Mariners of Gor
Late One Night, in a Tavern in Brundisium
And he spoke.
“I sailed on the great ship,” he said. “Yea, the ship of Tersites.”
“It was lost at sea,” said a man.
“It sailed over the edge of the world,” said another.
“Listen,” he said. “And I will tell you a story.”
“For paga,” laughed a Merchant.
“We have heard such stories,” said a fellow.
“You are a liar,” scoffed the taverner.
“A thousand ships come and go, in the great harbor of Brundisium,” said a fellow. “There are a thousand stories.”
“But not of the ship of Tersites,” he said.
“No,” said a fellow, “not of the ship of Tersites.”
“There is no such ship,” said a man. “Tersites was mad, fled from Port Kar.”
“I hear ‘banished’,” said another.
“The ship was never built,” said a man.
“It was built,” averred the fellow.
“No,” said a man.
“In the northern forests,” he said.
“Absurd,” laughed a man.
“And debouched onto Thassa from the Alexandra,” he said.
“Have you seen it?” asked a man.
“I berthed upon her,” he said.
“Liar,” said the taverner.
“What happened?” asked a man.
“That is my story,” said the man.
It was a small tavern, The Sea Sleen, only yards from the water, declining by a steep slope to the southern piers. It was late. Tharlarion-oil lamps hung on their slender chains, three to a lamp, adjusted variously, table to table, from the low, beamed ceiling. Most had been extinguished, as tables were vacated. The few lamps remaining alit put out little light, the wicks shortened to conserve fuel. There were no musicians. The dancing sand was empty. Given the nature and paucity of its custom, The Sea Sleen could afford to hire musicians only at the height of the season. It was now the second month in autumn, called in Brundisium the month of Lykourgos. The harbor was not now much trafficked. Mostly coasting. Until the arrival of the stranger, it had been muchly quiet. One might have heard the clink of a goblet now and then, the scraping of a wooden trencher on a low table, sometimes the crack of a kaissa piece being struck down on a board in an aggressive move. Outside, away from the portal, down the slope a bit, if one listened, one could hear the water lapping against the pilings, where the vast glory of looming Thassa, in the darkness, deigned to touch the small works of men. The Sea Sleen was not one of the higher, larger taverns in the great port of Brundisium, such as that of the Diamond Collar, the Joys of Turia, the Dina, the tavern of Chang, that of Hendow, or such. Her patronage was mostly that of ruffians, mariners between voyages, their coins now mostly spent, left in the higher taverns, drifters, wanderers, peddlers, exiles, some mercenaries, willing to unsheathe their blades for a bit of silver, or a fight. The stranger sat cross-legged at one of the small tables. Several were gathered about him. One could not see his face well in the half-darkness, but the reddish outline marked his place. Most of those about him were muchly in darkness. Some held cups of paga. The trenchers had been gathered in, and the kaissa boards had been folded and put away, the red and yellow pieces in two shallow drawers, fixed in the board, one on each side, one for each color. This is not an unusual arrangement in taverns. Commonly, however, kaissa boards are simple, straight boards, and the pieces are kept separately, in boxes or sacks. Members of the Caste of Players are recognized by their red-and-yellow-checked robes, the worn board slung over their shoulder, the sack of pieces at their waist. Depending on the Player, they will give you a game for as little as a tarsk-bit, as much as a golden tarn disk of Ar. It was said that Centius of Cos had once played in Brundisium.
“If you have a story to tell, for a drink,” said the taverner, “why not tell it toward the upper city, against the outer walls, in a landward tavern, say, the Diamond Collar?”
The stranger was silent. Then he said, “I want paga.”
“I will tell you,” said the taverner. “You were ejected elsewhere, thrown into the streets, and stumbled downward, bewildered, blindly, mad, knowing nothing else, stumbling from door to door, until you would reach the piers.”
“And then Thassa, dark, cold Thassa,” said a man.
“Paga,” said the stranger.
“Do you beg?” inquired the taverner.
“No,” said the stranger, and the taverner, alarmed, sensing danger, stepped a bit back, but recovered himself, almost immediately.
The stranger was a large, spare man, with roughened hands, perhaps hardened from the oar, or from hauling on lines. He was clad in little more than rags. He did have a dirty mariner’s cap. I did not think it unlikely he had indeed ventured upon Thassa. Those hands, I did not doubt, might close about a man’s throat, might break a man’s neck.
“I will pay,” said the man.
“You have coins?” inquired the taverner.
“No,” said the man.
“Extinguish the lamps,” said the taverner to his man, who stood behind him.
The other tables were empty now, as their occupants had left, or had gathered with us, about the stranger’s low table.
The only lamp remaining lit then, of the hanging lamps, was the one in which we could see the outline of the stranger’s face. A bowl lamp did glow at the serving table, near the kitchen gate, near the paga vat, near the goblets.
“I can pay,” said the stranger.
“With what?” inquired the taverner.
“I will tell you a story,” said the stranger. His eyes had a wild, feral look.
“We are closing,” said the taverner. Then, looking to his man, he gestured toward the stranger. “Eject him,” he said.
“Where will he go? What will he do?” asked a fellow, a Scribe from his robes, of shoddy, faded blue.
“Thassa,” said a man, I think a mercenary. “Dark, cold Thassa.”
“Perhaps,” said a man.
“No,” said the stranger. “No.”
“Come along, fellow,” said the taverner’s man. “There is garbage outside, in the sewer troughs.” He put his hand on the stranger’s arm.
“Do not touch me,” said the stranger, quietly, politely, rising unsteadily to his feet. His voice was courteous, almost gentlemanly. But the taverner’s man did not mistake the tone of that voice, and removed his hand from the stranger’s arm.
“It is time to go,” said the taverner’s man, gently.
“I will leave,” said the stranger.
“I would hear his story,” said a man.
“I will buy him paga,” said another.
“No,” said the stranger.
I had not realized how large he was until he stood.
“We are closing,” called the taverner, suddenly, loudly, impatiently, for two figures, cloaked, hooded, stood at the portal, now within. They had entered silently. None of us had noticed them, lest it was the stranger.
I think he had noticed.
“So,” said the stranger to the two newcomers. “You have found me.”
Neither of the newcomers spoke, for their kind is efficient. They do quietly, and swiftly, what they have come to do. In such situations speaking is unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous, as it costs time. A moment of indulgence, of clever vanity, can cost one one’s life. There are caste codes pertaining to such matters.
This was not a typical hunt, I gathered, in which the tunic is worn openly, the sign emblazoned publicly upon the brow, the prey helpless, cornered, as vulnerable as a vulo.
The cloaks parted and two crossbows, together, the quarrels set, were smoothly, swiftly raised.
At the same moment, the stranger bent down, seized up the small table, and flung it upward, and two quarrels splintered halfway through the wood. The stranger’s hands disappeared within his sleeves, and each hand emerged, a dagger in hand. The newcomers cast down the bows and, together, reached within their robes to unsheathe blades, the common gladius, but the cloaks, hitherto so convenient in concealing their caste, their intent, their weapons, cost them an unencumbered draw, and the stranger was at them, table flung aside, daggers like striking osts, moving twice, and the newcomers half fell, half stumbled, outside the tavern, into the darkness, the street outside, probably neither realizing for a moment that they had been killed.
“Did you see?” asked the taverner’s man. “They wore the dagger.”
“Yes,” said a fellow.
That had been obvious only when the hoods had been disarranged in the stranger’s attack. When hunting, it is common for members of the black caste, the Caste of Assassins, to paint a black dagger on their forehead.
We waited within the tavern, and, in a few Ehn, the stranger returned.
He jerked the quarrels from the small table and cast them to the side. He then righted the small table and resumed his place, sitting cross-legged, behind it.
“They were Assassins,” said the taverner, shuddering.
“What did you do with them?” asked a man.
“Thassa accepted them, as she would not accept me,” said the man.
“Bolt the door,” said the taverner, uneasily.
“Who are you,” asked a man, “that those of the black caste would come secretly, silently, upon you?”
The stranger was silent.
He replaced the two daggers in the sleeve sheaths of his tunic.
“What is your story?” asked a man.
“It has to do with the ship of Tersites,” he said.
The taverner turned to his man. “Bring bread, and meat, suls, and tur-pah, and fruit, for our guest.”
“And paga,” said the stranger.
“And paga!” said the taverner, admiringly.
We were patient, while the stranger fed, voraciously, as might have a starving sleen. When he had emptied his trencher twice, the taverner’s man set a goblet of paga before him.
“Is this how you serve paga?” inquired the stranger. He now seemed a different man, one ruddy with vigor and power.
The taverner gestured to his man, and the man hurried away, going behind the serving table, passing through the gate to the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, we heard the bright flash of bells.
The girl was quite beautiful, but that is not unusual in a tavern, even one of cheap, reduced custom, in such a district of the port, so near the waterfront, yards from the southern piers, such as The Sea Sleen. Musicians are expensive, but girls are cheap. In a paga tavern one may rely on the quality of the girls, more so, I fear, than on the quality of the food, or paga. They are, of course, taken from the block with the satisfaction of customers in mind.
She knelt, appropriately.
With the back of her right hand she rubbed her eyes, removing a residue of sleep. Clearly she was uneasy, and did not understand the meaning of her summons, this late, the tavern muchly empty, the group gathered about the small table, the stranger, in rags and mariner’s cap, before whom she knelt.
Under his gaze she widened her knees further.
She noticed the table.
She looked at it, frightened.
Clearly she was curious as to the condition of the table, the two ruptured, splintered gashes, the wood burst inward, as though struck by twin spikes, in its surface. She did not, of course, speak, nor inquire.
Her collar was a simple, flat metal band, light, close-fitting, with the lock, as is common, at the back of the neck. In this fashion, the front of the collar, if engraved, may be easily read.
“She is clothed,” observed the stranger.
“Of course,” said the taverner. “This is a high tavern.”
Two of the men about laughed.
It was true that she was clothed, in a fashion. She wore the common camisk, a brief rectangle of cloth slipped over the head, belted with a double loop of binding fiber. The camisk was of thin, clinging, yellow rep-cloth. It was ragged and soiled. The tavern, you see, was not truly a high tavern. If she stood, it would fall midway to her thighs. It was closely belted, as required, a bow knot at the left hip, where it would be convenient to a right-handed master. The double loop is to allow for an adequate length, enough for a variety of ties.
In the high taverns, girls are often silked, often belled, sometimes jeweled. In low taverns they often serve nude, sometimes chained. The silks of tavern girls, of course, are quite unlike the silks of free women, which are cumbersome and concealing, even to veils. The silks of tavern girls are usually brief and diaphanous. There is no mistaking them for free women. Obviously masters have dressed them, to the extent they have been permitted clothing, for the pleasure of men. In the low taverns, the chaining, though perfectly secure, as all Gorean chaining, is largely for aesthetic purposes, the obduracy of chains, in their way, enhancing and setting off, by stark contrast, the softness and beauty in their clasp. For such girls, chained or not, and others like them, marked and collared, there is no escape, no more than for any other form of domestic animal.
“Reveal yourself,” said the taverner.
Slowly, carefully, kneeling, the girl undid the knot at her left hip. She removed the binding fiber, drawing it loose, and then, slowly, carefully looping it, put it to her left, beside her, at her left knee. She then, after a moment’s hesitation, lifted the camisk away, gracefully.
“Ah,” said the stranger, pleased.
The girl shuddered and then folded the camisk. She worked carefully, head down. She put the folded camisk also to her left, but a bit behind her. She then lifted the looped binding fiber and placed it neatly on the camisk, centered. In this way, though to her left, her clothing, slight as it was, was behind her. It was not between her and her master’s customers. Her beauty was thus placed forward, and prominently displayed. She was well bared. Similarly, the looped binding fiber, a bit behind her, on the folded camisk, was where a man might easily have lifted it, and wrapped it about her neck, several times, from behind; similarly it was about even with where her wrists would have been, if they had been crossed behind her, for binding. The square was approximately a foot Gorean. Sometimes, as a punishment, girls are forced to remain in place, standing on such a bit of cloth. It is not easy to do, after a time. A misstep or loss of balance must be reported to the master, and is commonly met with a stroke of the switch. The coils of the looped binding fiber, in their circularity and width, suggested the encirclement of a collar, one for a small throat, that of a female. And certainly they were reminiscent of the multiply stranded, temporary collars, tied shut, sometimes put on captures, particularly on stripped free women, the stripping and collaring serving to make clear their transient status, prior to an appropriate marking and collaring.
There is little in a paga tavern which does not have, in one way or another, its meaning.
The girl lifted her head.
“You are crying,” said the stranger.
“Forgive me, Master,” she said.
“She has not been long in the collar,” said the taverner.
“She is barbarian, is she not?” asked the stranger.
“I fear so,” said the taverner, “but she is not without interest, I trust.”
“Paga, Master?” asked the girl.
“What is your name?” asked the stranger.
The girl cast a frightened look at the taverner. Then she said, “I have no name, Master. I have not been given a name. Forgive me, Master.”
“Yes,” said the stranger. “Her accent is clearly barbarian.”
“Some men,” said the taverner, “enjoy the accent. It makes their barbarian status clear, and thus gives their mastery, in its perfection, an interesting and exotic flavor. As they are barbarians, one’s relationship to them is uncomplicated. One need not be concerned with their treatment. One may treat them as one wishes.”
“One’s relationship to collar meat, of any sort,” said a fellow, he I took to be a mercenary, “is uncomplicated.”
“Who is concerned with collar meat?” said another. “They are all the same, Gorean or barbarian. One will treat them as one wishes.”
“I think,” said another, “it is even more delicious to take a Gorean woman, one of those haughty she-sleen, so arrogant and lofty in their pride, so pretentiously superior, and strip them and teach them the collar.”
“The terrified lips of either sort, pressed supplicatingly to your feet, are pleasant,” said a fellow.
“Yes,” said another.
“Would you like a name?” asked the stranger.
“That is at the pleasure of masters,” whispered the girl. “It will be as they wish. I am theirs, to be named or not.”
As such as the girl are domestic animals, they have no name in their own right, no more than other domestic animals, say, verr, tarsk, or kaiila. One such as she would commonly bring more than a verr or tarsk, but far less than a kaiila.
“Many barbarians learn to speak a fluent lovely Gorean,” said the taverner.
“I understand so,” said the stranger. I gathered he might have known instances of such.
“You had a name in your former life,” said the stranger.
“Yes, Master,” she said. A tear coursed down her cheek.
“It is gone,” he said.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“Would you like to name her?” asked the taverner.
“Is she any good?” asked the stranger.
Obviously such considerations might affect the quality and nature of a name.
“The fires have begun to burn in her belly,” said the taverner.
One of the men laughed.
The girl put her head down, trembling, shamed.
I suspected that the fires had, indeed, begun to burn in her belly. I wondered if she knew, now, how much, later, their prisoner she would be. Compared to them how feeble and imperfect would be the bars of cages, the weight of shackles.
“Paga, Master?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
She rose gracefully, backed away deferentially, and then turned, and hurried to the serving table.
The tavern was muchly dark, but we could see her outline at the serving table, in the light of the tiny bowl lamp. She wiped out a goblet with a cloth, set it beside the vat, lifted the lid from the vat, and dipped the goblet in the amber fluid, filling it. She then put the goblet down, replaced the vat lid, and, to the sound of the bells on her left ankle, approached the table. She knelt at the side of the table, rather before the stranger. She widened her knees and put her head down. She had both hands on the goblet.
“Paga, Master?” she asked, again.
The girl was lithe, slender, dark-eyed, dark-haired, well breasted, sweetly thighed, with an inviting love cradle. Her hands and feet were small.
The soft glow of the tiny lamp, the single lamp, on its chains, hanging near the table, glinted on the metal goblet, and the close-fitting, narrow band encircling her neck.
“Yes,” he said.
“Yes, Master,” she whispered.
She pressed the metal of the goblet to her waist, and then, gently, but unmistakably, to her breasts, after which she lifted the goblet, regarding the stranger, frightened, over its rim. She then kissed the goblet, and licked it for a moment with her small tongue, and then kissed it again, tenderly, lingeringly, supplicatingly, and then lowered her head between her extended arms, lifting the goblet to the stranger.
The stranger took the goblet, and regarded the girl. She knelt back.
“Nadu,” whispered the taverner, and the girl went to position, back on heels, knees wide, back straight, the palms of her hands down on her thighs. She kept her head down. Commonly, in nadu, the head is up, the gaze straight ahead, that the beauty of her features be displayed, and that she be in a position to better detect the slightest nuances of her master, either in tone or expression, but neither the taverner nor the stranger exacted this small adjustment. Tears ran down her cheeks, some falling to the floor, between her knees.
“I think,” said the stranger, “I shall name her.”
“If you wish,” said the taverner. He could later, of course, do what he wished with the name, removing it, or changing it.
“Let her, for the time,” said the stranger, “be Talena.”
Men cried out in protest.
The girl looked up, her hand risen before her mouth, in terror.
“Never! Never!” said the taverner. “That hated name is no longer spoken. It is to be heard no more.”
‘Talena’, it might be noted, was at one time a common name on Gor, much as dozens of other names. To be sure, it was a high-caste name, rare amongst the lower castes. But even so, it was not unknown in the lower castes, and I have encountered it even amongst the Peasants, the fundamental caste, the “Ox on which the Home Stone rests.” It was rare as a slave name until after the fall of Ar, and the rise of Talena of Ar to the throne of Ar, placed on the throne as a puppet Ubara by the occupying forces of victorious Cos and Tyros, the major maritime Ubarates of Gor, abetted by numerous mercenary companies. It was only after that time that some masters outside of Ar, in various far cities, and even as faraway as Cos and Tyros, in their contempt for the new Ubara, regarded as having betrayed her Home Stone, might place that now-contemptible name upon some slaves, usually deficient or temporarily lacking slaves, as a punishment name. Well then might they strive for a name with less affinity to the whip. In Ar itself, to name a slave ‘Talena’ was deemed an act of sedition, punishable by impalement. For many years Ar had been ruled by the great Marlenus of Ar, a giant of a man, mountainous in boldness and power, yet famed as much for subtlety and cunning. Marlenus was ambitious, despotic, and imperialistic. Known Gor stood much in fear of him. This Talena was once his daughter. It seems that long ago, during the Planting Feast of Ar, a bold tarnsman, thought to be from the north, seized the Home Stone of Ar, which catastrophe brought about the temporary downfall of the Ubar, who fled from the city with chosen men. In the disruptions and chaos ensuing upon the loss of the Home Stone, leagues of cities, enemies to Ar, under the leadership of an Assassin, Pa-Kur, marched on the troubled, disunited city. His “horde,” as historians would come to speak of it, lay encamped outside her walls, poised to breach her defenses, ready to enter, sack, and burn the city; all seemed lost; but Marlenus, somehow abetted in his return by a figure now thought by many to be mythical, a Tarl of Bristol, which city we do not know, entered and rallied his city, and the invading horde was resisted and routed. Pa-Kur may have perished, but this is not known, as the body was never found. This Tarl of Bristol, if such a figure ever existed, supposedly companioned Talena, daughter of the Ubar, but appears to have deserted her. Much is unclear. Somehow, it seems, she was apprehended by Rask of Treve, perhaps in trying to return to Ar. Ar and Treve are mortal enemies. One may well suppose it was quite a coup for Rask of Treve to have his collar on the neck of the daughter of Marlenus, inveterate foe of his city. She was kept in his tents for a time, but then it seems that the fancy of the mighty Rask was taken by a mere slave, a blond barbarian collar slut, named El-in-or. In any event, Rask, perhaps in amusement, or to show his contempt for her, gave Talena as a braceleted, leashed slave, to Verna, a panther girl of the northern forests. The shame of Talena infuriated proud Marlenus, obsessed with his name and honor, particularly as it became clear, later, in the northern forests, when Talena was put up for sale, that, hoping to be freed and returned to Ar, she had begged to be purchased, a slave’s act, for in such an act one acknowledges that one is property, a slave, and may be purchased. It seems she was purchased by Samos of Port Kar, First Captain of the Council of Captains of Port Kar, and later came into the possession of another captain from Port Kar, Bosk of Port Kar, who freed her. Earlier he had been crippled in the northern forest, the victim of poisoned steel. Talena, freed, in contempt and arrogance, permitted to a free woman, ridiculed and scorned her benefactor, and insisted upon being returned to power and glory in Ar, which matter was arranged by this fellow, Bosk of Port Kar. Perhaps, as he was chairbound, he thought he would get little good out of her in a collar. In any event, Talena was returned to Ar. This Bosk later, it seems, obtained access to an antidote which, administered, reversed his affliction. In any event, later, at the time of his mysterious disappearance, he was a noted, high captain in Port Kar. To be sure, much is obscure, and rumors vary. I have heard more than one account of such events. The fate of Talena, however, seems more clear. She was returned to Ar, but Marlenus, in view of the shame she had brought upon his house, both in the matter of Rask of Treve, and her actions in the northern forests, removed the stain upon his honor by disowning her. No longer then, disowned, was she his daughter. Accordingly, when she arrived in Ar, she was not returned to glory, to position and power, but removed from public sight, being sequestered, for most practical purposes, imprisoned, in the Central Cylinder. Thus, let the shame brought upon the name and honor of Marlenus of Ar be hidden away, if not forgotten. Later, Marlenus, on a hunting trip to the Voltai Mountains, was injured in a fall from tarnback, which injury impaired his memory. No longer did he know himself to be Marlenus, Ubar of Ar. He, ignorant of his true identity, was captured by Trevans, or perhaps delivered to them by traitors. Still not knowing his true identity he later escaped from Treve and made his way back to Ar, believing himself to be of the Peasants, and he lived for a time in a village in the vicinity of Ar, as one Peasant amongst others, accepting their hospitality, working in their fields. Meanwhile, Talena, in her disgrace and fury, conspired with malcontents and traitors who, given the absence of Marlenus, and the unsettled conditions in the city, wished to come to power in Ar. A conspiracy was formed, abetted by propagandas contrived to paralyze and confuse the citizens of Ar, propagandas promoting self-doubt and guilt amongst her citizens for the successes and glories of Ar’s past, propagandas including belittlings of danger, and representations of enemies as allies and friends, intent upon the best interests of the city. The eventual outcome of these machinations, hailing policies of concession, appeasement, and surrender as victories of beneficent statecraft, as demands of an overdue justice, was the conquest of Ar, and her occupation by Cosians, those of Tyros, and large numbers of mercenaries. The walls of Ar, mightier even than those of southern Turia, were dismantled by duped, rejoicing citizens to the music of flute girls, and betrayed, fallen Ar would be systematically looted and exploited for months. Talena, smug with the spears of invaders behind her, sat regally upon her father’s throne, and abused her power wickedly, using it to further reduce and diminish her city, and avenged herself rampantly, as she wished, upon numerous enemies, or putative enemies, or on anyone she might wish, as the humor might seize her. Muchly was the wealth of Ar destroyed or carried away, to be bestowed abroad, and many were its beauties consigned to foreign collars in the name of decency and justice, to right the wrongs of supposedly guilty Ar. Indeed, it was said that Talena, vain of her beauty, which was considerable, used hypocritical pretexts of state to eliminate many of her actual or alleged rivals. Many women found themselves shorn and shaved, chained, in the holds of slave ships bound for Tyros or Cos whose only crime was their beauty. Hundreds of others were reduced to slavery merely that their wealth might be confiscated by the state. Talena relished not only the powers permitted to her by the occupation forces, exercised at their discretion, and often in accordance with their direction, but filled her coffers in the Central Cylinder with abundant, secret wealth. In this matter she was not alone. Amongst her supporters, and numerous collaborators, battening on the misery of the city, corruption was rampant. The allocation of privileges and favors, franchises and monopolies, proved lucrative. Bribery and theft became ways of life, even amongst the most modest of offices. Mercenaries exacted “taxes” with impunity amongst Merchants. Gangs of youths, flaunting Cosian fashions, roamed the city, looting and vandalizing. Shortages of goods and food became common in the city, except amongst those favored by the state. Fortunes were made in black markets. Some flourished, of course, those with access to the throne, or with access to those who might have such access. The intertwined strands of interest and influence were subtle and widely spread. One of the greatest fortunes amassed in the city was that of a mysterious, shadowy individual supposedly named “Ludmilla,” who owned, and, through subordinates, managed, a series of large, ornate slave brothels in the city. These were amongst the few establishments in Ar, in those times, which seemed prosperous and, despite general shortages, were well and reliably supplied, not only with lovely brothel slaves, but even with the choicest of viands and wines. It was later discovered that there was no “Ludmilla,” but, rather, that this enterprise was merely one of several instituted and emplaced by the Ubara herself. Further, as a part of the conspiracy mentioned hitherto, it had been deemed necessary to reduce, even decimate, the military power of Ar. Ar must be made weak, vulnerable. Accordingly, much of the might of Ar had been dispatched to the vicinity of the Vosk river, supposedly to counter a massive invasion of Cos and Tyros in this area. Informed that the invasion force had withdrawn into the delta, the forces of Ar, under the orders of conspirators, entered the extensive, treacherous wastes and swamps of the vast delta in pursuit. That was not, of course, as is well understood now, the locus of the invasion. Rather the troops of Cos and Tyros, borne by their lateen-rigged fleets, would be welcomed here in Brundisium, where, in league with hundreds of mercenary companies, joined here in prearranged rendezvous, they began their march on Ar. Meanwhile, following orders, the forces of Ar, with good heart, penetrated ever more deeply into the delta. The enemy they encountered, of course, was not the expected foe, but the delta itself, with its insects, heat, humidity, uncertain footing, quicksand, tharlarion, and rencers, denizens of the delta, almost invisible, subtle in warfare, masters of the bow and ambush. Few of the men of Ar reached the Tamber Gulf, Thassa, or Port Kar. Most perished in the delta. Some remnants, haggard, exhausted, disheveled, half-starving, ill, harried, pursued, managed to fight their way back to the Vosk, and of these some managed, overland, fugitives amongst swarming enemies, to return to Ar. Some of these veterans of the delta campaign, now embittered, realizing how they had been betrayed, and dismayed at the Ar to which they had returned, formed the nucleus of a resistance, the “Delta Brigade,” the natural symbol of which was the letter “Delka,” scribbled or scratched secretly, in bold lines, on many a wall or building, which letter, of course, in its shape, resembles a delta, and would recall a particular delta, that of the Vosk. To shorten the story, great Marlenus was recognized, it is said by a slave, in a line of Peasants, delivering suls within the city. This cognizance came to the attention of members of the Delta Brigade, who took in, concealed, and sheltered their Ubar. In their care, days later, it is said that suddenly the long-suppressed memory of great Marlenus again came alive, in a howl of understanding and rage. He sprang to his feet, a larl amongst men. He called for weapons. The Delta Brigade had found their leader. The insurrection was brief, violent, and bloody. The citizens, rallied, armed with whatever they could find, shovels, axes, even stones, and rose en masse. Tides of hate, unleashed, irresistible, swept through the streets, through the plazas, into the towers, across the bridges. Oppositions, unprepared, were hasty and ill-organized. Even the camp of Myron, polemarkos of Temos, cousin of Lurius of Jad, Ubar of Cos, outside the walls, was overrun. Within the city collaborators, their names posted on the public boards, were hunted down, room to room. In the frenzied vengeance of the mobs hundreds, both men and women, caught, were summarily impaled. Most sought of all was the traitorous Talena herself who could not be found.
“That name, that hated name,” said the taverner, “is not to be spoken.”
“Talena is avidly sought,” said the man in faded blue, in scribal robes.
“Do not name her that,” said another man.
“Even slaves no longer bear that name,” said another.
The stranger smiled, and quaffed his paga, then put down the goblet on the splintered table.
The collar girl was trembling. She dared to shake her head, negatively, pleading.
“Marlenus of Ar,” said the mercenary, “has put a reward of ten thousand tarns of gold on her head.”
“Tarn disks of double weight,” said another.
“There is not that much gold on Gor,” laughed another.
“But yes,” chuckled another. “It is the secret wealth of Talena herself, her own illicitly amassed wealth, which is put up to have her returned to Ar.”
“Doubtless stripped, and in chains,” said a man.
“Doubtless,” said another.
“What a vengeance would be enacted upon her,” said another.
“She betrayed her Home Stone,” said another.
“Woe to the slut,” laughed a fellow.
“Thousands before, hundreds even now, of bounty hunters,” said a man, “in hundreds of towns and cities, in hundreds of hamlets and villages, seek the former Ubara, Talena of Ar.”
“Never Ubara,” said a man. “Never true Ubara.”
“False Ubara,” said another.
“And no longer of Ar,” added another.
It was true that Talena was no longer of Ar, as she had betrayed its Home Stone. She was now without a Home Stone, a fugitive, no longer protected by law.
“Seriously, my friend,” said the taverner, “do not joke about Talena. If it were even suspected she might be in Brundisium, a thousand tarnsmen of Ar might be aflight within an Ahn.”
“Brundisium,” said a fellow, “is not prized in the eyes of Ar, for it was here, to our very piers, that came fleets of Cos and Tyros.”
“Brundisium is neutral,” insisted the fellow in blue.
“We welcomed the foes of Ar,” a fellow reminded him.
“We had no choice,” said another.
“You were on the streets, waving,” said another.
“It will take time for Ar to rebuild her power,” said a fellow.
“Meanwhile,” said another, “the larls of Thassa have returned to their lairs.”
“Their snouts were well burned in the south,” said another.
“Girl,” said the stranger to the slave.
“Master?” she said.
“I shall not name you Talena,” he said.
“Thank you, Master,” she whispered. She briefly lost position, half fainting in relief, but she then recovered herself, quickly, and, straightening her back, maintained the beauty of nadu. She did keep her head down, perhaps fearing to look into the eyes of masters. It had been said she had not been long in the collar. To be sure, an intelligent woman learns it swiftly, and the more intelligent the more swiftly.
“I did but jest,” he said to those about, “that I might sense your views, your moods, concerning Talena, once of Ar.”
“May her flesh, bit by bit, be fed to sleen,” said a man.
“May she be boiled alive in the oil of tharlarion,” said another.
“May she be cast naked, bound, amongst leech plants,” said another.
“I have seen Talena,” said the stranger.
For a moment the group was silent.
“Of course,” said the mercenary. “Thousands, hundreds of thousands, have seen her.”
“In Ar,” said a man.
“But none have seen her since her disappearance from Ar,” said a man.
“I have,” said the stranger.
“Where?” asked the taverner.
“-on the ship of Tersites,” said the stranger.
“You have a story to tell,” said the taverner.
“Yes,” said the stranger.
“Put more oil in the lamp,” said the taverner to his man, “and raise the wick.”
“More paga,” said the stranger to the girl, extending the damp, empty goblet to her.
She took the vessel and rose up, backing away, head down, then turning and hurrying to the paga vat.
In a few moments the stranger had renewed his paga, and looked about himself.
“Begin,” said the taverner.
But his eyes were upon the girl.
She, perhaps from the silence, perhaps sensing his gaze, lifted her head, but, seeing his eyes upon her, quickly put down her head, again. Some masters do not permit their girls to look into their eyes, but that is rare. Most wish to relish the beauty of the eyes of their slaves, and enjoy reading in them the most delicate nuances of expression, apprehension, fear, hope, desire, expectation, questioning, readiness, eagerness, supplication, love, and such things.
“What lovely hair she has,” said the stranger.
It was long, dark, and glossy. Yes, the little beast was nicely pelted. As she had allegedly not been long in the collar, I gathered that it must have been much that way even in her former life. I thought it interesting that a girl who must have once been free would have had such hair. Such hair is much favored in female slaves. It was such as might have been grown to enhance the beauty of a slave, grown to increase her slave beauty, grown to interest men, grown to make her more attractive to masters. I wondered if, in some corner of her mind, she had not, even when free, longed for masters. And she now, perhaps to her consternation, and terror, knelt before them, nude and collared.
“That is, in part, why I purchased her,” said the taverner, “in the sales barn at Market of Semris.”
Market of Semris is in the vicinity of Brundisium.
“You have sweet thighs,” said the stranger to the girl.
“I am pleased, if master is pleased,” she said.
He looked at her.
“Forgive me, Master,” she said. “A slave is pleased, if master is pleased.”
“Do not arouse the slave,” whispered the taverner. He then said to the girl, “Keep the palms of your hands down on your thighs.”
“Yes, Master,” she said.
Sometimes a slave in nadu begs, turning her hands about, placing the back of the hands on the thighs, this exposing the soft, delicate, sensitive palms of her hands to the master. It is a way of supplicating a caress. To be sure, there are many silent ways in which this may be done. The bondage knot, for example, might be looped loosely in her hair. Too, it is a simple matter for the girl to kneel, or belly, and lick and kiss the master’s feet, daring to look up now and again in mute petition. Verbally, of course, the master’s attention might be variously solicited, from tiny need noises to explicit phrases, such as “I would be reminded of my collar,” “I would kiss the whip of my master,” “Chain me,” “Am I not to be bound tonight, Master,” “A slave begs to be caressed,” and such. And, of course, certain movements, postures, and such, sometimes subtle, are commonly enough to bring the master to her, rope in hand.
I recalled that the taverner had said that fires had begun to burn in her belly. Those, of course, would be slave fires. Perhaps it seems cruel to light such fires in a woman’s belly, which will eventually make her their helpless prisoner, but it is not. First, how can a woman be a true woman whose belly is not periodically, irresistibly, needfully, helplessly aflame, begging for a man’s touch. Second, this is not done with free women, of course, but only with slaves, as they are mere beasts, domestic animals, and it much improves them. Who would want a slave in whose belly slave fires did not burn? Such are the stoutest of chains.
“I do not know what we may hear,” said a man.
“True,” said another.
“Curiosity,” said another fellow, quietly, “is not becoming in a kajira.”
“True,” said the taverner. “She need know nothing of these things. I will have her returned to her cage.”
“Please, no, Master!” whispered the girl. Then she said, quickly, frightened, “Forgive me, Master.”
She had spoken without permission.
“Let her stay,” said the stranger.”
The lapse was slight, and obviously inadvertent, and had been immediately, fearfully, penitently, corrected. Masters use judgment, and common sense. The breach, so natural and trivial, did not require discipline. It was not as though boldness, or intention, had been involved. The punishment of slaves, as that of other animals, kaiila and such, is used sparingly, and seldom without clear justification. Gratuitous cruelty is frowned upon, and seldom occurs on Gor. To be sure, the whip exists, and the slave knows it will be used upon her if she is not pleasing, and fully pleasing. She is, after all, a slave.
The girl looked up, gratefully. How alive, and inquisitive, the little brutes are in their collars. They want to know everything.
Too, she may have wished, nude and collared, to remain in the presence of the stranger. Certainly, the second time, in delivering paga, she had licked and kissed the cup, before lowering her head and extending it to him, with all the fervor and forward lasciviousness of a helplessly aroused kajira, begging to be found worthy of an alcoving. Too, she may have read something in the eyes of the stranger, when he had looked upon her, which shook her to the core. It may have been something simple, such as “I am a master. You are a slave.”
“As you wish,” said the taverner.
“Of course,” said the stranger, “she is to be bound, hand and foot.”
The taverner gestured to his man, and he took up the looped binding fiber which the slave had placed on the yellow, carefully folded camisk. In moments, her small wrists, crossed, had been bound behind her and her ankles, crossed, had been fastened together.
Briefly the slave squirmed a little, trying the fiber, and found herself, as she would have expected, the wholly helpless prisoner of its snug coils.
At a gesture from the stranger to the taverner’s man the slave, nude, bound, and kneeling, was thrust back a little, a foot or two, rather outside the pool of light, rather into the shadowed darkness, presumably that her presence might be less obtrusive, and that she would better know herself for what she was, a woman and a slave.
“Speak,” urged the taverner.
“Speak,” said more than one man.
“I sailed on the great ship,” said the stranger. “Yea, the ship of Tersites.”
This Occurred Betwixt Cos and Tyros
It was an awesome sight.
One feared it was a ship of no mortal creation, but rather a vessel of Priest-Kings, come from the clouds over the Sardar, gone on air. Yet, as our patrol craft had approached it, and we could more discern its make, it was seen to be clearly formed of wood, carvel-built, six-masted, single-ruddered, massively so, square-sailed.
We detected it first, by the glass of the Builders, from the stem castle, far off, through the fog, not clear, seemingly risen from the sea as might a mountain, as the islands that Thassa sometimes lifts from her bosom, in southern waters, with a roiling of waves, a casting of stones, and smoke and fire, when she pleases.
“It is a fortress, a city!” exclaimed the left helmsman.
“There can be nothing here,” said the captain. “These are open waters. Familiar waters. We know them well.”
“Take the glass, captain,” said the lookout.
“It is an illusion,” said the captain, “a lie whispered by the fog, the sea and wind.”
“The glass, captain,” insisted the lookout.
We were two days out from the port of Telnus, terraced Cos’s southern window to the sea, our mother, mighty Thassa, on routine patrol.
We had heard no report, no rumors. Another day, and a junction with the long ships of Tyros, and we would return to Telnus.
No ship, no vessel, might ply these waters without papers, bearing the seal of either Tyros or Cos.
Thus are the farther islands sheltered, protected from illicit trade, and the wealth of Cos and Tyros conserved.
“It is no illusion,” said the captain, his eye to the glass.
“What then?” asked his second officer, peering into the fog. The season was nearly over, the time when ships were taken from the water for their wintering, the time when rational mariners withdrew wisely from lashing, gleaming Thassa, leaving her, the mother, to her moods of violence, to her towering, rushing, lifting waves, higher than the masts of round ships, to her bitter storms and cruel ice.
We at the oars, free men all, for our vessel was a long ship, low in the water, knifelike, fit for war, were looking forward to our winter leave, and the paga and girls of the taverns, The Silver Chain, the Beaded Whip, the Pleasure Garden, the Chatka and Curla, the Ubar’s Choice, and others.
“It is moving,” said the captain. “It is no island, no mountain. It is afloat, moving, slowly, but moving.”
“Can we overtake it?” asked the second officer.
“Yes,” said the captain.
“Is it wise to do so?” said the second officer.
“I do not know,” said the captain.
“There is a chill wind,” said the second officer, gathering his cloak about himself.
We, two at an oar, above decks, wore gloves, for the wood was cold.
“Lower the mast,” called the captain.
The single yard was lowered, and the storm sail furled. The mast and yard, with its furled sail, were then lashed down, parallel to the deck. On such ships, as you may know, there are various sails, whose use depends on the weather. The mast is lowered when the ship prepares for action. We were lateen-rigged, as is common, this allowing one to sail closer to the wind. In Torvaldsland, and to the north, it is common to use a single rudder, and a single sail, square-rigged.
The captain pointed toward the object in the distance, indistinct in the fog.
The two helmsmen brought us about.
Another gesture from the captain, this to the keleustes, increased the beat.
As the mast went down our fellows at the springals lit the bucketed fires in which the oil-soaked wrappings on javelin heads might be ignited.
On the long ship, as opposed to some round ships, one does not stand at the oar. And from the thwart, of course, one cannot, while at the oar, see much over the bulwarks. That is just as well, of course, for the bulwarks provide some protection from arrow fire, certainly from most long ships, which, like us, unlike many round ships, are low in the water. Even galleys with rowing frames have comparable shieldings. In any event, without standing, I could see very little, and one does not stand while at the oar, not on the long ship.
While I was at the oar, it would be well for you to understand, and I would have it understood, that I was not an oarsman, not by choice, not by calling, not by rating. One takes what fee one can when needful. I, once a spear of Cos, even a first spear, leader of nine men, with hundreds of others, after the trouble in Ar, scattered, separated from our commands and units, withdrew to Torcadino, and thence, bribing and spending, and then by recourse to brigandage and banditry, made our way by long marches to the sea, to the small coastal outposts and trading stations maintained by Tabor and Teletus, south of Brundisium, from which, with our last bit of silver, even to the surrender of accouterments and weapons, dispirited, hungry, and ruined, we obtained passage, mostly on fishing craft, little more than refugees, some to Tyros, most to Cos. I went first to Jad, city of my birth, city of great Lurius, our Ubar, where I had been enlisted and trained, but swords were plentiful there, and I was scorned, for my blade, with helmet and gear, was gone, having been bartered, in part, together with my last tarsk, for passage, for life, from the continent, and great Lurius, too, given the cessation of the draining of Ar’s wealth, the drying up of that flowing stream of gold, was muchly displeased with the recent events on the continent, and ill-disposed to receive those whom he had once sent to the ships with stirring music and brave banners. Impoverished, weaponless, defeated, despised, and disgraced, those such as I would not be welcomed. We were an embarrassment, visible tokens of a state’s shame. I sought fee then in Selnar, and Temos, but was no more fortunate. The defeat in the south, and the indignity of our retreat marked us, clinging to us as a stain. I became an itinerant laborer, concealing that I had once held rank amongst the spears of Cos. I lived as I could, earning what I might, in one town or another, a tarsk here, a tarsk there, and then it came to my attention, from a peddler come north, encountered in a tavern, that openings for oarsmen were being advertised in Telnus. The patrol fleet was being expanded, that the waters between Tyros and Cos might be better secured, better protected against unregulated shipping, this posing an unwelcome, yea, unacceptable, threat to the welfare and profits of our merchantry. And so it came about that I, who had been a spear of Cos, even a first spear, a leader of nine, who had served in the occupation of Ar, who had served even in the Central Cylinder itself, whose wallet had once been heavy with gold, who had walked proudly, who had been feared in the streets, whom none would dare accost, ventured to Telnus, hungry and destitute, seeking so modest a place as one on the thwarts of a patrol ship. Even so, many were the applicants for a single oar. Things were well in Cos for some, but less so for many. Where coin had been abundant, it was now scarce.
“We cannot use you,” said the examiner.
“Whom might you use better?” I inquired.
“He,” said the examiner, “and he,” indicating two fellows.
“I think not,” I said.
“Contest?” he asked.
“Yea,” I said.
I grappled with each, one after the other, and was twice thrown, and bloodied. I had lost. I lay then on the ground, beaten, in pain, in the bloody mud.
But I heard some men about, striking their left shoulders.
I looked about. I did not see my opponents, who had seemed good fellows, vigorous and brawny, needful of a place, too. They must have gone to the table, to sign the articles, or make their marks upon them.
“You did not do badly,” said a voice, by his insignia that of a harbor marshal.
I struggled to my feet.
“You are strong,” he said. “When have you last eaten?”
“Two days ago,” I said.
“Give him a place,” said the marshal.
We plied our levers, at a ten-beat, which strong men can maintain for as much as an Ahn, and continued this beat for something like twenty Ehn, and then the keleustes, warned to silence, put aside his hammers. The ship drifted forward a bit, noiselessly, through the fog. Then it rocked in place. One could hear the water lapping against the hull.
There was no command to bring the oars inboard.
