At the least, passage in such a caravan would doubtless have to have been purchased, and that suggests affluence."

"That is true," I said.

"Presumably no drover, or low person, a mere employee, say, would have had a baby with him," she said.

"Probably not," I said.

"It seems likely to me, then," she said, "that I am of wealthy family." "I suppose that is possible," I granted her. Indeed, it seemed to me to be quite possible. I was uneasy, however. The letter «Tau on the disk, for some reason I could not place, seemed vaguely familiar to me. I wondered if, somewhere, someplace, I might have seen that particular "Tau," that is, that particular design of a Tau. "Why is there a number on the disk?" I asked. "I do not know," she said, "but it must be some sort of an identificatory device, perhaps indexed to an address or a passenger list."

"Or a wagon number," I said, "if it was a large caravan, or, more likely, that of a merchant or company with many wagons."

"Yes," she said. "I never thought of that. That is perhaps it."

"Perhaps," I said.

"They would want to have some way of knowing where the baby belonged, I suppose," she said.

"I would suppose so," I said.

"That must be it," she said.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Would you care to hear my latest poem now," asked Hurtha, "that which lightly chides those lazy fellows who choose upon occasion to sleep late?"

"Of course," I said, grimly.

"It is a jolly poem," Hurtha informed me.

"I am certain of it," I said.

" "Awake, abominable sluggards! " quoth Hurtha. "That is a strong first line, isn't it?"

"Catchy," I admitted.

" "Arise, loathsome miscreants! " said Hurtha.

"Already you have revised the first line?" I asked.

"Certainly not," said Hurtha. "One does not tamper with that which is already perfect. That is the second line."

"You are certain that this is a humorous poem?" I asked.

"Definitely," said Hurtha, chuckling.

"I did not know you wrote humorous poems," I said.

"I am versatile," Hurtha reminded me. "I suppose you thought I spent all my time composing tragic odes?"

"I had not given it that much thought," I admitted.

"I have a lighter side," said Hurtha, "though doubtless only those who know me well have detected it. Too, it is not, in my opinion, salutary for poetic growth to be too fixedly despondent.

"I suppose not," I said.

"You may believe me in the matter," said Hurtha.

"Very well," I said.

"A little despair goes a long way," he said.

"I am sure of it," I said.

"I shall begin again," said Hurtha. " "Get up, you odious, foul, stinking, dawdling sleen! " said Hurtha.

"I thought you said you were going to begin again," I said.

"I am beginning with the third line," he said. He then turned to the fellow near him, an innocent fellow, "is dedicated to my friend, Tarl, there. Indeed, it was he who inspired me to compose it."

"I see," said the fellow, looking at me narrowly. He then moved a bit further away.

" "Up, up, I say, inert tarsks, vile, loathsome, somnolent slimy urts! " cried Hurtha.

Several folks were looking at me in a strange way. I quickened my pace, staring ahead.

" "It is noon! " called out Hurtha. Then he stopped, and began to laugh. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

"What is wrong?" I asked.

Some folks passed us.

"I told you it was funny," laughed Hurtha, bent over.

"Yes?" I said.

"Surely the humor is not too subtle for you?" he asked suddenly, startled. "I am not an Alar," I admitted.

Boabissia laughed merrily, but I thought, a bit uneasily, uncertainly.

"You see," explained Hurtha, patiently, "I did not say it was morning. I said it was noon."

"Yes?" I said.

"So you would expect me to say morning, but you see, it is already past morning. I said it was noon.

"Oh, yes," I said, thinking that perhaps I had a glimmer of his point, "excellent, excellent." Many Goreans arise quite early. Perhaps it is well to keep that in mind. It may help somewhat, though perhaps not significantly. Boabissia made a noise, one I think intended to desperately simulate a laugh. She was, I am sure, merely attempting to improve her claim as to being an Alar. Feiqa, happily, laboring under no such onus, looked aghast.

"We are here," I said, happily, "at the gate!"

Certain of the folks passed through the great gate of Torcadino were searched rather thoroughly. Some of the women, probably because the guards were interested in seeing them, were stripped stark naked, standing on the stones before the portal and, to their dismay, examined with Gorean efficiency. Certain coins and rings were found. After such a search a woman is sometimes good for nothing more than being a slave. But they were thrust through the gate, their clothes then clutched in their hands. Boabissia, interestingly, though quite comely, was spared this indignity. Some objects were confiscated from various folks, men and women, but little, really, was taken. I began to suspect that the treatment this group was receiving was, on the whole, little more than pro forma.

I also suspected, after a few Ehn, that Boabissia's immunity from Gorean Strip Search, in spite of the promise of pleasure to the guards of such a search, might be due to her party, that she was with us. The letters of the officer were now within my sheath. This tightened the draw, but the hiding place, considering the few options at my disposal, seemed a sensible one. Papers can be easily detected within a tunic or cloak linings. To be sure, if one has time, the messages can be written on cloth within the linings, and then should elude search, unless the garment is torn open. There are many possible hiding places for messages or valuables, of course. A few that might be mentioned are false heels or divided soles in sandals, tiny secret compartments in rings, brooches, ornate hair pins, hollow combs, fibulae, studs and clasps. The pommels of some swords are made, too, in such a way as to unscrew, revealing such a compartment. Similarly walking sticks and staffs often have one or more such compartments in them, reached by unscrewing various sections of the stick or staff. Needless to say, some of these, too, contain, daggers or thrusting swords. Such concealed compartments and weapons, and sometimes even builder's glasses, sun chronometers, and compasses, and such, are found in such objects. It is cultural for white-clad pilgrims from certain cities to carry such staffs, often entwined with flowers, in pilgrimages to the Sardar. Such folks are not as harmless as they might seem, as various brigands have learned to their sorrow. "You are together, all of you?" asked a guard.

"Yes," I said.

"Pass," he said.

In moments we were past the great gate, and blinking against the sun, outside the walls of Torcadino. I looked back. The walls, from this close to them, the fall sun bright on them, seemed very high and formidable. No common scaling ladders could ascend them. Too, numerous, low, horizontal wall slots, some three or four inches in height, through which metal-shod poles, stout metal crescents at their tips, could be thrust, and maneuvered, marked their bleakness. Such poles, with little danger to the defenders, at sufficient heights, where sufficient leverages can be exerted, address themselves to the enemy's ladders. Their effects are often devastating. The slots through which the poles are thrust may serve also, of course, as arrow ports. Individuals behind us were still coming through the gate. I then turned my eyes forward. I could see, some two hundred yards or so away, pennons of Cos, marking presumably the first row of siege trenches.

My hand I inadvertently against the sheath of my sword. It was there that I had concealed the documents I carried.

"You were not searched," said a small fellow, near me. He had a mustache, like string, and narrow eyes. He had a pack on his back.

"Many were not searched," I said.

He then continued on his way, toward the pennons in the distance. "What are we to do?" asked Boabissia, uneasily.

"Keep moving," said a soldier, outside the gate, pointing toward the pennons. Boabissia and I, then, followed by Hurtha and Feiqa, she bearing my pack, set out, with others, toward the pennons. "I think there will be little difficulty in clearing the lines of Cos," I said. "Refugees, I suspect, will be sped on their way. I am not sure what would be the best way to approach Ar. We might reach the Argentum Road and take it east to the Viktel Aria. We would then trek south to Ar."

"That is a longer route, is it not?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes," I said.

"Why take it?" she asked.

"It is not the route we might be expected to take," I said.

"Are you afraid?" she asked.

"I am uneasy," I said.

"Could we not trek directly to Ar, across country?" she asked.

"If I were alone, I would." I said.

"I am not afraid," she said.

"In the open country, there may be sleen," I said, "particularly after dark." "Oh," she said.

"Too," I said, "you are pretty."

"What has that to do with it?" she asked.

"Would you like to be a naked slave of peasants, a community slave, in a peasant village," I asked, "and wear a rope collar, and be taught to hoe weeds and pull a plow, and spend your nights in a sunken cage?"

"No!" she said.

"To be sure, they would probably sell you in a town, sooner or later, when they needed drinking money," I said.

She shuddered.

"I think, however," I said, "we shall take the most direct civilized route from here to Ar."

"Why?" she asked.

"To save time," I said. "Time, I think, is important."

"As you say," she said. "We will take, then, that route called the Eastern Road, or Eastern Way," I said.

"That is the route called the Treasure Road, is it not?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Why is it called that?" she asked.

"Because of the riches, and slaves, and such, often transported upon it," I said.

"I see," she said, uneasily.

"Doubtless you will see many slave caravans," I said, "and, too, perhaps, the girls of poorer merchants, many women being marched on foot, chained in coffle, sometimes gagged and blindfolded."

"Oh," she said, uneasily.

"Splendid!" said Hurtha.

I glanced back at Feiqa, who, bearing my pack, looked quickly down.

"Single file here," called a solider of Cos, near the pennons. "Watch your step."

A long plank had been laid across the first of the siege ditches.

The small fellow with the narrow eyes and the mustache like string was ahead of us. He went across the plank. I then crossed it, too, the plank bending under my weight, and was followed by Boabissia, and Hurtha, and Feiqa.

"That way," said the soldier, pointing.

We were in a few Ehn, over other entrenchments, and were then near the hurdles commanding the interior ditches. Interspersed among these was an occasional lookout tower, composed of poles and planks, the lashed poles supporting a horizontal platform of planks, from which a watch could be kept on the gate of Torcadino. At night fires would be set and lanterns hung at various points about the siegeworks.

"That way," said a soldier, directing us.

We were then within the perimeters of the Cosian camp. Most of the tents were circular, with low, sloping tops. Many were brightly colored, and set with bold stripes, and various striking designs and patterns. Goreans tend to be fond of such things. A Gorean camp is often a spectacular sight, with its arrays of silks and flags, even from a distance. They also tend to be fond of fabrics stimulatory to the touch, spices tantalizing to their taste, strong, powerful melodies, and beautiful females. In this they make clear their primitiveness, and their vitality and health. The streets were laid out geometrically. This is usually done by engineers, with surveying cords.

"Look," said Boabissia.

"I see," I said.

Seeing herself the object of our attention the girl lying on her side in the mud shrank back, pressing her back against the heavy stake, some eight inches in diameter, it sunk deeply in the mud. She did not meet our eyes. She was naked, and dirty. She was chained to the stake by a heavy chain, it looped three times about the stake, tight in a groove, and bolted into place, then looped twice about her neck and fastened there by a padlock. She could not move more than four feet from the stake.

"Girl," I said, to her.

She, addressed, scrambled to her knees. She kept her head down. She whimpered. "She does not speak," said Boabissia.

"She is perhaps under the discipline of the she-quadruped," I said.

The girl whimpered, looking at us, nodding her head affirmatively. Then she put her head down again.

"Oh," said Boabissia. In this discipline the female is forbidden human speech. She is also forbidden human posture, in the sense that she is not allowed to rise to her feet. Her locomotion, unless commanded to roll, or put under similar commands, suitable for a pet, will be on all fours. Her food will be thrown to her, or put in pans on the ground. In either case, she must feed without the use of her hands. She may also, of course, be fed by hand, but, again, will not be permitted to touch the food with her hands. She may be taught tricks. Sometimes these are taught as functions of arbitrary sounds, so that she must learn them as any animal might, without the benefit of an earlier understanding of the words used. If she is slow to learn, of course, she is punished, as would any other animal. When used, too, it will commonly be in the modality of the she-quadruped. This discipline is often used as a punishment, but it may also figure in the training of a new girl. It helps her to understand what she now is, an animal totally subject to her master. After some time, sometimes as little as a few Ahn, in this discipline, she begs mutely, pleadingly, as eloquently as she can, to be permitted to serve her master in fashions more typical of the normal female slave, fashions in which her bondage, because of the greater complexities and latitudes of dutifulness and subservience possible with human activity, speech and posture, for example, dance, beginning at least on her feet, and song, may be even more deliciously complete and pleasing to him. To make certain that there are no possible confusions or misunderstandings involved in such cases the master usually gives the female a brief opportunity to speak, usually only for a few Ihn, in which she must make her pleas, hoping to win his favor. If he is not satisfied with her pleas, of course, she is returned promptly to her former discipline. Too, for wasting his time, she might be exposed to other disciplines, as well, usually the lash.

We continued on, through the camp. In a few Ehn, as we were making our way through a corner of the camp, we would presumably encounter some contravallation, some outer lines or ditches, setup to protect the besiegers against possible attack by an outside, relieving force.

