VAGABONDS OF GOR
(Volume twenty-four in the Chronicles of Counter-Earth)
by John Norman
1 A Female Slave
"You were once the Lady Temione, were you not?" I inquired.
"Yes, Master," she said, lifting her head a little from the dirt, where, before me, in the camp of Cos, on the south bank of the Vosk, north of Holmesk, she knelt, head down, the palms of her hands on the ground.
"Lie on your right side before me," I said, "extending your left leg."
She did so. In this way, the bit of silk she wore fell to the right, displaying the line of her hip, thigh and calf. I saw the brand, tiny and tasteful, yet unmistakable, fixed in her thigh, high, under the hip. It was the common kajira brand, the staff and fronds, beauty subject to discipline, worn by most female slaves on Gor. She had the toes of the left leg pointed, lusciously curving the calf. I saw that she had had some training.
"You may resume your original position," I said.
She returned to it, a common position of slave obeisance.
I noted that her hair had grown out somewhat, in the weeks since I had last seen her, a free woman on the chain of Ephialtes, a sutler whom I had met at the inn of the Crooked Tarn, on the Vosk Road. He had been kind enough to act as my agent in certain matters.
"Tell me of matters since last we met," I suggested.
"It was at the Crooked Tarn, was it not?" she asked.
"Perhaps," I said.
"Or was it in the camp of Cos, near Ar's Station?" she asked.
"Perhaps," I said.
"I with others was once there blindfolded, and displayed," she said.
"Oh?" I said.
"Yes," she said.
"Speak," I said.
"As master recalls," she said. "I was detained at the Crooked Tarn, as a debtor slut."
"Yes," I said.
"And forced to earn my keep." she said.
"Yes," I said. Her use had cost me a tarsk bit. Had I had a slave sent to my «space» it would have cost me three full copper tarsks, for only a quarter of an Ahn. I had had her for a full Ahn, for the tarsk bit. That was, because, at that time, she had been free. She would be worth much more now, clearly. I noted the collar on her neck, metal, close-fitting and locked. It was easy to see, even with her head down, because of the shortness of her hair. It had been shaved off some weeks ago by the keeper of the Crooked Tarn, to be sold as raw materials for catapult cordage. Women's hair, soft, glossy, silky and resilient, stronger than vegetable fibers and more weather resistant, well woven, is ideal for such a purpose. The concept of "earning one's keep," in one sense, a strict legal sense, is more appropriate to a free woman than a slave. The slave, for example, cannot earn anything in her own name, or for herself, but only, like other domestic animals, for her master. To be sure, in another sense, a very practical sense, no one "earns her keep" like the female slave. She earns it, and with a vengeance. The master sees to it. The sense of "earning her keep" of which the former Lady Termione spoke was a rather special one. It was rather analogous to that of the slave, for, as I recalled, the keeper of the inn appropriated her earnings, ostensibly to defray the expenses of her keeping. A result of this, of course, was to make it impossible for her, by herself, to subtract as much as a tarsk bit from her redemption fee.
"In the morning, early, after the evening in which I had been carried, bound, to your space, to serve you, I, with other debtors-"
“‘Debtor sluts'," I said.
"Yes, master," she said. "-were redeemed. We were overjoyed, thinking to be freed, but found to our dismay that we were put in coffle, to be taken northward on the Vosk Road to the vicinity of Ar's Station."
''I see, ' I said.
"But before our redemption our heads were shaved by the keeper, for catapult cordage."
"I saw the pelts on a rack, outside the inn," I said. Her hair had been a beautiful auburn. That hair color is popular on Gor. It brings a high price in slave markets.
"A man named Ephialtes, a sutler of Cos, paid our redemption fees."
"It was he, then, who redeemed you?" I asked.
"I do not think so, Master," she said.
"He was acting as an agent then?" I said.
"I think so, Master," she said. "Though apparently one with powers to buy and sell as he pleased."
"On behalf on his principal?" I asked.
"Doubtless, Master," she said.
"You may kneel back," I said.
She straightened up, and then knelt back on her heels, her knees wide, her hands on her thighs. I had not specified this position, one of the most common for a female pleasure slave but she had assumed it unquestioningly, appropriately. It had been a test. She had passed. It would not be necessary to cuff her.
I listened to the sounds of the Vosk River in the background. "Though we were free women, six of us, as you recall, including myself, we were apparently to be marched naked, chained by the neck, in coffle behind a sutler's wagon."
"You objected?" I inquired.
"I and another, Klio, perhaps you remember her, did."
"And what happened?" I asked.
"We were lashed," she said. "It was done by a terrible person, one named Liadne, put over us as first girl, though we were free and she a mere slave!"
I remembered Liadne. She was lovely. I had first met her under her master's wagon, shivering in a tarpaulin, in an icy storm. I had used her but had paid her master for her use, leaving a coin in her mouth. I had had Ephialtes, the sutler, purchase her in the morning. I had thought she would make an excellent first girl, to introduce her free sisters into some understanding of their womanhood.
"We were then obedient," said the girl.
I did not doubt but what Liadne would have kept them, arrogant, spoiled free women, under superb discipline. That had certainly been my impression, at any rate, when I had seen them lined up, kneeling, naked, coffled, and blindfolded, in the camp of Cos near Ar's Station.
"We were taken to the Cosian camp, near Ar's Station," she said. "There we were kept naked, in coffle, and under discipline. One morning we were displayed in blindfolds."
I had not wanted them to know, or at least to know for certain, that it was I who had redeemed them, not simply for the pleasure of it, but for my own purposes, as well. This was not that unusual. Captors do not always reveal their identities immediately to their captives. It is sometimes amusing to keep women in ignorance as to whose power it is, within which they lie. Let them consider the matter with anxiety. Let them speculate wildly, frenziedly, tearfully. It is then time enough to reveal oneself to them, perhaps confirming their worst fears.
"The next morning," she said, "when I awakened, two of our girls were gone, Elene and Klio, and there was a new girl, a slender, very beautiful girl, also free, like the rest of us, on the coffle."
"What was her name?" I asked.
" 'Phoebe'," she said.
"Tell me of her," I said.
"She wore her collar and chain lovingly and well, most beautifully," she said. "She obeyed Liadne from the first, immediately, spontaneously, intuitively, naturally, with timidity, and perfection. It was as though she intuitively understood authority and her own rightful subjection to it. Though this new girl, like the rest of us, save Liadne, was free, I think I had seldom seen a woman, so early in captivity, so ready, so ripe, for the truths of the collar."
"She had perhaps fought out those matters in the sweaty sheets of her own bed, for years," I said.
"As had certain others, too," smiled the girl, looking down.
"You are beautiful," I commented, regarding her face, and lineaments, in the light of the nearby fire.
"Thank you, Master," she whispered.
"Was this new girl proud?" I asked.
"I think only of such things as her capacity for love, and her bondage," she said.
"But you said she was free," I reminded her.
"Of her natural bondage," she smiled."
"She was not then, in a normal sense, proud?"
"Not in ways typical of a vain free woman, at any rate."
"But yet," I said, "this new girl, unlike the rest of you, was wearing a slave strip."
"Ah, Master," said the girl, "it is as I suspected. It is you who redeemed us."
"Of course," I said.
"The new girl would not speak the identity of her captor, but, I take it, it was you who brought her to the coffle of Ephialtes."
I nodded. I had, of course, warned Phoebe to silence, with respect to whose captive she was, as my business in the north, at least at that time, had been secret.
"Her docility on the chain, its beauty on her, her eagerness to obey, and such, suggested that it might have been you, or someone like you," she said.
"And I thought it might have been you," she said, "from little things she would say, or knowing looks, or responses to our questions, or shy droppings of her gaze. In such ways can a woman speak, even when she is pretending not to. I think she was shyly eager to tell us all about you."
I nodded again. I was not unfamiliar with the small talk, the tiny riddles, the hints, the delights of conversing slaves. I had little doubt that Phoebe, and without too much provocation, might have revealed more of me, and of our relationship, and past, and such, than I would have approved of. She was marvelously feminine. It would not really do, of course, to whip her for such things, as she was free, and, even in the case of slaves, masters tend to be tolerant of such things. They make the girl so much more human.
"Was it you, too, who took Elene and Klio from the coffle?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"What did you do with them?" she asked.
"Did a slave ask permission to speak?" I asked.
"Forgive me, Master," she said.
"What is your name?" I asked.
" 'Temione'," she said. She wore that name now, of course, as a mere slave name, put on her by the will of a master. Slaves, as they are animals, may be named anything.
"I sold them," I said.
She looked at me.
"You may speak," I said.
"Both of them?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. I had sold them one morning, in the siege trenches. They had given me the cover I had needed to get to the walls of Ar's Station.
"Tell me of Ephialtes, Liadne, the coffle, and such," I said. I remembered the six debtor sluts I had redeemed at the Inn of the Crooked Tarn, the Lady Amina, of Venna; the Lady Elene, of Tyros; and the Ladies Klio, Rimice, Liomache and Temione, all of Cos.
"Ephialtes is well," she said, "and seems much taken with Liadne, as she with him. Two days after the fall of Ar's Station a mercenary, who had apparently seen much action, passed near the wagon of Ephialtes. Liomache, seeing him, startled, terrified, tried to hide amongst us but he, quick, and observant, had seen her! He rushed over to us. She could not escape, of course, as she was nude and helpless on the chain. Such niceties constrained us well, no differently than if we had been slaves. She cried out in misery. He pulled her up and shook her like a doll! "Liomache!" he cried. "It is you!"
"No!" she wept.
"I know you," he said. "I would know you anywhere. You are one of those sluts who lives off men, who runs up bills and then inveigles fools into satisfying them. I remember however that when I first met you you had been somewhat less successful than usual, and were being held for redemption at the inn. How piteously you misrepresented your case, and begged me, a lady so in distress and a compatriot of Cos, to rescue you from your predicament!"
"No! No!" she said. "It is not I!"
"You well made me your fool and dupe!" he snarled. "I paid your bill for three silver tarns, a fortune to me at the time, and put in travel money, too, that you might return to Cos!"
"It is not I!" she said.
"And for this I received not so much as a kiss, you claiming this would demean our relationship, by putting it on a «physical» basis."
"It was not I!" she wept.
"Well do I remember you in the fee cart moving rapidly away, laughing, carrying my purse with you, waving the redemption papers, signed for freedom!"
"It was not I!" she cried.
"Then he cuffed her. We gasped, for he had done so as if she might have been a slave. This took the fight out of her. He then thrust her back, and looked at her. 'But, said he, 'it seems that someone was not such a fool as I, for here you are, on a chain, in a warriors' camp. She could only look at him then, tears in her eyes. She knew that she had lost. 'Oh, cried he, 'how many times I have dreamed of having you in my power, of having you naked, in a collar! He turned her brutally about, from side to side, examining her. 'Excellent! he cried, 'You are not yet branded! She sank to her knees before him, her head in her hands, weeping. 'Keeper! cried he. 'Keeper! Ephialtes, who had been called forth by the commotion, was present. 'She is for sale, or my sword will have it so! cried the mercenary. In short, she was soon sold, for an enormous price, two gold pieces. She was startled that he wanted her so much. To be sure, the gold was doubtless that of Ar's Station."
"So that was the fate of Liomache?" I said.
"I saw her the next day. She was naked, in his collar, and branded. Indeed, she told me, proudly, that he had branded her with his own hand, it was a beautiful brand, and had been well done. She was also in a yoke. She seemed not discontent."
"Did you see her again?" I asked.
"No," she said, "though she is perhaps somewhere in this very camp."
"What of you?" I asked.
"The keeper of a paga enclosure, a man called Philebus, saw me the next day. It was not possible, of course, for us to conceal ourselves. Only too obviously we would come easily to the attention of even idle passers-by. He expressed interest. I was displayed, and said the "Buy me, Master." So simply was it done."
"You seem more beautiful than I remembered you," I said.
"My master tells me that I have grown much in beauty," she said. "I do not know if it is true or not."
"It is," I said.
"Thank you, Master," she said.
"When you left the coffle, then," I said, "it contained only Amina, Rimice and Phoebe."
"Yes," she said.
"I wonder if the coffle is still in the camp," I said.
"I would suppose so," she said. "But I do not know."
"Do you know anything more of them?" I asked.
She laughed. "Phoebe wants explicitly to be a slave," she said. "She scorns to hide her feelings and longs for the legalities which would publicly proclaim her natural condition. I do not think Amina has ever forgotten your kiss, that of a master, when she was helpless at the Crooked Tarn, chained to the outside wall the storm raging. Rimice, the curvaceous little slut, is already more than half a slave, as you know. All, I think it is fair to say, are itching for the touch of masters."
" 'Itching' " I asked, amused.
"A slave's expression," she smiled.
"And you?" I asked. "Are you «itching» for the touch of a master?"
She leaned forward, her eyes moist, beggingly. "I am already a slave," she whispered. "I do not itch for the touch of a master. Rather I scream and beg for it!"
"They may have all been sold by now."
"Yes, Master," she said.
"They were all choice items," I said.
"Yes, Master," she said.
"You know nothing more of them?" I asked.
"No, Master," she said. "But I suppose that they, in one way or another, are still with the camp."
This seemed to me possible, but it need not be so. When women are sold they may be taken here and there, transported hither and yon, carried about, anywhere, as the articles of property they are.
"Lean back," I said.
She leaned back, shuddering with need, tears in her eyes, commanded.
I glanced about the paga enclosure of Philebus. The area, circular, of leveled, beaten earth, was about forty yards in diameter. Its fencing was little more than symbolic, a matter of light railings no more than waist high set on tripods. This barrier, such as it is, is dismantled and re-erected, over and over, as the camp moves. There are some tiny, alcovelike tents within the enclosure, mostly just within the perimeter. There were several tiny fires, here and there, within the enclosure. Small fires are usually used in such enclosures, as in camps generally, as they may be quickly extinguished. The girls, slaves, within the enclosure, were not belled. Thus, in the case of an alarm, the entire camp could, at a command, be plunged into darkness and silence, vanishing, so to speak, in the night. Such precautions serve primarily to defend against attacks of tarnsmen. There are often explicit camp rules pertaining to the sizes of fires, as there are for many other things, such as the general ordering of the camp, its defenses, its streets and layout, the location of its facilities, such as infirmaries, commissaries and smithies, the maintenance of security and watches within units, the types of tents permitted, their acceptable occupancy, their spacing and drainage, and provisions for sanitation. The observance of these rules, or ordinances, is usually supervised by, and enforced by, camp marshals. To be sure, this camp was largely one of mercenaries, and, as such, was lax in many of these particulars. It is difficult to impose order and discipline on mercenaries. Too, these men were flushed with victory, after the fall of Ar's Station, to the east. I noted a fellow relieving himself a few yards away, near the railing of the enclosure. In a camp of Ar an infraction of that sort might have earned a fine, or a scourging. Overhead, briefly, against one of the moons, I saw a tarnsman descending toward the camp. As he was alone, he was probably a courier. The patrols are usually composed of two or more tarnsmen. In this way, they will usually prove superior to isolated interlopers and, if need be, one may be dispatched to report or summon aid, while the other, or others, may attend to other duties, perhaps those of a pursuit or search, or maintaining a distant contact with the enemy.
"Paga!" called a fellow, sitting cross-legged, a few yards away. A girl hurried to him, with her vessel of drink.
Survivors of Ar's Station, which had been Ar's major bastion on the Vosk, including many women and children, had been rescued from the piers of the burning port by a fleet of unidentified ships, ships with which the Cosians in the north had not had the forces to deal. Although the identities of these ships were putatively unknown it was an open secret on the river that they were those of Port Cos, supplemented with several apparently furnished by the Vosk League itself. The matter had something to do with a topaz, and a pledge, something going back apparently to affairs which had taken place earlier on the river. At any rate, as it had turned out, the Ubarate of Cos had decided, wisely, in my opinion, to take no official notice of this action. This was presumably out of a respect for the power of Port Cos, and her desire to influence, if not control, through Port Cos, the politics of the Vosk league, and, through it, the river, and the Vosk basin, as a whole. I had been among these survivors. We had been carried to the safety of Port Cos.
There were perhaps a hundred men, here and there, within the enclosure, and some fifteen or twenty girls. The girls filled their vessels, which, like the hydria, or water vessel, are high-handled, for dipping, in a large kettle hung simmering over a fire near the entrance to the enclosure. Warm paga makes one drunk quicker, it is thought. I usually do not like my paga heated, except sometimes on cold nights. This night was not cold, but warm. It was now late spring. Some Cosians tend to be fond of hot paga. So, too, are some of the folks in the more northern islands, interestingly, such as Hunjer and Skjern, west of Torvaldsland. This probably represents an influence from Cos, transmitted through merchants and seamen. In the north generally, mead, a drink made with fermented honey, and water, and often spices and such, tends to be favored over paga.
"Master," whispered the girl before me.
I looked at her. She had not asked permission to speak. She quickly put down her head. "Forgive me, Master," she said. She opened her knees more, frightened, placatingly.
Most of the girls within the enclosure were here and there, serving, or kneeling, waiting to be summoned. Two, naked, were in tiny cages, cramped, hardly able to move. I gathered they were new to their slavery. I did not know how long they bad been kept so. It had perhaps been a day or so. Both, putting their fingers through the close-set bars, which made it hard even to see them, would beg a fellow, I suppose, Philebus, their master, and the owner of the enclosure, as he passed by, to be released, that they might now serve men. It was difficult to tell if he had heard them or not, but once, at least, he must have for he, with his staff, struck the bars of a cage, strictly ordering its fair occupant to silence. "Yes, Master!" she wept, drawing back, as she could, within it. There were some other girls, too, who were not serving, some five or six, or so. They, in their snatches of slave silk, sat, knelt or lay about a stout post which had been driven deeply into the ground to one side, to which post they were chained by the neck. As more men entered the enclosure women were released from the post to assist in the serving. Also, if one appealed to a fellow, she might be released at his request, to serve him particularly and, if he wished, privately. Temione had been free of the post when I had arrived. I had, however, thinking I had recognized her, and as it proved, I had, summoned her to my place.
I regarded the former proud free woman. She did not dare to raise her eyes. She did, however, trembling before me, make a tiny, piteous, begging sound of need.
"Did you say something?" I asked.
"Forgive me, Master," she said.
"Did you want something?" I asked.
She lifted her eyes, frightened, pleadingly. "I desire to serve you," she whispered.
Interesting, I thought, the transformations which a collar can make in a woman.
"Please, Master," she begged.
"Very well," I said, "you may serve me."
"Thank you, Master!" she breathed, joyously.
"Bring me paga," I said.
"Oh!" she wept, in misery. "Oh, oh."
I looked at her.
"Yes, Master," she wept, and rose quickly to her feet, hurrying toward the paga vat.
I watched her withdraw. How lovely she was! How well she moved! What a slave she had become!
The enclosure of Philebus was, in effect, a transportable paga tavern, one so arranged that it might accompany a moving camp.
I watched her waiting, to dip her paga vessel. How attractive, how desirable, how exciting she was! Women look well, in the service of men.
Another paga slave hurried by, summoned, a blond.
I have mentioned that the girls were not belled, and that this had to do with, presumably, the possible need for darkness and silence, in the event of an attack on the camp. The evening was warm. The moons were out. It would be a good night, I thought, idly, for an attack on a camp. Yet I did not expect one would occur. One should occur, but, I was confident, it would not. If it were to happen, surely it should have taken place long before now. There was even poor security in the camp. I and the fellow I had agreed to accompany, a young man, of the warriors, formerly of Ar's Station, a young man named Marcus, or, more fully, Marcus Marcellus, of the Marcelliani, had had no difficulty, in the guise of minor merchants, in entering the camp. In effect, I suppose, we were spies. Young Marcus, with the consent of his commander, Aemilianus, formerly of Ar's Station, now among the refugees at Port Cos, had been given permission to track the movements of the Cosians in the north, and to convey this information to the major land forces of Ar, which were currently located at Holmesk, to the south. So deeply ran former loyalties, in spite of the failure of Ar, seemingly inexplicably, to relieve Ar's Station. Young Marcus was, in my opinion, a fine though moody, soldier. It had been he who had managed to convey Ar's Station's half of the topaz to Port Cos, which action had resulted in the redemption of the pledge of the topaz, bringing the forces of Port Cos, and apparently, in the process, ships of the Vosk League, as well, to Ar's Station, to evacuate the piers, to rescue survivors, primarily the remnants of her citizenry. If young Marcus, of whom I have grown fond, has a weakness, I would think it would be his moodiness, and his incredible hatred for Cosians, and all things Cosian. This hatred, which seems almost pathological, is doubtless the consequence of his experiences in war, and particularly during the siege of Ar's Station. It is hard to see all, or much, of what one has loved, destroyed, and not feel illy disposed toward the perpetrators of this destruction. To be sure, had the forces of Ar landed in Telnus, I do not think the results would have been much different. I myself, like many warriors, terribly enough, I suppose, tend to see war more as the most perilous and exhilarating of sports, a game of warriors and Ubars. Too, I am not unfond of loot, particularly when it is beautiful and well curved.
Temione had now reached the vat, and was carefully dipping her narrow, high-handled serving vessel in the simmering paga. She had seemed to be crying, but perhaps it was merely the heat from the paga which she had, with the back of her hand, wiped from her eyes. Yet, I thought, too, I had seen her clench her fist, driving the nails into the palm of her hand, and her hips move, inadvertently, helplessly, in frustration. It is hard for a woman to help such things when she is scantily clad and in a collar, when she is a slave.
To be sure, the Cosians had moved in an open, leisurely way, and even along the southern bank of the Vosk, rather than to the north. This seemed madness, for surely the Cosians could be pinned against the river and slaughtered. They would now be, as they had not been at Ar's Station, heavily outnumbered. Perhaps Policrates, the camp commander, was unwise in the ways of war. But rather it seemed he might know he had little or nothing to fear. From what I had heard of him I was reasonably confident he knew what he was doing. Indeed, perhaps he was flaunting an immunity of some sort, political or treasonous. To be sure, the southern bank of the Vosk, because of the former extent of Ar's Margin of Desolation, long ago abandoned, is much less populous than the northern bank. Also, of course, the Cosians were presumably moving toward either Brundisium, which had been the port of entry of their invasion fleet, or south to join Myron in the vicinity of Torcadino, where Dietrich of Tarnburg, the mercenary, lay at bay, like a larl in his den. There had been no attempt, at least as yet, for the fine forces of Ar, in all their power, to cut them off, to pin them against the Vosk, or meet them in battle. There were several thousand Cosians, and mercenaries, in our camp, but the forces of Ar, by repute, were in the neighborhood of some fifty thousand men, an incredible force for a Gorean community to maintain in the field. The common Gorean army is usually no more than four or five thousand men. Indeed, mercenary bands often number no more than one or two hundred. Dietrich of Tarnburg, in commanding something like five thousand men, is unusual. He is one of the most feared and redoubtable of the mercenary commanders on Gor. Surely his contracts are among the most expensive. But in spite of the invitation seemingly flagrantly offered by Policrates, the camp commander, general of the Cosian forces in the north, said once to have been a pirate, rescued from the galleys by Myron, Polemarkos of Temos, a cousin to Lurius of Jad, Ubar of Cos, the forces of Ar had not struck, even to restrict or harass foragers. Militarily it seemed Ar's behavior was inexplicable. Perhaps, incredibly enough, they simply did not know the disposition, strength and location of the Cosian forces.
Temione had now filled her paga vessel. She picked up a goblet from a rack near the vat. The shelving on the rack was of narrow wooden rods. The goblets are kept upside down on the rods. In this way, washed, they can drain, and dry. This also affords them some protection from dust. I watched her carefully wipe the goblet. Woe to the slave who would dare to serve paga or wine in a dirty goblet!
I listened to the Vosk in the background, the murmur of conversation within the enclosure, the sounds of the camp.
The slave turned toward me.
Seeing my eyes on her, she put down her head. She approached, humbly, frightened, seemingly terribly conscious of my eyes on her.
How beautiful she was.
"Master," she said, kneeling before me. She poured me paga, filling the goblet she had taken from the rack, from the vessel she carried.
"Paga!" called a fellow nearby, to a redhead, who swiftly hurried to kneel before him, her head to the dirt.
She had not dallied.
Any slave in such a place, of course, may be subjected to the discipline of a customer. It is little wonder that the girls, so subject to penalties, which may be promptly and severely administered, are concerned to be pleasing, and fully.
"Master?" asked Temione. I took the paga.
"Will there be anything else?" she asked, timidly. I sipped the paga. It was hot.
"Your ankle is not belled," I said.
"None of us are belled here," she said.
Her response suggested to me that she was probably unaware of the rationale for this.
"Your ankle would look well, belled," I said.
"I have never been belled," she said, shyly.
"Belling a girl makes it easier to find her in the dark," I said.
"Doubtless, Master," she smiled.
It is common, though not universal, to bell paga slaves. The jangle of slave bells on them, as they move, is quite stimulating. In the oasis towns of the Tahari, and in the vicinity of the great desert, sometimes even free women are belled, and wear ankle chains, as well, that the length of their stride may be measured and made beautiful, and perhaps, too, to remind them, even though they be free, that they are but women. Who knows when the slaver's noose or net may fall upon one of them? Almost all female slaves, at one time or another, or at certain times, are belled. This is probably because bells are so beautiful on them, and so brilliantly and insightfully symbolic of their status as domestic animals, that they are properties, that they are in bondage. Most girls walk proudly in their bells, their shoulders back and their heads up, gloriously proud of their fulfilled femininity. Sometimes they fear, though, to wear bells out-of-doors, for they may then be subjected to the attacks of outraged, frustrated free women, attacks which they, as slaves, must endure. Indoors, however, they are pleased to wear their bells, and often beg to do so. And the little she-sleen, I assure you, know well how to utilize those pleasant, remarkable little devices, so subtly and apparently innocently, to drive masters half mad with passion. When a girl fears she may be out of favor with her master, she sometimes kneels before him and begs, "Bell me." In this simple request, asking to be belled, the slave puts herself in her place, at the feet of her master, reconfirms to him her humble and loving acceptance of her bondage, reassures him of her desire to please, and gives promise of slave delights so exciting and intimate that they can be known only among masters and their women. Sometimes, too, when a slave feels she may not have been sufficiently pleasing she will strip herself and approach the master on all fours, her head down, a whip in her teeth. It is her way of making clear to him her desire to please. It is usually much better, incidentally, for the slave to do this of her own accord than to be ordered to so approach the master. If it is he who has issued the order she may well be being summoned for punishment, or at least a severe upbraiding. If she approaches on her own accord she may well find forgiveness or, perhaps, a disciplining that is little more than symbolic. If she so approaches, however, on his order, as I have suggested, she may well fear. He will do what he wants with her. She is his, totally. The whip on Gor, incidentally, though it is much in evidence, is seldom used. That it will be used, and promptly, if the occasion arises, is perhaps, paradoxically perhaps, why it seldom needs to be used. Most girls avoid feeling it, at least generally, by striving to be excellent slaves. To be sure, every female slave will have felt it, upon occasion. It is then common that they try to make certain that these occasions are quite infrequent. To be sure, some women do not fully understand they are owned, until they are whipped.
The gate to the paga enclosure suddenly flew open and cracked back against the railing.
"It is Borton!" cried a fellow, delightedly.
"Let the festivities begin!" called the newcomer, a large, broad-shouldered, heavily bearded fellow, flinging a heavy purse on its strings into the stomach of he whom I took to be Philebus, the taverner, who clutched at it, but failed to secure it, as it was jerked back on the strings. Philebus cried out in good-humored dismay. And then the fellow took the purse and thrust it down, firmly, into his hands.
"I have been long aflight and have now reported to my captain," said he. "I am weary of the saddle, and would have drink, and something softer to ride!"
There was laughter, and cheering. Men crowded about him. The chained girls shrank down, frightened, making themselves as small and inconspicuous as they could, close to the post.
This fellow, I gathered, was well known. Unfortunately I, too, had once made his acquaintance.
Temione gasped. She, too, had recognized him.
He wore the uniform and insignia of the tarnsmen of Artemidorus, the well-known Cosian mercenary.
"Let feasting begin!" he called, expansively. There was more cheering. "It is Borton!" called a man. "Borton has returned!" cried another. "Borton!" said another. Others, taking note of the commotion, outside the railings, hastened now to enter. Philebus, as I took him to be, the taverner, and Temione's master, was calling out orders to a couple of fellows, his lieutenants, or assistants, I gathered, having to do with food and drink. One of them closed the gate of the enclosure. Some other fellows were climbing over the railing.
"Are you not in my spot?" inquired the newcomer heartily, of a poor fellow sitting rather near the center of the enclosure, usually regarded as a preferred position for prompt service, for observing the dancing of slaves, and such. Swiftly, on all fours, the fellow beat a hasty retreat.
There was again much laughter.
The fellow called Borton hurled his helmet down in the place, marking it for himself. Few, I gathered, would be eager to displace this token of his claimancy.
I put down the cup of paga, and tested the draw, an inch or so, of my blade.
"No, fellow," whispered a man near me. "That is Borton."
"I had gathered that," I said.
"He is one of the best swords in the camp," he warned me.
I returned my blade to the sheath, almost entirely.
"Master," whispered Temione to me, breathless, her eyes shining. "It is he."
"Yes," I said. I did not then understand her emotion. "It is he."
The newcomer strode to the post. The girls there, not yet serving, clung about it, in their neck chains, as though it might provide them some security, some safety or refuge. He pulled one and another of them about, examining them. He turned one over with his foot and had her lie before him, her back arched. Temione gasped, startled at the boldness with which the women were handled.
"You, too, are a slave," 1 reminded her, "and you, too, could be so treated."
"I know," she said.
"Bring me the girls in the cages!" said the fellow, settling down in the spot he had marked for himself.
The two girls, in a moment, wincing, were brought forth by Philebus and, one of his hands in the hair of each, drawn hastily on all fours to his place. They were naked save for their collars. He thrust one to his side on the dirt, and threw the other, a blonde, on her back over his knees as he sat, cross-legged. "Do not interfere," he warned her.
"Borton!" called a fellow cheerfully, from well across the enclosure, "has it been necessary to redeem you from any inns lately!"
"I think I paid something in that fee!" called another, a fellow also in the uniform of the tarnsmen of Artemidorus.
"I paid you back, and fivefold, you sleen!" roared Borton, laughing.
The girl across his knees, on her back, suddenly cried out, startled. "Do not interfere," he warned her, again. The other girl, the one near him, in the dirt, made as though to edge away. "No, you don't!" he said. "Stay here." She came then even closer to him, on her side, frightened and excited, and, lifting her head, timidly kissed him on the knee. The girl across his knees cried out again. Her eyes were open, looking up, wildly, at the moons. Her feet moved. Her hands opened and closed. She moaned.
"Some weeks ago," said the man near me, "before the fall of Ar's Station, Borton, carrying dispatches for Artemidorus, stayed at an inn on the Vosk Road. There, while he refreshed himself with a morning bath, sonic rascal stole his clothing, his money, his tarn, the dispatches, everything."
"Interesting," I said.
The fellow chuckled. "He was kept at the inn, chained naked to a ring in the courtyard, until his bills, which I gather were considerable, had 'been satisfied."
"Who redeemed him?" I asked.
"His fellows," said the man. "Other tarnsmen in the command of Artemidorus, some days later, stopped at the inn. They were much amused to find him in such straits. They kept him as he was for two or three days, teasing him, and making him suffer much, raising his anxieties that they might not be able to scrape together his redemption fee, or that they had done so, but had then lost it in gambling, and such things, and also discussing, as you might well imagine, the honor of the troop, and whether or not one who was so foolish as to have gotten himself into such a predicament should be redeemed at all. He roared and ranted much, you may not doubt, but what could he do, naked in a courtyard, in chains! In the end, of course, after obtaining promises of immunity from him for their jokes, they redeemed him, and he was released."
"Surely there must have been repercussions concerning the dispatches and such," I ventured.
"They were not important, it seems, but routine. It is said they were not even coded. Too, his bravery, his skill with tarns and the sword, and such, were valued. To be sure, he was fined and reduced in rank. His monetary fortunes, I gather, if not his dignity, have been apparently recouped, presumably from loot distributed to the command of Artemidorus, acquired in the fall of Ar's Station."
"You must flee, Master," whispered Temione to me.
"I have not yet finished my paga," I said. To be sure, I had not expected to see this burly fellow again. I, and Ephialtes, had both had run-ins with him. In a camp of thousands, of course, in which there might be two dozen paga enclosures, I had had, it seems, to pick just this one. To be sure, it was not as absurd as it might seem for the enclosure of Philebus was said to be one of the best in the camp. I had inquired, naturally. At any rate, there was little to fear. The fellow had not seen me, and might not remember me. Besides, perhaps he would see the humor of the whole affair, and we might have a friendly drink together. But I moved the sword just a bit more from the sheath. A quarter of an inch, where hundredths of an Ihn are involved, can be a considerable advantage. In many situations, warriors discard the scabbard altogether. That is one reason it is often carried on a loop over the left shoulder, that it may be immediately, lest it prove an encumbrance, or present an encircling strap an enemy may seize, the blade drawn, discarded.
"Roast tarsk!" announced Philebus, proudly, approaching the burly fellow, gesturing to one of his helpers, who was accompanying him, bearing a tray of steaming meat. The burly fellow seized a joint of hot, dripping tarsk from the platter and bit into it. "Excellent!" beamed Philebus, then indicating to his assistant that he should carry the tray about, to serve others, as well. The other helper, too, was distributing food, sausages and bread. One of the serving slaves, close behind Philebus, knelt before the burly fellow, putting her head to the dirt in obeisance, and then put a goblet of paga before him. When she straightened up Philebus, behind her, tore back the sides of her silk. Philebus was doubtless quite pleased with her, to so display her. He had probably personally used her many times. She was perhaps one of his best. She moved before the burly fellow, on her knees, excitingly, brazenly, lifting her hands to her body, as though the better to call attention to her charms, as a slave.
"The forward hussy!" exclaimed Temione, angrily. "I hate her!"
Temione's soft outburst, so indignant, interested me. "Do you wish it was you, instead, who were so displaying yourself before him?" I asked.
"Cheers for Borton!" called a fellow.
There were cheers. "Thank you," I said. I took a piece of tarsk from the platter. If the fellow was so good as to treat us, it would surely have been boorish to refuse his hospitality.
"Serve him!" said Borton, laughing, chewing on the joint of tarsk, to the beauty kneeling before him, indicating a fellow he knew across the circle.
The beauty looked at him, startled, puzzled, as though for an instant she could not believe what she had heard, that she had been dismissed. I thought that anger then, for just an instant, suffused her countenance but then, suddenly terrified, as though she might suddenly have realized the unacceptability of her reaction, she hurried over to the fellow Borton had indicted, to fling herself to her stomach before him, desperately and zealously licking and kissing at his feet. "You will be whipped tonight," Philebus assured her. "Yes, Master," she moaned. She had been slow to obey. The female slave is to obey instantly and unquestioningly.
"Thank you," I said to the other helper, taking a sausage from the plate.
"It serves her right!" whispered Temione.
"The lash?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "She was slow."
The girl on her back, she stretched over the knees of the burly fellow, cried out, hot juice having fallen on her body from the joint of tarsk.
"Paga for all, from our host, the noble Borton!" called Philebus. Girls rushed about, serving. I put out my hand, keeping Temione in her place. "Master?" she asked. "You are serving me," I said.
Philebus unlocked even the holding collars on the neck chains of the girls at the post, that they, too, might participate in the serving. Swiftly, as soon as they were freed, they leaped up to do so. He glanced once at Temione, who moved, frightened, but he did not signal to her to rise. Clearly she was with me.
I took a piece of bread from the platter of the second assistant, as he came by again. "Thank you," I said. Had Marcus been with me he, too, might have obtained a free supper.
The burly fellow had now had what he wanted from the joint of tarsk and had thrown its residue to friend a few feet away. He wiped his hands on the body of the slave across his knees.
"What a brute he is!" exclaimed Temione, softly.
"But a skillful one, it seems," I said.
The girl across the burly fellow's knees squirmed and made small sounds. She could now no longer control her body.
"What a crude, brutish fellow he is!" said Temione, angrily. "Are you angry," I asked, "that it is not you who are in his power?"
"A toast to Borton the noble, Borton the generous!" called a fellow, rising unsteadily.
"A toast, a toast!" called others.
I joined, too, in this toast. It pleased me to do so.
I saw that Temione could not take her eyes off the bearded fellow. Long ago, Temione, like Amina, Klio, Elene, Rimice and Liomache, had been one of those women who makes her living off men. She, like the others, however, when I had met her, probably due to the war, the scarcity of genteel travelers, the crowds of impoverished refugees, the high prices, and so on, had fallen on hard times. Their bills unpaid, and their evasions not satisfying the inn's attendants, they had been taken, ropes on their necks, before the keeper. He had put them on a bench in a wheeled cage, honorably clothed, near the checkout desk, where they might importune men to pay their bills. This proving unavailing he had had them stripped and searched by powerful free women and then returned to the cage, on the bench much as before, though now unclothed and absolutely coinless. Later he had had them taken from the cage and ankle-tied, on their knees, near the checkout desk, their hands freed that they might the more piteously and meaningfully supplicate guests of the inn. At the seventeenth Ahn the keeper, perhaps tiring of their presence near his desk, and despairing of them being immediately redeemed, had had them cleared away. For the first time in their lives they had then worn chains. In particular, I had met the former Lady Temione, of Cos, in the Paga Room, where, naked, and shackled, she had served as my waitress. It had been in the Paga Room, too, that she had first made the acquaintance of the fellow I now knew as Borton. He had cruelly scorned her, as she was free, and refused even, and in rage, to be served by her. "Bring me a woman!" he had cried. "Bring me a woman!" This had been a great blow to her vanity, her self-esteem and pride, as she, like most free women had regarded herself as some sort of marvelous prize. Then, in effect, she had found herself, by this magnificent brute of a male, a warrior, doubtless a superb and practiced judge of female flesh, for such commonly frequent the markets, rejected as a woman, flung aside with contempt. She had even watched him, later in the Paga Room, with fascination and horror, and, I think, with jealous envy, use a slave, skillfully, lengthily, exultantly and with authority. There had been little doubt about the slave's superiority to her. That night, after I had left the Paga Room, I had arranged for the Lady Temione to be brought to the space I had rented. It seemed to me that she might be able to use some reassurance as to her femininity, even if she was a mere free woman. Also I had noted that she had been much aroused by the brute's uncompromising mastery of the slave. Why should I not capitalize on that? Too, I had wanted her, and she was cheap. She would serve to relieve my tensions, if nothing else. It had pleased me to put her through some paces, mostly suitable for a free woman, though, to be sure, one who is a debtor slut. As luck would have it, given our late arrivals at the inn, Borton and I had been rented nearby spaces. In this way, the Lady Temione had come once more to his attention. He had been somewhat rude to her, as I recall, referring to her as fat, stupid, a she-tarsk and not worth sleen feed. To be sure she was then only a free woman. He had also requested me, as I recalled, to remove her from his presence. "Get that thing out of my sight," was the way he put it, I think. I thought him somewhat rude. Fortunately the keeper's man arrived in time to prevent an altercation. After the keeper's man had shouldered the Lady Temione and carried her off, head to the back, as slave is commonly carried, presumably to a chaining ring or kennel for the night, I had not seen her until she, with others, blindfolded, were kneeling before me, naked and in coffle, in the camp of Cos, not far from Ar's Station. When women are not redeemed from an inn, or such, they are commonly disposed of to slavers. When one pays the redemption fees, of course, the woman is yours, to do with as you please. For example, you may free her, or, if you wish, sell her, or make her your slave. Before the arrival of the keeper's man the burly fellow had much scorned and abused Lady Temione, intimidating and terrifying her. He had even had her, though she was free, use the word «Master» to him. This had startled myself and Ephialtes, who had been present, and perhaps the woman, as well. It was apparently the first time she had ever used the word «Master» to a man. I looked now at Temione, the slave. I suddenly realized she had never forgotten the burly fellow. She was looking at him. Yes, doubtless, he was the first man to whom she had ever addressed the word "Master."
The burly fellow now permitted the trembling, gasping woman across his knees some surcease of his attentions. He quaffed paga. She then arched her body, lifting it up to him, piteously, pleadingly, moaning. "Lie still," he said to her. "Yes, Master," she wept. He brushed back the other woman, too, who lay beside him, as she tried, with her lips and tongue, to call herself to his attention, to importune him. I did not think either of those women would have to be kept again in the tiny cages, unless perhaps for punishment or to amuse the master. They were both now, obviously, ready to serve men.
"Let slaves present themselves!" called the fellow, lifting his vessel of paga.
"The parade of slaves!" called a man. "The parade of slaves!"
"Yes, yes!" called others.
The "parade of slaves," as it is sometimes called, commonly takes place in venues such as paga taverns and brothels. It may also, of course, take place elsewhere, for example, in the houses of rich men, at dinners, banquets, and so on. It is a presentation of beauty and attractions. The slaves present themselves, usually one by one, often to the accompaniment of music, for the inspection of the guests. It is in some ways not unlike certain fashion shows of Earth, except, of course, that its object is generally not to merchandise slave wear, though it can have such a purpose, but to present the goods of the house, so to speak, for perusal. Whereas in the common fashion show of Earth the woman considers the clothing and the man considers the women, and the women serve the ulterior purposes of the designer, in the parade of slaves there are generally no free women present, and the men, openly, lustily, consider the beauty of the women, as it was meant by nature to be considered, as that of slaves, and the women serve the ulterior purposes not of a designer, but of a master, who will, in the event of their selection, collect their rent fees, or such. To be sure, the women serve themselves, too, but not in the trivial sense of obtaining money, but in the more profound senses, psychological and biological, of expressing and fulfilling their nature. To be sure, the women must fear, for they may be taken out of themselves, so to speak, and forced helplessly into ecstasy.
I heard a swirl from a flute, the simple flute, not the double flute, and the quick pounding of a small tabor, these instruments now in the hands of Philebus' assistants. The slaves about the enclosure looked wildly at one another, frightened, yet terribly excited. Then, as startling as a gunshot, there was the sudden crack of a whip in the hand of Philebus. The girls cried out in fear, in their collars and scanty silks. Even Temione, near me, recoiled. It was a sound not unfamiliar to female slaves.
"Dora!" called Philebus.
Immediately one, of the girls, a sensuous, widely hipped, sweetly breasted slave, half walking, half dancing, to the music, swirled among the guests and then presented herself particularly before the burly fellow, moving before him, back and forth, facing him, turning about.
"Lana!" called Philebus, and Dora swirled away, twirling, from the center of the presentation area, to complete her circuit of the area, doing her best to evade the caresses and clutches of men, and then knelt, in the background.
The girl whom the burly fellow had consigned to the pleasure of his friend leaped to her feet and began her own circuit of the area, in much the same manner as her predecessor, Dora. She was an exciting, leggy wench, and the lightness of her silk, its brevity, and the partedness of her bodice, thanks to Philebus, left few of her charms to the imagination. She was the sort of woman who might initially be tempted to give a master a bit of difficulty, but I did not think that this difficulty would be such that it could not be easily remedied, and prevented from reoccurring, with a few blows of the whip. She looked well in her collar, and I had little doubt that, under proper discipline, she would be grateful, loving and hot in it.
"Aiii!" cried a fellow, saluting the beauty of the parading slave.
She postured seductively before him.
"How beautiful she is," said Temione.
"Aiii!" cried out another fellow.
But the burly fellow, with a laugh, and a movement of his goblet, dismissed her.
This time she hurried away, immediately, moving beautifully, among the men, in the circuit of slave display. She had not dallied an instant. She had been dismissed.
"Tula!" called Philebus, and another wench sprang to her feet.
Lana, her circuit completed, returned to the side of the fellow to whom the burly fellow had consigned her earlier. She was still his, by the will of another, until she would be released.
"Lina!" called Philebus. She was short-legged and plump, juicy, as it is said, with a marvelous love cradle. Such often make superb slaves. They commonly bring high prices in the markets.
"I am afraid," said Temione.
Lina blushed at the raucous commendations showered upon her. Then she, too, dismissed, swirled about, away from the center, and went to kneel in the back.
"Sucha!" called Philebus. She, too, was short, but very darkly complexioned. I suspected she might be a Tahari girl, or one from that region.
"Ina!" called Philebus. She was taller, and blond, perhaps from a village near Laura. Although she was blond, it was clear that slave fires had been ignited in her belly. I smiled. I did not doubt but what she, even though blond, would be as helpless now in the arms of a man as the most common of slaves.
"Susan!" called Philebus. Susan was a redhead.
The girl who had been across the burly fellow's knees had now been thrust to his right and she lay there in the dirt, watching the parade of slaves. She was breathless. Her eyes shone. The other girl, on the fellow's left, had risen to her hands and knees. She gasped. She seemed awestricken and excited. «Down» said the fellow to her. She then, and the other, curled close to him, one on each side, excitedly watching the self-presentations of the slaves. Each, from time to time, kissed at the burly fellow, as though to remind him that they, too, were about, and women, and ready.
"Jane!" called Philebus. Jane was a very shapely and curvaceous brunet. The names 'Susan' and 'Jane' are Earth-girl names, but this did not mean that these girls had to be Earth girls. Earth-girl names are commonly used on Gor as slave names. They may have been once from Earth, of course. However, even if that were the case, they were now naught but Gorean slave girls, properties, salable, tradable, and such, now only lascivious, uninhibited owned women, slaves. I mention that they may once have been from Earth because that is a real possibility, having to do with the slave trade. Ships of Kurii, as the evidence makes clear, regularly ply slave routes between Earth and Gor. That is why I mention that possibility.
"Jasmine, Feize!" called Philebus.
"I cannot present myself," wept Temione to me.
"Do you prefer the lash?" I asked.
"He scorns me, he holds me in contempt," she said. "He would laugh at me. He would ridicule and mock me! He threw me from him in disgust! He thinks of me as ugly, as fat, as stupid, as a she-sleen, as one who is not worth sleen feed, as one so ugly and disgusting that he would have me taken from his sight!"
"But now," I said, "you are a slave."
She looked at me, wildly.
"Temione!" called Philebus.
Instantly Temione, in a sensuous flash of beauty, was on her feet.
"Ah!" cried several of the men.
She was a slave, and totally!
She moved about, away and among the men, in her moment in the parade of slaves, on that dirt circuit among masters, Goreans, larls among men, uncrippled, unsoftened, untamed beasts, categorical, uncompromising owners of women, and she a woman, inutterably desirable and vulnerable, soft and beautiful, owned, such as they might have at their feet, among them!
"Aiii!" said a fellow.
But she had drawn back from him, as though fearfully, but yet in such a way that he was under no delusion that her wholeness, in his grasp, or in that of another, would yield untold pleasure.
I forced myself to look about.
The burly fellow had lowered his goblet.
Philebus himself seemed startled. I think he had not realized what he had owned, until then.