The beat need not be rung, of course, but may be called softly, from amidships, if appropriate.
But there was only silence.
Then there was a rift in the fog, like the sudden, whispering drawing aside of a curtain, but briefly.
“Aiii!” cried a man.
We stood then, at the thwarts, and first beheld her.
Then the fog again closed in. I did not think we were more than seventy-five yards from her.
It seemed we were a chip, floating on the sea, off the coast of some ponderous, drifting immensity.
“What is it?” asked a man.
“A ship,” said a fellow. “A ship.”
“Oars!” called the captain, and we resumed our position.
“Back oar,” said the second officer, shuddering.
“No,” said the captain. “Stroke!”
“Withdraw,” urged the second officer.
“Stroke,” called the captain.
We did not know if he were curious, courageous, or mad. I think he was a good officer.
The ship moved a little forward, but there was murmuring behind me and to the side, consternation, and I do not think that every oar was drawn. Had we been a round ship I think the lash would have fallen amongst us.
“If you must,” said the second officer, “go closer, look, and then flee, but it is pointless, and none will believe your report.”
“Stroke,” called the captain.
It is rumored that there were gigantic dragons of the sea, prodigious monsters, lurking beyond the farther islands, aquatic prodigies guarding the end of the world, set there by Priest-Kings, as one might post guard sleen about the perimeter of a camp, but this thing, in the glimpse we had had, was no water-shedding, surfacing monster, toothed and scaled, nothing alive, as least we commonly thought of life, nothing curious, jealous, and predatory.
“Your command will be taken,” said the second officer.
“Stroke,” called the captain, softly, peering into the fog.
“Desist, Captain, I beg of you,” said the second officer.
The captain then was silent, listening.
The patrol ship was not large. She was a light galley, and she, though fitted with ram and shearing blades, was built more for speed and reconnaissance than fencing at sea, the ship the weapon itself. She was only some fifty foot Gorean from stem to stern, some ten feet in her beam. Such ships are less likely to engage a medium- or heavy-class galley than support such larger sisters in their altercations, perhaps hovering about, like a small sleen, awaiting an auspicious moment to take advantage of an otherwise distracted foe. We had only five oars to a side, and a rowing crew of twenty, two to each oar. Our common concern, or prey, were small boats, with a crew of four or five, tiny merchantmen, or smugglers, if you like, hoping to run the blockade to the farther islands. Larger galleys, rogues from the coastal ports, not signatory to the imposed treaties, or, more dangerously, pirates or merchantmen from Port Kar, our enemy, detected, would be reported to Telnus, in theory to be intercepted, if possible, on their return to their home ports. To be sure, interceptions were rare, and it was suspected that this had more to do with understandings and secret fees than faulty intelligence. Many high captains of both Tyros and Cos were wealthy men.
“There,” whispered the lookout, suddenly, pointing.
“Ah!” breathed the captain.
The fog had parted, again, and we could see the monstrous structure, now some fifty yards abeam.
Clearly it was a ship. It was wood. It was carvel-built, the mighty planks fitted, not the clinker-construction with overlapping planks. That construction is common with the serpents of the north. It ships more water, but with its elasticity, with its capacity to shift, to twist and bend, it is less likely to break up in a heavy sea. The ship had six masts, apparently fixed, which suggested it was a round ship, which has fixed masts, and often more than one, say, two or three, though never so many as six. The round ship, with its size and weight, though oared, usually by galley slaves, chained to their benches, relies more on its sails than a long ship. Interestingly, though the ship was carvel-built it was square rigged, with tiered sails, on tiered yards. The square sail is an all-purpose sail, whose single canvas may be adjusted to the wind. The mighty structure before us had a blunt, rearing prow. It had no ram, no shearing blades. It would be slow to come about, and a small galley might easily outdistance her, much as a racing kaiila might easily overtake a caravan of bosk-drawn wagons. It was not built for war, but for space and power, for height and storage, perhaps for invulnerability. We did not know what cargo it might carry. In its holds it might carry the stores of a small city. Its maneuverability would be so sluggish that the deft adjustments of shearing blades, responsive to subtleties of the ship’s movement, so common in the swift movements of Gorean naval warfare, would be impractical, if not impossible. Too, in such a mountain of wood there would be little use for a ram, as it would be of little use against a swifter, darting foe. To be sure, the ship itself would be formidable. It might plow through piers.
The fog then closed in again.
The great ship had been abeam.
The captain lifted his hand, and then lowered it.
We rocked, gently.
“Back oars,” suggested the second officer. “Back oars!”
“No,” said the captain.
I sensed he was alarmed. So, too, were we.
It was very quiet.
We were not sure, now, of the position of the great structure, or even if it were moving.
He called for no further stroke.
Then we heard the cry of a Vosk gull. These are large, broad-winged birds, which occasionally fish three and four hundred pasangs from the delta. Smaller gulls nest on the cliffs of both Tyros and Cos.
We did not see the bird.
It was then again quiet, save for the soft sound of water against the hull.
There was then another cry, but it was not the cry of the Vosk gull. It was a wild, shrill, ringing scream, unmistakable.
“That is a tarn!” cried a man.
“Impossible,” said the captain.
Even with the fog we could not be so far off our course, or so confused. The tarn, you see, is a land bird, a hook-beaked, vast-winged, gigantic, crested, dreaded, fearsome monster of the skies. Its talons can clasp a kaiila and carry it aloft, to drop it to its death, thence to land and feed on the meat. Its most common prey is the delicate, flocking, single-horned tabuk. A single wrench of that mighty beak could tear the arm from a man. The tarn, you see, never flies from the sight of land. It could not be the cry of a tarn.
Then, again, we heard that shrill scream, as though at dawn, as it might announce itself to the sun, Tor-tu-Gor, as it might inform the world of the privacy and sanctity of its nesting site, as it might warn even larls away from its surveyed domain.
The tarn, it is said, is the Ubar of the sky.
So astonishing then that men, so tiny beside its bulk, might saddle and use such monsters as mounts! Such men are called tarnsmen.
“Back oars! Back oars!” cried the second officer, standing wildly at the port rail.
“Back oars!” screamed the captain.
We seized the oars but it was useless. There was no time, no time to even lift the blades from the water.
Emerging from the fog, literally upon us, suddenly visible, was the vast bulk of the great ship.
There was a wrenching of wood and the cries of men, and the stem and stern of the long ship began to rise out of the water, and the planking amidships, shattering, pressed down, sank into the sea, and then the stem, I clinging to it, collapsed back into the water, and doubtless, on the other side, for I could not see, given the obscuring passing of the vast, intrusive bulk, the stern did as well, and Thassa burst up, flooding the thwarts, and then the deck. I stood in a foot or two of cold, swirling water. My station was forward, and I suddenly, unwillingly, realized that I was now clinging to what was only a part of the ship, a recognition I somehow frenziedly fought against acknowledging, not wanting to see it, or understand it, that she had been snapped in two. As the monstrous bow of the great structure continued on its way, placidly, like a force of nature, the remains of the long ship were swept aside. I had heard, above the cries and the breaking wood, from the other side of the passing hull, the sudden ringing of springal boards speeding javelins, doubtless ignited, into the enemy. We were fighting back. But I heard them only once. The decks were awash. Clinging to a remnant of the bulwarks, half in water, I saw the hull of the monster towering above me, fifty feet or more, like a several-storied building of wood, a moving insula, wet and glistening, moving. This was some five times the height of a large round ship. In all the world no such a thing had been seen.
Surely this was no human thing, but a creation of the gods of Gor, of the Priest-Kings themselves.
How absurd to have fired flaming javelins at such a vessel. Might that not displease the Priest-Kings, the gods and masters of Gor?
I blinked my eyes, fiercely, to rid them of water. I shook my head, to get my sopped hair behind me. It was cold, clinging to the bit of wreckage. I saw no one about me. I called out, but was not answered.
Then I thought, “No, the Priest-Kings would not build such mortal frames, and, if so, not of wood. Stories had it that they rode within ships, but strange ships, round, flat ships, like disks, disks of metal, which moved like clouds, swift as thought, in silence. Some claimed to have seen them over the palisade of the Sardar. But such stories must be false, as they were denied by Initiates, the white caste, highest and worthiest of all the castes, as they were intermediaries between Priest-Kings and mortals. How wise they were, and how powerful they were, how sacrosanct and holy they were, to have the ear of Priest-Kings, to have at their disposal the prayers, the spells, the rituals, the devotions, and sacrifices by means of which Priest-Kings might be swayed, by means of which their favor might be garnered. It was no wonder that that they were consulted by Ubars bearing baskets of gold, and simple Peasants, with a handful of suls. They were celebrated by cities and villages. They were petitioned by Merchants embarking on bold, uncertain ventures, by gamblers with an interest in the summer tharlarion races. Assassins sought their blessing. Some of the loveliest buildings on Gor were their temples. They lived well. They were frauds, laden with corruption.
I thought I heard the oars of a galley, a light galley, not much different from the patrol ship.
It must be a long ship of Tyros, come early to our rendezvous!
“Ho!” I cried.
“Ho!” I heard, in return, to my elation, some yards away, through the fog.
“Here, here!” I cried. “I am here! Hurry!”
I spat out water, and shook my head. My eyes stung from the water. Water swept over the wreckage, and then drained from it, again and again. I was often immersed. My hands slipped on the bit of railing I held. With my teeth I pulled off the heavy, water-filled oar gloves. Within them my fingers seemed frozen. I thrust the fingers of one hand into my mouth, and then those of my other hand, for a modicum of warmth. It was late in the season, and the waters were cold, and I knew not how long I or another, in the sweep and washing of the water, might be able to cling to so negligible a support. I dug my fingers into the ornate external carving on the wreckage. I was half in the water, half out of the water, on the wet, washed, sloping surface.
“Here, here!” I cried. “I am here!”
I heard some oars being indrawn, through the thole ports.
The sound was close!
“Call out,” I heard. “Call out!”
“Here, here!” I cried. The voice I had heard had clearly the accents of Tyros, or Cos, which accents are much the same, many times even indistinguishable.
Then, the fog parting, momentarily, I saw, looming above me, passing, a large, painted eye, black on yellow, that behind the small galley’s downward sloping, concave prow, such eyes that she may guard herself and see her way, for as those who follow the sea are well aware, the ship is a living thing, and without eyes how might she see? Without eyes how might she guard herself or hers, how find her way? She is not an object, but a fellow, a colleague, a friend, a companion, a lover, one with whom one shares an endeavor or an adventure, one to whom one entrusts oneself. She stands between you and the deep, cold waters of Thassa. She will not lie to you, or betray you. She will not cheat you or steal from you. She will never forsake you for another. She speaks to you in the creaking of her timbers, in the snapping of her sails, and the cracking of her lines.
Her hull was low in the water, and blue.
“Ho!” I called.
Blue is the common color of Cos.
Odd that a Cosian long ship, another Cosian long ship, would be in these waters. The ship, reassuringly, was not green, for pirates often paint their ships green, that they be the less seen on mighty, rolling Thassa. Many of the vessels of Port Kar, that den of thieves and cutthroats, that scourge of Thassa, were green, almost invisible, under oars, low in the water, the mast down.
“I see you!” called a voice.
Yes, clearly the accent was reassuring!
The galley back-oared on the port side. Her starboard oars were mostly indrawn, or still. The stroke of one of those levers can kill a man.
The hull of the galley was within two or three yards, and a wharfing pole thrust over the bulwarks, toward me. The common galley usually carries three wharfing poles, for pushing away from a wharf, until oars can obtain their purchase. One is usually used at the bow, the second amidships, the last at the stern. They are also used to adjust wharfage, until the lines are snug to the wharf cleats. In battle they help to prevent boardings, keeping another ship at bay until grappling hooks might be dislodged. I seized the pole and pulled myself to an unsteady footing on the wreckage.
“Steady,” said a voice.
I was shuddering and freezing, weak with misery and cold.
“Closer,” said the voice. “Good, good.”
The pole was being drawn inward, I lost my footing and my feet were in the water. Then to the waist. I clung to the pole. It was being drawn toward the railing, and lifted. I was afraid I could not hold to the pole. I was afraid, half frozen, and numb, that I would lose the pole, and fall back into the water. A hand was outstretched, over the vessel’s side, it rocking, toward me.
I grasped it, gratefully, in the seaman’s grip, wrist to wrist.
“Hail Cos!” I cried. “Hail mighty Lurius of Jad! Hail Tyros! Hail Chenbar, Ubar of Tyros!”
I was then drawn over the rail, and held in strong arms.
“Hail Cos,” I said. “Hail Tyros!”
“Hail Marlenus of Ar,” said a voice. “Hail Glorious Ar,” said another voice.
“Ar?” I said.
“Strip and bind him,” I heard.
I was thrown on my belly to the deck between the thwarts. My wrists were then jerked behind me and my ankles crossed, and I was bound, swiftly, expertly, by two men, hand and foot. My clothing was then cut away and cast over the side.
I lay on the deck between the thwarts, naked, and freezing. I squirmed a bit, fighting the ropes, but my struggles were unavailing. I was prone, between the thwarts, naked and bound, helplessly bound.
I felt a foot on my back. I was pressed down to the deck. “Lie still,” said a voice.
I ceased struggling.
The foot was then removed from my back.
“Is he well tied?” asked a voice.
“Yes,” said a voice, “he is as helpless as a trussed vulo, or a female slave.”
I cried out with rage, and fought the ropes. How furious I was that they had dared to compare my helplessness with that of a bound female slave, a domestic animal, thigh-marked and neck-encircled, a man’s purchasable, obedient, whip-fearing work beast and pleasure toy! My efforts were met with laughter. I then lay quietly on the deck, angry and sullen, helpless, as helpless as a trussed vulo, or, I suppose, a female slave.
I was their prisoner.
“Return to the ship,” said a man.
I am Interviewed; What Occurred Prior to my Interview; I Have Renewed an Acquaintance
“Keep your head down,” said the voice.
I stared at the flooring.
This was now my fourth day on the great ship. I knew, as yet, little about the ship. I did not know her course. I had not been on the main deck. I had been entered into the ship, naked and freezing, my ankles unbound, to permit me to walk, as I could, by means of a side port, of a size and sort with which I was utterly unfamiliar. The galley was nested within the hull itself, which opened to accommodate her, the galley being lifted and swung inboard by means of lines and davits. I suppose this, in its way, is not that much different from the common beaching of Gorean galleys at night, drawn ashore by their crews, as many Gorean seamen do not care to be at sea after the fall of darkness. I would later learn there were six such side ports, three on each side, each accommodating a light galley. In this fashion the light galleys were concealed within the great ship, in such a way that they would not be exposed to missile fire and might be expeditiously launched. For example, in this fashion, the great ship could use them as concealed, surprise weapons, releasing them on a side not visible to an enemy, or, say, applying them at night; similarly, such ships might facilitate reconnoitering, facilitate communication with the shore, provide vessels for obtaining supplies, and such. Indeed, shore-bound intelligence might not realize a mother ship existed, let alone one such as the great ship. There were many applications for such vessels. They could be used for fishing, by line, or net and trident, for boarding, looting, enslaving, and such. Also, they might be launched, if one wished, to dispose of witnesses, a practice favored by some pirates, or, as noted, to pick up survivors, following an action.
Once I had been lifted over the rail of the galley and handed to others, my ankles had been unbound, and I had been blindfolded. I was then led, supported by two fellows, for I could barely walk, through a maze of passages, and then descended for two levels. I heard a variety of accents, several of which I could not place. Several were clearly those of the islands, though some were more akin to those of the continent. I recognized, too, the accents of Ar, as I was familiar with them, from my time in the Ar, during the occupation. I had feared that my captors might have been of cities hostile to Cos and Tyros, but now, as the accents of all, those of the islands and the continent, seemed those of free men, and lacked the softness, deference, and submissiveness of slaves, I gathered that my captors were of diverse origins. I was thus, I supposed, the captive of pirates, for pirate crews are often diversely origined, often recruited from a medley of cast-offs, fugitives, ruffians, murderers, brigands, and such. This surmise, as it turned out, was substantially correct, but was inexact, and over simple. Better put, they were lost men, scattered men, hunted men, men with few resources, outlaws, vagabonds, wanderers, many without a Home Stone, perhaps even having dishonored or betrayed it, rude men, rough men, dangerous men, mercenaries, of a sort, recruited by mysterious leaders, in an obscure cause, which few understood. Why had they not left me to drown? Had they been of vengeful Ar, would they not have cut my throat and put me, bleeding, over the side of the galley? What could they want of me? I could not pretend to be of background, a fellow replete with rich connections, for whom a splendid ransom might be paid. Clearly my hands were roughened from the oar. And, as an oarsman, I would have little if any information pertaining to rich cargoes and secret schedulings. Clerks would know more of that than I. Perhaps they wanted news of the world. Surely it seemed they had their own world, their own city, a floating island of wood. Perhaps they knew as little of the world as the world knew of them. Given the treatment to which I had been subjected, my stripping, and binding, and blindfolding, it seemed clear that I would not be offered the opportunity to sign articles with them, and make one with them, even were I willing, even eager, to do so. And would they not view me as their enemy, for did our ship not fire upon their mountain of wood when it trod, however unwittingly, upon our vessel? I had heard the harsh crackings, marking the launching of sets of javelins, doubtless ignited. We had tried to burn their ship, and how fearsome and dangerous is fire at sea! Too, how could I betray the Home Stone of Jad, or forswear my allegiance to my Ubar, mighty Lurius of Jad? And how could I serve with those of Ar or, say, Port Kar, sworn enemies? Of what value could I be to these men? What might they want of me? Perhaps there were free women on board, and one or another wished to amuse herself with a male silk slave. But I was not such a slave. I heard a metal gate open, and I was conducted within. There was straw underfoot. They sat me down and unbound my hands. Two blankets were pressed to me and I clutched them gratefully. The blindfold was then removed. I was in a small cell, but not the sort of stall, kennel, or cage in which a female slave is kept. In it I might stand upright, and move about. It was not, then, the sort of device, or housing, in which a female slave, designedly, is well apprised of her bondage. Outside the cell, there was a tiny tharlarion-oil lamp, which swung with the motion of the ship. The cell was in some sort of hold, or division of a hold. It was not the only cell in the hold, but it was the only one with an occupant. I wrapped myself in the two blankets and, shivering, burrowed down in the straw.
I had not been killed, as yet, at least. What might they want of me, if anything?
I do not know how long I slept.
I heard no bars, marking the four watches, each of five Ahn, into which the day of a round ship is often divided. A bar signifies the beginning of a watch, struck once, twice for the second Ahn of the watch, and so on. The first watch begins with the commencement of the day’s first Ahn, the second with the sixth Ahn, the third with the eleventh Ahn, and the fourth with the sixteenth Ahn. The final division of the fourth watch commences with the twentieth Ahn. Interestingly, at least to those unaccustomed to the routine of the round ship, the bars which do not pertain to one are scarcely noticed, no more than the creaking of timbers, the wash of waves against the hull. One is not likely to much notice, and may easily sleep through, bars which do not pertain to one’s watch, but note, and even awaken to, a bar pertinent to one’s own watch. The bars are usually unobtrusive. The consistent, repetitive ringing of a bar is a signal of alarm, a sound much dreaded. To be sure, not all round ships regulate their day in this fashion. Some differences occur, port to port, Ubarate to Ubarate. Some round ships do not have recourse to bars, at all, but use clepsydras, sand glasses, and such, to mark watches, and use watch keepers to alert or rouse the pertinent watch. In this way the ship may move in silence. For example, watch bars are not used on a long ship, a ship of war. On such ships bars may, however, serve other purposes, signaling and such. On some ships they time the stroke of oars, but this is more commonly done by mallets on a copper-headed drum, or, if silence is in order, by calling the beat, from amidships. As mentioned, I heard no bars. This suggested to me, but did not prove, that this mysterious, monstrous vessel in which I found myself encelled, despite its size, was not a round ship, or, better, not a round ship as one usually thinks of such ships. At that time I understood neither its purpose nor nature. I did know it was capable of destroying a long ship, riding over it as though it did not even exist.
“Master?” I heard.
I opened my eyes, and rose to a sitting position, cross-legged, in the straw, the blankets down, so that my arms were free. The gate to the cell was open, swung back. I saw nothing beyond it but the wall of the hold, the steps which had led down to this level, the small tharlarion-oil lamp on its chain, moving a bit with the rhythm of the ship. There was no guard behind her, but I did not doubt that one had opened the gate for her, and had then withdrawn. Such as she are not trusted with keys. The gate would lock, if swung shut. It would have been nothing to strike her aside and exit the cell, but there was, in effect, no point in doing so. The vessel at sea, flight would be foolish. Where would one go? Where would one hide? I would remain where I had been placed, at least for now. I must learn more. I must have more information. Those who had incarcerated me, I realized, assumed my likely judgment in this matter. I found this gratifying. In its way, it said they did not think it likely that I was stupid. In its way, it was a token of respect. I had been given enough time to sleep, to recuperate, to become better aware of my position, and my dependence on the will of others. I might have taken her in hand, but she would have little value as a hostage, as she was an animal, and not one of particular value. Her loss could be replaced indifferently with that of any one of a dozen, or hundred, similar beasts. It would be much like trying to bargain with a verr or vulo in hand. Who would take one seriously?
“Master,” she said, seeing my eyes upon her, “may I approach? I bear nourishment.”
“Yes,” I said.
In her two hands she bore a bowl.
“Broth,” she said.
“There,” I said, brushing some straw aside, and indicating where she might place the bowl, before me.
She approached, insufficiently humbly I thought.
She bent down.
She started. The bowl had suddenly jerked, and broth had leapt in the bowl, some of it running down the side of the bowl, some spilling to the wood. She looked suddenly frightened. Such as she could be whipped for clumsiness.
“There,” I said again, indicating, again, the place before me.
She placed the bowl before me. She now looked down, and to the side, hiding her face from me.
She then rose up, and facing me, for she knew that much, backed away. She seemed eager to withdraw.
“Wait,” I said, as one speaks to such as she.
She then stood back from me, facing me, her head down.
I had no interest in punishing her. She was not even mine. I supposed she was part of the ship’s furniture, so to speak. I was curious as to why she had started so.
“You know me?” I asked.
“Surely I could not know you,” she said.
I looked up at her. Something seemed familiar about her. Was it her voice?
“May I withdraw, Master?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
Her body stiffened, but she remained in place.
“Stand as what you are,” I said.
“Please, Master!” she protested.
“As what you are,” I repeated. “You have been taught, have you not?”
She then stood well, lithe and lissome, supple and graceful, her back straight, her shoulders back, her hip turned.
I examined her lines. I would have guessed a silver tarsk and change.
In such as she slovenly posture is not accepted. Before men such as she must stand well, move well, and such. If they do not the lash will see to their correction.
“Lift you head,” I said.
She complied, but with obvious reluctance. Surely she knew that in such as she acquiescence was to be unquestioning and instantaneous.
“Do I not know you?” I asked.
“Surely not, Master,” she said.
She must remain before me, of course, as she was, as I had placed her.
She wore a brief ship’s tunic, sleeveless, brown, slit at the hips, with a deep neckline, a feature by means of which certain aspects of her value might be the more helpfully assessed.
“Come here,” I said to her, “kneel before me.”
“Please, Master!” she protested.
“Now,” I said.
“Good,” I said.
She knelt with her knees closely together, clenched together. The palms of her hands were down, on her thighs.
“Now lean forward.”
“Master,” she protested.
“Must a command be repeated?” I asked.
“No,” she said, frightened. The repetition of a command is often cause for discipline.
She leaned forward, and, as I gestured, even more so, and I took her chin gently in my hand and then, I, too, leaning forward, lifted her head, and then turned her head from side to side.
I then released her, and sat back.
I laughed, and she drew back, and buried her face in her hands and wept.
“I thought I recognized your voice,” I said. “Too, as I recall, you were occasionally careless in your toilette, your veil, more than once, as though inadvertently, being disarranged. You did that to torment us, the lower soldiers, did you not?”
She was silent.
“What do they call you here?” I asked.
“Alcinoe,” she said. “I hate the name! I hate it! It is a Cosian name.”
“It is a lovely name,” I said. “And I am Cosian. My Home Stone is that of Jad.”
She before me was the former Lady Flavia of Ar, who had been one of the inner circle of the Ubara, Talena of Ar. I recognized her, from my duties in the Central Cylinder, during the occupation.
“I suspect,” I said, “you were on the proscription lists posted in Ar, following the restoration of Marlenus.”
The fear in her face confirmed this speculation.
“Do not betray me,” she begged.
“I shall have to think about it,” I said.
“I was of high caste, of high family, of position and importance, of influence, wealth, and power, and now,” she sobbed, “I have this!” Her eyes filled with tears, and she put the fingers of her right hand to the flat, sturdy, metal band which closely encircled her throat.
How lovely such devices are, closely clasping and locked, on the neck of a female! How they enhance a woman’s beauty!
What she said was surely true, and she, in the company of the Ubara, Talena of Ar, was an arch collaborator with the occupation forces in Ar. She, and many others like her, both men and women, had been involved in the conspiracy by means of which Ar had fallen, in the opening of Ar’s gates, in the razing of her walls, in the machinations by means of which Ar had been subdued and looted for months. She, as others who were confidantes of the Ubara, had become rich in the profiteering attendant on the occupation, as in controlling the supply and distribution of goods, in private marketing, in illicit trade, in the peddling of influence, and the selling of favors. Bribery and corruption had been rampant and those with the ear of the Ubara, those on whom she might choose to smile, prospered, while the common citizenry suffered, struggled to live, knew fear and uncertainty, peril and want, and must endure the contumely and abuse not only of undisciplined, garrisoning soldiers but of wandering bands of uncontrolled, wayward youths who, scorning their own Home Stone, affected the habits, accents, and styles of Ar’s masters. Too, Talena, in the name of due tribute, the meting out of justice, the garnerings of recompenses for Ar’s alleged crimes, and such, had used her power to bring many of the free women of Ar into the collar, to be transported abroad, to Cos, Tyros, and elsewhere, as slaves. Indeed, the Ubara had used this device to avenge herself on many free women, who might have scorned her during her sequestration under Marlenus, or might merely have been alleged as rivals to the Ubara in the way of beauty. Claudia Tentia Hinrabia, once the daughter of an Administrator of Ar, was one such. She was given as a slave to Myron, the polemarkos of Temos, who, behind the throne, was the actual power in Ar. Other beauties of Ar were put in the taverns and brothels, several of which the Ubara owned and managed under the false name of Ludmilla. The Lady Flavia, too, I knew, had, by means of her influence with the Ubara, seen to it that various of her peers, perceived enemies or rivals, were publicly stripped and consigned to the chains of slaves. During the course of the uprising, the restoration, even in the midst of fighting, angry crowds had sought out traitors and collaborators, and brought them, bound and screaming, to improvised impaling spears. Proscription lists were publicly posted, containing the names of many traitors and collaborators yet to be caught and brought to the justice of the spear. I had no doubt but that the name of the Lady Flavia occurred on more than one such list.
“You were close to the Ubara,” I said. “Doubtless you know her fate.”
“Doubtless there is a reward for her,” she said.
“Very much so,” I said.
“And you would like to obtain the reward.”
“Who would not?” I asked. Actually I thought it highly unlikely that a single individual could bring Talena to Ar. It might require negotiation, and the backing of a city. Otherwise the Ubara, captive, might change hands, from brigand to brigand, a dozen times before being brought before the Ubar’s throne.
“May I inquire the extent of the reward?” she asked.
“May I inquire the extent of the reward-what?” I said.
“May I inquire the extent of the reward-Master?” she said.
“No,” I said.
Her body tightened and a flicker of annoyance flashed upon those somewhat haughty, but exquisite features.
I gathered she did not yet know what she was, except doubtless in some practical or legal sense. It was not yet understood in every fiber of her body, and, helplessly, profoundly, as it would eventually be, in the most remote recesses of her heart. She did not yet think herself, regard herself, recognize herself, know herself, and feel herself, as what she now was, wholly, and truly. She thought of herself as a free woman in a collar, and not yet as a natural, rightful slave, at last appropriately, publicly collared.
“You were close to the Ubara,” I said.
“None closer,” she said.
“You were her confidante?”
“Yes,” she said.
“You were, I gather, the dearest of friends,” I said.
“I hated her,” she said.
“But doubtless you dissembled friendship, and such,” I said.
“I do not know her whereabouts,” she said.
“Would you tell me if you knew?” I asked.
“I do not know her whereabouts,” she said.
“You do not know her fate?”
“No,” she said, “-Master.”
I picked up the bowl of broth, and sipped some. It was still warm, and I was grateful for it. I regarded her over the brim of the bowl.
“May I withdraw?” she said.
“No,” I said. Such as she does not leave the presence of a free person without permission, either implicit or explicit.
“Tell me the last you know of the Ubara,” I said.
I saw she was reluctant to speak. I supposed that she would be one of a small number of individuals, the inner circle, who might have been in the vicinity of the Ubara, prior to her escape, or disappearance. I did not doubt, really, that she was ignorant of the location of the Ubara, as she proclaimed. Had she not been, she might have tried, foolishly, to barter that information for her freedom. So little she knew of the import of her collar! One does not bargain with slaves. In a Gorean court the testimony of slaves is commonly taken under torture. A slave who attempts to bargain is commonly punished, usually with the lash. If a slave possesses information of interest to masters she is expected to communicate it promptly. Failure to do so is cause for discipline. A slave who has had the insolence and temerity to attempt to bargain with masters may hope, after her punishment, which is likely to be severe, that her life may be spared.
“Where did you see her last?” I asked.
“Must I speak?” she asked.
My eyes conveyed my answer.
“You will not believe my words,” she said. “I scarce credit them myself, and I saw, or seemed to see, what occurred.”
“Continue,” I said, taking another sip of the broth.
“It was on the fourth day of the uprising,” she said. “Those of Ar had risen, everywhere, it seemed, from doorways and cellars, from within the cylinders and on the bridges, rushing forth, seizing up as weapons things so simple as clubs, poles, staves, and rocks, overwhelming in their numbers even armed men.”
We had done our best, of course, we of the occupation, to disarm the populace, pretending this to be in their own best interest, that in this way they would be better protected, that in this way they would be assuring their own safety, security, and welfare. And so might the small, yellow, single-horned tabuk be persuaded to abandon its one weapon, that it might thus be safer amongst prowling sleen. It is important that the subject population be as helpless as possible, that it be unable to defend itself, that those sovereign in the state may thus impose their will, their exactions and abuses, with impunity upon it, having then nothing to fear from the weak, the disarmed, the unprotected, and defenseless. But we had not reckoned with Marlenus of Ar, that he might return. What had been begun by the Delta Brigade, that hated, secret band of subversives, the resistance, implacable to the occupation, came openly alive and flaming with the sudden reappearance of Marlenus of Ar, Ubar of Ubars. It was as though the Delta Brigade had spread an anticipatory terrain of tinder and oil throughout the streets of Ar, into which great Marlenus, come somehow to the city, flung the torch of revolution. His hand seemed visible everywhere. Truly had the banner of Ar been unfurled.”
I myself, with my unit, had been withdrawn from the Central Cylinder on the second day of the uprising. It would have been madness to have stayed longer, certainly in the Cylinder, which, given its location, could be easily cut off from reinforcements. We would be besieged in an alien citadel, without support, in the midst of enemies. Who could one trust? We would have been outnumbered by dozens to one, hundreds to one. The camp of the polemarkos had already been overrun. Initially it had been surmised the rebellion would be easily suppressed, but soon its extent and power became fearfully obvious. This was no sporadic thing, easily put down with a few blows. This was no simple riot, spontaneous and disorganized, as one protesting the burning of a shop, a scarcity in the markets. Happily the occupation had overseen the dismantling of the walls of Ar. We avoided, as we could, the avenues and boulevards, and sought small streets, away from the shouts of men and the sounds of war, the ferocity of rude battle, and made our way to the pomerium, no longer marked by walls and towers. By dusk we were in the countryside. Only later were we to reconstruct what had occurred, the pockets of our resistance, overcome one by one, the decimated retreats, the slaughterings, the terror, the blood, the hunting of traitors and collaborators, the joining of the forces of Ar, maintained during the occupation, to the uprising, the appearance of never-surrendered, concealed weapons, many brought back from the delta, by returning veterans of the Delta Expedition, the contributions of Peasants, masters of the great bow, who had apparently unwittingly sheltered Marlenus prior to the uprising, the numerous proscriptions, the reenthronement of Marlenus, and such.
“You were still in the city, on the fourth day of the rebellion?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Why would I not believe what you might say?” I asked.
“It was the fourth day of the uprising,” she said. “We had sealed off the upper floors of the Central Cylinder. We were on the roof of the Central Cylinder. Seremides, master of the Taurentians, the palace guard, was in command. There were some forty of us, men and women. Many of the Taurentians had fled, been killed, or captured. Seremides was attempting to negotiate with the rebels. They seemed little interested in his proposals. There were tarns on the roof, by means of which Seremides, and some of his men, might attempt their escape, a hope meager but not forlorn, for the sky is wide and deep. We had been told there would be tarn baskets for the women, but when I emerged on the roof, I saw no such baskets. Seremides had so bespoke himself, it seems, to calm our fears. His power of bargaining, as he saw it, was vested in his control of the Ubara herself. He intended to trade her for the escape of himself and his men. You should have seen the proud Ubara on the roof. Seremides had had her don a slave tunic, and you know what such things are.”
“Yes,” I said, “I see one.”
She perhaps referred to the extraordinary brevity of such a garment, its capacity to cling to a slave’s body, its brazen scantiness, its shameful display of the slave’s body as that of the animal she is, the lack of a nether closure, that she may know herself at the pleasure of masters, and such.
“And he knelt her, roped, at his thigh, barefoot, with her head down. It much pleased me to see the Ubara on her knees, beside a man, helpless in ropes, her head down, refused permission to raise it, as though a submitted slave.”
“Why would he so shame the Ubara,” I asked, “remove her robes of state, her veiling, and such?” I asked.
“I think for two reasons,” she said. “”First, he wanted it to seem that he understood the uprising, even favored it, even shared its views, and was thus discountenancing the Ubara and her policies, for which he had held a secret animus for months, and, to show his allegiance to the uprising, had taken the tyranness prisoner, and was now willing, for certain considerations, his life, and that of his men, and perhaps a bag of gold, to surrender her, clad and shamed as she was, to the justice of Ar.”
She had paused.
“And there was perhaps a second reason,” I said.
“I think so,” she said. “Are not men beasts?”
“It is true they are men,” I said.
Are not women beautiful, and desirable? Who has not seen them in the paga taverns, stripped or silked? Who has not admired them in an exposition cage, on the auction block, under torchlight? Is it not pleasant to see them slave clad and collared, in the parks, on the boulevards, in the markets? Is it not delightful to see them being walked, back-braceleted and leashed, or chained at slave rings, awaiting the return of their masters? What man, truly, does not want to own a beautiful woman, to have her in his collar and at his feet?
“The negotiations, I take it,” I said, “did not go well.” Certainly, it seemed clear that Talena was not in the custody of the authorities of Ar.
“They might have gone well,” she said. “But they did not even begin. Those of Ar did not care to deal. There were mobs in the streets. There was no discipline. They wanted blood.”
“Were you not tunicked, knelt, and bound, on the roof?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” she said. “I was in my fullness of regalia, in robes, hoods and veils. It was Talena, not I, who was shamefully exhibited, as might have been a slave. Indeed, it was I who found the Ubara cowering in her quarters and led the men to her. It was I who, at the behest of Seremides, cast her the rag of a slave, and bade her don it, and expeditiously, or the men would see to the matter. It gave me pleasure to scorn her pleadings and refuse her piteous supplications for succor. Did she truly think I was her friend? When, to her shame she divested herself of her robes, hoods, veils, and sandals, and was slave clad, I called to the men, ‘She is ready. Bring your ropes!’ On the roof, we knew the rebels were approaching. We could see rebel tarnsmen in the sky. ‘Where is the tarn basket?’ I cried to Seremides. ‘What is to become of me?’ He answered not. I seized his sleeve, but he brushed me aside, and I fell to the flooring of the cylinder’s roof. We could hear the anthem of Ar in the streets below. We knew that rebels within the cylinder would shortly reach the roof. ‘Slay the Ubara!’ called a man, holding tarn reins, to Seremides. ‘Show thus your allegiance to Ar!’ Seremides drew his sword. But then the strangeness took place, which I doubt that you will believe.”
I addressed myself again to the broth.
“It could only have been the intervention of Priest-Kings,” she said.
I did not speak.
“There was a sudden darkness,” she said, “as though a dark cloud had suddenly enveloped the cylinder, or its roof. We cried out in consternation. Two of the tarns screamed and one broke away, in flight. ‘Where is the Ubara?’ cried Seremides. He seemed to be casting about. It could have been a moonless midnight, suddenly precipitated. I felt my robes seized, wildly, and sensed a blade at my cheek. ‘I am Flavia!’ I cried. ‘Flavia!’ I was thrust back down. Then there was a sudden blast of light, obliterating the darkness, blinding us, and it seemed, when we could see, that a large metal object, I think thick and circular, was disappearing in the distance.”
“And the Ubara?” I asked.
“Gone,” she said.
I have attained to the Second Knowledge, but this made little sense to me. It seemed obvious that such an ensuance could be explained, if at all, only in terms of a sky ship, and, such, if it existed, would presumably emanate from the Sardar, allegedly the abode of Priest-Kings. Her story was so untoward and bizarre I thought it not likely she would be lying. If it were a lie, it would be a most improbable lie. Too, such as she could be punished severely for lying. They are not free women, who may lie with impunity. Too, to such an event, there must have been a number of witnesses, not only on the roof, but in the sky, tarnsmen, others in cylinders and on bridges, the crowds in the street below, and such.
“When it became clear that Talena was gone,” she said, “Seremides and his men, finding their situation critical, took to desperate flight. I reached for the mounting ladder of Seremides’ tarn, but it was jerked away, and, in a moment, I was in the shadow of those great beating wings, the bird lifting itself, scarcely able to keep my footing, my robes and veils whipping about me, and then the monster was in flight, and Seremides, and his men, were streaking away, scattering, pursued by tarnsmen.”
“Did Seremides escape?” I asked.
“I do not know,” she said.
“How is it that you are here?” I asked. “How did you escape from Ar?”
“I found myself alone on the roof,” she said. “The other women, knowing themselves not so highly placed as I, the high confidante of the Ubara, and thus less likely to be borne to safety, and there being no tarn baskets, as noted, had fled the roof, descending into the cylinder to meet whatever fates might be theirs. I resolved to put into action a bold plan, one I had conceived as a last, fearful resort, if all seemed lost, to be executed before the upper levels of the cylinders were attained. I descended to my apartment, but two levels below. I summoned my five sandal slaves, ordered them into an open side compartment, and had them bind, gag, and blindfold one another, I attending to the last. They would not be able to see what I did, nor would they be able to speak, until relieved of their gags. I then went to a small panel in my chamber of couching, slid back the panel, and removed from it a tiny, secret chest, which I feverishly unlocked. Within this chest, as a last, desperate resort, I had placed a slave tunic and collar, the key to which I might conceal in the tunic’s hem. I shuddered to even touch such things, the garment tiny and flimsy, the collar light but so imminently practical and efficient, with its tiny, sturdy lock, which went at the back of the neck. I removed the small handful of jewels from my pouch, which treasure I had intended to bear with me in my escape, and concealed them, together with the collar key, within the tunic, in a specially prepared, interior sleeve. I smoothed them about, so their presence would not be evident. I heard pounding at an outer door. I tore away my robes and veils and thrust them beneath the covers of the couch. I dared to look upon myself in the mirror, and I recognized, though not with my customary pleasure and composure, that I was quite beautiful. Momentarily I feared I might never be able to pass as a slave, being far too beautiful.”
“Continue,” I said.
“In moments I had donned the tunic. I snapped the collar about my neck. I shuddered as I did so. How meaningful must that sound be to a woman who realizes she is now collared, truly. I reassured myself, pressing it with my fingers, against my leg, that the key was at hand, concealed within the tunic. Again I looked into the mirror, and the thought crossed my mind, horrifying me, that I might be found of interest by men. How worthless and disgusting are slaves! How lustful men seek them so! I was profoundly disturbed, terrified, to see my neck in a collar. I seemed transformed, to be something totally other than I had been. How men might see a woman in such a device! I feared I knew! I was terrified, and furious, that I, a free woman, might be seen as a slave, but, at the same time, I was terrified that I might not be seen as a slave, for my life itself might well depend on the success or failure of this deceit. How could I, with my beauty, so far beyond that of a slave, pass as a slave? But I must do my best. Such was my only hope. On the fourth day of the uprising we were well aware of affairs in the streets below, and the proscription lists, and I had learned my name stood high on the lists, not far below those of Talena, Seremides, and others.”
“Surely,” I said, “you had concealed funds, weightier, more ample treasures, coffers of gold, or such, about the city, to provide you with a larger wherewithal of escape?”
“No,” she said. “We did not anticipate the return of Marlenus, the uprising. Too, as it turned out, I would not have been able to reach them, and, had I been able to reach them, it would have been difficult, or impossible, to transport them from the city.”
“True,” I said.
“Jewels,” she said, “must do, what I could easily carry, place in a pouch.”
“Or conceal in a tunic,” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“So you would escape in the disguise of a slave,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Who would note me? I feared only that my beauty would betray me, that men, if perceptive, might note that it was far beyond that of a mere slave.”
I found her views interesting. One of the highest compliments one can pay a free woman, though perhaps not to her face, is that she is “slave beautiful.” Commonly it is only the most beautiful of women who are brought into the collar. After all, one wants to sell them.
“So,” she said, “well disguised, and bearing riches, I would make my way to freedom.”
“I see,” I said.
I wondered if she knew that that ruse, feigning bondage, was not unprecedented amongst free women in straits, for example, in a burning city, being sacked, and such. And I supposed that she did not know that tunics were removed routinely and examined for such articles, jewels, rings, coins, keys, and such, as well as the body of the female.
“The pounding at the door grew more insistent. Too, there was shouting. And I then heard heavy blows against the wood, the striking of some tool.”
I supposed this would be siege hammer, or possibly a hand ram, swung by one or more men.