"There," said Hurtha, pointing, "there are the pens for camp girls." He had indicated a fenced enclosure, within which were various smaller enclosures, and some cages. In such areas, there was probably more than one in a camp of this size, public girls are kept, slaves for the pleasures of the soldiers. The Gorean seldom does without women. Such girls are usually supplied in groups by contract slavers, for the course of given campaigns. They may be used in their enclosures or, more commonly, they are sent to the tents of the men who rent them, usually for the night. In the morning they return to their masters. Outside the entrance to this enclosure, where the girls could see it, coming and going, was a simple structure of three heavy, squared timbers, two of which were upright, and the third fixed upon them, crosswise, in the manner of a lintel. In the underside of the horizontal beam there was fixed a stout ring, from which cords dangled. In these cords, her wrists crossed and bound over her head, there was now a fair prisoner. On the outside surface of the horizontal beam, the side facing us, there were two hooks, over which there hung a sign. The hooks are permanent fixtures, the signs may be changed, in one wishes to use them at all, depending on the error, deficiency or offense. This sign read, "I was not fully pleasing to my master of the night. Punish me. Use whip at left." To the girl's left, on the vertical beam there, suspended from a hook, was a five-stranded Gorean slave lash.

"Wait," said Boabissia.

"Yes?" I said.

"She was not fully pleasing," said Boabissia.

The girl tensed in the cords, hearing us behind her.

"It would seem not," I said.

"Are you not going to strike her?" asked Boabissia.

"I think she has already been well punished," I said.

Certainly the girl's back suggested that. To be sure, most of those stripes had probably been put on her earlier by her master, that he might assure himself that no matter what happened later in the day, the girl would be brought to understand that anything less than perfect performance was not to be tolerated in a female slave. The female slave is not permitted flaws in her service. She is not purchased for that. They will not escape notice, or correction.

"Men are weak," said Boabissia. She went to the hook and removed the lash. "Girl," she said.

"Yes, Mistress," said the girl, frightened.

"Let her go," I said. "You can see she has been liberally whipped." "What are you?" asked Boabissia. "A slave, Mistress," said the girl, trembling in the confining cords. Her small hands twisted above the tight loops.

"Then it is up to you to be pleasing," said Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress," said the girl.

"Fully pleasing," said Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress," said the girl.

"But you were not," said Boabissia.

"No, Mistress," said the girl, trembling.

"You must then be punished," said Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress," moaned the girl.

"She has already been punished," I said to Boabissia. "Show her mercy." "No," said Boabissia.

"Girl," I said to the bound slave.

"Yes, Master!" she cried, eagerly.

"Is it your intention to improve your service in the future?" I asked. "Yes, Master!" she said.

"And will you strive to be a dream of perfection to your masters hereafter, no matter how brief your term of service may be to them, or whoever they might be?" "Yes, Master! Yes Master!" she said.

"You see, Boabissia?" I asked.

"She is lying," said Boabissia. "I am a female. I can tell."

"No, Mistress!" wept the girl.

"Are you lying?" I asked the girl.

"No, no, Master!" she wept.

"I believe her," I said. "Let us be on our way,"

"You are apparently more tolerant than I of inadequacies in a slave," said Boabissia.

"Let us go," I said.

"Not yet," she said.

"Come along," said Hurtha.

"I know females," said Boabissia. "I am one of them. If you are weak with them, they will take away your manhood and destroy you. If you are strong with them, they will lick your feet with gratitude." She touched the body of the female slave with the whip.

"Is it not so?" she asked the girl.

"Yes, Mistress," wept the girl.

"If you are not strict with slaves," said Boabissia, "they will grow lax, and then arrogant, and then begin to assume the airs of free persons."

"I suppose that is true," I said.

"They must be kept under perfect discipline," said Boabissia," absolutely uncompromising and perfect discipline."

"Of course," I said.

Boabissia drew back the whip. How she hated the female slave. It is sometimes hard to understand the hatred of the free female for her imbonded sister. It has to do, I suppose, with the venomous jealousy of a woman who has taken an unhappy path, a road commended to her by many but one which she has discovered leads only to her ultimate frustration, misery and lack of fulfillment. No woman is truly happy until she occupies her place in the order of nature.

"Do not strike her," I said.

"I am a free woman," said Boabissia, "and I shall do as I please." "Do not strike her," said Hurtha. "Come along."

"Men are weak," said Boabissia. "I will teach you what women deserve, and need." "Please, no, Mistress!" wept the girl.

Boabissia then, holding to the butt of the whip with two hands, swung it back, the lashes separated, free.

"Please, no, Mistress!" cried the girl.

Boabissia then, taking her time, struck her five times. She did not spare the wench. Then the girl, punished, hung in the cords, gasping, weeping.

"Now will you be pleasing to your masters?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress," wept the girl.

"Now have you learned your lesson?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress. Yes Mistress," wept the girl.

"She is now telling the truth," said Boabissia. She then hung the whip again on its hook.

I looked into the eyes of the slave. Swiftly she put down her head. But in that instant I saw what Boabissia had said was true. She would now be pleasing. She had now learned her lesson.

"Now," said Boabissia, "let us go."

"Interesting," I said.

"You must learn how to handle women," said Boabissia. "That is all." "You are a woman," I said.

"Do not be clever," she said. "I am a free woman."

"This way, this way," said a Cosian soldier. "Do not straggle."

We then again set out on our way, following others. In my wallet there was a sack of coins, a plentiful supply of coins, though mostly of small denomination, such as would not be likely to attract attention. They had been given to me by the officer in Torcadino. I had kept them. I would attempt to discharge his commission. They would be more than enough, it seemed, to get us to Ar. In my sheath were his letters, and my letters of safety. I did not know what lay before me.

"That way," said a soldier.

"You have not yet heard my entire poem," said Hurtha.

"True," I admitted, reluctantly.

Then, for several Ehn, he altering lines here and there, with a liberal abandon, subjecting the piece, it seemed, to immediate and amazing revisions, rampant and wholesale, doubtless justified by certain disputable if not heinous exploitations of poetic license, generously construed, I was regaled by Hurtha's latest creation.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"I have never experienced anything just like it," I admitted.

"Really," he asked, eagerly.

"Yes," I said, "except of course, certain of your other poems."

"Of course," he said. "Do you think it will become immortal?"

"It is hard to say," I said. "Are you worried about it?"

"Somewhat," he said.

"Why?" I inquired.

"Because it is dedicated to you, my friend," he said. "I do not understand," I said.

"Suppose it becomes immortal," he said.

"Yes?" I said.

"It well might do so," he said, "for it is a genuine Hurtha."

"Yes?" I said.

"Then you might be remembered in history as being no more than a despicable, loathsome, notorious, sleepyhead."

"I see your point," I admitted.

"And even if that should be true," he said, "you are still my dear friend, in spite of all, and I simply could not bring myself to do that to you. What am I to do?"

"Dedicate it to some mythical fellow," I said, "someone you just made up." "A splendid suggestion!" cried Hurtha. He then turned to one of our fellow refugees. "Excuse me, Sir," he said, "but what is your name?"

"Gnieus Sorissius, of Brundisium," he said.

"Thank you, Sir," said Hurtha. He then turned back to me. "I shall dedicate the poem to Gnieus Sorissius, of Brundisium."

"What?" asked Gnieus Sorissius, of that coastal city.

"Rejoice," said Hurtha to him. "You may now die, for you have just become immortal."

"What?" asked Gnieus Sorissius, somewhat alarmed. Hurtha was, after all, carrying a large ax.

"But what if you discard your poem," I asked, "feeling as you often do, that it may not be up to your incredible standards, or what if you should be struck heavily upon the head, as I could conceive happening, sometimes more readily than others, and simply forget it?"

"I see your point," said Hurtha, gravely. "I would then be denying poor Gnieus his place in history."

"Of course," I said. "It is not fair to make him so dependent on you." "Yes," said Hurtha.

"Suppose, thinking himself immortal," I said, "he then lives recklessly, fearing nothing, takes unwise risks gleefully and perhaps suffers unfortunate and grievous consequences?" "I had not thought of that," admitted Hurtha.

"You might feel terribly responsible," I said.

"Yes," said Hurtha. "I am a sensitive fellow."

"Too, he might then go through life uneasily, not knowing whether you had kept the poem not, and thus not knowing whether he was still immortal or not." "True," moaned Hurtha. "What am I to do?"

"Is this that poem about fellows who sleep late," asked Gnieus, "that one you have been carrying on about for past ten Ehn?"

"Yes," said Hurtha.

"Well," said Gnieus, "it is my habit to arise each morning by the fourth Ahn." "The fourth Ahn?" cried Hurtha, aghast. "That is rather early."

"In my opinion," snapped the fellow, who seemed in a rather disagreeable mood, perhaps still somewhat disgruntled at having been turned out of Torcadino with little more than the clothes on his back, "folks who remain longer in the furs are no better than lazy sleen."

"Oh," said Hurtha. He shuddered.

"Yes," said the fellow.

"I am afraid I cannot dedicate my poem to you," said Hurtha. "You get up just too early."

"It is just as well," said Gnieus, "for I charge a fee for having poems dedicated to me."

"What?" cried Hurtha.

I decided I liked Gnieus. He was not a bad fellow, even for coming from Brundisium.

"A silver tarsk," snapped Gnieus.

"That is very expensive," said Hurtha.

"That is what I charge," said the fellow.

"Do we have a silver tarsk?" asked Hurtha.

"You would sell your priceless dedications, for mere money?" I asked.

"Never!" cried Hurtha, resolved.

That was a close one. I had saved a silver tarsk, or its equivalent in smaller coins.

Gnieus Sorissius had now taken his leave. "What a scoundrel," growled Hurtha, looking after him.

"Indeed," I admitted. I wished that I had managed to handle my large friend as neatly as Gnieus Sorissius, even if he was from Brundisium. Perhaps he had had dealings with Alar poets before. Could that be?

"Perhaps I shall have to dedicate the poem to you, after all," said Hurtha. "We have now come to the edge of the camp," I said.

We paused, to look back. We were on a slight slope.

"How beautiful it is," said Boabissia.

The camp was a splendid sight. Torcadino was in the distance.

"I think," said Hurtha, looking back, "I shall compose a poem, a mood piece." "What about the poem about fellows who sleep late?" I asked.

"I think I shall discard it," he said. "The subject is trivial, and perhaps unworthy of my powers. Do you mind, much?"

"No," I said.

"Good fellow," said Hurtha.

"That also solves your problem about the dedication," I said.

"It does, doesn't it," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Since I have saved us a silver tarsk then," he said, "perhaps you would be so good as to divide a silver tarsk with me, sharing and sharing alike, as always." "Very well," I said. Alars are not always adept at mathematics, but many of them are large, fearsome fellows.

"Thank you," said Hurtha.

"Think nothing of it," I said. "How often can one save a tarsk so adroitly? Had there been two fellows we might have saved two tarsks."

"No," said Hurtha. "For there was only one dedication."

"You are right of course," I said.

"Let us go," said Hurtha.

"Wait just a moment," I said.

"Yes?" he said. "Do you notice anything unusual about the camp?" I asked.

"It is very beautiful," said Hurtha, "as was observed even by Boabissia, who is only a female."

"Something else," I said.

"What?" he asked.

"We are beyond the camp," I said.

"Yes?" he said.

"There is no contravallation here," I said, "no defending, outer ditches, nothing to protect the camp against outside attack."

"Interesting," said Hurtha.

"The Cosians," I said, "apparently do not fear the arrival of a relieving force from Ar."

"That seems very strange, does it not?" asked Hurtha.

"I find it very troubling," I said. "I do not understand it. It is simply, if nothing else, a matter of routine military precaution."

"How can they be so sure that Ar will not come to the relief of Torcadino?" asked Hurtha.

"I do not know," I said. I found this detail, however, the absence of external contravallation, like may others in the past weeks, disturbing. It seemed to be a new military anomaly. It, like several of the other things, such as the absence of fortified camps and defended supply trains, seemed inexplicable, and cumulatively now, alarmingly so.

"What can explain such things," asked Hurtha.

"I do not know," I said. "I am uneasy."

"I think we should go on," said a man, another refugee with us. "If we are caught here we may be taken for loiterers, or spies."

"That is true," I granted him.