The kneeling girls in the back, too, watched, some rising up from their heels. They looked at Temione, and at one another. Some gasped. Some seemed startled, others stunned. It was as though they could not believe their eyes. They had not, until then, I gathered, no more than Philebus, nor I, suspected the depth and extent of the female, and slave, in Temione. Some of them tore open their silk, and squirmed on their knees, in the dirt, in need. Seeing how beautiful a woman could be, and how desirable, they, too, wanted so to writhe and move, and, in doing so, to bring themselves, too, to the attention of masters, that they might beg some assuagement for their needs of submission and love.
There was the sound of the flute and drum. There was the firelight, the men about, the enclosure, the Vosk in the background, the firelight and the slave.
"So beautiful," whispered a man.
"Gold pieces," said another man, appraising the luscious property slut.
"Yes, yes!" agreed another, excitedly.
She paused before me, in her circuit, her hands moving on her thighs, her shoulders and breasts moving.
I sipped paga. Then I dismissed her, with a small movement of my head.
She spun away.
Now she was approaching the burly fellow.
It was pleasant to observe her, the owned, collared, silked, barefoot beauty.
Then the slave stood before the burly fellow, her shoulders back, her head up, proud in her slavery, unabashedly exultant in it, her body seeming hardly to move, but yet revealing, and obedient to, as must be the body of a slave in the parade, the music.
"Ah!" said the burly fellow, his eyes shining.
She regarded him. Surely he must recognize her!
Then she moved, back and forth, before him. His hand was tight on the goblet. The girls in the back murmured. He did not dismiss Temione. He kept her before him.
Men looked at one another, grinning.
Temione moved before the fellow, here and there, in one direction or another, twirling about, walking, approaching, withdrawing, approaching. Still he did not dismiss her. Once, as she moved away from the fellow, our eyes met. She seemed startled, puzzled. It seemed she had expected he must surely recognize her! Doubtless she had been prepared to be again scorned, to be rebuffed, to be ordered from his sight, to be sent away, perhaps even struck, but he had not yet even released her from the prime display area, that before him, near the center of the circle. In another moment, as she again faced me, I could not help but take in, in a glance, together with her consternation and puzzlement, the excitingness of her shapely, bared legs, her exquisite ankles and feet, the marvelous lineaments of her hips, waist and breasts, well betrayed by the silk she wore, that mockery of a garment, suitable for a slave, the sweetness of her upper arms and forearms, the smallness of her hands and fingers, her shoulders, her throat, encircled by its collar, her delicate, sensitive, beautiful face, the total marvelousness of her! Perhaps it was understandable then, I thought, that he had not recognized, in this beautiful and exciting slave, the mere free woman he had earlier so scorned and abused. Perhaps few men would have, at least at first. And yet she was, in a sense, the same woman, only now fixed helplessly in bondage.
Then she was again before him.
No, he did not recognize her.
Then she stood boldly before him, as though challenging him to recognize her!
But he still did not recognize her!
Then boldly, suddenly, she tore back her silk before him. The girls in the background gasped. Men leaned forward. The hand of Philebus tightened on the whip he held. He half lifted it.
But the girl noted him not. Her eyes were on the burly fellow, and his on her, raptly, startled, stunned.
Then she put herself to the dirt before him in what, had she been a dancer, and on a different surface, might have been termed "floor movements," such things as turnings and twistings, rollings and crawlings, sometimes on her hands and knees, sometimes on her stomach; sometimes, too, she would be kneeling, sitting, or lying, or half sitting, half lying, or half kneeling, half lying; I saw her on her back and stomach, sometimes lifting her body; I noted, too, she was excellent on her side, one and the other, both facing him, and away, in her movements; I regarded her crawling, on her hands and knees, or on her stomach, sometimes lifting her body; sometimes she would look back over her shoulder, perhaps as though in fear or even, it seemed, sometimes, challenging him to recognize her; sometimes she would approach him, crawling, head down, sometimes head up, or turned demurely to the side; then she would be again sitting, or kneeling, or lying, extending her limbs, displaying them, drawing them back, flexing them; sometimes she recoiled or contracted, as though into herself, drawing attention to herself, to her smallness and vulnerability, her curves, as a helpless, compact, delicious love bundle; I saw, too, that she knew the Turian knee walk. Men cried out with pleasure. And in all this, of course, time was kept with the music.
I glanced to the burly fellow. His knuckles were white on goblet, his hand so clenched upon it.
"Is master pleased?" inquired Philebus.
"Yes! Yes!" cried the burly fellow.
"Yes!" cried others.
With his goblet the burly fellow indicated that the slave might rise.
She stood then before him. Though she scarcely moved, in her body yet was the music. I did not think Philebus would use the whip on her for having parted her silk, unbidden, or for having put herself to the dirt before Borton, his customer. Such delicious spontaneities, incidentally, are often encouraged in a slave by a private master. Bondage is a condition in which imagination and inventiveness in a slave are highly appropriate. Indeed some masters encourage them with the whip. In a public situation, however, as in a paga tavern, it is advisable that the girl be very careful, at least in her master's presence. She must not let it appear that she is, even for an instant, out of the master's complete control, and, of course, in the ultimate sense, this is entirely true. She is, in the end, his, and completely. If a girl, say, one new to slavery, does not know this, she soon learns it, and well.
"Come, come," said Borton, gesturing with his left hand and the goblet in his right, "bring them all forward!"
Philebus, with the whip, gestured the girls in the background forward and they hurried forward, in their silk, their feet soft in the dirt, and they knelt, in a semicircle behind, and about, Temione, her silk parted, who still stood.
"Perhaps master is ready to make a choice for the evening?" asked Philebus.
There was laughter.
The question, surely, was rhetorical.
With his coiled whip Philebus, expansively, indicated the girls, like a merchant displaying wares, or a confectioner displaying candies, and, in a sense, I suppose, he was both.
There was more laughter.
I did not think there was much doubt what the burly fellow's choice would be.
The two fellows who had supplied the music were silent. One wiped the flute, the other was addressing himself to the tabor, loosening some pegs, relaxing the tension of the drumhead. The drumhead is usually made of verrskin, as most often are wineskins.
"Can they dance?" asked the burly fellow, as though his mind might not yet be made up.
The taborist looked up.
"Alas, no," cried Philebus, in mock dismay, "none of my girls are dancers!"
The taborist continued his work.
There were cries of mock disappointment from the crowd.
"I will dance," said Temione.
The slave girls shrank back, gasping. There was silence in the enclosure. Philebus, in rage, lifted his whip. But the burly fellow indicated that he should lower it.
"Forgive me, Master," said Temione. She had spoken without permission.
"You do not know how to dance," said Philebus.
"Please, Master," said Temione.
"You beg permission to dance before this man?" asked Philebus.
"Yes, Master," she said.
"Let her dance!" called a man.
"Let her dance!" called another.
"Yes!" said others.
Philebus looked to Borton, the burly fellow. "Let her dance," he said.
Philebus glanced at his fellows, and the one tried a short schedule of notes on the flute, the other retightened the pegs on the tabor.
Borton looked quizzically at the girl before him, so beautiful, and owned.
She did not meet his eyes.
"Let the melody be soft, and slow, and simple," said Philebus to the flutist, who nodded.
"May I speak, Master," asked Temione.
"Yes," said Philebus.
"May the melody also be," said she, "one in which a slave may be well displayed."
"A block melody?" asked the flutist, addressing his question to Philebus.
"No," said Philebus, "nothing so sensuous. Rather, say, the "Hope of Tina."»
Approval from the crowd met this proposal. The reference to "block melodies" had to do with certain melodies which are commonly used in slave markets, in the display of the merchandise. Some were apparently developed for the purpose, and others simply utilized for it. Such melodies tend to be sexually stimulating, and powerfully so, both for the merchandise being vended, who must dance to them, and for the buyers. It is a joke of young Goreans to sometimes whistle, or hum, such melodies, apparently innocently, in the presence of free women who, of course, are not familiar with them, and do not understand their origins or significance, and then to watch them become restless, and, usually, after a time, disturbed and apprehensive, hurry away. Such women, of course, will doubtless recall such melodies, and at last understand the joke, if they find themselves naked on the sales block, in house collars, dancing to them. Some women, free women, interestingly, even when they do not fully understand such melodies, are fascinated with them and try to learn them. Such melodies, in a sense, call out to them. They hum them to themselves. They sing them in private, and so on. Too, not unoften, on one level or another, they begin to grow careless of their security and safety; they begin, in one way or another, to court the collar. The "Hope of Tina," a melody of Cos which would surely be popular with most of the fellows present, on the other hand, was an excellent choice. It was supposedly the expression of the yearning, or hope, of a young girl that she may be so beautiful, and so feminine, and marvelous, that she will prove acceptable as a slave. As Temione was from Cos I had little doubt that she would be familiar with the melody. To be sure, it did have something of the sensuousness of a block melody about it. Yet I thought, even so, she would probably know it. It was the sort of melody of which free women often claim to be completely ignorant but, when pressed, prove to be familiar, surprisingly perhaps, with its every note.
"Why do you wish to dance before me?" asked the burly fellow of the slave.
"Did Master not wish to see a woman dance?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Surely then," she said, "that is reason enough."
He regarded her, puzzled. It was clear he did not recall her, but also clear, for he was no fool, that he suspected more was afoot than a mere compliance with a masterly whim, even though such whims, for the slave, in many contexts, constitute orders of iron.
"Why do you wish to dance?" he asked.
"Perhaps," she said, "it is that a master may be pleased, perhaps it is simply that I am a slave."
I saw Philebus' hand tighten on the handle of the whip.
"Do I know you?" asked Borton.
"I think not, Master," she said, truthfully enough.
She put her hands over her head, her wrists back to back.
"She is beautiful!" said a fellow.
"Dance, Slave," said Philebus.
"Ah!" cried men.
To be sure, Temione was not a dancer, not in the strict, or trained sense, but she could move, and marvelously, and so, somehow, she did, swaying before him, and turning, but usually facing him, as though she wished not to miss an expression or an emotion that might cross his countenance. Yet, too, uncompromisingly, she was one with the music, and, particularly in the beginning, with the story, seeming to examine her own charms, timidly, as if, like the «Tina» of the song, she might be considering her possible merits, whether or not she might qualify for bondage, whether or not she might somehow prove worthy of it, if only, perhaps, by inward compensations of zeal and love, whether or not she might, with some justification, aspire to the collar. Then later it seemed she danced her slavery openly, unabashedly, sensuously, so slowly, and so excitingly, before the men and, in particular, before the burly fellow. Surely now, all doubts resolved, there was no longer a question about the suitability of bondage for such a woman.
"She can dance!" said a man.
"She should be trained!" said another.
"See her," said another.
"Has she not had training?" asked one of Philebus.
"No," said Philebus. "Only days ago I bought her free."
"See her," said yet another.
"It is instinctual in a woman," said another.
I tended to agree with the fellow about the instinctuality of erotic dance in a female. The question is difficult, to be sure, but I am confident that there are genetic codings which are germane to such matters. Certainly the swiftness and skill with which women attain significant levels of proficiency in the art form argues for the involvement of biological latencies. It is easy to speculate, in general terms, on such latencies having been selected for in a variety of ways, for example, in noting their affinity with movements of love and luring, their value in displaying the female, their capacity to stimulate the male, their utility in pleasing and placating men, and such. The woman who can move well, who can dance well, so to speak, and please men in many ways, is more likely to be spared, and bred. Many is the woman who has survived by dancing naked before conquerors in the hot ashes of a burning city, who, perhaps ostensibly lamenting, but inwardly thrilled, sensing the appropriateness and perfection of her imminent bondage, has put forth her fair limbs for the clasp of chains and her lovely neck for the closure of the collar. Yes, I thought, there is, in the belly of every woman, somewhere, a dancer. Too, I was not unaware that in certain cases, as in that of Temione now, as she was not as yet really skilled, and was certainly untrained, the man himself might make a difference. One man might, and another might not, at her present stage, call forth the dancing slave in her. What woman has not considered to herself what it might be like to dance naked before some man or another, one before whom she knows she could be naught but his slave?
"Beautiful!" said a man.
Temione was pleased.
The collar looked well on her neck. It belonged there. There was no doubt about it.
How she looked at the burly fellow! He was now so taken with her he could hardly move.
Now the exquisite slut began to sense her power, that of her beauty and desirability.
She had determined, I now realized, from the first moment she had leaped to her feet, obedient to the command of her master, Philebus, that she would make test of her womanhood, that she would, courageously, regardless of the consequences, risking contempt and perhaps even punishment, display herself before him, this rude fellow who had once so scorned and tyrannized her as a free woman, as what she now was, ultimately and solely, female and slave. To be sure, she, new to her slavery, had perhaps not fully realized that she had really no choice in this matter but, willing or not, must do so, and to the best of her ability, in total perfection.
Borton moaned in desire, scarcely daring to move, his eyes glistening, fixed on the dancing slave.
How bondage had transformed Temione! What is the magic, the mystery of the brand, the collar, I wondered, that by means of them such marvels might be wrought? It had to do, I supposed, with the nature of woman, her deepest needs, with the order of nature, with the pervasive themes of dominance and submission. In bondage woman is in her place in nature, and she will not be truly happy until she is there. Given this, it may be seen that, in a sense, the brand and collar, as lovely and decorative as they are, and as exciting and profoundly meaningful as they are, when they are fixed on a woman, and she wears them, and as obviously important as they are from the point of view of property law, may be viewed not so much as instituting or producing bondage as recognizing it, as serving, in a way, as tokens, or outward signs, of these marvelous inward truths, these ultimate realities. The true slave knows that her slavery, her natural slavery, is not a matter of the brand and collar, which have more to do with legalities, but of herself. She may love her brand and collar, and beg them, and rejoice in them, but I do not think this is merely because they make her so exciting, desirable and beautiful; I think it is also, at least, because they proclaim publicly to the world what she is, because by means of them her deepest truth, freeing her of concealments and deceits, cutting through confusions, resolving doubts, ending hesitancies, making her at last whole and one, to her joy, is marked openly upon her. The true slave is within the woman. She knows it is there. She will not be happy until she terminates inward dissonances, until she casts out rending contradictions, until she achieves emotional, moral, physiological and psychological consistency, until she surrenders to her inward truths.
"May I speak, Master?" Temione asked of the burly fellow, swaying before him.
How bold she was!
"Yes," he said, huskily.
"Does Master find a slave pleasing?" he asked.
"Yes!" he said.
"Perhaps even exciting?" she inquired.
"Yes, yes!" he said, almost in pain.
"I am not too fat, am I?" she asked.
"No!" he said. "No!" It might be mentioned that as a slave girl is a domestic animal her diet is subject to supervision. Most masters will give some attention to the girl's diet, her rest, exercises, training, and so on. Some slavers, with certain markets in mind, such as certain of the Tahari markets, deliberately fatten slaves before their sale, sometimes keeping them in small cages, sometimes even force-feeding them, and so on. Most masters, on the other hand, will try to keep their slaves at whatever dimensions and weights are thought to be optimum for her health and beauty.
"Perhaps Master thinks I am stupid," she said.
"No," he said. "No!" Properties such as intelligence and imagination are prized in female slaves. It helps them, obviously, to be better slaves. Too, it is pleasant to dominate such women, totally.
"Does Master think I am a she-tarsk?" she asked.
"No!" he cried.
"Beware," Philebus cautioned her, his whip in hand.
"Let her speak, let her speak," said the burly fellow, tensely.
I did not think the swaying slave would be likely to be mistaken for a she-tarsk. She might, however, as she was acting, be mistaken for something of a she-sleen. To be sure, the whip can quickly take that sort of thing from a woman.
"Alas," she lamented, "I am not worth even sleen feed!"
"No!" cried the burly fellow. "Do not say that! You are exquisite!"
"But such a charge has been cited against me," she moaned.
"By some wretch I wager!" said he, angrily.
"If Master will have it so," she demurred.
"Would that I had him here," he said. "I would well chastise him, and with blows, did he not retract his judgment, belabor him for his lack of taste!" In fairness to the burly fellow, it had been Temione the free woman against whom he had leveled that charge, not Temione, the slave. There was obviously a great deal of difference between the two, even if Temione herself was not yet that aware of it.
"Alas that I am so ugly!" she said.
"Absurd!" he cried. "You are beautiful!"
"Master is too kind," she said.
"You are the most beautiful slave I have ever seen!" When he said this I noted that a pleased look came over the features of Philebus. He would not now, I suspected, be willing to let Temione go easily, if at all.
"Surely Master speaks so to all the slaves," she said.
"No!" he said.
"That you will have the poor slaves open and gush with oil at your least touch."
"No!" he cried. She did not understand as yet, I gathered, given her newness to slavery, that such, emotional and physical responsiveness, was expected of, and required of, all slaves, at the touch of any master.
"Can it be then, Master," she asked, "that you do not wish to cast me from you?"
"I do not understand," he said.
"Will you not order me from your presence," she asked, "or have me dragged from your sight?"
"No!" he cried.
"Then Master finds me of some interest?" she asked.
"Yes!" he howled in pain.
I saw that he wanted to leap to his feet and seize her. I did not think he would be able to get her even as far as one of the small alcove tents within the enclosure. More likely, she would be flung to the dirt and publicly ravished, before the fire, even where she had danced. She might then, in a moment, bruised in his ardor, gasping in her collar, be dragged to an alcove, and forced again and again to serve, until dawn, until at last she might lie soft against him, by his thigh, in her collar, having served to quench for a time the flames of so mighty a lust, one which she, as a slave, had aroused and which she, as a slave, must satisfy.
"A girl is pleased," she said.
The music stopped, and the girl, instinctively, among the others, fell to the dirt and lay there before him, on her back, looking at him, her breasts heaving, a submitted slave.
The burly fellow threw aside his goblet and leaped to his feet.
Men rose up, crying out with pleasure, striking their left shoulders.
"I must have her!" cried the burly fellow.
The girls about Temione looked at one another, excited, but fearfully. Tonight the paga would flow. Tonight they would hurry about, serving well. Tonight much pleasuring would take place within the enclosure. Let them prepare to work, and hard. And let them anticipate their helplessness in the grasp of strong masters.
"Superb!" called out a man.
"Superb!" cried another.
Temione now was on her hands and knees, frightened.
"I will buy her!" cried out the burly fellow.
"She is not for sale!" cried Philebus.
"Name your price!" cried the burly fellow.
Temione, on her hands and knees, looked up, frightened, at her master. She could, of course, be sold as easily as a sleen or tarsk.
"She is not for sale," said Philebus.
"A silver tarsk!" cried the burly fellow. Men whistled at the price he was willing to put out for the slave, particularly in a time and place where there was no dearth of beautiful women, a time and place in which they were plentiful, and cheap. "Two!" said the burly fellow.
"She is not for sale!" said Philebus.
"Show her to me!" said the burly fellow.
Philebus, not gently, jerked Temione back on her heels, so that she was kneeling, kicked apart her knees, which she, in her terror, had neglected to open, and thrust up her chin. She looked at the burly fellow, her knees apart.
"I know you from somewhere, do I not?" he said.
"Perhaps, Master," she stammered.
"What is the color of your hair?" he asked, peering at it in the flickering light, in the half darkness.
"Auburn, Master," she said.
"A natural auburn?" he asked.
"Yes, Master," she said. It is not wise for a girl to lie about such things. She may be easily found out. There are penalties, incidentally, for a slaver passing off a girl for an auburn slave when she is not truly so. Auburn hair, as I have indicated, is prized in slave markets. The fact that Temione's hair, like that of the other debtor skits at the Crooked Tarn, bad been shaved off, to be sold for catapult cordage, may have been one reason that the burly fellow had not recognized her. At the Crooked Tarn, when he had seen her, she had had her full head of hair. It had been very beautiful, even shorn, hanging on the rack in the courtyard of the Crooked Tarn.
"I think I know you," he said.
"Perhaps, Master," she said. Then she cried out with fear, and bent over, cringing, in terror, for Philebus had cracked the whip near her.
"Speak clearly, slave," said Philebus.
"My hair is grown out a little now," she said, looking up, frightened, at the burly fellow. "It was shaved off before. It is grown out a little now!"
"Speak, slave," said Philebus. "Where do you know him from?" He snapped the whip again, angrily.
"From the Crooked Tarn, Master!" she cried, but looking, frightened, at the burly fellow.
"You!" he cried.
"Yes, Master!" she said.
"The free woman!" he cried.
"But now a slave, Master," she said, "now a slave!" "Ho!" cried he. "What a fool you have made of me!" "No, Master!" she said, fearfully.
"You fooled me well!" he said.
"No, Master!" she wept.
"An amusing little slave," he commented.
She dared not respond, nor meet his eyes.
"A gold piece for her," said the burly fellow.
The slave moaned.
"Two," said the burly fellow. "Ten."
"Do you think you are a special slave, or a high slave?" asked Philebus of the girl, moving the coils of the whip near her.
"No, Master!" she said.
"Twenty pieces of gold," said the burly fellow.
"You are drunk," said Philebus.
"No," said the burly fellow. "I have never been more sober in my life."
The girl shuddered.
"I want you," said Borton to the girl.
"May I speak?" she asked.
"What would Master do with me?" she asked, quaveringly.
"What I please," he said.
"Do you have twenty pieces of gold, Borton?" called out one of the fellows nearby.
Borton scowled, darkly.
There was laughter. His finances, I gathered, may have been somewhat in arrears since the time of the Crooked Tarn.
"Ten silver tarsks," said Borton, grinning.
"That is a superb price, Philebus," said a fellow. "Sell her!
"Yes, sell her!" urged another.
"She is not for sale," said Philebus.
There were some cries of disappointment.
"But perhaps," said Philebus to Borton, "you would care to use her for the evening?" This announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by the crowd. The girl, kneeling and small, trembled in her collar, in the midst of the men. Philebus handed the whip to Borton, who shook out the coils. "She is, you see," said Philebus, "merely one of my paga sluts."
There was laughter. It was true, of course.
"And there will be no charge!" he said.
"Excellent, Philebus!" said more than one man.
The girl looked at the whip, now in the hand of Borton, with a kind of awe.
"May I speak?" she asked.
"Yes," said Borton.
"Is Master angry with the slave?" she asked.
He smiled. He cracked the whip once, viciously. She drew back, fearfully.
"Use it on her well, Borton, my friend," said Philebus. "It is well deserved by any slut and perhaps particularly so by one such as she. Did she not part her silk without permission? Did she not put herself to the dirt before you, unbidden? Did she not speak at least once without permission, either implicit or explicit?"
"May I speak, Master?" asked Temione.
He indicated that she might, with the tiniest flicker of an expression.
"Forgive me, Master," she said, "if I have angered you. Forgive me, if I have offended you in any way. Forgive me, if I have failed to be fully pleasing."
He moved the whip, slowly. She stared at it, terrified, mesmerized.
"Am I to be beaten?" asked Temione.
"Come here," he said, indicating a place on the dirt before him. She did not dare to rise to her feet. She went to her hands and knees that she might crawl to the spot he had specified.
"Hold," I said, rising.
All eyes turned toward me, startled.
"She is serving me," I said.
There were cries of astonishment.
"Beware, fellow," said a man. "That is Borton!"
"As I understand the common rules of a paga tavern, under which governances I understand this enclosure to function, I have use of this slave until I see fit to relinquish her, or until the common hour of closing, or dawn, as the case may be, unless I pay overage. Alternatives to such rules are to be made clear in advance, say, by announcement or public posting."
"She was not serving you!" said a fellow.
"Were you serving me?" I asked the slave.
"Yes, Master," she said.
"And have I dismissed you from my service?" I asked.
"No, Master," she said.
"That is Borton!" said a man to me.
"I am pleased to make his acquaintance," I said. Actually this was not entirely candid on my part.
"Who are you?" asked Borton.
"I am pleased to meet you," I assured him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"A pleasant fellow," I said, "one not looking for trouble." Borton cast aside the whip. His sword left its sheath.
Men moved back.
"Aii!" cried a man. My sword, too, had left its sheath. "I did not see him draw!" said a man.
"Let us not have trouble, gentlemen," urged Philebus.
"Wait!" cried Borton, suddenly. "Wait! Wait! I know you! I know you!"
I glanced quickly to my left. There was a fellow there. I thought I could use him.
"It is he, too, who was at the Crooked Tarn!" cried Borton, wildly. "It is he who stole the dispatches, he who so discomfited me, he who made off with my coins, my clothing, my gear, my tarn!"
I supposed Borton could not be blamed entirely for his ill will. The last time I had seen him, before this evening, I aflight, astride his tarn, hovering the bird, preparing shortly to make away, he had been in the yard of the Crooked Tarn, chained naked there, still soaked wet from the bath, to a sleen ring. It had been strong enough to hold him, despite his size and strength, even when he had seen me, which occurrence had apparently caused him agitation. I had waved the courier's pouch to him, cheerily. There had been no hard feelings on my part. I had not been able to make out what he had been howling upward, crouching there, chained, what with the wind, and the beating of the tam's wings. Several of the fellows at the Crooked Tarn had intercepted him, rushing through the yard, I suppose on his way to inquire after me. Coinless, chained, naked, utterly without means, absolutely helpless, he would have been held at the Crooked Tam until his bills were paid or he himself disposed of, say, as a work slave, his sale to satisfy, as it could, his bills. He had been redeemed, I gathered, by other fellows in the command of Artemidorus, and then freed. Certainly he was here now, not in a good humor, and with a sword in his grasp.
"He is a thief and spy!" cried Borton. Men leaped to their feet.
"Spy!" I heard.
"Seize him!" I heard.
I suddenly lost sight of Temione, buffeted aside, falling among the men. Borton was pressing toward me. I seized the fellow to my left by his robes and flung him across Borton's path. Fellows pressed in. Borton was in the dirt, expressing dissatisfaction. With my fist, clenched on the handle of the sword, I struck a fellow, to my right. I heard bone. He spit teeth. There was no time to apologize. I spun about and fell to my hands and knees, men seizing one another over me. I rose up, spilling three or four fellows about. I then pushed and struck my way through men, most of whom I think could not clearly see me in the throng, broke free, and vaulted over the low railing, to hurry through the darkness toward the Vosk. "There he goes!" cried a fellow. I heard some girls crying out and screaming, in terror, some probably struck, or kicked or thrust aside, or stepped on, or trampled, in the confusion. Slave girls seldom care to find themselves, helpless curvaceous obstacles, half naked, collared and silked, in the midst of men and blades. It is their business to please men, and they well know it, not to prove impediments to their action. "He is heading toward the Vosk!" called a man. But by the time I had heard this I was no longer heading toward the Vosk. I had doubled back through the environing tents, most of which were empty, presumably thanks to the sounds of the paga enclosure and various hastily spreading rumors, such as that of Borton's generosity, that there was to be a parade of slaves, and that a curvaceous woman was now dancing her slavery before strong men. It is appropriate for a slave to express her slavery in slave dance, of course. It is one of the thousands of ways in which it may be expressed. I did, however, as soon as I was among them, sheath my sword and begin walking, pausing here and there to look back, particularly when in someone's vicinity, as though puzzled by the clamor coming from the vicinity of the enclosure. "What is going on back there?" asked a fellow.
"I do not know," I admitted. After all, I was not there. I supposed, however, that dozens of men, perhaps some carrying torches or flaming brands, or lanterns, would be wading about, slipping in the mud, parting reeds, and so on, swords drawn, at the bank of the Vosk, looking for me. I did not envy them this task. It is difficult enough to find a fellow in such a place during the day. It is much harder at night. Too, if he is not there, the task becomes even more difficult.
"I think I will go down there and see what is going on," said the fellow.
"Could you direct me to the tent of Borton, the courier?" I asked.
"Certainly," he said.
"Thank you," I said.
I watched him making his way, curiously, down toward the paga enclosure. He was joined by a couple of other fellows. They, too, were presumably curious. I could not blame them. From the higher part of the camp, now, I could see several torches flickering along the river. Too, there seemed some small boats in the water, torches fixed in their bows, much as are used for hunting tabuk and tarsk at night, from behind blinds. They were probably commandeered from local folk. I then began to make my way toward the encampment and cots of Artemidorus, the Cosian mercenary. These were located at the southern edge of the camp, that direction in which lay, presumably, the main forces of Ar. In this way the location was convenient for reconnaissance flights. They could come and go, largely unobserved. Too, it would not be necessary to cross the main camp's air space, which is usually, and for obvious reasons, kept inviolate. The cots and defenses there, too, supplied something of a buffer between the main camp and the south. It is difficult, as well as dangerous, to move in the vicinity of unfamiliar tarns, particularly at night. The tents of the couriers, were supposedly near the headquarters tent of Artemidorus himself. That made sense. So, too, were their cots. Then I was in the vicinity of the encampment of Artemidorus. I avoided guardposts. Some, however, were not even manned. In moments, not challenged, I was among the tents.
"Fellow," said I, "where lies the tent of Borton, of the command of Artemidorus?"
I had approached the headquarters tent of Artemidorus himself, not only its central location, on a rise, and its standard, but its size making it prominent. Somewhere here, around here, I had been told, was the tent of Borton.
"What business have you with him?" he asked.
"None that needs concern you," I said.
His hand went to his sword.
"You have drawn!" he said.
I resheathed my blade. "Look," I said, reaching into my wallet and drawing forth a handful of slave beads, "are they not beauties?" He looked at them, in the moonlight.
"They are cheap," he said.
"Of course," I said, "but pretty, very pretty, and strung on binding fiber." They were large and round, about half a hort in diameter, of brightly colored wood.
"You are a merchant," he said.
"Come here, by the fire," I said.
I there displayed the beads.
"Yes," he said, "pretty."
"I am to deliver these to the tent of Borton," I said. I had decided that.
"He does not own slaves," he said. "He rents them."
"These need not be, at first, for a slave," I said.
"True," laughed the fellow.
"Imagine them cast about the neck of a stripped free woman," I said, "and her then ordered to writhe in them at his feet, in fear of his whip, hearing them clack together, knowing they are strung on binding fiber and such."
"Yes!" laughed the fellow.
"When he then puts his hand on her," I said, "I wager she will be well ready for him."
"Indeed," said the fellow.
"And may later be branded and collared at his leisure."
"Of course" said the man.
Slave beads are commonly cheap, made of wood and glass, and such. Who would waste expensive beads, golden droplets, pearls, rubies, and such, on a domestic animal? Still they are very pretty, and slaves will wheedle and beg for them. Indeed, they will compete desperately, zealously, sometimes even acrimoniously, for them. And they, such deliciously vain creatures, know well how to use them, adorning themselves, enhancing their beauty, making themselves even more excruciatingly desirable! Among slaves a handful of glass or wooden beads may confer a prestige that among free women might not be garnered with diamonds. Slave beads, too, and such simple adornments, bracelets, earrings, cosmetics, slave perfumes, and such, are well known for their effect in arousing the passions not only of the women themselves, but, too, it must be admitted, sometimes of their masters. Indeed, some masters will not permit such things to their women for fear they will make them too beautiful, too exciting and desirable, so much so that there might be a temptation to relax discipline. This fear, however, in practice, in my opinion, is illusory. The master need only make simple and elementary corrections. He may then have a slave as beautiful as he wishes, and, as perfect as he wishes. Indeed, let the woman, the more beautiful, and the more exciting and desirable she becomes, be kept at least as strictly, if not all the more strictly, in the toils of her master. Why permit a jewel lenience, or even think of it, when even the commonest of slaves is ruled with a rod of iron? Does she think the master weak? Show her she is wrong. Indeed, if anything, let her discover that her beauty, far from weakening her master, serves rather, by his will, to ensure the fixity of the discipline to which she finds herself subject. This she will love.
"His tent?" I asked.
"There," said the fellow, indicating a tent at the foot of the rise surmounted by the headquarters tent of Artemidorus. That it was his headquarters tent, incidentally, did not meant that he, Artemidorus, was necessarily within it, or would sleep there, or such. Sometimes tarn strikes, infiltrating assassination squads, and such, are directed against such facilities.
"My thanks, friend," said I, and bidding the helpful fellow farewell I went to the tent. It was somewhat large, and a bit ostentatious, I thought, for that of a mere courier. Like most Gorean campaign tents, at least those set up in large, fixed camps, it was circular, with a conical roof. It was striped with red and yellow, and had an entrance canopy. A pennon, one bearing the insignia of the company of Artemidorus, a sword grasped in the talon of a tarn, flew from the main pole, projecting through the roof. I myself prefer lower, more neutral colored tenting. It is easier, for one thing, to break the outline of such a tent. A tent, like this, incidentally, would not accompany the tarnsmen in their flights, borne by draft tarns, but would follow in the supply wagons of the main body. A company of tarnsmen, such as that of Artemidorus, is not burdened in flight with the transport of such items. Such a group would normally move, of course, with their war gear, such as missiles and weaponry, and supplies for a given number of days.
"I do not think he is there now," called the fellow after me.
"I shall wait, at least for a time," I said. Then I shook the canvas of the threshold curtain and, not receiving a response, entered.
It was rather dark within and so I struck a light with the fire-maker from my pouch, located a lamp, and lit it. I did not think there was any point, under the circumstances, given my conversation with the fellow outside, and so on, in trying to keep it a secret that someone was within the tent. That surely would have aroused suspicion. Besides I was curious to look about the tent. There might be something there I could use. Within there were small carpets, expensive hangings, and sleeping furs. There was also a variety of small items, such as vessels and bowls, and small chests. Also, fixed on the center pole there was a piece of paper which said, "Beware, this is the tent of Borton." Everyone likely to see that sign, I gathered, would know who «Borton» was. I was pleased to see the sign, as it confirmed that I was in the right place. There was also, to one side, at the edge of a carpet, a heavy stake driven deeply into the ground. There were some pretty, but sturdy, chains scattered near it, and a whip. I was pleased to see that Borton knew how to handle women. I did not think he could be such a bad fellow, really. Certainly he had, in the past, proved very helpful to me. Hopefully he would do so again.
"Ah," I said. I had turned over some of the small carpets in the tent and discerned that in one place there was an irregularity in the earth. With the point of a knife I dug there and found a small cache of coins. There were five pieces of gold there, three staters of Brundisium and two of Telnus, eleven silver tarsks, of various cities, for such circulate freely, and some smaller coins. I put these in my wallet. I had looked under the carpeting because the small chests, not surprisingly, pried open, had not yielded much of interest. For example, I already had, in my gear at my tent, a sewing kit. It is amusing, incidentally, to rent a slave, bring her to your tent, and put her to tasks such as your sewing. Then, when she thinks this is all that is required of her, and expects to be dismissed, you order her to her back or stomach, teaching her that there is more to her womanhood than the performance of such tasks. Interestingly, the performance of such tasks, so suitable to tiny, delicate hands, and to the woman's desire to serve and be found pleasing, tends to be sexually arousing to her. In their way, they confirm her slavery upon her, and prepare her for more extensive, profound and intimate services. Slavery to the woman is more than a sexual matter, though sexuality is intimately and profoundly involved in it, essentially, crucially and ultimately. It is an entire mode of being, an entire way of life, one intimately associated with love and service.
I thought now that the search might be abating near the river, that it might, by now, have been redirected to the camp as a whole. This seemed, then, a good time to return to the vicinity of the river. I did, before I left the tent, hang the slave beads I had shown the fellow outside over the nail in the tent pole to which Borton had attached his warning sign. I thought I might as well give him something for his trouble. I looked at the beads. They were pretty, that double strand of insignificant baubles, those lovely spheres of colored wood strung on binding fiber, enough to bind a slave hand and foot. Then I left the tent.
"I do not desire to wait longer," I told the fellow outside.
He nodded, not paying much attention.
"There is something going on to the north, there," said a man to me, as I passed a guardpost.
"Where?" I asked.
"There," he said.
I could see the light of torches, could hear, distantly, shouts of men.
"I think you are right," I said.
"What is it?" he asked a fellow approaching.
"They are looking for a spy," he said.
"Do they know what he looks like?" I asked.
"They say he is a big fellow, with red hair," said the man.
"I have red hair," I said.
"If I were you, then," said the man next to me, "I think I would remain inconspicuous for a time."
"That is probably a good idea," I said.
"It would be too bad to be mistaken for the spy," said a fellow, "and be riddled with bolts or chopped to pieces."
"I agree," I said.
"Be careful," said the first fellow, solicitously.
"I shall," I assured him.
"They will have him before morning," said the other fellow.
"Yes," said the first. "The camp will be turned upside down. There will be no place to hide. They will look everywhere."
"Everywhere?" I asked.
"Everywhere," he assured me.
"They will have him before morning," repeated the second man.
"I wish you well," I said, bidding them farewell.
"I wish you well," said the first man.
"I wish you well," said the second.
When men search they normally do so, naturally enough, I suppose, as if their quarry were going to remain stationary, obstinately ensconced in a given situation. It is then necessary only to examine the available situations thoroughly, and your job is finished. On the other hand, whereas it is clearly understood by most searchers that the quarry may be in B while they are in A, it seldom seems to occur to them that the quarry may now be in A while they are in B. In this fashion it is possible to both "search everywhere" and find nothing. In this sense, locating men, or larls, or sleen, which tend to double back, often to attack their pursuers, is not like locating buttons. To be sure, many of the men in this camp, both regulars and mercenaries, were skilled warriors, perhaps even trained to hunt men. The tracking of routed enemies, now fugitives, after a battle, for example, is an art in itself. The hunting of slaves is another. Such men may think with the quarry; they may bring up the rear; they may depart from the main search parties; they may conduct random searches, impossible to anticipate, and so on. Many are those taken by such men, including female slaves, to be brought helplessly in chains to their masters. There is one place, however, that even such skilled fellows are not likely to look, and that is with the search parties themselves. Whereas it is not easy to blend in with such a party if one is a female slave, given her sex, her nudity or paucity of garmenture, perhaps even slave garb, her collar, and such, a man has less difficulty. It can be risky, of course. My hope, then, was to wait until searches were taking place outside the camp, particularly toward the south, as they might in the morning. Marcus, with whom I had come to the camp, an orderly fellow, had made very specific contingency plans, and had insisted emphatically they be complied with, in case either of us were apprehended or detained, plans which he might be putting into effect like lightning at this very moment. If possible, we were to meet on the road to Holmesk, to the south, in the vicinity of the village of Teslit. If this meeting proved impractical, the fellow near Teslit, whoever it might be, was to hurry south to Holmesk, there to contact the men of Ar. He was a very serious young man, and was very serious about these plans. For my part, of course, if he were apprehended, or such, I would probably have dallied about at least long enough to determine whether I might be of any assistance or not. If one has been impaled, of course, the amount of assistance one can render is negligible. He himself, however, had insisted that he must be discounted, sacrificed without a murmur, and that I must continue on to contact the men of Ar in the south. I did not discuss these matters with him as it is very difficult to talk with people who are reasonable. To be sure, we had expected, in a day or so, to depart southward anyway, having been with the forces of Cos long enough to anticipate their route and marches, this information to be conveyed, supposedly, to the forces of Ar at Holmesk. I myself found it difficult to believe that the forces of Ar at Holmesk did not know, and with some degree of accuracy, the nature, the movements, the marching orders, and such, of the Cosian forces in the north.
I must now, however, find a place to dally until morning, until the searching was done in the camp.
'They will have him before morning," had said a fellow. I trusted he was mistaken.
I thought I knew a possible place.
2 A Copper Tarsk
She made the tiniest of stifled noises, her head pulled back, my hand held tightly, mercilessly, over her mouth.
She was kneeling. I was crouching behind her.
"Make no noise," I whispered to her.
I felt her face and head move the tiniest bit, as it could, indicating obedience.
I then removed my hand from her mouth and, from behind, my hand on her arm, drew her to her feet, and conducted her to the nearest of the small alcove tents in the paga enclosure. I had entered the enclosure from the Vosk side, under the railing. In a moment I had thrust her into the small tent. You cannot stand up within it.
I lit the tiny lamp in the tent. I lowered the flame so it was little more than a flicker.
"You!" she said, twisting about in the tiny space, on the silken carpet.
"Do not make noise," I warned her, softly.
She was pretty there, now naked, save for her collar, inside the canvas.
"Your silk is gone," I said.
"They removed it before they lashed me," she said.
"Turn about, kneeling," I said.
She did so.
It is common that clothing is removed before the administration of the discipline of leather. In this way the clothing is not likely to be cut or stained. Too, in a formal whipping, as opposed to an occasional stroke or two, perhaps called forth on a given occasion, not even as meaningless, fragile or symbolic a shield as slave silk is allowed to obtrude itself between the slave and the justice, or mere attention, of the lash. Similarly, in such a formal situation, even the hair of the slave is normally thrown forward, before her shoulders.
"Seven strokes," I said. "Yes," she whispered. "Count them," I said.
Tears sprang to her eyes, in memory of the lashing.
"One," she said, "for parting my silk unbidden; two, for putting myself to the dirt before a customer, unbidden; three, for speaking without asking permission; four, for not speaking clearly; five, for not answering directly; six, because I am a slave; seven, because it pleased the master to strike me again."
"In many cases," I said, "with a private master, I do not think you would have been beaten at all this evening. For example, a private master, though he might be particular about such things, is less likely than a public master, in public, to administer discipline for, say, speaking without permission. To be sure, if your speech is thought insufficiently respectful, or too bold or forward, or you have been recently warned not to speak, or it is obviously not a time in which he wishes to hear you speak, or such, you might be beaten. Similarly, a private master would not be likely to beat you for parting your silk before him or for putting yourself to his feet and writhing there piteously, in begging need, and such. Indeed, he would be more likely to be pleased. Indeed, with private masters many girls actually escape beatings by recourse to just such delightful strategies. Similarly, unclear or evasive discourse is not likely to win you a beating unless it is clear the master objects to it, and, in effect, will not accept it. Then, of course, you must speak with what clarity and directness you can. Your problem this evening, of course, is that you are a paga slave and that your master, Philebus, is before customers. You must do nothing to suggest to the customers that you are not helplessly subject, and absolutely, and perfectly, and completely, to Philebus. And you are, you know."
"Yes, Master," she said, wincing.
"But if your behavior should suggest that this is not the case it might be offensive to Philebus, and, indeed, to the customers. In such a case, you should rejoice you received such a light beating. You understand these things?"
"Yes, Master," she said.
"You are not stupid, are you?" I asked. "No, Master," she said.
"Then why did you behave as you did?" I asked. I knew.
"Because of him!" she said. "Because of him!"
"Speak," I said, "but do so, softly."
"It is difficult to speak softly of such things!" she said, fire in her eyes.
"Beware," I said. "You are in a collar." She turned white.
"Now speak," I said.
"Let me speak with tenseness," she said. "But softly," I said.
"Yes, Master," she said.
She was trying to gain control over herself. "Speak, slave," I said.
"You saw that it was he, he, here, in the paga enclosure, he who so scorned and abused me at the Crooked Tarn!"
"Of course," I said.
"Surely you recall he would not even permit me to serve him, though I was naked and in chains, at the Crooked Tarn!"
"You were then a free woman," I reminded her.
"He preferred a slave to me, to me!" she said.
"But you yourself are now a slave," I said.
"You permitted me to serve you!" she said.
"Yes," I admitted. "But then I am a tolerant, broad-minded fellow," I pointed out. I smiled inwardly. I had enjoyed having the proud wench, so distraught and resentful in her chains, serve me. It is pleasant to take a proud free woman and teach her her womanhood.
"He shook me, and cruelly," she exclaimed, softly, tensely. "He flung me from him to the floor in disgust. Though I was free he held me in contempt!"
"He wanted a woman," I said.
"I was a woman!"
"But at that time not as a slave is a woman," I said.
She shuddered deliciously in her collar, sensing my meaning. But in a moment she had again addressed herself to her grievances.
"He used a slave in preference to me!" she said.
"And you watched in awe, as I recall," I said.
"Master," she said, reproachfully.
"Master!" she protested.
"Perhaps you wished that it was you who was serving him rather than the slave in his power."
"Please, Master!" she protested.
"Continue," I said.
"And later, when you were kind enough to have me brought to your space at the inn, he was there, too!"
"Kind enough'?" I said.
"Forgive me, Master," she said.
"I wanted a female to relieve my tensions, and as you were then free, a debtor slut, you came cheap."
"Yes, Master," she said.
"Too, you were attractive," I said.
"Even as a free woman?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"And now," she asked, "as a slave?"
"Thousands of times more attractive," I said. "Good," she said, and her body moved excitingly, I think inadvertently.
"So do not speak of kindness," I said.
"Forgive me, Master," she said.
"Proceed," I said.
"And he was there, the rude brute, the monster!"
''I recall, ' I said.
"He spoke of me as "fat," "she said, "as "stupid," as a she-tarsk, as not being worth sleen feed!"
"I recall," I said.
"And he wanted me taken from his sight!"
"And he made you address him as "Master," " I said.
"Yes!" she said.
"Was he the first man you ever addressed as "Master"?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"I thought so," I said.
"But I was free, free!" she pointed out.
"And you are now a slave," I said.
"Yes," she said. She would now call all free men "Master," and, of course, all free women "Mistress."
"But I was then free!" she said.
"But yet you called him "Master," " I reminded her.
"Yes," she said.
"And he was the first to whom you, even though at that time free, addressed that title of respect and sovereignty."
"Yes," she said. "The brute, the monster!"
I looked at her in the light of the tiny lamp. She was very beautiful.
"Oh," she said, bitterly, "you may well wager that I never forgot the monster!"
"I am sure you did not," I said.
"Oh," she said, "I hate him! I hate him!"
"I see," I said.
"And then he was here, and I within his reach, though now as a slave!"
"I can well imagine your feelings," I said.
"Why are you smiling?" she asked.
"It is nothing," I said.
"I determined that I would present myself before him!" she said.
"Under the circumstances, as it turned out, you had no choice," I said.
She looked startled. "I suppose that is true," she said.
"It is," I assured her.
"I determined that I would show him a female, a female, indeed!"
"And you did," I said.
"Did you see?" she asked. "He did not even recognize me!"
"True," I said.
"Did you see his eyes, his expressions!" she laughed, softly.
"Certainly," I said, "and heard as well his moans of desire, his cries of anguish."
"Did I not move him, did I not excite him as a woman?"
"You certainly did," I said.
"I paraded," she laughed. "I moved. I parted my silk. I writhed. I danced!"
"And men came even to the railings to watch," I said.
"And did I not have my vengeance?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"He desired me mightily," she said.
"Yes," I said.
"And did he not exclaim that I was the most beautiful slave he had ever seen!" she said.
"That he did," I said.
"So enthralled I had him in the toils of desire that he was in pain!" she said.
"Indeed," I said.
"He did not ask for me to be taken from his sight this night!" she said.
"No, indeed," I said.
"And thus I proved my womanhood to him, and that he had been wrong in scorning me, in holding me in contempt, in casting me from him!"
"It was Temione, the free woman," I reminded her, "whom he had rejected, not Temione, the slave."
"But we are the same!" she said. "Do you really think so?" I asked. "Surely, in some way," she said.
"Perhaps, in some way," I granted her.
"He wanted me!" she said, "but he could not have me! I am too expensive, too desirable, for a mere courier!"
"Beware of playing a dangerous game," I said.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You could come easily enough into the possession, completely, of the courier," I said.
"I do not understand," she said.
"Whether he could afford you or not," I said, "does not depend on you. It depends on other things, for example, on the market, and how much he has, and is willing to spend. Too, it depends on Philebus, and what he will let you go for. He could sell you for a copper tarsk, you know."