“‘Wait, wait, Masters’ I cried, using the word ‘Masters’ as an aspect of my disguise. ‘The Mistress is not here!’ I said. ‘She has fled! I will open the door!’ I lifted away the bars, and the door burst inward, striking me to the side. I was bruised. I kept my head down. They must not see how beautiful I was. They must think me a mere slave! ‘Whose compartments are these?’ demanded a man, with a sharpened half-staff. ‘Those of my Mistress, the Lady Flavia of Ar, Master!’ I responded. ‘Excellent, the slut Flavia!’ he cried. ‘Where is she?’ he demanded. ‘I do not know, Master,’ I said. ‘Fled!’ ‘She has been proscribed,’ he said. ‘She no longer has slaves. Report to the vestibule below. You will be reallotted.’ ‘Yes, Master!’ I said. ‘What is your name?’ demanded another man. ‘Publia, Master,’ I said. ‘-if it pleases Master?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘-if it pleases Master.’ ‘‘Publia’ is too fine a name for a slave,’ said a fellow. ‘She is a sandal slave,’ said another. ‘Consider the length of her tunic, and the fineness of its material.’ ‘Let her belong to a man,’ said another, ‘and she will find out what it is to be a slave.’ More than one man laughed at this. Some of the men then, after briefly looking about, exited the compartments, to pound on other doors, and some of them began to ascend the stairs, leading to the next level. Of those still in the compartments, I heard one say, ‘Ho, what have we here?’ ‘Tethered verr!’ said another. ‘Tastas!’ said another. ‘Trussed vulos!’ laughed another. ‘Well-prepared puddings,’ laughed another, ‘ready for delectation!’ My prone, or supine, sandal slaves had been discovered, bound hand and foot, gagged and blindfolded. Unnoticed, I slipped through the door. The attention of the brutes, I was sure, as I had some sense of the interests of men, would be occupied for a time with the sandal slaves. How frightful it must be for the slaves, I thought, to find themselves helpless, even blindfolded, in the hands of men. I did not think it likely they could betray me, as they did not know what I had done, or where I might be. I would soon, if all went well, be well away. I had been an excellent Mistress to the slaves, not merely in demanding a meticulous perfection in their many duties as a lady’s serving slave, which is to be expected, but in regulating and supervising their behavior, demeanor, speech, posture, and such. I had been much concerned to improve them, for they were, of course, a reflection on me. Accordingly, I rigorously supervised their deportment, and saw to it that they did not stray from the paths of virtue. The standards for a lady’s serving slave, you see, are quite high. Such must be refined, dutiful, humble, undefiled, unsullied, and pure. Even to look upon men is forbidden them. Did I not once see Althea, in the market, look over her shoulder, and smile at a handsome drover? I switched her all the way home, across the back of the thighs, and back in the compartments I gave her a whipping she would never forget! Such behavior embarrasses me. Many slaves are hard to tell from a she-sleen in heat. Have I not seen the tears in their eyes, and how they brush against their masters, how they, on their leashes, lift their lips hopefully to his? Who knows what goes on at a slave ring? How tragic I thought, that my lovely sandal slaves might now fall into the hands of men. But I could no longer protect them and preserve their purity. I was not far from the compartments when I heard Althea cry out, as though in joy, ‘Masters!’ Perhaps she belongs at a man’s slave ring, I thought. She could never manage even the secret interior fastenings of my robes of concealment, and a kaiila might have draped my veils more tastefully.
“I descended, level by level. When I reached the vestibule I was horrified to see a number of slaves, doubtless from the lower floors, mostly tower slaves and sandal slaves, naked and on all fours, fastened together, like beads on a string, by a single long rope, successively tied and knotted about the neck of each. ‘Take off your tunic,’ said a man, ‘and go to the end of the rope.’ ‘Yes, Master,’ I said, but, as no one was looking, I went to the end of the line, but then slipped to the side and exited the cylinder. I was outside, on the plaza. I was startled that the fellow who had spoken to me had not been more careful, or more suspicious. It seems he had, without a second thought, taken me as a slave. I found this incomprehensible, and annoying, but I was grateful that he been so negligent, so undiscerning.”
“Taking you for a slave,” I said, “it never occurred to him that you would not obey.”
“But I was a free woman,” she said.
“True,” I said.
“Why would he suppose that a slave would obey?” she asked.
“Were you more of a slave,” I said, “you would understand.” The obedience of a slave is to be unquestioning and instantaneous. It does not take an intelligent woman long to learn this, usually no more than a first hesitation, following which they are apprised of their lapse by the switch or lash.
“What would they do with the gathered slaves?” she asked.
“I would suppose,” I said, “as confiscated goods, they would become the property of the state, later to be distributed, put on sale or such.”
“Suitable for slaves,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“How meaningless and worthless they are,” she said.
“They have their uses,” I said.
“Though there were many in the streets,” she said, “almost no one paid attention to me. It was almost as though I might have been a loose verr.”
“Or tarsk,” I suggested.
“I made my way through crowds,” she said. “There was only one untoward incident. Most unpleasant! Only a hundred yards from the walls, I was accosted by a large female slave. ‘High slave!’ she sneered. ‘Give me your sandals!’”
“You wore sandals?” I said.
“Of course,” she said.
I nodded. It was not that unusual for a favored slave, a high slave, a spoiled slave, or such, to be granted sandals.
Most masters, subject, of course, to conditions of weather and terrain, keep their girls barefoot. This is because they like to see the feet of slaves bare, as they like, generally, bareness in slaves. Too, the feet of slaves are often attractive, small, and pretty. Too, of course, being barefoot helps the slaves to keep in mind that they are slaves. The barefootedness of the slave also tends to draw a further distinction between her and the free woman, for the free woman, even of low caste, almost always has footwear of one sort or another, even if it is only a wrapping of cloth. Too, who would put sandals, slippers, or such, on verr, tarsks, kaiila, or such?
“Did your girls have sandals?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” she said.
I raised the broth, again, to my lips, surveying her over its brim. She seemed uneasy, my eyes upon her.
“Master?” she said.
She seemed uncertain, as to whether she might continue to speak. I found that encouraging. She was not sure of herself before me. That was appropriate. It seemed clear she wished to speak, but was reluctant to ask permission to do so, for what that might signify, not so much to me, as to her.
I put the bowl to the floor, beside me, with its residue of fluid.
“Master?” she said, again.
I suspected it had been long since anyone had listened to her, long since her hunger, that of a woman, to be heard had been satisfied. To be denied speech is a torment for them. Indeed, the control of their speech, as that of their food, and garmenture, muchly impresses on them what they are. It leaves them in little doubt that they are in a collar. They want so much to speak! I think that we should indulge them in this. Certainly it is another pleasure, that of listening, derivable from them. So put one such as she, a highly intelligent, articulate, aware, sensitive, literate woman, such as obviously belongs in the collar, before you, and listen to her, and with care. She is, of course, to be naked and kneeling, with her hands braceleted or thonged behind her. There is, I assure you, a special flavor or ambiance to such a conversation. Afterwards, when one wishes, one terminates the conversation, and does with her what one wishes.
“Continue,” I said.
“This monstrous female,” she said, eagerly, gratefully, “perhaps a discipline slave in a pleasure garden, used to keep smaller, more beautiful females in line, or a female draft slave, or a laundress, at best, said, ‘Give me your sandals!’ ‘Never,’ cried I, ‘slave!’ ‘Slave?’ she said. ‘Get out of my way,’ I cried, ‘slave, or I will have the flesh lashed off your large, ugly bones!’ She looked at me, suddenly, warily. ‘Is Mistress free?’ she asked. ‘No,’ I said, ‘of course not. I am only a poor slave, as yourself.’ ‘Truly?’ she said. ‘Certainly,’ I said, ‘you can see I am tunicked and collared. Now let me pass!’ ‘You high slaves,’ she said, ‘think you are better than the rest of us!’ ‘We are superior,’ I informed her. Was that not obvious? ‘But we all lick the feet of men!’ she said. ‘Get out of my way!’ I demanded. ‘Your sandals!’ she said, putting out her hand. ‘No!’ I said. After all, how could I walk without them? ‘You would deny me,’ she asked, ‘you bauble, you small, well-turned, meaningless morsel of collar meat, you plaything, you caressable little she-urt!’ And then she leaped at me and seized me by the hair, and twisted her hands within it, and shook my head, and I screamed with misery, blind with pain. Then she forced me down to my knees, I, actually a free woman, and, without relinquishing her hold on my hair, still hurting me, terribly, went behind me, and jerked my head up. ‘I am going to tear the tunic off your little man-pleasing body!’ she snarled. ‘Please, no, Mistress!’ I cried, terrified, in pain, for in my flank there was no iron burn. Lacking that I feared the impaling spear was imminent. ‘Mistress, mistress, please, no!’ I wept. I was then thrown forward, to my stomach, and, simultaneously, thankfully, she released my hair. I dared not move. I felt my sandals stripped off. When I dared I turned to my side, and looked up, fearfully, and saw her, through tears, standing almost over me. She dangled the sandals from her hand, looked at me, and laughed. She was so large, and strong. I could not have begun to match strength, nor try force, with her. No longer did men, and society, stand behind me. She disappeared in the crowd, and I rose, painfully, to my feet. I pulled down the tunic, for it had come high on my thighs. ‘Pretty kajira,’ laughed a fellow, passing, and made a noise which frightened me. I must remember that I was in a collar! I shuddered, and drew down the tunic even more. My feet were now bare. How strange it seemed for my feet to be bare, to feel grit beneath them, sand, a pebble, the smoothness of street stones. I did not know if I could walk. Could I do more than hobble, painfully? And might this not attract attention, as, say, a crippled kaiila might attract the attention of tawny prairie sleen? Might it suggest that I might be an unshod free woman? But none about seemed to notice me, other, of course, than as a slave might be noticed. More than once I found myself, a free woman, under the appraising glances of men. How slaves are looked upon! I dared not confront them. I dared not reprimand them. I dared not object. I realized, to my astonishment, that despite my remarkable beauty, that of a free woman, I was being seen, and without a second thought, as no more than another slave, perhaps only another ‘pretty kajira.’ This angered me, but at least my disguise was effective.
“I was in the vicinity of the ruins of the walls when I had been halted, abused, and robbed. This was a place of most danger for men patrolled the perimeter of the city, to prevent the flight of those whom the risen, vengeful citizens sought. I thought of trying to hide until darkness, but where would I hide? There was a collar on my neck. And buildings were being searched, room to room. And I feared the perimeter would be illuminated at night, not only by the moons, for two would be full, but by torches and kindled fires. Then, too, I had a sudden, fearsome thought. What if my robes, which I had thrust beneath the covers of my couch, were found, and understood. I had had no time to dispose of them. Even now, perhaps, their scent taken, eager sleen might be straining on their leashes, eyes blazing, salivating in anticipation, their fangs wet, their claws scratching on the stones, pulling their way toward me. And I had no men to protect me! I was as vulnerable as what I was pretending to be, a female slave!”
“Yet you are here,” I said, “wherever this may be.”
“We are both prisoners,” she said.
“I am a prisoner,” I said. “You are something other than a prisoner.”
“Do not so think of me,” she said.
I said nothing.
“Perhaps we can be of assistance to one another,” she said.
“You speak as though you might be a free woman,” I said.
She regarded me, frightened. I did not give her the “thigh” or “brand” command, but I had little doubt she was now marked. In response to such a command those such as she must kneel on the right knee and extend the left leg gracefully, bared to the hip. The most common marking site on such as she is high on the left thigh, under the hip.
One does not bargain with such as she of course, nor are they permitted to bargain. The very suggestion of such a thing can be cause for discipline. One would not bargain with a verr, kaiila, a tarsk, or such.
“How did you escape from Ar?” I asked.
“I resolved upon, and put into immediate execution, a bold plan,” she said. “I walked, as I could, openly, purposefully, to the nearest fellow at the perimeter, one who seemed to be first amongst his fellows. I knelt before him, shamed to do so, but such comported with my deception. ‘Master,’ I said. ‘I and other sandal slaves of the hated Lady Flavia of Ar, traitress to the Home Stone of Ar, have been sent to the perimeter, that we might identify our former mistress, should she attempt to elude the justice of Ar.’ ‘What is wrong with your feet?’ he asked. ‘My feet are sore,’ I told him. ‘I am not used to being barefoot. My sandals were stolen.’ ‘What is your name?’ he asked. ‘Publia,’ I said, adding, ‘if it pleases Master.’ ‘To whom do you belong?’ he asked. ‘To the state of Ar,’ I told him. ‘You are pretty for a sandal slave,’ he said. I did not know what to say. My own sandal slaves were lovely. Certainly I had seen men admire them in the markets, and on the boulevards. Then he added, ‘You have been complimented.’ ‘Thank you, Master,’ I said. ‘Split your knees,’ he said. ‘Master?’ I said. ‘You are before a man,’ he said, ‘split your knees.’ ‘I am a sandal slave!’ I protested. ‘Now,’ he said. Then he said, ‘That is better.’ I feared I might die of mortification, to be so before a man. Fortunately, the tunic of a sandal slave, which I had adopted, was ample enough to permit the assumption of such a position without any undue compromising of my modesty. Still, even within the heavy, opaque, shielding of my garmenture, the position was obviously that of a female, recognized as a female, before a man. ‘You are no longer a sandal slave,’ he said. ‘You had best accustom yourself to kneeling so before a man.’ ‘Yes, Master,’ I whispered. I thought of my poor sandal slaves, having fallen into the hands of men, those rude beasts who had entered my compartments. Doubtless they were learning how to kneel so before men. What a pitiable fate had befallen them. I forced from my mind what might be the meaning, the symbolism, of such a position before men. ‘How might I be of service to Master?’ I asked. He smiled. ‘In apprehending the hated traitress, Lady Flavia of Ar!’ I said quickly. ‘I think,’ said he, ‘you have already been of much assistance in that respect.’ ‘Master?’ I asked. ‘Seize her,’ he said. I tried to spring to my feet, but a hand in my hair, twisted, held me on my knees. ‘I think,’ said he, ‘it is you who are the Lady Flavia.’ ‘No, Master!’ I wept. ‘Sandal slaves are not sent to the perimeter,’ he said. ‘A free woman, so disguised, might then be in a position to make away. And not all sandal slaves may be depended upon to identify a former mistress, given the looming of the impaling spear, not even one as imperious and cruel as a Lady Flavia. Too, one does not need spies at the perimeter. All unknowns who try to cross the perimeter are to be detained, to be examined later.’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia!’ I cried. ‘Perhaps not,’ he said. ‘That may be determined later.’ ‘Let us lift the tunic,’ said a fellow, ‘and see if she is marked.’ ‘No!’ I cried. ‘No,’ said the fellow before whom I was being held. ‘That is for a free woman to do. If this is the Lady Flavia, she is still a free woman, and her modesty is to be respected.’ ‘You made me kneel before you with my knees spread!’ I screamed at him. ‘You needed not obey, if you were a free woman,’ he said, ‘but you did obey, and you looked well, with your knees split. Too, it seems reasonably clear that beneath that cumbersome tunic you may have slave curves, which might be of interest on an auction block.’ ‘Tarsk!’ I cried. ‘Let us make a determination,’ said a fellow. ‘Detunick her,’ said another. ‘No,’ I cried, ‘my modesty!’ ‘It is hard to preserve one’s modesty,’ said a fellow, ‘when writhing naked on an impaling spear.’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia!’ I insisted. ‘That will be determined later,’ said the fellow before whom I knelt, my hair held. Then he said, ‘Bind her, hand and foot.’ As might be supposed, I, a possible free woman, possibly even the Lady Flavia of Ar, had, to my misery, become a center of attention. Several of the perimeter guards had gathered about me. I was put to my belly and one man was holding my wrists, crossed, behind me, and another was holding my ankles together, crossed. I felt a cord being put about my ankles, and knotted. But then, suddenly, one of the fellows cried out, alarmed. ‘Corso, Corso, mercenaries!’ Corso, I gathered, was the fellow to whom I had first presented myself, he whom I took to be in command at this point of the perimeter. It seems that a group of mercenaries, perhaps fifteen or twenty, with some women in tow, roped together by the neck, had determined to take advantage of the distraction my presence had brought about at the perimeter. They were already within fifty yards of the perimeter. I heard the ringing of an alarm bar, the sounding of battle horns. The fellows about me abandoned me, rushing to interpose themselves between the fugitives and the cleared ground outside the perimeter. They were not professional soldiers and I did not think they could stand before well-armed, desperate mercenaries, though they might hold them long enough for more effective troops, summoned by the bar and the horns, to arrive, even tarnsmen flighted from the city. I heard the clash of weapons, and cries of pain. I fought the knots binding my ankles together. In moving a female captive across open country, it is common, when stopping for a repast, or such, to bind her ankles. In this fashion she cannot run and her hands are free to feed herself. One can see, of course, if she tries to untie her ankles. When the repast is done, one can untie her ankles and put her back on a leash or neck rope, her hands perhaps bound behind her. At night, naturally, she may be put to the side, bound hand and foot. Looking up, frenziedly, I saw some other mercenaries, several, rushing toward the perimeter, and, some hundreds of yards away, guardsmen of Ar, regulars, hastening to the perimeter. This was, it seems, a serious attempt to break out of the city, one now involving perhaps more than a hundred men, accompanied by women, mostly stripped, and on ropes. I did not know if the women were free women or slaves. I suspected that many were proscribed free women who had stripped, knelt, and embonded themselves before mercenaries, perhaps only shortly before, that they might be saved, that they might be taken from the city, if only as nude slaves. Fighting was then about me. I could not undo the knots. I took the key to the collar, which I had hidden in my tunic, and, using it as a wedge, and then as a tiny saw, attacked the knots first, and then the cord itself. The cord was not the ropage which might be used to bind a man, but much smaller, and weaker. A strong man might have snapped it in two, but it was quite sufficient, as might have been a lace, to bind a woman, and with perfection. I wept with misery that we could find ourselves so easily, and so helplessly, in the power of men. We belong to them, I thought. Nature has made us theirs! But we have our beauty, our wit, our sensitivity, our intelligence! Have not more men been conquered with a kiss than steel? It is no wonder, I thought, that they make us their slaves! The key’s teeth cut, frayed, and severed a bit of the cord, and I whipped it away from my ankles. I crawled away from the city, sometimes covering my head, as men fought about me. More than once I saw the wild, terrified eyes of women, pulling at the ropes on their neck. I concealed myself behind them, and then I rose to my feet, and ran toward the open country. I was not alone, as neck-roped women, and warriors, singly, and in prides, fled the city. There were tarns in the sky and their shadows seemed to race across the grass. More than one mercenary had a crossbow bolt half through his brass-bound shield, formed of layers of bosk hide. The crossbow, even the stirrup variety, loads slowly, and there is little danger from the quarrel if one need only defend oneself from a single direction. Should the tarnsman dismount he fights evenly with his foe, and the more skilled warrior is most likely to survive. I soon realized that the bolts flighted from the crossbows had the mercenaries as targets, and not the women. I realized, again, a difference between ourselves and men. We could be left for later, to be rounded up, like verr or kaiila, and roped at a victor’s leisure. We were not contestants; we were loot, prizes.
“‘Here, kajira, here!’ called a mercenary. I fled gratefully to his side. At last I had a man to defend me. I had a champion. I realized then, as I had never before, when I had been sheltered within the arrangements, laws, and customs of a civil order, which I had taken so much for granted, how thin, and possibly transitory, such things were, and what might lie at their elbow, or nigh, on the other side of that lovely curtain, separating comfort and security from the cruelties and hazards of a perilous nature.
“Some think the jungle is faraway, that it is east of Schendi, as distant as the valley of the Ua, but it is not. It is here. It is with us, patient, and waiting. It is as close as the hearts of men.
“‘Stop!’ I heard, and spun about. A fellow, from Ar, I supposed, had called out. He had not been at the perimeter. I doubt that he thought me free. I think, merely, he wanted to pick up a slave. How fearful, I thought, to be a slave, to be an object, a property, a possession, an animal, something which might be bought and sold, or given away, or, as here, something which might be simply gathered in, simply acquired. Put a rope on her neck and she is yours! But I must not be brought back to Ar! As soon as I was stripped, as I would be, as a slave, my lack of a brand would be obvious, and then there would be inquiries, and the proscription lists would be certain to be examined. I must not be returned to Ar!
“‘Begone,’ said the mercenary, stepping between me and the fellow. The fellow looked at the mercenary, in his helmet, with his shield, and a spear whose reddened blade had recently drunk the blood of a foe, and then backed away. In a few moments he had disappeared.”
I said nothing, but I supposed that the mercenary, before approaching the fellow, would have examined the sky behind him. The woman would not have been aware of this, as she would have been facing her pursuer. Occasionally a warrior on foot and a tarnsman collaborate on a kill. The warrior on foot engages the target, and the tarnsman, unseen, glides in, silently, placing a bolt in the adversary’s unprotected back. This act is scorned in the codes, of course, but it is not without precedent in the field. It is common amongst outlaws and rogue tarnsmen.
“‘Should you not have killed him?’ I asked, frightened. ‘I am not a butcher,’ he said.
“‘Continue to protect me,’ I said. ‘Turn about,’ he said, ‘and put your wrists behind you.’ ‘Master?’ I said. ‘You are to be braceleted,’ he said. ‘But then, here, outside the city, in the fields, I would be utterly helpless,’ I said. ‘Such as you, pretty kajira,’ he said, ‘are to be utterly helpless.’ I trembled, to think myself so much in the power of men, as much as a kajira.”
“I turned and fled away from him, and I discovered, some hundred yards away, gasping, turning about, my feet now raw, that he had not pursued me. Were such as I so common that we were not worth our pursuit? I was elated to be free of him, but frightened, as well, for who would now protect me? And, oddly, my vanity was offended. Surely I was the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld, and yet he did not pursue me, throw me to the ground and fasten my wrists behind me! Standing in the gentle, green, wind-moved grass, alone, looking about, I saw, here and there, in the fields, small groups, moving away from the city. I could see her towers in the distance. Some of these groups had small strings of stripped, neck-roped women with them. Here and there I saw a tarnsman in the sky, almost certainly one of Ar. I saw no pursuits from the city. I did not know where to go or what to do, and I was suddenly aware that I was hungry. I felt the hem of my tunic, reassuring me of the jewels sewn there, and the small key ensconced in its tiny sleeve.”
“You were fortunate to escape Ar,” I said.
“I set out in the direction others were moving,” she said. “I could not go back to Ar. I thought I might reach Torcadino, from whence I might purchase wagon passage to Brundisium, Besnit, Harfax, or Market of Semris. I would avoid Ko-ro-ba and Thentis as they did not favor those of Ar. Too, one would not seek Port Kar, as it is a den of thieves and cutthroats, and Tharna was out of the question. There is only one free woman in Tharna, Lara, her Tatrix. All others are held in the most severe of bondages. No free woman may even enter the gates of Tharna without being temporarily licensed and placed in the custody of a male. Those of Tharna wear in their belt the two yellow cords, each eighteen inches in length, suitable for binding females, hand and foot.”
I knew little of Tharna, but I did know it was a city muchly feared by free women. And yet, interestingly, free women not unoften underwent considerable hardship and peril to enter her gates.
“And I feared, too,” she said, “to seek the major islands, for during the occupation many of the women of Ar had been collected and sent there on slave ships.”
That was true. In my time in Ar I had seen several coffles of the women of Ar leave the city, to be marched overland to Brundisium, there to be disembarked for Cos or Tyros.
“Perhaps Teletus, Tabor, or Chios, of the farther islands,” I suggested.
“I fear the islands,” she said.
“There are pirates,” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
It was not unheard of for women to be seized at sea, to be later disposed of in the markets, sometimes, eventually, as far south as Schendi or Turia.
“Brundisium,” she said, “seemed an optimum choice.”
“Perhaps,” I said.
Brundisium, as many merchant ports, large and small, was in theory neutral. To be sure, it had been the port at which the invasion fleets of Cos and Tyros, unopposed, even welcomed, had made their landfall on the continent, thence to rendezvous with numerous companies of mercenaries, for the march to Ar.
“But I was alone,” she said, “a woman, ill-clad, half crippled, and hungry, unfamiliar with the stars, without guidance, only vaguely aware of where Brundisium might be, or how far away she might be.”
“Presumably you would need assistance,” I said.
“I was well prepared to pay for it,” she said. “Night fell. I hobbled on, in the moonlight. Once I stopped, in terror, frozen, for I noted the sinuous passage of a prairie sleen. It passed within a dozen yards of me, rapidly, its snout to the ground.”
“It was not on your scent,” I said. Sleen can be terribly dangerous to humans, but the human is not its familiar prey. The sleen, in the wild a burrowing, largely nocturnal animal, is a tenacious, obsessive, single-minded hunter, a supreme tracker. On one scent it will often pass by, even ignore, more ample or superior prey.
“When it passed,” she said, “I was overjoyed, for I was still alive, but I was then, almost immediately, sick with fear, for such a beast or beasts, I thought, might even now be following my tracks, from Ar, having been given my scent from my discarded robes.”
Her apprehension was well-warranted. Indeed, it is not unknown for sleen to have discovered and followed tracks which are several days old.
“I walked much of the night,” she said, “keeping to the direction others had taken. The terrain seemed to change, and there were now trees here and there, sometimes groves. Toward morning I could go no further and lay down in the grass, and fell asleep. I awakened late in the afternoon, weak, and starving. I staggered to my feet, and stumbled on. I went almost blindly, putting one foot before the other. As it grew dark I felt a sudden piercing, a fierce, doubled puncturing, in the calf of my right leg and I screamed in pain. I thought ‘ost,’ but it was the twin, hollow thorns of a leech plant which had struck me. I heard the hideous noise of the pulsating pods sucking blood, pumping it to the roots, and, screaming, I tore the fangs from my leg and fled away, and then stopped, afraid to move, lest there be more such things about, lest I stumble and fall into a writhing patch of such plants. Entangled amongst them, they swarming about me, enwrapping me with their vines and tendrils, it was possible I would not have been able to rise to my feet. I could hear them rustling about, on the sides, like whispers. Then, step by step, with great care, I moved away from the stirring, agitated growths, and continued my journey. My throat, too, was parched. I had been raised in luxury and power. I had wanted for nothing. Never had I been hungry and thirsty like this. Even as a child I had had serving slaves. Now I was alone, my beauty briefly and shamefully garbed, my feet bleeding, blood drying on my right calf, weary, without food or water, without protection, with little idea as to where I might be, what I should do, or where I might go.”
I swirled the bit of broth remaining in the metal bowl.
“Then, perhaps near midnight, in the darkness, for clouds obscured the two moons then in the sky, when I thought I could go no further, to my joy, I glimpsed a small light, in the distance. It was, I took it, a small camp. Gratefully, unsteadily, I stumbled toward it. ‘Masters!’ I called out. The light then disappeared. Surely I had more than enough to hire men, to buy protection, a safe conduct, to Brundisium. ‘Masters!’ I called out, again. I stumbled in darkness, lamely, toward the point at which I had seen the point of light. ‘Masters,’ I cried, ‘I am a poor starving slave, separated from her master. He will want me returned to him! I am not a runaway! Please be kind to a poor slave. Please help her!’ Then I thought myself close to the point at which I had seen the bit of light, but it was dark. It had been here somewhere, surely. Then a powerful hand, from behind, closed itself over my mouth, and my head was pulled back, and I felt the razor’s edge of a blade at my throat. ‘Make no sound, kajira,’ I heard, a fierce whisper at my ear, ‘and do not struggle.’ I could not speak in any event, my mouth held tightly shut, nor would I have dared to resist, or struggle, with the blade at my throat. One swift motion of that blade and my neck would have been half cut through. I sensed two or more men moving about me and he in whose grasp I was. The hand was then slipped from my mouth to my hair, and my head was then held back by the hair, painfully. I winced. The blade was still at my throat. ‘Where are the others?’ he asked. ‘How many are there?’ ‘I am alone,’ I whispered, scarcely daring to speak. He held me thusly for several Ehn. I scarcely dared to breathe, for fear I might cut my own throat. After a time, seven or eight fellows were about. ‘We found no one,’ said one of them. I almost fainted, as the blade was removed from my throat. ‘On all fours, kajira,’ said the fellow who had held me.”
A slave is sometimes put to all fours, that she may move thusly, accompanying masters. In this posture she cannot suddenly run, or dart away. In the situation described the posture was doubtless imposed as a security measure, on an unknown slave, mysteriously arrived from the darkness. In other situations the posture may be imposed upon her as a discipline, to position her for animal usage, to remind her that she is a slave, and so on.
“I resented being on all fours amongst men,” she said, “forced to look up at them from such a position, and such. ‘Come along, kajira,’ he said, moving away. I followed him, on all fours. In a few moments the small fire had been rekindled, and I was permitted to kneel, where the firelight played upon me, the men, eleven as I now counted, sitting back from the fire. I could see some small tents, and some paraphernalia of the camp, to my left. I also saw six women, stripped, their hands tied behind them, on a single neck rope, stretched between two stakes, to which each end was fastened. ‘I am the slave Publia,’ I said, ‘separated from my master, Flavius of Brundisium, in the troubles at Ar, seeking to be returned to him.’”
The name Flavius is a common name in the middle latitudes of Gor, at Ar, and elsewhere. I supposed the name had come to her mind, given her name, Flavia, which name, as would be expected, is similarly well known in such areas. It is not unknown, of course, that a slave might strive desperately to be returned to her master. A love unknown to a free woman, in its helplessness, its need, its depth, profundity, beauty, and passion, is often felt by a woman for the man whose collar she wears. Owned, she is his, wholly.
“‘What troubles in Ar?’ asked a fellow. I was sure the question was not candid, but a test of sorts. The catastrophes in Ar had begun some days ago, hundreds of fugitives from Ar had scattered from the city, presumably most to seek the coast, and eventual security in the islands; and the six women in the camp might well have been from Ar, perhaps proscribed women, begging passage from Ar, even at the cost of the collar. Indeed these fellows in the camp, I supposed, might well have been amongst those who fled from Ar. Who would not know, truly, of the miseries and changes in Ar? But I responded, innocently, as though granting that the question had been asked, as well, in all innocence. ‘The uprising,’ I said, ‘the rebellion, the ending of the occupation, the expulsion of foreign troops from Ar.’ ‘Who is this Flavius?’ asked another. ‘A minor Merchant of Brundisium,’ I said. I did not wish to claim status for him, as some about the fire might be familiar with the merchantry of the great port.’ I knelt with my knees together. Also, it occurred to me that I had not requested permission to speak. Perhaps, I thought, they are permissive with slaves here. But I glanced at the stripped, bound women beyond the firelight and that did not then seem to me likely. ‘May I inquire,’ I asked, ‘what Home Stone Masters revere?’ This could, of course, make a great deal of difference in what might then ensue. They looked at one another, and more than one laughed. Although this made me somewhat uneasy, it also reassured me that I was not amongst those who favored either Ar or the island Ubarates. If they were of Ar I might fear being returned to the city with the likelihood of impalement. If they were of the island Ubarates, they would have come, over the time of the occupation and the looting of the city, to think of the women of Ar as suitable only for slaves. ‘It seems,’ I said, ‘that you are independent of fee, and thus open to prospects of considerable gain.’ ‘Certainly,’ said he whom I took to be their leader, he whose knife had been at my throat. ‘We may speak freely then,’ I said, ‘but first, as I have been in the wild for two days, and am weak from hunger, and am exhausted and thirsty, I need food, and drink, bolstering ka-la-na, and rest.’ ‘Of course,’ said the leader, kindly. He nodded to one of his men. He went to the rope of women and put she on the rope nearest to the stake to my right in rope shackles. She would barely be able to stand and move. He then loosened the neck rope from the stake to my right and freed her of its collar-like restraint, after which he refastened it to the stake. He then unbound her hands. She rubbed her wrists, regarding me. The fellow then pointed to me, and said, ‘Feed and water her.’ I did not care for this way of putting it, as it sounded as though I might be an animal. But I was thirsting and starving. ‘Why should I, who was a free woman, wait on a common slave?’ demanded the woman. Her hair was then held and she was cuffed brutally, four times. She then, weeping, scarcely able to move for the closely tied rope shackles, hobbled about, to find me food and drink. I took the provender and drink, including ka-la-na, which I doubt she was permitted, from her with the hauteur and disdain of a free woman for the garbages that are slaves. Afterwards I fainted, or fell asleep.
“I awakened several hours later, toward noon, as though I might be in my own compartments, waiting for my girls to open the draperies and bring me steaming black wine and fresh, honeyed pastries, but then, suddenly, flooding back to me were the horrors of the past two days, the roof of the Central Cylinder, my humiliating disguise, the escape, the fields, the sleen, the strike of the leech plant, the knife at my throat, and I opened my eyes on the small camp into which I had stumbled last night, weary, footsore, hungry, thirsting, and miserable. I touched my neck, and felt the collar there, the slave collar. Then I feared the tunic, ample as it might be, might in my sleep have crept up my thighs, and I reached to draw it down, but, even as I thought of this, I became aware of a weight on my left ankle. I sat up, suddenly. I jerked the tunic down, that I might benefit from whatever concession to modesty might be afforded by a slave’s garment. Too, I drew my legs back, closely together. There was a rattle of chain. I considered my left ankle. It was clasped by a heavy band of black iron, to the ring of which a chain was attached. This chain ran behind me, where it was padlocked about a tree. I was chained! I, a free woman of Ar, was chained, as might have been a female slave!
“‘What is the meaning of this!’ I cried, lifting the chain, shaking it.”
The left ankle is the common chaining ankle for a woman.
“The leader of the camp approached me. ‘Do not be concerned, gentle lady,’ said he. ‘We did not wish you to be stolen.’ ‘Stolen?’ I asked. ‘Certainly,’ he said, ‘many women have been gagged in the middle of the night, then bound, and carried off.’ ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Such things may be done with women,’ he said. ‘Free me, now,’ I said. ‘Certainly,’ he said, and shortly thereafter the gross impediment was gone.”
“How did you feel, being on a chain, being so subject to male domination?” I asked. “Did you have any surprising feelings?”
“Feelings?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “any sense of weakness, of openness, of readiness, of hope, of desire, of a yearning to surrender, any inexplicable sense of warmth in your body, any heating or liquidity between your thighs?”
“That is impossible,” she said. “I am a free woman.”
“I see,” I said. “Please, continue.”
“They had remained several hours in the camp,” she said. “I think, now, that was to allow one of their fellows to reach the Brundisium road, and make inquiries at a road village, in the vicinity of an abandoned inn, the Inn of Ragnar.”
“Inquiries?” I said.
“I think so,” she said.
“That is a northern name,” I said.
“Perhaps,” she said.
“When it became clear they were preparing to leave the camp, rather toward the fall of darkness, as though they did not wish to be on the road in daylight, I opportuned the leader for a conference, which petition, it seems, he had anticipated. We withdrew a way from the camp, amongst the trees. When we had gone a little way, he pointed to the ground, and said, ‘Kneel there.’ ‘I do not wish to kneel,’ I said. I read his eyes. I knelt. As a man, you probably do not know what it is for a woman to kneel before a man, to be at his feet, to lift your head, to look up at him, or to keep your head down before him, if commanded. It is symbolic of your utter otherness, of your softness before his hardness, your weakness before his strength, your slightness before his might, your beauty and helplessness before his virility and power, your readiness before his command. It is, one fears, as though one were in one’s place, before one’s master. How, I ask, can a woman so situated, one on her knees, speak to a man?”
“As a woman,” I suggested.
“It is a position of petition, or submission, is it not?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I was furious,” she said.
“Much depends on the woman,” I said. “If one is speaking of slaves, it is appropriate, and prescribed, of course.”
“Yes,” she said.
“But many women,” I said, “long for their masters, beseech the world for the man before whom they might kneel, naked and collared, whose feet they might gratefully kiss. Many women, longing to be subdued, longing to submit, longing to be unqualifiedly possessed, longing to be owned, wholly and absolutely, find their social, biological, and cultural fulfillment in this, in thusly daring to reveal their deepest needs and desires to men. In such things we find not only a loving confession of femininity, but its unapologetic petition and expression. It is not wrong for a woman to reveal her deepest heart and needs. Who but an unhappy, ill-constituted madman or tyrant could find gratification in attempting to legislate the values, loves, lives, and hearts of others?”
“‘You may speak,’ he said, as though I, a free woman, required such permission. ‘I wish passage to Brundisium,’ I said, ‘and I am prepared to pay for it, as might a Ubara herself. I have riches.’ ‘You speak as a free woman,’ he said. ‘I am a free woman,’ I said. ‘That is fortunate,’ he said, ‘for were you a slave, and spoke as you do, you would be muchly lashed. The lesson of suitable speech, of deference, and such, for a slave is quickly learned.’ ‘I lied to you,’ I said, ‘for such may a free woman do. I am not a slave, and, of course, I have no master, a Flavius or anyone else. I am Publia, a free woman of Ar, not proscribed, but fearful, and thus in flight from the city. I pretended to be a slave, until I might speak privately with you. The myth of Flavius was to dissemble before your men, for why should you share great wealth with them? Rather reserve it, secretly, for yourself. In Brundisium we may pretend you have found a Flavius and have received a reward for my return, commensurate with what a minor Merchant, our alleged Flavius, might afford. Then, you can share a pittance with your men, and reserve the large, unsuspected bounty for yourself.’ ‘You have holdings, wealth, family, in Brundisium?’ he asked. ‘Certainly,’ I said. I thought that, as things were going well, there would be little need to part with more than the least of the jewels sewn within my tunic. ‘The men will wonder at our absence,’ he said. ‘We must not allow them to grow suspicious.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘We are breaking camp,’ he said. ‘I want to reach the Brundisium road by dark, and road village of Ragnar, near the old inn.’ ‘That is on the road to Brundisium, is it not?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Good’, I said. ‘You wish to pretend, before the men, to be a slave, do you not?’ he inquired. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘otherwise they may suspect our plan.’ ‘Then,’ said he, ‘with all due respect, I think you should accompany us as a slave, bound and leashed.’ ‘Surely that is not necessary,’ I said. ‘Am I not yearning to be returned to the arms of my master?’ I asked. ‘Some of the men,’ he said, ‘suspect that you are a runaway.’ ‘I see,’ I said.”
“You were not curious,” I asked, “that an evening stop was scheduled at a road village?”
“Doubtless they had some business there,” she said. “I did not inquire.”
“Continue,” I said.
“My wrists were bound behind me,” she said, “and other ropes were looped about my upper body, and tightened. Then I was put on a leash, as though I might be a slave. Thankfully, before the charade of my binding and leashing was accomplished, I had asked for sandals, and had been given them. They doubtless had several pairs, from the women in tow. With the sandals I could keep up with them on the road, without much pain. To be sure, our progress would not be rapid, as our party included its animals, the six slaves, bound, tethered in their rope coffle. Although the switch was occasionally used with them one can do only so much with women and the switch, as, despite their earnestness and fear, they lack the stamina and speed of men. I myself, of course, was not switched. I would not have stood for it. About the eighteenth Ahn we reached the road, and, shortly thereafter, we reached what I took to be the village of Ragnar, no more than some small buildings, mostly dark, some little more than shacks, on both sides of the road. I supposed some of the residents had fields nearby, vineyards, orchards, or such. The village was probably a market at times, for I saw dark stalls, and doubtless, to some extent, it catered, in one way or another, to the traffic on the Brundisium road. There was, for example, from the signs, a wainwright’s shop, mostly for repair, I supposed, a Leather Worker’s shop, probably for harnesses and traces, a Metal Worker’s shop, probably mostly to furnish wagoner’s hardware, and such. It must have once had better times, for, I learned, the Inn of Ragnar, for which the village was named, was dilapidated, and closed. Its auxiliary buildings, its stables, its stable yard, and such, like the main building, seemed similarly fallen into a state of forlorn desuetude. Apparently, its well was still in use, as I saw a girl drawing water.
“The leader then conferred briefly with one of his men, he whom I suspected had been absent from the camp earlier, for several hours. I heard the fellow say, ‘The twentieth Ahn,’ but could make out nothing else. The slaves were then put between two of the small buildings, and the men sat near them, in various attitudes of repose, some fetching food and drink from their packs. To my disgust I saw one of the slaves whimpering for food, and bending forward. A fellow held out a scrap for her, and she bent forward, gratefully, and, hands bound behind her, took it from his hand. The other slaves, too, then, importuned the men for bits of food. Some were fed by hand. At other times scraps were tossed to the ground, which the slaves, sometimes fighting for them, might retrieve as they could, in the moonlight. The leader and I remained standing, outside the group, at the edge of the road. Then he drew on my leash and I followed him, and found myself brought into a small building, one of those few in which a lamp had been burning, visible through the window. It was a Metal Worker’s shop, and it was empty. There was a fire in the forge. I thought this strange, for the Ahn. A bell hung at one side of a door, leading through the back, perhaps to the proprietor’s private quarters. The leader then removed the leash from my neck. ‘Thank you,’ I said. I then turned about, that he might undo the ropes that bound me, but he spun me about, rudely, and pointed to the floor, and said, ‘Kneel there.’ It was a command such that a woman, despite her status, whether slave or free, could not but obey instantly. I was frightened. ‘You are from Brundisium?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Describe its Home Stone,’ he said. I was silent. ‘You have holdings in Brundisium, treasure, high family,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes!’ ‘Then it is clearly in my best interest to hold you for ransom,’ he said. ‘No!’ I cried. ‘List your holdings, and the streets,’ he said. ‘Name your family, its members and their wealth.’ ‘I lied!’ I said. ‘I do not have family in Brundisium, but I have great wealth, placed with coin merchants!’ ‘Name them,’ he said. I was again silent, frantic. I twisted in the ropes. Tears burst from my eyes. He then ruthlessly demanded from me information upon information, information which would be common knowledge to anyone from Brundisium, things as obvious as to where lay her Street of Coins, her largest markets, how many gates she had, and such. ‘I invested through agents, from Ar!’ I cried. ‘Name them,’ he said. ‘It will be easy to examine your claims.’ ‘I lied!’ I wept. ‘I lied!’ ‘And you are a liar from Ar,’ he said. ‘Do you think I do not know the accents of Ar? You may deny being of Ar but you are belied by the very words in which you enunciate your denial, for they proclaim you of Ar. You are no more from Brundisium than Talena of Ar. Indeed, perhaps you are Talena of Ar.’ ‘No,’ I cried, ‘no!’ It is strange but one is almost always unaware of one’s own accent. Is it not the others who always have an accent? ‘No’, said he, ‘I do not think you are Talena of Ar. I think, rather, you are the Lady Flavia of Ar.’ ‘No,’ I wept. ‘No!’ ‘Stay on your knees, Lady Flavia,’ he said. ‘I am not Lady Flavia of Ar!’ I said. ‘But before I return you, naked and bound, to Ar,’ he said, ‘something is to be done to you. You have been annoying.’ He then went behind me and removed my sandals. ‘You will not need these any longer,’ he said. He put them to the side, on a shelf. ‘What are you going to do?’ I said. He then went to the cord dangling from the bell which hung near the door leading from the shop, presumably to the private quarters of the Metal Worker. He rang it once, decisively. Shortly thereafter three men emerged from the rear, one the Metal Worker, a brawny fellow in a leather apron, and two others, strapping young men who, I took it, were his sons. The Metal Worker began to stoke the coals at the forge, and thrust two irons into the coals. ‘Get up,’ said the leader, and I struggled to my feet. The two young men stood behind me. They held my arms. I struggled. I was helpless, in their power. ‘What are you going to do?’ I cried. He did not respond to me, did not grant me his attention, but addressed himself to the Metal Worker. ‘Strip and brand her,’ he said.