I then looked back at Feiqa, the former Lady Charlotte of Samnium. She wore a brief slave tunic, with a neckline that plunged to her belly. The soft, interior curvatures of her breasts could be seen within the opening of the garment. This is suitable for women who are only slaves. I considered her. She was lovely. I went to stand near her, the camp and the walls of Torcadino behind her. I put my hands within her garment. She looked up at me. My touch was gentle. The straps of my pack, which she bore for me, were wet and hot on her shoulders. There were bands of sweat beneath the straps, and beneath them, too, the tunic was wet and wrinkled. Some of the wrinkles would leave a mark on her skin for a time. Her breasts felt interesting, warm, full, moist with sweat. She had a collar locked on her neck. She was mine.

"Let us go," said Boabissia.

"Tonight," I said, "we will have to get you cleaned up. Your body is sweaty. Your feet are dirty."

"Yes, Master," she said, pressing herself softly, purring, like the small, sweet owned beast she was, against my hands. I put down my head and let her lift her lips to mine, where they briefly met. "Ah," she said, softly. Then I lifted my head away from her. I removed my hands from her. I drew then the sides of her tunic back to their original position. I held her then by the upper arms. My grip was tight. She could not think of freeing herself. "You are a slave, are you not?" I asked.

"Yes, Master, she said, "totally, and yours, completely!"

I turned her about, facing the camp, with Torcadino in the distance.

"Do you think you have the favor of your master?" I asked.

"It is my fervent hope that I do," she said.

"Do you see that area?" I asked, pointing.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"Speak," I said.

"It is the enclosure of camp girls," she said.

"Yes," I said. "Do you recall a girl there," I asked, "one who had not been fully pleasing last night to a rent master?"

"Yes, Master," she said.

"What was done to her?" I asked.

"She was whipped, mercilessly," she said.

"Tonight," I said, "you will serve me."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"What will be done to you, if you are not fully pleasing?" I asked.

"I will be whipped, mercilessly," she said. "Do you object?" I asked.

"No, Master," she said. "I would have it no other way,"

I then stepped away from her, and rejoined the others.

"That is the Treasure Road," I said, indicating a narrow road in the distance. "At its end lies Ar."

"Let us be on our way," said Boabissia. "I am eager to reach Ar."

I glanced back once at Feiqa. She smiled. She was very beautiful. I would look forward to having her tonight. I was confident she would prove to be fully pleasing. If she were not, of course, I would whip her, and well. One cannot compromise with female slaves, They are women.

We began to descend from the crest of the slope, making our way slowly toward the road. Most of the refugees were already there, or in its vicinity. In my sheath were the letters of safety, and, below them, thrust down beneath them, the letters given to me by the officer, he who was now the master of Torcadino. These letters, all, bore his signature. The signature was written in an ascendant, bold script. It was not difficult to read. It was "Dietrich of Tarnburg." I noticed the small fellow with narrow eyes, he with the mustache like string, nearby. He had apparently lagged behind. I did not give this much thought at the time.

17 Slavery Agrees with Feiqa

"Papers, papers?" inquired the soldier. "Have you papers?" "No," I said. I did not think it would be wise to advertise my possession of letters of safety until it should prove impossible to proceed further without them.

He then went to others, making the same inquiry. None of the refugees, of course, carried such papers.

We were in a roadside camp, eleven days from Torcadino. It was not a bad camp. There was shade, and a spring nearby. Peasants came there to sell produce. In a few Ehn Boabissia, Hurtha and I, and Feiqa, would be again on our way. I had purchased passage on a fee cart.

"It is good to see a uniform of Ar," said a man.

"Yes," I said.

"Does one need papers?" the small fellow with the mustache like string was asking a soldier.

The soldier did not respond to him.

"Can one enter Ar without them?" he asked.

But the soldier had then continued on his way.

Boabissia came up to see me. "I have spoken to the driver," she said. "He is ready to leave." Many of the refugees, afoot, had already left the camp. I nodded.

"You are looking pretty, Feiqa," observed Boabissia, somewhat critically. Feiqa looked up smiling from where she knelt, packing my things. "Thank you, beautiful Mistress," she said, and then put down her head.

"Slavery apparently agrees with you, slut," said Boabissia. "Yes, Mistress. Thank you, Mistress," said Feiqa, smiling, looking down.

"Cart Seventeen will leave in two Ehn!" called a fellow.

"That is our car," said Boabissia.

"We had better get Hurtha," I said.

"He is still asleep," she said.

"Awaken him," I said. "He can sleep in the cart."

"Finish that packing, slut," said Boabissia to Feiqa.

"Yes, Mistress!" she said.

Boabissia then went to waken Hurtha. I did not envy her this task. It was not always easy to awaken the Alar giant.

"I am ready, Master," said Feiqa, smiling, shouldering my pack.

I went to Feiqa and put my hands on the collar on her throat. She looked up at me, eagerly.

"Apparently slavery does agree with you," I said, looking into her eyes. "Oh, yes, Master," she whispered. "Yes, yes!"

18 The Treasure Road

"Way! Make way!" called the driver. He sat on the wagon box, some yard or so below, and separated from, the high railed wagon bed, serving, with its benches, as the passenger area. The wheels of the cart were narrow, and some seven feet in height. There were two of them. They were treaded with strips of metal. The cart was drawn by a bipedalian tharlarion, a slighter breed than, but related to, and swifter than, the common shock tharlarion used generally by the lancers of the Gorean heavy cavalry.

"Rich tarsks," snarled a fellow on the road, moving to the side.

"Make way!" called the driver, cracking his whip. The arrival of the cart was announced as well by the jangling of two bells, affixed to projections on its sides, before the wheels. Then we were through the group of refugees, and moving swiftly again.

"I think little treasure moves these days upon this road," said Hurtha. "You are doubtless right," I said, "and the traffic, it seems, flows toward Ar." "Will the Cosians take this route?" asked Hurtha.

"Probably," I said. "It is the most direct route between Torcadino and Ar." I glanced at Boabissia. She was standing at the front of the cart, grasping the front rail, looking forward. Her hair and dress were blown backward in the wind. "Look," I said to Hurtha. "See the soldier by the road, there?"

"Yes," he said, turning about to get a better look. "That is another uniform of Ar," I said.

"That is comforting news," said the fellow to my right. We had seen few such uniforms lately.

"Are you going to Ar?" asked the small fellow sitting across from me. It was he who had the thin mustache.

"Yes," I said.

"Do you have papers?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Oh," he said, smiling.

"Why?" I asked.

"I assume Ar will not accommodate all the refugees who may seek asylum there," he said. "It is hard to see how she could. Doubtless papers, or letters, might be needed."

"Perhaps," I said.

"Such might be worth their weight in gold," he speculated.

"Perhaps," I said.

He leaned forward, confidentially. "Are you carrying valuables?" he whispered. "No," I said. My left hand, I fear, moved, as though to touch the sheath beside me. Then I checked the movement.

"It is just as well," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Do you see the fellow at the end of your bench?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "Why?"

He covered the right side of his mouth with his open hand. "That is Ephialtes," he whispered, "the notorious thief of Torcadino. Beware of him."

"My thanks," I said. It is always good to have such warnings.

The fellow nodded, and sat back on the bench, leaning back against the railing. I resolved that I must watch out for the fellow at the end of the bench, Ephialtes. I was grateful to the fellow across the way for pointing this out to me.

In the back of the cart there was a place for baggage. It was there, in that section, behind that railing, that I had put Feiqa. This was appropriate, as she was property. She was in chains. I did not fear that she would attempt to escape. But it is good, from time to time, to so secure your girls. Just as they are subject to the whip, so, too, are they subject to chains. I rose to my feet and went to stand beside Boabissia.

"Greetings," she said.

"Greetings," I said to her.

"I cannot wait to see Ar," she said.

"If you are standing here, hoping for a first glimpse of Ar," I said, "you are a few days to early."

"I cannot wait to get to Ar," she said.

"Look," I said, gesturing to the side of the road with my head.

"Female slaves," she said, noting them, as we sped past. They were off the road, on the grass, in various attitudes of rest.

"They could give them clothing," she said.

"The day is warm," I said. "Too, such women are often marched naked to save their tunics, that they may not be soiled with dirt and sweat."

The girls were chained together by the neck. Some of them watched us as we passed. Then they were behind us.

"Normally, many more slaves are transported on this road," I said. "We have actually seen very few."

"What will I find in Ar?" asked Boabissia. She fingered the copper disk at her neck.

"I do not know," I said.

"I think I may have a great inheritance," she said. "Perhaps I shall find that I own vast estates, that funds in trust have been left for me, that I am of noble family, that I am one of the richest and most powerful women of Ar!"

"Why should you think such things? I asked.

"Do you think them impossible," she asked, turning to me.

"No," I said. "I do not think they would be impossible."

"I was traveling, though only a baby, with a great caravan," she said. "Does that not bespeak station and wealth?"

I shrugged. "I do not know," I said.

"I think it possible," she said.

"Yes," I said. "It is possible, surely." "Look at those poor women," said Boabissia. We were now passing, they had been coming towards us, three sturdy lasses under the herd stick of a brawny male. They were bent almost double under towering burdens of branches and sticks, bound together in fagots. They were moving in single file. They were tied together, a rope on their necks. They looked up as the fee cart passed them. The male waved to our driver, who returned the salute.

"Such a fate might have been yours," I said, "had we attempted to reach Ar across country."

"They are slaves?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Oh," she said, "then it does not matter."

"I had not anticipated the possibility of buying passage on a fee cart," I said. "I did not know any would still be running. Else I would not even have considered traveling across country, at least with a free woman."

"We are making excellent time," she said.

"Yes," I said. "In a few days we should reach Ar."

"Is it a beautiful city?" she asked.

"Yes," I told her.

"I am certain," said Boabissia, happily, fingering the small copper disk at her neck, "that I am of lofty birth, and high station. I cannot wait until I get to Ar, to claim my glory and wealth!"

I did not respond.

"There is no telling, what with interest rates on the Street of Coins, the maturation of notes, and such, to what heights my fortune, in these several years, may have soared."

I did not respond.

"I may be one of the noblest, richest and most powerful women in Ar," she said. "Perhaps," I said.

We then passed a cage wagon. There were some five female slaves within it, in rag tunics. Two of them held the bars of the cage, watching us, as we passed. "They are probably on their way to a market, somewhere," I said. "Feiqa is looking well lately," said Boabissia, somewhat critically. "Yes, I think so," I said.

"What are you doing with her at night?" asked Boabissia.

"I do not know," I said. "I suppose the usual things masters do with slaves." "I see," said Boabissia. "I spoke to her this morning."

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes," said Boabissia. "She seems frightened of me."

"You are a free woman," I told her.

"She did not dare even to look into my eyes," she said.

"Perhaps she feared to be thought too forward or bold, looking into the eyes of a free woman," I said.

"Perhaps," said Boabissia. "Is she so timid with you?"

"Sometimes," I said.

"I do not think you have beaten her much lately," said Boabissia.

"No," I said.

"Why not?" asked Boabissia.

"She is now pretty well trained." I said.

" "Trained, " said Boabissia.

"Yes," I said, "ideally, once a girl is trained, suitably trained, of course, there is not likely to be much call for beating her. She may also, of course," I said, "be beaten at the master's pleasure, for any reason or for no reason." "Of course," said Boabissia. "She is a slave."

"Too, some masters feel that a girl should be whipped once in a while, if only to help her keep clearly in mind that she is still a slave. Such whippings, occasionally administered, are thought to by many to have a salutary effect on her."

"Of course," said Boabissia. "One must be strict with slaves."

"To be sure," I said, "a skilled, diligent slave is seldom beaten." "Perhaps," said Boabissia, "but I think it is still good for them to feel the whip once in a while."

"Perhaps you are right." I said.

"If I were a man," she said, "I would be merciless with them." I was silent.

"I would teach them their sex, and quickly, and no two ways about it," she said. "It is perhaps fortunate for them that you are not a man," I said.

"Perhaps," she laughed.

"You are not a man," I said.

"I know," she said.

"Do you?" I asked.

"Of course," she said.

"You are a beautiful young woman," I said.

She blushed, even with the wind against her face.

"Perhaps you should hope, and desperately," I said, "that you never fall slave." "Why," she asked.

"Because perhaps you might fall into the hands of a fellow who might be as rigorous and strict with you, as you would be, or as you seem to claim you would be, had you a female such as yourself in your power, and you were a man." "But I am a free woman."

"Feiqa was once free," I said.

"Not really," she said.

"Oh," I asked.

"No," she said. "I spoke to Feiqa the other day. I asked her if she was a natural slave. Do you know what she said?"

"No," I said.

"She said, " "Yes.

"I think it true," I said.