"I suppose that is true," she said.
"To anyone," I added.
She looked at me, frightened.
"And then you would be theirs, completely."
"Yes," she whispered.
"Too," I said, "you are a paga slave, and thus, for a tarsk bit, or a copper tarsk, or whatever Philebus is charging, you could be put into his power for Ahn at a time."
"But he would not own me," she said.
"He would have use rights over you," I said. "Perhaps you remember how he snapped the whip?"
"Yes!" she said. That is a sound, of course, that a beautiful, half-naked slave is not likely to forget.
"I expect," I said, "that you would serve him, in those Ahn, dutifully enough."
"It is well for you to remember," I said, "that the last word in these matters, in the nature of things, belongs not to the slave but to the whips, and the masters."
"Yes, Master," she said.
I heard men outside. It was toward morning.
"I hate him!" she said, suddenly. "I hate him!"
"No, you do not," I said.
"What?" she said.
"You love him," I said.
"That is absurd!" she said.
"You have loved him since the first moment you saw him, at the Crooked Tarn."
"Absurd!" she said.
"It was then, even when he spurned you, and scorned you, that you first wanted to be his slave."
"Absurd!" she whispered.
"You wanted to be subject to his animality, his power, his authority, totally."
"Do not joke," she said.
"I watched you as he handled the slave. I could see your jealousy. I could smell your desire."
"Please," she said.
"You wished it was you," I said.
"No, please, no," she said, frightened.
"You wanted even then to wear his chains and be subject to his whip, to belong to him, and to belong to him in the most complete and perfect way a woman can belong in a man, helplessly, hopelessly, selflessly, as his total slave."
She regarded me, frightened. Her breast heaved. Her small hand was before her mouth.
"And that is why you displayed yourself as you did in the parade of slaves, and after, far beyond what was required by the occasion, or your legal master, Philebus. You were attempting to seduce the courier, to lure him to your conquest. You were begging to be bought, as the slave you are. You were begging to be taken to his tent, bound and on his leash. You were begging to be his, and his alone."
She put her head down, weeping softly.
"Even in your freedom you had addressed to him the word "Master," " I reminded her.
Her small shoulders shook.
"Do not weep," I said. "It is a natural and good thing that you long for a master. You will not be complete until you have one."
"Why are you saying these things?" she asked, lifting her head, red-eyed. "You risked your life to protect me from him, when he was going to whip me."
"I do not think he was going to whip you," I said, "though I expect he is quite capable of it, and would unhesitantly do so if it seemed appropriate, or upon various occasions, if it pleased him."
"Why then did you interfere?" she asked, puzzled. "Why did you call attention to yourself when obviously there was something between you two, and you would be in danger, if recognized."
"Do you truly not know?" I asked.
"It was to protect me, surely."
"No," I said.
"Why then?" she asked, wonderingly.
"Because," I said, soberly, "you were serving me."
"That is what you said," she said.
"And that was the reason," I said.
"It was so tiny a thing," she asked, "a point of propriety, of precedence?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"You risked so much for a mere point of honor?" she asked.
"There are no mere points of honor," I told her. "Turn about. Put your head down to the carpet. Clasp your hands behind the back of your neck."
I amused myself with her.
Afterwards I put her gently to her side. She looked up at me, turning her head, as, with a bit of binding fiber, I tied her hands behind her back. "I am binding you," I said, "that your master, and others, may think you were used in all helplessness." I then jerked her ankles up, crossed them, and bound them to her wrists. She winced.
"I am helpless," she said.
"You are more helpless than you know, slave," I said. "But your true helplessness is not a matter of such things as a bit of binding fiber, serving to hold you, however perfectly, in a desired position at a given time, but your condition, which is bond."
Tears sprang to her eyes.
"You are owned," I said. "You are a property. You are subject to the will of others."
I think she understood then, perhaps better than before, something of the true helplessness of the slave. She could be taken anywhere. She could be bought and sold. She could come into the ownership of anyone.
"What does your master charge for paga, and girl use?" I asked.
"A copper tarsk," she said.
I dropped it to the carpet, beside her.
I withdrew from my wallet two scarves.
"I am to be gagged," she said.
"It will be better," I said.
I folded one scarf over several times, forming a narrow rectangle, several folds thick. This I placed beside her. I then rolled the other scarf into a tight, expandable ball. This I thrust into her mouth. It, in its expansion, filled the oral orifice. I then secured it in place with the first scarf, which I knotted tightly behind the back of her neck. She looked up at me, over the gag. She squirmed. She was pretty.
I then blew out the lamp and, after reconnoitering, withdrew from the tent.
I recalled the copper tarsk I had left in the tent, on the carpet, beside her. That had been fitting. With it I had paid for paga, and for her use.
The road below was a dirt road. It was dusty and hot. It was long and narrow. It stretched northward.
I considered it.
It was empty.
It was hard to believe that somewhere northward, perhaps somewhat to the west now, in the vicinity of the Vosk, was the expeditionary force of Cos, and somewhere to the south, beyond Teslit, in the vicinity of Holmesk, lay the winter camp of Ar, supposedly housing a considerable commissary and depot, and one of the largest concentrations of troops ever seen in the north.
It was late afternoon. I shaded my eyes. Not a stain of dust lifted from that long, brown surface, lying like a dry line between two vastnesses of dried grass. The overarching sky was bright and clear, almost cloudless. Like the road, it seemed empty.
It was lonely here.
Yet such times are good in the life of a warrior, times to be alone, to think.
He who cannot think is not a man, so saith the codes. Yet neither, too, they continue, is he who can only think.
Teslit, a small village to the south, save for a family or two, had been abandoned. Women and livestock had been hurried away. i did not think this had been unwise. Cos was to the north, Ar to the south. Had they sought to engage, it seemed not improbable that they might meet on the Holmesk road, perhaps in the vicinity of Teslit, approximately halfway between the Vosk and Holmesk. I looked down on the road. It was said that once, long ago, there had been a battle there, more than two hundred years ago, the battle of Teslit, fought between the forces of Ven and Harfax. Many do not even know there is a village there. They have heard only of the battle. Yet it is from the nearness of the village that the battle took its name. Such historical details seem curious. I listened for a moment, and it seemed to me then, as though from below, and yet from far away, as from another time, faintly, I heard the blare of trumpets, the rolling of the drums, the crying of men, the clash of metals. Once I supposed that that placid road below, that ribbon of dust between the brown shores of grass, had run with blood. Then once again there was only the silence and the dry road, stretching northward. The camp of Ar near Holmesk, incidentally, was situated on, or near, the same site as had been the camp of Harfax two hundred years ago. Such things are not coincidences. They have more to do with terrain, water, defensibility, and such. The land, its fall and lie, wells, watercourses, their breadth and depth, their swiftness, fords, climate, time of year, visibility, precipitation, footing, and such, provide the four-dimensional board on which are played the games of war. It is no wonder that fine soldiers are often astute historians, careful students of maps and campaigns. Certain routes, situations and times of year are optimal for certain purposes, and others are not, and might even prove disastrous. Certain passes on Gor, for example, have been used again and again. They are simply the optimal routes between significant points. They bear the graffiti of dozens of armies, carved there over a period of centuries, some of it as much as three thousand years ago.
I had been in this vicinity, keeping a small, concealed camp, overlooking the road, some five days. In the north, on the morning after my small altercation with the redoubtable Borton, that in the paga enclosure, I had volunteered for, and had been welcomed into, a search party, one formed to move southward, looking for the «spy» and "thief." They had not managed to find him, I am pleased to report, or at least to their knowledge. This party, except for myself, consisted of five men, mercenaries, under the command of a Cosian regular. They had been pleased to have my company, as it was difficult to obtain volunteers for a search southward, toward the presumed position of Ar. I had explained that I was pleased to join them, particularly as my business carried me in that direction. Similarly, I confessed to them my pleasure at being able to profit, at least for a time, from their protection. This was truer than they realized. They afforded me a priceless cover, for example, from the investigations, if not the sudden, unprovoked attacks, of Cosian tarnsmen. It was also nice to be able to move openly, during the day. Then after three days, by which time they were eager to return to the main body, particularly after having seen two tarn patrols of Ar, I had bidden them farewell, and continued southward.
The road below seemed as empty as ever.
I had cut my camp into the side of a small, brush-covered hill, west of the road. The natural slope of the hill would not suggest a leveling at this point. A needle tree provided practical cover from the sky.
I watched the road.
I had passed a night in Teslit, at one of the few huts still occupied. There I had shared kettle with a fellow and two of his sons. I had made my inquiries, purchased some supplies and then, in the morning, had left, southward. In an Ahn, I had doubled back, of course, to my camp.
The sun was warm.
I had expected that I might find Marcus here, somewhere, that in accordance with his carefully laid contingency plan, we having become separated in the Cosian camp, thanks to my inadvertent encounter with the courier, Borton. But I had seen no sign of him. Similarly I had heard nothing in the village, from the folks there. I assumed he must have left the camp expeditiously, as would have been wise, lest his putative affiliation with me be recalled, and then, after perhaps waiting a few Ahn in the vicinity of Teslit, not making his presence known, had hastened southward, that he might convey his intelligence speedily to the men of Ar near Holmesk. That is precisely what I would have expected. He was an excellent young officer, with a high sense of duty. He would not daily foolishly in the camp of Cos, as I might have, in the event that it might prove possible to render some assistance to an imperiled colleague. Such imprudence would jeopardize his opportunity to convey his data to the south. Marcus could be depended upon to do his duty, even if it meant the regrettable sacrifice of a comrade. To be sure, he himself, as he had made clear to me, with much firmness and in no little detail, back in the Cosian camp on the Vosk, was similarly ready, in such a situation, to be sacrificed, and cheerfully. Indeed, he had even insisted upon it. I had not gainsaid him, for, as I have mentioned earlier, it is difficult to argue with people who are reasonable.
The road was empty.
I myself, without Marcus, was not eager to approach the camp of Ar near Holmesk. I might be taken for a spy there. This sort of thing had already happened in Ar's Station. My accent, if nothing else, would probably render me suspect. Too, by now, Marcus was presumably already at Holmesk, or in its vicinity. Even if he were not, I suspected that the commandant at Holmesk was as much aware of the position and movements of the Cosian expeditionary force as either Marcus or I. Marcus refused to believe this, given the inactivity in the winter camp. There was, of course, a simple possible explanation for this inactivity, the cruelest consequence of which, to date, had been the failure to relieve the siege at Ar's Station. This possible explanation was simple. It had to do with treason in high places.
I examined the sky, as well. It, too, was empty. The sun, though it was late in the afternoon, was still bright.
I considered returning to Port Kar. I did not know if it would be safe to do so or not. At the left of the threshold of the house of Samos, my friend, first slaver of Port Kar, there was a banner bar. On this bar, where the bar meets the wall, there were some slave chains. Usually tied there with these chains was a bit of scarlet slave silk. If this silk had been replaced with yellow silk it was safe to return. Yet there seemed little to call me now to Port Kar. I would sooner try to enter Torcadino that I might there communicate with its current master, Dietrich of Tarnburg, at bay there like a larl in its lair. I would inform him of my betrayal in Ar, and my suspicions of treason. Perhaps he could treat with Myron, Polemarkos of Temos, commander of the main forces of Cos on the continent, if it were not too late, for a safe withdrawal from Torcadino. Dietrich's boldness and gallantry, the brilliance of his action, that of seizing Torcadino, Cos' supply depot in the south, thereby stalling the invasion, now seemed relatively ineffective. Ar had not marched to meet Cos in the south but had invested its main forces northward. By now, too, it seemed likely, over the winter, that Myron would have been able to rebuild his vast stores. Too, now, the winter over, he could bring his numerous mercenaries together again, recalling their standards from a dozen winter camps. No longer did Torcadino stand in the way of the march to Ar, unless it be as a matter of principle. This, of course, would not serve to extricate Dietrich from his post at Torcadino. Ar, I was sure, would not come to his relief, any more than they had come to the relief of their own colonial outpost on the Vosk, Ar's Station, now in ashes. Too, I wanted, sooner or later, to venture again to Ar herself. I had business there.
I looked down at the empty road.
It seemed to me that I should venture to Torcadino. Yet I knew, in deference to Marcus, I should attempt to approach the winter camp of Ar. I, unlike Marcus, had no lingering allegiance to Ar. Yet that is what he had wanted, to inform the high command of Ar near Holmesk of the movements and position of the Cosian expeditionary force. I could not be certain he had gotten through. Accordingly, I would try to reach the winter camp.
It had been days since I had had a woman. Indeed, I had not had one since the lovely Temione, in the tiny tent within the paga enclosure.
I wondered if Borton had purchased her. I did not think he would have found it easy to do so, however, as her slave value, which was considerable, had been publicly manifested in the paga enclosure, in the parade of slaves, and in the utterly liberated licentiousness of her slave dance. Philebus would now want a good deal for such a slave, a prize slave, if he were willing to part with her at all. Too, Borton's economic problems were undoubtedly complicated by the fact that I had relieved him of his secret cache of coins in his tent. I had left some slaves beads in recompense, of course, pretty beads of cheap wood, such as are cast about in festivals and carnivals, sometimes even being seized up secretly by free women who put them on before their mirrors, in secret, as though they might be slaves. In many cities, incidentally, a woman who is discovered doing such a thing may be remanded to magistrates for impressment into bondage. There will then be nothing inappropriate, even from the legal point of view, in their wearing such ornaments, assuming that they have their master's permission.
The road was empty.
In the morning, I must consider breaking camp, making my way southward, toward Holmesk.
I would again assume the guise of a merchant.
It was long since I had a woman.
I had hoped to find a woman in Teslit. But the women, and the livestock, including the two-legged form of livestock that is the female slave, had been removed. I would have settled even for a peasant's slave, usually large, coarse girls, in rope collars, but the gates to their pens hung open. The underground kennels and sunken cages, too, were empty. Even such women, of course, may be utilized. They, too, in many ways, serve men. Not only are they useful in the fields, drawing plows, hoeing, carrying water, and such, but they, too, as they can, are expected to serve the pleasures of their masters, just as would be slighter, more beautiful damsels. Peasants, incidentally, are famous for being strict with their slaves. The threat to sell a girl to a peasant is usually more than sufficient to encourage her to double, and then redouble, her efforts to please. Better to be a perfumed love slave, licking and kissing, than a girl sweating and stinking in the dusty fields, under a lash, pulling against plow straps. To be sure, what many of the urban slaves do not understand is that the peasants who buy in the rural markets are seldom looking for their sort of woman, the normal type of beautiful slave commonly sold in the urban markets, but rather for a different sort of woman, one who appeals more to their own tastes, and also, of course, will be useful in such things as carrying water and plowing. There was much point, of course, in removing the women and livestock from the village, in the current situation. If the armies did approach one another, advance scouts, foragers, and such, might seize what they could, both women and livestock, of all varieties, two-legged and otherwise. The slave, incidentally, understandably enough, is usually much safer in certain sorts of dangerous situations than the free person, who may simply be killed. The slave is a domestic animal, and has her value. She is no more likely to be slain, even in a killing frenzy, than kaiila or verr. Sometimes a free woman, seeking to save her life, even at the expense of a slave, will remove the slave's collar and put it on her own throat, thinking thereby to pass for a slave. The slave, of course, is likely to bare her brand to any who threaten her. She may then, her fair wrists incarcerated in slave bracelets, and leashed, be commanded to point out the woman who now wears her collar. She must do so. What the woman in her collar seldom understands is that she, herself, is now also, genuinely, a female slave. She, by her own action, in locking the collar on her own neck, as much as if she had spoken a formula of enslavement, is now also a slave. Perhaps they will make a pretty brace of slaves, drawn about on their leashes. She who belonged to the former free woman will now, undoubtedly, be made first girl over her, the new slave. Also, she will probably administer her first whipping to the new slave. It will undoubtedly be an excellent one.
I glanced down again, toward the road.
It was empty.
I thought of Ephialtes, the sutler, at the Crooked Tarn, and seen later at the camp of Cos outside Ar's Station. I supposed him to be traveling with the expeditionary force. He, rather like Temione, had been much abused by Borton, the courier. Indeed, Borton, wanting his space at the Crooked Tarn, a rather good space, a corner space, had simply thrown Ephialtes out of it, and taken it. It had been fairly neatly done. Ephialtes had later assisted me in discomfiting the courier. We had arranged that the courier, thinking himself at fault, would wish a bath in the morning, a circumstance which I turned to my advantage, making away with the fellow's uniform, belongings, tarn and dispatch case. Too, Ephialtes had acted as my agent in certain respects. He was a good fellow. Even now, I supposed, he was keeping four women for me, a slave, Liadne, serving as first girl, and three free women, Amina, of Venna, and Rimice and Phoebe, both of Cos. Amina and small, curvaceous Rimice were debtor sluts. I had picked them up at the Crooked Tarn. I had also picked up slim, white-skinned, dark-haired Phoebe there, who had muchly stripped herself before me, acceding to her pleas that I accept her, if only as a servant. She needed the collar desperately. As yet I had denied it to her.
In the morning I would break camp. I would trek south, toward Holmesk.
Suddenly I leaned forward. It was a very tiny thing, in the distance. I was not sure I saw it. I then waited, intent. Then, after a few Ehn, I was sure of it. On that road, that dirt road, that narrow road, almost a path, long and dusty, the dried grass on each side, a figure was approaching.
I waited for several Ehn, for almost a quarter of an Ann. Gradually I became more sure.
I laughed softly to myself.
Then, after a time, I took a small rock and, when the figure had passed, hurled it over and behind the figure, so that it alit across from it, to the east of the road. As there was no cover on the east the figure did as I expected. It spun about, immediately, moving laterally, crouching, every sense alert, its pack discarded. It faced the opposite direction from whence had come the sound. The danger in a situation such as this, given the sound of the rock, surely an anomaly coming from the figure's left, most clearly threatened from the hill and brush, not from the grass. The late afternoon sun flashed from the steel of the bared blade. He was already yards from his pack. In moments he would move to the cover of the brush.
I stood up, and lifted my right hand, free of weapons, in greeting.
His blade reentered its sheath.
"I see they still train warriors well in Ar!" I called to him. "At Ar's Station!" he called to me, laughing. He recovered his pack and scrambled up the hill.
In a moment we clasped hands.
"I feared you had been taken," he cried, in relief.
"I have been waiting for you, here," I said. "What kept you?"
He reddened, suddenly. "I was delayed at the Vosk," he said. "I could come no sooner."
"Business?" I asked.
"Of course," he said, evasively.
"You were waiting to hear news of me, if I had been taken," I said.
"No!" he said, rather too quickly.
"You should have come south immediately," I said, "to the vicinity of Teslit, and from thence, after a suitable interval, expeditiously, toward Holmesk."
"Perhaps," he said.
"But you did not do so," I observed.
"That was our plan, was it not?" I asked him, with an innocence that might have done credit to a Boots Tarsk Bit. It was not for nothing that I had traveled with a group of strolling players. To be sure, I had been used mostly to help assemble the stage and free the wheels of mired wagons.
"It doesn't matter, now," he said, somewhat peevishly.
"But surely one must stick to a plan," I said. "For example, one must be willing to sacrifice the comrade, the friend."
"Of course," he said, irritably. "Of course!"
"It is well that there are fellows like you, to instruct sluggards and less responsible fellows, like me, in their duty."
"Thank you," he said.
"But yet it seems in this instance you did not do so." He shrugged.
"Thank you, my friend," I said.
Again we clasped hands.
"Hist!" said he, suddenly. "Below!"
"Hola there, fellows!" called a man from the road, cheerfully. There were two others with him, tall, half-shaven, ragged, angular-looking fellows. All seemed dangerous, all were armed.
The hand of Marcus went to the hilt of his weapon.
"Hold," I whispered to him. I lifted my hand to the men on the road. "Tal," I called to them.
"We are travelers," called the man. "We seek directions to Teslit."
"It lies on this road, to the south," I said.
"They are not travelers," said Marcus to me.
"No," I said.
"Far?" called the fellow.
"A pasang," I said.
"They have come from the south," said Marcus to me.
"I know," I said. I had been watching the road. Had they been following Marcus, on the road, in the open, I would have seen them. More importantly, from this height, with the sun on the road, one could see the tracks in the dust.
"They carry no packs," said Marcus.
"Their packs are probably in Teslit," I said. I was not the only one who could make inquiries in Teslit.
"They may have followed me," said Marcus, bitterly.
"I think it unlikely," I said, "that is, directly. Surely you would have been alert to such surveillance."
"I would have hoped so," he said. It is dangerous to follow a warrior, as it is a larl or sleen. Such, too often, double back. Such, too often, turn the game.
"Have no fear," called the fellow on the road.
"They may have anticipated your trek southward from the camp," I said. "They may have thought you had left earlier. In Teslit they would learn someone of my description had been recently there, but alone, and had then supposedly gone south. They may have hurried southward as far as they dared, but are now returning north. More likely, as I was alone in Teslit, they may have suspected a projected rendezvous, that I would be waiting in the vicinity for you to join me."
"We would speak with you!" called the fellow.
I did not blame them for not wanting to approach up the hill.
"Perhaps they are brigands," said Marcus.
"I do not think so," I said.
"What then?" asked he.
"Hunters," I said. "Hunters of men." Then I called down to the men on the road. "We are simple merchants," I said.
"Come down," he called, "that we may buy from you!"
"You fellows may be from Ar," I called. It would surely seem to them possible, I suspected, that Ar might have secret patrols in the area.
They looked at one another. Something was said among them. Then, again, the fellow lifted his head. "No," he called. "We are not of Ar."
"It is likely then," smiled Marcus, "that they are from the camp near the Vosk."
"Yes," I said.
"Do not be afraid!" called the man. "You have nothing to fear from us."
"We are simple merchants," I reminded him.
"We would buy from you," he called.
"What would you buy from us?" I asked.
"We have need of many things," he called. "Display your wares!"
"Come up," I called to him.
"Come down," he called.
"It will be dark in two or three Ahn," said Marcus.
"Yes," I said. It was not unlikely that we could hold this small camp until then. Then, in the darkness, we might slip away. I did not think they would wish to ascend the hill toward us. But, too, I suspected they would like to complete their work quickly.
"They could follow us in the morning," said Marcus.
"Yes," I said.
"Come down!" called the man on the road.
"Perhaps we should see what they wish," I said.
"Yes," said Marcus, grimly.
"Smile," I advised him.
We then, together, slipping a bit, descended from the camp to the road.
"You did not bring your wares," said the man, grinning. His two fellows moved away from him. In this fashion they would have room for the movement of steel.
"Packs are heavy," I said. "I thought it best to first ascertain your interests." Surely he did not seriously think I was going to encumber myself with a pack, not descending the hill, not regaining my balance at its foot, not carrying it to the road.
"You are still afraid," said the man.
"No," I said.
He drew forth from his tunic a blue armband, which he thrust up, over his sleeve, above the left elbow, grinning. "You see," he said, "there is nothing to fear. We are not of Ar." His two fellows, too, grinning, affixed identificatory insignia on their left arms, one an armband, the other a knotted blue scarf. Many mercenaries do not wear uniforms. Insignia such as armbands, scarves, ribbons and plumes, of given colors, serve to identify them, making clear their side. Needless to say, such casual devices may be swiftly changed, the colors sometimes alternating with the tides of battle. Many mercenary companies consist of little more than rabbles of armed ruffians, others, like those of Dietrich of Tarnburg, Pietro Vacchi and Raymond, of Rive-de-Bois, are crack troops, as professional as warriors of Ar or Cosian regulars. In dealing with mercenaries, it is extremely important to know the sort of mercenaries with which one is dealing. That can make a great deal of difference, both with respect to tactics and strategy. More than one regiment of regular troops has been decimated as a result of their commanders having taken a mercenary foe too lightly. With respect to switching sides, given the fortunes of the day, incidentally, the "turncoat," so to speak, to use the English expression, is not unknown on Gor. A tunic may be lined with a different color. The tunic may then, after dark, for example, be turned inside out. Such tunics, however, are seldom worn on Gor. For one thing, a fellow found wearing one is usually impaled, by either side. They have been used, of course, for infiltration purposes, much like civilian garb, false uniforms, and such.
"You are mercenaries," I observed, "in the pay of Cos."
"And you," grinned he, "are also loyal to the cause of Cos, as was clear from your presence in the Vosk camp."
"Perhaps you wish to purchase something?" I asked.
The three of them, together, drew their swords. My sword, too, had left the sheath.
"It is him we want," said the leader of the men to Marcus. "Do not interfere."
Marcus, of course, stood his ground.
"Stand back," I said to Marcus.
He did not move.
"Who is first sword?" I asked the leader.
"I am," said a fellow to the leader's left. I was sure then that it would not be he. Too, he was on the leader's left, where he could protect his unarmed side. His strengths would probably be in defense. It is difficult to break the guard of a man who is purely on the defensive. While concerning myself with the fellow on the left, or worrying most about him, the leader himself might have freer play to my own left. Too, I suspected the leader would be himself first sword. In small groups, it is often superior swordplay which determines that distinction. In Kaissa matches between clubs and towns, and sometimes even cities, incidentally, a certain form of similar deception is often practiced. One sacrifices the first board, so to speak, and then has one's first player engaging the enemy's second player, and one's second player engaging the enemy's third, and so on. To be sure, the enemy, not unoften, is doing the same thing, or something similar, and so things often even out. This tends not to be practical among members of the caste of Players, of course, as their ratings are carefully kept, and are a matter of public record.
"Very well," I said, seeming to measure the fellow on the left.
"Who is first sword?" asked the leader.
"I am," said Marcus. That interested me. It was possible, of course.
"We are not interested in you," said one of the men, uneasily. "You may withdraw."
Marcus did not move. If he withdrew, of course, that would put three against one. And then, of course, if they wished, it could be again three against one.
"I thought you wished to buy something," I said to the leader.
He laughed. "What are you selling?" he inquired.
"Steel," said Marcus, evenly.
The fellow on the leader's left backed a little away, putting another stride between himself and Marcus. The young man emanated menace.
"Bold young vulo cock," mocked the leader.
"Steady!" I said to Marcus.
I feared he would be lured prematurely forward, rashly.
"Go away," said the fellow on the leader's left to Marcus. "We do not want you."
Marcus did not move.
"Because I am young," said Marcus, "you think that I am stupid. You are mistaken."
"No," said the fellow on the left.
It seemed to me for a moment that the earth seemed to move a bit beneath our feet. Certainly it was a very subtle thing.
"You think we are spies," said Marcus. "You want us both, but only one at a time."
"No," said the fellow. "No!"
"So that is what this is all about," I exclaimed, as though in relief. "You are not mere brigands out to rob honest folks, as we feared. I think we may clear this all up quickly. It is simply a case of mistaken identity."
"Squirm," said the leader.
"Who do you think we are?" I asked.
"Our quarry," said the leader, grinning.
"Spies?" I asked.
"It makes no difference to me whether you are spies or not," said the leader.
"How did you find us?" I asked. There were three of them. I did not know Marcus' skill with the blade. I wished, if at all possible, to protect him.
"Policrates himself, it was," said he, "leader of the expeditionary force in the north, who summoned us to his tent. It was he who speculated that you might be most easily found to the south, in which direction lay Holmesk, after the official searches had concluded. It was then he speculated that you would least expect pursuit, that you would be most off your guard. Too, it was he who forbade the taking of the young fellow, but rather that he be permitted to leave the camp, unmolested, that he might lead us to you. He left southward, toward Holmesk."
"I am sorry, Tarl, my friend," said Marcus. "Aii!"
The leader looked at me, wildly, and then his sword lowered, slowly. He slipped to his knees, and fell to the dust in the road. I turned then to face the fellow who had been to the leader's right. Marcus stood quickly, white-faced, between myself and the fellow who had been on the left.
"Your leader," I said to the fellow who had been on the leader's right, "might have been better advised not to have engaged in explanations, conversation, and such. Had he been as clever as his commander, Policrates, I do not think he would have done so."
The fellow before me backed away.
"I did not even see your sword move," said Marcus, in awe.
"Your leader," I said to the man before me, "permitted himself to be distracted. Perhaps you will do the same."
The fellow shook his head, backing away.
The leader had thought himself the aggressor. He had thought me diffident, frightened. If there was a blow to be struck first he thought it his prerogative. He did not expect the thrust when it came, laterally, between the ribs, smoothly, only to the heart, no deeper, withdrawn instantaneously.
The earth then again seemed to move. Moreover, there was dust about.
I did not want to take my eyes off the man in front of me.
I heard a scream of fear from in back, from Marcus' man. Then the fellow before me, looked back, wildly, and then turned and ran.
I heard a voice behind me, from the dust. It was only when the ground had shaken near me, and I had spun half about, almost buffeted by a saddle tharlarion, and saw the running mercenary caught between the shoulder blades with the point of the lance, thrown then to the dust, rolling and bloody, and saw the tharlarion trampling the body, then turning about in a swirl of dust, the rider lifting the blood-stained lance, that I registered the voice I heard. "Tarsk!" it had said. That is a command used often in tarsk hunting, a signal to ride the animal down, plunging your lance into its back or side.
"Greetings, men of Ar!" said Marcus, lifting his hand. He had sheathed his sword. To one side, struck down by another lance, mangled, trampled in the dust, was the fellow who had been facing him. One could scarcely make out the blue of the identificatory scarf, tied high on the left arm, with the blood, the dust.
"Sheath your sword!" called Marcus to me.
I did so. There were some ten fellows about, all on tharlarion. Some five of them had crossbows. Three were trained on Marcus, two on me.
"Lower your bows," said Marcus.
The weapons did not lower.
"We are safe now," said Marcus to me. "These are men of Ar!"
I did not know this, of course, and if Marcus had been older, and more experienced, he might not have been as sure of this as he was. We did know they wore the uniforms of Ar. If it was a patrol of Ar it seemed rather far to the north. It could, of course, be a far-ranging patrol. Perhaps, too, the main body had left the winter camp, and was now marching toward the Vosk. If that were the case, the patrol might not be as far from its base as it might seem. The best evidence that these were indeed fellows from Ar, of course, was that they had ridden down the mercenaries, unhesitantly, mercilessly, giving no quarter. They would have been identified as being of the party of Cos, of course, by their recently affixed insignia, in the one case, by the blue armband, in the other case, by the blue scarf.
"We thank you for coming to our aid," said Marcus. "Glory to Ar!"
"Glory to Ar!" said four or five of the fellows about, high above us, in their saddles.
The leader of the men, however, did not respond to Marcus. He seemed weary. He was covered with dust. He looked at him, narrowly. His wind scarf hung down about his throat. This is commonly drawn down before engaging, that commands not be muffled, that air can more easily enter the lungs. His hood, too, was thrown back. This also is commonly done before engaging, to increase the range of peripheral vision. The men and beasts were covered with dust. The men seemed worn and haggard. I feared they were far from their base. Whereas the main forces of Ar might be well rested in their winter camp, perhaps unexercised, perhaps grown sleek and fat, men such as these, foragers, rangers, scouts, and such, had probably had more than their share of alarms and labors, of suspicions and dangers, more than their share of contacts with the enemy, more than their share of skirmishes in the no man's land that separated armies. I saw in their faces that these men were not strangers to hardship and war. They had seen times in which only the swift, ruthless and inexorable survive.
"I am Marcus Marcellus, of the Marcelliani!" said Marcus.
I saw no recognition in the eyes of the leader.
"Of Ar's Station!" announced Marcus.
"Renegades!" said one of the riders.
"Take us to Saphronicus, commandant at Holmesk!" said Marcus. "We are spies! We have come from the camp of Cos, to the north. We bring information!"
"I think they are spies, all right," said one of the men.
"Take us to Saphronicus!" said Marcus.
"Sleen of Ar's Station!" spat a man.
"Renegades!" said another.
"We of Ar's Station are not renegades!" exclaimed Marcus, angrily.
"Ar's Station was bought by the Cosians, by bribery," said a man.
"No!" cried Marcus.
"She now stands for Cos in the north," said a man.
"No!" said Marcus.
"And you two are spies!" said a man.
"Are you, too, from Ar's Station?" asked the leader of me.
"No," I said.
"From whence, then?" inquired he.
I was not too pleased to convey this information to these fellows, but on the other hand, there seemed little use in concealing it.
"From Port Kar," I said, adding, "Jewel of Gleaming Thassa."
"Worse than Ar's Station," laughed a fellow. "That is a den of cutthroats and pirates!"
"In Port Kar," I said, "there is a Home Stone."
"Take us to Saphronicus," said Marcus, angrily.
"Spies," said a man.
"If we were spies," said Marcus, "how is it that we were threatened by those of Cos, one of whom lay slain by my fellow before you came."
"In such a way," said the leader, "you might think to allay our suspicions. Perhaps they were mere dupes, sent to be slain, that we might be convinced of your authenticity."
"I choose not to deal further with underlings," said Marcus. "I charge you, in virtue of the authority of my commission in the forces of Ar's Station, colony to the state of Ar, to conduct us into the presence of Saphronicus, your commander, at Holmesk. This is to be done as expeditiously as possible. If you do not do so, the responsibility will be fully yours."
"Saphronicus is not at Holmesk," said the leader. Marcus looked at him, wildly.
"The winter camp has been broken?" I asked. "Yes," said the man.
"Ar marches," said another fellow, proudly. "Where?" asked Marcus, stunned.
"West," said the leader.
"Toward Brundisium?" asked Marcus, incredulously.
"Yes," said the leader.
I betrayed no emotion, but I, too, was puzzled by this intelligence. Such a line of march would not carry the army of Ar toward the Cosians, certainly not directly. Perhaps they intended to cut the Cosians off from Brundisium. That would make sense.
"We have come from the camp of Cos," said Marcus, "where, at great risk to ourselves, we have spied for Ar. We have information. I am no longer certain of the value of this information. A judgment on its value, however, should be made by Saphronicus. Take us to him."
The leader spoke to subordinates. Two men dismounted.
"What are you doing?" asked Marcus, angrily, his hands jerked behind him, then snapped into manacles. My hands, too, were similarly secured. Our sword belts, weapons and accouterments were removed. Two other fellows then tossed down chain leashes, terminating in collars. These collars were locked about our necks. The other ends of the leashes were looped about the pommels of saddles.
"We have some things on the hill, above," I said, indicating the direction of the small camp I had kept.
The leader made a small sign. One of his men made his way up the hill and, in a moment, returned with our packs. These were thrown, tied together, with our other things, over the neck of one of the tharlarion.
"Your guise was that of merchants," said the leader of the men, looking about.
"Yes," I said. That had been told from the packs. They had been inspected.
"These fellows were following you?" asked the leader, indicating the fallen mercenaries.
"Yes," I said.
"It would seem that that was their mistake," he said.
"It would seem so," I said.
"What did they purchase from you?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said.
"No," he said, "they purchased death." Then he told one of his men to drag the bodies into the brush. "Leave them for sleen," he said. They would be removed from the road, of course, the better to conceal the movements of a patrol of Ar.
"Free us!" said Marcus, jerking his wrists in their obdurate confinements, moving his neck in the collar.
But the leader paid him no attention.
The butts of lances entered saddle boots. The crossbows were restored to their hooks on the saddles.
"We are partisans of Ar!" called Marcus, angrily.
"They do not know that," I said to him.
"What are you going to do with us?" called Marcus, angrily.
"Take you to Saphronicus," said the leader.
"Then," said Marcus, cheerfully, turning to me, "all is well!"
"I wish," said one of the men, looking down at us, "that you were slave girls."
He, I suspected, long on patrol, was as needful as I. The allusion, of course, was to a perhaps somewhat ostentatious custom, that of displaying beautiful slaves, chained naked to one's stirrup. There is perhaps a certain vanity in this, but they are beautiful there, and I suspect, we have all known women whom we would not have minded putting in such a place, women who would quite appropriately occupy such a place, and indeed, would look very well there. One of the pleasures of Gor, incidentally, is treating women in such ways, as they deserve.
Marcus struggled futilely, angrily, with his bonds.
The leader lifted his hand, his men now mounted.
"We have nothing to fear," Marcus called to me. "We are being taken to Saphronicus!"
"You will not converse," said the leader. He then lowered his hand and his tharlarion strode forth, leading the way.
Marcus's neck chain was attached to the pommel of the second tharlarion. He looked back at me. Then, half pulled, the collar tight against the back of his neck, he stumbled forward, beside the tharlarion.
Six tharlarion then, in single file, that their numbers might be obscured, followed. Then the ninth tharlarion strode forth and I, too, afoot, in chains, accompanied it. The tenth tharlarion brought up the rear.
It was hot, dusty.
Indeed, Marcus and I would not converse, for he was yards ahead. It was natural that male prisoners would be thusly separated. In this fashion, given independent interrogations, they cannot adequately corroborate one another's stories. One does not know what the other has said, or been told, and so on. Similarly the possibility of active collaboration is significantly reduced. Interestingly, on the other hand, captive women are often kept together, that their suspicions, speculations, fears and apprehensions may reinforce one another, bringing them to a state of common ignorance and terror. This is also useful in increasing their sexual arousal and readying them to please.
It was hot, dusty.
Marcus had it somewhat better I thought. He was almost at the front. There was less dust there. It was natural, I supposed, that he had been placed in this position of precedence. The leader had apparently accepted that he was an officer, and in command of our small party. Surely he had been our spokesman. Too, he was of Ar's Station, and not merely Port Kar. I, I supposed, was understood, naturally enough under the circumstances, to be his subordinate, or man. It might also be mentioned, however, that there was an additional reason for this position of Marcus near the leader, one which puts the matter in a certain perspective. In case of trouble he, Marcus, the presumed leader of the captives, could be quickly dispatched.
We increased our pace. I did not think the trek would be pleasant. Already I was thirsty.
One must distinguish between the slave girl who is put to a stirrup as a discipline, who might be taken into the country like this, even on dirt roads, to gasp and sweat, and struggle, at the stirrup, and the girl who, in a city, or on a smooth stone road, of great fitted blocks, serves primarily, and proudly, considering the honor bestowed upon her, the implicit tribute to her beauty, as a display item in her master's panoply.
It would probably be dark in an Ahn. I wondered where might be the army of Ar.
I looked at the riders.
Doubtless they would have preferred, indeed, that we were females.
Men such as these, of course, who have lived with hardship and danger, when they return to camp, know well how to handle women. In their presence the slaves do not dally. They hurry quickly, frightened, to their chains.
I, too, wanted a woman.
The shadows were growing long now.
A sting fly hummed by. Chained, it would be difficult to defend oneself from such a creature. It was the second I had seen this day. They generally hatch around rivers and marshes, though usually somewhat later in the season. At certain times, in certain areas, they hatch in great numbers.
The dust rose like clouds, stirred by the heavy, clawed paws of the tharlarion.
Marcus had assured me that there was nothing to fear, that we were being taken to Saphronicus.
The chain was on my neck.
I trusted that Marcus was correct, that there was nothing to fear.
I moved my hands in the close-fitting steel circlets which held my hands pinioned so perfectly behind my back.
Yes, there would be nothing to fear.
I hoped, at least, there was nothing to fear.
In any event, we were helpless prisoners. We were totally at the mercy of our captors.
4 The Delta
"Through the eye," I screamed, struggling in the ropes, naked, they tight about my upper body, my hands crossed and bound behind me, fastened closely to my ankles, kneeling in the bow of the small craft, of bound rence. "Through the eye!"
Men screamed about me, and cried out with fear, rage.
The fellow had been taken from the rence craft before me, the comparatively small, less than a foot in breadth at its thickest point, triangular-jawed head, on the long, muscular, sinuous neck, lifting suddenly, glistening, dripping water, from the marsh, turning sideways, and seizing the fellow, then lifting him a dozen feet, on that long neck, screaming, writhing into the air.
"Through the eyes!" I begged him.
"He cannot reach the eyes!" cried a man.
A fellow smote at the side of the creature with his paddle. It backed away, propelled by its heavy, diamondshape, paddlelike appendages, its tail snapping behind it, splashing water.
There was much screaming. Within a hundred yards there was a flotilla of small craft, rence craft, flatboats, barges, scows, fishing boats and rafts, perhaps four or five hundred men.
We heard the snapping of the backbone of the fellow in the air.
If he had been able to get his thumbs to the creature's eyes, he might have been able to utilize those avenues, to reach the brain. But he had been unable to do so.
"He is dead," said a man.
The body hung limp, save for tremors, contractions, the wild stare in the eyes.
"He is not dead!" cried another fellow.
"Kill him!" begged another.
"I cannot reach him!" cried a fellow with a sword, standing unsteadily, almost falling, in one of the light rence craft.
"No, he is dead," said another. The man was dead.
The creature then submerged, and turning, struck against one of the barges, lifting it up a yard, from the water, then was under it, the barge sliding off its back, half turned, and was moving away, under water, through the reeds.
A fellow cried out near me. The narrow snout of a fishlike tharlarion thrust up from the water, inches away. Another fellow pushed at it with his paddle. It disappeared under the bound rence.
"Unbind me!" I begged. I was utterly helpless.
"Be silent, spy!" snarled a man.
My knees were wet, from water come up between the bound, shaped bundles of tubular rence.
"Reform!" called an officer, a few yards away. "Reform! Forward!" He was in the bow of a small fishing craft. Men moved it with poles.
"Turn back!" I called to him. "Can you not understand what has been done to you?"
He paid me no attention.
"Forward!" he cried. "Pursue the sleen of Cos! They shall not escape!"
"Help!" we heard, from our left. One of the scows was settling in the water, foundering.
"Break the wood!" cried a fellow. "Form a raft!" Men were in the water, some swimming, Some wading, chest deep.
"Take us aboard!" called men.
Some were assisted to other craft, some of these now dangerously low in the water.
"Forward!" called the officer. "Hurry! They cannot be far ahead now."
"The reeds are broken in two places," said a man.
"We shall divide our forces," said the officer. Another contingent of men was behind us. He could hear their shouts, now.
I squirmed in my bonds.
Saphronicus and Seremides had now had their revenge, I thought. Once, long ago, they had been lieutenants of Cernus of Ar, my enemy, whose machinations, and political and economic manipulations, had been successful in bringing down Minus Tentius Hinrabius from the throne of Ar. Later Cernus himself, though only of the Merchants, ascended the throne. He was later deposed by the popular Marlenus of Ar who, having returned to the city, was backed by the populace. Cernus had been killed by a kur, a beast not native to Gor. Saphronicus and Seremides, as traitors, had been put in chains and sold to the galleys whence, I gathered, they had been rescued by some who perhaps might find use for men such as they. Saphronicus had been the former captain of the Taurentians, the palace guard in Ar. Seremides had been leader of the forces of Ar. I had heard, of course, that a man named Seremides was now high general in Ar, but I had not supposed that this might be the Seremides of the time of Cernus. On Gor, as elsewhere, there are many common names. Many are named "Tarl," for example, particularly in Torvaldsland, and, generally, in the northern latitudes of Gor. The Seremides of the time of Cernus had even been by birth of Tyros. It seemed incredible, then, that such a fellow could have risen again in the services of Ar, except in the absence of Marlenus, and abetted by conspirators. That this was indeed the same Seremides had been made clear to me, however, by an amused Saphronicus himself, in a midnight interview in his tent. I had been knelt naked and bound before him. This also explained, of course, the matter of the betraying message which I had unwittingly carried at great risk to Ar's Station on behalf of Gnieus Lelius, regent in An, that message which had identified me as a Cosian spy. I had not seen Saphronicus in Ar, of course. I did not know if Gnieus Lelius was involved in the treason now rampant in Ar or not. I did know, from deciphered documents seized in Brundisium, the name of at least one of the traitors. It was a female. Her name was Talena, and she had once been, until disowned, the daughter of Marlenus of Ar. Her fortunes, I gathered, were now on the rise in Ar. She had been restored to citizenship and some spoke of her, though in hushed voices, as a possible Ubara.
"Are you going to kill me now?" I had asked Saphronicus.
"No," he had laughed. "I am going to send you to the delta."
5 The Ul
"I would speak with your officer," I said to the soldier.
"I have again conveyed your request to him," said the fellow. "Now be silent."
I lay back in the ropes, on the sand.
I gritted my teeth against the insects crawling on my body. I turned, 1 shifted my position. I could not much use my hands to protect myself. 1 wanted to cry out in misery. 1 wondered if such torment could drive a man insane. I was silent. I lay then again on my back, looking up. I could see stars, two of the three moons. I heard a fellow a few feet away cry out in pain, and slap at his body. There were many men about. The delta is treacherous, and difficult to navigate. Its channels change almost overnight. There is often very little visibility in it, for more than a few feet ahead, for the rence. Its sluggish, muddy waters vary from channels deep enough to float a round ship, to washes of a few inches deep. Its average depth, at this time of year, after the spring thaws upriver, is three to five feet. There are many sand bars in it. On one such bar I and some fifty or sixty men now camped. Their small craft were drawn up about the bar. In the first night, ten nights ago, several of these had been lost. The number and configuration of the sand bars, in virtue of the currents, is subject to frequent rearrangements, their materials being often swept away and redistributed. After that first night, the small craft had been tied together, some of the ropes fastened ashore, to stakes. My bound ankles were fastened by a short rope to one of these stakes, my neck, by a rope, to another.
"Fellow," I called.
The soldier looked over at me.
"Am I the only prisoner in the delta?" I asked.
"I do not know," he said.
Marcus and I had been kept separate even from the time of our capture. I had, however, known his location at least, until we had arrived, after several days, in the temporary camp of Ar, then west of Holmesk. We were then put apart, I caged, and he taken somewhere else. I assumed he had been taken to see Saphronicus, or at least conducted into the presence of appropriate officers, this in accord with the expressed intentions of our captor, the leader of the patrol encountered near Teslit.
"I was brought to the camp of Ar," I said, "with my fellow, a lad from Ar's Station."
"Your officer?" he asked.
"My fellow," I said.
"Spies, both of you," said he, grimly.
"What became of him?" I asked.
"What do you suppose became of him?" he asked.
"I do not know," I said.
"He was a spy," said the fellow.
"Do you know what became of him?" I asked.
"I suppose he was castrated, tortured and impaled," said the fellow.
"He was of Ar's Station," I said, "colony to Ar, and of ancient and honorable family."
"Of high family?" he asked.
"Of the Marcelliani," I said.
"Perhaps, then," said he, "he was merely scourged and beheaded."
"Is that known to you?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"You do not know where he is, then," I said.
"No," he said.
"I have been brought to the delta," I said. "Why?"
"That you may see the unavailingness of your lies," he said, "that you may see us close with the sleen of Cos, that you may see the slaughter of your friends, your paymasters, that you may see wreaked upon them the vengeance of the state of Ar! Glory to Ar!"
"Glory to Ar," repeated a nearby fellow. The low, spreading, sloping mound of sand, that bar in the delta, was crowded.
"How many Cosians have you taken?" I asked.
"We will soon close with them," he said, angrily. "Yes," said another fellow, listening.
"Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow," said another.
"Yes, maybe tomorrow!" said the fellow near me.
"Sleep now," said one of the fellows in the vicinity. The men were then silent.