“In moments I lay supine, head down, ankles elevated, in the rack, my limbs held in the clamps. I wept and squirmed, save that I could not move, in the least, my left thigh. In double clamps, it was held utterly motionless. I looked up at the leader, turning my head to the left. ‘Desist!’ I wept. ‘Desist! I am a free woman!’ ‘That was determined while you slept,’ said the leader. ‘You dared to draw back my tunic in my sleep, you dared to examine me?’ I cried. He laughed. So, too, did three or four of his men who had now entered the shop. He held the tunic now in his hand. He dangled it. ‘And we ascertained,’ said he, ‘as we had anticipated, further discoveries. What fine lady, such as a Lady Flavia, would flee from Ar without resources?’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia!’ I cried. He reached into his pouch and drew forth a handful of small objects, which he held where I might see them. They were the jewels I had concealed in the tunic. They sparkled in the light of the lamp. Amongst them was the small key, as well, which fitted my collar lock. I felt sick, helpless, discovered, ruined, and destitute. I no longer had the wealth which I had brought with me, with which I might have hired men and brought myself again to power, and, without the key, I could not remove the collar. It was now fixed on me with the same understated, flawless efficiency with which it might have encircled the neck of a slave. ‘Please, let me go, have mercy!’ I begged. Then I shouted, angrily, squirming before him, ‘Do not look upon me in that way!’ He smiled. ‘I am a free woman, a free woman!’ I cried. ‘Is the iron ready?’ asked the leader, of the Metal Worker. I heard an iron moved amongst coals, then lifted from them, and thrust again amidst them. I did not look. ‘Nearly,’ said the Metal Worker. ‘You have everything,’ I said to the leader. ‘Let me go!’ He turned to a sand glass on a nearby shelf. I could not well see it. I remembered someone had spoken of the twentieth Ahn, the fellow whom I thought had earlier absented himself from the camp. ‘Let me go!’ I begged. ‘I will let you kiss me!’ ‘But you are a free woman,’ he reminded me. ‘No matter!’ I said. To be sure, it is an inestimable privilege, to be permitted to kiss a free woman. ‘If you are a free woman,’ he said, ‘you should not be locked in a shameful collar.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘of course not!’ He then turned the collar on my neck, so that the lock was upward, at the front of my throat, inserted the key, moved back the bolt, and removed the collar from me. He then handed the collar, the key left inserted in the lock, to one of the young fellows, one of those I thought likely to be a son of the Metal Worker. The young man looked at the device approvingly. It was, I knew, a quality collar, finely tooled and attractive. I had seen to that in preparing my disguise, which I began on the first day of the uprising, when the outcome was muchly unclear, a rudely armed populace rising against a professional soldiery. It was surely far different from the dark, cheap, plainer, common collars I saw hanging on a projecting spindle at the side of the shop. The leader looked down at me, at my now-bared throat, and, I fear, my lips, and then he looked into my eyes. I realized he wanted me uncollared, the beast, that it might be clearer what he was doing, that he was preparing to kiss a free woman. ‘Yes,’ I said to him, ‘you may kiss me.’ ‘Your kiss for your freedom?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes!’ ‘I do not bargain,’ he said. ‘I do not understand,’ I said. Then he bent down beside me. As I lay, supine, and backward sloping, my head low, my wrists over my head, behind my head, on each side, in the clamps, my ankles higher, on each side, in their clamps, my left thigh held immobile in its double clamps, he took my hair in his hand. He held my hair, painfully, so that I could not turn my head from him. There was amusement in his eyes. ‘No!’ I cried. Then his lips were pressed to mine. I was held in place. I could not struggle. For several Ihn I was forced to endure that merciless, shameful contact. Then he drew away from me and gestured to the Metal Worker. I looked up at the leader in consternation, in shock, and reproach. How dared he, and I a free woman! Where were guardsmen that I might summon? Surely that was not such a kiss as might be given to a free woman! Might it not have been more appropriately imposed upon a paga girl or a brothel slut, fastened down for a man’s pleasure? But I was strangely, inexplicably, stirred. Unaccountable sensations coursed through me. What might it be, I wondered, to be vulnerably, helplessly, legally, subject to such abuse? What might it be, I wondered, to be in a man’s arms, owned by him, to be choiceless, to have no option but to feel and yield. I struggled to put such thoughts from my head, but then I screamed in misery, for the pain had begun.
“I was sobbing wildly, and he placed his hand over my mouth, and I looked up at him, wildly, over his hand, and he removed his hand from my mouth, and said to me, ‘Good evening, slave.’
One of the men looked at me, and said, ‘A good mark.’ I did not even know what mark it was.
I heard the iron immersed in water, and heard the water hiss and boil about the metal.
As I put my head back, sobbing, I felt a cloth measuring tape put about my neck, read, and removed. The Metal Worker then sorted through the encirclements on the projecting spindle, and, a moment later, approached the rack. In another moment, I felt a collar snapped about my neck, and then turned, so that the lock was at the back of my neck. The key was handed to the leader. ‘What time is it?’ he asked. A fellow, glancing at the sand glass, said, ‘A bit past the nineteenth Ahn.’ The leader then said, ‘Take her out back and tie her to a slave post.’
“I was freed of the rack by the two young men, and, each holding an arm, they assisted me, half carrying me, for I could barely walk, back through the shop, and the private quarters, toward a rear entrance, from which one might approach the stable yard of what had been the Inn of Ragnar. As I passed through the kitchen, we passed a sturdy, stocky woman in rags, clearly of a low-caste aspect, doubtless the companion of the Metal Worker. I was afraid of her because of her overt attitude of contempt and hostility, and, as I was considerably slighter than she, I was sure she could easily subdue me, and hurt me, should it please her. ‘Hereafter,’ she said, ‘do not bring an animal through my kitchen.’ As I passed she spat upon me. Behind her was a younger woman, probably her daughter. I think it was she whom I had seen drawing water, earlier. The girl regarded me, curiously. I sensed she might be comparing herself with me, perhaps wondering which of us might bring a higher price in a market.
“Shortly thereafter the two young men brought me to one of several slave posts, thick, sturdy stakes, some four feet high, fixed in the abandoned stable yard behind the closed Inn of Ragnar. I was knelt, my back to the post. My ankles were then crossed and bound behind the post, and fastened to a ring there, and my wrists were crossed and bound, too, behind the post, and fastened to a second ring there. They then withdrew, and I knelt at the post.
“I was helpless and miserable, and in pain, and overcome with the enormity of what had been done with me, and was scarcely able to comprehend the radical transformation which had taken place in my fortunes, from a noble, lofty, exalted, free woman, a legal person, and one of wealth and station, to that of a purchasable object, a vendible beast, an animal, a branded, collared slave, but mostly I was terrified that my identity was suspected, and that I would be returned to Ar, for tortures culminating in the humiliation and agonies of the impaling spear. As Ar might be unable to apprehend Talena, I feared that much of the hatred and rage which would have been levied against the former puppet Ubara might now be visited upon me, not merely as a co-conspirator and abetting traitress, but as one supposedly her dearest friend and colleague, and one certainly, obviously, her highest-placed, best-known, and most-trusted confidante. My affection for the Ubara had, of course, been cunningly feigned, to achieve power and wealth, but this might not be believed, and, even if it were, this pretense might not be seen as redemptive, or counting in my favor. I had, of course, quickly enough, and eagerly enough, agreed that she was to be repudiated, betrayed, and sacrificed for the welfare of our party, that of Seremides and others. Who would not? She was then no longer the key to wealth and power in Ar; indeed, even to have been acknowledged by her, let alone to have been a member of her inner circle, was now a dangerous liability. But this stratagem, to bargain with her for our freedom, even if those of Ar were prepared to bargain, came to naught with her disappearance, her rescue or abduction, from the roof of the Central Cylinder.
“I drew against the cords on my wrists and ankles. I was helpless. I had been tied by men who were obviously no strangers to the tying of slaves. I put my head back, miserably, and felt the metal of the collar rub against the wood. I was collared. My head fell forward, in misery. I was afraid, too, of what I had heard about the twentieth Ahn, which must be nigh. What was to occur then? Clearly it must have to do with me!
“So in the moonlight, in the abandoned stable yard, kneeling, tied to a slave post, I waited.”
From what she had told me it seemed clear that some sort of rendezvous was to take place at the village of Ragnar. Leaving a slave bound and alone, of course, is not that unusual. It may be used as a discipline, of course, but that is seldom the case. More often, it is used simply to impress upon her what she is, that she is a slave, subject to the will of her master. Often she does not know how long she is to be left bound, which muchly impresses upon her her helplessness and her dependence on the will of another, this demonstrating for her her vulnerability and utter subjugation. Perhaps he is supping in an adjoining room, and she must wait until she is recollected, or he has time for her. This may also be used as heating technique. Often they will beg to be unbound, rearing and twisting in their cords, that they may be permitted to please their master.
“I lifted my head,” she said, “and, looking up, I saw the leader, standing there in the darkness, a few feet from me. ‘They should be here soon,’ he said. ‘They?’ I asked. ‘They-Master,’ he said. ‘They,’ I whispered, obediently, looking up, pulling a little at the cords, and sobbed, ‘-Master.’ It was the first time I had truly, appropriately, used that word, not as an ingredient in an imposture, not as an element in a disguise, but in the sense in which it must be truly found on the lips of a slave. ‘Search parties emanating from Ar and leagued cities use many such places as the village of Ragnar, scattered over thousands of pasangs,’ he said, ‘in their endeavors to track and apprehend fugitives. Tarnsmen make wants known at such places, exchange informations, carry intelligences elsewhere, and so on. It was here, earlier today, that we conveyed to an agent of Ar, and he then to his superiors, that we had the Lady Flavia of Ar in custody, and, for a suitable consideration, were prepared to remand her to the proper authorities, here, at the twentieth Ahn.’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia of Ar!’ I cried. ‘Perhaps you are curious,’ he said, ‘as to why you have been marked and collared. There were two reasons. First, it had come to light that some months ago Talena of Ar, herself, being guilty of a violation of the couching laws of Marlenus of Ar, had been secretly enslaved. Amusing then that it was a mere slave who sat upon the throne of Ar, in imperial regalia. Accordingly it was determined then that the Lady Flavia, if apprehended, should be similarly enslaved, that she should not stand higher than the former Ubara. In no way was she to be deemed superior to Talena. Let the two of them then share the same fate, the collar. The second reason is personal. I found you annoying, and thus, in any event, I would have had you brought under the iron.’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia,’ I insisted, sobbing. At that point, we heard the hovering beating of a tarn’s wings, and, looking up, I saw a tarn, with tarn basket, preparing to alight in the stable yard. I shut my eyes against the dust. ‘It seems,’ said the leader, ‘it is the twentieth Ahn.’ ‘I am not the Lady Flavia!’ I said. ‘I am not the Lady Flavia!’ The tarn, controlled by a tarnster from the basket, had alit several yards away, across the yard. In the basket there was the tarnster, and a warrior, and, to my surprise, a woman, a slave. The tarnster remained in the basket; the warrior lifted the woman from the basket and set her in the yard, and then leapt from it to the ground. He remained in the vicinity of the basket, and two of the leader’s men, not the leader, now come through the back of the Metal Worker’s shop, went to join him. At the same time the leader turned about, and, moving measuredly through the darkness, returned to the shop. He would remain indoors, it seemed, waiting for the identification to be confirmed. Perhaps he preferred to come under the purview of Ar as little as possible.
“The slave approached.
“She wore a brief, revealing tunic, cut at the sides, with a disrobing loop. Clearly she had been dressed for the pleasure of men. I was scandalized, but men do with slaves what they please. I surely would never have let my sandal slaves dress so, in a way so exhibiting their beauty, in a way that so blatantly proclaimed their bondage.
“The slave, who seemed marvelously figured, and would doubtless have been of much interest to men, stopped a few feet from me, almost as though startled. Then she seemed to recover herself and approached, and stood before me. I, terribly frightened, put my head down. She took my head in her hands and lifted it, and the moonlight, the clouds separated, fell full upon my face. Tears ran down my cheeks. My head was held still, so that she might examine my face with care.
“‘Please, please,’ I begged. ‘Now, Flavia,’ she whispered, ‘you are no more than I.’ ‘Please,’ I wept. ‘I remember my whipping,’ she said. ‘Forgive me, Altheia,’ I said. ‘You were very cruel,’ she said. ‘Forgive me, Altheia,’ I begged. I recalled that when I, in my escape, had been descending the stairs in the cylinder, I had heard her, relieved of her gag, above, seemingly joyfully, gratefully, cry out the word ‘Masters!’ ‘I burned your robes,’ she said, ‘that they might not give your scent to sleen.’ I looked at her, with wonder. ‘Do you remember the drover,’ she asked, ‘at whom I, looking over my shoulder, smiled, and you, in fury, switched me home, and then whipped me?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. He had been a handsome scoundrel, large, well-built, virile, and masterful. ‘He recalled me,’ she said, ‘and searched the public shelves, zealously, and found me, and purchased me. He is now my master. I love him. I am happy.’ I said nothing. ‘I am a man’s slave,’ she said. ‘Are you a man’s slave?’ ‘No, no,’ I said. ‘Perhaps you are a man’s slave and do not know it,’ she said. ‘No!’ I said. ‘You would then be a woman’s slave?’ she asked. ‘No!’ I said, frightened. The thought came to me how dreadful that would be. Perhaps I remembered the treatment to which I had subjected my sandal slaves. I did not think it was that unusual. Whereas free women commonly despise female slaves and treat them with great contempt and harshness, men commonly prize them. Certainly they will pay valuable coin to bring them to the foot of their couch. The relationship between a male master and a female slave is often intimate and loving, though she is never permitted to forget she is only a slave. Too, is it not easier for a woman, in virtue of her sex, to win her way with a male, subject, of course, to the limitations of her collar, to placate him, to evade his whip or switch, to divert his wrath by pleasing him, with her softness, her beauty, her intelligence, her wit, and vulnerability. Many a master, as few a mistress, has been swayed from his purpose by the heartfelt contrition of a naked slave, weeping, covering his feet with her hair and kisses. Better, surely, for a woman to belong to a man than a woman. They see us in terms of desire and pleasure, in terms of love, service, and passion, not in terms of contempt, jealously, and reproach. When a man sees a woman in chains he is likely to exult in her beauty and revel in the mastery; considering how pleasant it would be to own her; when a woman sees a woman in chains, as on a selling shelf, she is likely to feel disgust, anger, hatred, indignation, and rage, and, oddly, envy and jealously. Perhaps she wishes it were she who wore the chains. In any event, a female slave may, and must supply a man with inordinate pleasures; which makes her precious to him, whereas a female slave is likely to fall forever short of the exacting services required by her mistress. ‘Perhaps,’ said Altheia, ‘you have not yet been conquered by a man, have not yet been subdued, have not yet learned to beg for his final, slightest touch, that you might, leaping in your chains, scream your irrevocable submission and surrender to the moons and stars of Gor?’ ‘Do not betray me,’ I begged. ‘You are wholly at my mercy, are you not?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘As I was once at yours,’ she said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘friend Altheia, dear, beloved Altheia.’ ‘Squirm in your ropes,’ she said. I pulled against the cords. ‘You are well fastened,’ she said. ‘Yes, Mistress,’ I whispered.
“‘Is it she?’ called the warrior, at the basket. He had not even bothered to approach. ‘Have a lamp brought, Master,’ called Altheia. ‘A lamp,’ said he to one of the leader’s men with him, who then went to the Metal Worker’s domicile, to fetch a lamp. ‘There have been many false alarms,’ said Altheia. I did not understand her remark. ‘Death by the impaling spear,’ she said, ‘is a terrible death.’ In a few moments a lamp had been fetched from the Metal Worker’s domicile and handed to the warrior who had called for it. He then approached, and stood before us. He held the lamp up. ‘Is it she?’ he asked. Altheia then lifted my head and turned it, carefully, from side to side. ‘No,’ she said, ‘it is not the Lady Flavia.’”
“You realize,” I said, “that the slave, in such a situation, given the importance of the matter, might have been slain for such a lie?”
“Truly?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “She would have known that, if not you. You were very fortunate. The slave was very courageous.”
“Or foolish,” she said.
“Perhaps,” I granted her.
“The warrior, an officer, I think, a subcaptain, was furious. ‘Another pretense, another attempt at fraud, another attempt to deceive Ar,’ he snarled. By now, the leader of the fellows into whose power I had fallen, alerted by one of his men, had emerged into the stable yard. ‘What is amiss?’ he asked, though he was doubtless well apprised by then of the slave’s report. ‘This is not the Lady Flavia,’ said the officer. ‘Surely it is she, I am sure of it!’ said the leader. ‘Many times, now and heretofore,’ said the officer, ‘imposters have been presented as Talena or the Lady Flavia, or others.’ ‘Surely it is she,’ said the leader. The officer turned to the slave, lifting the lantern toward me. ‘No,’ said the slave. ‘She is not the Lady Flavia.’ ‘She is mistaken,’ asserted the leader. I kept my head down, trembling. But the officer jerked my head up, and I cried out with pain, and I closed my eyes against the glare of the lamp. ‘Consider the exquisite nature of her features,’ said the officer. ‘Consider her figure. Are those the features and figure of a free woman? Consider the curves, the thighs, waist, and breast, the shoulders. Those are slave curves. Those are auction-block curves!’ ‘She has the accents of Ar,’ said the leader. ‘So, too, have thousands of others,’ said the officer, angrily. ‘You would have me believe this is a free woman?’ he asked, thrusting my head back against the slave post. ‘This is not a free woman. This is a small, well-curved man’s plaything, to be pulled out of a cage for a few tarsks. You would dare to pass off so obvious a slave as the Lady Flavia?’ ‘It is she,’ said the leader, ‘she, enslaved!’ ‘Who are you?’ demanded the officer. ‘What are you, and your men? What is your relationship to the uprising? What are you doing, at night, on the Brundisium road?’ ‘At this point the leader shrugged, and stepped back. He had no wish to respond to the officer’s questions. Too, he had women nearby, between two buildings, bound and in coffle, and would not be eager to surrender them to another’s chains. He and his men did well outnumber the officer and the tarnster but it would be difficult to dispose of them with ease. There were the Metal Worker and his family, and probably others in the village of Ragnar, who would know of them. One could not be sure of killing them all. And the itinerary of the tarnster and the officer was doubtless registered somewhere, and any undue absence would presumably generate a search. There would be inquiries. Too, had he not, already, in his pouch, a wealth of precious stones? ‘My apologies,’ said the leader. ‘We thought the slave once the Lady Flavia.’ The word ‘once’ frightened me. I realized that I was now, in the eyes of the law, no longer the Lady Flavia but an animal that might be named as the free might please. Shortly thereafter the officer and the slave had reentered the tarn basket and the tarnster took the bird to flight, the basket trailing behind on its long harness ropes. I saw its silhouette briefly against the yellow moon. I recalled the authority with which the officer had spoken, and the care, the circumspection, with which the leader had responded. The very word of Ar, I surmised, was once again weighty in moment. I became aware then of the leader looming over me. He was not pleased. I put down my head, quickly. ‘Look up,’ he said. I did so. ‘I am not the Lady Flavia,’ I whimpered. ‘Take her to a whipping post,’ he said, ‘and lash her.’ Later, as I attempted to comprehend the pain, my back afire, my eyes red from weeping, my wrists bound over my head, the leader’s voice was heard, at my ear, but as though from afar. I struggled to understand the words, though he must have been no more than one or two horts from me, whispering. ‘You are Flavia,’ he said. ‘What is your name?’ ‘Flavia,’ I wept, ‘-if it pleases Master.’ ‘You wished to go to Brundisium,’ he said. ‘Yes, Master,’ I said. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘you will go to Brundisium. You will be taken to Brundisium.’ ‘Yes, Master,’ I said. My arms ached, my wrists tied high, well over my head. My body was stretched. Only my toes were in contact with the ground. In addition my ankles, uncrossed, had been tied to a ring set in the earth beneath the high ring, the over-the-head ring. In this fashion the body is stretched, providing a convenient, practical, exploitable expanse for the whip’s work, and the body can recoil and writhe, and pull away from the blows only to the extent that one realizes how little one can succeed in such an endeavor. ‘Do you know what will be done with you in Brundisium?’ he asked. ‘No, Master,’ I said. ‘You will be sold,’ he said. ‘Yes, Master,’ I said.”
I took the last sip of broth, and put the bowl down beside me, at my right knee.
The slave regarded it.
“You were sold in Brundisium,” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Were you auctioned?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I was taken to a slaver’s mart.”
“What did you bring?” I asked.
“A thousand pieces of gold,” she said.
“There will be records,” I said, “and they may be checked.”
“Forty tarsks,” she said.
“Surely not of silver,” I said.
“Of copper,” she said, angrily.
“Then you did not even bring a single silver tarsk,” I said.
“No,” she said, angrily.
“Perhaps you now have a better understanding of your worth,” I said, “as compared to other women.”
“Yes!” she said, angrily.
“Do not be concerned,” I said. “You were new to the collar, and untrained.”
“I am beautiful,” she said, “extremely beautiful!”
“You did not sell for much,” I said.
“Beast!” she said.
“What is your brand?” I asked. I could not determine this for her tunic. Too, there was little light in my cell, only that from the small lamp, on its chains, slung from the ceiling outside the bars, moving with the movement of the ship, outside the opened gate.
“The kef,” she said, angrily.
“There you have it,” I said. “The kef is for pot girls, for kettle-and-mat girls, for common slaves.”
“Even the most beautiful,” she snapped, “may wear the kef.”
I smiled. “That is true,” I said. “Men often enjoy putting even the most beautiful in the kef, that they may keep in mind that they are only slaves.”
“Am I not beautiful?” she asked.
“I would put you in the middle range of slaves,” I said. “You would not likely be either the first nor the last put on the block.” It is not unusual for slavers to save the best merchandise for late in the sale, when late comers are present, the audience is settled in, interest has been whetted, emotions are running high, purses are most open, and so on. This is not a universal practice, however, as one is likely to make less on early sales. A clever mix of goods is perhaps the most common manner of staging a sale. On the other hand, I think it does not really make much difference, as the merchandise is commonly available for inspection, though through bars, in pre-sale exposition cages. One may then note the goods of interest to one, by their lot numbers, usually inscribed in grease pencil on the left breast, and then wait until they stand in the sawdust, high on the block, exhibited to the house, under torchlight. To be sure, one can be mistaken. Sometimes an item which appears promising in the exposition cage may prove less interesting on the block, and sometimes an item scarcely noticed in the exposition cage will enflame a battle of bids, much to the pleasure and profit of the house. On the other hand, one cannot really measure these matters with scales or marked sticks. Many are the mysteries herein contained. Some men will kill for a woman another might ignore, and some women who might seem to be outstandingly beautiful may not attract much attention. There are doubtless cues, latencies, subtleties, and specificities in such cases which are difficult to identify, let alone quantify. They are, however, undeniably real.
“I am incredibly beautiful!” she insisted.
“You are not a bad-looking slave,” I granted her.
“May I withdraw?” she asked.
“How did you come here?” I asked.
“I am not fully sure,” she said.
“Who purchased you?” I asked.
“It was done through agents,” she said, “but at the behest of strange men, quiet men, sedate men, softly spoken men, men carrying unusual weapons, men with strange eyes.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
“They are spoken of as Pani,” she said.
“Strange eyes?” I said.
“To us,” she said.
“Tuchuks?” I asked.
“I do not think so,” she said. “There are at least three hundred on board, perhaps many more.”
“I was not brought aboard by such,” I said.
“There are many others, too,” she said, “of Ar, Cos, Tyros, the further islands, even Besnit, Harfax, and Thentis.”
It was a pirate crew, mixed, without Home Stones, and such, I had speculated earlier.
“Some fifty such as I,” she said, “were exhibited and bought, and, chained, taken by galley north, to the great forests. We were thence marched overland, in coffle, and then, on rafts, floated across the Alexandra. There, in separate groups, unacquainted with one another, we were kept, dieted and exercised, in special palisaded enclaves.”
“You were put at the pleasure of men,” I said.
“No,” she said.
“Interesting,” I said.
“This deprivation,” she said, “caused much distress to some of our number, who might weep in their kennels, scratch at the logs in the yard, beseech guards for their touch, and roll in the dirt, in frustration.”
“In their bellies,” I said, “slave fires had been lit.”
“Doubtless,” she said.
“But not in yours?”
“Certainly not,” she said, angrily.
“After months,” she said, “we were braceleted, coffled, and hooded, and brought back across the Alexandra on boats. We were then, helplessly, embarked on this great boat. Only once have I been allowed on the top deck. This is a vast, floating thing.”
“Who is in charge here,” I asked, “and what is the destination of this voyage, and what is its purpose?”
“The Pani,” she said, “clearly. It is their vessel. I do not know its destination, perhaps the farther islands, surely not beyond. And I do not know what might be the purpose of the voyage.”
“You know little,” I said.
“It seems,” she said, “that curiosity is not becoming to us.”
“Perhaps only the Pani, whoever they might be, know,” I said.
“I think so,” she said.
“Why do you think that such as you have been cargoed?” I asked.
“We are women,” she said. “I suppose we are to be sold.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “there is a market, somewhere, for women of your appearance, with your sort of eyes.”
“Perhaps,” she said.
“To be sure,” I said, “you might also be distributed as gifts.”
“Of course,” she said. “We are women.”
“Precisely,” I said.
“But there are female slaves on the ship which are at the public use of the crew, and private slaves, as well.”
“You were brought on board hooded?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “As might have been verr or tarsks.”
“And there are others,” I said, “as you, but whom you have not seen.”
“That is my surmise,” she said. “I think so, from the sound of the coffle chains, the number of boats used, and such.”
“Before I was brought on board,” I said, “I heard the scream of a tarn, this far from land, in the fog.”
“There are tarns on board,” she said.
“Many?” I asked.
“Several,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I do not know,” she said. “Such as we are not privy to the projects of masters.”
I regarded her.
She was uneasy. She wished to withdraw.
I continued to regard her.
“Is Master pleased?” she said.
“You are not really bad looking,” I said.
“A slave is flattered,” she said, bitterly.
“There are many better,” I said, “of course.”
“Doubtless,” she said.
“You might have some possibilities,” I said.
“Possibilities?” she said.
“You were very fortunate that you were not betrayed by Altheia,” I said.
“She was a fool,” she said.
“In similar circumstances,” I said, “you would have betrayed her?”
“Certainly,” she said. “Instantly, consider the risks.”
“I see,” I said.
“May I withdraw?” she asked.
“There is, of course, one, I, on board,” I said, “who knows you from Ar, and might betray you.”
“Do not,” she whispered, frightened. “You would not do so!”
“Stand,” I said to her, “there.”
She complied, and I could then well see her, back a bit, her ankles in the straw.
“I think you still see yourself as a free woman,” I said.
“Scarcely,” she said, “I have been stripped, braceleted, roped, coffled, chained, trekked, tunicked, marked, collared, lashed, vended, and commanded.”
“Even so,” I said.
I suspected she did not yet fully understand how her condition, nature, and very being had been radically transformed since Ar, that she was now totally other than she had been. Doubtless she had an intellectual sense of this, who would not, but I suspected that she had not yet acknowledged, manifested, revealed, and liberated the secret slave that was the core of her being.
“Remove your tunic,” I said.
“Please,” she said.
“Better,” I said. “But you are standing as a free woman. Straighten your body, lift your head, turn your hip.”
“Please, no!” she said.
“You stood as what you were before,” I said. “Do so now, again.”
“But I am now naked,” she wept.
“Who would buy you as you are?” I asked. “You are before a man, slut.”
“Mercy!” she wept.
“Does the Lady Flavia refuse to obey?” I asked. “Good,” I said. “That is not bad, Alcinoe, at least for a girl new to the collar.”
She wept, but stood well.
“Now turn about,” I said, “slowly, and then, again, face me.”
“Good,” I said.
“Now, clasp your hands behind the back of your neck, put your head back, and turn about, again, again slowly, and then, again, face me. Good. Now you may lower your arms, and regard me, standing well.”
She was lovely, in the dim light, standing in the straw, within the cell, the gate open behind her.
“Brush your hair back, with both hands,” I said.
Yes, I thought, certainly well worth forty copper tarsks.
“Do you not know how to make a man want you?” I asked.
“No!” she said.
“I am considering putting you through slave paces,” I said.
“I do not know such things,” she said. “I have not been trained!”
“But you are a slave,” I said.
“Yes, yes,” she said, “I am a slave!”
I suspected she would respond well, and more quickly than most, to male dominance. Once the collar is on them, it seldom takes much time, some more, some less.
“Often, in Ar,” I said, “your veil was loose, disarranged, as though carelessly, before guards and other males.”
“You were not to look,” she said. “Did I not chide you for your boldness?”
“Poor males,” I said, “to be so tormented.”
“And surely,” she said, “once aware, I hastily restored the propriety of my habiliments.”
“You must have been aware,” I said, “that men, so provoked, would conjecture your lineaments, beneath those layered, brightly colored robes.”
“No!” she said.
“Truly?” I said.
“You had your slaves,” she said, angrily, “collared, face-stripped, with ill-concealed limbs. Should that be all you knew? Why should you not have been given a hint, at least, of true beauty, the incomparably superior beauty of a free woman?”
She turned her head away, angrily.
“Forty copper tarsks,” I said.
“Beast,” she said.
“Now it is you who are in the collar,” I said. “Do you truly think you are less beautiful now than then? Indeed, the collar much enhances a woman’s beauty.”
“May I withdraw?” she asked.
“You were a haughty she-sleen,” I said, “a hypocrite, a false friend, greedy, insolent, self-seeking, cowardly, dishonest, cruel, and power hungry.”
“May I withdraw?” she said.
“But you did, upon occasion, disarrange your veils,” I said.
“To taunt men,” she snapped, “to make them miserable, to let them see what they could not have!”
“Most,” I said, “might have afforded forty copper tarsks.”
“I must return,” she said.
“To your kennel?” I inquired.
“To my mat,” she said, “to be chained there! Does that please you?”
“It is my impression,” I said, “that free women not only despise slaves, but, being women, often envy them. What woman would not wish to be excitingly garbed, to be not only permitted, but to have no choice but to publicly exhibit her beauty? What woman would not wish to escape the inhibitions, the social demands, the conventions and pressures, the robes, veils, and proprieties which so control and confine them? What woman would not wish to realize that she is stunningly attractive to men, that she is the object of mighty male desire? What woman truly believes that she is the same as a man? What woman does not wish to kneel naked, collared, before her master, the joyful, waiting, hopeful instrument and vessel of his pleasure? Surely you have wondered, if only in rage, at the radiance, the joy, the fulfillment, the freedom, the paradoxical happiness, of the female slave.”
“Let me go!” she begged.
“So in your supposed carelessness, that having to do with your veiling,” I said, “I see more than the cruel delight of an ignoble and petty woman, little more than a she-sleen, protected by the transitory artificiality of station, to torment men. I see, rather, a woman who is displaying herself, as a woman, before men. In your dreams did you not occasionally find yourself back-braceleted and naked in the arms of a master, knowing that he might, if it pleased him, and whether you wished it or not, force upon you uncompromisingly rapturous ecstasies, ecstasies in the throes of which you, at last, will beg to utter the surrender cries of the yielded slave?”
“Please, I beg you,” she said, “let me go-Master!”
“‘Master’?” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “Master, Master!”
“Have the slave fires been lit in your belly?” I asked.
“No!” she said.
“But you have begun to sense what it might be to feel them?” I asked.
“No, no,” she said. “No! No!” She put her head in her hands, sobbing, and bent over at the waist. “What do you want of me?” she sobbed.
“What do you think a man might want of you?” I asked.
“That?” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I was a free woman!” she said.
“You are no longer a free woman,” I said.
“Be merciful,” she said. “Dismiss me!”
“Approach, girl,” I said.
“‘Girl’?” she said.
“Yes, ‘Girl’,” I said. “Lie here, beside me, girl.”
“Never!” she said.
“In disarranging your veils in Ar,” I said, “in your time of power, your features, as doubtless you intended, were well bared, though, could you have seen the future, you might have been more careful, more decorous. You are the former Lady Flavia of Ar, and that name, as I understand it, remains high on the proscription lists, perhaps just beneath those of Talena herself, and Seremides.”
“Do not betray me!” she pleaded.
“Death by impalement,” I said, “is doubtless a most miserable death, and not the swiftest. Indeed, it can take more than an Ahn to descend the spear. And sometimes, suitably braced, increment by transitory increment, the victim given food and water, the execution can take several days, during which time the victim is exposed to the jeers and abuse of the public.”
She came and lay down beside me.
“On your back,” I said, “and throw your legs apart.”
“Excellent,” I said.
She stared at the ceiling of the cell.
“You may now beg use,” I said.
“I beg use,” she whispered.
“Who?” I asked. “The former Lady Flavia of Ar, Alcinoe, some slave?”
“I, the former Lady Flavia of Ar, now Alcinoe, slave, beg use,” she said.
“Again, more properly,” I said.
“I, the former Lady Flavia of Ar, now Alcinoe, slave, beg use, Master,” she said.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“‘Yes’?” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“Beg to be taught your collar,” I said.
“I beg to be taught my collar, Master,” she whispered.
A woman is never the same, after having uttered such words.
I noted her body carefully, its tonicity, its readiness. I assessed her breathing, I turned her head to mine, and looked into her eyes. I was pleased. This was clearly a slave ready for use.
I released her head, and lay back in the straw.
Some Ehn passed.
“Master?” she said.
“Yes?” I said.
“I beg,” she whispered in the half darkness. “I beg use, Master.”
“No,” I said.
“What?” she said, turning to me.
“You are dismissed,” I told her.
She sprang up in tears and, seizing up her tunic, fled toward the gate.
“Wait!” I said.
She turned, at the gate. “Do not forget this,” I said, throwing the metal bowl which had held the broth, ringing, to her feet. She snatched it up, and, tunic clutched in one hand, rushed outside and flung shut the gate of the cell, which action closed and locked the gate. “They are going to kill you!” she cried, from outside, through the bars. “They are going to kill you!” And then she fled up the stairs to a higher deck. I lay down in the straw and was soon asleep.
I am Interviewed; My Fate is to be Soon Decided
“Keep your head down,” said the voice.
I stared at the flooring.
This was now my fourth day on the great ship. I knew, as yet, little about the ship. I did not know her course. I had not been on the main deck.
If they intended to kill me, I did not understand the delay.
I knelt, head down, naked, bound hand and foot.
“Do you understand my Gorean?” asked one of the men. I had glimpsed them when I was brought before them, my hands bound behind my back, before I was put to my knees, and my ankles lashed together.
“Yes,” I said, head down.
There were five men, three were of the sort to which the slave, Alcinoe, had alluded, those whom she had thought had “strange eyes.” I had seen such eyes before, sometimes on free men, sometimes on lovely slaves, but rarely. Such eyes are sometimes referred to as Tuchuk eyes. The coloring of the skin was unusual, at least to me. It was darker than that with which I was commonly familiar, but not as dark as the brown of Bazi, nor the deeper, richer browns, even blacks, of Schendi, the Ua Basin, and such. They were, I took it, Pani. Two I took to be chief men, each with a guard or colleague. I would learn that the fellow who had spoken, one of the Pani, lithe, pantherlike, was Lord Nishida. With him was a swordsman, though the sword was of a type with which I was unfamiliar. He was also of the Pani, and his name was Tajima. The other chief man, as I took him to be, was also of the Pani, who, I gathered, were important in this enterprise, whatever might be its purpose. He was heavy, even ponderous, and seemed almost asleep, his eyes half closed, but I sensed in him much danger. He reminded me of a seemingly somnolent larl, pretending to be asleep, lying in the grasses, near a watering hole. Woe to the tabuk which might ignore such a form. The larl does not always move whilst hunting. I knew the man at his side, doubtless a guard. He was Seremides of Ar, who had been the master of the Taurentians, the palace guard, during the brief reign of Talena, false Ubara. I wondered if he knew the former Lady Flavia was on this ship, and I wondered if she knew that Seremides, now calling himself Rutilius of Ar, co-conspirator and traitor, he who had abandoned her on the roof of the Central Cylinder, was also aboard. Each, of course, could identify the other. She would know him by sight, and he, too, I had no doubt, would know her. She, so bold in the presence of common soldiers, would surely, in her vanity, have assured herself that one so important as the master of the Taurentians would be well apprised of her beauty. Might that not be to her advantage? Yet, in his haste to make a swift, unencumbered escape, she had been abandoned, left on the roof of the Central Cylinder. I myself, from what I had seen in the cell, would not have minded owning the former Lady Flavia of Ar, and promptly switch-training her to my tastes, but I suspected that Seremides would dispose of her. Too, of course, I could identify him. He had been the finest sword in the Taurentians, the palace guard, and doubtless one of the finest in Ar. I would learn that he had slain six men to earn his place on this ship. Bladewise I could not hope to stand against him. The larger one of the Pani, the heavier, seemingly somnolent one, was Lord Okimoto. Seremides was his personal guard. The fifth man was not of the Pani. He wore the leather jacket of a tarnsman. He was a large, broad-shouldered, sinewy man, with a wind-burned complexion. His hair was red, of an unusual hue. It suggested Torvaldsland. He was called Tarl Cabot.
“You may lift your head,” said my interrogator, he whom I would learn was Lord Nishida.
“Let us cut his throat,” said Seremides. “He should never have been brought on board.”
That Seremides had spoken seemed to surprise Lord Nishida, who glanced to Lord Okimoto, but Lord Okimoto remained passive, his countenance unreadable. Here, I gathered, Seremides was subordinate to others. It was then unusual, I supposed, that he would have spoken without being recognized, so to speak. I had little doubt he could kill me, and, given his true identity, would wish to do so. This must have prompted his boldness.
“What is your name?” asked Lord Nishida.
“Callias,” I said.
“Your hands suggest you are an oarsman,” said Lord Nishida.
“I drew oar,” I said. “But in better times I was first spear, in a squad of nine.”
“In better times?” asked Lord Nishida.
“When Cos, Tyros, and allies ruled in Ar,” I said.
“We gather,” said Lord Nishida, “that is no longer the case.”
I had no idea how much they knew. I had gathered from the former Lady Flavia of Ar that men such as Lord Nishida had purchased slaves in Brundisium, and I supposed they had recruited men and hired ships there, as well, which had then coasted north, to the high forests. Beyond that I knew little. I would learn later that they had found, or built, a ship in the north, a great ship, that on which I now found myself, and had debouched into Thassa from the Alexandra. As it seemed they waited for me to speak, I told them, briefly, of the events in Ar, the return of Marlenus, the fighting, the withdrawal of troops, the proscription lists, the flight of fugitives, and such. I also mentioned the unusual account of the disappearance of the Ubara, which I had had from the former Lady Flavia of Ar, now Alcinoe. It seemed, however, that they were familiar with this. In the end, I suspected I told them little that they did not know. If it were new or important information which they wanted of me I fear they were sorely disappointed. And that, I thought, along with the presence of Seremides, did not augur well for my future.
“Do you have a Home Stone?” asked Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I said. “That of Jad, on Cos.”
“I thought he was Cosian,” snarled Seremides. “Cosians cannot be trusted. They are treacherous, and deceitful. Let us kill him.”
“Several from Cos are numbered amongst our mercenaries,” said Lord Nishida.
Certainly I had heard accents of Cos on the galley which had picked me up.
“What was your ship, and its purpose?” asked Lord Nishida.
“The Metioche,” I said. “Long ship, light galley, out of Telnus, ten oars, single-masted, guard ship, patrol ship. You destroyed her.”
“She pursued us, she crossed our path,” said Lord Nishida.
“Too,” said Seremides, “we were attacked, flaming javelins launched against us.”
Fire at sea, as noted, is a great danger.
“Even an ost,” I said, “trodden upon, will strike.”
“You pursued us,” said Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“An ost,” said Lord Nishida, “is not well advised to pursue the great hith, against which its poison is useless.”
This is not as surprising as it might seem, as the poison of the ost, as that of many poisonous snakes, is prey-selective, deadly against warm-blooded animals, such as tiny urts, its customary prey, or even larger animals, such as verr and tabuk, but harmless to other snakes, to certain forms of tharlarion, and such.
“It is true,” I said.
“He is an enemy,” said Seremides, “self-confessed, who pursued and attacked us, a scion of vengeful, hostile Cos. He is dangerous. He may incite mutiny. Kill him, and be done with him.”
“Shall we kill you?” asked Lord Nishida.
“That decision is yours,” I said.
Lord Okimoto nodded his head. Seremides clenched his fists.
“Why was I picked up?” I asked.
“Is it not obvious?” asked Lord Nishida.
“The fellowship of the sea?” I said.
“If you had been rescued by another,” said Lord Nishida, “say, a galley of Tyros, it is our speculation that a dozen ships, within days, in the vicinity of the farther islands, would have sought us, to our inconvenience and distraction.”
“Were others of the Metioche brought aboard?” I asked.
“No,” said Lord Nishida.
“I was the only survivor?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Lord Nishida.
I found this hard to believe. I would learn later, however, that there was a simple explanation for this seeming anomaly.
“You are hence to the farther islands?” I asked.
“Beyond them,” said Lord Nishida.
“There is nothing beyond them,” I said, “only the end of the world.”
“If the world had an edge,” said Lord Nishida, “would not Thassa have drained away, falling into the void?”
“Perhaps there is a wall,” I said.
“Perhaps,” he smiled.
“None return from beyond the farther islands,” I said.
“You are familiar with the slave, Alcinoe?” asked Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I said. To be sure, I had seen her but once, when she had brought me broth. My food and drink, thereafter, had been attended to by guards.
“She claimed you raped her,” said Lord Nishida.
“Was her body examined?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Lord Nishida. “Have no fear. She was well lashed.”
“Excellent,” I said.
“She hates you,” said Lord Nishida.
“Excellent,” I said. “It is then all the more pleasant to have them crawling to you, the whip borne in their teeth.”
“She has been given lower duties,” said Lord Nishida. “The scrubbing of decks, naked, and in chains, such things.”
“Excellent,” I said.
Such things are useful in the training of a slave.
“Our physicians have determined,” said Lord Nishida, “that after her sojourn in your cell, she is almost ready to be put on the block.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“She was recently a free woman,” said Lord Nishida.
“Oh?” I said.