"Is it true that she begged bondage," asked Boabissia, "that she chose slavery of her own free will?"

"Yes," I said.

"What a fool," said Boabissia.

"Perhaps," I said. To be sure, such a decision should not be made lightly. Such a decision may be made of one's own free will, but it cannot be revoked by one's own free will, for, after it is made, one is then helpless to alter or influence one's new condition in any way.

"You do not think so?" asked Boabissia.

"No," I said. "Why not?" asked Boabissia.

"Suppose some women were natural slaves," I said.

"Some wicked, low women?" asked Boabissia.

"If you like," I said.

"Continue," she said.

"If some women are natural slaves, and know this in their hearts," I said, "would you prefer that they conceal this from the world? Do such lies please you? Do you commend them, truly? Would you advise these women to indulge in deceit, to rejoice in the practice of hypocrisy? What do you say to their needs? Are these of no importance, because they may not appeal to you, personally? Do you encourage them to deprivation? Do you really prescribe for them in their tumult and yearning larger and larger, and more and more bitter, does of frustration? Must everyone be as you think perhaps you yourself should be, as you desperately command yourself to be? What do you fear? What accounts for your hostility, your venomous resentment? Would you truly keep them from their natural fulfillment?"

"I suppose not," said Boabissia, "if they are truly such things."

"Yet, there are some I have heard of," I said, "who might deny a natural slave her bondage, even by law, no matter what might be the mental, emotional and physical damage of this."

"That is absurd," said Boabissia. "Slavery is fitting, morally and legally, for the natural slave, of course. No one in their right mind could conceive of denying that."

"For natural slaves?" I said.

"Yes," she said.

"A wench such as Feiqa?" I said.

"Of course," said Boabissia.

"In such a case then," I said, "if Feiqa is a natural slave, it might be fitting, don't you think, that she acknowledged this, and then entered humbly upon her authentic reality?"

"Yes," said Boabissia, "as she is such a slut,"

"Perhaps you think it was even morally incumbent upon her, given what she was, to have done so?" I asked.

"I think it was fitting, that it was fully appropriate," said Boabissia, uneasily, "but I do not think it was her actual duty to have done so."

"Then you might see her act, considering all that is involved, the bold confession, the loss of status, the stern nature of bondage, the now belonging helplessly and totally to a master, how free women will now treat her and look upon her, as the act of a very brave woman," I said.

"Or of a very desperate one," said Boabissia, "perhaps one who has fought with herself for so long and so painfully that at last she can stand it no longer, and in piteous surrender and relief flings herself to the feet of a man, where she belongs."

"Perhaps," I said.

"Such a fate is appropriate for natural slaves," said Boabissia scornfully. "The sooner they get the collars on their necks the better."

"The better?" I asked.

"The better for themselves, the better for men, the beasts, and the better for noble free women, whom they can then no longer pretend to be like."

"I am glad to hear you say that," I said.

"Oh?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes," I said, "for all women are natural slaves."

"No!" said Boabissia. "No!"

"And no woman," I said, "can be completely fulfilled unless she understands this, accepts it and behaves accordingly."

"No!" said Boabissia. "No! No!"

"It is just a theory," I said.

Boabissia clung to the rail, gasping. Her hands were white on the rail. She was trembling.

"Are you all right," I asked.

"Yes," she whispered, her head down, clinging to the rail. I could not help thinking how lovely a collar would look upon her throat.

She looked up. "It is only a theory, is it not?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She shook, clinging to the rail.

"To be sure," I said, "it may be a true theory." She did not respond. I then, seeing that she was distressed, returned to my seat. After a time, she returned to, too, to her place on the bench. She did not meet my eyes, then, nor those of Hurtha, nor, I think, of any of the other men in the cart.

19 The Checkpoint

"They are gone!" I whispered, tensely.

"What are gone?" asked Hurtha, sitting up in the furs, a few feet from me. The camp had been stirring now for better than an Ahn.

"The letters of safety," I said, "those of safe conduct for our party." "What is wrong?" asked Boabissia, her hair wet and loose, come from the nearby stream, where she had washed it.

"Our letters of safety," I said, "are gone. I had them here, in the sheath." "Perhaps they have fallen out," she said.

"No," I said. "They were firmly lodged within. They could be withdrawn only purposefully."

"There is supposedly a checkpoint down the road," said Boabissia. "I heard of it last night."

"So, too, doubtless," said I, "did the thief."

"We were all about," said Boabissia. "How could anyone have done it?" "Presumably it could have been done only by one practiced in stealth, who knew for what he was searching, and where it might be found. He might even have had a tool for the extraction of the papers."

"The blade was in the sheath, was it not," asked Boabissia, "and the sheath beside you?"

"Yes," I said, "and the sheath was on its strap, slung about my shoulder. The blade would have had to be removed, I assume, and then replaced, after the extraction of the papers."

"Why would it be replaced?" asked Hurtha. "That the absence of the papers not be immediately noticed," I said. "I would not have noticed the matter had I not, as a matter of habit, this morning, tested the draw of the blade."

This habit, unnecessary and trivial though it may seem, is one inculcated in warriors, in many cities. The theory is not only that it is well to practice the draw frequently, as the first to draw may be the first to strike, but also to be familiar with it on a daily basis lest its parameters alter from time to time, due to such things as contractions and swellings of the leather, these having to do with temperature and moisture. Less obviously, but more deviously, the blade could be tightened, or even fastened, in the sheath by an enemy, by such means as a tiny wooden shim or plug, or a fine wire looped below the hilt. The practicing of the draw, and the associated testing of sheath resistance, is a small, but seldom neglected detail, in the practice of arms.

"Such skill seems impossible," said Boabissia. "Who is there who could of done such a thing?"

"Some warriors could have done it," I said. "Many red savages could have done it."

"But who is about here?" asked Boabissia.

"Some thief," I said, "one who is highly skillful, one worthy even of the thief's scar of Port Kar, though I doubt he wears it." The thief's scar in Port Kar is a tiny, three pronged brand, burned into the face over the right cheekbone. It marks the members of the Caste of Thieves in Port Kar. That is the only city in which, as far as I know, there is a recognized caste for thieves. They tend to be quite proud of their calling, it being handed down often from father to son. There are various perquisites connected with membership in this caste, among them, if one is a professional thief, protection from being hunted down and killed by caste members, who tend to be quite jealous of their various territories and prerogatives. Because of the caste of thieves there is probably much less thievery in Port Kar than in most cities of comparable size. They regulate their numbers and craft in much the same way that, in many cities, the various castes, such as those of the metal workers or cloth workers, do theirs. "Feiqa," said Boabissia. "Yes, Mistress?" said Feiqa, frightened. The lovely slave had knelt immediately, being addressed by a free person.

"Did you see anything?" asked Boabissia.

"No, Mistress," said Feiqa, putting her head down.

"Stupid slave," said Boabissia.

"Yes, Mistress," whispered Feiqa, not looking up.

"Are such papers needed at the checkpoint?" asked Hurtha.

"Quite possibly," I said. "We are near Ar. I do not know."

"In this camp," said Boabissia, "it seems unlikely that there could have been so skilled a thief."

"Not necessarily," I said.

"I think Feiqa took them," said Boabissia.

"No, Mistress!" cried Feiqa.

"Let her be tortured for truth," said Boabissia. It is legal in Gorean courts for the testimony of slaves to be taken under torture. Indeed, it is commonly done.

"Please, no, Mistress!" wept Feiqa.

"It would have been difficult for her to have done so," I told Boabissia, "for last night her hands were chained behind her, that she might awaken me intimately, not using her hands, at dawn."

"Disgusting," said Boabissia.

"I then put her to her back and caressed her, while recovering, until she begged to be put to further use, to which plea I acceded. I then, when pleased to do so, a time or so later released her."

"Disgusting," said Boabissia.

"But she is only a slave," I said.

"True," said Boabissia. Then she looked at Feiqa. "Slut," she said. "Yes, Mistress," said Feiqa, not meeting her eyes.

How Boabissia hated Feiqa! Did she really think it was wrong, or improper for Feiqa to give her master such incredible pleasure? I did not think so. Feiqa, after all, was a slave. It was one of her purposes. I think it was rather that she was intensely jealous of Feiqa, that she keenly resented that she, the proud Boabissia, being free, was not subject to the same imperious enforcements. "No thief so skilled, surely," said Boabissia, "would be with the refugees," She continued to regard the trembling Feiqa balefully. "It must have been the slave. Let her be tortured."

Feiqa moaned.

"It could not have been Feiqa," I said to Boabissia. "Last night her hands were secured," I reminded her, "chained behind her back."

"Then who?" asked Boabissia.

"Perhaps you," said Hurtha, coming up behind Boabissia and holding her by the upper arms, from behind. His grasp, I gathered, was not gentle.

"No," said Boabissia. "No!" She squirmed. She was as helpless as a slave in Hurtha's grip.

"Perhaps it is you who should be put under torture," growled Hurtha.

"No, no!" said Boabissia. "I am free."

"It would not be impossible for a skilled thief to be with the refugees," I said. "It would be necessary only that he, or she, had been turned out of Torcadino with other citizens."

"Do you know of such a person?" asked Hurtha.

"Yes," I said.

"Who?" asked Hurtha.

"Wait here," I said.

"Who?" asked Hurtha.

"One called Ephialtes, of Torcadino," I said. "I was warned about him." "Let me come with you," he said. "I shall break his neck."

"That will not recover the letters," I said. "Wait here."

"Some of the carts, and many of the refugees, have already left," said Boabissia, pulling her free of Hurtha's hands, he loosening his grip. She was shaking. She was not accustomed to having been so helplessly in the power of a man, as helplessly, it might seem, as might have been a slave.

"Please, Mistress," wept Feiqa. "I did not steal the letters. I could not have done so, even if I had dared to do so, which I would not in my life have dared to do. Do not ask to have Feiqa tortured. Please be kind to Feiqa." "You are a slave," snapped Boabissia, "and, as such, are subject to torture, or to whatever free persons desire to do to you."

"Yes, Mistress," wept Feiqa, shuddering.

"Wait here," I said.

Boabissia made as though to accompany me, but Hurtha's hand on her arm stayed her.

* * *

"Aii!" cried the fellow, startled, in pain. My hand had closed on the back of his neck. I then forced him to his knees, and then to his belly. He squirmed. I thrust his nose and mouth into the soft earth. Instantly he was quiet. I permitted him to lift his head a little. He coughed and gasped.

"Where are they?" I asked him.

"What?" he said, wildly, spitting out dirt.

"The letters, three of them," I said.

"You cannot rob me here," he said. "There are too many about!"

To be sure, some of the refugees had gathered about us.

"Do not interfere," I warned them.

"Where are the letters?" I demanded.

"What letters?" he asked.

I again thrust his face into the dirt. He coughed and spit, and twisted his head to the side, gasping.

"Where are they?" I demanded.

"I know nothing of letters," he gasped.

"Do not interfere," I warned those about. More than one of them carried heavy clubs.

I then with a length of binding fiber, extracted from my pouch, tied his ankles together, and then fastened his hands to his ankles. He turned to his side. I then, methodically, began to go through his belongings.

"What are you doing?" he asked. "Stop him," he called to those about. A man or two took a step forward, but none challenged me.

"He is armed," said one of the fellows to the trussed captive.

"I do not find them here," I said to the crowd. "What is he looking for?" asked a fellow, just come up to the group. "Letters of some sort," said a fellow to the newcomer.

"Where are they?" I asked the captive, again.

"I know nothing of your letters, or whatever they are," he said. "Let me go!" "Let him go," suggested a fellow in the crowd. To be sure he did not step boldly forth.

"What do you think you are doing?" asked another fellow.

"Let him go," said another man. That one I saw.

"This fellow," I said to the crowd, "is a thief. He stole three letters from me. I mean to have them back."

"I am not a thief," said the man.

"Did you see him steal the letters?" asked a fellow.

"No," I said.

"Did someone else, then?" said the fellow.

"No," I said, irritably.

"How do you know he took them then?" asked a fellow. It seemed a fair question. "You have not recovered the letters from him," said another. "Does that not suggest that you might be mistaken? I opened the fellow's pouch. It contained coins, but there were no letters within it.

I poured the coins back into the pouch, and pulled shut its drawstrings.

"Where have you hidden the letters? I asked the fellow. My voice was not pleasant.

"I do not know anything about your letters," he whispered. I think he had little doubt that I was in earnest. He was frightened.

"Have you sold them already?" I asked.

"I do not know anything bout them," he said. "Are you not a thief?" "No," I said.