I lay there for a time, looking up at the sky. I once saw, outlined against one of the moons, membranous, clawed wings outspread, the soaring shape of the giant, predatory ul, the dreaded winged tharlarion of the delta. It is, normally, the only creature that dares to outline itself against the sky in the area. I tried not to feel the tiny feet on my body. Toward morning, somehow, I fell asleep.
One of the men behind me, with the paddle, cursed. Our knees were in water.
The bow of the rence craft, still dry, nosed through reeds. Other craft, too, were about.
"Surely we must be upon the sleen of Cos by now!" wept a man.
"Hold!" called a voice, ahead.
A gant suddenly fluttered out of the reeds, darting up, then again down, away.
"There is a body here, in the water," said a fellow ahead, to the left, on a narrow raft.
"A Cosian?" asked a man, in a rence craft nearby.
"No," said the man.
We approached. The officer's boat, too, the fishing craft, propelled by poles, approached, he and others, as well.
In the marsh water, half submerged, its face down, floated a body.
"It is one of our fellows," said a man.
"Cosians did this," exclaimed a man.
"It is unlikely," I said.
"Who then?" asked a fellow.
"Consider the wounds," I said. There were three of them, in the back.
"He was struck three times," said a fellow.
"No, once," I said.
"There are three wounds," said the man.
"Consider them," I said, "the rectlinear alignment, their spacing.
"A trident," said a man.
"Yes," I said. "The three-pronged fish spear."
"That is not a weapon," said a man.
"It may be used as such, obviously," I said.
"And in the arena, it is," said a fellow. He referred to one of the armaments well known in the arena, that of the "fisherman," he who fights with net and trident. There are a number of such armaments, usually bearing traces of their origin.
"Surely here, in the delta, there are no arena fighters," said a man.
The body was pulled up, onto the raft.
"But it is by means of such weapons," I said, "that fishermen often fight. Indeed, it is from that practice, improved and refined, and made more deadly, that arena fighters have taken their example."
"Rencers?" asked the officer, of me.
"Undoubtedly," I said. Rencers live in the delta. They inhabit rence islands, huge floating rafts of woven rence. As the rence rots at the bottom, it is replaced, more rence being added to the surface. The sand bars, as I have suggested, are unsuitable for permanent locations. And, indeed, the rence islands, inhabited by the rencers, as they float, are movable. An entire village thus, on its island, may be shifted at will. Needless to say, this mobility can be very useful to the rencers, enabling them, for example, to seek new fishing grounds and harvest fresh stands of rence, their major trading commodity, used for various purposes, such as the manufacture of cloth and paper. It is also useful, of course, in withdrawing from occasional concentrations of tharlarion and avoiding undesired human contacts. The location of such villages is usually secret. Trade contacts are made by the rencers themselves, at their election, at established points. Such villages, given their nature, may even be difficult to detect from the air.
"Do you think there are any about?" asked the officer.
"I do not know," I said. "There might be. There might not be."
"They could be anywhere in the rence," said a fellow, uneasily.
"True," I said. To be sure, I doubted that there were any in the vicinity. Troops of Ar, in their numerous craft, some men even wading, were all about.
"Why would they have struck this fellow?" asked a man. "Who knows?" I asked. Actually I had a very good idea what might have been the case.
"Consign the body to the delta," said the-officer. The body was rolled from the raft, into the water. "Forward," said the officer.
7 Glory to Ar
"There!" cried a fellow. "The rence is broken there!"
There was a cheer from the several craft about us. This cheer was echoed, from flotilla to flotilla, of the small craft behind us, as well as to the sides.
"They cannot be far ahead now!" cried a man.
Eagerly the men of Ar then pressed through the break in the rence.
Those behind, in their numbers, for pasangs back, may have thought the enemy himself had been sighted.
By late afternoon, however, nothing more had been seen.
"I am hungry," said a man.
The fin of a marsh shark cut the water nearby. Men thrust it away with the butts of their spears.
A wading fellow discarded his shield. He could perhaps no longer bear its weight. He held to his spear, his eyes closed, using it like a pole, to keep his balance in the soft bottom.
"Are such sharks dangerous?" asked a fellow.
"Yes," I said. The common Gorean shark is nine-gilled. There are many varieties of such shark, some of which, like the marsh shark and the sharks of the Vosk and Laurius, are adapted to fresh water. In the recent conflicts at Ar's Station, blood had carried for hundreds of pasangs downriver, even to the gulf. This had lured many open-water sharks into the delta and eastward. Hundreds of these had perished. Their bodies could still be found along the shores of the Vosk.
I saw a fellow bend down from one of the small craft and lift water to his mouth, and drink. This, like the fin of the marsh shark, earlier, told me we were still far from the gulf. It was perhaps as much as four or five hundred pasangs away. I wondered if these men of Ar knew how fortunate they were. At this point in the delta, east of the tidal marshes, the water was still drinkable.
"Al!" cried the fellow behind me, with the paddle. More water swirled up through the rence of our small craft. The water was now over our calves. I did not think the small craft would last another day. Normally a rence craft will last weeks, even months. Ours had begun to deteriorate in days. I did not think this was inexplicable. About us, too, many men were already wading, some clinging to the sides of rafts and small boats.
"Glory to Ar!" cried a fellow.
"Glory to Ar!" called others.
8 The Pursuit has Continued
"I would speak with your officer," I said to the fellow, he tethering my ankles to a stake.
"I have spoken to him," said he. "Such permission has not been granted."
I was then thrust back to the sand. Another fellow then put the rope on my neck, that I might be again affixed, bound, between two stakes.
"You know something of the delta, do you not?" asked the fellow who had tethered my ankles, standing near me, looking down at me.
"Something of it," I said. I had once come to Port Kar through the delta.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Only a rencer would know, if he," I said.
"We are well within the delta," he said.
"Yes," I said, "two or three hundred pasangs." "Further," said he.
"Perhaps," I said. That could be true.
"Where are your fellows, the Cosian sleen!" he suddenly cried.
I was silent.
"Do not expect to be fed," he snarled.
"There is little enough to feed anyone," said a fellow, wearily, nearby.
The delta, of course, is teeming with wildlife. To be sure, the men of Ar, in their numbers, in their haste, with the relentlessness of their pursuit, only lately slowed, had not been in a position to take advantage of it. Too, the disturbance of their passage, given the noise, the splashing and such, had doubtless driven much of the normal game, particularly birds and fish, from the area.
"He is to be kept alive," said one of the men.
"Very well," said the first fellow. "I am sure we can find him something to eat, something delicious, something fit for a spy." He looked down at me, in hate. He fingered the hilt of the dagger at his belt. "But not tonight," he said.
He turned away from me.
"How could we not have yet closed with the sleen of Cos?" asked a fellow."
"In the delta, one could hide a dozen armies," said another. "Surely we would see some signs of them," said another fellow.
"Yes," said another. "How is it that we have seen no signs of them?"
"We have seen signs of them," growled another.
"Yes," said another.
I doubted that this was true.
9 The Barge
"Move ahead," said the fellow in the bow of the small rence craft.
I struggled forward, pressing against the water, up to my chest, stumbling, pushing through rence, the rope on my neck going back to the small craft. My hands were now manacled behind me. For the purpose of comfort, I much preferred this to rope. That thoughtfulness had not been, of course, the motivation of my captors. Rather they wished, now that my hands were not in view, to be assured as to my continued helplessness. Perhaps rope might be worked free, or slipped, somehow, unseen, beneath the surface. The metal, on the other hand, would hold me well. I did not object. I, too, were our positions reversed, would presumably have taken similar precautions. I did not know who held the key.
My head went briefly under the water, and then, coughing, I struggled again to the surface. There are many such irregularities in the bottom. Rence cut at my face. I spit water.
"Move! Pull!" I heard behind me.
I turned my head to the side, that the rope would draw against the side of my neck. I struggled to tow the small craft. It was hard to paddle now, being heavy, the rence soaked with water. I had been put before it, the rope on my neck, this morning, wading, that it need not bear my weight. In this fashion it might last another day or two.
"Hurry, pull, lazy sleen!" I heard. The bow of the craft came beside my shoulder, the rope dropping back in the water. The fellow there thrust out, striking me in the back with the paddle. I stumbled. I regained my balance. I then struggled ahead again, through the rence.
I nearly cried out. Something under the water, moving, had touched my leg.
Nearby was a barge, one of the larger craft in our makeshift flotilla, carrying perhaps fifty men. It was poled by ten men to a side, working in shifts. Some other fellows, with their helmets, cast water out of it. Other men clung to its stern.
I could not see far from the water, but there were men and small boats, rafts and such, all about.
I was not the only fellow in the water. There were many there. Most of these fellows were in long lines. In this fashion, the first fellow can mark out footing for those who follow and each man can keep his eye on the fellow before him. Too, a small craft would normally bring up the rear of such lines.
A rence craft floundered near us, settling in the water.
"Pull, sleen," ordered the man behind me.
Again I struggled to move the small craft forward.
"Had I a whip," he cried, "you would move faster!"
"Leech!" I said. "Leech!" I could feel it on my back. It was large. It may have been what had touched me in the water. I could not reach it with my chained hands.
"Help!" I heard. "Help!"
I turned about and saw a fellow several yards back, to one side, his eyes wild with horror, lift his hands. "I cannot move!" he cried. "I sink!" He had sought a shallower course. There are many such, here and there. The water there had come only to his knees. But as I watched he had sunk to his waist.
"Quicksand!" said another fellow.
A spear was extended to the first fellow and he seized it, eagerly, desperately, the water now about his neck, and was drawn free.
"Stay in line!" chided an officer.
But the fellow, I think, uttering accessions, covered with sand, needed no further encouragement. He swiftly, gratefully, took his place in one of the long lines.
The loss of men to quicksand was rare now, given the lines, in the first days in the delta over two hundred men had been lost, in one case an entire platoon. Several others, unaccounted for, may also have been victims of the treacherous sand.
"Move," called the fellow behind me.
"On my back," I said, "I can feel it! A leech! Take it off!"
"You can be covered with them, spying sleen," snarled the man, "for all I care."
"I ask that it be removed," I said.
"Do not fear," said the fellow. "They are only hungry. When they have their fill, they will drop off."
"Here is another," said a fellow wading near me, holding up its wet, half-flattened, twisting body in his hand. It was some four inches long, a half inch thick.
"There are probably a great many of them here," said the fellow, dropping it back in the water.
"Do not approach the boat," warned the fellow behind me.
I shuddered again. I felt another such creature on my leg, high, in the back.
"Ho, hold!" cried a man, high on a platform, set on the bow of one of the barges. He could, from that coign of vantage, look over the rence. "There!" he cried. "A covered barge, ahead!" An officer climbed up beside him. He shaded his eyes. "Yes, lads," he called down. "A barge! Not one of ours! We are on them now!"
There were cheers, from perhaps a thousand voices.
"Forward, lads!" cried other officers. "Forward!"
Men pressed forward.
I could hear cheers from far behind me now, so swiftly had the word spread through the rence.
"There," cried the man behind me. "The pursuit draws to a close. The vengeance of Ar is at hand!"
My neck was sore.
"Now soon, sleen," gloated he, "will you see your Cosian masters beneath our blades!"
I stood unsteadily in the water. I could feel the leeches on my body, one on my back, another on my leg. Then, shuddering, I felt yet another. It was fastening itself near the first, on my back.
"Pull," ordered the fellow behind me.
Again I drew the craft forward, straining against the rope, it cutting into the side of my neck.
The sun was high overhead now.
We made little progress, it seemed, in closing the gap between ourselves and the alleged barge ahead. From time to time it was sighted again.
The men of Ar, in their boats, and wading, after a time, began to sing. The marsh echoed with their songs.
"What barge is that?" I asked, suddenly.
It, gliding by, poled by several men, seemed an apparition in the marsh. It was purple, and gilded, its bow in the graceful shape of the neck and head of a long-necked, sharp-billed gant, its stern carved to represent feathers, It had an open, golden cabin, covered with translucent golden netting. The poles propelling the craft were golden. Such a vessel made a startling, unconscionable contrast with the meanness, that wretched, ragged, numerous miscellany, of other craft about. Certainly it belonged not in the delta but in some canal or placid waterway.
"She wants to be in on the kill," said a fellow.
"She?" I said.
"Ina, Lady of Ar," said a fellow.
" 'Ina'," I said, "that could be the name of a slave." Such names, 'Ina', 'Ita', 'Tuna', 'Tula', 'Di', 'Lita' and such, are common slave names. They, and many such names, are worn by hundreds of women in bondage. Earth-girl names, such as 'Shirley', 'Linda', 'Jane', and such, are also commonly used as slave names. One girl, of course, may, from time to time, have many different names, according to the whim of her master, or masters. She is a domestic animal, to be named as the master pleases.
"That is no slave," said a fellow.
"No," laughed another, perhaps ruefully.
"That is Ina, Lady of Ar," said a man, "attached to the staff of Saphronicus, a political observer, said to be a confidant of, and to report to, the Lady Talena, of Ar, herself."
"Where is the barge of Saphronicus?" I asked.
"It is back there, somewhere, doubtless," said a man.
"Doubtless," I said.
"Other vessels pass you," said a man.
"Pull!" ordered the fellow behind me.
Again I put my weight against the rope, once more moving the sodden craft forward.
10 Morale is High
"Lie still," said the fellow crouching next to me.
I shuddered, lying in the sand. The reaction was uncontrollable, involuntary, reflexive.
"Still," he said. He held the bit of rence stalk, still smoking from the fire, to one of the creatures on my back. I could feel it pulling out of my skin. He then picked it from my back, dropping it to the side, with others.
I did not know how much blood I had lost, though I suppose, objectively, it was not much. How much can one of those creatures, even given the hideous distention of its digestive cavity, hold? Yet there had been many during the day. Many had released their hold themselves.
"That is the last one," observed the fellow, turning me about.
"My thanks," I said.
He had removed, by my count, eleven of the creatures. He had put them to the side. There are various ways in which they may be encouraged to draw out, not tearing the skin. The two most common are heat and salt. It is not wise, once they have succeeded in catching hold, to apply force to them. In this fashion, too often part of the creature is left in the body, a part, or parts, which must then be removed with a knife or similar tool.
"Bring a torch, here!" I heard a fellow call.
I was again, as was done with me at night, tethered between mooring stakes, my ankles to one, my neck to another. My wrists were held behind me, in the manacles.
"Friend," I said.
"I am not your friend," said he. "I am your enemy." He stood up, discarding the smoking rence.
"Call your officer to me," I said. "I would speak with him."
"That is for your keeper to do," said he, "not me."
"Ho!" called a fellow from a few yards away. "Look!"
"Kill it!" cried a fellow, joyfully.
"Here, help me!" said another. I heard the sounds of two or three men.
"What is it?" I asked, turning in the sand, looking up.
"It is a marsh turtle, a large one," said the fellow, "come up on the bar."
"Why would it do that?" I asked. "There are men here, many of them."
"Now they have it confused, with fire and spears," reported the man, standing beside me. "It does not know which way to turn"."
"Why is it not retreating to the water?" I asked, alarmed.
"It does not know which way to turn," he said. "They have it surrounded now. It is not moving now, it is in its shell now!"
"Together, men!" I heard.
There was a hissing sound, the grunting of men.
"They have it on its back now," said the fellow, pleased. "For once we shall eat well in the delta."
"Why has it come up on the bar, with men here!" I said. I felt suddenly very helpless in the manacles, the ropes.
"I do not understand," he said.
"Beware!" I said, pulling at the manacles. "Beware!"
"Aiii!" cried a fellow, a few yards away.
"It is gigantic!" cried the fellow near me. I heard a hideous hissing, a thrashing in the sand. Men parted between us and the creature. I struggled up a few inches, turning my head. Moving toward us, dripping, was a gigantic, short-legged, long-bodied tharlarion. Its tail snapped to one side, scattering sand.
"Fire!" I screamed. "Torches!"
The opening of its long, narrow jaws may have been as much as five foot Gorean.
"Torches!" cried the fellow with me.
"It wants the meat," I said. "Drive it away! That is why the turtle came to the bar. It was fleeing!"
The tharlarion looked about, its body lifted off the sand, its tail moving.
A fellow rushed toward it, thrusting a lit torch into the jaws. The beast hissed with fury, drawing back. Then another fellow threatened it with a torch, and then another. The beast lowered its body to the sand and then, pushing back in the sand, backed away.
"More fire!" cried a fellow.
Men rushed forward, with torches, and spears. Suddenly the beast slid back into the water, and, with a snap of its tail, turned and disappeared, beyond the ring of torchlight.
"It is gone," said the fellow near me.
"They fear fire," said a man.
"Keep torches lit," said a fellow.
"Feast!" called a fellow. "Feast!"
"Build up the fire!" called another.
"Slay the turtle!" called another.
"It is done!" said a fellow.
There was much good cheer then in the camp.
I lay neglected in the darkness, naked, in the manacles, between two stakes, helpless.
After a time my keeper, chewing, came near to me. "Are you hungry?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Tomorrow we will close with your fellows," he said. "Tomorrow glorious Ar will have her vengeance."
"I would speak with your officer," I said.
"The rence craft is rotted," he said. "It would not last tomorrow."
I was silent. I wondered if he had ever considered the oddity of the deterioration of the rence, in only days. I supposed not. He was not of the delta. He might think there was nothing unusual about it.
"I have made arrangements for our group to share a three-log raft," he said.
"I am hungry," I said.
"The raft is heavy," he said. "There are two poles only."
"Feed me," I said.
"We will want a draft beast," he said.
"I am hungry," I said.
"We will arrange a harness for you," he said.
"I am hungry," I said.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. I could smell the turtle. I could hear the good humor, the jokes, of the men.
I turned my head away.
"Eat," said he, "spying sleen of Cos."
I regarded him.
"It is food fit for spies," said he, laughing. "Eat," he said.
I opened my mouth and he put one of the leeches into it.
"Eat," he said.
Later he forced another leech into my mouth and waited until I had eaten it. He then took the remaining leeches and, with a shiver of disgust, with two hands, hurled them out from the bar, into the water.
"Sleep well, sleen," said he. He then left.
I lay there for a time, hearing the joviality of the men on the bar. Morale this night was high among them.
I rose up a bit and turned my head, looking toward the water. Some torches were fixed there, at intervals, near the water's edge. Beyond them the marsh was dark. I then lay back, and, after a time, slept.
11 A Victory is Claimed
"So this," said the officer, "is our spy."
He was on a barge, a few feet away. The sun was high overhead. It seemed one could almost see the steam rising from the water. There were almost no shadows from the rence on the water.
I was in the water to my chest, before the raft I drew. I wore a small, improvised yoke, drilled in three places. This was fastened on me by means of three straps, one about each wrist and one about my neck, these straps then being threaded back through the three holes, one behind each wrist and one behind the neck, each then being fastened in its respective place, bound about the wood. This same type of simple yoke, though much lighter, sometimes no more than a narrow board of branch, is sometimes used for female slaves. If the yoke is somewhat stouter and her arms are extended a bucket may be hung on either side of such a yoke. It was good to have my hands in another position. The manacles now, due to frequent exposure and submersion, were muchly rusted. At night, however, I wore them as usual, and in their usual fashion, pinioning my hands behind my back. Sometimes during the day, out of the water, or in shallow water, I was permitted to wear them before my body, usually fastened closely to my belly with a strap. The center of such a strap is tied about the chain of the manacles and the two ends of the strap are joined behind the back. In this way one cannot reach the knot which fastens the strap in place. A similar arrangement is often used with binding fiber and slave bracelets, on women. I now, besides the yoke, wore a harness of straps which fastened me to the raft I drew.
"In the sanguine prosecution of your espionage, sleen," smiled the officer, "I wager you did not expect to find yourself as you are now, at our mercy, serving us, yoked in the delta."
"I would speak with you," I said.
"You look well, in our service, sleen," said he.
"I would speak with you, privately," I said. "It is urgent."
"Such a request is to be forwarded through channels," smiled the officer.
The fellow behind me on the raft, he acting as my keeper, laughed.
"Where is Saphronicus, leader of the forces of Ar in the north?" I challenged.
"In the rear," said the officer.
"Have you reported to him, or to any who have?" I asked. He looked at me, puzzled. "We have our standing orders," he said. "Communication is difficult in the delta."
We, as I understood it, were in the center. There were also on the left and right, the flanks.
"I submit," I said, "that Saphronicus is not in the delta!" He looked at me, angrily.
"Where is the army of Cos?" I demanded.
"Ahead," said the officer. "We are closing."
"Gag him," said the officer, angrily.
The fellow behind me left the raft, swiftly, plunging into the water. In a moment I felt rags thrust in my mouth, and then tied there, the cloth binding drawn back between my teeth, deeply, then fastened tightly before the yoke, behind my neck.
The officer then turned away.
Scarcely had he done so, however, than shouts were heard from the right, in a moment we heard men crying out that a great victory had been won on the right. There were cheers about. It seemed the delta itself rang with their sound.
"There!" said the officer, turning to me, leaning on the railing of the barge. "There, you see? Victory itself, won with the steel of Ar, has gainsaid your seditious intimations!"
The men behind me cheered.
The fellows poling the barge then moved it forward.
I stood in the water, stunned. I could not believe this. I could not understand what had occurred. Could my conjectures, my suppositions, my suspicions, be so profoundly awry?
"Pull!" said my keeper. "Pull!"
One of the two poles used by the fellows on the raft dug into my back forcing me forward.
"Pull!" commanded the keeper.
I then, in consternation, put my weight against the traces and, after a moment, my feet slipping in the mud, felt the raft move forward. I had not struggled forward for more than a few feet when I realized, with a sinking feeling, what must have happened.
12 It is Thought That There are the Cries of Vosk Gulls
"There is one who would see you," said my keeper.
I looked up from the sand, where I lay, gagged, tethered between two stakes, my hands manacled behind my back.
"Clean him up," said a fellow, one I had not seen before. "Brush his hair, wash him, quickly," said another, also a fellow I had not seen before. "Make him presentable."
My ankles were freed. The rope on my neck was removed for the moment it took them to kneel me, and then it was restored, now measured to my kneeling position. Sand and mud were wiped from me. My hands remained manacled behind my back. My hair was brushed.
"Remove his gag," said one of the men. "Leave its materials on the neck-rope, where they may be easily replaced." This was done.
"Do you want a cloth for his loins?" asked my keeper.
"That will not be necessary," said the other man.
"What is going on?" I asked.
"You are to be interrogated," said one of the men.
"Is he securely manacled?" asked a voice. I was startled. So, too, might have been any who heard such, here in the delta. It was a woman's voice!
"That he is, Lady," said one of the two men.
She approached daintily, distastefully, disdainfully, across the wet sand, in her slippers. They were probably quite expensive. I think she did not want to ruin them.
She regarded me.
She was small and her figure, obscured to be sure under the heavy fabrics of the robes of concealment, surely uncomfortable, and seemingly incongruous, in the delta, seemed cuddly. She was veiled, as is common for Gorean women in the high cities, particularly those of station. In some cities the veil is prescribed by law for free women, as well as by custom and etiquette; and in most cities it is prohibited, by law, to slaves.
"Withdraw," said she to those about. "I would speak with him privately."
My keeper checked the manacles on my wrists and the length, stoutness and fastening of the neck-rope. Then he, with the others, withdrew.
She lifted the hems of her robes a tiny bit, lifting them a bit from the wet sand, holding them in one hand. She did not, I gathered, wish them soiled. She seemed haughty, displeased, disdainful, fastidious. Doubtless there were places other than the delta which she would have preferred to frequent, such as the arcades, the courts and shops of Ar. I could see the toes of her embroidered slippers.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked.
I looked beyond her, out, back past torches. Now that I was on my knees and the men were to one side, I could see the lines of the barge, purple and gilded, near the bank, that with the golden cabin, covered with golden netting.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked.
I saw that she did not raise the hems of her robes more than a hort or two, scarcely enough to lift them from the sand. The soldiers of Ar, regulars, were closely and exactly disciplined. Yet I suspected that she had enough woman's sense not to reveal her ankles among them. They were, of course, men, and Gorean men, and had been long from a woman.
"It seems you have been gagged," she said, looking at the binding, and the sodden wadding, wrapped about my neck-rope.
"Yes," I said.
"Susceptibility to the gag is a liability of prisoners," she said, "enforceable at a moment's notice, at the whim of a captor."
"Of course," I said.
"And I," she said, "have the authority. I assure you, to have it replaced on you, perfectly, immediately.
"I understand," I said.
"I am Ina, Lady of Ar," she said, "of the staff of Saphronicus, general in the north."
"I know," I said.
"I am an observer," she said, "on behalf of Talena, Lady of Ar, daughter of Marlenus."
"Once daughter of Marlenus," I said. "She was sworn from him, disinherited, disowned, fully."
"It seems you are familiar with the politics of Ar," she said.
"It seems to me unusual," I said, "that such a woman, disowned, disinherited, surely once sequestered in the central cylinder, in disgrace, should be able to post an observer in the delta."
"Her fortunes rise," she said. "I gather so," I said.
"You are Tan, of Port Kar?" she asked. "Perhaps," I said.
"You will answer my questions expeditiously!" she said. I was silent.
"Spread your knees!" she snapped. I did so.
"You are Tarl, of Port Kar," she said.
"I have been known variously," I said, "in various places."
"You are Tarl, of Port Kar!" she said, angrily. "Yes," I said. I was Tarl, of Port Kar, city of the great arsenal, city of many canals, Jewel of Gleaming Thassa.
"You are a handsome fellow, Tarl," she said.
I was silent.
"But there are many marks on your body," she chided. "From various things," I said, "from blows, from ropes, from harness, from the slash of rence, from the bites and stings of insects, from the fastening places of marsh leeches."
"It is difficult to traverse the delta unscathed," I said, "particularly when one is naked, in the water, harnessed, drawing a raft."
"Such employments are suitable for a spy," she laughed.
"Doubtless," I said.
"You look well, naked, shackled, on your knees before me," she said, "spy of Cos."
"Doubtless your robes of concealment are uncomfortable in the delta, given the moisture, the heat," I said.
She looked at me, angrily.
"Doubtless you would be more comfortable, if they were removed."
"Today," she said, angrily, "we have won a great victory."
"Over Cosians?" I asked.
"In a way," she said, petulantly.
"No," I said, "over rencers."
Her eyes flashed over the veil.
"Men of the right flank stumbled on a village of rencers," I said. "That is all." I had surmised this, from the information coming from the right this afternoon.
"Rencers are allies of those of Cos!" she said.
The influence of Cos was strong in the delta, to be sure, there as it was in the western reaches of the Vosk, but I did not think the rencers would be explicit allies of Cos. They, in their small, scattered communities, tend to be secretive, fiercely independent folk.
"The village was destroyed," she laughed.
"I am sorry to hear it," I said.
"That is because you favor Cos," she said.
"Those of Port Kar," I said, "are at war with Cos." To be sure, this war was largely a matter of skirmishes, almost always at sea, and political formality. There had not been a major engagement since the battle of the 25th of Se'Kara, in the first year of the sovereignty of the Council of Captains in Port Kar, or, to use the chronology of Ar, 10,12 °C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar. In that battle the forces of Port Kar had defeated the combined fleets of Cos and Tyros.
"Those of Port Cos doubtless have their traitors, as well as those of other cities," she said.
"I suppose so," I said.
"But you may lament for your allies, the rencers," she laughed.
"It was not only they for whom I was sorry," said I.
"For whom, then?" she asked.
"For those of Ar, as well," said I.
"I do not understand," I said.
"Surely there were warning signals, cloth on wandlike rence stems, white, then later red, raised in the vicinity of the rencers' village."
"Such were mentioned in the reports," she said.
"Yet your scouts proceeded," I said.
"Ar goes where she pleases," said she. "Too, such markers could have been set up by Cosians."
"They serve to warn away strangers," I said. "In the vicinity of such markers Cosians would be no more welcome than those of Ar."
"We of Ar do not fear," she laughed. "Too, it does not matter now. Victory was ours. The village was destroyed."
"Was your barge seen in the vicinity of the village?" I asked.
"I suppose so," she said. "Were there survivors?" I asked. "I do not know," she said. I was silent.
"It was a great victory," she said.
I was silent. I had once known some rencers. To be sure, the groups with which I was familiar were far to the west, indeed, in the vicinity of the tidal marshes themselves.
"Concern yourself with the matter no longer, my helpless, handsome spy," she laughed. "It is over, it is done with. It is finished."
"Perhaps," I said.
"Listen," she said. "I hear Vosk gulls, out in the marsh."
"Perhaps," I said. "What do you mean?" she asked. I was again silent.
"I have men at my beck and command," she warned me.
"For what purpose have you come," I asked, "to torment me?"
"Spread your knees more widely," she snapped. I did so.
She laughed. "As I understand it," she said, "you were, though a prisoner, earlier displeasing in speech."
"Have you the ear of an officer?" I asked, suddenly.
"Present them to officers," I said. "Plead that they be considered!"
"I think not," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"They are the quaint ravings of a spy," she said.
"You do not believe that," I said.
"No," she said. "Of course not."
"Convey them then to officers," I said, "swiftly, clearly!"
"No," she laughed.
I suddenly knelt back. "You!" I said. "You are the spy! You are with them!"
"Yes," she laughed. "I am with them!"
"It is for that reason you wished to interrogate me," I said, "to see what I might know, or have guessed."
"Of course," she said.
"I have been a fool," I said.
"Like all men," she said.
But I think," said I, "that I am not the only fool here."
"How is that?" she asked.
"You are in the delta, too," I said.
"My barge will protect me," she said. "It is known. Cosians have orders not to fire upon it, to let it pass."
"I do not think I would care to trust that information," I said.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You know a great deal," I said. "Your life, in my opinion, is not as safe as you seem to think it is."
"I do not care to listen to such nonsense," she said. I shrugged.
"But there is another reason I wanted to interrogate you," she said.
"What is that?" I asked.
"I heard from slaves in Ven, serving slaves, collared sluts, who saw you caged, before we came west, that you were an attractive and powerful beast." She laughed. "It seems the sight of you made them juice."
"They know perhaps what it is to obey a man," I said.
"Perhaps," she laughed.
"And you," I said, "do you juice?"
"Do not be vulgar!" she said.
"But perhaps there is less to fear for your life than I thought," I said. "Perhaps there is another disposition planned for you."
"What?" she asked.
"The collar," I said.
"Sleen!" she hissed.
"If when stripped you proved sufficiently beautiful," I added.
"Sleen, sleen!" she said.
"Let us see your legs," I said. She stiffened in anger.
"The robes of concealment must be bulky, hot, uncomfortable in the delta," I said. "The rence girls go barefoot, commonly, or wear rence sandals, and short tunics."
"It is you who are the prisoner!" she said.
"And their slaves are sometimes not permitted clothing at all."
"Sleen," she said.
"Except perhaps a rope collar," I said.
"It is you who are stripped," she said. "It is you who are shackled, who have a rope on your neck!"
"Perhaps stripped, and in chains, in the shadow of a whip," I said, "you, too, could learn to juice before men."
She trembled with rage. I thought she would hurry forward, to strike me, but then I did not think, even shackled as I was, that she cared to approach within the ambit of my neck rope. Then her body relaxed. "Ah," she laughed, "you are clever, for a man. You seek to make me angry."
I shrugged. "They are simple conjectures," I said.
Again she stiffened in anger, but then, again, relaxed. She looked down at me. "What an impudent fellow you are," she laughed. "I think I shall have you beaten."
I was silent.
"Has it been long since you have had a woman?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "Perhaps you have one or two serving slaves with you, one of whom, perhaps, as a discipline, you might order to my pleasure?"
"Alas," she laughed. "I have not brought such slaves with me into the delta. They might learn too much. Also, their presence, such scantily clad, collared creatures, might too severely test the discipline of the men."
"It must be difficult for you," I said, "to be in the delta without serving slaves."
"It is terrible," she admitted. "I must even comb my own hair."
"A significant hardship," I acknowledged.
"And an embarrassing one," she said.
"Without doubt," I said.
"You speak ironically," she said.
"Not at all," I said. "For a woman such as you, such inconveniences must be all but intolerable."
"They are," she said.
"Is Saphronicus your lover?" I asked.
"No," she said.
I nodded. A man such as Saphronicus could have his pick of slaves, of course. With such an abundance of riches at his disposal he would not be likely to concern himself with a free female. To be sure, they are sometimes of economic, political or social interest to ambitious men, men interested in using them to improve their fortunes, further their careers, and so on. To satisfy their deeper needs, those of pleasure and the mastery, for example, slaves may be kept on the side. The slave, of course, like the sleen or verr, a mere domestic animal, like them, is seldom in a position to improve, say, a fellow's social connections. An occasional exception is the secret slave whom most believe to be still free, her true relationship being concealed, at least for a time, by her master's will, from the public. This deception is difficult to maintain, of course, for as the woman grows in her slavery, it becomes more and more evident in her, in her behavior, her movements, her voice, and such. Also she soon longs for the openness of bondage, that her inward truth may now be publicly proclaimed, that she may now appear before the world, and be shown before the world, as what she is, a slave. Sometimes this is done in a plaza, or other public place, with a public stripping by her master. It is dangerous, sometimes, to be a secret slave, then revealed, for Goreans do not like to be duped. Sometimes they vent their anger on the slave, with blows and lashings, though it seems to me the blame, if any, in such cases, is perhaps less with the slave than the master. To be sure, she probably suggested her secret enslavement to begin with, perhaps even begging it. In any event, she is normally joyful to at last, publicly, be permitted to kneel before her master. By the time it is done, of course, many, from behavioral cues, will have already detected, or suspected, the truth. Such inferences, of course, can be mistaken, for many free women, in effect, exhibit similar behaviors, and such. That is because they, though legally free, within the strict technicalities of the law, are yet slaves. It is only that they have not yet been put in the collar. And the sooner it is done to them the better for them, and the community as a whole. But then I thought that the Lady Ina, perhaps, would not have high enough standing to be of interest in, say, political modalities to a man such as Saphronicus. To be sure, she might be of interest in some other fashion.
"Saphronicus does not interest me," she said.
"Perhaps he has you in mind for a collar," I said.
"Sleen," she laughed.
"Then you would have to attempt desperately to interest him," I said.
She drew her robes up a little, to reveal her ankles. She was a vain wench. This she did I think not only to show herself off, for it seemed to me that she was muchly pleased with herself, but also to torture me. She knew that so little a thing, event the glimpse of an ankle, may be torture to a sex-starved man.
"My ankles," she said.
"Lady Ina is cruel," I observed. She laughed.
"They are a bit thick, are they not?" I asked. She thrust down her robes, angrily.
"But they would look well in shackles," I said. "I will have you whipped," she said.
"Do you not think they would look well in shackles?" I asked.
"I do not know," she said, hesitantly. She stepped back.
"Surely you would be curious to know," I said.
"No!" she said.
"Surely all women are curious to know if their ankles would look well in shackles," I said.
"No!" she said. As I have mentioned, Lady Ina was short, and her figure, though muchly concealed beneath the robes, suggested cuddliness, that it would fit very nicely, even deliciously, within the arms of a master. Similarly I did not, in actuality, regard her ankles as too thick. I thought that they were splendid, and, indeed, would take shackles very nicely.
"And surely," I said, "they are interested in knowing what they would bring on the auction block."
"No! No!" she said.
"What do you think you would bring?" I inquired.
"Sleen!" she said.
"Perhaps not much," I said.
"Do you not clearly understand," she asked, "that it is you, not I, who are the prisoner?"
"I think," I said, "you would sell for an average amount of copper tarsks."
"It will be ten lashes for you!" she said.
"Strange," I said, "that it is I who have labored on behalf of Ar who kneel here in the sand, shackled, said to be a spy for Cos, and that it is you who are precisely such an agent who should stand here, above me, thought to be a partisan of Ar."
"I am a free woman!" she said. "I am priceless!"
"Until you are stripped and sold," I said.
"I would bring a high price!" she said.
"I doubt it," I said.
"I am beautiful!" she said.
"Perhaps," I said. "It is hard to tell."
"Beware," she said, "lest I be truly cruel to you, lest I truly torment you, lest I lower my veil and permit you to glimpse, ever so briefly, my beauty, a beauty which you will never possess, which you will never kiss or touch, a brief glimpse which you must then carry with you, recalled in frustration and agony, through the marsh!"
"Could you not part your robes, as well," I asked, "that I might be even more tormented?"
She stiffened again in anger, in fury.
"Your figure, at least," I said, "from what I surmise, would be likely to look quite well on a slave block."
She made an angry noise.
I saw that she wanted to lower her veil.
"Am I not to be permitted," I asked, "to look upon the face of my enemy?"
I was silent.
"Doubtless we will never see one another again," she said.
"Doubtless," I said.
"Look then," she said, reaching to the pin at the left of her veil, "on the face of your enemy!"
Like all women she was vain. She wished an assessment of her beauty.
Slowly, gracefully, was the veil lowered. I looked upon her.
"A" Yes," she said, eagerly. "I am your enemy!" m I not beautiful?" she challenged.
"I shall now know you," I said, "if ever we meet again."
"You tricked me," she said.
I shrugged. I had wanted, too, to see her, of course. Too, I was sure she had wanted me, a male, to look upon her. One of the things which many free women resent about female slaves is that they are commonly denied the veil, that men may look openly, as they please, upon them.
"I do not think we shall meet again," she said.
"Probably not," I said.
"Am I not beautiful?" she asked.
"I do not know if you are beautiful," I said. "You are pretty."
"Beautiful!" she demanded.
"Your face is too hard, too tense, too cold, to be beautiful," I said.
"Beautiful!" she insisted.
"If you were in a collar for a few weeks," I said, "your face would soften, and become more sensitive, more delicate and feminine. Too, as you learned service, obedience and love, and the categoricality of your condition, and your inalterable helplessness within it, many changes would take place in you, in your body, your face, your psychology, your dispositions, and such. Your entire self would become more loving, more sexual, more sensitive, more delicate and feminine. You would find yourself, too, more relaxed, yet, too, more alive, more eager, more vital, such things connected, simply enough, with your depth fulfillments as a woman."
"As a slave!" she said.
"Yes," I said. "That is what a woman is, most deeply, most lovingly, a slave."
"And then," I said, "I think it possible that your face might be no longer merely pretty, but, flushed and radiant, tending to express in its way your happiness, your fulfillment, your truth, your awareness that you then occupied, and would continue to occupy, and helplessly, your proper place in nature, very pretty."
"And then my price?" she asked.
"There are many beautiful women on Gor," I said.
"And then my price!" she insisted.
"For a superb, cuddly slut?" I asked.
"My price!" she demanded.
"Probably an average number of copper tarsks," I said.
"Guards!" she cried, in fury, at the same time angrily lifting the corner of her veil, fumbling with it, repinning it. Men had hurried to her side. She pointed to me. "It is true," she cried. "He is a spy, a sleen of Cos. Too, he intends to spread seditious rumors among the troops. Give him ten lashes, of suitable severity!"
"It will be done, lady," said my keeper.
"Then see that he is gagged, thoroughly," she said.
"Yes, lady," said the keeper.
Already a fellow was loosening one of the shackles. In a moment my hands were manacled before my body.
"Kneel to the whip," said the keeper.
I knelt, my head to the sand.
In a moment I heard the hiss of the lash. Then it had fallen on me ten times.
I was then pulled up, kneeling, and my hands were again fastened behind my back. The wadding of the gag was thrust in my mouth, deeply. It was then fastened in place, the binding knotted behind the back of my neck, tightly, painfully. I was then flung to my belly in the sand, my ankles bound closely to one stake, my neck-rope, considerably shortened now, keeping my body stretched, to another.
There was some blood in the sand, near me. "See that he is worked well," she said.
"We shall, lady," my keeper assured her. She then, I think, withdrew.
I lay in the sand, my head turned to the side.
I heard two sting flies hum by, "needle flies," as the men of Ar called them.
It had been very hot in the marsh today. It had been oppressively hot, steamingly hot. I supposed the heat must have been hard for the Lady Ina, in her robes. Muchly she must have suffered in them. Such sacrifices must be made by the fashionable and high born, however. Much more practical for the delta would have been the skimpy garments of female slaves, the brief tunics, the short, open-sided, exciting camisks, the scandalous ta-teeras, or slave rags, indeed, the many varieties of stimulating slave garments, sometimes mere strips and strings, garments deliberately revelatory of imbonded beauty. How unfortunate, I thought, that Lady Ina had no serving slaves with her, to assist her in the intricacies of her toilet. She even had to brush her own hair.
In time my back hurt less.
It had been very hot in the marsh today.
I recalled the ankles of the Lady Ina, and her face. She had shown me her ankles of her own will, and, I suspect, had desired to reveal to me, also, her face. I wondered if it were good that I had looked upon her ankles, her face. It is not like looking on the beauty of a female slave whom one may then, with a snap of the fingers, send to the furs.
"It was hot today," said a man.
"Yes," said another.
Indeed, it had been. I had had an uneasy feeling in that heat, that quiet, oppressive, steaming heat. I had felt almost as if something lay brooding over the marsh, or within it, something dark, something physical, almost like a presence, something menacing.
"What do you think of the Lady Ina?" one fellow asked another.
"A she-sleen," said the other.
"But I would like to get my hands on her," said the first fellow.
"I, too," laughed the second.
It occurred to me how much refuge women have in a civilized world, protected by customs, by artifices, by conventions, by arrangements, by laws. Did they understand, I wondered, the tenuousness of such things, their fragility, their dependence on the will of men. Did they wonder sometimes, I wondered, what might be their lot, or how they might fare, if such things were swept away, if suddenly they no longer existed? Did they understand that then they would as vulnerable as slaves? One wants a civilization, of course. Civilizations are desirable. One would wish to have one. But then, again, there are many sorts of civilizations. Suppose an old order should collapse, or disintegrate, or be destroyed. What would be the nature of the new order? Surely it need not be built on the failed model of the old order. That was an experiment which was tested, and found wanting. It was a mistake. It did not work. What would the new order be like? Let us hope it would be a sounder order, one, for once, fully in harmony with nature. What would the position of women be in the new order, I wondered. Would women have a place in the new order, I wondered. Certainly, I thought, a very secure place.
It would be hard to sleep tonight, for the ropes.
I thought again of the Lady Ina. I wondered, idly, what she might look like, stripped, kneeling, in a collar and chains. She would probably be acceptable, I thought.
I listened to birdlike cries in the marsh. The Lady Ina had thought them Vosk gulls. So, too, did the men. They may, of course, have been right.
Eventually I slept.
13 We Proceed Further into the Delta
"Hold!" whispered a fellow ahead, wading, his hand held back, palm exposed.
I stopped in the yoke. The three-log raft, the harness settling in the water between myself and it, moved slowly forward. In a moment I felt the logs touch my back, gently, beneath the yoke. I heard weapons about me, unsheathed.
The officer's barge was to my right, he forward, with others. The fellow on the observation platform on the barge, crouched down.
"We have them now, lads," whispered the officer to some of the men wading between the raft and barge. He made a sign. Subalterns, with signs, deployed their men.
I felt an arm placed over the yoke and about my neck, holding me in place. At my throat, too, my chin now lifted, my head back against the yoke, I felt the edge of a knife. "Do not move," whispered my keeper, he lying on his stomach now, on the raft. They did not fear my crying out, as I was gagged. They would take no chances, however, with my attempting to make noise, perhaps by splashing or pounding my yoke against the raft.
Files of men waded past me. I could see other files, too, on the other side, once they were beyond the barge. Some were held in the rence, others were circling to the left, and, I suppose, on the other side, to the right.
For days we had plunged deeper and deeper into the delta, in pursuit of Cosians. Several times before we had caught glimpses of an elusive barge ahead, not of Ar. It had, rightly or wrongly, become something of a symbol, a token of the Cosians, the pursued foe. Even from a sober military point of view, of course, given the suppositions of the men of Ar, it was natural to associate the barge with the Cosians, conjecturing it to be, say, one of their transport craft or a vessel of their rear guard. The fact that it had been so difficult to close with it had, of course, encouraged such suppositions.
"Go ahead, sleen," whispered the keeper behind me, his knife at my throat, "try to warn your fellows. Go ahead!"
I remained absolutely still.
"Soon," said he, "the swords of the lads of Ar will drink the blood of the sleen of Cos."
I felt the edge of his knife at my throat.
I was absolutely still.
More men waded by, silently.
"It is for this reason that you have been brought to the delta," said he, "that you might witness with your own eyes the unavailingness of your espionage and the destruction of your fellows."
I did not move.
"But then, as a spy," he laughed, "I suppose you would not try to warn them. You would be too clever to do so. Spies are more concerned, as I understand it, with their own skin." He chuckled. "But your skin, my Cosian sleen," said he, "belongs to Ar. Does the yoke on you, and the harness on your back, not tell you that?"
I did not move. I feared he might, in his excitement, with the closing on the barge, slip with the knife, when the attack signal was uttered.
"Your skin, spy," said he, "belongs to Ar, as much as that of a slave girl to her master."
I sensed the signal would be soon given. By now the men must be in position.
"Perhaps you would like to try to escape?" he asked.
I felt the knife at my throat. It was of Gorean sharpness. Then he turned the blade a little so that I felt its side and not its edge. Almost at the same instant, from ahead and the sides, ahead, I heard the war cries of Ar and the movements of large numbers of men, hundreds of them, hastening in the marsh, converging doubtless on the barge. At the same, time, too, I felt the side of the knife press against my throat, reflexively, almost like an eye blink, given the sudden clamor in the marsh. Then, in an instant, the blade was turned again, so that the edge was again at my throat.
"Steady, steady," whispered my keeper.
I did not move.
But there was no sound from ahead of clashing metal, of shouts, of cries for quarter.
We did hear men ascending the barge.
The keeper was far more surprised, I am sure, than I was. The knife remained at my throat for a time. If fleeing Cosians came through the marsh, plunging toward us, it was his intent, I gathered, at least if it seemed prudent, to cut my throat. In this fashion he could both prevent my escape and free his hands to deal with, or defend himself from, fugitives.
But in a few moments he removed the knife from my throat and stood up, puzzled, I think, on the raft.
No fugitives came plunging through the rence.
As I have suggested, this was not surprising to me.
In a few Ehn, however, a fellow did approach, covered with mud, cut from the rence. He had, I gathered, forced his way through the rence, in the charge. His weapon was still unsheathed. "Bring the prisoner forward," he said.
My keeper put a rope on my neck and then freed me from the harness.
The raft was thrust up, on a small bar, that it not drift away.
"Precede me," he said, pointing forward.
I went before him, through the rence. In a few yards we had come to the side of the low, covered barge. Many men were standing about, in the water. Too, there were now many of their small craft about, brought from the rear. The barge was aground, tipped, on a sand bar. In another Ahn, or with a change of wind, and current, it might be swept free.
"Come aboard," said the officer, now on the barge.
I looked up at him, over the gag.
I was pushed forward. Men reached down from the barge. Others, in the water, thrust me up. I was seized beneath the arms and drawn aboard. My keeper, my leash in his grasp, clambered aboard, after me.
On the deck of the barge, toward the stem, I could see that the small, slatted windows on the port side of the barge had been burst in. The door aft, leading down two or three steps to the interior of the cabin, hung awry.
The captain looked up at me.
"Remove his gag," he said.