“Now, it seems,” he said, “she has begun to fear radical changes in her very being, changes she is not capable of resisting, changes such that a free woman may be replaced by a slave.”
“She is a slave,” I said.
“To her consternation and terror,” said Lord Nishida, “it seems that she has begun to sense what it might be to have slave fires in her belly.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“They have been lit,” said Lord Nishida.
“I scarcely touched her,” I said.
“The flames are tiny now,” said Lord Nishida, “but they will doubtless grow.”
“That is common,” I said.
“She will, of course,” said Lord Nishida, “fear them, and fight them, with all weapons of her pride and will.”
“Of course,” I said.
That battle, of course, once the fires have begun, cannot be won. Sooner of later the free woman is transformed into a needful slave, a submitted, begging, belonging of men.
And, interestingly, it is a battle the woman does not want, truly, to win. Indeed her victory as a female lies in her utter and unconditional defeat as a contestant in that unnatural, strange war. She cannot be whole and fulfilled until she is true to the core of her being, that of lying at the feet of her master.
“I have seen this Alcinoe,” said Seremides. “She looks well in her collar. Perhaps she might be given to me.”
“Perhaps,” said Lord Nishida.
That, I thought, would be the end of a slave.
“If,” said I, “you feared survivors, who might warn those of Tyros or Cos of your presence, why did you not simply slay me, and cast me over the side of the galley?”
“Do you think we are pirates?” asked Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I said.
To be sure, the vessel itself would seem an impractical corsair, but I knew she sheltered at least one nested galley, which might plausibly exercise the dark vocation of the low, green ships.
“Kill him,” said Seremides.
“Are you prepared to deny your Home Stone?” asked Lord Nishida.
“No,” I said.
“Kill him,” said Seremides.
“Have you anything of interest or importance to impart to us,” asked Lord Nishida.
“I fear not,” I said.
“No information as to ships and schedules, patrols, or such?”
“Ours,” I said, “was the last patrol of the season. Thassa grows cold, and angry. I advise you to turn about and lay to port, if you have a port. This is no time to tempt the indulgence of Priest-Kings, no time to tempt the season, or the patience of Thassa. A galley of Tyros was to rendezvous with us, but that was days ago, and, if you are sailing to the farther islands, much to the east. The absence of the Metioche, of course, will be noted, and doubtless galleys will leave Telnus, searching for her, or her wreckage.”
“But that, too, will be far to the east,” said Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I said.
“He is useless to us,” said Seremides. He had slipped his short blade from its sheath. It had been a lovely draw, silent, and smooth. I had not noticed the draw until it was completed, the blade free of its housing. A distraction is involved. One looks to the side and the gaze of others is likely to follow this line, whilst the hand, meanwhile, unnoted, draws the blade. I wondered if Seremides had once trained with the Assassins.
“Return your serpent to its lair,” said the tarnsman, not requesting permission to speak. I was reassured that there was no good feeling, obviously, between Seremides and the tarnsman.
Seremides looked to Lord Okimoto, who nodded. The blade snapped back into the sheath, angrily.
“Do you know weapons?” inquired Lord Nishida.
“I was first spear,” I said, “of a squad of nine.”
“It is my understanding,” said Lord Nishida, “that Cos is imperialistic.”
“The laws of Cos,” I said, “march with the spears of Cos.”
“That is a saying, is it not?” asked Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” I said.
I would not bend to diminish, nor cloud, the glory of Cos, but I did not regard her as unique amongst the communities of men. Surely violence, aggression, opportunism, territoriality, imperialism, and such, were not her exclusive possessions. Is the way of war not the way of men? Surely her spears were matched ever with spears, her blades with blades. Indeed, how is a state to wax great save by the spear, the blade? If this is the way of Cos, is it not also the way of Ar, Turia, and a hundred other cities? How are trade routes, cities, fields, mines, slaves, and such to be conveniently purchased save by steel? The larl rules his domain; he does not discuss it with the tabuk.
“Tomorrow, friend Callias,” said Lord Nishida, “your fate will be decided. Tomorrow, you will live or die.”
“My thanks,” I said.
“Would you care to have a slave sent to your cell tonight?” asked Lord Nishida.
“No,” I said.
“I thought perhaps the girl, Alcinoe,” said Lord Nishida.
“No,” I said.
“She is pretty, is she not?” said Lord Nishida.
“She is not a bad-looking slave,” I said.
“But you do not want her sent to you tonight?” he said.
“No,” I said. “I will sleep.”
“As you will,” said Lord Nishida.
“But I might,” I said, “like strong broth.”
“It will be so,” said Lord Nishida.
What Occurred on the Main Deck of the Great Ship; Tersites; A Storm is Imminent
The sixth passage hand was done, the autumnal equinox had been marked in the scribal calendar of Jad, Se’Kara was done, and, as nearly as I could tell, it was the third or fourth day in the seventh passage hand.
It was a bright day.
Had the Metioche not crossed paths with the great ship she would now be in her shed in Telnus, in her winter berth, and I, and her crew, cleared and paid by a harbor marshal, wallets bulging with copper, would have gone our ways, some scattering through a hundred towns and villages, others remaining in Telnus, seeking the delights and comforts of the port. For those remaining in Telnus, a refundable fee would have been deducted from our pay, this entitling us to housing in the port dormitory, and the right to a meal, once daily, at the common tables, this an insurance against an empty purse, a hungry stomach, and a lodging on a winter street. This was provided only for state mariners. Private mariners must make do as they can, in the city or outside of it. Some coasting is done but, on the whole, in the off season, the port is quiet. After a lean dark winter spring is welcome. The shed doors are opened, the vessels on their rollers emerge, into the light, as though awakening, and the rigging, refitting, caulking, and painting begins. It is lovely when, later, the ships, wreathed with flowers, to singing and music, are brought to the water. Oil, and wine, and salt are poured into Thassa, the oil to calm her waters, the wine that she may be warmed and pleased, and the salt, in its preciousness, for honor, prestige, life, and hope, and, too, that it may be mixed with her own, that she may accept the ship as one with her, to be sheltered and protected, as sister, as kin. But, woe, I was far from Telnus, and her comforts. Her steep, narrow streets, her lights, her taverns, her slaves, perfumed and painted, their wrists and ankles jangling with bells, with tender lips and well-rounded, warm arms, were far distant.
I looked over the rail.
Thassa was restless.
There were white whispers in the water.
The wind was rising.
This was no time to be abroad on Thassa. Did they know so little of her moods, of her temper?
It was cool on deck, in the open, in the wind, even for the brightness, but I was not uncomfortable. I was dressed warmly, a jacket, cloak, tunic, leggings, soft boots. It was much warmer, of course, below decks, away from the wind. Yet, later, I was sure, the cold, despite the corridors, the braziers, the lamps, would reach even the mysterious labyrinths below.
“As I understand it,” said Tarl Cabot, the tarnsman whom I had encountered the preceding day during my interrogation, “you were not armed when found.”
“No,” I said. “On a Cosian warship only the officers are armed, until an engagement is imminent, and then weapons are distributed.”
This arrangement is not that unusual. It adds to the authority of officers, and tends to reduce the likelihood of serious harm amongst the men. It takes time, usually, to beat a fellow bloody and senseless, and he is likely to recover sooner or later, and perhaps put an end to the quarrel over a jug of paga, but an angry word, a swift movement, and a flash of steel, and one may well have lost a shipmate, and eventually, given the friendships and alliances amongst the men, more than one. Those on board a ship constitute a small community, confined within a circumscribed area. A strict discipline must be maintained on board, as in a cage of sleen, lest they tear one another to pieces. There is nowhere to run. Tempers may flare. Blood may beget blood. I saw that the fellows about, and there were several, were all armed. This confirmed my suspicion that I was in the midst of pirates. In any event, many of these fellows seemed to me dangerous men. This was no common crew. For what purpose, and by what means, might these men have been assembled? I thought again of the cage of sleen. What but the whip and spear might maintain order in such a cage? But, who, too, I asked myself, might disarm such men?
“You know the blade?” asked the tarnsman.
“Passably,” I said.
He was a tarnsman. Few men master tarns, few dare their saddles.
“When have you last drawn, fenced, put your skills to the test?” he asked.
“Not since Ar,” I said. “Months ago. I sold my blade.”
“One does not sell one’s blade,” he said.
“I needed money,” I said.
“One dies first,” he said.
“I am not of the warriors,” I said.
“But you take fee?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
From his presence at my interview, or interrogation, I took him to be an officer of some sort.
His accent was unusual. I could not place it. Perhaps Harfax.
I did not think he bore me any ill will. Indeed, yesterday, on my behalf, he had stood against Seremides himself. Perhaps he did not know, as I did, the skills of the former captain of the Taurentians. I knew of no blade the equal of his. Something in the eyes or mien of this man suggested he might be other than many here; oddly enough, for the venue, I suspected he might once have been no stranger to honor; such I would not have sensed in Seremides. I wondered if he were once of the warriors, perhaps long ago. Such men may betray the codes, but they are not likely to forget them. It is hard to forget the codes. Is it not a saying of warriors that one does not sell one’s blade, that steel is to be prized above gold? And honor above life? How came then such a man here, if he were such a man, on this ship, amidst this unlikely, motley crew? Had he betrayed the codes? But it is difficult to forget the codes. There were always the codes, the codes. I supposed them fools, such men, but there are such men. One mocks them until one needs them. Who else, when one is in mortal jeopardy, would one prefer to have at one’s back? They are of the scarlet caste. Such men, at the least, like the Assassins, are likely to kill quickly, and cleanly.
“You inquired, yesterday,” he said, “of other survivors, from the Metioche. There were several. But none were brought aboard. They were picked up by the private galley of Lord Okimoto, captained at the time by Rutilius of Ar, first in his guard.”
“They were slain?” I asked.
“Yes, to a man,” he said.
“And thus,” I said, “they would not survive, perhaps to enlighten others as to the existence of a great ship, a mysterious, monstrous vessel, unlicensed in our waters.”
“Fortunately for yourself,” he said, “you were picked up by a second galley, the port-amidships galley, captained by the mercenary, Torgus.”
“And now I die?” I asked.
“We shall see,” said the tarnsman.
“Hail Rutilius!” we heard. “Rutilius of Ar!”
The men who were crowded about then parted, and stepped back, clearing a space on the deck.
I removed my cloak, setting it aside, on the rail.
The man identified as Rutilius of Ar then stood at the edge of a circle, some feet of cleared space between us. Without taking his eyes off me he unclasped his cloak and handed it to a fellow, a fellow garbed as he was, in the yellow livery of what I would come to recognize as that of Lord Okimoto’s retinue. I saw nothing of Lord Okimoto himself. Perhaps the morning’s work of Seremides was of little interest to him, the outcome being a foregone conclusion, or perhaps, merely, he did not care to share, or dabble in, the pleasures of his subordinates.
I wondered if Lord Okimoto had instructed Seremides that survivors were to be put to the sword. I rather doubted it. He had not seemed much concerned, in the interrogation, with my fate, one way or another. Quite possibly he had issued no instructions. Quite possibly he had left such matters to the judgment of Seremides, the Seremides I knew.
“Are you ready to die?” asked Seremides.
“I am unarmed,” I said.
He slipped the sheath from his left shoulder, and, grasping it, drew his blade, easily, casually. It made no sound, as the sheath was lined. This is not uncommon with the sheath of an Assassin’s weapon, this permitting the weapon’s noiseless departure. It does, slightly, slow the draw. The sheath with belt he then handed, as he had the cloak, to the fellow with him. When danger is not imminent, the sheath belt is usually worn across the body, as this provides greater security, the weapon then at the left hip. If a locale is deemed dangerous the sheath belt is usually looped over the left shoulder. In this way, the weapon freed, the sheath and belt may be discarded, as it constitutes a graspable encumbrance. The sword was the gladius, double-edged, some eighteen inches of steel, long enough to outreach a knife, short enough, light enough, dexterous enough, to work behind the guard of a longer, heavier weapon.
“Five days ago,” said Seremides, addressing himself to the seeming rabble about, “without provocation, we were attacked by Cosian pirates, who attempted to burn our ship. We fought. We resisted. We conquered. Then we punished. Those who did not drown were executed, with but one exception, the sleen before you who was mistakenly spared, who should have been bloodied and given to Thassa’s hungry children, an offering to her justice, that he not soil our ship with his unclean, impenitent, criminal presence.”
“My name is Callias,” I said. “My Home Stone is that of Jad, on Cos. Perhaps some of you share her Home Stone with me. I was an oarsman on the Cosian patrol ship, the Metioche, out of Telnus. We are not pirates. You were in Cosian waters. We pursued you, investigating. We fired on you in self-defense. If any have been wronged here it is surely we, and not you. I think a mountain has little to fear from a pebble, a draft tharlarion from a stable urt.”
Seremides regarded me, measuring me, and smiled.
Some men enjoy killing, and I did not doubt but what one of these was Seremides, formerly first sword amongst the Taurentians. On the other hand, had I been another, and not one who knew him from Ar, I doubt that he would have been much concerned with me, nor would have so zealously set himself to have my blood. I was a witness, as was the slave, Alcinoe, who might identify him as the former captain of the Taurentians, traitor and arch-conspirator, he who had stood high in Ar during the reign of the puppet Ubara, Talena, one of those who, like Talena and the former Lady Flavia of Ar, her confidante, had a price on his head. I recalled how he had so persistently urged my death in the meeting below decks yesterday. He might have killed me then, had it not been for the intervention of the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot. Apparently I constituted a threat to him, at least in his mind, of considerable portent. Were I he I would doubtless have been similarly apprehensive. I looked over the rail, at Thassa, wanting to see her, again, if only for the last time. But she seemed uneasy, cold and dark, and there was a roll of clouds unfurling over her brow in the north.
“I, Rutilius of Ar,” said Seremides, “do not countenance an enemy amongst us. Who knows whose throat might be cut in his sleep by this sleen? Will you share water and rations, and loot and slaves, with one who would have delivered you to the teeth of flames or the fangs of sharks? Will we have an enemy, a deadly foe, amongst us?”
It interested me that Seremides seemed to feel it incumbent upon him to justify a projected murder. It had not been that way in Ar. Here it seemed he was not captain, here it seemed a certain wariness might be in order. For that I was grateful. The sword here did not seem to be a law unto itself, or at least his sword. The fellows about, as far as I could see, were not much interested in charges and countercharges, denunciations and defenses, and such, as in seeing what might ensue. I recalled that in Ar, I, and others, in the early morning, had occasionally gathered to watch Seremides make a kill.
“I see no judge here, no court,” I said.
“This is the court,” said Seremides, “and I am the judge.”
“I do not think so,” said a polite voice.
I looked to the side, and saw standing there he of the Pani, whom I would learn was Lord Nishida. I did not know how long he had been there, how much he had heard. I did remember that he had said that today was to be the day on which I would live or die.
I was pleased to see Lord Nishida present. He wore an oddly cut robe, with short, wide sleeves. In his sash were two swords. This, I sensed, from yesterday, and today, given the deference with which he was regarded, was a person of moment. I knew not how long I might live, so, in this august presence, I pointed to Seremides, and stated, clearly, loudly, and emphatically, “His name is not Rutilius of Ar!”
Seremides instantly rushed at me and I saw the flash of the blade descending but heard a ringing of steel and saw a flash of sparks and another blade had been interposed, that of the tarnsman. Seremides backed away, warily, his weapon poised, the point moving like the head of an excited, coiled ost.
“Many men here,” said Lord Nishida, quietly, “are known elsewhere by other names. The guard of Lord Okimoto, as he wills, is Rutilius of Ar amongst us. That is acceptable to us, and is not to be questioned. If you know another name, or another time, or another place, do not speak it. This ship, and our mission, is now our world. What matters elsewhere does not matter here. What matters here does not matter elsewhere.”
“I see,” I said.
“So,” said Lord Nishida, “what is his name?”
I looked at Seremides. “His name,” I said, “is Rutilius of Ar.”
Could it be, I asked myself, that it does not truly matter to them that Seremides of Ar might be amongst them? But then I thought, perhaps it does not matter, not here. Who would act upon such intelligence? To whom would one remand Seremides of Ar? How would one petition for, or collect, the bounty? Who is there to pay, or act in this matter? Information which might mean wealth and power on the continent, information which might put armies on the march, which might launch ships, which might flight tarn cavalries, would here be without practical consequences. Indeed, here, some might not even know of Seremides of Ar, and of those who knew some might see their fortunes as best linked to his, particularly if, through his agency, Talena might be found. Who would be more likely to know the Ubara, her habits, her hiding places, than Seremides of Ar, from whom she had been stolen on the height of the Central Cylinder months ago? I wondered how he came to be on this ship, and for what reason. I knew the secret of Seremides, but here that knowledge was of little consequence, other than to place my life in jeopardy. Seremides had little to fear from me now. But I had much to fear from him, or from those who might be enleagued with him. Perhaps, I thought, his identity was known to Lord Okimoto, even to Lord Nishida. I did not know. I would be silent. Presumably Seremides knew that the former Lady Flavia of Ar was on board. I recalled that he had asked that she be given to him. I suspected that she did not know he was on board. As a slave, she might have been kept much in ignorance. That is not unusual with slaves. They are slaves. Thus, she might not know that he, unbeknownst to herself, might have seen her, might have looked upon her now-bared face, a face now slave-bare, a face now denied the dignity and modesty of veiling, a face which must now be as exposed to public view as that of any other animal, a face recalled by him from her vanity in Ar. How terrified she might be if she, now as any other slave, a purchasable object, a mere article of property, might be given to him.
“This Cosian sleen,” said Seremides to Lord Nishida, while not taking his eyes off me, “is an enemy, to be put to death, one who wished us harm, not to be tolerated amongst us.”
“Do you speak on behalf of Lord Okimoto?” inquired Lord Nishida.
“I bespeak on behalf of all,” said Seremides.
“Not on my behalf,” said Tarl Cabot, quietly.
I was pleased to see that several of the fellows about seemed to take this seriously. The words of the tarnsman, I gathered, were words to which several present might attend.
I would learn later he was a commander amongst them.
“Did you not say, yesterday,” asked Seremides, “that today this Cosian sleen was to die?”
“That he was to live, or die,” said Lord Nishida.
“That may be easily determined,” said Seremides.
“I am unarmed,” I said.
“Then kneel down, and lower your head, to be swiftly slain, unarmed. I shall be quick. Or, if unarmed, run, until there is nowhere else to run, and then die. Or seek Thassa. Perhaps you can swim to Cos!”
I recalled the thought of the cage of sleen. Where, within the bars, might a small sleen flee?
“Permit me to perform the execution,” said Seremides.
“Execution?” inquired Lord Nishida.
“To put to death this enemy,” said Seremides.
“There will be no execution,” said Lord Nishida.
“Very well,” said Seremides, and turned to me. “Challenge!” he said.
“I am unarmed,” I said.
“Arm him!” said Seremides.
“I know your blade,” I said. “I am no match for it.”
“Arm him!” said Seremides.
“No,” I said.
“Challenge! Challenge!” cried Seremides.
“I do not accept your challenge,” I said.
The men about reacted to this, looking about, startled. Amongst them, this response was incomprehensible.
Seremides himself seemed startled.
“Cosian,” sneered a fellow.
“They are all alike,” said another.
“No,” said another fellow who, I supposed, was Cosian. Under his reproachful gaze I suffered.
“No place here for such as he,” said a man.
“True!” said the fellow I took to be Cosian.
“Craven urt,” said another.
“Over the rail with him,” said a fellow.
“Kill him,” said another, “and be done with it.”
I clenched my fists.
“Not at our table will he eat,” said a man.
“Let him fear to go on deck after dark,” said another.
“Perhaps,” said Tarl Cabot, quietly, “you would accept a champion?”
“No!” cried several men, in gray.
Seremides stepped back a pace. Had a sudden flicker of disquiet crossed his features? In any event, for whatever reason, it seemed clear he did not welcome this intrusion. Yet I knew well the former captain of the Taurentians. What had he to fear? City champions had reeled from his blade.
“No,” I said, “I will not have another fight for me.” The tarnsman, Tarl Cabot, I gathered, did not know the skills of Seremides. I would not have another die for me. Even were he, somehow, a match for the former Taurentian’s skills, it would be wrong of me to accept his intervention. A Merchant, a laborer, a free woman might accept it, but I could not, not in honor. I had served Cos.
“A challenge has been issued,” said Seremides. “I do not accept its rejection. That is my right.”
“An Assassin’s right,” I said.
“Prepare to die,” said Seremides, “armed or unarmed.”
“Hold,” said Lord Nishida, lifting his hand, the sleeve falling back about his wrist, as he did so. “Good Callias,” said Lord Nishida, “I do not think you are a coward. Why, then, do you refuse to accept the challenge?”
“It is a challenge without honor,” I said. “The animosity borne to me by your Rutilius of Ar has nothing to do with Cos and Ar, with politics or war, with defense or security, nor with justice or law. It is personal, and from the past. I know of things of which I gather I am not to speak, and it is because of this that your Rutilius of Ar seeks my blood, that he may have nothing more to fear from me. He knows I am no match for him. Thus, he would conceal a murder beneath a veil of equitable arbitration, of fair contest, mask a murder under the mantle of a duel. If he would kill me let him do so now, publicly, in cold blood, dishonorably cutting down an unarmed man, one who holds him in contempt. So let my death soil him, and cling to him in the eyes of men, marking him, proclaiming him for what he is in fact, a wretch, a dissembler, a fugitive, a criminal, a coward, a butcher.”
“I do not know this Cosian,” said Seremides. “Nor do I understand him. It seems he has me confused with another. That is neither here nor there. But, if he will not fight, if he is so craven and cowardly, so much a frightened urt, so enamored of his worthless existence, so unwilling to risk it in fair, open combat, that is his choice. Certainly I cannot, in cold blood, slay an unarmed man. Doubtless he understands that, and thus tries to purchase his worthless life, counting on my honor. Such a killing, however in order, he doubtless realizes would not be permitted by my honor, an honor which I hold sacred, and have never betrayed. Too, it would be embarrassing for me to allow the blood of such a piteously craven urt to stain, however briefly, an honorable blade, that of Rutilius of Ar.”
Some of the men about smote their left shoulders, in approval.
“Yes, yes,” said others.
“Do not go on deck after dark,” said a fellow to me.
“But,” said Seremides, “if he is to crawl amongst us, as the slithering ost, unnoticed but deadly, tiny and poisonous, must he not in some way purchase his passage?”
“Yes,” said more than one man.
“That was my intention,” said Lord Nishida.
“I have no money,” I said.
“One purchases one’s passage with steel,” said Seremides. “I earned my berth by slaying six men.”
“True,” said a fellow, “six.”
“Passage is dear on this vessel,” said a fellow, “not free.”
“The Cosian has proved he is afraid to fight,” said another.
“At the ringing of steel, the laughter of blades, he would hide,” said another.
“Over the rail with him,” said another.
“Berths are limited, Cosian,” said Seremides. “They are to be earned, and in such a way that the best occupy them. Let the slow and clumsy perish, let the swift and skillful live. Let the weak die, let the strong survive. It is the way of nature, that of the tarn, of the sleen and larl. If one is added, let one be subtracted.”
I shrugged. “Give me a blade,” I said.
“Excellent,” said Lord Nishida. “It is as I and Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, intended.”
I had thought the tarnsman bore me no ill will. Now I was to be matched, to the death.
A blade was brought, nicely balanced. It was a not unfamiliar sensation, having such an instrument of war again in my grasp. Surely I preferred it to the oar. I touched the blade to my sleeve, and saw the threads part. I looked about. One or two men looked uneasy. One stepped back. I smiled. I was now, again, a man among men.
The tarnsman smiled.
“Bring the thief and wretch, Philoctetes, from his cell,” said Lord Nishida. “He has fed enough.”
The cloaks of some of the men moved in the wind. The yards above, carrying their large square sails, creaked, turning, as the sails took the rising wind, moving from a gray north.
In a few moments the prisoner was on deck, and given a weapon, rather as mine. We stood a few feet from one another. He was in a ragged blue tunic. He stood unsteadily.
“My dear Callias,” said Lord Nishida, “you behold before you a trustless rogue, Philoctetes, a miscreant and felon, a liar, a cheater at stones, one who robs men at night, who steals food, obtaining extra rations for himself, a villain who would cut a throat for a copper tarsk.”
“I trust that he is skilled,” I said.
“Enough,” said Lord Nishida. “He may not have the skills of one who stood first spear, but we deem his skills adequate for our purposes, that of adjudicating a war right to a berth. I advise you not to take him casually. A lucky stroke might fetch him freedom.”
I moved the blade about.
It had been long since I had held such a weapon.
Lord Nishida, the tarnsman, and others, moved back, further enlarging the space at our disposal. The boards of the deck were white, and closely fitted, stone cleaned.
Philoctetes seemed unsteady.
“Has he been fed,” I asked.
“Yes,” said Lord Nishida.
I faced Philoctetes. “Are you ready?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“You wear the blue of Cos,” I said.
“It is my right,” he said.
“You are Cosian?” I said.
“My Home Stone,” I said, “is that of Jad.”
He regarded me. “That, too,” he said, “is mine.”
“You must,” said Lord Nishida, addressing me, “be prepared to forswear your Home Stone.”
“One of us is to die?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Lord Nishida.
“Have you forsworn the Home Stone?” I asked Philoctetes.
“No,” he said.
“Then,” said I, “stand at my back and we will die together.”
“You are serious?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, turning my back to him, facing those about, my sword ready. I saw several of the men about look at one another, and then draw their weapons.
“You are Callias?” asked Philoctetes.
“Yes,” I said, puzzled. I could not see him behind me. I did not sense him at my back.
It occurred to me, suddenly, that the back of my neck was open to his blade.
“Hail, Callias!” I heard, from Philoctetes. “Hail, Callias!” cried men about, and the swords which had been drawn were lifted, in salute. I spun about and saw that Philoctetes did not now seem as he had before. He stood straight, and powerful, solid on his feet. He had wiped something from his face, a pale salve or such, and it seemed ruddier now. The blade he had returned to a fellow behind him. “Hail Cos,” he said, and we embraced.
“Excellent,” said Lord Nishida. “It came about as I had expected.”
“I could not kill one whose Home Stone I shared,” I said.
“We thought not,” said Lord Nishida.
“I did not forswear my Home Stone,” I said.
“From yesterday,” said Lord Nishida, “we did not think you would, but we did not know.”
“Philoctetes played his role well,” observed Tarl Cabot.
“What if I had forsworn my Home Stone?” I asked.
“That would have been a great disappointment,” said Lord Nishida. “Our journey is long and dangerous, and we will have need of men who will not forswear their Home Stones.”
“What if I had fought?” I asked.
“You would not have fought,” said Lord Nishida, touching the unusual, curved hilt of one of the swords in his sash, “for I would have cut off your head, before the blades could touch.”
“Welcome,” said Tarl Cabot, “to the ship’s company.”
I looked about, but Seremides had left the deck.
I heard the snapping of canvas overhead.
The men about had sheathed their weapons, and were going their ways when, turning about, a cry of wonder escaped them. I looked forward, to the stem castle, to discern the reason for their awe. There, on the stem castle, behind its aft rail, a small figure, bent and twisted, stood, in cloak and mariner’s cap, looking to windward, to the north.
“Tersites!” cried men.
“He is dead!” exclaimed others.
“We witnessed his burning,” said another.
“I was at the pyre,” said another.
“I have heard of him,” I said. This was true. Legends of the mad, half-blind shipwright, Tersites, I did not doubt, had reached even the farther islands. Until now I did not realize he was a real person. From the outcry I gathered that many had not realized he was aboard.
“I saw him burned,” whispered a man.
“No,” said Tarl Cabot.
“You knew he was alive?” said Lord Nishida.
“I examined bones, found amongst the ashes of the pyre,” said Tarl Cabot. “They were the bones of a tarsk.”
“It was better,” said Lord Nishida, “that he be thought dead, that such a word be carried south, that the apprehension of enemies be assuaged, that none might seek his secrets, that his plans would be thought lost forever, that no ship such as this could be built, or, if built, duplicated.”
“Yet,” said Cabot, “we were attacked, at the mouth of the Alexandra.”
“The concealment of the northern forests proved insufficient,” said Lord Nishida.
“Surely you will explain to me one day the nature of our enterprise,” said Tarl Cabot.
“It has to do with Priest-Kings and Others,” said Lord Nishida. “It is, I take it, a wager of sorts.”
“And what hangs upon the outcome of this wager?” asked Tarl Cabot.
“I think,” said Lord Nishida, “the fate of two worlds.”
“Callias,” said Philoctetes, “a storm is near. Come below. Leave the taking in of sail, the governance of the ship, to mariners.”
“It is too late in the season to be abroad on Thassa,” I said.
“I agree,” said Philoctetes.
“I trust that oil was poured into the sea, and wine, and salt,” I said.
“No,” said Philoctetes. “They were not. Come below. A storm is upon us.”
I fetched my cloak, and accompanied Philoctetes below.
The Farther Islands Fall Astern
“There,” said Tarl Cabot, “do you see them, the three of them, the farther islands, Chios, Daphna, Thera?”
They were dim, in the distance, in the snow, but one could make them out. I had never been this far west of Cos and Tyros, but the merchantry of the major island Ubarates, including Cos, of course, traded here, and rogue ships, from Port Kar and Brundisium, did as well. Indeed, the major reason for the western patrols, as that of the Metioche, was to police these routes, limiting them to licensed traffic.
It was the second week past the eighth passage hand.
“Yes,” I said. “I see them.”
In an Ahn, they would be astern.
At Cabot’s thigh knelt a slave, well-bundled.
She did not seem agitated. Did she not understand we would soon be west of the farther islands?
When she had heeled her master to the rail, where he had joined me, I had examined her, as men will a slave, insofar as was possible, given her furs. She had lowered her eyes, that they not meet without permission those of a free man. Then she had knelt. I supposed she would be excellent, stripped to her neck-encirclement. Certainly her features were exquisite, and the furs, as they were cunningly wrapped and fastened, the clever she-sleen, suggested, as much as concealed, the delights at the disposal of her master. Slaves often garb and present themselves in such a way that others may envy their master for their possession.
She was quite lovely. I thought she would bring good coin off the block.
She did not meet my eyes. She was, after all, her master’s property, not mine. Even the casual glance of a slave might enflame a fellow. A slave who is careless with her glances, her smiles, might be beaten.
If I owned Alcinoe, and she smiled at another fellow, I thought I would give her a good switching.
It would teach her a lesson.
It would do her good.
I regarded Tarl Cabot’s slave.
I was pleased.
She had about her the look of a woman who is well owned, well mastered.
Commonly a slave rejoices that she is owned. It reassures her and fulfills her. She has come to understand that her sex is rightfully the property of men, and that, in her collar, the tensions and wars are over. She kneels in her place, where she wishes to be, at her master’s feet.
One is familiar with the haughtiness, the arrogance, the pride, of the typical free woman, defended by guardsmen, ringed by the walls of her city, well-veiled, well-robed, secure in her status, unassailable in station, ensconced in society’s regard, but there is another pride, too, little spoken of, which is, perhaps surprisingly, that of the slave. Even when she kneels before the free woman, in her mockery of a garment, fastened in a collar, her lovely hair in the dirt before the free woman’s slippers, she knows herself special, and prized, in a way the free woman is not. She realizes that she, amongst many women, is the one who has been found “slave desirable,” the one whom men will put in a collar, the one who will wear a collar. She revels in the fact that she has been found worthy of being owned. She is proud to be owned. This is a mark of quality, a badge of excellence. She is a prize amongst women, so desirable that men will be satisfied with nothing less than owning her. She is that desirable. She knows that she is the most coveted, the most lusted-for, the most delectable, exciting, and sought of women, the female slave. How could she not feel superior, in her sex, as a female, to the free woman in her vain, shallow trappings of dignity and station? Many have been free women, and they know the grief, the sorrow, the frustration, the misery, and loneliness, so often concealed within those cumbersome, ornate robes. The free woman often hates the slave; the slave, often, feels not only fear of, but also pity for, the free woman. So one might then contrast two prides, that of the scornful free woman, richly robed, elevated in society, switch in hand, and that of the timid, frightened creature, perhaps in a rag, a collared animal, who kneels before her. The free woman has pride in her status, the slave in her sex, in her holistic fulfilled womanhood.
One might also note the gratitude of the slave. She loves and serves, and is grateful to have been granted this privilege. It is not unknown for even free women to kneel before a man, press their lips to his boots, and beg him for his collar, that they may belong to him, as his slave. The depth of this need, of this desire, and the profundity of this love, the wholeness of it, the desire to give oneself, to surrender oneself, wholly, to another, is one of the mysterious recurrent songs of nature, its origins perhaps lost or obscure, but its strains familiar amongst her survivors. So she rejoices that she is owned, for she has now at last what she has long longed for, a master. She is a slave at his feet, doubtless stripped and collared, to be treated as he wills. To what less could she be so helplessly responsive?
He is male, and she female, he master, she slave.
How beautiful are women!
Only in the collar can they find themselves.
“You have a lovely slave,” I said to him.
“I call her ‘Cecily’,” he said.
“That is a strange name,” I said.
“She is a barbarian,” he said.
That, I supposed, explained her lack of agitation. She did not realize the import of being beyond the farther islands.
The girls of Gorean origin were being kept chained below decks, some hooded, and sedated. One could not blame a girl for being uneasy if she were being drawn, say, wrists bound behind her, naked, on a tether, into a larl’s den.
“Is she any good?” I asked.
She thrust her cheek against her master’s thigh. Clearly she was ready. It is pleasant, I thought, what men can do with slaves.
“A touch,” said Cabot, “and she juices and steams.”
“She is hot-thighed, then?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Cabot, “helplessly so.”
“Then she is broken in, nicely?”
“Yes,” said Cabot.
I thought of Alcinoe.
“I have heard,” I said, “that barbarians are good.”
“Any woman is good,” said Cabot, “once she is broken to the collar.”
Again I thought of Alcinoe. How pleasant it might be, she now a slave, to break her to the collar, to have crawling to my feet, begging a caress.
“Barbarians sell well,” I said. I wondered what Alcinoe might bring.
“Few are left long on the chain,” he granted me.
“It is said they lick the whip quickly,” I said.
“It has to do with their background,” he said. “Where they are from they are commonly denied their needs, to be owned and mastered. On Gor they find themselves at last in their place, at the feet of men. Many are astonished at the fulfillments attendant on the summoning forth, the commanding forth, of their deepest and most precious selves. They find happiness, and fulfillments, which they scarcely knew might exist, but had only dimly sensed, in their most secret dreams. On Gor, they find themselves choiceless, given no choice but to be what they truly are, and want to be, not pretend males, not sexless cogs in a societal mechanism, not pretenders and haters, but what they truly are, actually are, and want to be, most profoundly, women. Where they come from they are taught to repudiate nature, to replace her with conventions and principles alien to their deepest needs and feelings. They are taught to revere frigidity, like a free woman, to praise inertness as dignity, to fear the raptures of uncompromised submission. Denied themselves, denied masters, they writhe in frustration, and, hating themselves, and their imprisonment, they think they hate men. Taught to deny their sex, starved for sex, they find themselves then on Gor, in collars, at the feet of men who will have whatever they want from them, and what they want, too, in their hearts, to be had from them. Their exile from their own bodies and needs is at last over. It is as though, at last, starving and thirsting, they were permitted food, though from the hand of a man, and granted water, though from a pan at his feet. Often the happiest moment in the life of one of them, to that point, is when the auctioneer closes his hand, and they realize that, exposed and desired, exhibited and bid upon, they have been sold. No longer are they alone; at last they are possessed; at last they are owned. At last they have a reality and an identity. At last they belong. Indeed, they are now, literally, a belonging, a property of their master. And do they even know, out there in the darkness of the crowd, who has bought them?”
“What is this strange place from which these creatures derive,” I asked, “to what country might such pathetic, deprived creatures be indigenous?”
“It is called Earth,” he said.
“Why did you join me at the rail?” I asked.
“I thought,” said he, “you might be considering Thassa, that you might be thinking of reaching Chios.”
“The waters are cold,” I said. “I might die before I could reach her.”
“Perhaps,” he said. “But if you are a strong swimmer, I think you might have reached shore.”
“I think so, too,” I said.
“You were considering the matter,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“But you did not leave us,” he observed.
“No,” I said. “I thought I would stay.”
“Yesterday,” he said, “a galley was commandeered, seized and launched, and seventy men, pursued, beached on Thera, fleeing inland. Two other galleys followed, she was recovered, and brought back. Some others went over the rail, seeking Daphna.”
“Many desertions,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“It seems not everyone wishes to go beyond the farther islands,” I said.
“It seems not,” he said.
We stood there at the rail for a time, in the falling snow. Then we could no longer see the islands.
Before us was darkness and snow, and the surging of Thassa.
“You, however,” said he, “have remained with us.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“I thought I might like to see what lies at the end of the world,” I said.
We Man the Pumps; There is Unease Amongst the Men; We are Spoken to by Tyrtaios
My ankles were in freezing water. My back and arms ached. Twelve of us, in this shift, manned the pumps.
Nine storms we had endured since I had been taken aboard.
Thassa grew more cruel each day. Few dared to go on deck. Some had been washed away. Men clung to ropes, crossing the deck, leaning into the wind. The tarns had not been flown in six days. Some had died. When the tarn cannot fly, it dies.
The unusual men, the Pani, spoke little, lest it be amongst themselves. But amongst ourselves, the others, there were murmurs of discontent, these subsiding in the presence of officers.
Occasionally, one heard the howling of a sleen, restless in its cage.
Too, off certain corridors, from behind heavy wooden doors, each with its tiny, sliding, rectangular viewing panel, one could hear the lamentations, the weepings, of female slaves. It had been clear to me, almost from the beginning, that there were female slaves on board. One, the slave girl, Alcinoe, once the high lady, Flavia of Ar, confidante even of the former Ubara, Talena, had been sent to me in my cell, barefoot and tunicked, to humbly serve me, to bring me, in her abject servitude, a free man, now unspeakably above her, she now less than the dust beneath his feet, a bowl of broth. Others, in groups, in good weather, had been exercised on the open deck, performing their movements in unison, to the cries of their keeper, sometimes, shuddering, to the snapping of his whip. From their reactions I gathered some had felt it. Certain slaves interestingly, were brought into public view only when hooded. I thought them to be perhaps high slaves, perhaps of such beauty that, should it be bared, men might be driven wild with the need to seize and possess them. Might they not have divided the crew into warring factions? Some slaves were private slaves, owned by one fellow or another. I envied them having such a soft, delicious object chained to their bunk, to be enjoyed as, and when, one pleased. One such was the lovely Cecily, girl of the commander, Cabot; another was called Jane, the slave of his friend, Pertinax. I did not understand the name ‘Jane’, a lovely but unusual name, which I took to be a barbarian name. Her accent was of Ar, and I did not inquire further. This Pertinax would often scrutinize the slaves being exercised, as though he might have an eye for one. But it seems he did not discern her. Perhaps she was one of the hooded slaves, or amongst those not brought to the open deck. The slaves, I gathered, had been, on the whole, purchased here and there by the Pani, over several months, perhaps for the contentment of themselves and others, perhaps as trading goods, perhaps as merchandise, to be eventually sold in one market or another. It is not unusual, on large ships, round ships, and longer voyages, for slave girls to be brought aboard. Gorean men relish slave meat and do not like to be long without it. By the time the women have learned their collar, of course, they, too, need men. It can be pleasant to torment a hot, begging slave. Free women, on the other hand, unless passengers on particular ships plying established routes, are seldom aboard Gorean vessels. Many Gorean mariners fear to travel with a free woman on board, regarding such as harbingers of ill fortune. Whereas this trepidation is often unwarranted, their reluctance cannot be dismissed as simple superstition. There have been many instances in which the presence of such a female, aloof and inaccessible, arrogant and troublesome, has produced dissension. Too many such women, too, on long voyages, perhaps in their boredom, are careless in their veiling, and enjoy exploiting the provocations, the tauntings, of their sex, casting an alluring eye here, dropping a piquant word there, amusing themselves with the igniting of fires they have no intention of extinguishing. Are they unaware of the turning of a hip, or the hithering sway manifested so subtly in their departure? Gorean men are no strangers to the secrets beneath those cumbersome robes, secrets which the free woman seems to be seeking to share. Is it so delightful, really, to encourage and then scorn, to invite and then rebuke, to tempt and then denounce? Is it in their best interest, really, to practice so petty a power? Surely they must understand the danger of proffering goods they have no intention of selling. Surely they must understand they tread a narrow bridge. Surely better to attend to the curfews and avoid the byways of darkness. What wise woman would let the door of a paga tavern close behind her, unless she wished to find herself within? Gorean men are not long-suffering, nor are they patient. It is not unusual for a lofty free woman, enrobed and veiled, to embark on a voyage, at the end of which she is led down the gangplank, stripped and shackled, on a chain, to be conducted to a convenient market. They now belong to the sex they professed to despise. They will now live to serve and satisfy men. But did they not court the collar? Do they not now find their fulfillment in the chains they wished to wear? But women, free or slave, are seldom allowed on the long ships, the ships of war. On such ships, such as the Metioche, duty is paramount and discipline is strict. On such a ship, women have no place; distraction is unacceptable; too, such women would be encumbrances, would be in the way, should an engagement ensue. Lastly, the female slave is property, and such ships seldom carry cargo. Too, such ships may enter battle, and the female slave, who surely has her value, such as it is, no more than other goods is to be put at risk. Needless to say, at the voyages’ end, such mariners, starved for the scent of perfume and the clasp of warm arms, are likely to lose little time in seeking the comforts of the taverns. Girls are often sent to the wharves, when ships are due, in camisks adorned with advertising, to solicit patronage for their masters’ establishments.
I heard, again, the howling of a sleen. I had not seen it, but, from the sound, I supposed it must be a large brute. It carried from deck to deck.
I did not understand how such a beast might be on board.
There were two major keeping areas, for female slaves, off two long corridors, one on the Venna deck, and one lower, on the Kasra deck, these two corridors, as others, apart from them, leading fore and aft, the length of the vessel. Lately, given the miseries of the weather, the constant rolling and pitching motion of the ship, the distance from shore, the uncertainty of the voyage, their terror at realizing themselves now being taken beyond the farther islands, and fearing perhaps to plunge any moment from the edge of the world, one might hear, as mentioned, from behind the thick doors, the lamentations, the weepings, of female slaves. One could listen, too, for the rustle of chains, as they might move about, or thrash on the straw in their misery. One may silence slaves by going amongst them with a whip, but, compassionately, it had not been done. They were not, after all, males, sturdy quarry slaves, hardened oar slaves, and such, but females, mere females, miserable and pathetic, soft and small, helpless in their collars and shackles, only frightened slave-block goods, so desirably and wonderfully different from men. How inordinately precious and desirable they are!