"Release him," said a man.

"You have no proof," said another.

"He has a sword," said a man. "He does not need proof."

"Let the fellow go," said another man.

"He is a thief," I said, angrily. "I am not a thief," said the fellow.

"He is not a thief," said another man.

"He is a well-known thief from Torcadino," I said.

"Nonsense," said a man.

"Who do you think he is?" asked another fellow.

"Ephialtes, of Torcadino," I said.

"I am not Ephialtes," said the man.

"He is not Ephialtes," said another fellow.

"He has been so identified for me, days ago." I said.

"And who made this identification?" asked a fellow.

"I do not now see him about," I said.

"That is not Ephialtes," said a man.

"Even if it were," said another fellow, "you apparently did not see the theft, and do not have clear evidence, even of a circumstantial nature, that he is the culprit." The fellow who had said this wore the blue of the scribes. He may even have been a scribe of the law.

"Release him," suggested another fellow.

"I am Philebus, a vintner, of Torcadino, said the man.

"He is lying," I said.

"That is Philebus," said a man. "I have dealt with him."

"Release him," said a man.

I untied the fellow. "Put your things back in your pack," I said. I watched him do this. The pack might have had a false lining. Still I had not felt the resistance of letters, nor heard the sound of paper from it, when I had tested it.

"Cart Seventeen is ready to leave!" I heard called.

"That is my cart," said the fellow, thrusting the last of his various articles, strewn about, into the pack.

"It is mine, too, as well you know," I said. "Do not fear. I shall accompany you to the cart and see that you board safely." I had no intention of letting him out of my sight. Although I had no proof of the sort which might convince a praetor I was confident that it was Ephialtes of Torcadino who had stolen the letters. It was ironic. I had ridden in the very cart with him.

"We are ready to go," said Boabissia coming up to me.

"The cart is going to leave." "I know," I said. "I heard. Go along, you." I thrust the fellow before me, toward the carts.

* * *

I stood near the front railing of the cart. I did look back to make sure the fellow was still on the bench where I had placed him. "That is the checkpoint ahead?" I asked the driver, as I leaned over the railing.

"Yes," he said, lifting his head and speaking back over his shoulder. "You will all get out here, and those who pass will board again, on the other side. There are no refunds, if you do not pass. Such failures are not the responsibility of the company."

"We are only a day from Ar," said a fellow.

"There is the barrier," said another, coming to stand beside me at the railing. "Look," said another, joining us. "Look at that poor sleen." He indicated a small figure near the checkpoint, impaled on a high pole, lifted some twenty feet above the heads of the refugees.

"Among the crowds there," I said, suddenly, pointing, "there are soldiers with purple cloaks and helmets." I had not seen such things in years, since the time of the usurper, Cernus, in Ar, dethroned long ago in the restoration of Marlenus, ubar of ubars.

"Those are Taurentians, members of the elite palace guard," said a man. "The Taurentians were disbanded in 10,119," I said.

"They have been restored to favor," said a man.

"Had you not heard?" asked another.

"No," I said. The sight of Taurentians made me uneasy. Such men, with their internal esprit de corps, their identification with their own units, their allegiance to their personal commanders, their status, privileges and skills, their proximity to the delicate fulcrums of power, hold in their hands the power to enthrone and dethrone ubars.

"It was done only this year," said a man.

"They are fine soldiers," said another.

"I know," I said. I had met them in combat, as long ago as the sands of the Stadium of Blades. There is a common myth, given their post in the city, that Taurentians are spoiled, and soft. This myth is false. They are elite troops, highly trained and devoted to their commanders. One does not gain admittance to their coveted ranks in virtue of mediocre skills or poor condition. The current year was 10,13 °C.A. In the chronology of Port Kar, it was Year 11 in the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains. Their captain, when I had known them long ago, had been Saphronicus of Ar. Seremides of Tyros, in those days, had been a high general of Ar. He, appointed through the influence of Cernus, who was soon to ascend the throne of Ar, had replaced the venerated hero, Maximus Hegesius Quintilius of Ar, who had earlier expressed reservations concerning the investiture of Cernus, a merchant and slaver, in the caste of warriors. Maximus Hegesius Quintilius was later found assassinated in his own pleasure gardens, slain there by the bite of a chemically prepared poison girl, one killed by Taurentians before she could be questioned. Such an appointment, of course, that of one of Tyros to such a post, later would have been unthinkable, given the developing frictions between Ar and Cos, and her mighty ally, Tyros, frictions largely consequent upon competitions in the valley of the Vosk. After the defeat and deposition of Cernus, so briefly a ubar, I had seen both Saphronicus and Seremides in chains before Marlenus, then again upon the throne. They had both, with other high traitorous officers, been ordered to Port Kar, in chains, to be sold to the galleys.

One of the figures in the purple cloak and helmet stood out from the others near the side of the road and lifted his hand.

The driver pulled back on the reins of his tharlarion and the beast slowed, grunting. The high-wheeled cart halted.

"Passengers alight and take your places in the line to the right," said the driver. "I am going in the wagon line. Rejoin me on the far side of the barrier, in the wagon line." He had been here before.

"How will be able to pass?" whispered Boabissia, whom I helped down, through the cart gate. "You no longer have the letters."

"I am not sure," I said. "But surely most of the folks here do not have letters." I kept my eye on the fellow who had called himself Philebus, claiming to be a vintner of Torcadino. I had no intention of letting him out of my sight. If letters were required, and he presented those stolen from me, I would find that of interest. I would also, when the opportunity presented itself, an opportunity which I would see to it would present itself, break his arms and legs.

"Waiting, waiting," complained Hurtha. "I think that I shall compose a poem on the insolencies of bureaucracy."

"A good idea," I said.

"Done!" he said.

"Done?" I asked.

"It is a short poem," he said. "Would you care to hear it?"

"It must be quite short," I said.

"Yes," said Hurtha.

"I would be pleased to hear it," I said, keeping my eyes on the so-called Philebus.

"Lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines," began Hurtha.

"Wait," I said. "There is only one word in the poem?" I began to suspect I had penetrated the secret of the poem's swift completion.

"No," said Hurtha, "already there are more than a half dozen. Count them. " "Lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines.

"Yes," I said, "you are right."

The lines moved forward a few feet. I kept my eyes on the so-called Philebus. "Lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines," said Hurtha. "You are starting again?" I asked.

"No," he said, "I am picking up from where I left off. Do you really want to hear this poem?"

"Yes, of course," I said. I began to suspect that certain basic civilities, hitherto regarded as largely innocent, retained from my English upbringing, might not be wholly without occasional disadvantages.

"Then do not interrupt," said Hurtha.

"Sorry," I said.

"Those lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines are very long, those long lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines."

"Yes, they are," I granted him.

"What?" asked Hurtha.

"Those lines," I said, "they are pretty long."

"Yes," agreed Hurtha, somewhat suspiciously. "Please do not interrupt." "Sorry," I chuckled. After all, how often does a common fellow like myself get a chance to put one over on a poet.

"You are quite a wit," observed Boabissia.

"Thank you," I said. But, from the tone of her voice, I suspected her compliment was not to be taken at face value. I think she was prejudiced somewhat by her affection for the stocky larl, Hurtha. I did not think it was to be explained by her love of poetry. I did glance back to Feiqa. She was smiling. She was obviously of high intelligence. Then, observing herself the object of my scrutiny, she put down her head, quickly, even more humbly than was perhaps required under the circumstances. After all, her neck was in a collar.

"Be pleased that Hurtha does not strike you to the ground with a heavy blow," said Boabissia.

"I am pleased," I said. "I am pleased."

"If I may continue," said Hurtha.

"Please," I said.

" "Those long lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines they make me tired, those long lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, " said Hurtha.

I could believe it. But I refrained from comment.

" "I do not like them, those long lines, those long lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, " said Hurtha.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"That is the first verse," said Hurtha. "Also, I am catching my breath." "I thought you said it was a short poem," I said.

"You needn't listen if you do not wish to," said Hurtha. "I can recite it to Boabissia."

"No, no," I said. "I just thought you said it was a short poem."

"It was, when I said that," he said. "But I have since expanded it. Does the subject matter not seem worthy to you of a more substantial treatment?" "Of course," I said.

Our own lines moved forward a few steps.

"You do not like it?" asked Hurtha.

"It is wonderful," I said. "It is only that I am not sure that it is as wonderful as many of your other poems."

"What is wrong with it?" he asked.

"It seems to me perhaps a bit long," I said. "Also, it may be a bit repetitious."

" "Repetitious'?" he asked, in disbelief.

"Yes," I said. For example, with respect to the word "lines'." I kept my eye on the fellow before me, the so-called Philebus, he who claimed to be a vintner from Torcadino.

Hurtha burst out laughing and, tears in his eyes, seized me by the arms. I kept an eye on the so-called Philebus, lest he take this opportunity to take to his heels.

"My poor, dear sweet friend," said Hurtha. "How simple you are, dear friend! How little you know of poetry! The length is deliberate, of course, constituting an implicit allegory of interminability, manifesting and conveying in no uncertain manner, but in one which perhaps you have not as yet full grasped, the withering tedium of the bureaucratic assault on the spirit and senses of man!"

"Oh," I said.

"Too, similarly pungent and subtle is the recurrent emphasis on the expression "lines', which, on a level and in a dimension to which I have hopes you may yet attain, forcefully enunciates and clarifies not only the concept but more significantly the emotional significance of lines, those inevitable attributes, attaining in themselves an almost symbolic grandeur, of the perfidious bureaucratic infection."

"I see," I said.

"May I now continue?" he asked.

"Please, do," I said. I was so overawed by Hurtha's exposition that the so-called Philebus might then have slipped away unnoticed, but when I checked he had not done so. He did not wish to lose his place in line, it seemed. I decided that I, as a simple soldier, and unpretentious fellow devoted to the profession of arms, had best reserve judgement on such things as poets and poetry. It was dangerous, weighty stuff. I felt a sudden twinge of jealousy for Hurtha. He was both a warrior and a poet.

Hurtha then regaled us with his poem, which, truly, seemed to capture something of the inscrutability and ponderousness of the institution which had inspired it. I listened in awe, keeping my attention from time to time, and actually rather often, as my attention wandered, on the so-called Philebus. Boabissia, as I occasionally noted, with an admixture of skepticism and envy, seemed enraptured. Feiqa's countenance was cheerfully inscrutable. She would not meet my eyes. The so-called Philebus seemed as though he might desire to withdraw from our vicinity now and then, even giving up his place inline, particularly when Hurtha would come to an often-repeated, stirring refrain, but my hand on his collar kept him in his place. I will not attempt to give Hurtha's poem in its entirety, but I think I may have suggested something of its drift already. I might also mention that it is possible that it might lose something in the reading of it. Poetry, after all, or most poetry, is presumably meant to be heard, not read. It is intended for the ear, not the eye. And certainly the mere reading of it could scarcely convey the impact of hearing it proclaimed in the living voice, and particularly in a voice such as Hurtha's.

The line had been moving along rapidly enough, incongruous though this might have seemed, given the thesis of Hurtha's poem. We were now rather near the checkpoint.

"You are a Taurentian, are you not?" I asked a fellow in a purple helmet. He did not answer me.

"You are a bit far from Ar, for Taurentians, are you not?" I inquired. We must be at least a day from Ar. It did not seem to make much sense to me that Taurentians, supposedly the palace guard, though they also patrol certain portions of the city, should be this far abroad, particularly in these troubled times.

He turned away from me, not answering me.

"A surly fellow," remarked Hurtha, somewhat offended. We were now a few yards from the checkpoint. Only a few feet away, set off from the road a little, on our right, was the impaling pole we had seen from the cart. It was some six inches in diameter. On it was a small body. It had apparently been twisted and jerked until the point of the pole had emerged through the chest. It had then been drawn down the pole better than a yard. I could see some ribs erupted through the tunic. Its limbs were askew, hanging downward. The pole itself was red with blood. Nailed to it were some papers, fluttering in the wind.

"Wait," I said.

"What is it?" asked Boabissia.

"We know that fellow do we not?" I said, looking up to the impaled body. Boabissia averted her eyes, sick. Feiqa did not raise her head.

"He seems familiar," admitted Hurtha.

"He should," I said. "He came with us from Torcadino. He was our fellow passenger for several days."

I looked up at the dangling head. The mouth was open. The roof of the mouth would be exposed. I could see the upper teeth. From the upper lip, on either side, the two ends of the mustache dangled back, as the head hung, on the sides of the neck, like two pieces of oiled string.