This was done, and wrapped about the leather strap looped twice about my neck, that threaded through the center hole in the yoke, behind my neck. It felt good to get the heavy, sodden wadding out of my mouth.
"Some think you know the delta," he said to me.
"I am not a rencer," I said. "It is they, if any, who know the delta. I am of Port Kar."
"But you have been in the delta before," he said.
"Yes," I said.
"Have you seen barges of this sort before?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "Of course."
"Wrap his leash about the yoke," said the officer to my keeper. "I will take charge of him."
The keeper wrapped the rope leash about the yoke, behind my arm.
"Come with me," said the officer.
I rose to my feet. This can be difficult to do in a heavy yoke, a punishment yoke, but was not difficult in the lighter yoke, a work yoke, which I wore. I put down my head, and followed the officer through the small door and down the two stairs, to the interior of the cabin. His mien made it clear that others were not to follow.
The cabin was not completely dark, as the windows at the sides had been broken in. Some, perhaps, might have been broken before. But I had little doubt that it was due to the men of Ar, themselves, in the vigor of their attack, that others had been destroyed, and that the door in the back, that awry in the threshold, through which we had entered, had been broken. I looked about the half-dark interior of the large, low-roofed cabin.
"A great victory," I commented.
The cabin was, in effect, empty, save for some benches and other paraphernalia. To be sure, there was some debris about, much dust. There was no sign that the area had been recently occupied.
"I do not understand it," said the officer to me. I did not respond.
"Where are the Cosians?" he asked me.
"Did you question the crew?" I asked.
"There was no crew," he said, angrily.
I was again silent. I had not thought that there would have been. If there had been, it was not likely the barge would be still aground, particularly with pursuers in the vicinity. The men of Ar, of course, were moving during the day, and in numbers. Too, they were strangers to the delta. They did not move with the silence, the stealth, of rencers.
"There may have been a crew," said the officer. "They may not have had time to free it of the bar."
"But there is little evidence that there has been a crew here for some time," I observed. To be sure, perhaps some fellows had poled it from time to time, earlier. But there was little evidence, as far as I could tell, of even that, certainly not in the cabin itself.
"Where are the Cosians?" he demanded.
I looked about the dusty, half-lit cabin. "It seems not here," I said.
"We have pursued this barge for days," said he, angrily. "Now we have closed with it. And it is empty!"
"It is my surmise," I said, "that it has been empty for weeks."
"Impossible!" he said.
"I suspect it is simply an abandoned barge," I said. "Such are not unknown in the delta."
"No," said he, "it is a vessel of the Cosian rear guard!"
"Perhaps," I said.
"Or one of their transports, straggling, abandoned!"
"Perhaps," I granted him.
He went to one of the small windows, and looked out, angrily.
"It would seem, however, would it not," I asked, "to be an unlikely choice for a troop transport?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"You are not of this part of the country," I said, "not from the delta, or the Vosk, or Port Kar," I said.
"I do not understand," he said.
"Examine the window before you, its screen," I said. He looked at the apparatus, burst in, hanging loose. "Yes?" he said.
"Consider the position of the opening lever," I said. "Yes!" he said.
"The window could not be opened from the inside," I said. "Only from the outside."
"Yes," he said.
"Also, in this particular barge," I said, "given the depth of the cabin floor, one could not, sitting, look directly out the windows, even if they were opened. One, at best, would be likely to see only a patch of sky."
"I see," he said, glumly.
"And if the shutters were closed," I said, "the interior of the cabin would be, for the most part, plunged into darkness. Too, you can well imagine the conditions within the cabin, the heat, and such, if the shutters were closed."
"Of course," he said.
"Examine, too," I said, "the benches here, within, where they are still in place."
"I see," he said, bitterly.
"You or I might find them uncomfortably low," I said, "but for a shorter-legged organism, they might be quite suitable."
"Yes," he said.
"And here and there," I said, "attached to some of the benches, I think you can detect the presence of ankle stocks, and, on the attached armrests, wrist stocks."
"But for rather small ankles and wrists," he said.
"Yes," I said, "and here and there, similarly, you can see, still in place, the iron framework for the insertions of the neck planks. You will note, too, that the matching semicircular apertures in the planks, there are some there, on the floor, are rather small."
"Yes," he said.
"This barge," I said, "is of a type used in Port Kar, on the canals, and in the delta, for example, between Port Kar, and other cities, and the Vosk towns, particularly Turmus and Ven, for the transportation, in utter helplessness and total ignorance, of female slaves."
"Yes," he said. "I see."
"Of course, such vessels are used elsewhere, as well," I said.
"In the south," he said, "we often transport slaves hooded, or in covered cages. Sometimes we ship them in boxes, the air holes of which are baffled, so that they may not be seen through."
I nodded. There are many such devices. One of the simplest and most common is the slave sack, into which the girl, gagged, and with her hands braceleted behind her back, is commonly introduced headfirst. These devices have in common the feature of ensuring the total helplessness of the slave and, if one wishes, her ignorance of her destination, route and such. Sometimes, of course, one wishes the slave to know where she is being taken, and what is to be done with her, particularly if this information is likely to increase her arousal, her terror, her desire to please, and so forth. For example, it seldom hurts to let a former free woman know that she is now being delivered as a naked slave to the gardens of a mortal enemy. One of the most common ways of transporting slaves, of course, is by slave wagon. The most common sort is a stout wagon with a central, locking bar running the length of the wagon bed, to which the girls are shackled, usually by the ankles. Most such wagons are squarish and have covers which may be pulled down and belted in place. In this way one may shield the girls, if one wishes, from such things as the sun and the rain. Too, of course, the cover may be used to simply close them in. Many slave girls, too, of course, are moved from one place to another on foot, in coffle.
The officer came away from the window, angrily, and looked down at the benches. Several of them had the varnish worn from them. The barge, in its day, I suspected, had frequently plied the delta, probably between Port Kar, and other cities, and Turmus and Ven. Slave girls are normally transported nude.
"And so," said the officer, angrily, "we have spent days pursuing a slave barge."
"It seems so," I said.
"The Cosians, then," he said, "must still be in front of us.
I was silent. This did not seem to me likely, or at least not in numbers.
At this moment we heard some shouting outside, some cries.
The officer looked up, puzzled, and then, paying me no mind, went up the stairs to the stern deck.
I followed him.
"We seldom saw them!" cried a fellow. "It was as though the rence were alive!"
I emerged onto the stern deck, blinking against the sun, where my keeper, who was waiting for me, unlooping the rope leash from the yoke, and, keeping me on a short tether, about a foot Gorean in length, the remaining portion of the leash coiled in his hand, recovered my charge.
"We had no chance," wept a fellow from the water. "We did not even see them!"
"Where?" demanded the officer, at the barge rail.
"On the right!" called up a fellow.
Following my keeper, who, too, was curious, I went to the rail. In the water, below, with the many others who had originally surrounded and charged the barge, were some six or seven other fellows, distraught, haggard, wild-eyed, some bleeding, some supporting their fellows.
"Numbers?" inquired the officer.
"There must have been hundreds of them, for pasangs," said a fellow from below, in the water.
"We could not fight," said another. "We could not find them. There seemed little, if anything, to draw against!"
"Only a shadow," wept a man, "a movement in the rence, a suspicion, and then the arrows, and the arrows!"
"What were the casualties?" asked the officer.
"It was a rout, a slaughter!" cried a fellow.
"What is your estimate of the casualties?" repeated the officer, insistently.
"The right flank is gone!" wept a man.
"Gone!" cried another.
I could see other fellows making their way towards us, through the rence, some dozens, more survivors, many wounded.
I did not personally think the right flank was gone, but I gathered it had grievously suffered, that it had undergone severe losses, that it was routed, that it was decimated. These fellows near us, for example, were from the right flank. They had not been able, it seemed, to rally, or reform. When one has been in a disastrous action, particularly a mysterious one which has not been anticipated, one which one does not fully understand, there is a tendency of the survivors to overestimate casualties. A fellow, for example, who has seen several fall near him, in his own tiny place of war, often as narrow as a few yards in width, has a tendency to suppose these losses are typical of the entire field, that they characterize the day itself. Similarly, of course, there are occasions in which a fellow, victorious in his purview, learns only later, and to his dismay, that his side is in retreat, that the battle, as a whole, was lost. Still, I did not doubt but what the losses were considerable. The entire right flank might have to be reorganized.
"We will counterattack," said the officer.
"Your foe will not be there," I said.
"This is a tragic day for Ar," said a fellow.
More soldiers were wading, some staggering, toward us, these come from the right.
"The first engagement to Cos," said a fellow bitterly.
"Who would have thought this could happen?" said a man.
"Vengeance upon the Cosian sleen!" cried a man.
"The missiles used against you were not quarrels, not bolts," I said.
"No," said a fellow, "arrows."
"Arrows," said I, "sped from the peasant bow." In the last few years, the use of the peasant bow, beginning in the vicinity of the tidal marshes, had spread rapidly eastward throughout the delta. The materials for the weapon and its missiles, not native to the delta, are acquired largely through trade. Long ago the rencers had learned its power. They had never forgotten it. By means of it they had become formidable foes. The combination of the delta, with its natural defenses, and the peasant bow, made the rencers all but invulnerable.
The officer looked at me.
"You are not dealing with Cosians," I said. "You are dealing with rencers."
"People of scaling knives, of throwing sticks, and fish spears!" laughed a fellow.
"And of the peasant bow," I said.
"Surely you jest?" said the officer.
"Did you hear, before the attack," I asked, "the cries of marsh gants?"
"Yes," said one of the fellows in the water.
"It is by means of such cries that rencers communicate during the day," I said. "At night they use the cries of Vosk gulls."
"We will counterattack," said the officer.
"You will not find them," I said.
"We will send out scouts," he said.
"They would not return," I said. To be sure, it was possible to scout rencers, but normally this could be done only by individuals wise to the ways of the delta, in most cases other rencers. The forces of Ar in the delta, if I were not mistaken, would not have experienced scouts with them. Even so small a thing as this constituted yet another indication of the precipitateness of Ar, her unreadiness to enter the delta.
"We must not allow them to press their advantage," said the officer.
Men were still streaming in from the right.
"They will not press their advantage-as yet," I said.
" 'As yet'?" he asked.
"It is a different form of warfare," I said.
"It is not warfare," said a man. "It is brigandage, it is ambush and banditry!"
"I would not pursue them," I said. "They will melt away before you, perhaps to close on your flanks."
"What is your recommendation?" he asked.
"I would set up defense perimeters," I said.
"Labienus is in command," said a fellow, angrily. 'Labienus' was the name of the officer.
"Do not listen to him," said another. "Surely he is in sympathy with them."
"He may be one of them!" said another.
"He is an enemy!" said another.
"Kill him!" said another.
"You anticipate another attack?" asked the officer.
"Perimeters against infiltration," I said. "Preferably with open expanses of delta. Beware of straws, or rence, which seem to move in the water."
"You do not anticipate another attack?" asked the officer.
"The element of surprise gone," I said, "I would not anticipate another attack, not now, at least, not of a nature similar to that which has apparently just occurred."
You speak of simple rencers as though they were trained warriors, of ruses, of strategems and tactics which might be the mark of a Maximus Hegesius Quintilius, of a Dietrich of Tarnburg."
"Or of a Ho-Hak, or a Tamrun, of the Rence," I said.
"I have not heard of such fellows," said a man.
"And many in the rence," I said, "may never have heard of a Marlenus of Ar."
There were angry cries from the men about.
"You are now, unbidden, in their country," I said.
"Rencers!" scoffed a man.
"Wielders of the great bow, the peasant bow," I reminded him.
"Rabble!" said a man.
"Apparently your right flank did not find them such," I said.
"Set up defense perimeters," said the officer.
Subalterns, angrily, signaled to their men.
"With such perimeters set," I said, "I think the rencers will keep their distance-until dark."
"They will never dare to attack Ar again," said a fellow.
"It is shameful to be bested by rencers," said a man.
"They may have been Cosians," said a fellow.
"Or under Cosian command," said another.
"I do not think so," I said, "though I would suppose the Cosians have many friends, and many contacts, in the delta. They have, for years, cultivated those in the delta. I would not doubt but what agents, in the guise of traders, and such, have well prepared the rencers for your visit. You may well imagine what they may have been told."
Men looked at one another.
"I think there is little doubt that those of Cos are more politically astute than those of Ar," I said. An excellent example of this was Cos' backing of Port Cos' entry into the Vosk League, presumably hoping thereby to influence or control the league through the policies of her sovereign colony, while Ar refused this same opportunity to Ar's Station, thereby more than ever isolating Ar's Station on the river. "Cos comes to the delta with smiles and sweets, as an ally and friend. Ar comes as an uninvited trespasser, as though she would be an invading conqueror."
"The rencers have attacked us," said a man. "They must be punished!"
"It is you who are being punished," I said.
" 'We'?" said the fellow.
"Yes," I said. "Did you not, only yesterday, destroy a rence village?"
There was silence.
"Was that not the "great victory"?" I asked.
"How could rencers retaliate so quickly?" asked the officer. "The reports suggest there were hundreds of them."
"There may have been hundreds," I said. "I suspect they have been gathered for days."
"Surely they know we only seek to close with those of Cos, with their force in the north," said a fellow.
"I think they would find that very hard to believe," I said.
"Why?" asked a man. I looked at the officer.
"No," said the officer, angrily. "That is impossible."
"We have no quarrel with rencers," said a man. "We do now," said another, bitterly. "Why did they not show themselves?" asked a man. "We did not even see them," said a man.
"Perhaps they struck and fled, like the brigands they are," said a man.
"Perhaps," said another fellow.
"No," I said. "They are still in the vicinity, somewhere."
"The delta is so huge," said a fellow beside us, on the deck, looking out.
"It is so vast, so green, so much the same, yet everywhere different," said another. "It frightens me."
"We need scouts," said another.
"We need eyes," said another.
"Look!" cried a fellow, pointing upward.
"There are our eyes!" said the fellow who had spoken before.
There was a cheer from the hundreds of men about. A tarnsman, several hundred feet above us, coming from the south, wheeled in flight. Even at the distance we could make out the scarlet of his uniform.
"He is bringing the bird around," said a man.
"He will land," said another.
Several of the fellows lifted their hands to the figure on tarnback who was now coming about.
The lookout on the observation platform behind us, on that barge which served the officer as his command ship, began, with both hands, to call the tarnsman down.
I watched the pattern in the sky. I was uneasy. There was a smoothness in it, the turning, and now, as I had feared, the wings of the tarn were outspread.
"He is arming!" I said. "Beware!"
I watched the smooth, gliding descent of the bird, the sloping pattern, the creature seemingly almost motionless in the air, but seeming to grow larger every instant. The tarn's claws were up, back, beneath its body. "Beware!" I cried. "It is not landing!" Men looked upward, puzzled. "Beware!" I cried. "It is an attack pattern!" Could they not see that? Did they not understand what was happening? Could they not understand the rationale of that steadiness, the menace of the motionlessness of those great wings? Could they not see that what was approaching was in effect a smoothly gliding, incredibly stable, soaring firing platform? "Take cover!" I cried. The fellow on the observation platform, on the barge, watching the approach of the bird and rider, lowered his arms, puzzled. "Take cover!" I cried. One could scarcely see the flight of the quarrel. It was like a whisper of light, terribly quick, little more than something you are not sure you have really seen, then the bird had snapped its wings and was ascending. It then, in a time, disappeared, south.
"He is dead," said a fellow from the deck of the captain's barge, where the lookout had fallen, the fins of a quarrel protruding from his breast. It had not been a difficult shot, it might have been a stationary target, a practice run on the training range.
"Those are not your eyes," I said to a fellow looking up at me. "Those are the eyes of Cos." The tam had returned southward. That was as I would have expected.
Men stood about, numb.
"Where are our tarnsmen?" asked a fellow.
"Cos controls the skies," I said. "You are alone in the delta.
"Kill him," said a man.
"Surely," I said, "you do not think the paucity of your tarn support in an area such as this, and even hitherto in the north, in the vicinity of Holmesk, is an accident?"
"Kill him!" said another.
"Kill him!" said yet another.
"What shall we do, Captain?" asked a man.
"We have our orders," said the officer. "We shall proceed west."
"Surely, Captain," said a man, "we must daily, to punish the rencers!"
"Then Cos would escape!" said a fellow.
"Our priority," said a man, "is not rencers. It is Cosians."
"True," affirmed a man.
"And we must be now close upon their heels," said a man.
"Yes!" said another.
"I would recommend the swiftest possible withdrawal from the delta," I said.
"Excellent advice, from a spy!" laughed a fellow.
"Yes," laughed another, "now that we are nearly upon our quarry!"
"It is you who are the quarry," I said.
"Cosian sleen," said another.
"We shall continue west," said the officer.
"To be sure," I said, bitterly, "you will encounter the least resistance from the rencers to such a march, for it takes you deeper into the delta, and puts you all the more at their mercy."
"Prepare to march," said the officer to a subordinate.
"The rencers are not done with you," I said.
"We do not fear rencers," said a man.
"They will hang on your flanks like sleen," I said. "They will press you in upon yourselves. They will crowd you. They will herd you. Then when you are in close quarters, when you are huddled together, when you are weak, exhausted and helpless, they will rain arrows upon you. If you break and scatter they will hunt you down, one by one, in the marsh. Perhaps if some of you strip yourselves and raise your arms you might be spared, to be put in chains, to be taken, beaten, to trading points, thence to be sold as slaves, thence to be chained to benches, rowing the round ships of Cos."
"Sleen!" hissed a man.
"To be sure," I said, "perhaps some will serve in the quarries of Tyros."
"Kill him!" cried a fellow.
"You must withdraw from the delta, in force, immediately," I said.
"There are many columns in the delta," said the officer.
"This column," I said, "is in your keeping."
"We have our orders," he said.
"I urge you to withdraw," I said.
"We have no orders to that effect," he said.
"Seek them!" I urged.
"The columns are independent," he said.
"Do you think it an accident that you are in this place without a centralized chain of command?" I asked.
He looked at me, angrily.
"Ar does not retreat," said a fellow.
"You are in command," I said to the officer. "Make your decision."
"We did not come to the delta to return without Cosian blood on our blades!" said a fellow.
"Make your decision!" I said.
"I have," he said. "We continue west."
There was a cheer from the men about.
"Saphronicus is not even in the delta!" I said.
"If that were true," said the officer, "it could be known only by a spy."
"And I had it from a spy!" I said.
"Then you, too, are a spy," said a fellow.
"Spy!" said another.
"Gag him," said the officer.
I was again gagged. This was done by my keeper.
"Let me kill him," said a man, his knife drawn, but the officer had turned away, consulting with his fellows.
"He tried to warn Aurelian of the tarnsman," said a man.
"He feared only for his own skin," said my keeper.
"And let him fear even more, now," said the other fellow. I felt the point of the knife in my belly, low on the left side. Its blade was up. It could be thrust in, and drawn across, in one motion, a disemboweling stroke.
I stood very still.
Angrily the fellow with the knife drew it back, and sheathed it. "Cosian sleen," he said. He then, with others, turned away.
My keeper then, pushing on the back of the yoke, thrust me over the rail of the barge, and I fell heavily, yoked, into the water and mud. I struggled to my feet, slipping in the mud. I tried to clear my eyes of water. "Precede me," he said. In a moment I was stumbling forward, before him, returning to the raft, the rope on my neck over the yoke, running behind me, to his grasp. I shook my head, wanting to get the water out of my eyes. I felt rage, and helplessness. I wanted to scream against the gag. The men of Ar, I thought, wildly, are mad! Do they not understand what has been done to them! I wanted to cry out to them, to shout at them, to tell them, to warn them! But the gag in my mouth was a Gorean gag. I could do little more in it then whimper, one whimper for "Yes," two for "No," in the common convention for communicating with a gagged prisoner, the verbal initiatives, the questions, and such, allotted not to the prisoner but to the interests or caprices of the captors. But then I thought they would not listen to me even if I could speak to them. They had not listened before. They would not now! I must escape from them, I thought. I must escape! Somehow I must avoid the fate into which they seemed bound to fall. I had no interest in sharing their stupidity, their obstinacy, their doom. I must escape! I must escape! We were then at the raft. It was where it had been left, where it had been thrust up, on a small bar, that it might not drift away when we went forward. He bent down. He picked up the harness attached to the raft. I tensed. I saw a fellow, wading by. "Face away from me," said my keeper. I faced away. Another fellow waded by. "Stand still, draft beast," said my keeper. Another fellow moved by. I stood still. "Do not move," he said. Another man was approaching. I did not move. The harness was fitted about me. The fellow waded by. Angrily I felt the harness buckled on me. I did not know how long the rencers would give them, perhaps until dark. Already the stones might be striking together beneath the water. It seemed then for a moment that we were alone, that none were immediately with us. I spun about, in the rence. His eyes were wild for one instant, and then the yoke struck him heavily, on the side of the head. Surely some must have heard the sound of that blow! Yet none seemed about. None rushed forward. I looked down at the keeper. He was now lying on the bar. He had fallen with no sound. I drew the raft off the bar, into the water. If I could get beyond the men of Ar I was sure I could break the yoke to pieces, splintering it on the togs of the raft, thus freeing my hands, then in a moment discarding the harness and slipping away. I moved away, drawing the raft after me.
For several Ehn I was able to keep to the thickest of the rence. In such places, one could see no more than a few feet ahead. Sometimes I heard soldiers about. Twice they passed within feet of me. The raft tangled sometimes in the vegetation. Once I had to draw it over a bar. Once, to my dismay, I had to move the raft through an open expanse of water. Then, to my elation, I was again in the high rence.
"Hold," said a fellow.
I felt the point of a sword in my belly.
Another fellow was at the side.
These were of course pickets, pickets of the defense perimeter. It had been in accord with my own recommendation I realized, in fury, that this perimeter had been so promptly set, that it was so carefully manned.
I heard men wading behind me.
"Do you have him?" I heard.
I knew that voice. It was that of my keeper. He was a strong fellow.
"Yes," said one of my captors, the fellow with the point of the sword in my belly. He pressed the blade forward a little, and I backed against the raft. I was then held against it, the point of the sword lodged in my belly. I could not slip to one side or the other. I was well held in place, for a thrust, if my captor desired. I did not move. "Here he is, waiting for you, yoked and harnessed, and as docile as a slave girl."
I heard the sound of chain, of manacles.
"Put iron on his wrists," said my keeper. "No, before his body."
In this way my back would be exposed.
One manacle was locked on my right wrist before that wrist was freed of the yoke. Then, as soon as it was free of the yoke, it was pulled to the left, and the other manacle was locked on my left wrist. Only then was I freed of the yoke. My manacled hands were then tied at my belly, the center of the tie fastened to the linkage, the ends of the tie knotted together, behind my back.
"Has the beast been displeasing?" asked a fellow, solicitously.
My keeper was now behind me, on the raft. Others, too, were there, it seemed, from its depth in the water.
I heard the snap of a whip.
"Turn about, draft beast," said my keeper. "We are marching west!"
My wrists were helpless in the clasping iron.
"Hurry!" said the keeper.
I felt the lash crack against my back. Then, again, it struck.
"Hurry!" he said.
I turned about and, my feet slipping in the mud, my back burning from the blows, wet with blood, turned the raft. I then began to draw it westward, deeper into the delta.
"Hurry!" said he, again.
Again the lash fell.
Again I pressed forward, straining against the harness, westward.
14 The Attack
"You see," said my keeper, thrusting a bit of raw fish in my mouth, "there is no danger."
My gag was wrapped about the neck rope, it now lengthened from the mooring stake on the bar, to permit me to sit up. My feet were still tethered closely, in the usual fashion, to another mooring stake. My hands were now manacled behind my back. Again I did not know who held the key to my manacles. It changed hands, as a security measure, from day to day.
"Listen for the rocks, under the water," I said to him.
"You are mad," he said.
"Did you convey my warnings to your captain?" I asked.
"A watch is being kept," he said, "foolish though it may be."
On the bar there were perhaps some five hundred men.
"Eat," said my keeper. "Swallow."
I fed. I was eager to get what food I could. I think there was little enough for anyone. Ar had brought, by most reckonings, some fifty thousand men into the delta. This had been done without adequate logistical support.
"That is all," said he.
I looked at him, startled.
"No more," he said.
"You are a hardy chap," said the officer, looking down at me. "I had thought you might have died in the marsh today." It had been hot. The raft had been heavy, many men using it. The keeper had not been sparing with his whip. "Yet it seems you are alive, and have an appetite." Then he said to my keeper. "Do not gag him yet. Withdraw."
As soon as the keeper had moved away a few yards the officer crouched down beside me, and looked at me, intently. I had not seen him approach, earlier.
"You have men listening?" I asked. "Yes," he said.
"You think the thought absurd?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"But you have them listening?"
"Yes," he said.
"It seems now," I said, "that it is you who would wish to speak with me."
"You attempted to escape today," he said.
I did not respond to this.
"It is fortunate that you are not a slave girl," he said.
I shrugged. That was doubtless true. On Gor there is a double standard for the treatment of men and women, and in particular for the female slave. This is because women are not the same as men. That women are the same as men, and should be treated as such would be regarded by Goreans as an insanity, and one which would be cruelly deprivational to the female, robbing her of her uniqueness, her delicious specialness, in a sense of her very self. To be sure, it was indeed fortunate in this instance that I was not a slave girl. Gorean masters tend not to look with tolerance upon escape attempts on the part of such. They do not accept them.
"You understand the point of your gagging?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "that I not instigate questioning, that I not sow dissension, that I not produce discontent, confusion, among the men, that I not reduce, in one way or another, morale, such things."
He looked down at the ground.
"Do you fear for yourself, that you might begin to reflect critically on the occurrences of recent days?" I asked.
"State your views," he said.
"You seem to me an intelligent officer," I said. "Surely you have arrived at them independently by now."
"Speak," he said.
"I do not think it matters now," I said. "You are already deep in the delta."
He regarded me, soberly.
"Ar," I said, "if you wish to know my opinions on the matter, has been betrayed, in the matter of Ar's Station, in the matter of the disposition of her northern forces, and, now, in her entry, unprepared, into the delta. You were not prepared to enter the delta. You lack supplies and support. By now what supply lines you may have had have probably been cut, or soon will be, by rencers. You do not have tarn cover, or tam scouts. Indeed, you do not even have rencer guides or scouts. Obviously, too, you have not been unaware of the deterioration of your transport in the delta. Do you truly think it is a simple anomaly that so many vessels, flotillas of tight craft, on such short notice, could be obtained in Ven and Turmus? Was that merely unaccountable good fortune? And now do you think it is merely unaccountable ill fortune that these same vessels, in a matter of days, sink, and split and settle beneath you?"
He regarded me, angrily.
"They were prepared for you," I said. "No," he said.
"Withdraw from the delta, while you can," I said.
"You are afraid to be here," he said.
"Yes," I said, "I am."
"We have all become afraid," he said.
"Withdraw," I said.
"No," he said.
"Do you fear court-martial?" I asked. "Do you fear the loss of your commission, disgrace?"
"Such things would doubtless occur," said he, "if I issued the order for retreat."
"Especially if it were done singly," I said.
"Yes," he said.
"And there is no clear unified command in the delta," I said.
"No," he said.
"That, too, perhaps seems surprising," I observed.
"Communication is difficult," he said. "The columns are separated."
"And that, you think," I asked, "is the reason?"
"It has to be," he said.
"If you were Saphronicus," I said, "what would you do?"
"I would have a unified command," he said. "I would go to great lengths to maintain lines of communication, particularly under the conditions of the delta."
"And so, too, I said, "would any competent commander." "You challenge the competence of Saphronicus?" he asked. "No," I said. "I think he is a very able commander."
"I do not understand," he said.
"Surely it is clear," I said.
"You do not think Saphronicus is in the delta," he said.
"No," I said. "He is not in the delta."
"You could have learned that only from a spy," he said.
"True," I said. "I had it from a spy."
"You, too, then," said he, "are, as charged, an agent of Cos."
"No," I said.
"Where lies your allegiance?" asked he.
"I am of Port Kar," I said.
"There is no love lost between Ar and Port Kar," he said.
"We are at least at war with Cos," I said.
"We will continue to move westward," he said.
"It is a mistake," I said.
"Our orders are clear," he said.
"What of the rencers?" I asked.
"I do not understand their apparent numbers," he said. "A village was destroyed, only a village."
"They have apparently been gathered for some time," I said.
"But why?" he asked.
"You are in their country," I reminded him.
"But surely they understand we seek only to close with Cos."
"As I indicated earlier," I said, "they will find that very difficult to believe."
"Why?" he asked.
"Do you really not suspect?" I asked.
"Why?" he asked.
"Cos," I said, "is not in the delta."
"Impossible!" he said.
"Perhaps there are some Cosians in the delta," I granted him. "I do not know. Perhaps enough to leave sign, enough to lure Ar further westward. It is a possibility."
He regarded me.
"But have you," I asked, "who are the commander of the vanguard, you who are in the very best position to do so, detected any clear evidence as yet of even so minimal a presence?"
"There has been broken rence," he said.
"Tharlarion can break rence," I said.
"The expeditionary force of Cos," he said, "entered the delta. We know that."
"I do not doubt it," I said. Ar, too, of course, would have her sources of information, her spies. Her gold could purchase information as well as that of Cos. "What I do suggest is that the columns of Cos did not remain in the delta, but, after perhaps a day or two, after having clearly established their entry below Turmus, withdrew."
"Absurd," he said.
"Do you really think Cos would choose to meet you in the delta?"
"They fled before us, in fear of their lives," said he, angrily.
"I was with the expeditionary force," I said, "for several days, until north of Holmesk. I assure you their march was leisurely."
"Then you are Cosian," he said.
"I was there with a friend," I said, "one who was seeking to be of service to Ar."
"The Cosians must meet us," he said, angrily.
"They will meet you," I assured him, "but when they wish."
"I do not understand," he said.
"They will meet you when you attempt to extricate yourself from the delta," I said.
"They are ahead of us," he said. "No," I said.
"Lies!" said he.
"Perhaps," I said.
"Would that we might meet Cos soon!" he said.
"In a sense," I said, "you have already met her." "I do not understand," he said.
"The delta itself is her weapon," I said, "and the rencers."
The captain stood up. He looked down at me. "Your supposed conjectures," he said, "are the vain lies of a squirming spy, attempting to divert from himself the legitimate wrath of outraged captors. Your supposed speculations, moreover, are absurd. Perhaps if you had given them more thought, you might have come up with something more plausible. Too, I find your impugning the integrity and honor of Saphronicus, general in the north, to be odious and offensive. Your insinuations, moreover, on the whole, are presposterous.
If true, they would suggest treason of almost incomprehensible dimension."
"There is treason, in high places, in Ar." I said.
"To what end?" he asked.
"To political realignments," I said, "to the supremacy of Cos."
"And Saphronicus is involved?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. I did not wish to speak beyond this. There was one whose name I sought to protect.
"Absurd," said he. He lifted his hand, summoning my keeper. "Replace his gag," he said.
The keeper removed the wadding and binding from my neck rope.
"Captain," said a fellow, approaching. "We hear something now, a sound from beneath the water."
"Its nature?" asked the officer.
"It is hard to tell," said the fellow. "It is like a clicking, a cracking."
"It is done with rocks!" I said.
The officer looked at me, sharply. "It is what I said!" I said.
The informant looked at me, puzzled.
"Is it far off?" I asked.
"It is hard to tell," said the man. "I think so." "Is it rhythmical?" I asked.
"It is regular," said the man.
"Bring in your defense perimeter," I said to the officer.
"You jest," he said.
"Rencers sometimes use such rocks," I said, "struck beneath the surface of the water, the sound detectable by holding the side of the head under water. They can be used to convey signals, to communicate. I do not know their codes."
"We are speaking of simple fishermen," said the officer, "of hunters of birds, of harvesters of rence."
"But the striking is now rhythmical," I said. "It is not now being used to communicate!"
"We have not been troubled with rencers in several Ahn," said the officer. "I think that danger is passed. Indeed, I regard it as quite possible, given the rapidity of our march, that we have passed beyond them. They have perhaps now disbanded, returned to their villages. Surely, by now, they understand we mean them no harm."
"The sounds will now be closer," I said.
"I grant you that they may have observers in the marsh," he said.
"The sounds are regular," I said. "They are not now being used to communicate. They are being used otherwise, to irritate, to drive."
"But nothing can hear them, or feel them," said a man. "They are under water."
"They will be on all sides of the bar," I said. "They are coming closer, they will grow louder."
"They are under water," said the man.
"Bring in your pickets!" I said.
"The spy wishes us to bring in our pickets," said my keeper, to another fellow.
"We are not fools," said a man.
"Are your friends out there?" asked a fellow.
"Or lose them!" I said.
"What of the rencers?" asked the officer.
There was a sudden thrashing out in the water, some yards away.
"What was that?" asked a man.
"Two tharlarion," said a fellow.
"It is nothing," said another.
"Surely you know the hunting of larls, the beating of game," I said.
"Surely," said a man.
"The ring can be pasangs in width," said a man.
"So, too, it is here!" I said.
In such drives, the ring growing smaller and smaller, hundreds of animals can be brought together at a given point. Peasants from different villages sometimes combine forces to engage in this form of hunting. Sometimes, too, animals desired for the arena are hunted in this fashion, usually to be driven, at last, by fire and spears into nets or cages.
"And that is why," I said to the officer, "you do not need to fear rencers now. They are not so stupid as to be within the ring. It is not rencers who are within the ring, it is we who are within the ring! They will come later. Then you will fear them and well!"
"Aii!" cried a man, wading onto the bar, wildly.
"It is one of the pickets!" said a fellow.
To his right, a few feet away, not following him, there suddenly emerged a long-necked tharlarion from the marsh, half out of the water. To the man's left, not following him either, as far as I could tell, there suddenly emerged a short-legged, long-bodied tharlarion. We could see the irregular backs of other beasts here and there breaking the water.
"Bring the pickets in!" cried the officer.
"Bring fire!" cried a fellow.
"No!" I cried. "Not fire!"
The wadding was thrust rapidly in my mouth, and bound in place. I was then thrust back to the sand and, the neck tether considerably shortened, fastened down, between the two mooring stakes. My keeper left me, to rush to the aid of his fellows. I tried to pull free. I could not. My hands fought the manacles, foolishly. I tried to turn my head, to rear up a little, as I could, to watch. Men were hurrying about with torches, with spears, striking at tharlarion. The shore seemed alive with them, and the marsh. I heard screams coming from all sides of the bar. Nearby several men were thrusting spears into the body of a huge tharlarion. Other fellows were thrusting torches down at others. More beasts clambered from the marsh, driven by those behind them. The bar seemed alive with men and tharlarion. A fellow might be attacking one beast with a torch while others crawled past him. The beasts swarmed on the bar. Few attacked men, except, here and there, to react, or snap at them. More injuries, I think, were suffered as the result of their thrashing about, the swift movements of those gigantic tails, the strokes of which could break legs, and hurl a fellow yards away, than from the laceration of numerous, white, curved, hooklike teeth, than from the pounding closings of those mighty jaws. These animals had not ascended the bar in aggression or menace. They had not come to attack. They had not come to feed. They moved about, here and there, twisting, turning, moving in one direction, then turning back, milling, confused, uncertain. Nothing in their experience, any more than in that of the men of Ar, had prepared them for this chaos, this tumult. Surely they, no more than the men of Ar, had anticipated it. If anything, if it were possible, I thought the beasts to be more distressed, agitated or confused than the men of Ar. I lay back, suddenly, as a long, heavy, scaled shape, on short legs, crawled over my body.
"More fire! More torches!" cried a fellow.
I struggled in the manacles, the bonds. I tried to pull free, to rear up. I twisted about. But I remained as my captors had decided, absolutely helpless.
"More torches!" called another fellow.
I tried to cry out, to scream against the gag. I tried to work the wadding, the packing, from my mouth, but it was held back, over the tongue, deeply, firmly, in place by the binding. I tried frenziedly to loosen, to move, to dislodge the binding, rubbing the side of my face in the sand. Naught availed. I tried to attract attention, but none paid me attention. I could make only tiny noises. My tongue ached. The side of my face burned. I was covered with sand and sweat. Another beast crawled by, its long body lifted a few inches from the sand.
"Light more torches!" I heard.
I lay back, miserable, in the sand. The bar now, housing its menagerie of confused beasts, its numbers of angry, frightened men, blazed with light.
Fools, I wept silently, to myself, fools, fools.
I tried to dig myself down, lower into the sand.
In an instant I heard the first strike, a sound like a fist striking a chest, and saw a fellow reeling among the tharlarion. In a moment there were other sounds, similar. I saw a man raise his hands, his torch lifted eccentrically, then lost, turn and fall. Then like wind, swift, everywhere, as though the air were alive, shafts, in flights, from all sides, sprung from the darkness of the marsh, swept the bar.
"Down!" cried a voice, that of the officer. "Down! Take cover!"
Men were screaming.
"Put out the torches!" screamed the officer.
"Aiii!" cried a fellow.
"Down!" screamed the officer. "Down!"
"The tharlarion!" protested a man. Then he had been felled, falling among the beasts.
"Put out the torches!" screamed the officer. He himself had discarded his.
Arrows sped across the bar.
Tharlarion reared up, sometimes feet from the sand, their bodies, too, struck by arrows.
Torches, swiftly, men crying out with misery, began to be extinguished.
"Down!" cried the officer. "Down!"
I saw one fellow throw back his head in terror and scream, his torch clutched in both hands. He feared to retain it, and was terrified to let it go. Then he stood very still, and then fell forward, among the tharlarion, the arrow of temwood, fletched with the feathers of the Vosk gull, in his back. I saw another fellow, too, hesitate, confused, then struck by an arrow. Better would it have been for him, too, had he obeyed orders promptly.
"Down!" cried the officer. "Take cover!"
"Aiii!" screamed a man.
"Kill tharlarion!" called the officer.
"I cannot see!" cried a man.
"Take cover behind them!" called the officer.
I heard a hideous scream.
"Down! Down!" screamed the officer. "Get down! Dig into the sand!"
Then the arrows, I think, stopped. The bar, that island of sand in the delta, was dark. I heard some of the beasts moving about. Most, however, confused, not now troubled by the men, the torches, seemed to remain much where they were. I turned on my side, as I could. This would narrow the width of my body. Then, after a moment or two, I heard the sudden bellowing, again, the hissing and squealing, of tharlarion. Some began to move about, again, to leave the bar, to reenter the water. The arrows, for an Ehn or so, descended unto the island, like rain. I heard one drop into the sand a yard or so from me. It would be almost upright, in a bit no more arrows fell. Arrows, of tern wood, like the ka-la-na wood of their bows, not native to the delta, are precious to the rencers. They seldom fire unless they have a favorable target. Accordingly, like the men of the Barrens, they will often go to great lengths to approach an enemy closely. In the case of the rencers this is to conserve arrows. In the case of the men of the Barrens some think this is connected with their smaller, less powerful bow. Others think it has to do primarily with the desire of the men of the Barrens for glory, having to do with the counting of coup, and such. I was once in the Barrens. Although it is difficult to comment on such cultural matters, the origins of which are often obscure, I note that the two explanations are not incompatible. The small bow, incidentally, is designed in such a way that it may be fired, shifting rapidly from side to side, from the back of a racing kaiila. I then, after a time, heard various tharlarion leave the bar, returning to the marsh, in two or three Ahn it became dawn. The rencers had gone, at least for the time.
15 We Continue Westward
Again I struggled westward in the marsh, gagged, my hands manacled before me, tied at my waist, my body pulling against the harness. Too, I was now hooded. It had been a supposition of my keeper that I might, somehow, be able to communicate, perhaps by glances or such, with rencers. Perhaps, too, they now desired to conceal from me the wretchedness of their state. So I struggled ahead, closed in the hood, manacled, harnessed, drawing the weighty raft through the marsh, through the rence, through the mud, now with several men upon it, some wounded and sick, little more, if anything, than a beast of burden, a despised beast subject to the frequent blows, the lashings, of an impatient, hostile master.
It was now four days after the incident of the drive of the tharlarion.
We had continued to move west.
Rencers had now chosen to pick their targets with care. Sometimes Ahn would pass, and men would think themselves secure. Then an arrow would dart forth from the rence, the bowman unseen, his presence perhaps not even suspected, and another man, perhaps silently, would sink into the marsh. The officer no longer cared to assign men to point positions. Too often these scouts and flankers, and rear guards, failed to return. Now the men of Ar, I gathered, trod together, for many seemed close about. I think many from other columns, even, with their own tales of woe and terror, may have joined ours, or caught up with us. Perhaps they had been gradually moved toward us, by the rencers, in effect, their herdsmen. I wondered if many wished, somehow, if only half consciously, to use his fellows for cover. "Lines!" I had heard, often enough. "Lines!" I had supposed then that they must have again formed lines, now doubtless, given their exhaustion, staggering, straggling lines, yet lines that would provide at least an isolation, a separation, of targets. I could imagine weary, terrorized men looking fearfully to the left and right. Everywhere the rence would seem the same. As for myself I could concern myself with little but the weight of the raft, my footing, and the blows which drove me.
"Glory to Ar!" cried out a man, somewhere behind me and to my left.
"Glory to Ar!" wept others.
Bit by bit, from the reports of men from other units, sometimes coming across us, sometimes found wandering in the marsh, sometimes half mad, we had been able to build up a picture of what was occurring in the delta. It was not difficult to overhear these things, at night, and during the march. The rear column, interestingly, had been the first to break, but its retreat had been stopped by rencers, apparently in great numbers. The arrows of tern wood, it seemed, had chosen to close the return to the east. The rear column, then, had fled deeper into the delta.
"They want to keep you in the delta," I had told the officer two nights ago, when unhooded, ungagged, to be fed. "They want you here, all the more at their mercy, where they may deal with you at their leisure, and as they please!"
Labienus had looked at me, not speaking.
"You must try to break out of the delta!" I had said.
He had not responded.
"But what shall we do, Captain?" asked a man.
"We continue west," had said Labienus.
Other reports soon began to trickle in. Two columns had been decimated in rencer attacks. Hundreds of men had perished in quicksand. Many of these had apparently been lured into the mire by rencers who had permitted themselves to be seen, and pursued, rencers who doubtless knew their way through the area, perhaps even drawing up safe-passage markers behind them. Others had fallen to the attacks of tharlarion and the marsh shark, which becomes particularly aggressive early in the morning and toward dusk, its common feeding times. Sickness and infections, too, were rampant. Hunger, exposure, sunstroke, and dysentery were common. There were many desertions. Perhaps some of the deserters might find their way from the delta. One did not know. And always it seemed the rencers were about, like sleen prowling the flanks of a herd.
"Cursed rencers!" I heard a man scream. "Cursed rencers!"
"Stay down!" someone called to him. "Do not stand so!"
"You will unsettle the craft," said another.
"Cursed rencers!" he screamed again. Then I heard a cry of pain.
"It came from there!" cried a man.
"I saw nothing!" cried a man.
I heard a body fall into the water.
"From there!" cried the fellow, again.
"Hurry!" cried a man.
I heard metal unsheathed. I heard men wading to the right.
"Fulvius! Fulvius!" cried a fellow.
"He is dead," said a voice.
I heard a cry of anguish.
I had stopped, and the column, too, I think, as a whole, had stopped. I did not, at least, hear men moving in the water.
There was not much noise, only the cry of a marsh gant.
In few moments I heard some men approaching. "We found nothing," one said.
"Lines!" I heard. "Lines!"
"I will avenge you, Fulvius!" I heard a man cry. I heard, too, metal drawn.
"Come back!" I heard. "Come back!"
"Lines!" I heard. "Lines!"
"Let him go," said a man, wearily.
"Shields right!" I heard. Normally the shield, of course, is carried on the left arm, most warriors being right handed. The shields were now to be shifted to the right arm, for that was the direction from which had come the arrow. There might be rencers, too, of course, on the left. But they knew that they were on the right.
I heard the whip snap again behind me. I then, and I gather, too, the rest of the column, began again to move forward.
"Keep the lines!" I heard. "Keep the lines!"
We did hear, an Ehn or so later, a long, single wailing cry from the marsh. It came from behind us, from the right.
16 It is Quiet
"Cos may not be in the delta," said the officer.
"I do not think she is," I said.
No fires were lit. There was little noise.
"I have tortured myself," said the officer, "particularly of late, considering whether or not the things you have spoken to me might be true."
"I am pleased you have considered them," I said.
"It has been difficult of late not to consider them," he said.
"I would suppose so," I said.
"Even though they be the utterances of a squirming spy," he said, bitterly.
"Even if the motivations for the thoughts which I have confided to you were purely self-regarding," I said, "which, under the circumstances, I think, would be understandable, it was nonetheless appropriate that you consider their plausibility."
"Would you teach me duty?" he asked.
"No," I said. "I think you are much concerned with it."
"The men are weary, and sick," he said. "I, too, am weary and sick."
He sat near me. Few men in this camp now assumed an upright position. Even in moving about they usually did so in a crouching position. The crouching figure makes a smaller target. I sat up, my neck-rope lengthened to permit me this lenience. My ankles were tethered to a mooring stake. We spoke softly. There was little sound in the camp. My hands were now, again, as it was night, manacled behind me. My captors, I thought, however, were growing careless. I thought I now knew who, for this day, had carried the key to the manacles. In the morning, after I had been again gagged and hooded, my hands would be again manacled before me, and fastened there with a strap, that my back might be more available for blows. If I listened carefully, my captors perhaps being less careful than before, given my hooding, I might be able to determine to whom the key was delivered. A word, a careless sound, might be sufficient.
"Some think we should try to withdraw from the delta," he said.
"It is perhaps too late," I said.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I think it unlikely that a single column can withdraw successfully from the delta."
"What of several columns?" he asked.
"That would seem to be possible," I said, "though difficult."
"Why difficult?" he asked.
"The movements of so large a force will be easily determined," I said. "Cos, if nothing else, even disregarding the rencers, controls the skies. She has tarn scouts. And the forces of Cos, moving swiftly on open ground, well informed, adequately supplied, in good health, can be marshaled to a given point far more rapidly than can be the men of Ar, struggling in the marsh."
"Nothing can stand against Ar," he said.
"Do not underestimate the Cosians," I said.
"Mercenaries," said he scornfully.
"There are Cosian regulars, as well," I said. "Too, your columns will be exhausted and ill. Too, your columns must reach the edge of the delta. Do not forget the rencers."
"Seven columns, four to the south, three to the north, are intent on breaking out, even now," he said.
"How do you know these things?" I asked.
"From stragglers," he said, "from fellows found in the swamp, from men separated by rencer attacks from their units."
"What of the left flank?" I asked.
"It is intact, as far as I know," he said.
"I would guess that the columns to the north have the best chance of success."
"It is unwise to go north," he said. "It is farther from Ar, from our allies. There is much Cosian sympathy in the north. It is enemy country. Port Cos lies in that direction. Then, even if successful in escaping from the delta, the columns would have to manage the crossing of the Vosk to return to Holmesk, or Ar."
"It is for such reasons," I said, "that I expect there will be fewer Cosians in the north."
"You expect more in the south?"
"Of course," I said. "They will expect you to take just that course, to avoid the crossing of the Vosk."