How inevitable it is to relish them, and strive to possess them!
How comprehensible that they should be sought and secured, roped and chained, that they should be bought and sold, that they should be branded and collared, that there be no mistaking them; how natural and perfect that they should be owned and mastered.
It is what they are for.
Nature has designed their soft lips to be pressed to the feet of men.
Tersites, master of the ship, and master shipwright, to whose specifications the great ship had been built, had refused to pour oil, and wine, and salt into the sea. A mariner had attempted to do so, in the wind and rain, in darkness, after the twentieth Ahn, but was apprehended by the deck patrol, and, by order of Tersites himself, was put under the lash, the snake, twelve strokes. The fellow was strong, and survived.
As I worked at the pump, my thoughts strayed to the slave, Alcinoe. I had not seen her since she had served me. I recalled she had claimed to have been raped by me, which allegation was demonstrably false, as proven by her body. I had learned she had been lashed for that indiscretion. A whipping would do her good. She must learn that a slave girl is not permitted to lie. A free woman may lie, but not the female slave. I wondered why she had made her allegation. Perhaps she, still incognizant of the nature of her condition, that of slave, had thought that I would be slain upon her assertion, and thus that she would have nothing to fear from me, that I might reveal her identity, as the former Lady Flavia. Whereas one speaks commonly of “slave rape,” that usually means little more than using them as one wishes, unilaterally, peremptorily, forcibly, and such. Technically, it is not clear that one can rape a slave, any more than one could rape a verr or tarsk. In a legal sense, a slave cannot be raped, no more than any other domestic animal. On the other hand, there might well be social, legal, and economic consequences if, say, A was to use the slave of B without B’s authorization. To be sure, unless honor is thought to be involved, which may lead to blood and death, such matters are usually resolved amicably, perhaps by an apology and the payment of a use coin, A’s putting one of his slaves, B’s choice, at the disposal of B, or such. The rape of a free woman with whom one shares a Home Stone, on the other hand, is a very serious offense. Fellows have been tortured, and publicly impaled, for that sort of thing. I wondered if Alcinoe had wanted me to put her to use, but was angered, even insulted, that I had not done so, and so pretended, perhaps in her vanity, that she had been put to use, as would have befitted the branded, female occupant of a slave collar. Perhaps she merely wished to have me beaten, as a presumptuous prisoner, availing himself of a cell slave, but had misjudged the matter, and found that it was she herself who was fastened in place for the lash’s kiss. I would not have minded, of course, putting her to my purposes, and had mulled over the thought often enough in Ar, and since Ar, after she had, more than once, lowered her veil before me, almost as though insolently daring me to take her in my arms, which might have been a serious and dangerous business in that time and place. Why had she lowered her veil before me? Merely to torment me? Probably. But it was hard to say. I did not doubt, incidentally, that she had been similarly careless with higher officers, and certainly with Seremides. It was clear that he would be able to recognize her. Might that not instill terror in that now-collared, lovely thing? Why had she behaved in so perilously compromising a fashion? Was she perhaps so vain of her beauty that she could not resist its display? After all, what beautiful woman does not wish to be recognized as beautiful? But it seems she was bold, or unwise, indeed, unless, perhaps, she longed to feel on her small limbs the weight of chains, and on her neck the clasp of the proprietary collar.
On the Kasra deck, the rectangular viewing plate was easily slid back. I had occasionally, as had others, slipped it to the side, and gazed within, examining the occupants of the keeping chamber. Each girl was stripped, but had been given a heavy blanket, which most, in the straw and cold, shivering and shuddering, held about themselves. Many were the shallow pans about, and buckets, utilized by the frightened, miserable, retching slaves. Even seasoned mariners could scarcely walk the corridors without reeling, without bracing themselves against the walls. When the panel slid back, though the noise was tiny, many of the girls would cry out, piteously, kneeling, holding out their small hands toward the door, some rising and running to the end of their ankle chain, begging to be taken elsewhere, anywhere, to be released from the stale air, the confinement, and stench. There must have been better than a hundred slaves crowded in that small, cramped area. In my various observations, I did not see Alcinoe. If she were there, it seemed she might be placed toward the back of the area, or to the side, where it would be difficult to see her. Accordingly, I surmised that she might be in the keeping area above, that on the Venna deck. I did not know. It would turn out she was indeed housed in the Kasra area, but it was difficult to make determinations, given the paucity of light, from some two lamps, in that area. The rectangular, sliding panel on the Venna keeping area, above, which opened from the narrow, third port corridor, was fastened shut. It could be opened only by forcing it, and I speculated that that would be dangerous to do. The contents of the keeping area on the Venna deck were apparently not to be looked upon with impunity. I did not know why that would be, unless they were unusually beautiful, or some of them, at least, were in some way special, perhaps being reserved for particular masters at the voyage’s end. Perhaps she for whom it seemed that the commander’s friend, Pertinax, might be alert was confined within, on her chain. Too, I suspected that, for whatever reason, Alcinoe might now be amongst the Kasra area’s occupants. Did someone realize her possible political importance? Seremides, perhaps? Or was she confined this deeply within the ship because she had incurred the displeasure of masters, having been apprehended in a lie? She had, it seems, been discovered to be lash-worthy, and had been put under the lash. Perhaps her wearing her chain here, then, was an additional punishment. Surely she was learning what it was to be a slave, and be at the mercy of men. Having seen many women exhibited, on the public shelves, in the exposition cages, on the block itself, it did not seem likely to me that the women of the Venna keeping area would be more beautiful, or really that much more beautiful, than those I had seen in the Kasra holding area, those heeling private masters about, those exercising on the deck, and such. I thought the Pani, whom I took it were responsible for the purchases, had shown excellent judgment. Although many of the slaves were now filthy, and ill, and frightened, I had no doubt that, scrubbed and groomed, they would prove to be excellent merchandise. Certainly I had seen worse sold even in the Curulean, in Ar.
Some of the women, from the Kasra area, had, in former weeks, been put in the public pleasure chambers, chained beside their mats, for the use of the crew, but this availability had, at least for the time, been discontinued. This had much to do with the discontentments of Thassa, with the wind and weather, the towering waves, the plunging about of the ship, and the water she was taking in, some from opening seams, at different levels, forced inside, some draining down to the lower decks, when a hatch must need be opened, and then forced shut. One hatch had been snapped away, and washed overboard, the upper deck awash. That accident alone had brought water to a dozen companionways. When I had slid back the plate on the observation panel of the Kasra keeping area, particularly of late, a number of its occupants, those who could stand, and not merely roll miserably about in the soiled straw, had not only flung aside their blankets and hurried forward, until stopped by their ankle chains, holding out their hands to me, begging to be freed of their chains and their wretched housing, but writhed and exhibited their charms, and bucked and swayed before me, hopefully, desperately, piteously, that I might be moved to call for them, and take them from their chains and current keeping area. I did not blame them for wishing to be relieved of the miseries of their chain and housing, and at almost any price, but, too, I had seen such behavior even in calmer weather, when Thassa was pleased to be serene, or seemingly so, perhaps meanwhile planning her next onslaught on men so foolish as to breast her waves in seasons unwise, if not forbidden. Several of the slaves, you see, could not but help, now, to belong in their collars. In their bellies the slave fires, so resisted by, and so scorned by, free women, had been callously and mercilessly ignited by heartless masters. They now belonged to men, and needed men. The victim of such fires will crawl naked to the feet of even a hated master, begging him piteously and desperately for his least caress.
I snapped shut the observation panel, and heard cries of misery.
The free woman has much to bargain with, her wealth, her position, her caste, her possessions, but once enslaved what has she but her beauty, and that does not even belong to her. She is helpless, and cannot bargain. Even to suggest such a thing is to invite the lash. Her beauty, like the whole of her, is the property of her master. And it, like the whole of her, may be easily ignored, or scorned.
Is not the most helpless of women the slave girl?
Slave girls often find themselves confined, or chained or roped, bound in one fashion or another. Such things, of course, are not necessary, but are imposed upon them, that they may better understand themselves as slaves. The total and irrevocable bond, of course, is that they are slave, only slave. This is clear in a hundred ways, from their brand, their collar, their clothing, if permitted clothing, their behaviors, their demeanors, their diction, their deference, their expressions, their place in society, and, once they are broken to the collar, their softness, their radical femininity, their insistent and irresistible feminine needs, their piteous and helpless need to surrender to a master, their desire to serve and love, and so on, but, still, all in all, there is a role for the bracelet, the shackle, the chain, the thong, the lace, the rope, and such, which not only impresses upon them their bondage, but arouses them, bringing them to slave heat. It is a rare slave who does not sometimes kneel before her master, and whimper, “Your slave, my Master, would be chained. Please, my Master, chain your slave.”
It is a common belief amongst Goreans, though seldom voiced in the presence of free women, that men are masters and women slaves. As it is said, all women are slaves, only some are in collars, and some are not. Thus, it is thought that women are the properties of men, that women are property, even free women. They have yet, of course, to be claimed, and meet their master. It is a rare Gorean who does not speculate what even a free woman, bundled in her stiff, ornate robes, concealed within her layers of veils, would look like, stripped, collared, and at his feet, perhaps on all fours, looking up at him, frightened, the whip or switch between her teeth, hoping it will not be used upon her. It is only in the mastery that the male achieves his full manhood, and it is only at his feet that the female finds the fulfillment of her womanhood, in surrender, in submission, in service, in love. The answer to an unhappy, dissatisfied woman is a master, whom she must hope to please, lest she be lashed.
Many were the murmurs against Tersites. Why had he not performed, or had performed, the simple ceremony of pacifying Thassa, of seeking to smooth her waves with a bit of oil, of mingling man’s salt with hers, to plead kinship, friendship, even alliance, of giving her some wine, that she might be warmed, and pleased? Would it not have been acceptable to mollify Thassa? Why not? Would it have cost so much? Might she not be insulted at such an omission, such an oversight, even such an insolence? Would she not remember such a slight, and bide her time, gathering her clouds and winds, waiting until one was far at sea, far from shore, alone? Had not hundreds of ships and thousands of men departed from one port or another, never to be seen again? It was not for no reason that most Gorean mariners seldom ventured from the sight of shore, even beaching their ships at night.
“Let Thassa rage,” had cried Tersites. “Let her do what she can, and be mocked by my work. Let lesser men grovel to her might, crave her indulgence, beg her favors! I fear her not! No oil, no salt, no wine for her! Let cowards proffer such gifts, such petitionary offerings! I do not! The stoutness of my timbers defies her. Let her seethe and hiss, unflattered, and uncourted, and whistle and roar, snarl and growl, and lift and fall, and pitch, and howl and tower, and squirm and buck as she will, she will not say no to my will, nor stay the passage of my ship. Fierce, green Thassa has met her match in my ship, met her master! Tersites teaches men how to sail in all seasons and weathers! Tersites goes where he wills; he asks no permissions, solicits no favors, dreads no threats, and fears no rebuke. Let Thassa shrink and tremble before Tersites and his mighty ship! He subdues her! He humbles her! He breaks her to the yoke of his will! Yea, I, Tersites, whom men scorned, whom men ridiculed and banished, whom men despised and mocked for years, now, first of all men, at last, mighty and glorious, conquer dreaded Thassa. I dare you, violent Thassa, to do your worst. Tersites and his ship invites your enmity, that men may marvel that so mighty a foe he has reduced to such futility. My ship cleaves your waves, braves your winds, and scorns your storms! We tread upon you, mighty Thassa, passing as we will and please! Do your worst, mighty Thassa! You are mocked! You are scorned!”
Dusk came early, and it seemed the cold never left.
Sometimes the waves struck the hull like hammers, and we feared, within those ribs of wood, that the sea might burst in upon us.
It was now the fifth week following the Eighth Passage Hand. Tomorrow would be the first day of the Ninth Passage Hand, at the end of which is the winter solstice, and the first day of Se’var-Lar-Torvis, the month of the Second Turning of Tor-tu-Gor, Light-upon-the-Home-Stone.
“Do not slacken!” called a fellow, Torgus, from the steps of the companionway, behind us, and to our right.
He was of the tarn cavalry.
He had his marked pole, testing the water. He seemed satisfied, the water had not inched higher in the last Ahn.
“Good fellows!” he called.
The ship was six-masted, square-rigged, seven decked, carvel-built, and single-ruddered, not guided by a steering board, or the double rudders of the typical Gorean ship. The nested galleys, on the other hand, were typical of most Gorean vessels, long or round ships, oar-banked, double ruddered, single-masted, and lateen-rigged. The long ships are commonly open to the weather, like the dragons of Torvaldsland, and the round ships, larger and slower, are commonly decked, this to shelter passengers, if there be passengers, and protect cargo.
The fellow, Torgus, turned about and, with his pole, ascended the steps.
We were not the only pumping crew at work, as there were several others, I knew not how many, these engaged elsewhere.
We had three pumps, in the forward port hold, and four men were at the handles of each, two men to a side.
One fellow, Tyrtaios, lean and hard, a snake I thought in a warrior’s body, left his pump and waded to where I worked. “Take my place,” said he to Durbar, who worked beside me. Durbar did as he was told. I had observed this fellow Tyrtaios in the hold, under the single swinging lamp, on its chains, which supplied the feeble light within which we worked, which cast wild shadows about, which seemed like the flutterings of frightened jards. Tyrtaios had worked at the other two pumps, as well. Several days ago, an altercation had taken place between this Tyrtaios and a man named Decius, with respect to a bench-place in the mess. A day later Decius was gone. We supposed he had been washed overboard whilst making his way to the helm deck. Durbar, not speaking, took the place at the second pump, that place vacated by Tyrtaios.
For several Ehn we continued to man the pump, in silence, and then Tyrtaios spoke to us, the other three at the pump.
“We are moving north,” he said.
“West,” said Andronicus, once of Tabor, once of the Scribes. Andronicus was no stranger to the Second Knowledge. He could read.
“No longer, for days, even before the storm,” said Tyrtaios.
“Our course is west,” said Andronicus.
“We are not on course,” said Tyrtaios. “I was to the helm deck. Half blinded by water I saw briefly, clouds apart in the wind, the star of Hesius. It was at the bow. Four times later, too, on different days, the star of Hesius lay before us. Two helmsmen confirmed this.”
“We have been blown off course,” I said, levering the pump.
“Tersites is taking us north,” he said. “The wind is his ally.”
“Why so?” I asked.
“If we are going north,” said Andronicus, “and by intent, Tersites plans to shorten the voyage, by the northern circle.”
“I do not understand,” said Thoas, across from Tyrtaios.
“Gor,” said Andronicus, “is like a ball, and one may shorten distances by curving to the north and then curving back to the south.
“He has gone too far north,” said Tyrtaios.
“Perhaps,” said Andronicus.
“The wind,” I said. “We fly before it.”
“Ice has been seen in the water,” said Tyrtaios, “ice the size of galleys.”
“Then we are too far north,” said Andronicus.
“The wind,” I said.
“Tersites,” said Tyrtaios, “is mad. That is well-known. He will kill us all.”
“What is to be done?” asked Thoas.
“We must turn back,” said Tyrtaios.
“It is true,” said Andronicus, “that the ship may break apart.”
“There may be little time,” said Tyrtaios.
“There is, too, the brink, the falling away place, where the world ends,” said Thoas.
“And before the next watch,” whispered Tyrtaios, “we may fall from the world, to fall forever.”
I did not think Tyrtaios believed what he said, but many amongst the crew might.
“No,” said Andronicus. “Gor is like a ball. There is no edge.”
“You do not know that, wise one,” said Thoas. “You have not been there. Perhaps your scrolls, what you read, are false.”
“There is much evidence,” said Andronicus.
“Use your eyes,” said Thoas. “The world is flat, as may be easily seen, and, if so, it must end somewhere.”
Andronicus was silent, which silence Thoas apparently took as having had his point conceded.
“But Thassa must have an edge,” said Tyrtaios.
“Of course,” said Andronicus.
“None have returned from beyond the farther islands,” said a fellow at the nearest pump.
“And we are beyond the farthest islands,” said the fellow beside him.
“Lower your voices,” whispered Tyrtaios, looking about.
The two returned to their work.
“We must be the first,” said Tyrtaios to us, in a whisper.
“And how may that be done?” asked Thoas, apprehensively.
“We must urge Tersites to turn back,” said Tyrtaios.
“He will never do so,” said Andronicus. “He is at war with Thassa.”
“We must force him to turn back,” said Tyrtaios. “He cannot man the ship without us.”
“There are the Pani,” I said, “the soldiers of Lords Nishida and Okimoto.”
“They must join us,” said Tyrtaios.
“I think that is unlikely,” said Andronicus.
“We outnumber them,” said Tyrtaios.
“Tersites will never turn back,” said Andronicus.
“Then,” said Tyrtaios, “it may be necessary to seize the ship.”
“I signed articles, long ago,” said Andronicus.
“Not to go to our deaths,” said Tyrtaios.
We continued to work the pump.
“Many are of my mind,” whispered Tyrtaios.
“Some are not,” said Andronicus.
“What if I told you, if we return to the continent,” whispered Tyrtaios, “that riches would await us all?”
“We have nothing but our fee,” said Thoas. “Of what do you speak?”
“I speak no further,” smiled Tyrtaios. “But there would be wealth enough for all, great wealth.”
I did not understand his words.
I knew there was a pretty price on the pretty head of the slave, Alcinoe, once the Lady Flavia of Ar, once confidante of the former Ubara, Talena, but it was scarcely enough to enrich several hundred men, mariners and soldiers, Pani, and others.
“Division at sea,” said Andronicus, “as fire at sea, is a hazard no rational man will countenance.”
“Surely,” said Tyrtaios, “the rational man weighs risk against gain, and recognizes that even considerable risk is more than outweighed by the prospect of prodigious gain.”
“I signed articles,” said Andronicus.
“I hear steps on the companionway,” I said.
We fell silent.
It was the fellow, Torgus, come again, with his pole.
He stood on the first step of the companionway, and carefully lowered the butt of the stick to the deck, under the water. “Good fellows!” he called. “Good fellows! The water is down. A hort! Your relief is at hand. Go to the mess, and get paga.”
As we ascended the companionway others passed us, on the way down, to tend to the pumps. I saw again, amongst them, as I had on former days, Tarl Cabot, himself, commander of the tarn cavalry, and his friend, Pertinax. “Well done, fellows,” said Tarl Cabot to us, as we passed. How odd, I thought, that officers, these two, would take their turn at the pumps. Did they not understand their station? Had they so little dignity? How could they expect to keep the respect of their men, if they so lowered themselves, if they so demeaned themselves, if they so compromised their position? But, too, I thought, would men not die for such officers?
I saw Tyrtaios wait on the steps, for Andronicus to pass him, and he would then be behind him.
This clearly made Andronicus uneasy, but he continued on.
At the next level, when we reached it, Tyrtaios, then waiting, spoke to me. “Do not forget what I have said,” he said.
“I will not,” I assured him.
I heard a passing mariner say to his fellow, “The weather is clearing.”
I took the blanket handed me at the door to the mess. I dried my feet and legs, and shivered, and stepped inside. I could smell fresh Sa-Tarna bread, roast bosk. My body ached, I was weary. I was looking forward to food, and hot paga.
The Ice; I Hold Converse with a Slave; Rations Grow Short; I Consider the Matter of Seremides
The day was dim and cold.
It must be near noon, but it seemed more like dawn. Tor-tu-Gor, Light-upon-the-Home-Stone, was low, lying almost upon the gray horizon.
The ship was not moving.
It was quiet, except for the men below, outside, moving on the ice about us, with their staves, posts, and axes, striking at the ice. Even on deck one could hear the crunch of their boots on the ice below, the striking of the posts downward, each handled by two men, on the ice, the sharp crack of the Torvaldslander axes striking on the horizontal, encroaching wall that seemed about to encircle the mighty ship. Sound carried clearly. One could hear conversations yards below.
“We are in the grasp of Thassa,” said Philoctetes to me.
“She will have her way,” said a fellow.
On the stem castle, one could see the small, misshapen figure of Tersites, hidden in furs, pacing from side to side, sometimes howling in rage, sometimes pausing to shake small, gnarled fists at the thick, white expanse, like rock, that stretched about us.
“This voyage was madness,” said a man.
“Curse Tersites, curse this ship, curse the Pani!” hissed a man.
I had heard no more of sedition from Tyrtaios, who was of the retinue of Lord Nishida. If he harbored thoughts of insubordination, even mutiny, he did not now speak them. They lay dormant, if seething, within the walls of his own dark, coiled, serpentine heart. There is a time to strike, a time to wait. What point to seize a ship, to risk one’s life, when the prize, even if won, would be without profit? Only a fool would hope to steal a wagon without wheels, a kaiila which cannot be untethered, a girl whose chain he cannot loosen, a treasure which cannot be carried away.
“Away!” called a man, standing at the rail.
One of the great saws, heavy, eleven feet in length, with gigantic metal teeth, fashioned from iron timber braces, by the ship’s Metal Workers, on its rope, was lowered over the side, to the men below. There it would be weighted, its back rings fitted with draw chains, and the whole fixed in its pulleyed frame, to be dropped and raised, again and again, and, by means of the draw chains, pulled against the ice.
I had wondered, from time to time, of the hints of Tyrtaios, those of untold wealth for all. Surely that lacked all foundation in fact, and who, save the simplest and most gullible, might be deceived by so obvious and meretricious an enticement, so transparent a fabrication? And yet, I wondered, why would one of the seeming astuteness of Tyrtaios put himself so at risk, as he would be when the vacuity of his promise became manifest, as it must, in time? He, I thought, must be as mad as Tersites himself.
In my turn, I helped draw the used ax, that which had just been replaced, freed of its weight and chains, to the open deck. Its teeth would be sharpened, and then, again, within two Ahn, it would be put to work below.
The days were short, the nights long. In the land of the Red Hunters, farther north, north even of Torvaldsland, it was said that night would reign unremitting for weeks, from passage hand to passage hand, and to passage hand again, as in their summer, oddly, Tor-tu-Gor would never set. Yet even in their night, interestingly, one might see, from the light of moons, from that of stars, and, sometimes, it was said, from mysterious, shifting curtains of light, these many things reflected from the bleakness of the silent, frozen sea.
The mighty ship had been seized by Thassa, in her fists of ice, better than thirty days ago. The ice had formed about her, and lifted her, mighty as she was, from the surface of the sea, aslant, and crooked, yards toward the sky. This had proved fortunate for, as later became clear, the massive press of ice on each side might snap apart even timbers as fearsome as those of the great ship of Tersites, might break them apart as easily as a child might snap the twigs of a play fortress. Thassa had reserves on which she might draw, the vast pressures of her solidifying surface. Twenty days ago the ice had shifted, with a great, splitting roar, and our great, weighty bulk had slid downward, deeper into the ice, then through the ice, and righted itself. We rejoiced that there was again water beneath our keel, and that we might again negotiate a righted deck, but, by morning, as the ice closed in, almost invisibly forming, Ehn by Ehn, hort by half-hort, our joy turned to terror, for one could remark the groaning of timbers, the cracking of stressed beams. “Do nothing!” had cried Tersites. “The ship is strong! She will neither bend nor break. Mightier than Thassa is she, my ship, always, in every way, do nothing!” But the ice, like the forge pliers of a Metal Worker, slowly, little by little, began to close on the wood. “Do nothing!” cried Tersites. But now none heeded him. Aetius, his confidante and loyal apprentice, in whose management was the day-to-day handling of the ship, dared to countermand his orders, this with the support of Lords Nishida and Okimoto, and the counsel of Tarl Cabot, admiral in Port Kar, member of the council of captains, and the war with ice had begun, to keep it at bay, by whatever means necessary. Accordingly, some feet of ice, with great travail, had been cleared about the hull of the great ship, and, by day, and under torches at night, flickering weirdly on the ice, men, in shifts, struck, hacked, and sawed away at the foe, the silent, ever-forming, encroaching ice.
Some men had been lost in this battle with Thassa, men who, for the most part, had been careless, and lost their footing, or beneath whose weight an unexpected edge of thinner ice had given way. Some had been caught under the ice. Most had died from the cold. In such water a man would die within Ihn. The first who had been lost in such a way was Andronicus. I had served at the pumps with him, in the forward port hold. He had been lost at night. Tyrtaios, in his vicinity, had been unable to save him.
I looked over the rail, at the gray sky, the dim globe of Tor-tu-Gor, at the horizon, the flat, white, frozen desert about.
It seemed not unlikely that the voyage of the great ship had now come to her final port, one of Thassa’s choosing.
“Days pass,” said a man, wearily.
“It is endless,” said another.
“Thassa is mistress,” said a man.
“It is hopeless,” said another.
“Be silent,” said another, “or you will be stripped and lashed, and then thrown bound to the ice.”
It was true that the soldiers, or ashigaru, as they were called, of Lord Okimoto were amongst us.
How can one maintain morale, when all is lost?
At least some tarns were aflight.
One even now struck the deck, its wings snapping, soon to be led below.
Its rider, now dismounting, was one of the Pani, a man called Tajima, who was of the retinue of Lord Nishida, but serving in the cavalry.
Even from the height of tarn flight there was seen no break in the ice. It was everywhere about us, perhaps for hundreds of pasangs.
I was pleased to see a tarn return. Several had not. They were, after all, in a way, the eyes of the ship. It was from such saddles that one might see afar. Tersites, in his arrogance, his pride, and waywardness, had not deigned to give his vessel eyes. How then could she see her way? Is it not perilous enough to go forth upon Thassa at all, even in full cognizance, even when assured of her smiles and charms, without venturing upon her in forbidden seasons, blind? It was not known why several tarns had not returned to the ship. One suspects they had been flighted east or south, obedient to the reins of deserters, understandably loathe to die on the ice. But there were other thoughts, too. Perhaps the tarns themselves, now unhobbled, unwilling to return to the imprisonment of the cramped cots below, where they had seen their fellows die, now drunk with their sudden freedom, in the cold, fine, piercing air, exhilarated, and exultant, had chosen to reclaim for themselves their rightful realm, the deep, broad, high country of the sky. The tarn is a dangerous bird, half wild even when domesticated. It would be an easy thing to resist the reins, and turn upon a rider. And even an obedient tarn must eat, after a time. And then, presumably, one must die, tarn or rider. And if the rider survive, how will he live, afoot, alone, in the cold, in the long night?
But the man Tajima had returned.
I suspected he was an able rider.
Because of the risks few tarns were now flighted.
And tarns who cannot fly will, after a time, die.
I could see, some hundred yards off, dark on the ice, the bodies of two sea sleen. There must be a breathing hole there. When approached, they would disappear beneath the ice, for it was they who were being approached. On the other hand, some, seen first beneath the surface, a detectable, sinuous, twisting, moving body, a foot or two below, would suddenly emerge, beside the ship, snouts raised above the surface, with an explosive exhalation of breath, and then a drawing inward of air, these come to open water about the ship, to breathe. It was they who approached. It was eerie to look into the large, round, dark eyes of a sea sleen, peering at one from the icy water. The sea sleen will attack a human in the water, which it will see as food, but it is unlikely to attack one on the ice. Its usual prey is parsit fish, or grunt. In the case of the northern shark it is both prey and predator. Some sea sleen hunt in packs, and these will attack other sea mammals, even large sea mammals, such as whales, which they will attack in swarms, in a churning, bloody frenzy. We were instructed to stand in truce with these marine predators. If one came on the ice, we would push it back in the water with poles. One caught at a pole and snapped it apart with one swift, wrenching closure of its wide, double-fanged jaws, like a toothed trap door set low in that broad, viperlike head. In time one might need them for food. Thus, one welcomed them to come to the side of the ship, to breathe. To be sure, the sea sleen, like its confreres on land, is an intelligent animal, and we did not think it unlikely that it might prove quite dangerous if it were attacked, or thought it necessary to protect a breathing hole. Certainly one did not wish to risk a body, slipped from the ice, being dragged under the water and the hull before we might hurry it back to the ice, and break the stiff, frozen furs from its shuddering body. After the loss of the second man at the hull, the workers on the ice, most of them, those working close to the water, tied themselves together, that the error of a lost footing might not invariably prove fatal. In the water, it can be difficult, hands slipping, no purchase gained, to draw oneself back on the ice. One can die at the edge of the ice, scratching at it, treading water. One does not have long to live in such water. With the rope, on the other hand, one can be extracted from the water swiftly. So simple an expedience had saved more than one life. It was unfortunate that this safety practice had not been in place in the time of Andronicus. To be sure, some men would not avail themselves of the rope, and some, for ease of movement, or comfort, would sever the safety rope themselves. Andronicus, for all we know, might have been one such, so unwise. It was hard to say. And if such were the case, then, even as before, it would have been understandable that Tyrtaios, despite his best efforts, might have been unable to save him.
Of late, in the cold, and half darkness, some of the girls, lesser girls, I took it, from the Kasra keeping area, as well as several from the higher area, the Venna area, warm-shod and well furred, had been released to serve about the ship. Muchly were they pleased, these fortunate ones, to be relieved of the ankle chain, and be loosed from the dank, straw-strewn keeping areas, to which they would be later returned, to be again chained in their places. Many were the small services which these more fortunate ones might perform. Some, like the women of the Red Hunters, repairing rent garments with thong and awl, or, with their lips, teeth, and tongue, softening leather, and attending to stiffened garments, melting and biting the ice away from the fur; and many others would attend to the small, common domestic pursuits of the female slave, the dusting and cleaning of quarters, the making of bunks, the polishing of leather, the shining of the metal fittings of accouterments, laundering, ironing, sorting and folding clothing, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, waiting upon the long tables, serving menially in the kitchens, as scullions, and such. And others served here and there about the ship in yet other ways, ways similarly appropriate for slaves, carrying messages, running errands, bringing food and black wine, not paga, to the men, both those on deck and those on the ice below, being lowered on a stirrup rope, to be drawn from the side of the ship to the ice by hooked poles, and such. Some of the women, doubtless those once of high caste, and not yet fully aware of their condition, that they were now no more than collared slaves, might, while grateful for their temporary release from the keeping areas and the greater latitudes of movement now permitted them, resent, or attempt to resent, the fact that they now found themselves put to such small, various, repetitive, servile, homely pursuits, perhaps finding in them a pretext for disgruntlement or humiliation. But soon, were their reservations noted by masters, they would address themselves eagerly, diligently, and thankfully to such pursuits, certainly after, say, having been fastened, small wrists tied high over their head, at a whipping ring. They now understood that such tasks were right for them, as they were slaves, and they were grateful to be permitted to live, to perform them. But most of the slaves, by far the greater number, being well apprised by now of the meaning and import of their neck encirclements, and radiant with collar joy, knowing they had irrevocably lost the battle with men which they had never, truly, desired to win, addressed themselves with a light heart and willing hand to such tasks, suitably enforced upon them as what they were now, owned, subdued females, and would hum and sing at their work. As slaves, they knew themselves set appropriately to the tasks and duties of slaves, this confirming upon them what they were, and desired to be, females who had no choice but to serve and please, even to the severities of the whip and chain, females joyful to be true females, females desiring to be owned by men, females wanting to be possessed by masters. In such things can one not hear the crackle of the fire at the mouth of the cave, the drums in the forest, sense the feeling of one’s wrists drawn behind one, and thonged together, snugly, and then the being seized in the mighty arms of hunters and warriors, whose they are, and who will do with them as they will?
It was the second day of the Eleventh Passage Hand.
“Hold, slave!” I snapped.
There was no confusing of men with women.
Even within the bundling of the furs heaped upon them their bodies could not be concealed, the figure, the slightness, and movements, no more than those of free women could be entirely concealed within the layers of their fanciful, absurd robes. What male does not sense the vulnerable, inviting nakedness of a slave within a woman’s assorted garmentures, no matter how contrived and pretentious?
And do not even free women sense that men see them thusly, see them exposed beneath their robes, see them as they would be without them, as they might be, say, were they commanded to put them aside, or as they might be, say, were they torn away? When they sense themselves under the scrutiny of men, do they not turn nicely, and stand well, and pose, and display themselves as the goods they know themselves to be? Surely they are aware, in some way, that they are slaves, and belong to men. What do they need then, but the chain, the block, the auctioneer’s cry?
She turned about, frightened, the vessel of steaming black wine, wrapped in its thick cloths, from the wool of the bounding hurt, held in two hands.
Yes, it was she, at last!
What could be special about her, only a slave?
Doubtless only the gold she might bring, were I to cast her to her knees, shackled and naked, before Marlenus of Ar.
“You,” she might have said, but it was only her lips that formed the word.
I was annoyed. I pointed to the deck, sternly.
Did she not know she was in the presence of a free man?
Swiftly she fell to her knees, and put her head down.
“First obeisance position,” I said.
She put the black wine to the side on the deck, and put her head to the boards, before me, her hands beside the sides of her head.
I let her remain in that attitude for a time, for better than an Ehn, that she might well understand herself in first obeisance position before a man, and then I knelt before her and pulled her head up, and brushed back the hood of her furs.
“Yes, it is you,” I observed.
She was even more beautiful than I had remembered.
I thrust her head back, so that she was looking up, and felt about her throat, under the fur.
She was nicely collared.
“A ship’s collar?” I asked.
“Yes!” she whispered.
“Yes?” I said.
“Yes, Master!” she said.
I was pleased she had not yet been claimed or assigned.
Might she not have been uneasy, could she have sensed my pleasure, my satisfaction, in having made this determination?
To be sure, almost all the slaves on board wore the ship’s collar, were ship slaves.
“You are still Alcinoe?” I asked.
“That is what they call me,” she said.
“Then that is your name,” I said.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Alcinoe,” she said, “-Master.”
“Do not forget it,” I said.
“No, Master,” she said.
I moved about her a bit, and, with my two hands, felt beneath the furring wrapped about her left ankle.
A metal band had been hammered shut there, and, now flat against the band, in its welded staple, was a smaller ring, to which a chain might be attached, or through which a chain might be run, one by means of which several girls might be secured.
In the keeping areas the girls were commonly kept chained.
“I have not seen you about,” I said.
“It is hard to exceed the length of our chain,” she said.
I twisted my hand in her hair, held her, and cuffed her twice, sharply.
She looked at me, my hand tight in her hair, startled, disbelievingly. Tears sprang to her eyes. Her lip trembled. Did she truly think she might play with a free man? Did she truly think she might speak as a free woman? Did she not know she was a slave? Did she truly think that I, or any free man, would not put her to discipline?
Let her learn differently.
Sometimes a master will allow his girl a bit of slack on her leash, so to speak, which is sometimes pleasant, but that only makes it all the more sweeter to bring her again to her knees before him, his slave.
“It is appropriate that you be chained, is it not?” I asked.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I am a slave, Master,” she said.
I stood up, before her, and regarded her.
“Keep your back straight,” I said.
She straightened her back, and looked straight ahead.
“I have not seen you since the cell,” I said.
“Nor I you,” she said.
“It is my understanding that you claimed I had put you to use,” I said.
“Doubtless Master knows the story,” she said.
“Perhaps,” I said.
She dared to look up, frightened.
“Please do not have me whipped,” she said.
I supposed that I, as the putatively offended party, might suggest a repetition of her punishment, for my own satisfaction, the first having been administered merely because she had been caught in a lie.
It is interesting how a slave who has felt the whip so fears it. They will go to great lengths to avoid its kiss.
To it they know themselves subject.
Like most men, most masters, I thought that the whip, if applied, should be applied judiciously, and, preferably, not at all.
It is, after all, primarily an instrument of correction.
And, hopefully, correction will not be necessary.
What one looks for from a slave is service, and inexpressible, inordinate pleasure. Why else would one put them in collars, buy them, and own them, and master them?
To be sure, if they are not fully pleasing, they must expect to be punished, and well. They are, after all, slaves.
Too, interestingly, a slave may sometimes desire to be whipped, perhaps to reassure her of her master’s attention, that she is still important to him, that he regards her as still his slave, that he regards her as still worth whipping, and perhaps, sometimes, she simply desires to be whipped, to be reminded that she is a slave. To the slave her bondage is inexpressibly precious. And surely little could better convince a slave of her bondage than finding herself being whipped as the slave she is.
“Where are you housed?” I asked.
“In the Kasra area,” she said.
It was then further confirmed, as I had earlier conjectured. She was neither claimed nor assigned.
She was a simple ship’s slave.
“Please do not have me whipped,” she said.
The whip hurts; a slave will commonly do much to avoid it. Certainly they are seldom in doubt as to their bondage. They know themselves subject to it. It is often most effective when merely dangling inert upon its peg. It is sometimes put to the lips of a kneeling slave, that she may lick and kiss it, in trepidation and reverence. It is a symbol of the mastery. When a slave is found errant, she is sometimes required, kneeling, to beg for its attention. Sometimes, after having received its attention, she is required to kiss and thank it. “Thank you, dear whip. I shall try to amend my ways. I shall strive to become a better slave.”
“How long have you served about the ship?”
The ship was large, and one had varied duties, here and there.
“This is the third day,” she said, adding, “-Master.”
“Why did you claim I had put you to use?” I asked.
“I do not know, Master,” she wept. “I was angry, I was frustrated, I felt rejected, I felt insulted. I am sorry. I am sorry! Please do not have me whipped, again. It hurts. It hurts, so!”
“You were punished,” I said, putting the matter aside.
“I was in a collar,” she said. “I was alone with you! I could not have prevented you. I could not have resisted. Why did you not put me to use?”
“I was not pleased to do so,” I said.
“I see,” she said.
“Why did you, in Ar,” I asked, “a great lady, lower your veil before a common soldier?”
“I do not know,” she said.
“Perhaps to torment me?” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” she said. “I do not know.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “it was the act of a slave, one who desires to be taken in hand, and braceleted.”
“Surely not!” she said.
“I can understand such things,” I said, “before high officers, before men who determine the opening and closings of gates, men who hold the keys to cellars of gold, to the trove of Merchants, men who command armies, who grasp the reins of power, whose word will launch fleets, but not before common soldiers.”
She put her head down.
Beside her the vessel of black wine no longer steamed.
“Slave?” I said.
“Few men know,” she said, “the secrets even free women confide to the silence and secrecy of their pillows.”
“But it was surely foolish,” I said.
“I did not expect to be a fugitive,” she said. “I thought the power of Talena in Ar was secure. Ar was beaten and downtrodden, confused and set against herself, cleverly divided so that she would be helpless before her foes. We did not anticipate the return of the great Marlenus.”
“Most who could recognize you,” I said, “might be unwise to return to Ar, having prices on their own heads, as Seremides.”
“They might well win their own amnesty,” she said, “were they to deliver a fugitive more sought than themselves. Such things are negotiable, through intermediaries.”
“Seremides,” I said, “is on board.”
“No!” she said.
“Under the name Rutilius of Ar,” I said.
“He must never see me!” she whispered. “He must never know I am on board!”
“Who?” I asked.
“I,” she said, “of course, the Lady Flavia!”
“The Lady Flavia,” I said, “is not on board.”
She looked up at me.
“A slave, Alcinoe, is on board,” I said.
“As you wish,” she said.
“Do you enjoy having this conversation on your knees?” I asked.
“It is appropriate, is it not,” she asked, “as I am a slave, before a free man.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I see,” she said.
“I am permitting you to keep your knees closed,” I said.
“Master is kind,” she said. “What if I should wish to open them, before you?” she asked.
“Do not do so,” I said.
“I see,” she said.
I recalled that she had claimed that I had raped her.
“Seremides,” I said, “knows you are on board.”
“No!” she cried, in misery. “Surely you did not tell him!”
“Stay on your knees,” I warned her.
“No,” I said, “I did not tell him. Why should I tell him? Better, surely, that it be I alone who should bring you before Marlenus.”
“You would bring me before Marlenus?” she said.
“Who would not?” I asked.
“Might I not prove a pleasing slave, Master?” she asked, tears in her eyes.
“One does not know,” I said.
“Alcinoe would do much to please her master,” she whispered.
“Speak louder, slave,” I said.
“Alcinoe would do much to please her master,” she said.
“That is only fitting for a slave,” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“For the bounty on your head, pretty kajira,” I said, “one might purchase a galley, and a dozen slaves whose beauty would shame yours, as yours, such as it is, might shame that of tarsk sow.”
“Surely not!” she said. Well had I stung the beauty’s vanity.
“Well, perhaps,” I said, “as much as yours would be beyond that of a typical copper-tarsk girl, a pot girl, a kettle-and-mat girl.”
“I thought my beauty too great for that of a female slave,” she said.
“But now,” I said, “you are more familiar with that of female slaves.”
“But I am beautiful!” she wept.
“I doubt that you would bring gold off the block,” I said, “but I think you would bring silver.”
“Surely I am beautiful!” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “you are beautiful, you are a lovely slave.”
“Am I not attractive?” she asked.
I did not tell her of the nights I had dreamed of having her, collared, in my arms.
“I have had better chained at my slave ring,” I said.
“You have had others chained at your ring?”
“Now and then,” I said.
“And how would you chain me,” she asked, “by throat or ankle?”
“As it might please me, on one night or another,” I said.
“And such is the master,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“I have never been at the foot of a man’s couch,” she said.
“In the beginning,” I said, “you would be slept on the flooring itself, or a mat.”
“Not on furs?”
“No,” I said.
“I would be slept as a low slave?”
“Do you find me attractive?” she asked.
“Few slaves are without interest,” I said.
“I would like to be attractive to you,” she said.
“More attractive than a sack of gold?”
“I would scarcely dare hope so much,” she said.
“Master,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“If you did not know who I was, and you saw me on the block, naked, exhibited, posed, fearing the whip, writhing on command, might you not find me of interest, and bid for me, and hope to take me home-I, only a slave, on your chain?”
I recalled that she had lowered her veil before me, in Ar, I, only a common soldier, and more than once. However far above me she was then, I was now thousands of times higher than she, for she was now slave.
“Perhaps,” I said, “provided I could get you cheaply enough.”
“Perhaps,” she said, “Seremides does not really know I am on board.”
“He knows,” I said.
“How do you know Seremides knows I am on board?” she asked.
“Some days after having been brought on board,” I said, “I was interrogated by ship’s officers. Seremides was amongst them. Your name, Alcinoe, came up, given the contretemps of the cell. Seremides mentioned that he had seen you, and that you looked well in your collar.”
“Do I look well in my collar?” she asked, bitterly.
“What woman does not?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “We are females, the properties of men.”
“He suggested,” I said, “that you be given to him.”
“I see,” she said, shuddering.
“But, it seems,” I said, “that his request has not been granted, at least as yet.”
“He refused to abet my escape from Ar,” she said. “The mounting ladder was jerked away from me. I was left behind, abandoned.”
“Now, of course,” I said, “things are different. Now, a sack of gold might be tied about your neck, as you might be led, naked and bound, leashed, to the impaling pole, the sack to be cut from your neck and given to Seremides, as you are lifted, striving not to move, into public view.”