"So they have finally caught up with him," said the fellow before us.

"Yes," agreed a man a place or two behind us.

"Do you know him?" I asked the fellow before us.

"Of course," said the man. "He is well known to everyone in Torcadino." "Hold my place," I said to Hurtha.

"I do not think any will strive to take it," said Hurtha, adjusting his ax on his shoulder, cheerfully looking about himself.

I walked to the side where the pole had been set up. I examined the papers nailed to the pole. They were partly ripped by the wind, and were stained with blood, where the blood had run down the pole.

"What are you doing there?" said a Taurentian. "What was his crime?" I asked.

"Carrying false papers," he said.

"I see," I said.

"Return to your place," said the Taurentian.

I returned to my place.

"Do you know that fellow?" I asked the fellow before me, he whom I had treated so harshly.

"Of course," he said.

"It was he who identified you as Ephialtes of Torcadino, to me," I said. "I am Philebus of Torcadino," said the man.

"Do you know who he is?" I asked.

"Of course," he said. "That is your man. That is Ephialtes of Torcadino." "I am sorry for the way in which I treated you," I said.

"My bruises rejoice," said the fellow.

"I am really sorry," I said. "I hope I did not hurt your feelings." "My feelings are fine," he said. "It is only my body which was damaged. It is only that which, as a whole, is in acute misery."

"I am really very sorry," I said.

"It could have been far worse," he said. "Think how sorry you would have had to have been, had you broken my neck before you discovered your error."

"That is right," said Hurtha. "There is much to be thankful for."

"What were the papers?" asked Boabissia.

"I shall tell you later," I said.

"Next," said a Taurentian. "You, there, what is your business in Ar?" "I am a vintner," said the fellow before me. "I was put out of Torcadino. I have relatives in Ar. It is my intention to seek caste asylum in Ar."

"Have you papers?" asked the Taurentian.

"I have documents certifying my caste standing," he said. He then produced some papers from his pack.

The Taurentian then wrote a notation on the papers and motioned him ahead. "I am called Tarl," I said, stepping forward. "I am from Port Kar, a city neutral to Ar. My friend is Hurtha, an Alar. The free woman is Boabissia, a woman from the Alar camp. The shapely collar slut bearing my pack is mine. I call her Feiqa. We are venturing to Ar on various errands, such as the seeking of our fortunes." The use of "we' in the sentence, of course, was understood, as is common in Gorean, to refer only to free persons. The collar slut, Feiqa, my lovely slave, was along only as any other animal in such a situation might be along, because her master had brought her.

"Have you papers?" asked the man.

"No," I said.

"You have no papers whatsoever?" asked the man.

"No," I said. "We have none whatsoever."

He looked at me for a moment, and then he waved us through. Boabissia was shuddering. In a few Ehn we had climbed up through the cart gate and, beyond the checkpoint, were again moving toward Ar.

As we left the checkpoint it was not toward Ar that I looked but back toward the checkpoint. There I could still see people waiting in line, and other carts coming up to the point. I could also see the twisted, bent body of Ephialtes of Torcadino on the impaling pole, and the flutter of papers nailed to it. I had been a fool. It had been Ephialtes of Torcadino himself who had cleverly directed my attention away from himself, focusing it on an innocent vintner. In a way I had to admire him. It seemed clear to me now that, in asking if I was carrying valuables, he had tricked me into inadvertently betraying their hiding place, by the incipient movement of my hand toward the sheath. Too, he had certainly removed the letters of safety from my sheath with great skill, even replacing he blade. Had I not checked the draw this morning, as is my wont, I might not have known the papers were missing until I arrived at the checkpoint. I had determined, incidentally, that the deeper papers, the letters, some addressed to Ar's regent, Gnieus Lelius, and the others to her high general, Seremides, were still in the sheath. I now had strong, mixed feelings about them. I was now convinced more than ever of their importance, but also of the danger of carrying them.

The Taurentians were far from Ar. I suspected that it was their mission, on behalf of some high-placed power in Ar, to sift through refugees and travelers, seeking out those who might be inimical to their interests, or party, in Ar. I now understood more clearly than before why earlier messengers or agents might have failed to make contact with the regent and high general. I was, I recalled, seemingly not the first to have been dispatched upon this delicate mission. Doubtless Ephialtes, in possession of the letters of safety, had been mistaken for an agent of Dietrich of Tarnburg. I shuddered. I was pleased that it had been Ephialtes, and not I, who had presented the letters at the checkpoint. Probably, at the demand of the officer, I would have surrendered them. And doubtless, if not here, then somewhere else I might have surrendered them, in some context, or upon some demand, somewhere or another.

I smiled bitterly. Letters of safety, indeed! They had not been letters of safety so much, it seemed, as death warrants, or orders for execution, laden with mortal peril for any so bold or foolish as to carry them. I saw the small figure of Ephialtes disappearing now in the distance. He had sought to steal protection but had purloined only death. He had been caught like some tiny insect in a dark and terrible web, once whose existence he had not even suspected.

"What were the papers nailed to the pole?" asked Boabissia.

"Our letters of safety," I told her. Then I turned about to look ahead, down the road. "We will be in Ar tomorrow morning," I told her. "Perhaps from the night's camp you will be able to see her lights."

"Is Ar a great city?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

20 We See the City of Ar

"When we come over the crest of this hill," called the driver, "you will see Ar."

Boabissia rose from her seat to stand by the front railing of the fee cart. She clutched it with both her hands.

"Move, move aside," called the driver to some of the pedestrians on the road. The sun was on our left. The hill was steep. There were few wagons drawn up along the road here. If they were halted, it seemed they had chosen to halt on the far side of the hill, where, at rest, they might see the city.

A woman, with a pack on her back, stumbled, and then regained her feet, hurrying along the side of the road.

"Ah!" cried Boabissia. "Ohh!"

More than one of the passengers rose to their feet, standing near the benches. The driver halted the fee cart at the crest of the hill.

I had seen Ar at various times before. Such a sight I was accustomed to. It would not move me, as it might others, the first time to look upon it.

"Incredible!" said a man.

"Marvelous!" whispered another.

I smiled at their childish enthusiasm, at their lack of maturity. Then I rose, too, to my feet. I saw then, in the distance, some four or five pasangs away, the gleaming walls of glorious Ar.

"I had not realized how vast was the city," said one of the men.

"It is large," said another fellow.

"There is the Central Cylinder! said a man, pointing.

The high, uprearing walls of the city, some hundred feet or more in height, the sun bright upon them, stretched into the distance. They were now white. That had been done, apparently, since the time of Cernus, the usurper, and the restoration of Marlenus, ubar of ubars. It was hard to look at them, for the glare upon them. We could see the great gate, too, and the main road leading to it, the Viktel Aria. Indeed, we ourselves, soon, I thought, would transfer to the Viktel Aria. Within the gamut of those gleaming walls, so lofty and mighty, rose thousands of buildings, and a veritable forest of ascendant towers, of diverse heights and colors. Many of these towers, I knew, were joined by traceries of soaring bridges, set at different levels. These bridges, however, save for tiny glintings here and there, could not be well made out at this distance.

"I do not think I have ever seen anything so beautiful," said a man.

We were looking upon what was doubtless the greatest city of known Gor.

"I did not know it was like that," said another man.

I remembered the great gate. I remembered, long ago, the horde of Pa-Kur. I did not forget the house of Cernus, the Stadium of Tarns, the great tarn, Ubar of the Skies, the racing factions, the Stadium of Blades, the bloodied sands of the arena. I had not forgotten the streets, the baths, the shops, the broad, noble avenues, with their fountains, the narrow, twisting streets, little more than darkened corridors, shielded from the sun, of the lower districts.

"I have never seen anything like it," said a man.

"Nor I," said another, in awe.

I gazed upon the city. In such places came together the complexities and the poverties, the elementalities and the richnesses of the worlds. In such places were to be found the rare, precious habitats of culture, the astonishing, moving delights of art and music, the truths of theater and literature, the glories and allegories of architecture, bespeaking the meanings of peoples, man-made symbols like mountain ranges; in them, too, were to be found iron and silver, and gold and steel, the chairs of finance and the thrones of power. I gazed at the shining city. How startling it seemed. Such places were like magnets to man; they call to him like gilded sirens; they lure him inward to their dazzling wonders, bewitching him with their often so meretricious whispered promises; they were symbols of races. In them were fortunes to be sought, and fortunes to be won, and fortunes to be lost; in them there were crowds, and loneliness, in them success trod the same pavements as failure; in their plazas hope jostled with despair, and meaning ate at the same table with meaninglessness. In such places were perhaps the best and worst that man could do, his past and future, his pain and pleasure, his darkness and light, come together in a single focus.

"Drink, cool drinks!" called a woman, selling juices by the side of the road, coming up to the cart. There was a mall crowd at the crest of the hill. It was a place where carts, and wagons, and travelers often stopped. In such a place there were coins to be made. She paid no attention to the sight below. Doubtless she had seen it a thousand times. Her eyes were on possible customers.

"Would you like a drink?" I asked Boabissia.

"Yes," she said.

I purchased her some larma juice for a tarsk bit.

"Is it cool?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. The morning was hot.

It would have been stored overnight, I assumed, in an amphora, buried to the neck in the cool earth. Sometimes Earth girls, first brought to Gor, do not understand why so many of these two-handled, narrow-necked vessels have such a narrow, usually pointed base, for they cannot stand upright on such a base. They have not yet learned that these vessels are not intended to stand upright. Rather they are commonly fitted into a storage hole, buried there to keep their contents cool, the necks above the earth. The pointed base, of course, presses into the soft earth at the bottom of the storage hole.

"Bread, meat!" called a fellow, coming up beside the cart. Several of us availed ourselves of his provender. I bought some wedges of Sa-Tarna bread and slices of dried tarsk meat, taking some and giving the rest to Boabissia and Hurtha. I also went to the back of the cart, to the baggage area where I kept Feiqa. I gave her some of my bread and meat. I did not permit her to touch it with her hands, but, reaching between the thick wooden bars, some six inches apart, to where she knelt among the packs and boxes at the back, fed her by hand. "Thank you, Master," she said.

I then returned to the front of the cart. Some of the passengers had alighted. I regarded again the walls of glorious Ar, shining in the distance.

"I cannot wait," said Boabissia, "to claim my patrimony."

I nodded. I finished my food.

"Let us return to the cart!" the driver called to some of the fellows who had alighted. "Let us return to the cart!"

I looked again upon the city in the distance. From here it looked very beautiful. Yet I knew that somewhere within it, perhaps within its crowded quarters, from which mobs might erupt like floods, or within its sheltered patios and gardens, where high ladies might exchange gossip, sip nectars and toy with dainty repasts, served to them by male silk slaves, or among its houses and towers, or on its streets or in the great baths, that somewhere there, somewhere behind those walls, was treason. Somewhere there, within those walls, coiled in the darkness of secrecy, corruption and sedition, like serpents, I was sure, awaited their hour to strike.

"It is a fine sight," said a fellow, climbing up through the cart gate, and standing beside me for a moment, to look down on the city.

"Yes," I said.

He returned to his place.

From where we were, of course, we could not see dirt and crime, or poverty or hunger. We could not detect pain, misery and greed. We could not feel loneliness and woe. And yet, for all these things, which so afflict so many of its own, how impressive is the city. How precious it must be, that so many men are willing to pay its price. I wondered why this was, I a voyager and soldier, more fond of the tumultuous sea and the wind-swept field than the street and plaza. Perhaps because it is alive, like drums and trumpets. To be near it or within it, to be stirred by its life, to call its cylinders their own, is for many reward enough. The last fellow, climbing up and closing the gate behind him, took his seat.

I did not take my eyes from the city, so splendid before us. Yes, I thought, it is all there, the habitats of culture, the intricate poetries of stone, the incredible places where, their heads among clouds, common bricks have been taught to speak and sing, the meanings uttered scarcely understood by those who walk among them; yes it is all there, in them, in the cities, I thought; in them were dirt and crime, iron and silver, gold and steel; in them were perfume and silk, and whips and chains; in them were love and lust' in them were mastery and submission, the owning and the helplessly being owned' in them were intrigue and greed, nobility and honor, deceit and treachery, the exalted and the base, the strong and the weak. In such places, filthy, and crowded and frail, are found the fortresses of man. They are castles and prisons, arenas and troves, they are cities; they are the citadels of civilization.

The driver called to his tharlarion and shook the reins.

"Ahead!" he called to the beast. "Move!"