"I do not know," he said. "I do not know."
"Too, it is convenient for them," I said. "They can be supplied from Brundisium. They can even bring up men from Torcadino, if they wish."
"I still think it possible that Cos is in the delta," he said.
"Apparently many of the other commanders do not agree," I said.
"Or now fear the pursuit is too costly," he said.
"Perhaps," I said.
Out in the marsh we could hear various sounds, movements in the water, the occasional bellow of a tharlarion, usually far off, and the cries of Vosk gulls, perhaps Vosk gulls.
"You, too, now plan to withdraw?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Cos may be in the delta," he said.
"That is unlikely," I said.
"My orders are clear," he said.
"It is perhaps just as well," I said. "Indeed, it probably makes little difference."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"You are isolated," I said, "probably like most of the other units in the delta. I regard it as unlikely you could, with this strength, enforce an exit."
"You suggest that we are doomed?" he asked.
"I think men will escape the delta," I said. "I suspect some have already done so, perhaps even units, some days ago. Perhaps, too, these large-scale efforts by united columns will be successful. Let us hope so, for the sake of Ar."
"But?" he asked.
"But," I said, "I think the only real hope of escape from the delta lies not with units but with individuals, or small groups of such, individuals who might with fortune, and with skill and stealth, elude rencers, the surveillance of tarn scouts, and the patrols of Cos. Such I think, and, ideally, lone individuals, would have the best chance of escape. Obviously Cos cannot survey the entire delta. She cannot investigate every rush, every stem of rence. She cannot, with adequacy, patrol every soft, dark foot of its perimeter. Indeed, I think that an individual, experienced in marshcraft, familiar with techniques of evasion and survival, of penetration and infiltration, traveling alone, moving with care, might easily escape the delta."
"I think there are few such men," he said.
"The red savages are such," I said. I thought of such men as Cuwignaka, Canka, and Hci.
I think he had his head in his hands. "Cos must be in the delta," he whispered.
"Do you pursue your course because you fear, otherwise, court-martial, or disgrace, or shame?"
"No," he said.
"Why then?" I asked.
"Duty," said he. "Can you understand such a thing, a spy?"
"I have heard of it," I said.
He then moved away from me. In a few moments my keeper moved toward me. He regagged and rehooded me. He then thrust me back on the sand and shortened my neck-rope, so that I might be again held closely between the two stakes.
"If it were up to me," he said, "I would clothe you in bright scarlet, and put you at point, manacled, a rope on your neck."
He then left me.
It had again been hot in the delta today, steaming and oppressive.
Columns must by now have attempted to escape from the delta, I thought. The information at the disposal of the captain might have been days old. Perhaps, exiting in force, they had been successful. I was not one to gainsay the expertise of the infantryman of Ar.
Oddly enough, I now again, as I had once long ago, felt uneasy in the heat. I felt again almost as if something lay brooding over the marsh, or within it, something dark, something physical, almost like a presence, something menacing.
It was a strange feeling.
I noticed then, interestingly, that the marsh was unusually quiet. I could no longer hear even the sound of Vosk gulls.
"Hold, draft beast!" called my keeper.
I stopped, grateful enough in the harness.
Lamentations, cries of misery, rang out in the marsh. Intelligence had arrived from the left. It was impossible not to hear the reports as they were carried from man to man. Indeed, the men learned more rapidly than the officer, I think, what had occurred, for it was onto their lines that men would first come, bearing ill tidings, crying out for succor, many of them, I gathered, wounded Oddly enough, it seemed few, if any, had encountered rencers in the marsh. It was as though these mysterious, elusive denizens of the delta had inexplicably withdrawn, suddenly melted away.
"I knew Camillus! I knew him!" wept a man.
"Flavius has fallen?" demanded another.
"I saw him fall," said a man.
The left flank, apparently two days ago, had been struck, in much the same manner as the right, earlier. Until the attack it had been relatively immune from rencer contact. Many had conjectured the rencers were only on the right. If anything the attack on the left, to the south, had been more devastating than that on the right, perhaps because of lesser vigilance on the left, where no village had been encountered in the path of the advance.
"Woe is Ar!" wept a man.
I thought I knew, even though hooded, who now held the key to the manacles. I had heard this morning what I took to be the exchange.
"Woe! Woe!" cried a man.
"Four columns have been destroyed to the south!" cried a fellow.
These must be, I had then supposed, those of the left.
"Speak!" cried a fellow.
I heard men wading near me. One was coughing.
"Do not make him speak," said a fellow.
"Speak, speak!" cried a man.
"I come from the 14th," he said. "We with the 7th, the 9th and 11th sought to make exit from the delta!"
"Desertion!" cried a fellow.
"Cosians were waiting for us," he gasped. "It was a slaughter, a slaughter! We were raked from the air with quarrels. Stones were used to break our ranks. We were trampled with tharlarion! War sleen were set upon us! We had no chance. We could scarcely move. We were too crowded to wield our weapons. Hundreds died in the mire. Many, who could, fled back into the delta!"
"Woe!" said a man.
"We had no chance," wept the fellow. "We were massacred like penned verr!"
"The field was theirs?" said a fellow, disbelievingly.
"Totally," wept the fellow.
It was now clear, of course, given the references to Cosians, tharlarion, sleen and such, that this disaster was not that of the left flank, which had been struck by rencers, but a defeat suffered in the south, by the units attempting to remove themselves there from the delta. It was no wonder the Cosians had been waiting for them. Their every move in the delta, for days, had probably been reported to the Cosian commander, perhaps Policrates himself, said once to have been a pirate, by tarn scouts.
"Surely you made them pay dearly for their victory," said a man.
"We were weak, exhausted," said the man. "We could hardly lift our weapons!"
"How many prisoners did you take?" asked a man.
"I know of none," he said.
"How many prisoners did they take?" asked a fellow.
"What prisoners they took, if any, I do not know," said the man.
I supposed the Cosians would have taken prisoners. Prisoners can be of value, in the quarries, on the rowing benches of galleys, in such places. I wondered if the Cosians would have had chains enough, or cages enough, for the prisoners, assuming they elected to accept them. The prisoner, surrendering, is often ordered to strip himself and lie on the ground, on his stomach, limbs extended, in rows with others. They must then wait to see if it is their limbs which are to be chained or their throats to be cut. Self-stripping, usually unbidden, performed voluntarily, is also common among fair prisoners. The female prisoner is more likely to be spared than the male prisoner. Victors tend to find them of interest. Too, it is easier to handle large numbers of fair prisoners than warriors and such. Fair prisoners tend to herd well. Often a mere cord tied about their necks, fastening them together, the one to the other, is all that is required for their control. Indeed, it is almost, interestingly enough, as though they were made for the coffle, and understood the appropriateness, the rightfulness, of their place within it. Too, of course, they know that Gorean captors do not tend to look leniently on attempts to escape by pretty things such as they, no more than by female slaves, which they may soon be.
The man began again then to cough. From the sound of it there was blood in his throat.
"Seek new bindings for your wounds," said a man.
I supposed that by now a trophy had been erected by Cos on the site of the battle, such as it had been. Usually the limbs of a tree are muchly hacked off and then, on this scaffolding, captured arms and such are hung. Trophy poles, too, are sometimes erected, similarly decorated.
"Lo! To the north!" called a man. The voice came from above and to the right, probably from the captain's barge. It came probably from a fellow on the lookout platform, or the ladder leading upward to it. In recent days the platform had been improved, primarily by an armoring, so to speak, of heavy planks, this providing some protection for its occupant. Even so lookouts were changed frequently and the duty, I gathered, in spite of the respite it provided from the marsh, the relative coolness and dryness afforded by the platform, and such, was not a coveted one. Even with the planking it seemed one might not be sufficiently protected. Too much it was still, I supposed, like finding oneself set forth for the consideration of unseen archers, as a mark.
"A standard of Ar, raised above the rence!" cried the voice.
"Where?" demanded a man.
"There! There!" called the voice.
"It is a standard of Ar!" confirmed a man, his voice now, too, coming from high on the right.
"It is the standard of the 17th!" said a fellow.
"Coming from the right!" cried another.
"Reinforcements!" cried a man.
"From the right!" cried another.
"They have broken through!" speculated a man.
"They have defeated the rencers," conjectured another.
"We have won a great victory!" conjectured yet another.
There was then much cheering.
Such, of course, could explain the recent apparent absence, or apparent withdrawal, of rencers. Indeed, if it were not for some such thing, say, a decisive victory on the part of Ar, or perhaps a hasty flight at her approach, the apparent absence, or withdrawal, seemed unaccountable.
"Where are the points, where are the scouts?" asked a voice.
"Why is the standard first?" asked a man.
"It is wavering," cried a fellow.
"Do not let it fall!" cried a man.
"Quickly, to him!" called a fellow, probably a subaltern.
"Beware!" said a man. "There may be rencers there!"
"Is it a trick?" called a fellow.
"He is out of the rence now," called the voice from above and the right, probably that of the lookout.
"He is alone," said a man.
"No," said another. "There are others with him. See?"
"He is wounded!" said a man.
"To him! To him!" said the voice from before, probably that of a subaltern.
"Have we not won a great victory?" asked a fellow.
"If not, where are the rencers?" asked another.
"They are not here," said a fellow.
"Therefore the day was ours," said another.
I heard men wading about. I think several fellows left their lines to go out and meet the standard bearer, if that was what he was, with his fellows.
I tried, in the hood, to keep track of the position, marked by his voice, of the fellow who I thought had the key to my manacles. Then I had lost him.
To be sure, what difference did it make, I asked myself, bitterly, who held the key, for I was helpless? Indeed, most often captors make no secret of who holds the key to a prisoner's chains. What difference can it make to the prisoner? Indeed, some captors delight in letting the prisoner know who holds the key, in effect letting him know whose prisoner he is, in the most direct sense. Often the key is even carried on a ring, on a belt. I might as well have been a pretty slave girl, I thought, in fury, chained down in an alcove, who may turn her head to the side and see the key to her chains hanging on the wall, on its nail, convenient for the use of guests or customers, but perhaps, a frustrating chasm, just inches out of her own reach.
"Woe!" I heard, suddenly. "Woe!" There seemed then a great lamentation in the marsh. I strained to hear, within the darkness of the hood.
I heard hardened men weeping.
"We are lost!" I heard a fellow cry.
In a few moments I had managed to piece together the latest intelligence, this from the north, from the right. Three columns had essayed the edge of the delta. There they had been met, and cut to pieces. The standard bearer for the 17th, or, as it seemed, a fellow who had taken up the standard, and some others, had managed to reach our column. Many were wounded. How many fell at the delta's edge, to the north, I could not learn. If anything, proportionally, the losses may have been heavier there than those incurred in the attempt to exit to the south. It seems men had glimpsed the firm land, grass, and fields, and had rushed weeping, joyfully, toward them, and that it was but Ehn afterward, when the second column had emerged from the delta, that the ambush had been sprung.
"We are trapped!" cried a man.
"There is no escape!" wept another.
"Lead us, Labienus!" called men. "Lead us!"
"We will go no farther westward!" screamed a man.
"That is madness!" said another.
"We cannot go back!" said a man.
"We cannot stay here!" wept another.
I wondered how it was that these fellows from the 17th, and perhaps from the 3rd, and 4th, the two columns associated with the 17th, had managed to reach our column. I did not hear of them having been opposed, or harried, by rencers. I could understand, of course, why the rencers might let some come through, that the spectacle of routed, defeated troops might have its effect on fresh troops, but, as far as I could tell, from what I could overhear, none of these survivors, or fugitives, had had any more contact with rencers, at least recently, than had we.
"Lead us east!" demanded a fellow.
"The east is closed!" wept a man. "We know that!"
"North! North! Lead us north!" cried a man.
"Fool," cried another. "Look upon your brethren of the 17th, of the 3rd, the 4th!"
"Lead us south, Labienus!" cried men.
"We will not go further west!" said another.
"Mutiny!" cried a voice, that, I think, of a subaltern.
I heard swords drawn.
I could not understand the absence of the rencers. This seemed to me utterly inexplicable. Why should they not, now, fall upon the vanguard, milling, tormented, confused, mutinous, helpless, exhausted in the marsh?
"Speak to us, Labienus!" cried men.
"Glory to Ar!" called a man.
"Glory to Ar!" called others.
"Lead us south, oh Labienus!" called a man.
"There lies Ar!" cried another.
"South! South!" called men.
"Would you share the fate of the 7th, the 9th, the 11th, the 14th?" called a fellow. "We have remnants of them here. Ask them if we should march south!"
"No, not south!" cried a man.
"Not south!" cried another.
"Labienus has brought us here!" called a fellow, angrily. "He is to blame! He is to fault! Kill him! Kill him! He is Cosian spy."
"Cosian spy!" cried others.
"Your words are treason!" cried a voice. "Defend yourself!"
I heard the clash of metal.
"Hold!" cried men. I think the two were forced apart by blades.
"It is Labienus!" called a voice.
"Traitor, Labienus!" screamed a man.
"Be silent!" said another.
"What shall we do, Labienus?" asked a man.
"Lead us, Captain!" cried others.
"Look out!" cried a man, suddenly. I heard a humming nearby. It was the sound of large wings, moving rapidly.
"It is only a zarlit fly," said another.
The zarlit fly is very large, about two feet long, with four large, translucent wings, with a span of about a yard. It has large, padlike feet on which, when it alights, it can rest on the water, or pick its way delicately across the surface. Most of them are purple. Their appearance is rather formidable, and can give one a nasty turn in the delta, but, happily, one soon learns they are harmless, at least to humans. Some of the fellows of Ar were still uneasy when they were in the vicinity. The zarlit fly preys on small insects, usually taken in flight.
"There is another," said a fellow.
I thought it odd that there should be two, so close together.
"Speak to us, oh Labienus!" called a man.
"Speak!" cried another.
I heard the humming passage of another fly.
"They are going east," said a man. "Labienus!" called a man.
I heard two more zarlit flies hum past.
"Look to the west!" called a man. "They are clouds," said a fellow. "Such dark clouds," said a man.
"Seldom have I seen clouds so dark," said another.
"It is a storm," said another. I suddenly felt sick.
"Labienus will speak to us," said a man.
"What is that sound?" asked a man, frightened.
If Labienus was prepared to address the men, he did not then begin to speak.
I suspect that the men, on the barges, on the craft, the scows and rafts, those in the marsh itself, had now turned their eyes westward.
I had never been in the delta at this particular time.
I now, I was sure, understood the absence of the rencers.
"Listen," said a man.
"I hear it," said another.
I myself had never heard the sound before, but I had heard of it.
"Such vast clouds, so black," said a man.
"They cover the entire horizon," said another, wonderingly.
"The sound comes from the clouds," said a man. "I am sure of it."
"I do not understand," said a man.
At such a time, which occurs every summer in the delta, the rencers withdraw to their huts, taking inside with them food and water, and then, with rence, weave shut the openings to the huts. Two or three days later they emerge from the huts.
"Ai!" cried a fellow, suddenly, in pain.
"It is a needle fly," said a fellow.
"There is another," said a man.
"And another," said another.
Most sting flies, or needle flies, as the men from the south call them, originate in the delta, and similar places, estuaries and such, as their eggs are laid on the stems of rence plants. As a result of the regularity of breeding and incubation times there tends, also, to be peak times for hatching. These peak times are also in part, it is thought, a function of a combination of natural factors, having to do with conditions in the delta, such as temperature and humidity, and, in particular, the relative stability of such conditions. Such hatching times, as might be supposed, are carefully monitored by rencers. Once outside the delta the sting flies, which spend most of their adult lives as solitary insects, tend to disperse. Of the millions of sting flies hatched in the delta each summer, usually over a period of four or five days, a few return each fall, to begin the cycle again.
"Ai!" cried another fellow, stung.
Then I heard others cry out in pain, and begin to strike about them.
"The clouds come closer!" cried a fellow.
There could now be no mistaking the steadily increasing volume of sound approaching from the west. It seemed to fill the delta, it is produced by the movement of wings, the intense, almost unimaginably rapid beating of millions upon millions of small wings.
"Needle flies are about!" cried a man. "Beware!"
"The clouds approach more closely!" cried a man.
"But what are the clouds?" cried a fellow.
"They are needle flies!" cried a man.
I heard shrieks of pain. I pulled my head back, even in the hood. I felt a small body strike against my face, even through the leather of the hood.
I recoiled, suddenly, uttering a small noise of pain, it stifled by the gag. I had been stung on the shoulder. I lowered my body, so that only my head, hooded, was raised above the water. I heard men leaping into the water. The buzzing was now deafening.
"My eyes!" screamed a man. "My eyes!"
The flies tend to be attracted to the eyes, as to moist, bright objects.
I felt the raft pitch in the water as men left it.
The sting of the sting fly is painful, extremely so, but it is usually not, unless inflicted in great numbers, dangerous. Several stings, however, and even a few, depending on the individual, can induce nausea. Men have died from the stings of the flies but usually in such cases they have been inflicted in great numbers. A common reaction to the venom of the fly incidentally is a painful swelling in the area of the sting. A few such stings about the face can render a person unrecognizable. The swelling subsides, usually, in a few Ahn.
I drew against the harness. From the feel of this I was sure the raft was empty.
"They darken the sun!" screamed a man.
I heard more fellows leaping into the water.
All about me was screaming, sounds of misery, the striking about, the slapping, the cursing of men.
I felt the small bodies pelting my hood.
Suddenly I drew the raft forward and to the right. I moved rapidly, frenziedly. I kept largely under water, raising my head in the hood from time to time. The raft, I hoped, if any noticed it, might be taken, at least for the most part, as being adrift, as perhaps abandoned, as moving much of its own accord, with the current. When I emerged to breathe I did not hear men calling after me, ordering me to halt. The buzzing was all about. I cursed, striking against a bar. I drew the raft over the bar, the water then only to my knees, and then plunged again into the deeper water. Four times in that brief time I had been stung. Too, I had felt many more insects on my body, alighting upon it, then clinging to it. But they did not sting me. I felt myself strike into some fellow, but then he was to one side. I do not even know if he knew who I was. When I raised my head for air, I felt the small bodies strike my hood. I received another sting, on the neck. When I submerged I think most, if not all, of the flies were washed from the hood. Some perhaps clung to it, unable to fly.
I did not plunge away indefinitely, but only for a few Ehn, trying even, as I could, to count paces, that I might have some idea of my distance from the column. I wished to go deeply enough into the rence to elude recapture, and not so deeply that I might lose contact with the column. I did not fear rencers during the time of the migration of the flies, which would presumably, in its several waves, take place intermittently, perhaps being completed in so short a time as a few Ahn, perhaps lasting as long as a few days.
I could feel rence all about me. I must then, to some extent, be shielded.
It was maddening to be hooded, to be unable to see. A fellow of Ar, amused, might be watching me now.
I felt something sinuous move against my neck. It was probably a marsh moccasin.
I did not want to be in the water at dusk, particularly isolated.
Too, I feared tharlarion, though now, in the heat of the day, many might be somnolent, in the water, mostly submerged, or on bars, at the water's edge, perhaps half hidden in the rence.
I clenched my fists in the manacles, bound at my waist.
There was suddenly a thrashing almost at my side, and I felt a large body move past me.
I wanted to scream in rage, in frustration. The stoppage of the gag, however, even had I chosen to scream, would have permitted me only the tiniest of noises, little more than the customary, tiny, helpless whimpers to which one who wears such a device is ordinarily limited.
I began to cut with the hood against the forward edge of the raft. This I did in the area of the gag strap, beneath the hood, on the right, that I might, as far as it might prove possible, protect my face. I could feel the flies about, swarming about, alighting on the hood. But I was muchly submerged. I tried to find a projection within the range of the harness. Then, my cheek burning, even beneath the gag strap, I began to saw the leather against the wood. It was difficult to apply continuous pressure in the same place, but I did this as best I could, compensating for the small movements and slippage of the hood. I could feel the friction, the burning, on my face. I tried to hook the closure of the hood over the projection and tear the hood off that way, upward, but this cut at the side of my neck, and, once, half choked me. Again, miserable, I moved the leather over and over again against the heavy projection. Often did the leather slip on the wet wood. Then, in a few Ehn, I could feel bark flaking from the wood. Again and again the leather slipped even more maddeningly over the smooth, wet surface. Then, after how long I do not know, I suddenly felt a tiny coolness at the side of my face. Too, within the hood there was then a tiny bit of light. I could see the inside of the hood to the right! I felt one of the sting flies crawl inside the hood, on my cheek. I did not move and it, seeking the light, crawled again to the outside. I rubbed and pushed the hood even more against the wood and then I heard the leather rip. The hood was now open on the right. The light seemed blinding. I glimpsed the projection and now, with deliberation, I hooked the hood, by means of the rent, over the projection and lowered my head. I felt even the raft tip in the water and then the hood was torn half away. Almost at the same time I saw a small tharlarion, no more than a foot in length, covered with sting flies, splash from the raft into the water. The logs, too, were dotted with sting flies. Others swarmed about. I reconnoitered swiftly. There was much rence about. There was no sign of the men of Ar. A bar was to one side. On it lay three adult tharlarion, watching me. They were covered with sting flies, which seemed no discomfort or concern to them. They watched me, unblinking, through their transparent, third eyelids. I moved the raft farther away from them, deeper into the rence. Had they approached me I would have tried to take refuge on the raft. Although such tharlarion can be extremely dangerous man is not their common prey. Also, used to taking prey in the water, or near the water, they are unlikely to clamber upon rafts, and such. Indeed rencers sometimes paddle about amidst them in their light rence craft. Similarly, they seldom ascend the rence islands. When they do even children drive them off with sticks. One that has taken human flesh, of course, for example, in attaching a rence craft, or in ascending a rence island, is particularly dangerous. Rencers usually attempt to destroy such an animal, as it represents a particular menace.
I immersed my head now and again in the water to free it, and the remnants of the hood, from flies.
Deep in a stand of rence there were fewer flies. They were much more in the open, and on the bars.
I hooked the side of my gag strap over the projection. I pulled and yanked, as I could, more than once half submerging the raft in the water. I loosened the strap a quarter of a hort. Then, with the projection, and my tongue, I moved some of the wadding out, around the strap. Then I caught the wadding on the projection and, in a moment, by means of the projection, drew it from my mouth. I threw my head back, even though the gag strap was still between my teeth, and breathed in deeply. I was pleased that I had not been put in a metal-and-leather lock gag. In one common form of such a gag the sewn leather wadding, part of the gag itself, is commonly held in place by, and generally shielded from tampering by, a metal bar or strap, which locks behind the back of the neck. In another common form the «wadding» is a metal sphere, usually covered with leather, through which passes the metal locking bar or strap. A ratchet-and-pawl arrangement, in many cases, allows these to be exactly fitted. There are two general size ranges, a larger one for men and a smaller one for women. The advantage of this form of gag is that the prisoner cannot remove it, even though his hands are free. It is the smaller range of sizes in lock gags, as you might suppose, which is most commonly used. Indeed, they are seldom worn by men. They are almost always worn by slave girls. In such a case, most commonly, her master has her hands free to please and serve but need not, unless he wishes, hear her speak. The same effect, of course, may be achieved by an ordinary gag which she is forbidden to remove, or even the gagging "by her master's will," in which she is informed that she is not to speak, unless given permission. And indeed, in such a case, she may not even ask for such permission verbally, as is usually permitted to her. Speaking under conditions of imposed silence, of course, even so much as a word, is a cause for discipline.
With some difficulty I attained the surface of the raft and, with my manacled hands, tied at my waist, bending down, bit by bit, drew up the harness behind me.
I refrained from crying out, stung.
My hands manacled before me I managed to free the harness from the raft. I could not, however, as it was fastened on me, and I bound, remove it from my body. I was now, however, free to leave the raft. No longer was I fastened to it, a harnessed draft beast of Ar. I could now move with swiftness, and, even bound, with some agility. No longer was that massive impediment to my movement enforced upon me. I was elated, kneeling on the raft. I looked about. I could see nothing but rence. I pulled at the strap holding the manacles close to my waist. I was still naked, and muchly helpless. I tried to separate the strap holding the manacles close to me, drawing on it with my hands. I could not do so. It was a stout strap. I did not wish to use the pressure of the manacles themselves directly on the strap, as this drew it, sawing, painfully, in my back. I did not wish, if I could help it, to expose open wounds to the water of the marsh. Many of the wounds of the men of Ar, even those from the lashings and cuttings of rence, had become infected. Such infections had added to the hazards and hardships of the delta. I crawled to the side of the raft and getting the strap about one of the projections there, and using my hands, moving it back and forth in small rapid movements, heating it, tearing at it, in a matter of Ehn, severed it. I now moved my arms about. It felt delicious to so move. I jerked my wrists outwards. They stopped almost immediately, at the ends of their brief, linked tether. They could move but a few inches apart. In their clasping iron, now rusted, well were they still held. Yet I was exhilarated. A man can be dangerous, even so manacled. I removed the gag strap from between my teeth. The men of Ar, doubtless, would expect me to flee into the marsh. Indeed, I might well do so. There were, however, some matters I wished to attend to first. I might, I thought, trouble them for a key. I could use that. Too, I did not doubt but what my exit from the delta, of which I now entertained little doubt, might be more felicitously accomplished if I were to take on certain supplies. Surely the men of Ar, good fellows that they were, would not begrudge me such. Too, it seemed they owed me something, considering the inconvenience to which I had been put and my labors, as yet uncompensated, on their behalf. I was, after all, a free man.
I then lowered myself from the raft, again into the water, to be less exposed to the flies, even in the thick rence. I looked up at the sky. There were still millions of flies, in dark sheets, hurrying overhead, yet the density of the swarm was less now than before.
I would wait for the next wave.
18 I am Pleased to Take Note of the Moons
The rence stem, hollowed, may serve as a breathing tube. By means of this, particularly if the opening of the stem is kept near the surface of the water, and those in the vicinity are not familiar with marshcraft, if they are not vigilant and keenly alert to the possibility of such techniques, one may often travel about in relative security and concealment. To be sure, the movement of the tube, particularly if seemingly purposeful, if noticed, should excite immediate suspicion. Rencers are familiar with such techniques but seldom make use of them, except in trident and knife attacks. Immersion of the great bow, if prolonged, as it absorbs water, and is dampened and dried, and so on, impairs its resiliency; the effective life of the bowstrings, usually of hemp whipped with silk, is also shortened; and the fletching on arrows is irregularized. Too, of course, this approach requires immersion in the marsh, which can be dangerous in itself. Rencers usually attack in their rence craft, formed of bound rence, using the almost ubiquitous rence for cover. The attack unit usually consists of two men, one to pole or paddle the craft and the other to use the bow.
I lifted my head a little from the water.
Many of the men of Ar had taken refuge on sand bars. Fires had been built, on which marsh growth and damp rence were thrown, to produce smoke, that this might ward off flies. Many huddled about, shuddering. Some lay about, sick. These were reactions, I was sure, to the venom of the sting flies. Many of the men had covered themselves with blankets and cloths; others sat with their heads down, with their tunics pulled up, about their faces. Others crouched and sat near the fire. Many had darkened their faces, and arms and legs, with mud and ashes, presumably as some putative protection against the flies. Many were red-eyed. There was coughing. Others had covered themselves with rence. Some had dug down into the sand. I heard a man throwing up, into the marsh. I heard weeping, and moaning. The faces of some of the men were swollen out of shape, discolored and covered with knoblike excrescences. Similar bulbous swellings appeared on many arms and legs. The eyes of some were swollen shut.
I located the fellow I was confident had the key to the manacles. He was lying on his stomach, shuddering, half covered with rence. He had apparently been much stung. The key I supposed, would be in his pouch. There was much gear about. I did not think there would be much difficulty in getting at it. Indeed, though I did not wish to retrace the steps of the column, there were many things, even shields and such, which had been discarded in the marsh. One might have followed the path of the column by the trail of such debris. It was the same, I supposed, with the other units in the marsh.
I heard a fellow cry out with pain, stung. But there were fewer flies about now-just now.
Indeed perhaps the men, scattered about, here and there, miserable on the bar, thought the flies had gone.
I had, however, from the rence, seen the clouds once more approaching from the west, even vaster, even darker. The first wave is never the most dense, the most terrible. The center waves, seemingly obedient to some statistical imperative, enjoyed that distinction. The final waves, of course, are smaller, and more fitful. Rencers sometimes even leave their huts during the final waves, racing overhead like scattered clouds.
As soon as I had seen the first edge of the new darkness, those new clouds, like a black rising moon, emerge on the horizon, over the rence, to the west, I had taken the rence tube, already prepared, and returned to the vicinity of the men of Ar. None here, on the bar, it seemed, was yet aware of the new clouds, rising in the west.
That was better for me.
Let the new storm come upon them like lightning, like a torrent of agony.
"Ho!" cried a man on the bar, in misery. "Listen! Listen!"
"Aiii!" cried more than one man.
I saw with satisfaction the men of Ar take what shelter they could, digging into the sand, pulling blankets about them, covering themselves with rence, wrapping cloths about their head and eyes, burying their head in their arms, doing whatever they could do to prepare themselves for the imminent arrival of their numerous small guests, the temporary masters of the delta of the Vosk.
At such a time I thought a larl might tread unnoticed amongst them.
"Ai!" cried a man, stung by what was, in effect, no more than one of the harbingers or precursors of the cloud. It is a bit like a rain, I thought, the first drops, then more, then torrents, perhaps for a long time, then eventually the easing, the letting up, then the last drops, then, somehow, eventually, what one had almost ceased to hope for, the clearing. To be sure it comes horizontally, and is dry, and black, and some of the «drops» linger, crawling about.
In a matter of moments the air began to be laced with movement. This movement was sudden and swift, almost blurring. Yet there was no great density in it. It was as though these small, furious flying forms sped through transparent tunnels in the air, separated from one another.
Men of Ar cried out in misery. Many lay flat, covering their head with their hands.
I dipped my head briefly under the water, to wash flies from my face. Most of the flies that alight on one do not, of course, sting. If they did, I suppose, given the cumulative effect of so much venom, so much toxin, one might be dead in a matter of Ehn.
Then, suddenly it seemed the very air was filled with swiftly moving bodies, pelting, striking even into one another. I then swiftly, running, bent over, emerged from the marsh. In an Ehn I was to, and behind, the fellow lying on the bar, covered with rence. I knelt across his prone body and, before he was really aware of what was happening or could cry out, with my shackled hands forced his face down into the sand. In this fashion he could not breathe. He could, however, hear. He squirmed wildly for a moment but only for a moment. I think he understood almost instantly the hopelessness of his position, from my weight, my leverage and grip. He could not breathe unless I chose to permit it. He knew himself at my mercy. "Do not cry out," I whispered to him. "If you do," I said, "I will break your neck." There are various ways in which this may be done, given the strength. One is a heavy blow below the base of the skull, as with fists or a foot, another is a blow with the heel of the hand, or the foot, forcing the head to the side, particularly with the body fixed in a position where it cannot move with the blow, as, say, when it is being held immobile. I pulled his head up a little, not so much that his mouth could fully clear the sand, but so that he could take a little air through the nose, perhaps a bit through the mouth. His face was covered with sand, and his eyes. There was sand, I suppose, in his mouth. Then I thrust his head down again into the sand. "You will remain as you are for ten Ihn," I informed him. "Do you understand?" The face moved a little, in the sand. I then withdrew my manacled hands from his neck and head and withdrew his dagger from his belt. With the dagger I cut the sword belt from him, disarming him. "You may lift your head," I whispered to him. "A little." When he did so he felt his own knife at his throat. "You," he whispered, half choked with sand. He had felt the links of the manacles at the back of his neck. "Where is the key to the manacles?" I said. I assumed it was in his pouch but I did not care to ransack this article if it might lie elsewhere. It might be, for example, in his pack. Too, the key was kept on a string, with a tiny wooden float. Thus it might be worn about the neck, or, say, twisted about a wrist. The point of the float, of course, was in case the key might be dropped in the marsh, that it would be less likely to be lost.
"I do not have it!" he said.
"Do not lie!" I said to him, savagely. I almost moved the blade into his throat. I had not come this far to be disappointed.
"I do not have it," he wept.
For an instant then I became aware of the flies about. They were thick. I must be covered with them. I had been stung, I think, but in the intensity of my emotion, and given my concentration on my quest, I was not even sure of it.
"Who has it? Where is it?" I asked.
"Do not kill me!" he said.
"Where is the key?" I said.
"Plenius would know!" he said.
"We are going to call on him," I said. Plenius was the name of the fellow who had been my keeper.
"Rise to your knees, slowly," I said. I then, crouching behind him, slipped the linkage of the manacles about his neck, that he might be kept where I wished, also returning the blade to his throat. "Place your hands and forearms now within your tunic belt." I said, "Good." He looked down once at the sword in its sheath, lying to the side, where it had slipped, the sword belt earlier severed, when he had risen to his knees. "Now," I whispered to him, "let us find our friend, Plenius."
In a moment or two, he on his knees, I moving behind him, we had come to a figure huddled in a blanket.
"Call to him, softly," I said.
"Plenius!" he called. "Plenius!"
Angrily Plenius pulled aside the blanket, a little. Then, despite the flies, he threw it back from him. His hand went to his sword but my mien and the movement of the knife at my prisoner's throat gave him pause. The face of Plenius was a mass of swellings. One eye was swollen shut I could still see the mark on the side of his forehead where, earlier, I had struck him with the bow of the yoke.
"The key to the manacles," I said.
He stood up, kicking away the blanket.
Flies were much about. At times I could not see him clearly for their numbers.
"The key," I said.
The buzzing of the flies was monstrous.
I saw his hand, almost inadvertently, go to his tunic. He had it then, I supposed, within his tunic, about his neck. His one open eye gleamed wildly.
"I thought you might come back," he said.
"Speak softly," I said, the dagger at my prisoner's throat.
He pulled the key, on its string, out of the tunic. "It is for that reason," he said, "that I have myself kept the key, that you would have to come to me for it!"
"This fellow had it earlier, did he not?" I inquired.
"Yes," he said.
This pleased me, that I had not been mistaken about the matter.
"If you want it," he said, "you must get it from me."
"I should have realized that you would take it back," I said, "that you would accept its responsibility, the risk that I might return for it."
"I wanted you to come to me for it," he said.
"You have now received your wish," I said.
"You do not expect me to give it to you, surely?"
"Oh, yes, I do," I said. I moved the knife very close to the prisoner's throat. He had to pull back, that he not, by his own action, cut his own throat.
"Give him the key," whispered the prisoner. "Give it to him!"
"Never!" said the keeper.
"It seems to me a trade to your advantage," I said, "a bit of metal, on a string, for your fellow."
"Never!" said the keeper.
"Very well," I said.
"No!" said the keeper. "I will give you the key!"
"Put it on the sand," I said, "between us."
"Release Titus," he said.
"Place the key on the sand, first," I said.
"Perhaps you will kill him," he said, "once you have the key."
"Perhaps you will attack me," I said, "once he is free."
"I need only call out," be said, "and there will be a dozen men here."
"And Titus," I said, "will not be among them."
"Give him the key, Plenius," whispered Titus, his head back.
"Let him first free you," said Plenius, the keeper.
"Plenius!" begged my prisoner.
"Very well," I said. I lifted my chained wrists from about the neck of Titus and he, swiftly, falling, half crawling, moved away, scattering sand. He only stopped when he was a dozen feet from us. He withdrew his arms from his belt, where they had been held to his sides.
"Give him the key, Plenius," said Titus.
The keeper smiled. He brushed flies from his fate. He drew the key, on its string, from about his neck. "Fetch it!" he suddenly cried, and hurled it back, over my head. I turned to see it fall in the water and, at the same time, heard the swift departure of steel from a Gorean sheath.
"No, Plenius!" I heard.
I spun about, lifting my chained wrists and caught the descending blade on the linkage between the manacles. There were sparks sprung from the metals, among the swarming flies. Then the blade was withdrawn. I had been unable to twist it in the chain or secure it. I had slashed back with the knife but Plenius was even then beyond my reach. "Your honor!" I cried in fury. "There is nothing of honor owed to spies, to sleen of Cos!" he said. "Ho!" he cried. "Up! To arms!" Men sprang up. They had doubtless heard the cry of Titus, the clash of the metals, even before the cries of Plenius. Men were crying out, stung. I backed away, toward the water. "The flies!" cried a man. "What is wrong!" cried another. "I cannot see!" cried another. "Is the enemy upon us?" queried another. Plenius wiped flies from his face with his forearm, that of the hand clutching the sword. There were flies even on the blade. Plenius pushed toward me, through the flies. I saw Titus try to restrain him, but the keeper, a much larger, stronger man, thrust him away. "The spy is amongst us! Cut him down!" he cried. I backed into the water. Plenius waded into the water. Twice I turned the blade with the knife I carried. Then, suddenly, Plenius turned to the side and began to wade into the marsh. I saw that he was intent to retrieve the key, its position marked by the tiny float. I waded after him, stumbling. He turned and kept me at bay with the blade. I saw the float amidst the hundreds of tiny bodies swarming there over the water. I tried to circle Plenius, to my left, to get to the side where his eye was swollen shut. There was rage in my heart against him. I could not get within his guard. He swung the sword about. I slipped in the marsh, to one knee. He turned to face me. I heard other men wading toward us.
"Come back!" someone was crying, the fellow, Titus, I suppose. "Let him go! He has won the key!"
"Kill the spy!" men were crying.
"Au!" cried fellows, stung.
I could hardly see for the flies clustered about my eyes. I brushed them away, angrily, searching again for the float.
"Au!" cried Plenius, backing away, suddenly, thrashing about with his blade, in the air, through the flies, sometimes into the water. He now had his left hand raised to his face. I think he had been stung in the vicinity of his other eye. I did not know if he could even see me any longer. Other fellows came about him now. The striking of his blade in the water had moved the float. He had, I supposed, been trying to cut the string. On the other hand, perhaps he had merely wanted to keep me from it.
"Beware!" cried a fellow, suddenly, pointing.
"Shark!" cried a man.
"Shark!" cried another.
Almost at my side, so close I could reach out and touch it, I saw a dark dorsal fin moving through the water. It was raised something like a foot from the marsh. I could also see, like a knife, part of the creature's back.
It was now dusk.
Men were backing from the water.
I turned about and saw the float and its string lifted on the back of the shark, resting on it, then sliding back into the water. I clutched the string. The float had been cut by the blade, but, giving in the water, submerging, had not been cut in two. The key was still on the string. I thrust the shark away with my foot, sending it elsewhere, and flung the key about my neck.
"There is another!" cried a fellow.
A spear entered the water, flung from the bar.
I submerged and swam back into the rence. I brushed against another shark under the water. There is no mistaking the feel of such a creature. Its skin is very rough, surprisingly, I think, for an aquatic creature. Indeed, it is even abrasive. One can burn oneself upon it. Rencers use it in smoothing. I pushed the creature away, I felt the movement of its departure in the water, from the snap of that sicklelike tail. Men are not, no more than for the tharlarion, the natural prey of such creatures. Accordingly men, being unfamiliar prey for them, are usually scouted first, bumped, rubbed against, and so on, before the courage, or confidence, is built up for a strike. To be sure, this is not worth depending on as these creatures, like others, differ, the one from the other. Also, once one has taken human meat, or has witnessed it being taken, it is likely to become much more aggressive. Blood in the water, too, it might be mentioned, tends to have a stimulatory effect on their aggression. Another apparent stimulant is irregular motion in the water, for example, a thrashing about. Such, I suppose, is often connected with an injured fish. I suspected that these sharks had been drawn to the bar by the striking about of the sword of Plenius in the water. I do not believe, however, that he understood this, or had intended to lure them to the vicinity.
From the rence I looked back to the bar. The men had now withdrawn to the sand. They were looking out, over the marsh, indeed, toward me, though I do not think they could see me in the poor light, through the flies, like a dark wind, in the rence. "Pursue him!" a fellow was crying. "I cannot see!" That would be, I supposed, Plenius. Unless the stings had taken effect in the eye itself, and sometimes even then, I expected he would recover. To be sure, he doubtless had in Store for him a few very unpleasant days, in any case. "Pursue him!" he cried. But none, it seemed, cared to follow me into the water.
"The sharks will have him," I heard.
"Surely," said another fellow. "Get boats!" screamed Plenius. But none moved to do so.
"The flies!" screamed a man, in agony.
"Take cover!" said another.
I saw Plenius then left alone on the beach, his sword sheathed, raise his fists and shake them at the marsh.
I considered the probabilities that I might return and kill him, where he stood alone on the sand. They seemed excellent. Then I saw one of his fellows, Titus, I think, come and take him by the arm. Unwillingly was he then conducted' back on the bar, among the others.
Standing in the rence, in the light of the moons, intermittently darkened by the living clouds passing overhead, I removed the rusted manacles, discarding them, with the key, in the marsh.
I tried to control my hatred for the men of Ar.
What would it serve me to ascend the sand, to seize a sword, to go amongst them doing slaughter?
Too, there was one only amongst them whose blood I truly wanted.
No, I said to myself. Leave them to the marsh.
I then left the rence and, slowly, smoothly, swam about the island. I emerged on the opposite shore and helped myself to what I wanted, from the packs and stores. I then put these materials in one of the remaining, wretched rence craft, its bottom already half rotted, drew up the mooring rope, and paddled from the island, my knees in the water, back to where I had left the raft. In a few Ehn I then lay, fed on biscuit and meat, armed with blade and dagger, clothed in a tunic of Ar, on the raft. Though it was hot I had covered myself with one of the blankets I had taken. This afforded me protection against the flies. Too, it should prove useful when the chills set in, a predictable consequence of the venom of sting flies, when administered in more than nominal amounts. In an Ahn, under the blanket, sweating, I felt sick. It was only then, I think, that I began to realize the extent to which I must have been stung by the flies. To be sure, of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, which had alighted on my body, probably no more than twenty or thirty had actually stung me. The swelling from such stings usually appears almost immediately, and peaks within an Ahn, and then subsides in anywhere from a few Ahn to two or three days. I was in great pain, and felt nauseous, but, in spite of these things, I was in an excellent humor. Indeed, I felt elated, it would be dangerous leaving the delta, but I did not think it would be excessively difficult, not for one man traveling alone, one familiar with marshcraft, with techniques of evasion and survival. Although I must be on the watch for rencers, for example, I did not much fear them. The rencer population of the delta is extremely small, actually, and they would presumably, if they were still active, be in the vicinity of the remnants of the forces of Ar. The chances of running into rencers in thousands of square pasangs of the delta were not high, particularly if one were concerned to avoid them. Indeed, most rencer villages usually have warning banners set up in the rence, pieces of cloth on prominent rence stems. I had once, long ago, ignored such warnings. I did not intend to do so again. Tarn scouts and patrols of Cosians, in the vicinity of the delta's coasts, might be more troublesome. Still I did not think I would envy fellows who might come into the marsh after me. After a time, sweating profusely, yet, oddly enough, shivering, I pulled down the blanket to look at the moons. They were clear now. The second wave of the flies had passed. I was in no hurry to leave the relative security of the rence. Too, I had supplies, and could, of course, manage to live in the marsh, off its own offerings. Indeed, if I wished, I might stay in the marsh indefinitely. I thought I would stay where I was for two or three days, at least. I could use a rest. It had not been easy, being beaten, drawing the raft, and such. Too, by that time the flies, or most of them, should have left the delta. Too, then I should be in less pain, and the swellings should have subsided. One of the greatest dangers of a fellow in enemy territory, incidentally, is impatience. One must be very, very patient. More than one fellow has been retaken due to carelessness, due to a lack of vigilance, due to haste, within no more than a few hundred yards of safety. Surely one must understand that that last few hundred yards, that last inviting, beckoning pasang or so, may be the most dangerous step in a dangerous journey.
I lay on the raft, looking up at the moons.
For the first night in weeks I could stretch and move as I wished. For the first night in weeks I was not tethered, foot and neck, between mooring stakes, my hands chained behind me.
I was fed. I was clothed. I was armed.
The moons were beautiful.
In a few days I thought I would move north. I had friends in Port Cos. Too, I might make my way around the Tamber, to Port Kar herself.
I threw up into the marsh.
I shuddered on the logs.
I wanted to scream with agony, but I was silent. I wanted to tear at my body with my fingernails, but I lay still.
I was pleased.
The moons were beautiful.
I had never been so close to such a thing before. I had not realized they were so large.
It was five days since I had freed myself of the manacles. I had been moving northward, across the sluggish current, for three days.
It opened its wings, suddenly. Their span must have been twenty-five to thirty feet Gorean.
I had left the raft a few yards back, on another bar. The rence craft I had taken from the men of Ar was rotted and treacherous. It had sunk into the water even before I had left the rence in which I had originally taken cover. Its paddle I had retained but it was not of much use, given the weight of the raft. I had, the day before yesterday, however, found an abandoned pole which proved useful in propelling it. The pole's gilding had been muchly burned away. It, itself, however, was serviceable.
I had seen the creature hovering about, then alighting, dropping out of sight, among the rence. Curious I had moved the raft toward the place.
It was then that I had heard a woman's scream, long, terrified and piteous.
I had not hurried toward the source of the sound as circumspection seemed to me appropriate. It was not that I doubted the authenticity of the woman's terror. I did not think that a lure girl, for example, could have managed that particular note of terror in the scream. It might, on the other hand, I supposed, be managed quite easily by a bait girl, tethered, bound, to a stake like a verr, by rencer hunters to attract dangerous prey, usually tharlarion. They do not use their own women for this, of course, but other women, usually slaves. To be sure, there had been in the scream not only unmitigated terror, but a kind of special. pleading helplessness as well. That sound suggested to me that the woman was not merely calling herself to the attention of hunters, desperately alerting them to the presence of the quarry, but that there might be no hunters about, or no one of whom she knew. It suggested that she might be alone. There is quite a difference, you see, between a bait girl who knows that hunters are about, usually concealed in a blind, whose skill will presumably protect her, and a girl with no knowledge of nearby succor. To be sure, it is possible for a hunter to miss, and that is why the rencers do not use their own women, or their own free women, as bait. That she not be put out as tethered tharlarion bait is an additional inducement for the female slaves of rencers to prove particularly pleasing to their masters. Such slaves are abjectly dutiful. But then this is common among all Gorean female slaves. They may be slain if they are not.
I scouted the area. I detected no blind, no evidence of recent occupancy by men, at least within the last several Ahn. The marsh beetle crawls upon the sand at night and its tiny passage can be marked in the sand. Of the footprints I saw several were traversed, like valleys, by the path of the marsh beetle. Accordingly the prints had been made before the preceding night. The crumbling at their edges, too, suggested a passage of several Ahn, perhaps that they had been made as long ago as yesterday morning, or the day before yesterday.
I had then heard a repetition of that piteous, lengthy scream. I had also seen then, as I had come closer, the small head of the creature, small considering the size of its body, and the span of its wings, lift up, above the rence, with its long narrow, toothed jaws, like a long snout or bill, with that long, narrow extension of skin and bone in the back, balancing the weight of the long, narrow jaws, contributing, too, given the creature's weight and general ungainliness in structure, to stability in flight, particularly in soaring.
I had emerged from the rence.
The creature had turned to regard me.