“We are likely to die here, in the ice,” she said.
“It seems so,” I granted her.
It was feared that some men might leave the ship, to try to cross the ice east, in the half darkness, perhaps to Torvaldsland. Pani had been set about, to guard the bulwarks, and, on the ice, to supervise the work about the ship. This venture, whispered about, to leave the ship, seemed to me madness. We were hundreds of pasangs from land, and who knew how far the ice might last, but, it seemed, even so woeful and improbable a scheme might have some appeal to forlorn, desperate minds, minds half crazed by the imprisonment of the ship, the silence, the darkness, the cold, the endless labor at the ice, the growing shortage of rations.
“I wonder where Seremides saw me,” she said.
“It could have been anywhere,” I said, “perhaps when you were unhooded, after boarding, perhaps while you were awaiting a chain assignment, in a companionway, in a corridor, on one deck or another, perhaps when you slept, in the Kasra holding area, to which he, as a high officer, might have had access.”
“Few, if any, men are allowed there,” she said. “We are managed by first girls, large tharlarion-like women, female whip slaves.”
“Interesting,” I said. I supposed it made sense that free men, on the whole, would not be allowed to walk about amongst chained slaves.
After all, should one not pay for them?
“Sometimes,” she said, “girls moaning and needing men would be switched to silence. When free I despised the needs of slave girls, but then I did not understand how they felt, how helpless they were in the throes of their needs; I did not understand what was going on in their bodies, that made them cry out, and whimper, and scratch at the boards, and moan; I did not understand what men had done to them, to so ignite their needs, to make them so piteously the prisoners of their own bodies, of what they were, the helpless victim, captive, and slave of their own womanhood.”
“One cannot ignite needs which are not there to be ignited,” I said. “What men have done is simply to free the secret slave in the heart of every woman, she longing for the sunlight of submission and fulfillment.”
“Four times,” she said, “I was awakened from my sleep, the switch flashing upon me. ‘Stop thrashing in your chains, slut,’ I was told. Had I been doing so? I did not know.”
“Presumably you were doing so,” I said.
“The switch stung,” she said.
“That is its purpose,” I said.
I recalled having learned, during my interrogation, that physicians had determined that the slave, Alcinoe, after her time with me in the cell, was almost ready to be put on the block. Apparently she had begun to sense, or fear, the beginning of involuntary, radical changes in her body, incipient glimmerings heralding the onslaught of needs which would inevitably put her vulnerably at the feet of men, the fires which, in a woman’s belly, mark her, more than a brand and collar, a man’s slave.
“In any event,” I said, “he saw you, and I am sure he recognized you.”
“I did not see him,” she said.
“It is enough that he saw you,” I said.
“Are you sure,” she said, “that he saw me?”
“Yes,” I said. “Do not any longer think of yourself as concealed, as inaccessible, as a free woman. You are now an animal. Your features must be as brazenly exposed as those of any other animal, a kaiila, verr, or tarsk. Anyone, as upon them, may look upon you, and boldly.”
Tears sprang anew to her eyes.
“Is this truly surprising?” I asked. “Did you not see many slaves in Ar? Do you still think of yourself as free? What of your own girls? What if one had dared to veil herself, even in play?”
“I would have lashed her,” she said.
“You are surely well aware,” I said, “that as a slave, an animal, you may or may not be clothed. You are surely aware of such things. Your garmenture, if any, will be decided by those who own you. Your features, and, if owners wish it, your body, will be denied the least protection.”
“Yes,” she wept, “yes!”
“Keep the palms of your hands down on your thighs,” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“And keep in mind that your features,” I said, “if not your body, must be regularly and fully exposed. Free women will insist on that. Your features, at all times, must be denied even the least thread of the most diaphanous veiling.”
“How easy then,” she said, in misery, “I all unknowing, for him to see me, and identify me!”
“For him,” I said, “or anyone.”
“Even a common soldier,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “even a common soldier.”
“And anyone might bring me to Ar,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “even a common soldier.”
“Such as you,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“How helpless we are,” she said, looking up, “we, so exposed, our lips, our features, our smallest expressions, naked, bared to the view of anyone!”
I was muchly pleased that slaves were denied veiling.
How beautiful and distraught she looked!
How this puts them so much the more where they belong, in our power!
“You may not hide yourselves,” I said.
Her eyes were bright with tears, some coursed down her cheeks, running under the fur.
“You are a slave,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “I am a slave!”
Denial of the veil is one of the things, as noted, insisted upon by free women for the slave, this marking another dramatic difference between them, at least between those of high caste and the slave. Low-caste women, in their work, not unoften do without veiling. Good-looking girls of low-caste sometimes go about unveiled deliberately, hoping that they may catch the eye of a slaver, and perhaps be sold into a high household, or come into the chains of a handsome, well-to-do master. One of the most delightful vengeances of a free woman upon a rival is to have her rival reduced to slavery, and then have her at her feet, tunicked, and face-stripped, as a serving slave, perhaps to be later sold, out of the city. One of the most interesting things about barbarian slaves, which may surprise many, is that few seem to understand, at least at first, the shame that is done to them by denying them the veil. They seem more concerned with the baring of their bodies, which is suitable for slaves. But such are shameless and suitably enslaved. Are they not already half-slave, even before being fitted with the collar? They only become sensitive to such matters when, later, they become aware of the meaning of their bared faces. But, after a time, even Gorean women, as well as barbarians, in bondage, think little of their lack of veiling, at least when not in the presence of a free woman, particularly of high caste. Then they are often forced to feel their shame keenly. Commonly though, they, and barbarians, as well, come to revel in the lack of veiling, and, indeed, in the shame of their commonly brief and revealing garmenture, if allowed garmenture, become insolent in their shameful pride, so deplored by free women, of revealing their beauty, of both face and body, to the eyes of men.
One might note in passing how the slave tunic, or the scandalous camisk or ta-teera, are viewed by free women, slaves, and masters. The free woman regards such garments as a degradation, an unspeakable humiliation, a badge of shame, fit for natural slaves, say, women of alien or enemy cities. But, too, they often seethe with envy that it is not they who are exposed so blatantly, and desirably, to the eyes of males. Might they not, too, be so attractive, were they so excitingly clad, so invitingly bared? And how angry they are that men, who should be above such things, look with such obvious favor on mere slaves! The slave, of course, may at first be miserably shamed to be so garmented, to be put in such a garment, but, soon, she comes to exult in its attractiveness, its brevity and lightness, and the freedom it affords, not only of movement, but more significantly, its gift of psychological, emotional, and intellectual freedom. Too, of course, such a garmenture is sexually arousing, and frees the slave to be the warm, arousable, appetitious, excitable, needful, sexual animal, the slave, she has always longed to be. And as for the views of men with respect to such garmentures, one supposes they need no elaboration. By means of such garments, women, the most desirable properties a man may own, are dressed for his taste, delectation, and pleasure. Were it not for the security of their Home Stones, one supposes there would be few free women in a Gorean city. One wonders sometimes if they understand that the freedom which, in their arrogance, they take so much for granted is tenuous and fragile, a revocable gift of men. Let them think of Tharna, and tremble, or, if they wish, present themselves naked before her gates, petitioning entrance.
“Why is Seremides on board?” she asked.
“There is a price on his head,” I said. “Perhaps, then, to flee.”
“Perhaps,” she said, “but one could flee anywhere, to Torvaldsland, to the deeper recesses of the formidable Voltai, to the vast Barrens, to the long Valley of the Ua, anywhere. Here, he is trapped, on a ship.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “he hopes to recoup his fortunes, at the World’s End.”
“Perhaps,” she said.
“Perhaps,” I said, “he knew you to be on board, and has in mind your apprehension, and eventual remanding to Ar.”
“Surely that venture,” she said, “would be fraught with peril. The price on his head, I suspect, is greater than that on mine.”
“I agree that is likely,” I said. He had been, of course, the captain of the Taurentians, and had been close to Myron, the polemarkos of Temos, commander of the occupation forces in Ar.
“Still,” I said, “do not underestimate your value in Ar.”
“To another,” she said, “but I think not to Seremides.”
“He might negotiate, anonymously, through others,” I said. I did not doubt that he had cohorts on board, if not brought with him, then later recruited.
“Perhaps,” she said.
“You do not think he seeks you?”
“I think,” she said, “he is after greater game.”
“What, then?” I asked.
“I am not sure,” she said. “I do not know.”
“In any event,” I said, “a slave is far from Ar.”
“Yes,” she said, “a slave is far from Ar.”
“Return to first obeisance position,” I said.
“Surely not!” she said.
“Now,” I said. “Good.”
“Now,” I said, “to second obeisance position.”
“Please,” she protested, her head to the deck.
“Must a command be repeated?” I inquired.
“No!” she said.
The repetition of a command is often a cause for discipline, and she was well aware of what that might involve.
She was now on her belly before me, her hands at the sides of her head.
“Lips to boots,” I said.
She pressed her lips to my boots, left and right, kissing them, and licking at them.
I let her continue to do this for a time.
It is pleasant for a man to have a beautiful woman, for she was beautiful, so at his feet, so at his mercy.
I noted a particular movement in her body, one I had seen before in a slave. I smiled. She was beginning to understand what it might be, to be a slave. Already, I suspected, she had begun to hope, forlornly, that I might be pleased to attend to her, as one who, in his lenience or indulgence, might attend to a slave.
“Enough,” I said. “Position.”
She knelt then before me, as before, back on her heels, head up, back straight, the palms of her hands down on her thighs.
“You wear your furs well,” I said.
“Thank you, Master,” she said.
“To be sure,” I said, “I would prefer you in a tunic, or less.”
“May a slave not open her knees before Master?” she said.
“Do you wish to do so?” I asked.
“I think so,” she whispered.
“No,” I said.
“I see,” she said.
“Is a slave white silk or red silk?” I asked.
“Must a slave respond?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.
“A slave is white silk,” she said.
“That is unusual,” I said.
“For a slave,” she said.
“You are a slave,” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she said, “I am a slave.”
“It seems, slave,” I said, “you have let the black wine grow cold.”
“Master?” she said.
“Thus, you are remiss,” I said.
“I have been detained!” she said, frightened.
“You are remiss,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “I am remiss.”
“Then, rise,” I said, “hurry to the kitchens, to heat the wine, or replenish your vessel.”
“Yes, Master,” she said.
She retrieved the vessel, wrapped in its cloths.
“And hurry,” I said, “run, run!”
“I was the Lady Flavia of Ar!” she said.
“Hurry,” I said, “run, run!”
She turned about, in misery, and, holding the vessel in its cloths, hurried away. She stopped once, to look over her shoulder, and then, frightened, disappeared through the second hatchway amidships, that between the second and third masts.
I feared for her safety, and that of all of us.
Night was falling. On the ice below the work lamps, on their tripods, had been lit. Pani, with bows and glaves, patrolled the perimeter below.
They had earlier stopped two men, set to trek the ice. One had been killed, the other flogged.
Rations were growing short.
I thought of the slave, Alcinoe. Off the block, sold for her simple quality as a female, she might bring one or two silver tarsks. In the south, delivered to the justice of Ar, she might bring a double handful of golden tarn disks. What a fool one would be, not to advantage oneself of such an opportunity. On the other hand, she was pretty, and might make a good slave.
It was hard to tell about such things.
Reasonably clearly, she was already beginning to sense what it might be to be a slave.
That was promising.
I wondered if, in the darkness of the Kasra keeping area, she might have pressed her fingers to her lips, and then softly to her collar.
I recalled she had been switched awake four times.
Presumably she had been thrashing in her chains.
She is coming along nicely, I thought, even predictably.
What woman can be truly fulfilled, who is not a slave, who does not know herself owned, who does not know herself the absolute property of a master, a master whom she knows she must serve with perfection, a master whom she knows, to her joy, will have the wholeness of her womanhood from her?
The watch was called, and I would go below.
I wondered why Seremides was on board. It might have been simply his intention to flee. Who, after all, would think to seek him beyond the farther islands? Or perhaps he wished to seek a fortune in a new, untried venue, a fortune, like many, obtainable by sword skill? Perhaps, on the other hand, he sought the former Lady Flavia of Ar. The reward for her return to Ar was far from negligible. Might it not purchase a galley, and several slaves, of high quality? But she had thought he was after greater game, of some sort. But what might that be? Also, as she could recognize him, her death might be worth far more to him than the gold her delivery to Ar might bring. To be sure, I, too, might recognize him. I had taken care to avoid being alone with him. Clearly I constituted a danger to him, and, as a free man, one far more dangerous than that posed by a slave. I had little doubt he would eventually seek his opportunity, perhaps a thrust in the darkness, a feigned misstep at the ice, the provoking of a quarrel, or such.
I saw two or three men emerge onto the darkening deck. I thought little of it at the time.
I awakened to the screaming of tarns and the beating of the ship’s great alarm bar, over and over, incessantly, deafeningly.
“Deck, deck, deck!” I heard.
Outside our crew area, one of several, I could hear feet running in the corridor, others climbing the stairs in the nearest companionway.
“Beware,” called Philoctetes. “There is swordplay.”
We could hear the ringing of steel.
It was past the twentieth Ahn.
“Lamps have been shattered!” I heard. “Put out the fires.”
We tumbled from our quarters, casting our furs about us. Most of us had been disarmed, a concomitance of the weeks of short days and cold, the length of our seizure by the ice, the reduction in rations, the deterioration of morale, the growing fear, the gradually increasing sense of desperation and hopelessness, the surliness of many, but there are always hidden weapons.
“We are under attack!” I heard.
“No, no!” I heard.
“What is going on?” called a fellow.
“Lamps have been shattered!” I heard.
In our quarters we looked wildly to one another. Muchly did we fear fire.
“No!” I heard. “No! To the weapon room!”
The Pani were still armed, and officers, and various guardsmen.
Philoctetes opened the door to the corridor, cautiously, and peered out. It was apparently then empty. We followed him into the corridor. Some tharlarion oil from a lamp, like spread grease, was burning on the flooring. The lamp itself was still on its chains. It was not difficult to smother the flames, with furs, or stamp them out. The most serious fires on a ship are likely to originate in the kitchens. It did not seem likely anyone was trying to fire the ship. Most likely the lamp, in the low-ceilinged passageway, had been jostled in the passage of armed, rushing men. We encountered no shattered lamps, nor any indications of arson.
We could hear, above us, however, the sound of steel, the cries of men.
There must be fighting in corridors, or elsewhere.
We also heard the grating of the large tarn hatch, amidships, being rolled back. This is done with a double windlass. It takes several men to move the hatch.
When the ship had debouched from the Alexandra, and entered Thassa, I had been told there were something like two hundred tarns aboard. They were housed in three large areas, each occupying a substantial portion of its own deck. The highest area was on the first deck below the open deck. The other two areas, by ramps, led to the highest area, it alone having the sky accessible, once the great hatch was rolled back. As the tarn is a large, dangerous, aggressive bird, and territorial in the wild, many of the ship tarns had separate stalls, or cages; others were chained apart, by the left foot; some others, crowded together, literally had their wings bound, their beaks strapped shut, save for feeding.
Restless, and many long unflighted, it was unusually dangerous to be amongst them. Few but tarnsmen or tarnkeepers would approach them, and then with great caution.
“Let us to the weapon room,” said a fellow.
There, one supposed, arms might be issued to us, were they deemed in order. As it turned out, however, the weapon room had been stormed earlier by a number of disaffected crew members, in effect, mutineers, who were intent on freeing tarns, and risking a flight which might lead to land, a flight presumably to the east, where lay Torvaldsland.
I knew little of tarns, the control of such monsters, their dispositions and habits, their ranges of flight, and such, but it seemed improbable, given our conjectured position, so far west of even the farther islands, that one might reach land, say, Torvaldsland, before the tarn might, even with the might of its legendary stamina, fall to the ice, in the dimness or darkness, unable to continue on, to die of cold and exhaustion, or, starving, turn on its rider. If landfall were practical from our current position surely our outriders and scouts would have discovered this, returned, reported it, brought back much needed supplies, and such. But it was true some deserters had, in the past weeks, now and then, flighted a tarn away, over the ice, into the gray sky, and had not returned. Who knew that some of them might not have reached land. Twice, riderless tarns had returned to the ship, their harnessing torn apart or missing, their beaks red with frozen blood. They flew at those who would have led them below. They were killed.
In our small quarters there were some forty fellows, mostly of Cos, Tyros, or the smaller islands. We did not mix well with the fellows from the continent.
I would conjecture there were some five hundred of the unusual men, the Pani, on board, divided amongst the commands of Lords Nishida and Okimoto, some two hundred and fifty each. And of others, mariners, soldiers, artisans, and such, perhaps two thousand, these recruited variously, many, particularly the mercenaries, in Brundisium, often fugitives from the restoration in Ar. I was not clear on the purpose of the voyage, but it doubtless had to do with war, for our ship, despite what might be the views of its shipwright, Tersites, was serving essentially as a transport, one undertaking an unprecedented voyage, whose intended destination seemed likely to be known only to the Pani. The male Pani, for example, were uniformly warriors. This I found significant. There were a handful of Pani females aboard, but I saw little of them. They were spoken of as contract women. I did not understand their status. It did not seem they were slaves. The other men aboard, other than the Pani, or at least the overwhelming majority of us, as were the Pani, were men accustomed to weaponry and the arbitrations of force. The ship, then, as noted, was essentially a transport, conveying a small army to foreign fields. The slaves on board, perhaps some two hundred in number, would have their various purposes, serving in various ways. Too, of course, such women are a form of wealth, as they may be sold, traded, bartered, given as gifts, and such. I did not doubt but what such goods would figure in the plans of the Pani. Of tarns, I had been told, as mentioned, that there had been something in the neighborhood of two hundred on board when the ship of Tersites had entered Thassa from the Alexandra. A tarn cavalry was clearly intended, which was, I suspected, intended to be a decisive arm in some projected campaign. I gathered that tarns might be unknown at the World’s End; else why would they be aboard? The Pani seemed to have no shortage of resources, given their financing of the ship of Tersites, the hiring of hundreds of mercenaries, the purchasing of slaves, and such. Thus, if tarns were common at the World’s End it would be more expeditious to obtain them there. If they were not known at the World’s End, then their judicious application in battle, reconnaissance, raids, and such, might indeed prove formidable. Even their appearance might inspire awe, even terror. To be sure, there were no longer some two hundred tarns on board. Some had been flighted, and had not returned; some had died; two had been killed. There was secrecy with respect to the figures involved, as would be expected, as with the number of catapults, and such, but rumors suggested a current count of something like one hundred and seventy healthy tarns on board. We knew of three weapon rooms, but suspected there were others. One aspect, at least, of the naval power of the ship of Tersites was clear. She nested six galleys. The tarnsman, Tarl Cabot, was apparently the commander of the tarn cavalry. Several times, in better weather, he had had it aloft, in training exercises. It is impressive to see such mighty beasts in flight, the stroke of the wings to the beating of the tarn drum, the wheelings and maneuvers, in unison, to the signals of banners and trumpets.
“Follow me,” said Philoctetes, who was first in our small company. We followed him up the companionway to the next deck, and then to the next. Unarmed, I was uneasy. We could hear the ringing of steel here and there. Who greets a larl without a spear in one’s grasp? Of the three weapon rooms we knew about, two were forward, and one amidships. Ours was amidships. It was on the deck now above us. The tarn areas were also amidships, consuming most of three decks. As noted, the highest area was on the first deck below the open deck, the lower two areas having access to it by ramps. As noted, only the highest area would open to the sky, once the great hatch was rolled back. We were now, on the companionway, moving past the highest of the two lower tarn areas. Most of the cries, the noise, the screaming of tarns, came from above, the first tarn area, that which might be opened to the sky.
I heard the snap of a bowstring above, and a fellow, on the flooring above, dark, briefly outlined in the light of a tharlarion-oil lamp, turned about, slowly, and then tumbled part way down the companionway, toward us, some five stairs. Philoctetes pulled him aside, and looked up. He then thrust the body down, past us. The arrow had been broken in the fellow’s fall, against the stairs.
“It is a Pani arrow,” said a fellow.
The Pani arrow is long, rather like that of the peasant bow, but the Pani bow is unlike the peasant bow, as it is longer, and lighter. Both bows are different from the short, stout Tuchuk bow, or saddle bow, which, I had learned, had been introduced by the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot, into the weaponry of the tarn cavalry. In the corridor above, the Pani bow must have been used diagonally, given the low ceiling of the corridor. The ideal weapon in closed spaces would be the crossbow, not only because of its size and maneuverability, but, even more, because the bolt or quarrel may wait patiently in the guide, the cable back, ready to spring forth instantly, at the press of a finger on the trigger. It takes a moment, of course, to draw a bow, and it requires strength to keep the bow drawn. The Pani bow, the peasant bow, and the saddle bow, of course, and such bows, have a rapidity of fire which far exceeds that of even the stirruped crossbow.
At the foot of the companionway two men, in the dim light, turned the body.
“I do not know him,” said a fellow.
“He has a blade,” said a man, gratefully.
One of our men, finger by finger, pried loose the blade from the clenched hand.
“Now we have one sword,” said a man.
“Leave it,” said Philoctetes. “Armed, you may be mistaken for a mutineer.”
“You would have us defenseless?” asked a man.
“Wait,” said Philoctetes, “until all are armed.”
“Not I,” said a man, Aristodemus of Tyros.
“Give it to him,” said a fellow. The blade was surrendered to him. We took him to be first sword amongst us.
“Conceal it,” advised Philoctetes.
Aristodemus placed the blade within his furs.
Standing on the stairs, Philoctetes called out, “Friend! Friend!”
“Beware!” I called to him.
He then, cautiously, ascended two or three more steps. “Friend!” he called, again, not showing himself. “Friend!”
He then, from the stairs, peered into the corridor. Then he turned back to us. “I see no one,” he said.
“There are doors,” I said, “corners, where the passageways intersect.”
The arrow had been sped from somewhere.
“Stay back,” said Philoctetes, and he ascended to the corridor, his hands held over his head.
I would have given much for even a buckler.
Philoctetes lowered his hands, and turned to his left.
The archer, it seemed, had gone.
In a moment we had followed him, and crowded behind him. We saw that the weapon room had been broken into. Most of the weaponry, spears, swords, crossbows, longbows, javelins, glaves, maces, axes, Anango darts, gauntlet hatchets, edged battle weights, bladed chains, and such, was gone. Some of the bows and spears, ax hafts, and such, had been broken, or splintered. I suspected that much of what had not been seized, might have been carried to the open deck, and cast overboard, that it not be available to others. At that time we did not know the numbers of the mutineers. Their attacks, however, seemed to have been organized, and coordinated. I wondered if Tyrtaios or Seremides was involved. It seemed unlikely, for both men were astute. There would be little point in seizing the ship, given her present straits, and, if their hope was an escape, however improbable of success such an effort might be, they would presumably be content to seize one or two tarns and flee, following in the wake of earlier deserters. Three men were dead in the corridor; one was of the Pani, probably the room guard, posted outside the door, and two others, who may have fallen to his swift, small sword, each, apparently, by a single stroke. He of the Pani, in any event, whether offered terms or not, had obviously refused to surrender the weapons in his charge, preferring rather to die in their defense. I would later learn that this standing at one’s post, this adherence to duty, was typical of the Pani.
“We are unarmed,” said a fellow. “There is nothing we can do, one way or the other. Let us return to our quarters and abide the outcome.”
“We might side with the winning party,” said a fellow.
“There is no winning party,” said another. “This is not about the ship. This is about flight.”
“There is no escape from the ice, unless it be by tarn,” said a man.
“Perhaps we can secure a tarn!” cried a fellow. “There is fighting, confusion!”
“To the high cot!” cried a man.
“The first tarn hold!” cried another.
“Yes!” cried another.
“Hold!” said Philoctetes. “It is madness!”
“We are unarmed, we pose no threat, none will fire upon us, none will cut us down,” said a man.
“If you interfere, you will be deemed a threat,” said Philoctetes. “You would deal with desperate men, of either side, who will strike without hesitation or compunction.”
“To the cots! To the tarn holds!” insisted a man.
“To the high cot!” said another. “The first tarn hold! Only it opens to the sky!”
“That is where the fighting will be!” said a man.
“Traps will be sealed on the others!” said a man.
“Do not let others seize our only chance to live!” cried a man.
“Are we cowards?” shouted a fellow.
“To the tarn hold!” screamed a man.
“The first, the first!” screamed a man.
“I have a sword,” said Aristodemus, he of Tyros.
“Follow Aristodemus!” said a fellow.
“Follow me!” cried Aristodemus, brandishing the sword, now removed from the concealment of his furs.
“To the high cots!” cried a man.
“To the first tarn hold!” shouted a second.
“Wait!” begged Philoctetes, but he was pushed aside, fell, and men rushed past him.
I crouched beside Philoctetes. He held his arm, which was, as it turned out, broken. We were then alone in the corridor. He looked after the departing men. “Fools,” he hissed, “fools!”
There were footsteps in the corridor and some seven or eight Pani, with their odd, long-handled, curved blades removed from their sashes, hurried past us.
“Go with them,” said Philoctetes. “The tarns, the ship, must be saved.”
“You came to the weapon room,” I said. “It was your intention to stand with the ship.”
“Yes,” he said, “for Cos, for honor!”
I looked to the body of the slain Pani some feet from us, sprawled across the doorway. It had been half hacked to pieces, probably in the frustration and rage of those desperate men in whose way he had so resolutely stood.
“For Cos then,” I said, “for honor!”
I then sprang from the side of Philoctetes and hurried after the Pani.
The keeping areas for tarns on the ship of Tersites are large, though small enough, considering the monsters they must house. Some spoke of them as tarn holds, though they were not holds as one would usually think of such places. Some spoke of them, as well, as the “cots,” though they bore little resemblance to the common tarn cots, if only because of their vast dimensions, even to those which might be maintained by professional tarnsters in the high cities, specializing in freight and haulage. The great ship itself, made possible by Tur wood and bracing, would be something like a hundred and ten yards from stem to stern, and, abeam, some forty yards. It had nine decks. The tarn areas occupied almost the whole of three decks, as noted, each being some seventy yards in length and some thirty yards in width. Unlike many of the tarn cots in the cities, which are lofty and allow room for perches at various heights, the ceilings of these areas were not more than five yards in height. This, despite the width and length of each, gave each an enclosing, cramped aspect. There were three rows of wooden-barred cages, or stalls, in each area, each extending for much of the length of the cot area, these three rows being separated by two aisles. An open space was provided fore and aft in each cot area, in which some birds were chained in place, and others, in effect, bound, wings pinioned by ropes, beaks strapped shut, save for feeding. In these areas, also, might be stored tackle, saddles, straps, reins, and such. The birds were usually saddled and mounted in a narrow, shuttered area, and then led to one ramp or another, the first two ramps each leading to a higher deck, the last to the open deck itself, whence the bird might take flight. Whereas the tarn, in virtue of its strength, can take flight directly, interestingly, almost vertically, from a horizontal surface, they would usually, on the ship, as from a cliff, launch themselves through an arranged opening in the bulwarks, spread their wings, catch the air, and then strike their way upward.
The Pani moved swiftly through the corridor, single file, in a smooth, shuffling gait, almost in cadence. The narrowness of the corridors, which one or two men might plausibly defend, and the lowness of the ceiling, and the dangling lamps, discouraged a more frenetic, disorderly passage. I recalled the spilled oil, flaming, outside our own quarters, which we had quickly extinguished.
By the side passages, and companionways, and our progress, I took it we had ascended higher than the two lower levels of the housing area for tarns, and were near the upper deck, or open deck. The two lower areas had large traps, which must be raised, the first to provide its ramp’s access to the second level, and that of the second level to provide its ramp’s access to the highest level, the ramp of which led, once the great hatch, some yards square, was rolled back, to the open deck. It was there the serious fighting, after that in the corridors and companionways, would take place. There would be the tarns most sought, those which might be most swiftly brought to flight.
There were, naturally, several entryways, for men, supplies, feed, and such, both on the port and starboard side of the ship, at the various levels, to the tarn areas. The Pani had, however, judiciously ignored the entryways to the lower levels. They followed the sounds of war, and sought their source.
There were bodies in the corridor, some living.
We threaded our way amongst them.
The sound of steel on steel was now bright and sharp. I was very conscious I had no weapon. I heard the wild, shrill scream of a tarn. I heard the splintering wood, the cries of men, the snap of a bowstring.
We had come to an opened door. Near it, cut down, were two Pani. Through this door, I took it, and perhaps others, the mutineers had entered the high tarn deck. The great hatch is so arranged that it may be moved by means of either, or both, of two windlasses, one inside the tarn area, the other accessible from the main deck. I suddenly shuddered, realizing the plan of the men I followed. In the light of the nearby lamp, hung from the low ceiling of the corridor, I noted that more than one of the Pani was either wounded, or his garments had been slashed. Thus, these men had been in the fight earlier. They had now come about the ship, and were intending to take the mutineers from behind. Surprise would be with them for only a moment, but I had little doubt that it would be a moment of which the most would be made. I was still not clear on the number of mutineers. I did know, now, there were eight Pani at the door, and one unarmed Cosian. Perhaps, I thought, they, in so small a number, will merely attempt to hold the door, to prevent mutineers, should things turn against them, from withdrawing through it, perhaps to discard weapons somewhere, and thence to lose themselves amongst hundreds of others, innocent others not involved in their cause. I was wrong. The Pani, silently, swiftly, their long-hilted, tasseled swords grasped in two hands, fell upon armed men from behind. I think they slew twice their number before men became aware of their presence, and turned to face them. Then the battle near the door began. I stood in the doorway, half crouched down. In the melee, farther on, the mixing was such that I could not tell, except for the occasional Pani, who might be mutinous and who not. Certainly men fought men, and who knew who might be of which party. I saw disruption, confusion, blood, carnage, and death, both of men and beasts. The hatch had been rolled back. The main deck, or most of it, I took it, was in the hands of mutineers, as many ran down the ramp, to try to free a tarn, sometimes to fight with others for the bird. Some tarns, their doors opened to fetch them forth, tried to fly, and dashed themselves against the ceiling, or the stalls, or cages, opposite their own. In the narrowness of the aisles some had broken a wing and, with beak and long, curved, vicious talons, as thick as a man’s wrist, in their confusion, rage, and pain, attacked anything within reach, the thick wooden bars of cages, one another, the bodies of men. I saw a head torn off, and, more than once, a body held down, grasped in talons, being torn apart, being eaten. Several tarns, sensing the sky, the hatch now open to the far, bright stars, with a great snap of their wings, sometimes dragging saddle and harnessing behind them, disappeared into the cold night. Others, trying to escape, were killed. I saw one man clinging to a saddle girth carried out, and away, and thence, losing his grip, fall screaming to the ice below. Some fighting was taking place on the open deck. Some were forced over the bulwarks. Below, clearly enough, in the interstices of combat, men backed away from one another to look wildly about, struggling to regain their breath. In the stillness and frigidity of the air, I could hear the churning of water and the snorting of sea sleen below. Some men, mutineers doubtless, despairing of success, began to move from stall to stall, cutting the throats of tarns. If they could not escape, it seemed that they would have it that none might do so. I saw Tarl Cabot, and his confrere, Pertinax, and the fellow, Tajima, a fine rider, fighting, to protect tarns. Men drew away from Cabot. Few, it seemed, cared to cross steel with him. One thrust at him with a spear, doubtless stolen from a weapon room, but he caught the weapon and jerked its wielder forward, startled, wide-eyed, onto the sharp blade of the small swift sword, the warrior’s gladius. Almost in the same moment he freed the blade, and parried a thrust, the last his now-backward-reeling foe would make. I think some mutineers did mount tarns, and manage to leave the ship. The count was not clear. I saw one of the Pani directing his bow toward me. “No!” cried Cabot, touching the fellow’s arm. “Callias!” he called to me, remembering my name. “To us, to us!” he called, his reddish hair wild under his talmit. Those helmeted were largely mutineers, who had prepared for this hour. I edged about cages, trying to reach the tarnsman. In doing so, I became aware, as I never had been, of the size, the power, and awesomeness of the tarn, for I came within feet of one, whose head, far above mine, with its bright, glistening, dark eyes, was moving, alertly, from one side to the other, as though more puzzled, or curious, than anything else. How tiny a man is on the back of such a beast! What sort of men, I wondered, might once have caught, tamed, and trained such monsters! Indeed, what men, even today, I wondered, would have the courage to come within yards of such a monster, let alone command it from a saddle!
Cabot bent down and retrieved a blade. He cast it toward me, and, a foot or two from me, almost within my reach, it sank into one of the broad, rounded wooden, postlike bars, some five horts thick, of a tarn cage. I drew it free, with a sudden sense of exhilaration. Such a blade, though short, could reach the heart of even a larl. It bore the ship’s mark, the Tau, for the ship of Tersites. I had little doubt it had been removed, stolen, from a weapon room, perhaps from the very one we had found ransacked, and nearly emptied, save for destroyed arms.
I brandished it, sensing the heft, the weight, the balance. Yes, I thought, yes! It was the sort of blade to which one might grow accustomed, the sort of blade to which one might entrust one’s life, placing its sharp, narrow wall of agile metal between oneself and death.
Cabot grinned. “See that you use it honestly!” he called.
He had armed me.
For such an officer one would die.
I worked my way to his side.
I fenced away an antagonist, and then another. I did not see the foeman moving to my right, but I did see him fall. I owed my life to Tarl Cabot. Even in the test of combat one should be as acutely aware as one is keenly alive. Surely the foe most dangerous is he who is likely to be the least noticed.
Near the ramp, on its left, I saw Seremides fell a man. I was familiar with his skill from Ar. Few could match him. Seremides then was loyal, or not ready, now, to show himself disloyal. I saw him disable another man, and then twice slash his face, once on each side, and then his blade, swift as a striking ost, entered the throat and withdrew, only a hort, but enough. I had seen him do such things in Ar. He was fond of such death play. He was vain, and enjoyed such flourishes. Eleven times I, and others, had been invited, in the dawn, in the square before the Central Cylinder, or in one park or another, to witness his games. Often his victim, provoked to accept a challenge, would have been guilty of little more than entering a portal before him, or brushing against him in a theater or market. Seremides had his likes and dislikes, however they might be founded, and it was better not to be disliked. He could bide his time, with the patience of a concealed sleen, in ambush, waiting for his opportunity, even an opinion to be expressed, whatever it might be, and would then contradict it, and then heat the matter with aspersions and derogations to the point of martial arbitration. The opinion was immaterial; paramount would be the quarrel, the pretext, that being the quarry sought, the quarrel, always the quarrel. Wise men attended his words, intently, and graciously, spoke little in his presence, and would forbear to disagree. One tried to please him. He enjoyed killing. He was of the retinue of Lord Okimoto.
I was pleased to see him in the high tarn hold, though I would have been better pleased to see him amongst the mutineers. I had feared he might by now have departed the ship, in tarnflight, the slave, Alcinoe, bound belly up across his saddle, in some desperate attempt to reach Ar. But such an effort would be irrational, and would presumably conclude not with a sack of gold, but with the death of both on the ice. Too, he would have had to break into the Kasra area, no simple task, and even were he successful in accomplishing this, she, as the other slaves, would still be on her chain. No, this was not the time to think of bringing a slave to Ar. Not the time for either of us. And why should it be he, and not I, who would place the fugitive before Marlenus? The bounty on the high-born, beautiful, officious slut, now collared, was high. Why should the gold be his and not mine? She was a traitress, a conspirator, a criminal, a profiteer, a betrayer of her Home Stone, once even the confidante of the arch traitress herself, Talena, of Ar. Surely she should be returned to the justice of Ar. I wondered if she might make a good slave. She was attractive. It might be pleasant to have her at one’s feet, her lips pressed fervently, hopefully, to them. If she were not pleasing, or if one tired of her, one could always return her to Ar. She was highly intelligent. Such things would be easy for her to understand. It might be pleasant to have her under one’s whip, if only for a time. Why could I not forget her? Had I not, even from Ar, dreamed of her small wrists fastened behind her, in my bracelets? The bounty might win me a dozen slaves, even more beautiful than she, perhaps even a galley, but would these, together, the gold washed with blood, be of greater value to me than a single slave whom one might master with severity, but for whom one would die?
“Beware!” cried Cabot, angrily. I fended the blow. I thrust. The fellow stumbled back, bleeding.
Beside Seremides, near the ramp, was Tyrtaios, who was of the retinue of Lord Nishida.
The tarn in the cage behind me screamed, and for a moment I could not hear.
I saw more Pani entering the area, from side doors. Lower portions of the ship, I supposed, had been secured. Many men, I conjectured, had been sealed in their quarters, or warned to remain within.
It seemed clear to me that the tide of war on this strange field, a lower deck on a great ship, was not favoring the mutineers. I conjectured their numbers might have been as few as two to three hundred. Certainly they had not hoped to stand against united Pani, loyal to their lords, and better than a thousand men who might have been armed and brought into the fray from below. No, they would have hoped to strike swiftly, seize the mounts, and then, before resistance could be mustered, make good their escape. But the ship was locked in Thassa’s ice. Escape even under ideal conditions, given our presumed location, would have been unlikely. And, in any event, there were fewer tarns than mutineers, even from the beginning, and certainly after the killings, the slaughter, the injuring of birds, and the escape of several. Mutineers, I later learned, had been killing one another to attain the saddle of a tarn, many presumably having hoped to buy that place with steel, when, unfortunately for them, the ship’s loyalist forces, Pani and others, rallied and came to the first tarn hold.
“In, in, in!” cried a tarnkeeper, swinging open one of the large, wood-barred gates of a cage. Another, before one of the monsters, was shouting and raising his arms. Tarns, like larls and sleen, tend to find noise and violent motions disconcerting. Larls have been known to withdraw before a shouting child beating on a pan with a metal spoon. One of the monsters backed into the cage, beak snapping with menace, and the tarnkeeper at the gate swung it shut, hooking the latch in place. I saw another tarn down the aisle being similarly housed.
A fellow ran past. I did not know if he were a mutineer or not.
I did not strike at him.
“Throw down your arms!” cried Cabot to mutineers. “Throw down your arms!”
Some did, and were hastily bound by Pani, neck to neck, hands behind their backs.
A number of mutineers, however, desperately, fighting, were backing up the ramp toward the open deck. That deck, at least amidships and forward, I gathered, had been largely, most of the time, in the hands of the mutineers. The hatch windlass on the open deck, it seems, had been that used in rolling back the hatch. Many mutineers had come down the ramp from the open deck.
Some of the mutineers on the ramp, those a little behind the points of engagement, turned about, and fled up the ramp. Many of these were felled on the ramp by Pani bows, now with clear targets. Several arrows were lodged in the ramp itself.
Behind me I heard a man weeping, a tarnkeeper. He held the gigantic, limp head of one of the monsters to his breast.
We heard a grating noise. Several mutineers were on the open deck. They were trying to close the hatch.
“Ropes!” I heard, from above. “Food!”
“Do not close the hatch!” screamed mutineers still on the ramp.
It rumbled shut.
“Sleen, sleen!” cried abandoned mutineers.
Our men drew back. The Pani archers, in lines, set arrows to the strings of their bows.
“Throw down your weapons!” cried Cabot to the men on the ramp.
They cast them away, clattering, rolling and sliding, down the ramp.
“No!” cried Cabot.
The lines of Pani archers loosed their arrows.
I think there were none on the ramp, who were not transfixed with two or three arrows.
“Stop!” cried Cabot, to Pani ascending the ramp, cutting throats. “Stop!”
Seremides, at the foot of the ramp, lifted his sword in salute to Lord Okimoto.
He had come now to the first tarn hold.
His hands were folded within the wide sleeves of his garment. “Those who are disloyal must die,” he said.
Cabot ran to the ramp, climbed it two thirds of the way, and interposed himself between stricken mutineers and two of the Pani, who bore red knives. They stepped back, and two others rushed forward, their curved blades lifted, grasped in two hands. The eyes of Seremides, at the side of the ramp, blazed with delight. But the man Tajima who had followed Cabot on the ramp had placed himself between Cabot, who, crouched down, was on guard, and the two Pani. “Stop!” he cried. “Stop, in the name of Lord Nishida!” The two Pani stepped away, each to a side, their blades respectfully lowered. This cleared an opening to the bottom of the ramp, where stood the placid Lord Okimoto.
“Is the honorable Tajima, swordsman,” asked Lord Okimoto, politely, “authorized to speak for Lord Nishida?”
“I speak as he would speak,” said Tajima.
“Does the honorable Tajima, swordsman,” asked Lord Okimoto, “hold a blade, unhoused, in my presence?”
“No, my lord!” said Tajima. He bowed, and swiftly replaced the blade in his sash.
At that point the large hatch above began to move once more, slowly, rumbling, this time opening, revealing the sky.
We heard no sounds of fighting on the deck. I took it the deck was cleared.
Cabot remained on guard.
Several Pani, behind Lord Okimoto, put arrows to the strings of their bows.
“Is the honorable Tajima, swordsman,” asked Lord Okimoto, once more, politely, “authorized to speak for Lord Nishida?”
“I am authorized to speak for Lord Nishida,” said a voice from the deck, at the top of the ramp.
I looked up. The figure was in battle gear, and it removed from its head a large, winged helmet.
“Ah,” said Lord Okimoto, politely, “Lord Nishida.”
“What is going on?” inquired Lord Nishida.
“I am first, am I not?” inquired Lord Okimoto.
“Of course,” said Lord Nishida, bowing his head briefly, acknowledging the priority of his colleague. It was my understanding that each lord had something like two hundred and fifty Pani in his command, that those of Lord Nishida had been housed at a place called Tarn Camp, north of the Alexandra, some pasangs from its headwaters, and that those of Lord Okimoto had been housed differently, but in the vicinity, somewhere south of the Alexandra. The two complements had joined forces before the great ship began its journey downriver. I did not doubt, however, that they had been in close communication during the building of the great ship. Most, but not all, of those who were not Pani had been with Lord Nishida at Tarn Camp. Many had been recruited in Brundisium, and, over months, in larger and smaller numbers, in larger and smaller ships, had coasted north, thence at one rendezvous or another, to move overland, east to Tarn Camp. They were a motley lot, mostly mercenaries, several from the free companies, many once of the occupation forces in Ar. But amongst them as well were landless men, younger sons, men without Home Stones, bandits, pirates, adventurers, soldiers of fortune, thieves, fugitives, wanted men, cutthroats, fugitives from Ar, such as Seremides, and others. The Pani had apparently much gold to invest in recruitment, and had not been sparing or particular in its distribution. I sensed that it had been only after the great ship had been at sea for a time that the risks involved in assembling such men were better understood. The Pani, I suspected, perhaps because of their cultural background, in which certain values might be presupposed and never questioned, might have underestimated the dangers involved. Perhaps, too, given the exigencies of their task, whatever it might be, and its urgency and prospects, whatever they might be, they had been concerned to move as swiftly as would prove practical. Perhaps they felt they had had little time in which to be particular. Their final intention, in any case, I suspected, was to put together a formidable force as quickly as possible, a force of skilled and dangerous men, men free of certain indigenous and traditional loyalties, which, disciplined, and closely managed, might in unfamiliar, remote venues be well applied to the business of war.