I returned to my seat, the cart beginning to move.

"You have seen Ar before?" said a man.

"Yes," I said.

"It is then an old thing for you," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"You will have to forgive me," he said. "But I found it quite astonishing, this first time."

"It often affects one that way, the first time," I said.

"I suppose so," he said.

The cart continued to move down the incline. I noted the sound of the narrow, metal-rimmed wheels on the stones. I watched the walls of Ar grow closer.

21 Within the Walls of Ar

"Are you come from Torcadino?" asked the man.

"Yes," I said.

"Thousands of you are in the city," he said, "from Torcadino and other places." I nodded. I had never, myself, seen Ar so crowded.

"We need no more of you refugees here," snapped a woman, a seller of suls at the Teiban Market.

"We seek lodging in the city," I said to the man.

"Lodging is dear," he said. "It is difficult to know what to tell you." He glanced at Feiqa, who put down her head. She was kneeling behind me, to my left, my pack still on her back. She had knelt when we had stopped, and begun to speak to the free person. This was appropriate, of course, for she was a slave. Her location was approximately what it had been when she had been following me, in the heeling position. "She," he said, "you could sleep in the street, chaining her by the neck to a ring, perhaps putting her in an iron belt, but that sort of thing will not do for free folks."

"No," I said.

"You could try the southern insulae," he said, "such as those below the Plaza of Tarns."

"The Anbar district?" I asked, skeptically.

"Or those of the Metellan Quarter," he said.

"What about east of the Avenue of the Central Cylinder?" I asked.

"There is the District of Trevelyan," he said.

"That sounds nice," said Boabissia.

"We would hope to survive the night," I said.

"You know the city?" he asked. "I have been here before," I said.

"You are two big fellows," he said. "I doubt that anyone would bother you." "If they do bother us," said Hurtha, "It is my hope that they are carrying coins."

"We do not have much to steal," I told the man.

"You have a free female there," he said. "Such can bring their prices in certain places."

"I am not afraid," said Boabissia.

"Brave and noble girl," he said.

"I can take care of myself," said Boabissia.

"To be sure," he said, "her price could be lowered for stupidity." "I am not stupid," said Boabissia.

"Forgive me," he said. "From your remark I thought that perhaps you were." Boabissia regarded him in fury.

The fellow regarded her. It was one of those looks which, in effect, undress a woman, exposing all her lineaments, careless of her will, to his view.

"Do not look at me in that way," she said. "I am free."

He continued to consider her, perhaps now as she might look trembling, suing for his favor, in chains at his feet.

"You are not veiled," he said.

"I am an Alar woman," she said.

"No," said Hurtha. "She is not an Alar."

"I have been with the wagons," she said.

"That is true," said Hurtha.

Boabissia, as I have mentioned, did not much resemble the typical Alar woman. She seemed of a much different type, that of the delicious, soft women of the cities, the sort which are generally put on slave blocks. Indeed, I suspected that her origin might be urban.

"What district do you think we might try?" I asked the fellow.

"Regardless of this free woman," he said, "you have something of value there," He indicated Feiqa. She put down her head, appraised.

"What district do you think we might try?" I asked. "I have suggested several," he said.

"Ar is a large city," I said.

"Are you looking for decent lodging?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Are you willing to pay a silver tarsk a night?" he asked.

"No," I said. We could not afford that.

"Then I do not think you will find any," he said.

"I thank you, Citizen," I said, "for your time."

"Is it true," he asked, "that there are considerable Cosian forces in the vicinity of Torcadino?"

"Yes," I said.

"They have taken the city?" he asked.

"I do not think so," I said.

"But the refugees," he said, "so many of them."

"They have been turned out of the city to make its defense more practical," I said.

"The main forces of Cos," he said, "are said to be advancing on Ar's Station." "I doubt that," I said.

"That would make sense," he said. "The Cosians want the river, and the control of its basin. That is what the trouble is all about. That is why their major move will be there. Too, it is probably no more than a raid."

"Ar is in danger," I said.

"They would never dare to meet us in pitched battle," he said.

"Ar is in great danger," I said.

"Ar is invincible," he said.

"The main forces of Cos are as close as Torcadino," I said.

"Rumors are rampant," he said. "One does not know what to think."

"I trust the regent, your high councils, your military leaders, the general staff, and such, are well informed."

"Doubtless," he said.

"Where is Marlenus?" I asked.

"In the Voltai," said the fellow. "On a punitive expedition against Treve." That, too, had been my information.

"He has been absent for months, has he not?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

"Does this not seem strange to you?" I asked.

"He does as he chooses," said the man. "He is Ubar."

"Is the city content that he should be absent in what may be perilous times?" I asked.

"If there were any true danger," said the man, "he would swiftly return. He has not returned. Thus there is no true danger."

"You do not think there is any real danger?" I asked.

"No," said the man. "Any one of our lads could bet a dozen Cosians." "It seems to me Marlenus should return," I said.

The man shrugged.

"Perhaps they have lost contact with him, in the reaches of the Voltai." "Perhaps," said the man. "But the city does not need him."

"The Ubar is no popular?" I asked.

"He has held power in Ar for a long time," said the man. "Perhaps it is time for a change."

"Do many think so?" I asked.

"Such voices are heard here and there," he said, "in the taverns, the markets, the baths. Gnieus Lelius is an excellent regent. Marlenus is too bellicose. The city is sound. We are not threatened. He squabble with Cos is peripheral to our interests."

"Is Gnieus Lelius interested in being Ubar?" I asked.

"No," said the fellow. "He is far too modest, too humble and unpretentious for that sort of thing. The folds of the purple cloak, the weight of the Ubar's medallion, are of no interest to him. He cares only for excellent governance, and the peace and prosperity of the city."

"But you are sure he is interested in the welfare of Ar?" I asked.

"Of course," said the fellow. That answer was reassuring to me. This Gnieus Lelius, if truly interested in the welfare of Ar, must act. If he had flaws as a regent presumably they might be due to his lack of information, or perhaps to a certain unwarranted optimism, or untutored innocence or naivety. Such things are not uncommon among idealists, so tender and thoughtful, so loving and trusting, prisoners of verbalisms, dazzled by inventions and dreams, projecting their own benevolence unto the larl and the forests, skeptical of reality, construing the world in the metaphor of the flower. What consolation is it for others if they should eventually discover they live in a world of facts, if disillusioned they should eventually recognize their errors, living to see the harvests of their foolishness, living to see their civilization split asunder, to see their world fall bleeding under the knives of power and reality.

"What of Seremides, the high general?" I asked. "Might he not ascend the throne?"

"Unthinkable," said the man. "He is as loyal as the stones of the Central Cylinder itself."

"I see," I said. My question had not been prompted, of course, merely by the obvious consideration that the Ubar's cloak might seem an attractive prize to a strong, ambitious man, but by the sober understanding that Ar was in a situation of crisis, whether she knew it or not. In such times, of course, in the light of the failures and ineffectuality of an inept civilian administration, it is not unknown for military men, seeing what must be done, simply responding to the imperatives of survival, to take power and attempt to instill the will, the discipline and order without which catastrophe cannot be diverted.

"But surely it is not anticipated that the governance of Ar will long remain under a regency." I said.

"Marlenus is expected back soon," said the man.

"Suppose, however," I suggested, "he does not soon return?"

"Then there is another possibility," he said, "an interesting one." "What is that?" I asked.

"A Ubara," he said.

"A Ubara?" I asked.

"She who was, until forsworn, the daughter of Marlenus," he said.

"Oh?" I asked. "Talena," he said. "Have you heard of her?"

"Yes," I said.

"Marlenus was dissatisfied with her," said the fellow. "It had to do with some business in the Northern forests. He swore her from him, making her no longer his daughter. For years she has lived in obscurity, sequestered in the Central Cylinder. Now, with the absence of Marlenus, and the generosity of Gnieus Lelius, she is carried once again, in the streets of Ar."

"I gather that would not be in accord with the will of Marlenus," I said. "Marlenus is not here," he said.

"Why would one think of her in the terms of a Ubara? I asked. "Sworn from Marlenus, she is no longer his daughter."

"I am not a scribe of the law," he said. "I do not know."

"I do not think she has a Home Stone," I said.

"Gnieus Lelius permitted her to kiss the Home Stone," he said. "It was done in a public ceremony. She is once again a citizeness of Ar."

"Gnieus Lelius seems a generous, noble fellow," I said.

"He is a patron of the arts," said the fellow. "He has founded parks and museums. He has won the support of the elite in this fashion. I myself favor him for he has remitted certain classes of debts. This has considerably eased my financial burdens. The lower castes are fond of him for he frequently, at his own expense, distributes free bread and paga, and sponsors games and races. He has also declared new holidays. He has made life better and easier in Ar. He is much supported by the people.

"You are certain that he is concerned for the welfare of Ar?" I asked. "Of course," he said.

"Is he difficult to see?" I asked.

"One does not simply walk up to the Central Cylinder and knock on the door," he said.

"I suppose not," I said.

"But Gnieus Lelius makes a point of being available to the people," he said. "That is one reason he is so much loved."

"Commoners, then, can look upon the regent?" I asked, "other than from afar, as in state processions or at official games?"

"Of course," said the man.

I was pleased to hear that. I had urgent letters for Gnieus Lelius and Seremides. I must somehow manage to deliver them. I had feared it might be difficult. I did not wish to deliver these missives into the hands of a subordinate. Who could one trust? Too, I surely had no wish to attempt to cut my way through the corridors of the Central Cylinder to effect a private audience with these fellows.

"Can they actually speak with him?" I asked.

"Surely," he said.

"When, next, do you think he might be holding public audiences?" I asked. "Two days from now," said the fellow.

"Is it a court day?" I asked.

"Better than that," he said. "It is one of the new holidays, the day of Generosity and Petitions."

"Excellent," I said.

"The audiences are held near the Central Cylinder, on the Avenue of the Central Cylinder," he said.

"Thank you," I said.

"Did you wish to speak to him about something?" asked the man.

"I thought it would be nice," I said, "at least to look upon him." "He is a charming fellow," said the man.

"I am sure of it," I said.

"Many minor petitions are granted," he said, "and some of the major ones. To be sure, it depends wholly, at least in the major cases, upon the justice of the petition."

"I understand," I said.

"Those wishing to present petitions must take a place on the rope," he said. "What is that?" I asked.

"Obviously the regent cannot give an audience to everyone," he said. "Those who are granted audiences wear the Gnieus Lelius Generosity Ribbon which encircles them and is tied about the rope, actually a velvet cable, leading to the dais. This helps to keep the line straight and, as the audiences are held out of doors, controls the number of petitioners."

"I understand," I said. "How does one obtain a position on the rope?" I asked. "Sometimes it is a nasty business," said the man.

"Good," said Hurtha, approvingly.

"I suppose it is a good idea to come early?" I said.

"Some people are there from the fourteenth Ahn the day before," he said. "I see," I said. "Thank you, Citizen."

"You might try the Ally of the Slave Brothels of Ludmilla. That is behind the Avenue of Turia."

"What?" I said.

"For lodging," he said.

"Oh," I said.

"Do you know where it is?" he asked.

"I know where the Avenue of Turia is," I said. It is named for the city in the southern hemisphere, incidentally, doubtless as a gesture of amicability on the part of Ar. Stately Tur trees, appropriately enough, line its walks. It is a broad avenue with fountains. It is well known for its exclusive shops. "It is in the vicinity of the Street of Brands."

"That is the one," he said. The Street of Brands, incidentally, can be a particular street, but, generally, as in Ar, it is a district, one which has received its name from its dealings in slaves, and articles having to do with slaves. In it, commonly, are located the major slave houses of a city. To it, slavers may take their catches. In it, on a wholesale or retail basis, one may purchase slaves. Similarly one may bid upon them in a public auction. The major markets are there. For example, the Curulean is there. One may also rent and board slaves there. It is there, too, in the confines of the houses, that girls are often trained superbly and thoroughly in the intimate arts of giving exquisite pleasures to masters. Too, of course, in such a district, one may purchase such articles as appropriate cosmetics for slaves, suitable simple but attractive jewelry, fit for slaves, in particular, earrings which, in Gorean eyes, so fasten a woman's degradation helplessly upon her, appropriate perfumes, slave silk, and such. Too, it is in such a district that one will find a wide variety of other articles helpful in the identification, keeping, training and disciplining of females, such things as collars, of the fixed and lock variety, leashes, of metal and leather, neck, wrist and ankle, ranging from simple guide thongs to stern control devices, wrist belts and ankle belts, yokes and leg-stretchers, waist-and-wrist stocks, iron belts, to prevent her penetration without the master's permission, linked bracelets, with long chains and short chains, body chains, pleasure shackles, multicolored, silken binding cords, some cored with chain, and, of various types, for various purposes, whips.