It had opened its wings, suddenly. Their span must have been twenty-five to thirty foot Gorean. Then it closed them, folding them back, against its body.
I was quite impressed with it. Never had I been so close to such a thing before.
It uttered a hissing, grunting sound, expelling air from its lungs. It had a long, snakelike tail, terminating with a Hat, spadelike structure. This tail lashed, the spadelike structure dashing sand about. This tail, with its termination, too, I think, had its role to play in flight, primarily one of increasing stability.
Erected in the sand, there was a stout pole, upright, about four inches in diameter. This pole was about seven feet in height. Toward the bottom of the pole, about a yard from the sand, there was a rounded crosspiece, about a foot in length. This was inserted through, and fastened within, a hole in the pole. Above this crosspiece, something like three and a half feet Gorean above it, also inserted through, and fastened within a hole in the pole, there was another crosspiece, a longer one, about a yard in length. These crosspieces were both about two inches in diameter. Had they been intended for the keeping of a man they would have been thicker, the accommodating pole then being proportionally larger. As it was they were more than sufficient. She was blond. Her feet were on the lower crosspiece, thongs fastening them well in place. Her arms had been hooked over the upper crosspiece and then kept in place by thongs fastening her wrists together, before her body.
She threw her head back wildly, her hair falling back over the top of the pole, about at the base of her neck, looked up at the sky, and again screamed.
This sound attracted the attention of the creature again. It had alighted a few yards before the pole.
She had not seen me.
Wildly she struggled, surging, squirming, against the bonds. The sight of a woman struggling against bonds, as the sight of one in bonds, even in so simple a device as slave bracelets, is sexually stimulatory, of course.
We, the girl, the creature and I, were not alone on the bar. A long-necked, paddle-finned tharlarion was a few yards away, half up on the sand. More dangerous, at least immediately, were two short-legged, long-bodied tharlarion twisting about in the sand near the foot of the pole.
Again the girl struggled. Then, again, she was held as helplessly as ever.
Yes, I thought, she was pretty.
I knew her, of course.
She had been put out for tharlarion. The hatred of the rencers, it seemed, had been such that in spite of her comeliness, the usually most successful defense, and salvation, of the female, they had not sold her off, nor accepted her themselves, as a slave.
I wondered if they had been right.
It was acceptable, of course, what was being done to her, as she was a free person. And had she been a slave, such, of course, might have been done to her at no more than the whim of a master. To be sure, there are much better things to do with a female slave.
Again she screamed and struggled.
Yes, I thought, many better things.
I wondered how she would look in a collar. Well, I thought. Yet I reminded myself, she was a free woman. That made her quite special in a way, an inconvenient way.
The long-jawed creature turned toward the long-necked tharlarion and hissed menacingly. Slowly the long-necked tharlarion, pushing back with its paddlelike appendages, slipped back into the marsh. It turned and withdrew, half submerged.
"Go away! Go away!" screamed the girl to the large creature at the edge of the beach.
Such exclamations, of course, are understandable. They are very natural, I suppose. On the other hand, unless they are being uttered knowingly as mere noise, they do, upon reflection, seem a bit odd. For example, surely one does not expect such a beast to understand Gorean. Too, did she not understand that she had been put out for tharlarion and, considering her elevation from the sand, perhaps for just such a creature? Too, if she were not taken from the perch, so to speak, would she not, in time, perish there of thirst, hunger or exposure? Should she not eagerly welcome the jaws?
"Go away!" she screamed.
I suppose a certain amount of hysteria, or temporary irrationality, is to be allowed to a woman in such a situation. Had I been in a similar plight I might have behaved similarly. It is easier for one in my position to be critical, I supposed, than for one in hers. Also, who knows, perhaps the creature is a pet, or might respond to certain words in Gorean, or, if one is desperate enough, clutching at whatever straws might present themselves, English, or Italian, or Finnish.
The creature stalked forward four or five yards. It was now a few feet from her. Its head was some twelve feet from the ground.
"Go away!" she wept. "Go away!"
Again it opened its wings. These are of skin and stretch from the jointed, hind legs, clawed, of the creature to an extremely long, fourth digit on its clawed hand. It hissed at the tharlarion near the pole. One moved away. The other stood its ground, opening its own jaws, hissing.
The creature then snapped its wings, again and again. I had not realized the blast that might be created from that, and was thrown back, stumbling, into the rence. I fought my way forward, again, then, against the gusts, as though through a storm in the Tahari. I held my arm before my face. I heard the short-legged tharlarion make a strange noise and saw it lifted from the sand and shaken. I heard its back snap. With a beating of the giant wings the creature ascended, struggling with the weight of the tharlarion, and then, after a moment, perhaps from a height of a hundred feet or so, dropped it into the marsh. I did not see it hit the water, for the rence, but I saw, two or three hundred feet away, the splash. Its shadow was then over the water, rapidly approaching, and, in a moment, its clawed feet striking down into the sand, it alit on the beach, much where it had been before. The whole thing had taken no more than a few Ihn. I had not realized the power of the creature, or that it could lift that much weight. The weight of a man, then, or a woman, would have been nothing to it. There is little wonder, I thought, that many take the predatory ul, the winged tharlarion, to be the monarch of the delta.
It now, again, stalked toward the girl.
She threw her head back, her hair back over the top of the pole, screaming.
She struggled, wildly.
Again she could not escape, of course. She had been excellently tied.
She had been put there for tharlarion, I thought. That is what it is all about. Why should I interfere?
She began to sob.
The ul, the winged tharlarion, was now before her. She was within its reach.
She struggled. Yes, she was pretty. Unfortunately she was a free woman. Yet, I supposed, that such an absurdity, such an oversight of law, and civilization, was not irremediable.
I saw the jaws of the ul, the winged tharlarion, open.
Why should I interfere, I asked myself.
I had little doubt, from what I had seen, that it could pull the girl from the pole, or even, by means of the girl and her bonds, the pole from the sand.
I saw her press back against the pole, even more tightly against it than she was held by her unslippable bonds.
Why should I interfere, I asked myself.
She threw her head to the side, crying out with misery.
The ul stretched forth its neck to remove her from the pole.
"Ho!" I cried. "Ho!"
The beast turned to regard me. The female made some startled, helpless, wild hysterical noise.
I picked up a large rock and threw it against that huge body, striking it on wingskin stretched between its leg and arm, on the left.
She twisted about, wildly, trying to see me. "Save me! Save me! Save me!" she cried.
The ul, unfortunately, in my opinion, did not seem much bothered about the stone I had thrown. To be sure, it could have brained a man.
I picked up another stone and let it fly. This struck it on the chest.
"Away!" I cried. "Away!" I did not stop to consider until later that it was not likely the ul could understand Gorean. After all, I was now dealing with my own case. As everyone knows, one's own case is always different, in many ways, from that of others. Besides, what did one expect one to say, say, "Come over here, old chap. Shall we have tea?" or something along those lines. Certainly not. Besides, by means of such cries one may at least express oneself, ventilate emotion, and such. And I understood them, if not the creature. Surely that was sufficient.
"Help!" she cried.
Better, I thought, that she might have said, "Flee, save yourself!" That would have been advice well worth considering.
The ul took a step in my direction. Unfortunately, it did not fear men. I had hoped it would take wing at my cries, or, surely, from the stones. It had not, however, done so. I took a step back, into the rence. It took a step forward. I unsheathed my blade. If it were its intention to smite me with the wind from the beating of those mighty wings I thought it best to withdraw into the rence. If I lost my footing I could lie on my back and defend myself, as I could, with the blade. From what I had seen it would presumably try to pick me up in its jaws. I suspected I could probably defend myself from that approach. If I knew little of uls, it, too, I supposed, would know little of men, and steel. But the ul did not beat its wings. Rather it stalked to me and suddenly darted its jaws forward, its head turned. I slashed at the jaws with the blade, and slivers of bone, and teeth, sprayed from my attack. The ul pulled back its head. I do not think it felt much discomfort. Then it suddenly smote its wings and ascended two or three yards into the air, hovering, reaching for me with its clawed feet. I crouched down, half blinded by the particles, sand and rence, smiting against me, and slashed up, cutting at the feet. I felt contact with the blade and had blood on it. The ul then rose higher out of my reach, hovering, then backed, in flight, onto the beach, and alit. Blood was in the sand about its left, clawed foot. It lifted its foot from the sand, sand clinging to it in the blood, and licked it, with its long tongue. It then looked at me, again. It snapped its wings. The uniform of Ar was torn back in the blast. It seemed angry. Surely it would now take its departure. It did not, however, seem inclined to do so. Had I not defeated it? Had I not, at least, discouraged it? Should it not now, in all propriety, take wing and seek the assuagements of its hunger elsewhere, in the rich feasts offered by the delta.
But its attentions seemed much fastened upon me. One might have thought it a sleen, a creature famed for its tenacity. Let it meet then, I thought, one of man's most dangerous allies, the mystery of flame.
It was my intention to gather some dry rence and light it with the fire-maker, a simple device, little more than a wheel and flint, from my pouch. However, it began to advance, quickly, its jaws open. I withdrew, stumbling, back, into the rence. It began to pursue me, sometimes hovering, its wings beating over the rence, flattening the stalks, forcing them to the water, agitating the water itself, producing waves fleeing before that force. I struck up at it but could do little damage. Once I fell but took refuge beneath a tree trunk in the marsh, washed down from the Vosk. I did have its blood on me.
Twice I managed to hack at the jaw. Then it swept up, and circled, whether in temporary withdrawal because of pain or because it had lost contact with me, I do not know. I feared it might return to the vicinity of the girl. "Ho!" I cried, waving upward toward it. I sheathed my sword. I began to gather rence frenziedly. The creature began to turn in the air. I struck sparks into the dry sheaves I held. The creature was now descending again, soaring toward me, its legs down, its claws open. I evaded its strike. It pulled up again. The rence was now lit. I set fire to the dry tops of the rence as I waded among them. In a moment, though it would be only for an Ehn or so, the rence about me burst into flame. Smoke, too, billowed upward. Into this fiery welcome the ul descended but, in a moment, hissing in pain, drew away, and disappeared over the rence. I discarded the rence I had used as a torch. It was burned down almost to my hand. Some of it hissed in the water; a little, still aflame, floated beside me for a moment, then went out. I stood among smoking, blackened rence stalks. I saw no more of the ul. I then waded back to the land. I was shaking. I wanted nothing more to do with uls, or their kind.
"Is it gone?" asked the female, trembling.
"I think so," I said.
If I had had a spear, I do not think the ul would have been as troublesome. It had not seemed to fear men, and it had approached openly, frontally. But I had not had a spear. Perhaps I should have tried to find one on the island before I had made my escape, clays ago. But then, as I recalled, I had been in somewhat of a hurry, and, what with the flies and all, there had not been much point in lingering.
"Release me," she said.
"Are you not grateful for your rescue?" I asked.
"It is the business of men to protect women," she said.
"Oh," I said.
"Free me," she said.
"But you have been put out for tharlarion," I said.
She struggled, briefly. "But surely you are going to free me," she said.
I said nothing.
"Free me!" she said.
I again did not respond to her.
"Please," she said.
"You are pretty," I said.
I regarded her. Her small feet were on the lower, rounded crosspiece. Her toenails were not painted, of course. Such is almost unheard of among Gorean free women and is rare even among slaves. The usual Gorean position on the matter is that toenails and fingernails are not, say, red by nature and thus should not be made to appear as if they were. They also tend to frown on the dyeing of hair. On the other hand, the ornamentation, and adornment, of slaves by means such as jewelry, cosmetics, for example, lipstick and eye shadow, perfume, and such, is common, particularly in the evening. Also, to be sure, her fingernails and toenails might be painted. As she is a domestic animal, she may be adorned in any way one pleases. The reservations about hair coloring are particularly acute in commercial situations. One would not wish to buy a girl thinking she was auburn, a rare and muchly prized hair color on Gor, for example, and then discover later that she was, say, blond. Against such fraud, needless to say, the law provides redress. Slavers will take pains in checking out new catches, or acquisitions, to ascertain the natural color of their hair, one of the items one expects to find, along with fingerprints and measurements, and such, on carefully prepared slave papers. Her ankles were very nice. They were muchly encircled with thongs, by means of which they were then fastened to the pole and crosspiece. Her calves and thighs were lovely, and her lower belly, with its beauties, and her swelling love cradle, nestled between flaring hips, these marvels ascending and narrowing then, in the luscious cubic content of her, to her very graspable waist. Three thongs were at her waist, crossing it. There were deep marks in her belly, marking places where she had shifted the thongs from time to time. In their present location they were held well back in her belly, her flesh pushed out about them. Her wrists, triple thonged, were at her sides. She could not bring them forward because of the barrier of the upper crosspiece, over which her arms were hooked, nor could she draw them backwards, for their linkage by the belly thongs. From the narrowness of her waist, even more compressed by the thongs, her body with predictable but luscious subtlety flared upward to the maddening delights, the exquisite excitements, of her upper body, the softness and vulnerability of her bosom, the softness of her shoulders and throat. I considered her short, rounded forearms and upper arms. I considered her face, and her hair.
"Very pretty," I said.
She blushed, totally, from the roots of her hair to her toes.
"Please do not look at me so!" she said.
I continued to regard her, feeling much pleasure.
"Please!" she said.
She was quite pretty. She was pretty enough even to be a slave.
Indeed, she had excellent slave curves. I wondered if she knew that.
"Please!" she wept.
Indeed, if she had been branded and collared, I did not think that anyone would have thought twice about seeing her under a sun trellis in an open market, on a warm day, chained by the ankle to a ring, displayed in a booth, or being herded upward, with a whip, to the surface of a sales block.
"I am helpless!" she protested.
I continued to regard her, in the Gorean fashion. She looked well, bound as she was. Considering her bonds, and such, she might have been an exhibited slave, and not a free woman put out for tharlarion.
I continued to regard her.
"I appeal to your honor," she said, "as a soldier of Ar."
I was wearing a tunic of Ar.
"Are you of Ar?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "I am Ina, Lady of Ar!
"I am not of Ar," I said. She apparently did not recognize me, in the tunic, and such. To be sure, she had seen me only briefly, and in poor light, on one of the small islands of sand in the delta, days ago. Doubtless she had never expected to see me again. Perhaps she was afraid, in some way, on some level, to recognize me.
"You are a rencer," she asked, "in a tunic of Ar?"
"Perhaps," I said.
"I am not a lady of Ar," she said. "What are you, then?" I asked.
"I am a simple rence girl," she said. "I think you are a slave," I said.
"No!" she said. "You can see that I am not branded!"
I looked at her.
"Do not look at me!" she wept.
"How then shall I see that you are not branded?" I asked.
"Look then," she moaned.
She blushed, again scrutinized, again with exquisite care. I even lifted up her feet a little, as if to see if she might be branded on the instep.
"You see?" she said.
"Some fellows do not brand their slaves," I said.
"That is stupid!" she said.
"It is also contrary to the laws of most cities," I said, "and to merchant law, as well."
"Of course," she said.
Gorean, she approved heartily of the branding of slaves. Most female slaves on Gor, indeed, the vast majority, almost all, needless to say, are branded. Aside from questions of legality, compliance with the law, and such, I think it will be clear upon a moment's reflection that various practical considerations also commend slave branding to the attention of the owner, in particular, the identification of the article as property, this tending to secure it, protecting against its loss, facilitating its recovery, and so on. The main legal purpose of the brand, incidentally, is doubtless this identification of slaves. To be sure, most Goreans feel the brand also serves psychological and aesthetic purposes, for example, helping the girl to understand that she is now a slave and enhancing her beauty.
"As I am not branded then," said she, "it is clear I am not a slave!"
"Had it not been for the absence of a brand," I said, "I might have conjectured you a slave."
She cried out with rage, though I saw she was muchly pleased.
"But you are a simple rence girl?" I said.
"Yes!" she said.
"Where is your village?" I asked.
"Over there," she said, vaguely, with a movement of that lovely head. Her hair came down the post behind her, to the small of her back.
"I shall take you back to your village," I said.
"No!" she cried.
"No?" I asked.
"I have left the village!" she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Fleeing an undesired match," she said, woefully.
"How came you on your little perch?" I asked.
"I was robbed," she said, "and put here by brigands!"
"Why did they not sell you at the delta's edge?" I asked.
"They recognized," she said, proudly, loftily, "that I would never make a slave."
"It seems to me that you might make a slave," I said, "and perhaps a rather nice one."
"Never!" she cried.
"Perhaps even a delicious one," I said.
"Never, never!" she cried.
"To be sure," I said, "you, might need a little training, perhaps a taste of the whip, perhaps some understanding that you must now be good for something, that all details of your life, including your clothing, if you are permitted any, are now in the control of another."
"I am a free woman!" she cried.
"So, too," said I, "once were most slaves."
"Do you fear no longer being pampered," I asked, "but having to obey and serve, immediately, unquestioningly?"
Again she struggled.
"Surely you understand that you are exciting when you move like that," I said.
She made a noise of frustration.
"Slave girls are sometimes ordered to writhe in their bonds and attempt to free themselves," I said. "But they know, of course, that they cannot do so."
She tried to remain absolutely still. Her exertions, however, had caused her to breathe heavily, and her gasping, the lifting and lowering of her breasts was also lovely.
"And when they finish their writhing, their futile attempts to free themselves," I said, "they have reconfirmed perfectly their original comprehension of their total helplessness."
She looked at me, in fury.
"As you have now," I said.
"Free me," she said.
"I shall return you to your village," I said. "There may be a reward for your return."
"I do not want to go back," she said.
"No matter," I said. "Where is it?"
"If I am taken back to be forcibly mated," she said, "my companion may keep me in shackles."
"I think your ankles would look well in shackles," I said.
"Do I know you?" she asked, suddenly, frightened.
"More likely you would be beaten with rence stalks," I said.
"I do not know where the village is," she said.
"We can inquire at several of the local villages," I said.
"No!" she said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Brigands did not put me here," she said.
"True," I said, "if brigands had taken you, they would have bound you hand and foot and taken you to the edge of the delta, there to sell you off as a slave."
She looked down at me.
"You have been caught in a lie," I said.
She pulled back, against the post.
"It is fortunate that you are not a slave," I said.
"I am not a rence girl," she said.
"I am not surprised," I said, "as few of them, I suspect, speak in the accents of Ar."
"I cannot place your accent," she said.
I was silent. My Gorean doubtless bore traces of various regional dialects. Too, although this was really not so clear to me, I suppose I spoke Gorean with an English accent. More than one slave, women brought here from Earth to serve Gorean masters, had intimated that to me. I did not beat them.
"What are your sympathies?" she asked.
"What are yours?" I asked.
"I do not think you are a rencer," she said.
"That is true," I said. "I am not a rencer."
"But you said you were not of Ar," she said, suddenly, eagerly.
"True," I said.
"And your accent is not of Ar!"
"No," I said.
"Then free me!" she said, elatedly.
"Why?" I asked.
"We are allies!" she said.
"How is that?" I asked.
"I am a spy for Cos!" she exclaimed.
"How came you here?" I asked.
"A rencer village was burned," she said, "burned to the water. Later, rencers, in force, attacked a column of Ar, that on the right flank of her advance into the delta. Afterwards, in a small, related action, my barge was ambushed. My guards fled into the marsh, abandoning me. I was seized, and, though I was a free woman, stripped and bound! The barge was burned. I was taken to a rencer village, and kept prisoner, naked, in a closed, stifling hut. For a time, days, it seemed terrible flies were everywhere. I was protected in the hut. After they had gone I was still kept in the hut, though now bound hand and foot. Then yesterday morning I was brought here."
I found these things easy to believe, given her present situation. Also the very pole I was using for the raft had been gilded, though the gilding, when I retrieved it from the marsh, had been muchly burned away.
"Why have they put me here?" she asked, "Do they not know the danger from tharlarion?"
"You have been put here for tharlarion," I said. "Surely you must have suspected that."
"But why?" she asked.
"A village was burned," I said.
"I told them of my Cosian sympathies," she said.
"You probably told them many things," I said.
"Of course," she said.
"In the accents of Ar," I said.
"Of course," she said.
"And threatened them?"
"Of course," she said.
"And lied muchly to them?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "but as it turned out, it didn't matter, for the rencers do not even speak Gorean."
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"They never spoke to me," she said.
"They speak Gorean perfectly," I said, "though, to be sure, with accents much more like those of the western Vosk basin, than those of the courts, the baths and colonnades of Ar."
She turned white.
"But at least," I said, "they have honored you as a free woman, puffing you here for the tharlarion."
"Why would they not have kept me-even if-even if-"
"As a slave?" I asked, helping her.
"Yes!" she said.
"There are probably various reasons," I said.
"But what?" she asked.
"The burning of the village, vengeance, their hatred for those of Ar," I suggested.
"But I am a woman!" she protested.
"Perhaps," I said. "You would seem at least to have a female's body."
"I am a woman!" she said. "Wholly a woman!"
"How can that be," I asked, "as you are not yet a slave?"
She moved angrily in the leather.
It interested me that she would now, in her present plight, naturally, unthinkingly, and unquestioningly fall back upon, acknowledge, and call attention to, the uniqueness and specialness of her sex, its difference from that of men, and its entitlement to its particular considerations.
"Why would they put me here?" she asked. "Why would they not spare me-if only to make me a slave?"
"I wondered about that," I said.
"Well?" she asked.
"From what you have told me, I now think the answer is clear," I said.
"What?" she said.
"I suspect it has to do with their assessment of your character," I said.
"I do not understand," she said.
"I suspect they did not regard you as being worthy of being a slave," I said.
"What!" she cried.
"Yes," I said, "I suspect they did not think you were worthy of being a slave."
"But a free woman is a thousand times more valuable than a slave!" she said.
"Many," said I, "regard a slave as a thousand times more valuable than a free woman."
She cried out, angrily.
It interested me that she had put a specific value on a free woman.
"But then," I said, "many also believe that the free woman and the slave are the same, except for a legal technicality."
"Surely you do not mean that slaves are actually free women," she said.
"No," I said. "I do not mean that."
"Sleen! Sleen!" she said.
"Free women are only slaves, not yet collared," I said.
"Sleen!" she wept.
"I must be on my way," I said.
"No, no!" she said. "You must take me with you! I know your sympathies are with Cos! So, too, are mine! I may be of Ar, but I am an agent of Cos. Thus we are allies!"
"You admit that you are a Cosian spy?" I said.
"Yes," she said, hesitantly.
"Truly?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Speak loudly and clearly," I said. "I am a Cosian spy," she said.
"More clearly, more loudly," I said. "I am a Cosian spy," she said. "Excellent," I said.
"Release me now," she said.
"But my sympathies are not with Cos," I said. "But you are not of Ar!" she said.
"My sympathies are with neither Ar nor Cos," I said. "What is your Home Stone?" she asked, suddenly, fearfully. "That of Port Kar," I said.
She moaned. It is said that the chains of a slave girl are heaviest in Port Kar.
I made as though to leave.
"Wait!" she cried.
I turned, again, to face her.
"Free me!" she said. "I will give you riches!"
"The only riches you have to bestow," I said, "and they are not inconsiderable, are now in the keeping of rencer thongs."
"I will give them to you!" she said.
"They are mine for the taking," I pointed out to her.
"Then take them," she urged.
"I must be on my way," I said.
"You cannot leave me here for tharlarion!" she wept.
"Rencers have seen fit to put you here," I said. "Who am I, a fellow of Port Kar, a stranger in the delta, to dispute their choice?"
"They are barbarians!" she said. "Perhaps less so than I," I said. "Free me," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"I will make it worth your while," she said.
"In what way?" I asked. "As a female," she said.
"Speak more clearly," I said.
"As a female, with my favors!" "Interesting," I said.
" 'Interesting'?" she asked.
"Yes," I said, "you bargain with your beauty."
"Of course," she said.
"But then it seems you have little more to bargain with."
She blushed, again, even to her toes.
A free woman may bargain with her own beauty, of course, and it is often done. This is quite different from the case of the female slave. Her beauty, like herself, is owned by the master. It may, of course, like herself, figure in his bargains.
I looked up at her.
"I will submit to you, if you wish," she said. "I will be your slave."
"Beware of your language," I said, "lest you inadvertently speak words of self-enslavement."
Such words, of course, are irrevocable by the slave because, once spoken, she is a slave.
"Nonetheless, if you wish," she said, "I will speak them!"
"And be a slave?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said.
"Do you not recognize me?" I asked.
"Should I?" she asked.
"Do you recall a camp in the marsh, some days ago," I asked, "to the southeast, an evening, a prisoner?"
She looked down, frightened.
"And did you not," I asked, "boldly, to torture me, I helpless before you, show me your ankles?"
"Oh!" she said.
"Yes," I said, touching her ankles, "they would look well in shackles."
"You!" she wept.
"Yes," I said.
She put back her head, moaning.
We heard a tharlarion bellowing in the marsh.
She lifted her head, bearing the sound. Her eyes were wide with fear..
"I am a woman," she said, suddenly, piteously.
I saw that it was true. Through everything, beneath everything, in spite of everything, deeply, essentially, she was a woman.
"I wish you well," I said.
"Do not go!" she cried..
"Perhaps you can free yourself," I said.
"My ankles are muchly thonged!" she said.
"Yes," I said, "they do seem to be well held, fastened excellently to the pole and crossbar. I doubt that you can free them."
"And my arms!" she said.
"Yes," I said, "they would seem well fastened, also, simply and effectively."
"Please," she said. "Have mercy!"
"I wonder if you realize how clever the rencers have been," I said.
She looked down at me.
"You cannot even try to rub the thongs, the three of them, against the wood," I said. "The interiors of your arms are against the wood, and the thongs themselves are about your wrists, and across your belly. Yes, they are clever. The wood and the leather, both, you see, are far stronger than your flesh."
"You know that I cannot free myself," she said. "I am absolutely helpless!"
"You are right," I said.
The tharlarion again bellowed in the marsh, this time more closely.
"You risked your life to save me!" she said.
"Believe me," I said, "I did not realize at the time that I was risking it. I thought the beast would move off."
"But it did not," she said.
"True," I said. "Unfortunately."
"You defended me!" she said.
"As it turned out," I said.
"You even called yourself to its attention in the marsh, when you understood how tenacious, how dangerous, it was!" she said, triumphantly.
"So?" I asked.
"So you found me of interest!" she said. "So you wanted me!"
"Put back your shoulders," I said, "thrust out your breasts, lift your chin."
She obeyed immediately, beautifully.
"Yes," I said, "I can see how a man might find you of interest." I was also interested to note how well she had obeyed.
"You want me," she said. "Free me!"
"To be sure," I said, "it is a long time since I have had a woman."
"I am a prize!" she said, angrily.
"You are not even a slave," I said.
She threw her head back, angrily.
"Are you a virgin?" I asked.
"No," She said. "I am not a virgin. I have permitted men to make love to me twice. I assure you I can stand it."
"Would you prefer that I was a virgin?" she asked. "No," I said. Virgins presented special problems, particularly of a psychological nature. Also, their sexual responses usually required lengthening, deepening and honing. On the whole, I, like most Goreans, preferred opened women. And, of course, most women are opened. Virgins, for example, are almost never available in the slave markets.
She looked down at me.
"I assure you, I said, "there would have been little point in lying about the matter."
"I suppose not," she said.
"On the other hand," I said, "you would seem to be, for most practical purposes, having to do with the furs, a virgin."
"No," she said, "twice I permitted men to make love to me."
"They were lucky fellows," I said.
"I never permitted either of them to do so again," she said.
"Doubtless they have spent years in repining."
"Perhaps," she said. "I do not know."
"You are sure you can stand it?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "I can stand it."
She shrank back a little but I, carefully, with the tip of my knife, inserting it between her ankles and the thongs, freed her legs.
"Ah," she said, relievedly. One could still see the several deep imprints of the thongs in her ankles. These marks, in an Ahn or two, or a few Ahn, would disappear. The thongs had not cut into her, nor burned her deeply.
I looked up at her.
"My arms," she said. "I am still helpless!"
"Perhaps I shall leave you now," I said.
"No, no!" she said.
"Do you beg to be freed?" I asked.
"Yes, yes!" she sobbed.
"Speak, then," I said.
"Please free me," she said. "I beg it! I beg it!"
I then, the knife in my teeth, climbed to the lower crossbar, on which I put my foot.
"Why have you sheathed your knife?" she asked.
"One can see over the rence from here," I observed. I steadied myself with my left hand on the pole.
"Free me," she begged. "Oh!"
She looked at me, wildly. Then she looked away, swiftly. "Please!" she protested. "Please!"
"Look at me," I told her.
She turned her head to face me. Her eyes were very wide. Then she turned her head away again, desperately. "I am a free woman!" she wept.
"It is only my hand," I said.
"But it is on me in such a way!" she said.
"Can you stand it?" I asked.
"I do not know!" she said.
I withdrew my hand. Her body shuddered. She looked at me, in protest, almost piteously, but also, interestingly, questioningly, and, in a manner, in consternation and amazement. I gathered her feelings were profoundly ambiguous. Among them seemed to be at least resentment, surprise, and curiosity. Too, I think there was fear. I gathered that she might be trying to understand, and cope with, unusual things which had occurred in her body, perhaps for the first time, things which, even in their incipience, even in the first and most inchoate forms, had profoundly stirred her, things which had perhaps hinted at profound latencies of scarcely suspected feelings, and had, perhaps to her dismay or terror, suggested to her what might be done to her, what she could, if a man wished, be made to feel. To be sure, she had probably never been in a man's power before, at least in this way. Her slave reflexes, I noted, were not far below the surface. I did not think it would do to tell her this, of course. She was, at least as of now, and in a way, a free woman.
"What is that called," she asked, "what you did to me?"
"It is one of the ways," I said, "in which one may put one's hand on a woman-in the manner of the master."
" 'In the manner of the master'!" she said.
"Yes," I said.
"No one ever touched me in that way before!" she said.
"I would suppose not," I said.
"Surely that is a touch commonly reserved for slaves!" she said.
"True," I said.
"Owned sluts, mere chattels, to whom anything may be done!"
"Yes," I said.
"But I am a free woman!" she said.
"True," I said. "It was highly inappropriate that I touch you in that fashion. I apologize, profoundly."
"Very well," she said, uncertainly.
"You accept my apology?" I asked.
"And if I do not?" she asked.
"Then I will leave you here," I said.
"I accept your apology," she said.
"Sincerely, eagerly?" I asked.
"Yes," she sobbed. "Yes!"
"And you forgive me?" I inquired.
"Yes," she said.
"Profoundly, sincerely, and with no hard feelings?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Yes! Yes!"
"Perhaps I will then free you," I said.
" 'Perhaps'?" she asked, in dismay.
"Yes, perhaps," I said. I then took the knife from the sheath and, carefully, put it between her belly and the three thongs which, dark, half buried in her flesh, in collusion with the crossbar, held her wrists in place at her sides. With one motion the straps flew apart.
"Steady," I said to her. I resheathed the knife. She moaned as I slowly, and carefully, lifted her left wrist back and over the bar. I then, similarly, steadying her, freed her right arm of the bar. I then held her, that she not fall forward; she was doubtless in pain. "Hold to the bar," I said. She grasped it. I then dropped to the sand. I took her then about the upper legs and lowered her to the sand. She sank to her knees, and crawled away a few feet in the sand. Her wrists were still encircled by thongs, of course, with the free ends of thongs dangling from each. She rose unsteadily to her feet, and faced me. It was hard to read her eyes. I did not doubt, of course, that she would bolt. I decided I would give her the opportunity to do so. "It would not do for rencers," I said, "to find this pole empty. I do not wish to spend the next several days, or weeks, attempting to elude their pursuit. Accordingly, I think it best that they infer that its absence is due to changes in the currents or, perhaps, that it was pulled from the sand by tharlarion, attempting to acquire its fair occupant. I shall, accordingly, draw it up from the sand."
"It is too heavy," she said.
"One may put one's shoulder under the lower crossbar," I said. "I do not think it will be difficult."
I then turned away from her, addressing myself to the pole. I got my shoulder under it and, as I had expected, it was not difficult to lift from the soft sand. When I had it on the sand I looked up, and saw that she was gone. I could see her footprints in the sand, and where they entered the marsh. In the marsh, of course, she might have gone any way. I surmised the route I supposed she would take, at least for the time, but I did not pursue it. I then dragged the pole to the marsh and, floating it, waded out a way, and thrust it into the center of what seemed a deep, promising channel. I then returned to the island, and from the island, back into the rence, to locate the raft, and my things.
I had barely reached the raft when I heard, once more, a scream.
I turned about.
It came from the direction from which I had come, from the direction of the island.
I again heard the scream.
Then I saw, about a hundred yards away, to the right, the head of the ul, stalking, bobbing, over the rence.
Tenacious, indeed, I thought.
I heard screams, splashing.
Then the ul struck its huge wings against the air, lifting itself above the rence, hovering.
The screams stopped.
The ul then began to climb, then turn, and circle, scanning. Its quarry, I supposed, must be hiding in the rence. It had lost contact with it. Then I saw the total alteration in the attitude of the monster, and it turned, and began to glide downward, silently, toward the marsh. When it struck the marsh water splashed up, furrowing, twenty or thirty feet in the air. I heard more screaming. I caught sight of the Lady Ina plunging through the marsh, her hands extended, her hair wild behind her. Following her, over the rence I now again saw the small head of the ul, bobbing, inquisitive, birdlike.
I drew my blade and began to hasten toward the island, intending to intersect the path of the Lady Ina's flight. Once I caught a glimpse of her again, small, white, blond, terrified, crashing through rence. There was no difficulty, of course, in keeping track of the ul, whose head overtopped the rence. Once I saw its entire body, moving with great speed, impelled by a snap of those huge skin wings. Then again, only its head. In a sense, of course, though I seldom saw her, it was also easy to surmise the position of the Lady Ina The purposefulness of the ul located her for me. She was before him, fleeing. It was on her trail he trod. Then I again saw her plunging through the marsh, pushing her way through rence, approaching the edge of the island. She was wading, falling, getting up, wading again. Then she emerged onto the island, the sand to her ankles. She looked wildly about. Then the ul burst through the rence behind her. She looked back and screamed. She tried to turn then, to run, but stumbled and fell into the sand, and in that instant the ul was upon her, pinning her to the sand with one giant, clawed foot. She squirmed wildly in the sand, half covered, and the ul, then, locked its foot about her. It then put its other foot on her, as well, and also closed it about her body. She was as helpless as though she were clutched in the talons of a tarn. She lifted her head inches from the sand and screamed. The ul had reached its head down, its jaws gaping, when it saw me approaching, some yards away. It then lifted its head, closing its jaws. It watched me approaching. It then, for what reason I am not sure, perhaps because of its memory of fire, perhaps because of the injuries I had caused it, perhaps because of a mere desire to safeguard its prey, smote its great wings, and, blasting sand about, bending nearby rence almost to the water, began to rise into the air. My eyes half closed, crouching, fighting my way through the sand and wind, I lunged toward it. I did not attack its feet for fear of striking the girl. I, then, was under it, running. It, hovering, backed over the marsh. I leapt upward with the sword and the blade met the beating wing on its forward strike and the blade and my arm, too, given the force, penetrated it like paper, and the thing rose up uttering a wild, hissing noise, clutching the girl, I hanging in the rent wing. Its flight was erratic and it climbed, and spun, and circled against me, the injured wing, air passing through it, burdened, too, with my weight, muchly ineffective. I swung in the wing, dangling. I saw the marsh dizzily spinning beneath me. The noise of the creature now was a wild deafening squeal. The monster's quarry, its creamy flesh in its grasp, its blond hair spread in the wind, made gasping, sobbing, choking noises. I think it could hardly breathe, for the movements, the ascents and descents, the turning in the air. My arm slipped down through the skin. I feared I might rip free and fall to the marsh below, sometimes a hundred feet below, sometimes as little as thirty or forty feet. The creature tried, to bite at me, to pull me from its wing, and I kicked at it, and thrust at its jaws, pushing them up, away. Once my hand slipped inside the lower jaw and I managed to withdraw it only an instant before the upper jaw, like the lid of a box, snapped shut against the lower. Then the ul was spinning erratically again, and we were turning head over heels. I then managed, hanging there, swinging, when it again achieved some stability, to transfer the sword to my left hand, under the wing. With my left hand I thrust the blade again and again into its left side. I could get little leverage for these thrusts, but they were repeated, again and again, and blood told of counts tallied. Then the jaws opened widely, perhaps four or five feet in width, and reached for me. I tried to swing back but could move very little. I thrust the blade out, between the jaws. The jaws snapped downward and the point of the sword emerged through the upper jaw and the lower jaw was tight under the hilt of the sword. The tongue, moving about, from one side to the other, cutting itself, bleeding, pushed against my hand. The creature, turning and spinning, hissing, tried to close its jaws. This put the blade higher through the upper jaw. Closer and closer to my hand came the relentless upper jaw, until it was stopped, held by the guard. The tongue pushed against my hand and the hilt. It then, spinning about, climbing, tried to open its jaws. I tried to turn the blade, to keep the jaws pinned shut. Its left eye was balefully upon me. Its left side bled in a dozen places. Then it began to fall, erratically, turning in the air, and then, somehow, again, it regained some stability. I saw what I took to be the island below, to the left. We were perhaps fifty or seventy feet then from the rence. It put back its head, lifting it, twisting it, and given the power of its body, the sword, fixed still in its jaw, was torn from my grasp. I heard the girl scream, released. I saw her falling toward the marsh below. Unburdened then to that extent the creature tried again to climb, it could manage only a few feet. The great wings no longer beat frenziedly. Then it tried to reach me with its legs. Its left leg, given my position, could not do so. Reaching across its body it tried to reach me, too, with its right leg. I tried to pull back. Claws tore at me, raking my leg. Then it tried to reach me with the claws of its right forelimb, the wing claws, at the arch of the wing. These claws, I think, are largely vestigial, given the modification of the forelimb to support the wing. They may, however, together with those of the feet, enable the creature, in suitable environments, to cling, batlike, to surfaces, such as rock faces and trees. They may also be used in intraspecific aggression. I pushed them away. In trying to reach me with these claws, of course, it lost aerial stability, and began to fall, twisting downward. It recovered in a moment and then, with the wing itself, began to beat, and thrust, at me. In attempting this, however, it again lost aerial stability, and began once more to plummet, spinning toward the marsh. It opened its wings to try to climb again, perhaps some fifty feet or so, above the marsh, and did climb, yard by yard, as though it would ascend to the clouds, but then it fell slowly, its wings beating, toward the marsh. It was suddenly in the water and I freed myself of the wing and backed away. I saw the claws of the forelimb, and the wing itself, push against where I bad been. I stood back. It was lying there then, half submerged, its wing twisted and torn. The head turned to regard me. I waited for a time. The body went lower in the water. I then, carefully, freed my sword from its jaws. I then thrust once, deeply, cleanly, into its left side. It was then dead. The ul, I thought, is not the monarch of the delta. Man, small man, puny man, with his weapons, is the monarch of the delta. There was much blood in the water and I waded back toward the island. Two short-legged tharlarion passed me, like ships, moving toward the dead ul.
I climbed onto the sand. I would cross the island, and return, again, to the raft.
I had not sheathed the sword.
"Wait!" I heard, a tremulous voice, small, pleading. I did not turn about I had thought she had been killed. I continued toward the other side of the island.
"Wait, please!" I heard.
I then turned about.
I saw her a few yards behind. I could also see her footprints in the sand, where they had followed mine. She approached to within a few feet of me, but no nearer. She stood there, frightened, shuddering. She was filthy.
"I thought you had been killed," she said.
"I thought you had been killed," I said.
"I fell in the water," she said.
"Apparently in a channel," I said.
"I nearly drowned in the mud," she said.
"You look disgusting," I said.
"Is it dead?" she asked, frightened.
"Yes," I said.
I thought her knees might give way, that she might fall to the sand.
"It is dead," I said.
"You are injured," she said. My left leg was covered with blood.
"It is nothing," I said.
"There may be others," she said.
"Probably not in this vicinity," I said. The larger uls, as opposed to the several smaller varieties, some as small as jards, tend to be isolated and territorial.
"But there are many dangers in the delta," she said.
"Some, perhaps," I said.
Suddenly she hurried forward and dropped to her knees in the sand before me. She was sobbing and shuddering, uncontrollably. She put her head tremblingly down to the sand. The palms of her hands were in the sand, the sand coming over her fingers. She kept this position for several Ihn. Then she looked up at me, piteously, pleadingly, from all fours. "Please," she said. "Please!"
She had performed obeisance before me.
"Please!" she wept.
I regarded her, impassively.
She crawled to my knees and clasped them, kneeling before me, looking up at me, tears in her eyes. She held her arms about my legs, closely. I could feel her move and tremble, and shudder. Her face was running with tears. Then she put her cheek down, against my bloody leg. I could feel her tears on my leg. "Please," she \whispered piteously, "Please! Please!"
"Lick the blood from my leg," I said.
"Yes, yes!" she said, eagerly.
I looked down to see that small, lovely pink tongue addressing itself dutifully, eagerly, assiduously, to its task. How in contrast its softness, its color, and its attentive delicacy seemed to the bedraggled, filthy figure, with its matted hair, at my feet. To be sure, the figure was curvaceous.
When she had finished her task, cleaning the blood and dirt from my leg, she looked up at me, hopefully, her hands still on my legs.
"Back away," I said. "Stay on your knees."
She backed away, about two yards, on her knees.
I raised the blade of the sword a little. "Lift your chin," I said.
"You are filthy," I said.
"Let me come with you!" she said.
"It is difficult to assess you in your present condition," I said.
She looked at me, startled.
"Go make yourself presentable," I said. Surely she would remember that the men of Ar were to make me presentable before I appeared before her, during our little interview, that which had occurred on another island, several days ago, that in which I had learned she was a Cosian spy, that in which I had first noted that that her ankles would look well in shackles.
Tears sprang to her eyes.
"Make yourself sparkle," I said.
With a sob, she sprang up, and hurried across the sand, and out a little into the water, where she stood, the water to her knees. She then began to wash her limbs and body, and face, the water splashing and falling about her. I watched her. It was not unpleasant. A slave girl, I thought, however, would have done it much better, and, of course, in such a way that an observing master might be driven mad with passion. The Lady Ina, of course, was only a free woman. She did look back, anxiously, from time to time, but this, I think, was less to observe my interest and reaction than for the purpose of reassuring herself that I had not left. Then she knelt in the water, by the shore, and washed her hair. This she did do with a touch of sensuousness, perhaps because she was now reasonably confident I was not about to disappear into the rence. This sensuousness became pronounced when she began to comb her hair out with her fingers, and also when she began to dry it, shaking it lightly about, and lifting it, and moving it about, in her hands, to dry it. Then she threw her hair back over her shoulders and rose to her feet, and approached me, slowly, across the sand.
Now she stood again, before me, straightly, yet gracefully, her ankles in the sand, the sun on her. She was now very white, her ablutions performed, the mud washed from her, and her hair was lovely. She sparkled. She smiled. I think she knew she was beautiful, or thought she was beautiful. But as I continued to regard her, impassively, her mien became less confident, and more timid.
I pointed to the sand before me.
She immediately, frightened, dropped to her knees and again put her head down to the sand, the palms of her hands, too, on the sand.
It is pleasant to have a woman perform obeisance before one. It is also appropriate. In such a way, in such symbolisms, may the order of nature, and its profound truths, in a conventional and civilized manner, be expressed and acknowledged.
To be sure, this gesture had not been performed voluntarily by the woman at this time, in a typical reverence for the male, for nature, and for herself, and her meaning, but had been commanded by me. Also, I had not commanded this gesture merely for my own pleasure, to see the beauty before me, so marvelously, so rightly, but I had commanded it of her for her own good, that she might clearly understand the nature of our relationship, that she would understand herself, in the deepest part of her belly, as being submitted. Indeed, I had required it of her categorically, unquestioningly, as a master might require it of a slave.
"You may raise your head," I said.
She looked up at me, her lower lip trembling.
"Kneel back on your heels," I said. "Open your knees, widely. More widely. Good." I did not doubt but what she would recall that she had, back on the other island, days ago, when she had had power, the backing of numerous armed men, been the issuer of such instructions, not their recipient. "Place the palms of your hands on your thighs," I said. "Lift your head."
"This is a slave position, is it not?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I am not a slave!" she said.
"Do not break position," I said. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
"You now wish to address a petition to me?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said.
"Do not break position," I warned her. She kept position.
"You may speak," I informed her.
"Take me with you!" she cried. "Guard me! Protect me! Defend me! I cannot protect myself! I cannot defend myself! I am a female. I need male protection! I am only a female! Without your protection I will die in the delta. Without your protection I can never get out of the delta alive. I am a woman, only a woman. I need you desperately!"
"Rencer women," I said, "live in the delta."
"I am not a rencer woman!" she wept.
To be sure, rencer women, as well as others, needed the protection of men. If nothing else, slavers could hunt them down and get them in their chains. All women need the protection of men, though sometimes this protection is so profound and so familiar as to escape notice. But let the barriers of civilization lapse, even for a day, and their need for men would become unmistakably apparent.
"What hope," asked she, "would I, naked, a woman of high birth and gentle upbringing, a woman of station, a lady of Ar, have of getting out of the delta alive?"
"I do not know," I said.
"And I might be taken by rencers," she said, "and put out again for tharlarion."
"That is quite possible," I said.
"Protect me!" she begged.
"Do not break position," I warned her.
I looked out, over the marsh. It was now late afternoon. "I think," I said, "I might myself, without great difficulty, one man, alone, escape from the delta. Taking a woman with me, however, and, in particular, one such as you, seems to impose, as you might well imagine, a handicap of a very serious nature."
"I will be no trouble!" she said, eagerly.
"It is not as though you were, say, a slave," I said, "a property which one would not wish to leave behind."
"I can be enslaved," she said, an odd note in her voice.
"Also," I said, "one may assure oneself, in virtue of the strictures of the mastership, that a slave will be little or no trouble."
"Enslave me then," she said.
"But you are a free woman," I said.
"That is true!" she said.
"And did you not suggest earlier," I said, "that you would never make a slave?"
"Yes," she said.
"Have you now reconsidered the matter?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
Her knees were half sunk in the sand.
"And what is the outcome of your reconsideration?" I inquired.
"Any woman can be made a slave," she said.
"A perceptive insight," I said.
"Take me with you," she begged.
"And if I take you with me as a free woman," I said, "what conditions would you impose?"
"Few," she said. "Only that I be treated with respect and dignity."
"Come back!" she cried. "Come back!"
I turned to look back at her, across the sand. She was wild in the sand. She had not, however, broken position.
"I impose no conditions!" she cried. "None whatsoever!"
I returned to stand before her.
"I am a woman of Ar!" she said. "You are of Port Kar. Both of our cities are at war with Cos! We are allies, then!"
"You are a spy of Cos," I said.
"I impose no conditions," she said.
"If I take you with me," I said, "I will take you with me utterly conditionlessly."
"Agreed," she said.
"As conditionlessly as a slave," I said.
"Agreed," she said.
"Moreover," I said, "I would take you with me as a captive, a full captive."
"I understand," she said.
"And do you understand what it is to be a full captive?" I asked.
"Yes," she whispered.
"You will be to me as though you might be a slave," I said.
"Yes," she said.
"You will be mine to do with as I please, completely," I said.
"I understand," she said.
"You may be given away, sold, rented, slain, anything."
"I understand," she said.
"And I may," I said, "enslave you, or have you enslaved."
"I understand," she said.
"And," I said, "I may, if I wish, abandon you in the delta."
"I shall endeavor to be such, earnestly," she said, "that you will not wish to do so."
"You understand these things?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"And this?" I asked, holding the wicked point, the dangerous steel, still sticky from the blood of the ul, of the unsheathed sword to her bosom.
"Yes," she said, looking up at me.
"Lie on your back," I said, "your arms at your sides, the palms of your hands up, your knees lifted, your heels back, up a bit, your toes pressed down into the sand, your legs closely together."
I looked upon her.
Her wrists, on each side of her, were still encircled with thongs, their dangling ends dark in the sand.
"Am I favorably assessed?" she asked.
I then wiped the blade clean, carefully, using the interior of her thighs, and belly. I used also sand, and, lastly, her hair.
"Am I again to clean myself?" she asked.
"No," I said. "The delta is not a place for the excessively fastidious."
"I see," she said, shuddering.
I sheathed the sword smartly, cracking it into the scabbard.
She reacted, shrinking down, frightened, in the sand. I saw that on some level or another she understood the sheathing of the sword.
"Position!" I snapped.
Swiftly she knelt again, as she had been commanded earlier.
"You obey with the alacrity of a slave girl," I observed.
"If I do not," she said, "I could be punished as one, could I not?"
"Yes," I said, "and would be."
I walked about her, examining her. She kept her back very straight, and her head up.
I was then again before her.
I noted that the palm of her hands, so soft, so vulnerable, had turned on her thighs, so that they faced up. Among slave girls this is a common way of signaling need, helplessness, a desire to please. As she probably did not know that I took it to be instinctive, or semi-instinctive, perhaps a subconscious, or only partially understood, utilization of the symbolic aspects of the palm of the female's hand. One reason for thinking this is a very natural behavior is that almost all female slaves, in certain situations, will use it, even before it has been explicitly called to their attention by, say, a whipmaster or trainer. Also, it is not uncommon, in certain situations, among captive free women, as witness the Lady Ina, in the repertoire of an experienced slave, of course, it is one of her nonverbal signals, one of those numerous signals, such as need knots, body touchings, and such, by means of which she may express herself, even if forbidden to speak. It may also be used as a begging, placatory behavior. The thongs on the Lady Ina's wrists, the ends over, and down, beside her thighs, were lovely.
"It is my hope," she said, "that your assessment is favorable."
"You are not unattractive," I said.
"I am pleased that I might be found pleasing," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
" 'Why'?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I suppose," said she, "that you might then be more inclined to permit me to accompany you."
"Is there any other reason?" I asked.
"Of course not!" she said, stammering.
I smiled. What a mendacious, vain thing she was She, like all females, hoped to be found pleasing by men. She wished, like all females, to be attractive, and desirable.
"Why are your palms facing up?" I asked.
"I do not know!" she said, startled. She quickly turned them down, on her thighs. "I did not notice, or hardly noticed," she said. "I am sorry. I did not mean to break position. Please forgive me. I do not wish to be beaten!"
"That is not normally regarded as a breaking of position," I said.
She leaned back, in relief.
"I shall call you 'Ina'," I said.
"Not 'Lady Ina'?" she said.
"No," I said.
"And what shall I call you?" she asked, frightened.
" 'Captor', or such," I said, "that sort of thing."
"Ah," she breathed, relievedly.
"You understand?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. I looked at her.
"— captor," she added.
"Get up," I said, "and walk in that direction."
She walked before me, across the small island, and then, first hesitating, then urged forward with a curt word of command, waded into the marsh. In a few moments we had come to the small bar, that tiny island, much smaller than the one on which she had been bound, on which I had drawn up the raft.
"A raft!" she said, pleased. I do not think she could have been more pleased if she had discovered her barge, intact. So simple a device as a raft might increase one's chances of survival in the delta a hundredfold. "Look," she said, "it is one of the poles from my barge! You can see the gilding there, where it is not burned away."
The raft was heavy. I did not think she could easily draw it, as I had, yoked and harnessed. I did not even think she could well use the pole, as it was a large, heavy one.
"We have a raft!" she said.
"I have a raft," I said.
"And there are supplies!" she said.
"Mine," I said.
"But perhaps you will give little Ina some," she wheedled, turning about, smiling.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.
"I am wondering of what possible value you could be," I said.
" 'Value'?" she asked.
"I do not think you will be of much help with the raft," I said.
"Of course not," she said. "I am a woman."
"Precisely," I said.
"But some men think women have value," she said.
"The value of slaves is clear," I said.
"Think of me, then," she said, "as a slave."
"That is less difficult than you may imagine," I said. She stiffened, angrily, standing in the water. Then, after a moment, she relaxed, and smiled. "I can demonstrate my value," she said, approaching me. She then stood quite close to me, and looked up at me. "You now sense that I have value, don't you?" she asked.
"We are going to camp here, on this bar," I said, "for a few Ahn."
She laughed, softly. I think she thought this decision had something to do with her.
"Then we will leave," I said.
"Yes," I said.
"Why?" she asked.
"Security," I said. This was even more important now that there were two of us.
"How will you see?" she asked.
"By the moons, by the stars," I said.
"We will be here for some Ahn?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I think that will give me time to earn my passage," she smiled.
"You will follow, tied, on a strap," I said.
"My captor jests," she laughed.
"Go to the island," I said.
"I will do as you wish," she said.
I looked at her.
"I will do whatever you wish," she said, putting her finger on my shoulder, looking up at me.
Then she turned about and ascended the bar, that tiny island in the marsh.
In a few moments, after concealing the raft and supplies, I, too, ascended the bar. She was waiting for me, standing in a patch of soft, warm, sunlit sand.
"The captive awaits her captor," she said, lifting her arms to me.
"Is this how a captive awaits her captor?" I asked. "Shall I go, and then return?"
Quickly she knelt in the sand, as I had taught her, or nearly so.
"Your knees," I said, "they are to be more widely spread." She complied, her knees moving the sand to the sides, making small furrows.
"You may now say," said I, "what you said before."
"The captive awaits her captor," she said.
"You may now bow your head, submissively," I said.
She did so, frightened.
I then regarded her. She was lovely in this position of submission.
Slaves sometimes, when prepared for love, when ordered to the furs, perhaps from an instruction issued in the morning, or such, greet their masters rather in this fashion, kneeling, with some such formula. I think it likely she knew this, for her substitution of the word 'captive' for 'slave' and 'captor' for 'master' suggested it. Many free women know more of the behaviors of slaves, and details of the relationships between them and their masters, than many free men give them credit for knowing. Indeed, many free women, while expressing disinterest in such matters, or disgust at their very thought, tend to be fascinated by them, and inquire eagerly into them. Perhaps there is a practical motivation for such interests. Perhaps they wish to know such things in case they should one day find themselves being pulled from a branding rack, their own flesh marked. To be sure, no free woman knows really what it is to be a slave, for that is known truly only to the slave herself. Similarly, there is much in the relationship between a slave and her master that cannot be known to a free woman, much that she cannot even suspect. She is likely to learn these things, so precious, intimate and secret, so profound, wonderful and rewarding, so fulfilling, to her astonishment and revelation, only when,the collar is on her own throat. She will then understand why many slave girls would rather die than surrender their collars. In the collar they have found their joy and meaning. To be sure many slave girls are worked hard and live in fear of the whip. Many serve in the public kitchens and laundries. Many carry water in the quarries and on the great farms. Such, sooner or later, long for a private master.
"You may raise your head," I said.
She lifted her head.
I saw that she would attempt boldness.
"Is your little ritual finished?" she asked.
"Put your head down again," I said.
She did so, quickly, frightened.
"Ritual," I said, "is important. It is fulfilling, and meaningful. It is beautiful. It is symbolic, mnemonic and instructive. It establishes protocols. It expresses, defines and clarifies conditions. It is essential to, and ingredient within, civilization. Similarly, do not overlook the significance and value of symbolism. Even chains on a slave are often largely symbolic. Where is she to run to, slave-clad, collared and marked? She would be promptly returned to her master."
"Yet her chains are chains, and they are real, and they hold her helplessly, and perfectly," she said, head down.
"True," I said.
"What are various slave rituals?" I asked.
"The kissing and licking of the master's feet, she said, "the bringing to him of his whip or sandals, in one's teeth, on all fours, kneeling, prostration before him, the performance of obeisances, such things."
"And you understand the appropriateness, the rightfulness, of enforcing such things on slaves?"
"Of course," she said.
"Perhaps you now understand the importance of rituals?" I said.
"Yes," she said.
"You may raise your head," I said.
This time she raised her head timidly.
"But I am not a slave," she said. "I am a free woman."
"True," I said.
"Had I been a slave, would I have been punished?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"What would you have done to me?" she asked.
"I do not know," I said, "perhaps cuff you a bit, perhaps lash you with my belt."
She shuddered. "It is no wonder that slaves are obedient," she said.
"Yes," I said. "Slaves are obedient."
"I, too," she said, "can be obedient."
"Stand," I said.
She did. She was in the sand, to her ankles.
"Approach me," I said.
She did so, until she was quite close to me. I could reach out and take her in my arms. "You see," she said, "I can be quite obedient." I did not move. She then lifted her arms and put them about my neck. "I am now ready to earn my passage," she said.
"Your passage?" I asked. Surely she remembered what I had told her, that she would follow, tied, on a strap.
"My keep," she smiled.
"Doubtless it will be the first time that you, a free woman, ever earned your keep," I said.
"In a sense, yes!" she laughed.
"You are sure you can stand it?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "I am sure!"
She then lifted her head and rose up to her toes, to kiss me, but I drew back and removed her arms from about my neck. I then held her, by the arms, before me, facing me.
She looked up at me, puzzled.
"Turn about," I said, "and get on your belly in the sand."
"I do not understand," she said.
"Are you a disobedient captive?" I asked.
"No!" she said, and swiftly turned about and lay in the sand, prone.
I discarded my tunic and accouterments.
"Oh!" she cried, seized, held helplessly. "I am a free woman!" she cried, protestingly.
I cried out, exultantly.
"You cannot do this to a free woman!" she informed me. "Oh!"
Again I cried out. There were tears in my eyes. I tried not to make so much noise. I did not want rencers, or animals, to be attracted to the island.
She squirmed, and struggled. She reared up, on her elbows, in the sand.
Again I uttered the intensity of my relief, my pleasure, my satisfaction.
How long it had been since I had had a woman!
"I am a free woman," she sobbed. But she was held helplessly on her belly in the sand, as in a vise.
"Aiii," I said, softly.
"Let me go!" she screamed.
"Do not make so much noise," I said.
"I?" she said, in fury.
"Hold still," I said.
"I have little choice," she said, angrily.
"Do not forget you are a captive," I said.
"No," she said.
"No, what?" I asked.
"No, captor!" she said, in fury.
I suppose she had little pleasure in this, at least at the time, and perhaps I should have been a bit more concerned for her than I was, as she was a free woman, and not a mere slave, but, frankly, I was not much in a mood to concern myself with her feelings. Does a thirsting man in the Tahari concern himself with the feelings of the water with which he at last slakes his thirst? Does a starving man in Torvaldsland concern himself with the feelings of the viands on which he at last feasts?
I continued to hold her, tightly. I was gasping, trying to catch my breath.
It is interesting, I thought, how if one is starved for sex, and nothing better is about, one may have recourse even to a free woman. Perhaps, I thought, that is why many free women wish to keep men starved for sex, that they will then continue to be of interest to hum This is very different from the slave girl, incidentally, whose sexuality has been so liberated, triggered and honed, that she is now the helpless victim of her needs, so much so that she often begs her master for his attentions.
"Oh!" she said.
"Ah!" I said, softly.
Again I received pleasure from her.
Then I was again quiet, she helpless in my grasp. She sobbed.
"Can you stand it?" I inquired.
"It doesn't matter, does it?" she asked. "No," I said.
"Sleen!" she said. "Sleen!"
"It is not necessary to talk now," I said. "Release me," she said.
"No," I said.
"Please," she said, a strange note in her voice.
"Why?" I asked. "Are you afraid you may begin to feel?"
"No," she said. "Of course not!"
"But you are already beginning to feel," I said.
"No," she said. "No!"
I felt her body move a little, helplessly. This gave me pleasure.
I wished she were a slave.
Free women are so inferior to slaves.
One of the great pleasures of making love to a slave is the uncompromising exploitation of her marvelous sexual sensitivities, her helplessnesses, they putting her so much in your power, enabling you to do with her as you please and obtain from her what you want. She may be brought up and down, as you please, at your will, at your mercy, and played like an instrument. She may, if you wish, be held short of her ecstasy, cruelly, if you desire, or, in a moment, with a touch, granted it. There are few sights so exciting and beautiful as a helplessly orgasmic slave crying out her submission and love.
"You are moving," I said.
"It is hard to help it," she said.
"I do not object," I said.
"Monster!" she said.
"You are doing it again," I said.
"It is my body that is doing it!" she said. "Perhaps it is curious," I said, "hungry for sensation." She made an angry sound. Her head was down, and turned, her cheek in the sand. Her fists were at the sides of her head, clenched.
"Oh!" she said. I laughed.
Now her head was up. Her shoulders were lifted. Much of her weight was on her forearms, in the sand. Her fists were still clenched. Her body was tense. It was beautifully vital, and alive.
"I have not known men such as you," she said, "who do as they please with women."
"Were you a slave," I said, "you would have known many."
"Oh!" she said.
"Perhaps you should try not to move," I said.
"I will try not to move," she said, angrily. "You may rest assured of that!"
"You are doing it again," I said. She cried out, angrily.
"You must be careful," I said, "or you might arouse me."
"No, no!" she said. "Excellent," I said. "No!" she said. "Very good!" I said.
"No, please no!" she said. "Oh!" she said. "Oh!"
"Aii!" I said, suddenly, and, in the grip of my reflexes, in my spasmodic tumult, spun about, twisting, rolling in the sand, carrying her lightly, helplessly, with me, as though she might be a doll, and sand scattered about, and she, too, gasped, and then again we lay in the sand as we had before, she as helplessly as ever in my grasp, near, too, where we had before.
She was covered with sweat, and sand, as I. Her hair was about. Her hands were out, over her head, in the sand.
"You treat me as though I were a slave," she said. I did not respond to her.
She had, actually, very little idea as to how a slave might be treated.
"I am not a plaything," she said, sullenly.
"Women are many things," I said, "among them is a plaything."
"I am your plaything," she said.
"Yes," I said.
"When I was bound on the pole and you had touched me, as you put it, in the manner of the master, you apologized to me, and asked my forgiveness, do you recall?"
"Yes," I said.
"You were mocking me, weren't you?" she asked.
"Of course," I said.
"You are very strong," she said. I did not answer.
"I did not know such power, such lust, could exist," she said.
"But twice before," I said, "you have been known by men."
"I am not even sure, now," she said, "that they were men."
"I would suppose they were men," I said. "Perhaps, on the other hand, it was you who were not the woman."
"I do not understand," she said.
"Were you submissive to them, in the order of nature?" I asked.
"Of course not," she said. "I am a free woman!"
"Perhaps your experiences might have been rather different," I said, "if you had stood to them in a somewhat different relationship, in a relationship more natural to the female."
"I do not understand," she said.
"Consider what your experiences might have been," I said, "had you been their captive, or, ideally, their slave."
"I see," she said, shuddering.
"Submission is appropriate for the female," I said.
"No!" she said. "Yes," she said, softly sobbing.
"Yes," I said.
"But you do not know these men," she said. "How could one submit to them? They were weaklings!"
"Perhaps they were weaklings, perhaps they were not," I said.
"They were!" she said.
"Then why did you admit them to your couch?" I asked.
She was silent.
"Perhaps you wanted males you could dominate, or did not need to fear?"
"I don't know," she said.
"But even to the weakling," I said, "it is appropriate to submit yourself, and fully."
"In submitting yourself to him you submit yourself to the principle of masculinity, embodied in him. In this submission you recognize the rights of masculinity and fulfill yourself by submitting your femininity to it."
She shuddered in the sand, sobbing.
"To be sure," I said, "it is doubtless easier to do this, and to understand it much more quickly, if the master is strong, if he throws you to his feet, and stands over you with a whip, and you know that your least recalcitrance will not be tolerated."
"It is only to a true master that I could submit," she said, "not to a weakling."
"If you submit yourself, clearly and explicitly," I said, "you may discover that he whom you thought to be a weakling may not in actuality be such at all. Few men, once they have caught the scent of the mastery, and surely once they have tasted of its deliciousness, will even consider its surrender."
"I spoke too quickly," she said. "I myself could never submit to any man. I am a free woman! I could never make a slave!"
"But then," I said, "you have never felt the brand, the whip, the collar."
She was silent. But I felt her tremble, even contemplating such things.
"Slaves are institutionally submitted," I said.
"But they deserve to be such," said she, quickly. "They are only slaves."
"But yet you are in my grip, much as might be a slave," I said.
"I cannot help that," she said.
I tightened my grip a little on her.
"Are slaves often whipped?" she asked, as though nonchalantly.
"Why do you ask?" I asked.
"I was only curious," she said.
"They are whipped when the master pleases," I said.
"Of course," she said.
"Perhaps the answer does not satisfy you?" I said.
"I am a free woman," she said.
"Slaves are often whipped," I said, "-when they are not pleasing."
"But are they often whipped?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"Because they are pleasing?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I would never make a slave," she said. "But if I were to be a slave, I think I would try very hard to be pleasing."
"I am sure you would," I said.
"Beast," she said. I tightened my grip on her.
She squirmed a little, in the sand.
"Do you think to escape?" I asked.
"No," she said. She was muchly helpless as I held her. I relaxed my grip.
"No!" she said, suddenly. "Do not let me go!" "A strange request from a free woman," I said. "I am having strange feelings," she said. "I do not understand them. I am frightened of them. I have never felt anything like them before, not like this."
"What sort of feelings?" I asked.
"Never mind," she said. "Just hold me. Don't let me go!"
"Do you beg it?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Yes!"
I was curious as to what might be going on within her. It was apparently of some significance.
"What are you thinking about?" I asked.
"Though I am a free woman," she said, "I was thinking about what it might be to be a slave."
"And that is the occasion," I asked, "of these unusual feelings?"
"In part, I suppose," she said. "I do not know!"
"You're moving," I said.
"Oh!" she said, in frustration.
"And what was it, in particular, about being a slave?" I asked.
"I do not know," she said. "The wholeness of it, I think, its meaning, its categoricality, its helplessness, the being owned, the being subject to discipline, the having to obey! I do not know! I do not know!"
"Your whole body is becoming excited and vital," I said.
"Hold me," she said. "Hold me." I tightened my grip on her.
"I am to you much as would be a slave, am I not?" she gasped.
"Yes," I said.
"Am I subject to discipline, as would be a slave?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"But you have no whip!" she said.
"I could tie your hands and feet together and lash you with my belt," I said.
"I have never felt feelings like these!" she said. "They are overwhelming. They are all through me!"
"Do not fear them," I said.
"I feel so feminine," she said. "I have never felt so feminine!"
"Do not be afraid," I said.
"I want to please you!" she said, startled.
"Do not be afraid of your feelings," I said.
"I wish that I were a slave!" she cried out, in horror. "I wish I was free to be sexual, that it was commanded of me, that I would have no choice! That I would be forced to be what I am! That I would be truly in my place, where I belong, helplessly, even institutionally, under absolute male dominance!"
"But you are a free woman," I reminded her.
"I want to be subject to sale, to exchange, to commands!" she said. "I want to stand before men, beautiful and exciting, collared, an object of desire, a commodity, to hear their bids, to be subject to their claims, to be such that I may be led away in their chains. I want to love, and serve, wholely, selflessly, helplessly, irreservedly!"
"But you are a free woman," I said.
"Forget," she said, "that I am your enemy, that you hate me, that you hold me in contempt, that you despise me, that I have betrayed my Home Stone, that I am a spy of Cos! Think of me now only as a woman who has for the first time begun to feel her womanhood, and hold me! Hold me!"
"I do not hate you, or hold you in contempt, or despise you, such things," I said. "And, too, I have little concern personally with the wars of Ar and Cos. To be sure, I do have some reservations pertaining to your character, but I think most people would, apparently including the rencers, who chose not even to keep you as a slave. I think of you primarily as an arrogant and insolent free woman whom I have made my captive."
"I am not now arrogant and insolent!" she said.
"True," I said.
"Hold me!" she begged.
"And you have only begun to feel your womanhood," I said.
"Make me a slave!" she said.
"The rencers did not enslave you," I said.
"No!" she said.
"I suspect they did not regard you as being worthy of being a slave."
"Not even that," she said, "so little?"
"Still," I said, "they may have made a mistake in not enslaving you," I said, "particularly if their hesitancy in this matter had to do with reservations concerning your character."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because," I said, "it is easy to reform a woman's character once she is in a collar."
"Do not let me go!" she said. "I beg it!"
"Ah!" I said.
"Please!" she said.
"Do you think I would let you go, now?" I asked.
"Thank you," she whispered, "-my captor!"
"And what are you feeling now?" I asked.
"I do not know!" she said.
"Female need, perhaps?" I asked.
She cried out, with misery. "Please do not use such words to me. I am a free woman."
"Free women have no needs?" I asked.
"Surely not like this!" she wept.
"Do not be ashamed of what is natural, and grand," I said.
"What have you done to me!" she wept. "What are you turning me into?"
"Shall I release you?" I asked.
"No!" she cried.
"I would not blame me too grievously," I said. "The nature, you must realize, is yours, and the feelings."
"Oh," she said. "Oh!" I forced her hips lower, in the sand. "Ohhh," she said.
"Can you stand it?" I asked.
"I do not know!" she cried. "I do not know!" She clawed at the sand, gasping.
"You are squirming like a stuck tarsk," I said. She cried out, angrily.
"Ahh," I said.
"Oh!" she cried. Her small fingers tore at the sand. Her head moved from side to side. Her hair was about.
"Now," I said, "you are wriggling like an aroused slave." She pounded her small fists into the sand.
"Perhaps it is a matter of needs," I said.
" 'Needs'!" she cried. "That is so pale a word! It is like screaming in my body. It is like writhing, piteous, helpless beggings!"
"Interesting," I said.
" 'Interesting'!" she cried.
"Yes, interesting," I said.
"Are these the feelings of a slave?" she asked.
"In a sense, yes," I said. "All females are slaves, and you are a female."
"I am a free woman!" she insisted. "Certainly in a technical, legal sense," I said.
"Oh!" she cried.
"Steady," I said.
"Stop!" she said.
"Very well," I said.
"No!" she cried. "Do not stop! Do not stop!" "Can you stand it?" I asked.
"I do not care if I can stand it or not!" she wept. "Do it! Do it! Do it to me!"
But I eased her a little.
"What were you doing to me?" she asked. "Where were you taking me?"
I was silent.
"Take me there," she wept. "Take me there, as though in your arms, higher and higher, to dizzying heights of terror, to the clouds, the winds, the sun and beyond, I dependent on you!"
I was silent.
"Force me upward," she said. "Drive me there, as though by wings and whips. Show me no mercy!"
"No mercy?" I said.
"I want none!" she wept.
"You will then receive none," I said.
I then, as she wished, began again to carry her upward. "Captor!" she wept.
"There is no going back," I told her.
"This must be what it is to be a slave!" she cried. I was silent.
She was beautiful, sweating, alive, clawing, squirming, in the sand.
"Chains, flowers, fire, helplessness, love!" she wept. "Love! Love!"
Then she was sobbing, gratefully, and then was lying astonished, sober, in the sand.
"Surely that is what is to be a slave," she whispered.
"You are still only a free woman," I said to her. "Your experience was not conditioned by the categoricality of bondage, by the reality of it, and the slave's knowledge of that reality, by the full belonging of the slave to her master, so to speak, and her understanding, legal, and personal, and such, of that full belonging. Also, it takes time to develop, improve and hone slave reflexes, both specific and totalistic. Slaves grow and improve in such matters."
"Ohh," she said, softly.
"But perhaps you understand now," I said, "in virtue of this experience which you have had, as rudimentary, or merely indicative, as it may have been, That it may not be only the whip, and such, that explains the slave girl's desire to please."
"Yes!" she breathed.
"And what is the whip to it?" I asked. "Very little," she whispered.
"Yet the whip is real," I said. "Yes," she said.
"Do you doubt it?" I asked. "No," she said.
"Nonetheless," I said, "your responses, even as a free woman, suggest to me that if you were to become a slave, you would, in time, become a hot slave."
"A hot slave!" she said, in horror.
"That is the indication," I said.
"A hot slave!" she said, in fury.
"Yes," I said.
"But such a slave," she said, "is helpless in the arms of men, her responsiveness uncontrollable!"
"It would improve your price," I said.
"Perhaps you can imagine yourself naked on the slave block, in chains," I said, "this excellent feature of yours, considerably enhancing your value, being called to the attention of buyers, and you standing there, naked, in your chains, knowing it was true."
She shuddered and moaned, in the sand. "I see you can well imagine it," I said. We then lay together, quietly.
"If I were a slave," she said, softly, after a time, "I could be purchased by anyone."
"Yes," I said, "who could afford your price, and it would not be likely to be high at first, early in your slavery."
"And I would have to submit to whoever purchased me," she said.
"Yes," I said.
"Even if he were hideous," she said, "or a despicable weakling."
"The slave must submit, and with perfection, to any man,"
"Yes," she said, shuddering, "she must."
"And how do you feel now?" I asked.
"Feminine," she said. "Very very feminine."
"I think it is now time that we rested," I said. I then knelt across her thighs and pulled her hands together behind her back.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Tying you," I said.
The thongs were still about her wrists, with their dangling ends. I tied these dangling ends together, fastening her wrists, thusly, behind her back.
"What you did to me!" she said, suddenly, bitterly.
"Perhaps you learned something about yourself," I said.
"Do it to me again!" she begged.
"We must rest now," I said.
I crossed her ankles and encircled them tightly, fastening them together, with some binding fiber, taken from my nearby wallet, that on my belt.
"Oh!" she said, her ankles jerked upwards, and fastened to the thongs holding her wrists together.
I then lifted her by the arms to a kneeling position and put her a bit from me on the sand. I then reclined, on one elbow, some grass about, to rest. I regarded her. She struggled a little, then looked at me, angrily. "I am helpless," she said.
"We must rest now," I said.
"And where am I to rest?" she asked.
"Not in the open," I said.
"Where then!" she said.
"Over there!" I said, "in that grass."
"And have you not forgotten something?" she asked.
"Perhaps," I said. "What?"
"How am I to get there?" she asked, ironically.
"On your knees, inch by inch," I said.
"You are the sort of man who masters a woman, aren't you?" she said.
"Go rest now," I said. "We shall be leaving in a few Ahn."
I watched her make her way inch by inch to the destination I had set for her, and then, there in some grass, fall to her shoulder. I saw her, through the grass, lying tied in the sand, regarding me.
I then rested.
In a few Ahn I awakened.
Shortly thereafter I removed the raft from its hiding place, readied it, putting it half afloat, and made various preparations for departure. I then went to my fair captive and she awakened as I freed her ankles from her wrists. Aside from this, however, she was still bound hand and foot. I put her over my shoulder, her head to the rear, as a slave is commonly carried, and carried her to the raft. I sat her down on the rear of the raft, its forward end half afloat. I then picked up a short, buckled strap, cut from the harness I had worn in drawing the raft through the marsh. I wrapped this twice about her neck, closely, and buckled it shut. I then lifted up one end, the loose end, of a long strap, also part of the harness I had worn in drawing the raft through the marsh, and tied it about both of the turns of the strap on her neck. In this way the interior strap, given the pull of the lead strap, could not close on her throat. Similarly, the pressure of the lead strap, if it were transmitted to the turns of the neck strap, as in a slave leash on a girl front-led, would be at the back of her neck, not at the throat. The other end of this strap I had already fastened securely to the rear of the raft. All these things I had done earlier, as part of my preparations for departure.
From the pack I had taken from the island which had been occupied by the men of Ar, in the time of the flies, I took a dry, flat biscuit. I began to feed.
"I am hungry," she said.
I gave her part of the biscuit. I put this in her mouth, bit by bit. In this fashion is a slave sometimes fed. I would hunt and fish when the opportunity presented itself. The delta is rich in resources.
"I am thirsty," she said.
"At this point in the delta," I said, "the water is drinkable."
"The rencers gave me water," she said. "They brought it to me in a dipper."
"And where do you think they obtained it?" I asked.
"Oh," she said.
I looked at her, in the light of the moons, sitting on the rough raft, her ankles crossed and bound, her hands tied behind her, in her improvised collar, on its strap.
"I think I shall rest, if I may," she said.
She then lay down, on her side, on the raft. She moved her body in such a way that there was little doubt of her femaleness, the lovely, cunning she-sleen.
I then thrust the raft fully into the marsh. She observed me, facing me, lying on her side, as I did this, I in the marsh. I then climbed aboard the raft. I bent to her ankles, freeing them of the binding fiber. "Thank you," she said. She stretched her lovely legs. "What are you doing!" she said, suddenly. I lifted her up and dropped her into the marsh, behind the raft. She went under the surface but, in a moment, got her feet under her and came to the surface, wading, sputtering. "What is the meaning of this!" she cried, angrily.
"Why should I pole your extra weight?" I asked, picking up the pole.
"But I am a female!" she said.
She stood there in the water to her waist, the strap going up to her collar.
"I told you," I said, "that you would follow, bound, on a strap."
"No!" she said. "You can't be serious!"
I thrust the pole down into the mud and propelled the raft forward, and about.
"You can't be serious!" she said. "Oh!" I looked back and saw her following, on her strap. "No, please!" she said.
I did not respond to her.
"There are dangers in the marsh!" she said. "Keep a sharp lookout," I advised her. "I do not weigh very much!" she wept.
"True," I said. To a man she was little more than a handful of slave.
"Permit me to ride," she begged.
I did not respond to her.
"Please, please!" she said.
I continued to pole the raft, silently.
"You are strong," she said. "It can make little or no difference to you!
I did not respond to her.
"It is not because of my weight, is it!" she cried.
"No," I said.
"Why, then?" she cried. "What do you want? What must I do? What must I be?"
I did not respond to her.
"Why?" she wept. "Why?"
"You will learn to be humble and obedient," I said.
"I am humble and obedient," she assured me. "I am humble and obedient!"
"We shall see," I said. She began to cry. We continued on.
After a few Ehn she suddenly said, "Wait!" I stopped the raft.
"We are not going north, are we?" she asked.
"No," I said. "We are going south." I had wondered when she would notice that.
"I thought you were going north," she said.
"I changed my mind," I said.
"But Ar is to the south!" she said.
"So, too," said I, "is Brundisium, and Torcadino, and a hundred other cities."
"You are not going to turn me over to the men of Ar!" she cried.
"Perhaps," I said.
"No!" she cried.
"But you are of Ar," I said.
"I betrayed Ar!" she said.
"But surely that would not be known to them," I said.
"I was on the staff of Saphronicus," she said. "I have been an observer for Talena, of Ar. Those who have been in the delta will now have no doubt of the treachery to which they have been subjected."
"Probably not," I said.
"And they know me!" she wept.
"I would suppose so," I said.
"Do not turn me over to men of Ar!" she said.
"Do you not think they would like to have a Cosian spy in their power?"
"Do not turn me over to them!" she begged.
"I think you will learn to be humble and obedient," I said.
"Yes," she said. "I will! I will!"
"But perhaps the men of Ar would not recognize you," I said.
"Captor?" she asked.
"As you are naked, and in bonds," I said, "you might even have difficulty proving your identity, even if you wished to do so, that you are the Lady Ina."
"But then they might see me only as a woman naked and in bonds," she cried, "and treat me accordingly!"
"Yes," I said.
She uttered a profound moan.
"I could, of course, turn you over to Cosians," I said.
"You would not dare!" she cried.
"Come along," I said, poling the raft forward.
"Oh," she said, in misery, wading, hurrying after me.
"That might be interesting," I said, "considering your accent."
"No!" she wept.
"You could always explain to them, in chains at their feet, how you were actually a Cosian spy."
"They would never believe me!" she said. "They would think me a liar, one trying to improve her condition or obtain favorable treatment."
"I would think so," I said.
"And I might be severely punished, or slain!" she said.
"To be sure," I said, "it would be a protestation which I do not think you would care to make twice to the same master, or even twice to any master."
"Too," I said, "even if they believed you, I think you might learn that the average Cosian is no more fond of spies, of whatever side, than the average fellow of Ar."
"What would they do to me?" she asked.
"I do not know," I said, "but I do not think that I, if I were you, would care to wear my collar in their domicile.
"My only hope," she said, "would be to fall into the hands of those who know of me and my work."
"I would think that extremely unlikely," I said.
"But it is possible!" she said.
"Even so I would not entertain too sanguine a hope for deliverance from such a quarter," I said, "as your usefulness to Cos is presumably now at an end, their objective accomplished in the delta."
"They would not free me?" she said.
"I would not think so," I said.
"But what then would they do with me?" she asked.
"I do not know," I said. "Perhaps keep you, perhaps give you to someone, perhaps sell you."
"But I am privy to much information," she said. "I am the confidante of the Lady Talena of Ar!"
"Is she treasonous to Ar, as you?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said.
I turned about and looked at her.
"Archly treasonous," she said. "Why are you looking at me like that? Do not kill me!"
I then returned to the poling of the raft.
"You will be regarded as the suborned spy," I said. "Lady Talena will be above suspicion. By now she will have been dissociated from you."
"That may not be so easy," she said. "I am privy to much information."
"I see," I said. She laughed.
It interested me that she did not seem to understand that those who had been her paymasters might now regard her as a danger to their party.
"On the other hand," I said, "perhaps I should merely turn you over to anyone, say, fellows from Brundisium."
"But to them," she said, "I would be only a woman of Ar!"
"Yes," I said, "and merely another woman of Ar."
"What would be my fate?" she asked.
"You have a short, meaty, sexy little body," I said. "Perhaps you would become a dancer in a tavern in Brundisium."
"I do not know how to dance," she said. "Under the whip, women learn quickly," I said. I heard the water splash a bit as she struggled, futilely, with her bonds. Then she was again following.
"Why are you upset?" I asked. "You know you wish to dance naked, or scantily clad, in a collar and chains before men."
"Oh! Oh!" she said, angrily. But she did not deny my words.
"Perhaps you would prefer to be sold for sleen feed," I said.
"No!" she cried.
"Probably," I said, "like many women of Ar, and Ar's Station, you would be shipped overseas to Cos or Tyros, or another of the islands."
"Who knows?" I said. "Perhaps a scribe would buy you to clean his chamber and keep his papers in order."
"What?" she said.
"You can read, can't you?" I said.
"Yes!" she said.
"And to serve him in other ways," I said.
"Scribes," she said, in disappointment, "are weak."
"Not all of them," I said, "as you might discover under his whip."
She moaned, and gasped, stumbling in the water.
"Or," I said, "you might be purchased by a tradesman or artisan, to share his mat and kettle."
"I," she said, scornfully, "the Lady Ina!"
"No," I said, "only then Ina or Tula, or whatever your master might be pleased to call you, only a slave."
"Oh!" she said, angrily.
"And you might be pleased then to have so high a station," I said.
"Doubtless," she said.
"She followed behind, quietly, for an Ehn.
"And," said she, "could I dance even for such masters?"
"It would doubtless be required of you," I said. I heard her gasp, softly.
"But many fates could befall you," I said. "Perhaps yours would be a straw-filled pallet in a public kitchen or laundry, crawled to after a work day of fifteen Ahn."
"Surely I am too beautiful for that," she said.
"But are you amenable?" I asked.
"I can be very amenable," she said.
"And so, too," I said, "sooner or later, and usually sooner, become the other girls in the kitchens and laundries."
"I would prefer a more delicate, intimate and feminine service," she said.
"That is because you have the makings of a hot slave," I said.
"Please do not speak of me so!" she begged. "That you are sexually responsive, and could become significantly so," I said, "is no cause for dismay, or embarrassment or shame. Rather you should rejoice that your body is so marvelously healthy and alive."
"But it puts me so much at the mercy of men!" she said.
"True," I said.
"But what if I were cold?" she said.
"You would not long be permitted to be so in a collar," I said. "Slaves must become hot, and learn to beg."
"I suppose slaves are proud of their responsiveness," she said, angrily, but with a note of keen interest in her voice.
"Well," I said, "they are not free women." "But are they proud of their responsiveness?" she asked. "Yes," I said, "and attempt to improve it even further." "Disgusting!" she cried.
"They are not free women," I said.
"I suppose they have no choice," she said.
"It is part of what being a slave is," I said.
"Doubtless they have no choice," she said, seemingly as though distressed, but with an undercurrent of tenseness and excitement.
"They wish to improve themselves, and attempt zealously to do so," I said.
"But they have no choice!" she insisted, determinedly.
"True," I said. "They are given no choice, it is commanded of them. They must obey."
"They must become sexual?"
"Yes," I said, "whether they wish to or not. Indeed, they may be grievously punished, even slain, if they do not."
"Yes!" she said, eagerly.
"Surely you object, and feel grief for them, such piteous creatures, so abused, so forced, so helpless, so rightless, who must unquestioningly bend their collared necks, and wills, to the lust of imperious masters?" I asked.
"No," she said. "They are slaves. It serves them right, it is fitting for them. Anything may be done to slaves."
"But if you were a slave," I said, "such heat, such sexuality, too, could be commanded of you."
"I am not a slave," she said.
"But, if you were," I said.
"Well," she said, "yes, in such a case, I suppose I, too, would have to obey."
"And perform," I said.
"Yes," she said, "and perform."
I moved the raft south, through the rence, under the moons. I had decided to go in this direction after acquiring my fair captive. She reminded me, in a sense, of the war, and the things at stake. Too, it was in the south that my truer concerns of the moment lay, and I had determined to neglect them no further. It was in the south that Dietrich of Tarnburg stood at bay in Torcadino. And it was in Ar I had been betrayed. She reminded me, too, of a woman, a woman whose name was Talena, said once to have been the daughter of Marlenus of Ar.
"Captor," she called.
"Yes," I said.
"You were jesting, were you not," she asked, "about the possible fates that might befall me?"
"No," I said.
"I am a woman of Ar," she said. "What might I do in Cos?"
"Many things," I said. "You are pretty. Perhaps you could be chained to a ring in a Cosian brothel"
"That might do for a time," she said, "but I think I would prefer a private master."
"Perhaps you might meet one in the brothel," I said, "among the patrons, and attract him, perhaps influencing him in virtue of the excellence your services, to make an acceptable offer on you to the brothel master."
"Perhaps," she said.
"It would be interesting to see you desperately attempting to render yourself worthy of his considerations."
"Doubtless," she said.
"Perhaps you might even win him away from his patronage of such places," I said.
"How?" she asked.
"By making his own compartments, in virtue of the diligence, delicacy and imagination of your services, more exciting than any public brothel."
"By making his home his own brothel?" she said.
"Yes," I said.
"His private brothel?"
"Yes," I said.
"I see," she said.
"There is also a thing called "love"," I said.
"Yes!" she said.
"But if this occurred, as is not infrequent, the slave being nothing, the master all," I said, "do you think you would no longer have to fear his whip?"
"Of course not," she said.
"You understand that you would still be held under perfect discipline?"
"Of course," she said. "I would be a slave."
"But then, on the other hand," I said, "aside from such possibilities, and still considering the question of a private master, you might find yourself under the tutelage of a whipmaster in a rich man's pleasure gardens."
"But I would be only one of many women there?" she said.
"Undoubtedly," I said. "Perhaps one of fifty, or a hundred."
"I think I would prefer to be the single slave of a single master," she said.
"Such things" I said, "would not be up to you."
"You are joking about these things, are you not?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"I am a free woman!" she said.
"I know," I said.
"What are you going to do with me?" she asked.
"First," I said, "I would like to get out of the delta."
"But if we are successful in that," she said, "what will you do with me?"
"We shall see," I said. "We shall see."
"Then I am totally at your mercy?" she said.
"Yes," I said.
"And you will do with me as you please, won't you?"
"Yes," I said.
She moaned, and followed behind, on her strap.
20 I Decide to Impose Discipline
She suddenly screamed, and I spun about.
"Get it off me!" she cried, hysterically. "Get it off me!"
"Be silent!" I said.
"Get it off me!" she screamed.
I put the pole down on the raft, leaped into the water, angrily, and waded to her.
"Get it off me!" she screamed.
I struck her with the flat of my hand.
She looked up at me, startled, blood about her mouth.
"Be silent," I said.
"Please take it off me!" she whispered.
"Such things often attach themselves to rence stems," I said. "Apparently you bent down, to drink. The front of your collar is wet, and the strap, near the throat. Your hair, too, is damp. Perhaps you brushed against rence in doing this. Too, however, such things can float free in the water."
"Please!" she said, shuddering. "Please!"
"It has not had time to affix itself," I said.
It was about four inches long, rubbery, glistening in the moonlight.
"Please!" she whispered. I picked it off.
"Do you want it?" I asked. "No!" she said.
"The marsh leech is edible," I said. "At one time I did not know that."
I tossed it away.
She regarded me with horror.
"What is wrong?" I asked.
"I could never eat such a thing," she said.
"If you are sufficiently hungry," I said, "you will eat even less likely things."
"Never," she said.
"To be sure," I said, "men have occasionally starved in the midst of many things which might most adequately have sustained life. One assumes, of course, that this was the result less of fastidiousness than ignorance."
She looked at me.
"Would you prefer to starve in the midst of plenty?" I asked.
"No," she said, uncertainly.
"Such things, upon occasion," I said, "might be the difference between life and death."
"I understand," she said, trembling.
"And if I tell you to eat them," I said, "you will do so immediately and unquestioningly."
"Do you understand?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"And you will do so even if there is no nutritive need," I said, "even if it is merely at my caprice, or for my amusement."
"Yes," she whispered.
I regarded her.
"Yes-captor," she whispered.
"Perhaps you understand better now," I said, "the discipline to which you are subject?"
"Yes, captor," she said. The diet of the captive, as had now been made clear to her, is subject to the selection and regulation of the captor, as is that of the slave to the master.
We stood in the marsh, under the moons.
She looked at her left breast, fearfully, from which I had removed the creature.
"It is gone," I said. She shuddered.
"You had an easy time of it this time," I said. "You detected its presence immediately. Sometimes they can attach themselves to your body, and fasten in, without your being aware of it."
She looked at me.
"They may be encouraged to withdraw, of course, by the application of such things as heat and salt.
She looked at me, questioningly.
"Yes," I said. "It is possible that there are others on your body now, that you are unaware of."
She tried to free her hands, futilely.
"You are in no position to conduct an examination," I said. "Do you wish me to do so?"
She nodded vigorously, frightened.
"You beg it?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said.
"Very well," I said.
"Oh!" she said.
"In fishing for such creatures," I said, "one may, of course, use one's own body as bait:"
"How you handle me!" she said.
"You asked to be examined," I reminded her.
"I am not a slave," she said, "her flesh being examined for soundness by a purchaser!"
"You are, however, a captive, are you not?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Accordingly it may be done with you as I please," I said.
"As though I were a slave!" she said.
"Yes," I said.
I had, of course, only examined her for the presence of leeches. She, a free woman, had no real comprehension, at least as yet, of what it might be to be examined as a slave. There seemed to me no point in telling her about such things. If she ever wore the collar, she could learn them.
I stood up.
"Did you detect the presence of further such creatures upon me?" she asked, frightened.
"No," I said.
"Then I am now free of them?" she said.
"Apparently," I said.
She sobbed with relief.
"It may have been an isolated leech," I said.
"But there are others in the marsh!" she said.
"Of course," I said.
"Let me ride on the raft!" she begged.
"No," I said.
"But it is not just leeches," she said. "There are tharlarion, and other dangers."
"Keep a sharp lookout," I said.
"You cuffed me," she said, reproachfully. She ran her tongue about, over her swollen lip.
"You are fortunate that you are not a slave," I said.
"And were I a slave?" she asked.
"You would have been punished," I said.
"In what manner?" she asked, curious.
"Probably being cuffed," I said.
"I was cuffed," she said.
"And later being tied and lashed with my belt," I said.
"But as a captive," she said, "I am subject to your belt, am I not?"
"Yes," I said.
"Are you going to use it on me then, when we camp?" she asked.
"I have no intention of doing so at the moment," I said, "but that could change."
"Perhaps you will touch me instead?" she asked. She moved close to me, pressing herself against me.
"Perhaps," I said.
Then I thrust her back a bit.
I then removed some items from the pack.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"We cannot have you screaming, and crying out, in the delta," I said. "It is dangerous. It might attract rencers, Cosian patrols, even animals."
"I will not so scream out again," she averred.
"I shall assure myself of that," I said.
"No, please," she said.
"Open your mouth," I said.
"But what if tharlarion should approach?" she asked.
"Open your mouth, widely," I said.
I then thrust the wadding in her mouth.
Tears came to her eyes.
" 'Susceptibility to the gag, " I said, " 'is a liability of prisoners, enforceable at a moment's notice, at the whim of a captor. Such I believe, were your words to me once."
She made a small noise. I then wrapped the binding twice about her, twice back, between the teeth. She made another noise. I drew the free ends of the binding back, surely, firmly, considerably narrowing its internal loops, that they would be extremely close on her, that they would be back, deeply, between her teeth, so that she could not hope to dislodge them, so that the heavy, damp obstruction of the racking, or wadding, held in place by them, would remain perfectly, inejectably, in her mouth. Again she made a noise, a small, pleading noise. I jerked tight the binding and knotted it securely behind the back of her neck. I turned her about, so that she faced me.
"Surely you do not object," I said. "Once I wore a gag. Now you do."
There were tears in her eyes.
"One whimper for 'Yes, " I said, "two for 'No. Do you understand?"
She whimpered once.
"If a tharlarion, or such, approaches," I said, "I am sure you will manage some excellent signals. Terrified whimpers will do very nicely. Though you may not be able to be heard more than a few feet away I do not think there will be a problem. You will be kept in place by your tether and I should, accordingly, hear you quite easily from the raft. Is this all clear?"
She whimpered once, angrily.
"Are you humble and obedient?" I asked.
She whimpered once, frightened, and put down her head.
"You whimper well," I said, "and you are pretty in your gag."
She looked up.
"Perhaps women should be more often gagged," I mused. Tears sprang anew to her eyes.
"I think, when we camp," I said, "I shall touch you."
She looked at me startled, eager, gratefully. We had now been together for some five days traveling south. Even in this short time I think she had begun to learn something of her womanhood. And, too, even in this short time she had begun to become its helpless prisoner.
"And when I touch you," I said, "I think I shall leave you in your gag."
She looked at me, startled.
"That should be an interesting experience for you."
She put down her head, excitedly, but submissively.
I had much touched her over the past few days, even though she was a free woman, as much for my relief, such as a free woman could provide, as for her instruction, usually when we had campe