"My thanks," I said. "We will try it."

"I wish you well," he said.

"I, too, wish you well," I said.

He then went about his business. The woman near us, sitting on a blanket on the stones, her basket of suls before her, looked up. "Do you want suls?" she asked. "No," I said.

"Be gone, then," she said.

"Come along," I said to my party. I led them east on Venaticus, to the Avenue of the Central Cylinder. It was then my intention to go south on that avenue until I came to Wagon Street, taking it east to Turia. There is more than one "wagon Street" in Ar, incidentally, but the one I had in mind, that which led to the Street of Brands, was the one usually called Wagon Street. The "wagon streets" are generally east-west streets. They are called that, I suppose, because they are open to wagon traffic during the day, and wide enough for two wagons to pass on them. On many streets in Ar wagon traffic is discouraged during daylight hours because of their narrowness. There is little difficulty, of course, with the avenues and boulevards. They are generally wider. Many girls, incidentally, have been on Wagon Street, being brought down it on their first trip to Ar, though perhaps they did not see much of it, their ankles chained to the central bar in the blue-and-yellow slave wagons, those delivering them, according, say to the disk numbers on their collars, or the addresses marked on their left breasts, to the various houses on the Street of Brands. "Ah!" said Boabissia.

"The Avenue of the Central Cylinder," I said. "It is indeed beautiful. We will go right here."

"I am thirsty," said Hurtha, going toward a fountain. We followed him. There are many among this avenue.

Hurtha leaned his ax against the fountain and thrust his head half in the water and then pulled it out sputtering. He then splashed water on his face. Then, cupping his hands, he drank. I drank, too. And Boabissia, too, drank, lifting water delicately to her lips. I saw that in our company she had learned something of her femininity. It seemed that she was beginning, timidly and hopefully, to suspect and experience the true nature of her sexuality, that she might now be daring to think of fulfilling her softness and nature, daring to think of what it might to be, fully and truly, what she actually was, a female. She, at any rate, was no longer attempting, grotesquely, and laughably, to emulate the behavior of an Alar warrior.

"May I drink, Master?" asked Feiqa.

"Certainly," I said. Then, suddenly, angry, scandalized, I seized her by the hair. She cried out in pain, twisting.

"Are you not a beast?" I asked.

"Yes, Master!" she wept.

"And only that?" I inquired.

"Yes, Master! she cried.

I then flung her to her knees at my feet, and with my foot spurned her to the stones. She lay there, startled on her side, my pack awry on her back, near the fountain. "Master?" she asked, tears in her eyes.

"You are a best," I said. "You drink from the lower bowl, like other animals, like sleen and tharlarion."

"Yes, Master," she said.

"What a stupid slave," said Boabissia.

"Forgive me, Master," wept Feiqa.

I regarded her. She was quite attractive, and she had good legs. There was little doubt of that the way she lay on the stones. She was terrified, the former Lady Charlotte, once a rich, high citizeness of Samnium, now the mere beast, mine and collared, Feiqa. She looked up at me in terror. She had grievously erred.

"That was good," said Hurtha, wiping his mouth.

"Master?" asked Feiqa.

"Tonight," I told her. "You will be whipped,"

"Yes, Master," she said.

"A chair, with soldiers, is coming," said Boabissia.

We saw some folks gathering about to watch, but leaving a path for the movement of the chair and soldiers. It was an enclosed sedan chair, its silken curtains drawn. It was borne on long poles slung in tandem fashion between two tharlarion. The chair and soldiers were making their way north on the Avenue of the Central Cylinder, toward the Central Cylinder. The soldiers were Taurentians.

"It is a woman's chair, is it not?" asked Boabissia.

"Yes," I said.

"Those are palace guardsmen, aren't they?" asked Hurtha.

"Probably," I said. "They are, at least, of the same sort as the palace guardsmen."

"Taurentians, they are called," he said.

"Yes," I said.

"They look like capable fellows," he said.

"I am sure they are," I said. The eyes of the soldiers were mostly on the crowd. There seemed little doubt such men formed an efficient guard. The chair, I noted, was not borne by male draft slaves, but was supported by tharlarion. There might be various reasons for this. One might be ostentation, a simple display of wealth, for good tharlarion are generally more expensive than male slaves, particularly draft slaves. But perhaps, even more, the cargo might be regarded as too precious to be risked in the vicinity of male slaves. After all, they are men. Too, perhaps it was felt appropriate, if the cargo was deemed of sufficient beauty, that it even be borne by male slaves. After all, might there not be some danger, as the fair occupant entered into, or descended gracefully from, the sedan chair, that there might be the careless movement of a veil, revealing a bit of throat, or the inadvertent lifting of a robe of concealment, giving them the glimpse of a briefly exposed ankle? "Drink," I said to Feiqa.

"Yes, Master," she said.

"Whose chair is that?" I asked a fellow near us, as the chair moved past. "Do you not know?" he asked.

"No," I said. "We are but newly come to Ar."

"From Torcadino?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"That," he said, "is the chair of she who may become the Ubara of Ar." "Talena," said another fellow.

"What is wrong?" asked Boabissia.

"Nothing," I said. I watched the chair move down the street, toward the Central Cylinder.

I looked at Feiqa. She knelt on all fours before the lower bowl of the fountain, her head down, drinking.

"How could this Talena become Ubara of Ar?" I asked. "I thought she was sworn from the line of Marlenus."

"She can be given legal entitlement to the succession," said a fellow. "I have heard it discussed."

"Not as of the line of Marlenus," I said.

"No," he said. "But one need not be of the line of Marlenus, surely, to rule in Ar."

"Minius Tentius Hinrabius and Cernus, both, ruled in Ar," said a man. "Neither was of his line."

"That is true," I said.

"She is a free citizen," said a man. "Accordingly, she could be given such entitlement."

"Why not Gnieus Lelius or Seremides?" I asked.

"Neither is ambitious, happily," said a fellow.

"But why her?" I asked. "Why not any one of thousands of others?"

"She was of royal family," said a man. "She was once the daughter of Marlenus." "I see," I said. I looked down at Feiqa. "Are you watered?" I asked her. "Yes, Master," she said.

She looked lovely, on all fours, at the lower bowl of the fountain, where, drinking, as a collared, briefly tunicked beast, she belonged. "Rise," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

I looked after the chair. But I could not now see it for the folks following it. "Which way are we going?" asked Hurtha.

"This way," I said. We could go south on the Avenue of the Central Cylinder, some four or five pasangs, and then make a left on Wagon Street, taking it over to the Avenue of Turia. Somewhere in that vicinity, probably in the lower end of the avenue, somewhere in the Street of Brands district, was the Alley of the Slave Brothels of Ludmilla. I would have to ask directions once we were on the Avenue of Turia. I did not doubt but what we could quickly find such an area. It sounded as though it would not be unknown.

"What is the name of the place?" asked Boabissia.

"The Alley of the Slave Brothels of Ludmilla," I said.

"I do not like the sound of that," said Boabissia.

"I do not think it sounds bad," I said.

"No," said Hurtha.

I looked back at Feiqa. She put down her head. She had been careless. She had been thoughtless. Tonight she would be whipped. (pg 272)

22 The Insula of Achiates

"The stench is terrible," said Boabissia.

"Do not throw up," I told her. "You will get used to it."

"I have told them, time and time again," said the proprietor, testily, carrying the small lamp, "that they should keep the lid on. It is heavy, of course, and so it is too often left awry." With a grating sound, he shoved the heavy terracotta lid back in place, on the huge vat. It was at the foot of the stairs, where the slop pots could be emptied into it. Such vats are changed once or twice weekly, the old vats loaded in wagons and taken outside the city, where their contents are disposed of at one of the carnarii, or places of refuse pits. They are then rinsed out and ready to be delivered again, in their turn, to customers. This is done by one of several companies organized for the purpose. The work is commonly done by male slaves, supervised by free men.

"Follow me," said the proprietor, beginning to ascend the stairs.

I followed him. Behind me came Boabissia. Then came Hurtha. Feiqa came last. The staircase was narrow. It would be difficult for two people to pass on it. That would make it easy to defend, I thought. It was also steep. That was good. It did not have an open side but was set between two walls. That conserved space. It made possible extra rooms. Space is precious in a crowded insula. The stairwell boards were narrow. That was not so good, unless one were on the landing. That would be the place to make a stand. One could not get one's entire foot on them. They were old. Some were split. Several were loose. For a bit we could make our way in the light from the shallow vestibule below, where it filtered in through the shutters of the entrance gate, but in a moment or two, we became substantially dependent on the proprietor's tiny lamp. It cast odd shadows.

"I cannot stand the smell," said Boabissia.

"The room is a tarsk bit a night," said the proprietor. "You may take it or leave it. You are lucky we have one left. These are busy days in Ar."

"We could have had a better place were it not for something," said Boabissia, irritably.

That might have been true. I did not know. It was hard to say. Several of the insulae we had investigated did not allow animals, which meant, of course, that we could not keep Feiqa with us. Some of them did, however, have some provision for slaves, such as basement kennels or chaining posts in the yard. I preferred, however, to keep Feiqa with us. She was lovely. I did not wish to have her stolen.

"The insula of Achiates," said the proprietor, "is still the finest insula in all Ar."

"It is dark," said Boabissia.

"How far is it now?" I asked.

"Not far," said the proprietor.

As we climbed, the landings were frequent. The ceilings on the various levels of insulae are generally very low. In most of the rooms a man cannot stand upright. This makes additional floors possible.

I put out my hands and touched the walls on the sides of the staircase. They were very close. They were chipped. In places there were long diagonal cracks in them, marking stress points in the structure where the plaster has broken. The insula of Achiates might be the finest insula in Ar, but I thought that it stood somewhat in a condition of at least minor disrepair. A bit of renovation might not have been entirely out of order. The walls, too, were frequently discolored, run with various stains, water stains and other stains.

"This place stinks," said Boabissia. "It stinks."

"It is those brats," said the proprietor. "They are too lazy to go downstairs." "There are families here?" asked Boabissia. "Of course," said the proprietor. "Most of my tenants are permanent residents."

We continued to climb. We had now come some seven or eight landings.

"It is stuffy," said Boabissia. "I can hardly breathe."

Insulae were not noted for their ventilation, no more than for the luxury of their appointments or their roominess. To be sure it conserves fuel.

"It is hot," said Boabissia.

"You complain a great deal," observed the proprietor.

"It is so dark," said Boabissia. "How can one fine one's way around in this place?"

"One becomes familiar with it," said the proprietor.

"You should have lamps illuminating the stairs," said Boabissia. "I suppose that tharlarion oil is just too expensive."

"Yes," said the proprietor. "But it is also against the law."

"Why is that?" I asked.

"The danger of fire," he said.

"Oh," said Boabissia, sobered.

Insulae, incidentally, are famed for their proneness to fire. Sometimes entire districts of such dwellings are wiped out by a single fire.

"Can we have a lamp in the room?" I asked.

"Of course," said the fellow. "As long as it is tended. But you may not wish to have one much lit. It fouls the air."

"Do you have insurance on this building?" I asked.

"No," said the fellow.

I was pleased to hear that. He would then not be likely to have the building fired to collect on the policy. On the other hand, it was not unusual that such dwellings lacked insurance. This was not simply a matter of proprietary optimism, but also of the difficulty of obtaining it, at least at affordable rates. Most carriers would not accept the risks involved.

We came to another landing.

We heard a noise and the proprietor lifted his lamp. A slave girl was illuminated, on the landing. She was barefoot. She wore an extremely brief tunic, one which was divided to her navel. It was awry. Her hair was in disarray. In the light of the lamp her collar glinted. She flung herself to her belly before us, fearfully yielding slave obeisance.

"She belongs to Clitus, the Cloth Worker, on the floor above," said the proprietor.

The girl trembled on her belly before us.

I saw that if Achiates permitted slaves in his house they must exhibit suitable discipline. They must be well trained.

We continued up the stairs. The girl had had light brown hair, it seemed. When we had passed she continued on her way. We could hear her bare feet for a time on the stairs. She seemed to know them well. In time one can fine one's way around them in the dark. She was doubtless on an errand.

"Oh!" cried Boabissia, on the next landing. "An urt!"