“Disloyalty,” said Lord Okimoto, “is to be punished by death. It is our way. Those beneath you, on the slanted surface, were disloyal, and several behind me, now suitably subdued and tethered, were disloyal, as well.”
The mutineers who had, at Cabot’s word, discarded their weapons, and were now kneeling, bound and neck-roped, Pani about with drawn blades, looked at one another in apprehension, and surely to Cabot, as well.
“I see Tarl Cabot, tarnsman,” said Lord Nishida. “I would hear him speak.”
“His blade is unhoused,” said Lord Okimoto.
Cabot sheathed the gladius.
“Lords Okimoto and Nishida,” said Cabot, evenly. “Mutiny is done. Weapons were surrendered freely. Men have placed their lives and trust in your hands. Otherwise they would have died with weapons in hand. Men do not surrender to be slaughtered. That is not our way.”
“One wonders, Lord Nishida,” said Lord Okimoto, “if Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, is loyal.”
“He and others fought with us!” exclaimed Tajima.
Lord Okimoto looked at Tajima, with surprise.
“Forgive me, lord,” said Tajima, lowering his head. He had not been invited to speak.
“Where is Nodachi?” asked Lord Okimoto.
“He is on the deck, he meditates, he slew seven,” said Lord Nishida.
I did not know of whom they spoke, but I gathered his opinion might have been valued.
“Lords Okimoto and Nishida,” said Tarl Cabot. “Men did not wish to die. They fear the ice. They are hungry. They sought escape. They were desperate, crazed, not thinking.”
“The attack was well planned, well organized, well coordinated,” said Seremides. “That is not the way of crazed, unthinking men.”
“My esteemed colleague, the noble Rutilius of Ar,” said Cabot, “is well aware that a handful of uncrazed, thinking conspirators, men of malice and cunning, may organize, coordinate, and direct, the actions of others, men on the brink of despair and panic. It is my suspicion that this act was an attempt to conserve rations, to prolong the life of some by ending that of others, perhaps an attempt, even, to thin your forces, so as, eventually, to seize the ship.”
“Absurd!” cried Seremides.
“It is not clear, of course,” said Tarl Cabot, “who it might be who organized and arranged this mutiny.”
“It seems they are slain by now,” said Seremides.
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” said Tarl Cabot.
“I was unaware,” said Lord Okimoto, “that Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, had requested permission to speak.”
“I speak as I will,” said Cabot. “It is the way of my caste.”
“He is of the scarlet caste,” explained Lord Nishida.
“Ah,” said Lord Okimoto.
“Lords,” said Cabot, “I do not know our destination, nor your purpose, but the destination seems remote, and the purpose important. I think then that practicality, if not mercy, if not honor, should urge lenience in this matter.”
“May I speak?” asked Tajima.
Lord Nishida, with a slight motion of his head, granted this permission.
“Many months ago,” said Tajima, “we had been sorely defeated, and driven to the edge of the sea. Surely there are those of us here who remember that well. It was the fall of night that saved the few of us, no more than seven hundred, not even that, from the thousands with which we had begun. Never had there been such a battle. We were weary, and far outnumbered. Many were wounded, sick, and hungry. We waited for the morning, on the beach, to die. Then, by the will of whatever gods there be, by whatever names be theirs, we found ourselves, and gold, on a far shore. Now we would return. Those arrayed against us are many and formidable. I do not think we can spare one tarnsman, one spearman, one swordsman, one archer. I, too, speak for lenience.”
“There has been disloyalty,” said Lord Okimoto.
“I speak for lenience,” said Lord Nishida.
Suddenly many eyes turned toward the top of the ramp, to the open deck, where, now beside Lord Nishida, there stood a silent figure, clearly of the Pani. He wore a short robe, with wide sleeves. He was of medium height, but square in the shoulders. His ankles and wrists were thick. His hair was bound back. He carried a sword, which seemed almost a part of his hand. He was one of those who would not sleep lest such a blade lay at his side. His face was broad, his eyes bright. I could read no expression on his face, no more than upon a rock.
“Have you heard?” inquired Lord Okimoto of the figure.
It nodded, quickly, abruptly, and then, again, it was still, as still as if it might have been formed of rock, or carved of wood.
“It is Nodachi,” said one of the Pani.
I gathered from his observation, that it was not usual for this individual to be about, amongst them.
“What shall it be, honorable one?” asked Lord Okimoto.
The figure thrust his sword beneath his sash, and turned away.
“It is lenience,” said Lord Nishida.
“What does it matter,” cried Seremides. “We shall die on the ice anyway!”
The mutineers who had been on the ramp did not survive. There was not one who had not been struck by at least two arrows. It is not well to be the target of a Pani marksman. Cabot’s interposition, at the risk of his own life, had won at best a few moments more of life for those he had sought to protect. The tethered mutineers, some sixty or so, were taken below, in the custody of Pani, and put in chains.
“Those of the cavalry,” called Cabot, “return to your quarters.”
There were probably some twenty or thirty fellows there who were in his command.
Other officers, too, dismissed men.
Pani, too, began to file from the tarn hold. Lord Okimoto and Seremides had already departed.
I had understood little or nothing of that of which Tajima, the rider, had spoken, that about night, a battle, the waiting at the beach, and such. I did understand, and well, his concern to conserve men. In battle each man on one’s side is precious. Who, when the enemy appears at the horizon, would be willing to spare even a single slinger, in rags, with his sack of absurdly engraved lead pellets, let alone a spearman, or swordsman?
Cabot climbed up the ramp, to the open deck.
The fellow, Nodachi, was gone.
Hundreds of fellows were still below, either sealed in their quarters, or remaining there, given the instructions of Pani corridor guards. Many of these fellows would probably not even know, until later, what had been going on.
I trusted that Philoctetes had sought the care of a physician.
“Lord Nishida,” said Cabot, respectfully.
“I would have regretted losing the commander of the tarn cavalry,” said Lord Nishida.
Cabot smiled. “I, too,” he said.
“There was war here, on the deck,” said Lord Nishida.
“Clearly,” said Cabot, looking about.
The battle on the open deck had surged back and forth, for more than an Ahn, but then, obviously, in the end, the ship’s forces had triumphed.
“There were mutineers who fled to the deck, late in the war below,” said Cabot.
“Many had seized food, and there were ropes,” said Lord Nishida. “They went over the side, to the ice. Some fell to the water. There were sea sleen at the ice. Many succumbed. But most made it to the ice.”
“They hope to reach land, over the ice,” said Cabot.
“They will die on the ice,” said Lord Nishida.
“I fear few knew of the Stream of Torvald,” said Cabot.
“The Stream of Torvald?” asked Lord Nishida, curious.
“Yes,” said Cabot, “it is a warm current, a river in the sea, so to speak, pasangs wide, which keeps Torvaldsland from being ice locked in the winter.”
I shuddered. The ice, then, even in winter, would not reach Torvaldsland.
“I must attend to things below,” said Lord Nishida.
“Callias fought with us, and well,” said Cabot, indicating me.
“Of course,” said Lord Nishida. “He has, as I recall, what you speak of as a Home Stone.”
“Yes,” said Cabot, “he has a Home Stone.”
Cabot then took his leave and Lord Nishida went down the ramp to the tarn hold.
I followed him, as I thought to return to my quarters.
I stopped to examine one body. It was that of Aristodemus, he of Tyros. He had fought with the mutineers.
Lord Nishida stopped to regard two trussed mutineers. They were in the keeping of tarnkeepers.
“Why are these men not below, with the others?” he asked.
“He, and he,” cried a tarn keeper, “killed tarns.”
“I see,” said Lord Nishida.
There was then a shrill scream, of a raging tarn, angry and wild, in a nearby cage.
“Free them,” said Lord Nishida.
The tarnkeepers did this, with much reluctance.
The mutineers regarded one another with triumph.
“Now,” said Lord Nishida, “cut away their clothing, bloody them a little, and put them in the cage with the bird.”
“No!” cried the mutineers. “No!”
Eager tarnkeepers rushed upon them.
I exited the tarn hold through the same door through which the eight Pani and I had entered it earlier. Outside in the corridor, I heard hideous screams behind me.
I returned to my quarters.
After the Mutiny
I lay in my bunk, weak with hunger.
From day to day, usually at night, one fellow or another had left the ship, following in the wake of mutineers, from weeks ago, descending to the ice.
But few now would essay the ice, if only from weakness.
Pani no longer policed the work areas. There seemed little point in it now, now that all, in a few days at most, would be lost.
It was all we could do, in the last few days, to keep the ice from crushing the ship.
And it is all pointless, I thought. What does it matter now? Thassa, like the ice itself, was patient. Some men had cut their own throats.
I wondered if they were still feeding the slaves in the Kasra and Venna keeping areas. I supposed so. Men are fond of their animals, verr, kaiila, slaves. Cabot, I knew, shared his own meager rations, now reduced to meal, with a sleen. The name of the sleen was Ramar. It was lame.
It was two Ahn until my watch.
I lay in the bunk, worn, and, I thought, half mad. I was literally afraid I was losing my mind. Yesterday, half delirious, I had had the absurd notion that the work had been less arduous.
The watches, I had later learned, had been shortened.
It was now late in the Waiting Hand.
During the Waiting Hand, in Cos, as elsewhere, surely in Ar, I do not know how it is in Brundisium, one does little. It is a time, in effect, of fear, misery, despair, and mourning. The shops are closed. The streets are empty. Many doors and windows are sealed with pitch, to prevent the entrance of ill luck. Too, commonly wreaths of laurel or veminium have been nailed to the door. Ill luck, as is known, cares little for either. One remains indoors, one eats little, one seldom speaks. One waits, for this is a time of terror, to see if the world will end, or begin once more. It is the year’s end. Some cities have been attacked during the Waiting Hand, sacked, and burned, citizenries refusing to leave their homes, refusing to take up arms, at such a fearful, inauspicious time. It is doubtless all madness, and groundless, but still few will willingly go abroad at such a time. Even the higher castes are uneasy at such a time.
Yea, it is a miserable time, the Waiting Hand, but I tell you nothing.
I lay in my bunk, hungry, and weak.
I hoped I could respond when my watch was called. Some men, good men, could not.
I had made my way at times past the Kasra and Venna areas. Few were the sounds that now emanated from those places. Within those holding areas I had little doubt that the large women, the whip slaves, muscular, freakish, and mannish, with their switches, thinking themselves the truest of women, perhaps because they were the most like men, would take the largest and best portions of food for themselves. How they would abuse the smaller, beautiful, more feminine women in their power! It was interesting how some women, such large, gross, misshapen, unhappy women, could hate other women, smaller, lovelier women, clearly, fittingly, and appropriately the slaves of men. Did they envy them? It was hard to say. Certainly slaves feared them, even as they did free women, who despised them for their weakness, needs, and bondage. But such gross women, slaves, would kneel, tremble, and grovel, no differently from their smaller, fairer sisters, before a free woman. It was no wonder then that lovely slaves looked to the protection of males from such gross brutes, and free women. What hope had they for safety, understanding, and compassion, and happiness, save from males who would relish their beauty and master it, uncompromisingly, putting it to the purposes for which the slaves knew it had been formed by nature. To be sure, I had seen such gross slaves occasionally taken in hand by a man, to whom, and before whom, they were as small, weak, and helpless as the lovelier slaves had been to them, and before them. Such gross women, sold perhaps for a pittance, and taught the meaning of their sex, if only by the whip, discovered the femininity they had thought nonexistent, and had professed to despise in their smaller sisters. They, too, suitably mastered, as women may be, soon learned themselves, and love. One need not be a gold-piece girl or a silver-piece girl to be fulfilled in bondage. Now they know themselves, and gratefully, and humbly, as mastered females, as only another sister in bondage.
I thought of Jad, her opulent streets, of the countryside, of the terraces of Cos, of her grapes, fresh, sweet, and full, of Ar, of glorious, imperial Ar, with its countless towers and its wide boulevards, of the occupation, of my squad, of the rising in the city, the flight to return, the welcome we did not receive, the poverty, the casting about, of Telnus, her taverns, her harbor, and shipping, of the Metioche, and of the great ship of Tersites. And I thought of a slave in my collar, at my feet, looking up at me, knowing that she was mine. I wondered if I should permit her clothing.
It is interesting how the body of a woman in bondage increases in sensitivity. Part of this is doubtless due to the fact that she is likely, if clothed, to be lightly clothed, in, say, a tunic or camisk. Thus she is likely to be very aware of a gentle movement of air upon her body, of the stirring of a bit of silk, or rep-cloth, against her thighs, of a wisp of hair against her forehead, of the feel of a mat or the knap of a rug, or the smoothness of tiles, beneath her bared feet. But I think that only a small part of this increase in sensitivity is due to garmenture. Most, and by far the greater portion of this awareness, seems clearly consequent upon her condition itself, that she is owned, that she is bond. This brings her alive in ways incomprehensible to the free woman. Hearing the step of her master on the stairs, or beyond the door, she may suddenly become aware of the exact feeling of the collar on her neck, his collar, which she cannot remove, a sensation of which she had been heretofore totally oblivious. And perhaps she hopes he will chain her helplessly on the furs at the foot of his couch, and then, with merciless sensitivity, with a master’s ruthlessness and gentleness, with severity and kindliness, remind her that she is a slave, only that, forcing her to endure, for Ahn, at his pleasure, perhaps for a morning or afternoon, or a day, the ecstasies of slave orgasm after slave orgasm. Certainly her senses, too, become alive, as they were not prior to her embondment. She discovers, now a half-naked slave, an animal, a new and rich world, one filled with fresh and remarkable sounds, scents, sights, touches, and tastes. Surely this world was there before. But before she was not owned, was not in her place in nature, as a female, was not before in a man’s collar. Why is it she was never aware of this glory before? Surely wind had always whispered in the tall green grass, and stirred the shimmering leaves of the Tur tree. And in the public garden she only now becomes aware, following her master, heeling him, that the rich sequence of blossoms is not only arranged like music, with its color, tint into tint, shade into shade, tone into tone, to dramatically enhance the delight of a walk, but there is another music, as well, a planned melody of scent. Much thought, much art, much arrangement, much planning, goes into a park, a garden. And how beautiful are the towers against the evening, stormy sky, the light of Tor-tu-Gor half hidden in the dark clouds. Did she never notice before the stateliness of a kaiila’s gait, that sinuous movement of a sleen’s spine, as it moves, avoiding open spaces, the tidelike mightiness of a tarn’s wing, as it preens. And the world becomes so rich, too, to the touch, to the fingertips, the feet, the lips, the body. What do free women know of the weight of chains, and their sound, of the feel of one’s limbs bound back, coarsely, with rough rope, of one’s wrists thonged quickly, snugly, behind one’s back, of the clasp of slave bracelets, of the feel of the floor on one’s bared knees, of the feel of the whip to one’s lips and tongue, as one performs whip-love before the master, rendering to a symbol of his mastery its due reverence and homage? And, of course, there is, too, taste, that of the bit forced back, between her teeth, and fastened there, of the gag, the disgusting horror of slave wine, the delicious releaser, inspiring terror, the taste of simple, plain food, perhaps from a pan on the floor, when one is hungry, its quantity well monitored, the spoonful of ka-la-na for which she has begged, the joy of savoring a tiny, hard candy thrown to her, or fed to her by hand, for which she has waited long. The slave girl knows many small, homely joys, and appreciates them, and treasures them, in ways the haughty free woman, secure in station and status, can only mock. But let her wear the collar and she will soon become aware of the preciousness of tiny things, wondrous, marvelous tiny things, longed for and hoped for, things which she might, hitherto, have held in disdain or contempt. It is little wonder that the female slave, owned, and mastered, is alive in a thousand ways undivulged to her free sister.
I thought of a particular slave. If I owned her, I thought I would keep the name Alcinoe upon her. It is a nice name. Too, I thought it appropriate, as the women of Ar, or the most beautiful of them, at least, are worthy only to be the slaves of such men as those of Cos.
To be sure, she would be worth much in Ar. I wondered if she would be worth more at the foot of a man’s couch.
I supposed that would depend on the man.
I would have to give the matter some thought.
I then, weak, and miserable, fell asleep.
I awakened to a gigantic crashing noise, deafening, almost like dry thunder, and thought the ship was done. Thassa had claimed her. She had lifted her and broken her apart in her mighty fist. Surely, any moment now the great vessel would settle, water pouring in through broken timbers. Then, too, I was suddenly terrified, because the sand glass had emptied. I had missed my watch! I had not been summoned. One can be flogged, with the snake, under which men have died, if a watch is missed. Men have been cast overboard for such an omission. But no one had come for me, calling out, shaking me, pounding on the door. Had there been more desertions? Had the last watch, mad with hunger, sought the ice? Then I heard much shouting. I could make little out of it, and, as I tried to piece together the shreds of my confusion, my fear, the noise about, it became clear to me that the shouting was a shouting of joy, and I heard hundreds of feet hurrying down the low corridor and up companionways. From somewhere I heard a number of voices raised in an anthem of Ar, and, but moments later, I heard its answer, a lusty song of Cos. I fled from my quarters, half-clad in furs, and hurried up the nearest companionway, and the next, continuing until I reached the open deck, and saw hundreds of men, many gathered near the bow. I climbed a bit up the forward mast, and was not alone, for some clung to it before me. On the deck, men were pointing forward. Before the ship, as far as I could see, the ice had broken.
The Waiting Hand was done.
Today, I realized, was the first day of En’Kara, the first day of En’Kara-Lar-Torvis, the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring.
The world would begin again.
Too, in the distance, I could see a spume over the water, like a thread of vertical fog, like a line, then drifting apart, like a cloud, where a whale had emerged. And then another. The Red Hunters, I had heard, hunt such beasts in skin boats. On both port and starboard, I heard, too, the opening of the galley nests, and the extension and rattling of davits. Galleys would be lowered to the ice, and slid toward the open water. In a few Ehn I saw the first galley, to shouts of gladness, slip into the open water. Many soldiers were on board, with ropes fastened to spears.
On the stem castle I saw the small, crooked, frenetic figure of Tersites dancing, lifting his hands to Tor-tu-Gor, and going to the rail, from time to time, to shake his fists down at Thassa.
I did not think that was wise.
Eyes had not even been painted on the ship.
Suitable ceremonies had not been performed.
But even Thassa, it seems, could not alter the orbit of a world.
The Waiting Hand was done.
The world would begin again.
“Look,” said Cabot, pointing abeam. “Four of them!” He handed me the Builder’s glass.
I was familiar with this instrument because I was one of several regularly sent aloft, to the platform and ring, that the horizon might be scanned, that large sea life might be noted, that land or a ship might be sighted. To be sure, we had seen no land since the farther islands, and the last of those, Chios. And how might one expect to see a sail this far at sea, for we had come farther than any vessel had formerly come, at least to our knowledge. To be sure, many ships had ventured beyond the farther islands. It was only that none, at least to our knowledge, had returned. Were there ships at World’s End? The Pani had insisted that regular watches be kept, from the platform and ring, even at night. Perhaps there were ships then, which might come forth, from the World’s End?
“Tharlarion,” I said. We had seen such things before. But they were unusual tharlarion, unlike those with which I had hitherto been familiar, prior to the last few weeks.
“They approach,” said Cabot.
I had never seen them come this close. I think they followed the ship for garbage, usually a half pasang behind, in the great ship’s wake.
They had learned no fear of us.
And we, as it happened, had learned no fear of them.
Never had they been this close.
“Look,” said Cabot, pointing down.
There was a shimmering in the water, like fluttering candles.
“Parsit fish,” I said. It was a large school. The passage of the ship had divided the school, and its motion had drawn several to the surface. Schooling protects fish. It is difficult for a predator to single out prey. One target replaces another. They flash in and out; they appear here and, in a flicker, there. Who could concentrate on a single flake of snow in a blizzard, a particular grain of sand in a Tahari wind? The predator is distracted, and confused. It flies at the mass but how shall it snap shut its jaws on the single victim it might manage, which it can scarcely note for less than a tenth of an Ihn, before another appears, and another. It will lunge into the mass, to break it apart, that single victims may be separated and tracked, but the schooling instinct, like that of flocking birds, swiftly returns the fish to the group. The school, of course, may be, and is, preyed upon. But the matter, as there are many fish that school, seems to be one of averages. One supposes that the school must increase the likelihood of the survival of any given fish. To be sure, the school is vulnerable to the nets of men. In such a case, the school, so obvious and visible, so large and slow moving, becomes a most perilous habitat.
“Parsit! Parsit!” cried several men, rushing to the bulwarks. Some mariner’s caps were flung in the air.
Many times we had launched the nested galleys, though not of late, in pairs, nets strung between them. Our concern was less with food than fresh water. He who drinks the water of Thassa, with its salt from a thousand rivers, from the Alexandra, to the Vosk, to the Kamba and Nyoka, soon dies, of misery and madness. Still, there was little danger at present, for the great casks, taller and wider than a standing man, were scarcely tapped. And spread sails, formed into great basins, given the frequency of spring rains, had supplied more than enough water for tarns and slaves.
Several of the men were striking their left shoulders with the palm of their right hand. Others were cheering.
Their elation had not to do, however, with the possibility of augmenting the ship’s larder, but with something, at least at the time, of much greater interest.
We were joined at the rail by Lord Nishida.
“The men are pleased,” said Lord Nishida.
“They see Parsit,” said Cabot.
The Parsit, as many similar fish, require vegetation, and vegetation requires light, and thus, typically, such fish school off banks, in shallower water, where light can reach plants tenaciously rooted, say, some dozens of yards below in the sea floor. The banks are usually within two or three hundred pasangs of land masses. Thus the jubilation of the men.
“We are near land,” said a man.
“It is too soon,” said Lord Nishida, quietly.
Aetius, second to Tersites himself, bespoke himself, to Lord Nishida, politely, “You think they are open-water Parsit?”
Strictly there are no “open-water Parsit,” that is, Parsit who would inhabit the liquid desert of a sea untenanted by a suitable food source, but the expression is often used of migratory Parsit. Great schools of migratory Parsit migrate seasonally, moving from the austral summer to the northern summer, as some birds, thus availing themselves of seasonal efflorescences of plant life. They fatten before each migration and, thousands of pasangs later, arrive, like migratory birds, lean and hungry, at familiar banks, thousands of pasangs from each other, where they are welcomed, again, with abundances of food. In this season they would be moving northward.
“Tarl Cabot, tarnsman?” inquired Lord Nishida.
“No,” said Cabot. “I do not see them as open-water Parsit. They were not moving north.”
“They are localized Parsit then, indigenous,” said Aetius, pleased.
“I think so,” said Cabot.
Men were cheering, near the rail, pounding on one another, clasping one another in joy.
“Then,” said Aetius, pleased, “we are near land!”
To be sure, it might yet be hundreds of pasangs distant. Much depended on the flooring of the sea.
“It is too soon,” said Lord Nishida.
If Lord Nishida was correct, I feared there would be, as days wore on, ugliness amongst the men.
“Clearly,” said Aetius, his hands clasped on the rail, “they are Parsit.”
“We know clearly,” said Cabot, “only that there must be a food source somewhere about.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
“Tarl Cabot, tarnsman,” said Lord Nishida, “I would speak with you, privately.”
Tarl Cabot then followed Lord Nishida to the privacy of the stem-castle deck.
We had seen little of Tersites for several days.
“Aii!” cried a fellow, near me, pointing.
I gasped, and clung to the rail, looking down to the water.
The gigantic body rolled in the waves, almost at the side of the ship, the water washing over the glistening body. I saw the huge paddlelike appendages of the creature, briefly, and then they were again concealed in the dark waters of Thassa. A tiny head, small when taken in proportion to the whole, surmounting a long, sinuous neck, was raised from the water. The head was triangular, and the jaw, which it opened, revealed a dark tongue, and several rows of tiny teeth. Two round eyes regarded us for a moment, and then the head, on its long neck, disappeared beneath the waves, and the body, too, though I could see it for a few moments. The ship, great as it was, was jarred, as the creature must have brushed against it.
I had never seen tharlarion of this sort before the voyage, and never until now had I seen one this close. It was the size of a small galley. For all its bulk it, buoyed by the water, had moved with grace. It had come for the Parsit, whose school had been disrupted by the passage of the great ship.
I am Set Upon; The Deck Watch; A Light
It was night.
It was cold.
The rain was fitful, I could see the Prison Moon.
I was on the platform, within the ring, that on the forward mast, or foremast.
Far below, on the deck, dimly, I could see the small, tunicked figure, still bound to the second mast, her hands fastened above her head, five strands of rope about her belly, pulling her back, tightly, against the wood. A free man had found her displeasing. She would doubtless soon learn to be more pleasing. It is what she is for.
On the deck, during the day, the weather was warm enough, certainly. To our pleasure, the slaves had been returned to their tunics. It is extremely pleasant to see a barefoot slave, in a tunic or less. On the platform, however, within the ring, it can be quite chilly, even when it is warm below. And now, at night, it was indeed unpleasant. Within my cloak I shivered. Should the rain continue, the cloak would be soaked. Miserable, too, I thought, would be the small thing bound below. Her head was down. The tiny tunic, of rep cloth, clung about her. She would learn to be a better slave.
As I suppose I have made clear, I am not by caste of the Mariners. It is one thing to draw an oar, and do one thing or another about a ship, even to be of its fighting complement, and quite another to read the weather, and water, and the stars, to plot courses, to keep a steady helm in a hard sea, to manage lines and rigging, and such. There were, of course, things I could do, such as keep a high watch, as I was now doing. The platform and ring, and each mast had such an arrangement, are near the summit of the mast, and encircle it, allowing the lookout to move about the mast. In this fashion, if it desired, there may be more than one lookout on each platform, within each ring. To be sure, usually only one ring and platform was manned, and that by a single lookout, commonly, as tonight, that of the foremast. It is different, of course, if one is in dangerous waters, fears an attack, or such.
I clung to the ring, which was cold, and wet, that I might be steadied. The motion of the ship, whether its side to side rolling, or yaw, or its plunging, the lifting and falling of the bow, its pitch, is exaggerated at the height of the mast. It takes time for one of the land, say, an infantryman like myself, to accustom himself to the sea, but I had managed this well enough, quickly enough, after two or three days in the Metioche, but this had little prepared me for the high watch here, with the distance and violence of the mast’s motion. Such, for a time, can disconcert and sicken even a seasoned mariner. Perhaps that is why the high watches are usually restricted to selected crewmen, who manage the watch regularly. I was now, with several others, frequently assigned such a watch. In the beginning it is well not to look down, or at the water, to the side. It helps to keep one’s view away from the ship, and to the horizon, which, in any event, is where it should be, anyway. After two or three days of the high watch one’s body, one’s belly, one’s sense of balance, and such, are likely to adjust to the motion. Some adapt more quickly than others, of course, and it is from these that the high watches are usually drawn. Some men, interestingly, find themselves unable, apparently indefinitely, or, at least, within a reasonable time, to make the pertinent accommodations. To be sure, in fair weather a high watch is not all that different from a deck watch, or a stem- or stern-castle watch. After the first few days I was no longer bothered by the high watch, and, given a decency of weather, had begun to enjoy it. You are away from things, and seem closer to the wind, the clouds, and sunlight, and, all about, for pasangs, stretches the vast, encompassing ambiguity of Thassa, subtle and minacious, welcoming and threatening, benignant and perilous, restless, sparkling, and dangerous, green, vast, intriguing, beckoning Thassa. It is easy to see how she calls to men, she is so alluring and beautiful, and it is easy, as well, to see how, with her might and whims, her moods and power, she may inspire fear in the stoutest of hearts. Be warned, for the wine of Thassa is a heady wine. She may send you gentle winds and shelter you in her great arms, bearing you up, or should she please, break you and draw you down, destroying you, to mysterious, unsounded deeps. In her cups you may find many things, the unalienable riches of moonlight on water, her whispering in long nights, against the hull, her unforgettable glory in the morning, the brightness of her noontide, the transformations of her sunset and dusk, her access to far shores, the sublime darkness of her anger, the lashing and howling of her winds, the force and authority of her waves, like pitching mountains. She is the love of the Caste of Mariners. She is a heady wine. Her name is Thassa.
The wind changed.
The rain became heavier.
The glass of the Builders was on its strap, across my chest. As most of the lookouts, I had fastened a safety rope about my waist. One can lose one’s footing, particularly in heavy weather, or when the platform is iced, and slip between the platform and the ring, which is waist high.
I felt the first rattle of hail.
We had had two hail storms of great severity when farther north, storms such as those which, in the Barrens, north and east of the Voltai, sometimes decimate flocks of migrating birds, striking them from the sky, flocks which, obedient to their hereditary imperatives, refuse to land and seek shelter. Sails had been quickly reefed, lest, by a rare, larger stone, they might be cut. Hundreds of tiny impressions marked the deck. In places a larger stone had splintered a plank, or gouged a railing. Some stones were the size of a man’s fist. All hands had soon been ordered below deck. The tarns had been much agitated by the pounding on the deck above them. There was little to fear now, however, as storms of that severity seldom, if ever, occur at this latitude. Still I backed against the mast, and drew the hood of my cloak over my head.
The hail picked up a little.
It was not a serious hail, but it would keep the deck largely untenanted.
I now suspect that had much to do with what occurred.
I looked back, below, to see the slave, punishment-bound, at the second mast. Her feet were bare, as is common with a slave in good weather. Free women feel that a slave, as she is an animal, should not be shod, no more than a verr or kaiila, but such things are, of course, up to the master. Some slaves, high slaves, may have sandals, even slippers, set with precious stones, but a free woman is likely to order them to remove such presumptuous footwear in their presence, and sometimes to bring them to them, dangling from their mouths, humbly, head down, on all fours, rather as a pet sleen or slave might bring footwear to her master. Little love is lost between the free woman and the slave. Interestingly, the female slave is honored to bring footwear in her teeth, head down, humbly, on all fours, to her master, as the animal she knows herself to be. “I am yours, your beast, Master. May I be found pleasing.” She is then likely to kiss his feet, place them carefully within the sandals, and tie them for him, following which she is likely to again kiss his feet, back a bit away, and then kneel before him, head down. She is his slave. He is her master. It is quite different, of course, before another woman. What right has one woman, only herself a woman, to so shame, crush, and mortify another woman? This is not the natural relationship of a woman to a man, but a cruelly humiliating, unjustified, unnatural travesty of a biologically ordained rightness. Are they not both females, both fittingly the possessions of men, merely that one is collared and one not? Why does the free woman so hate the slave? Does she envy the trembling slave that lovely band fastened about her throat, proclaiming her beauty and desirability? Does she envy her her happiness, her contentment, her fulfillment, her master? “Would you be so different from me, proud mistress,” might wonder the slave, “were you tunicked, as I, and your neck encircled, as mine, in a similar claiming device?”
The deck was wet, and cold.
Below, her hair was dark, and long, and, now wet, was much about her face. Sometimes she had lifted her head, her face white and rain-streaked, to look up at me, but I had paid her little attention, and she would soon put her head down, again. Her figure, always of interest, had been improved, I thought, since the beginning of the voyage. This had to do with the regimes of diet and exercise imposed upon her. One may do much what one wants with animals, to improve them. As her vitality and health improved she, well-collared, now a mere pleasure animal, like her sisters, would twist ever more helplessly in her bonds. Slavery much increases the sexual appetites and needs of a female, until they can become almost unbearable.
I looked about, though with the clouds, the darkness, the rain, the spattering of hail, there was not much to see.
The deck was now muchly deserted, given the darkness and weather, save for the helmsman, the stem-castle watch, the slave, and two men maintaining the deck watch. The first deck watch had been relieved; the second was now on duty. I would later learn its nature.
I had come to enjoy, and look forward, to the high watches. Solitude on a ship is rare, and the high watch afforded one of the few opportunities on a ship, say, a round ship, and certainly on the ship of Tersites, to be alone. And, when one is alone, one thinks. It was clear to me that Seremides, serving in the retinue of Lord Okimoto, as a bodyguard, viewed me as a threat, as I could recognize him from Ar. Some of those closest to him, and, I feared, in desperate league with him, such as Tyrtaios, in the service of Lord Nishida, might know him only as a master swordsman, Rutilius of Ar. I did not know. I would later learn of five originally suspect men, not of the Pani, armsmen, originally with Lord Nishida, of which number Tyrtaios was but one, the others being Quintus, Telarion, Fabius, and Lykourgos. Two, however, Quintus and Lykourgos, had somehow perished in the great forest, during the march from Tarncamp to the Alexandra. I had no reason to believe, however, that this had anything to do with Seremides. Certainly I had heard of no altercations with him. I knew little or nothing of Telarion and Fabius. I felt I knew much of Tyrtaios.
Every once in a while I glanced back, and down, at the bound slave. Her name was Alcinoe. Originally, she had been from Ar. She still had something to learn about her collar. That was why she was bound as she was. Sometimes it takes a little time for a woman to realize that she is now only a slave. But in time they understand this quite well, at a man’s feet.
I was careful not to be alone with Seremides, and refrained from entering into converse with him, even when he seemed the most congenial. I had seen in Ar, more than once, how the most seemingly innocent discourse could be suddenly, cleverly, twisted into a provocative quarrel, and an exchange of insults, leading to swords, commonly in a park or in the Plaza of Tarns, at dawn, when few were about. One advantage of the high watches, as opposed to deck watches, corridor duty, stores guarding, work in the sail room, and such, is that it is difficult to be approached. Indeed, I had been suggested to Aetius for the high watches by the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot. Interestingly, beyond this, he had often kept me near him, as though I might be a guardsman. In such times, of course, I was armed. In any event, I suspected that the fact that I was still alive might be due in no small part to the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot. His sword, it seemed, stood between Seremides and Callias. But, too, I thought, and shivered, perhaps more was involved, more than I had suspected? Might it not be I, Callias, who would serve to lure Seremides in? Clearly there was bad blood between the tarnsman and Seremides. Might there not be then some trap I did not understand, in which I might be the bait?
How astonished I had been when it had become clear to me that the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot, did not fear Seremides, but, on the contrary, appeared ready to welcome an opportunity to match steel with him, and how more astonished I had been to note that Seremides was clearly reluctant to accept such a match. What sort of man might be the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot? But even the finest steel is of little avail against poison, against an Anango dart at the base of the skull, against a knife in the back.
I looked down, and back, again.
It is pleasant to look upon a slave, particularly a beautiful, well-formed slave. I wondered how she might perform on the block. They are encouraged to do well. It is not pleasant to be returned to the cage, unsold.
How desperately they strive to please the auctioneer, to present themselves as superb merchandise, as goods well worth bringing home! How they strive to win a buyer!
It is not pleasant to be returned to the cage, unsold.
Too, if they sell for more money, they are likely to have a better-fixed master, a prettier collar, a better kennel, a better diet, an easier life, perhaps even sandals.
In any event, it is not well to be returned the cage unsold. That can be distinctly unpleasant.
It was the third month, the first week past the second passage hand. This is the month which in Ar is called Camerius. In other places it has other names, in Cos the month of Lurius, named for our great Ubar, whose palaces and fortresses are in Jad. In Ko-ro-ba, it is spoken of as Selnar. I do not know how it is spoken of amongst you, in Brundisium. Ah, the month of Policrates! Very well, let it be so. In any event, it was the third month.
Our course from the ice had been south and west.
There were few on deck, from the Ahn, somewhat past the Eighteenth, from the bars, and from the miseries of the weather.
While we were at table, the girls, as expected, had served. They had been clad in modest tunics. This was no Ubar’s victory feast, in which the daughters of the conquered, still free, must serve naked. Some decorum must be preserved, if only for the sake of the ship’s discipline. Paga slaves, house slaves, pleasure slaves, and such, serve one way at the low tables common in households, inns, taverns, and such, and rather differently at the ship’s tables, which are higher, and which are, as are the benches, fastened in place, this to prevent shifting in rough seas. The benches anchor one in place, so to speak, as sitting cross-legged at the low tables would not. Too, one may hold to the table itself, which is, incidentally, bordered by a slightly raised rim, or sometimes by a small railing, this helping to keep things in place. Goblets are weighted, for steadiness, and plates are flat-bottomed, and square, to minimize movement, by maximizing the amount of surface area in contact with the table.
It was much darker now.
The night was now moonless.
Even the Prison Moon was no longer visible.
I did not know why it was called the Prison Moon. It had a grayish look at dawn and dusk, almost, interestingly, as though it might be a sphere of metal, and not a natural moon.
Such illusions are interesting.
One could no longer make out the horizon. One would sense it, of course, rather than see it. One knew where its line would be from the platform and ring, rather as one knew a different horizon from the deck, and another from the stem castle.
There was some light on deck, of course.
A lantern was mounted near the helmsman, and another on the stem castle. Given the darkness, the lanterns seemed bright. In daylight, of course, it would be difficult to know if they were lit or not.
Thassa seemed quiet. My watch would be over at the second Ahn.
There were few on deck.
It was now very difficult to make out the slave below.
Given the height of the tables the girls serve while on their feet. Some similarities, of course, obtain. Service is to be deferent, and, for the most part, silent. If a slave speaks, she is expected to speak as a slave, not a free woman. It is, after all, a privilege for a slave to be allowed to speak in the presence of a free man. They are not free women. Free woman may do much what they please. Slaves may not. Commonly the eyes of the slave, she serving in general, as at the long tables, will not meet those of a free man. She will commonly serve head down, and will keep two hands on the goblet or plate until it is placed softly, gently, carefully, deferently, before the free person.
The girl, Alcinoe, and three others, had been assigned to our table.
Today she had dared to place a goblet before me held with one hand. The two-handed grasp is much more aesthetic; it suggests deference; it frames her body, and it brings her wrists together, as though they might be chained. It is prescribed in slave serving. It makes it impractical, too, of course, to hold a dagger, say, behind one’s back. Similarly, the scantiness of common slave garb, though its principal purpose is to display the slave’s beauty, has the additional advantage that it tends to render the concealment of a weapon impractical. Such small customs have, interestingly, historically, foiled a number of assassination attempts, in which a free woman, disguised as a slave, sought to obtain a proximity to, say, a general or Ubar, sufficient to bring a weapon into play. The would-be assassin, perhaps discovering that she must keep both hands on, or, more likely, unwilling to keep both hands on, say, a vessel is reluctant, hesitant, or disconcerted. This noticed, she is examined. Discovered to lack a brand, that omission is soon rectified, and she is sent to a market. Naturally, puzzled, and somewhat irritated, I turned about to regard the slave who had dared to serve improperly, and she had dared to meet my eyes, angrily, and then look haughtily away. I did not understand this behavior. Surely she knew better. Perhaps she was uninformed. Perhaps she was unpopular with the large women, her keepers, in the Kasra area, and they had neglected to enlighten her on the proper protocol, the proper etiquette, of serving? Perhaps they wanted her sent back to them, weeping, hands thronged behind her back, running, a punishment tag wired to her collar. The punishments are up to the keepers, and may be various, ranging from whippings and switchings, to a reduction in rations, to unpleasant ties, of which there are a great number. Slaves are kept well in line, and it is not difficult to do. I chose, unwisely, to ignore this breach of decorum. That is usually a mistake, as it may encourage an animal to take similar, or further, liberties. The leash on a slave, so to speak, is to be tight, and short. She must never be allowed to forget that she is a slave, only a slave. I do not know why I did not act. Perhaps I was puzzled. I did not even understand it. She had not behaved so with the other fellows at the table. Was I somehow special? I did know her as the former Lady Flavia of Ar. But it seems that that might have encouraged not liberties on her part, but a zealous circumspection in such matters, a particular desire to please. Did she think it demeaning, rather than utterly appropriate, that she should be serving men? Did she still think of herself as she had in Ar, a woman of power and station, far superior to, say, a mere guard, a soldier, she still a fine lady who was now, inexplicably and unconscionably, set to menial, shameful tasks, fit only for a slave? In our mess, of some one hundred and sixty men, mostly armsmen, at four long tables, some twenty to a side, sixteen slaves served.
Wedges of Sa-Tarna bread were next distributed, and a half larma to each man, useful in prolonged voyages, a precaution against weakness and bleeding. The bread was placed not at my right hand, but insolently before me, half torn. The larma half was small, dry, and withered; it had been crushed, perhaps yesterday, voiding it of most juice. There was little but rind left. It may have been retrieved from garbage. I did not care for the slave’s games, nor her expressions. I wondered if others, my fellows, or the other slaves, took notice of these tiny things. Perhaps not. Alcinoe, of course, was a ship slave. I did not own her. To be sure, I did have the rights of a free man, and of a member of the ship’s company. Slowly, within me, anger began to seethe, like the boiling mead, honeyed, bubbling, and fermented, sometimes prepared in the north, in the “country of dragons,” the camps and villages above Kassau. Next, the square trenchers were to be filled at the serving table, and brought to us. I saw the slave who, in turn, would have brought my trencher, but Alcinoe thrust herself before her, had the trencher filled, and then approached. Apparently she intended to serve me herself. She moved her hips nicely. Perhaps she had learned something of her collar. I considered her squirming and begging in my arms. It is easy enough to do that with a slave. But her head was up, and her expression was distinctly unpleasant, even disdainful. Did she not know that such an attitude might be a cause for discipline? I supposed not. She struck the trencher down before me, insolently, with a crack, and gruel and strips of roast tarsk spilled upon the table. Men, surprised, looked about. I saw two of the other slaves pale. I gathered then they were not unaware of the sport, or provocations, of the haughty Alcinoe. She turned arrogantly about, but cried out, dragged backward, off balance, half falling, my hand in her hair. I then turned her about, and flung her, hands forward, to the table. I then kicked her legs backward, and she was leaning forward, awkwardly, her hands braced on the table. “Remain as you are,” I said. Two of the other slaves laughed delightedly, amused at the discomfiture of the hitherto arrogant Alcinoe. So, I thought to myself, they well knew what had been going on. “Switch!” I called, and one of the amused slaves darted to a peg on the wall, retrieved the slender, supple implement, and hurried to me, where she knelt, and, head down between her extended arms, lifted the device to me. “What are you going to do,” asked Alcinoe, frightened, uncertainly, and had the presence of mind to add, a moment later, “-Master!” I then switched the back of her thighs, with several stinging strokes, and she began to cry. But she dared not move. I then handed the switch back to the pleased slave who had brought it to me, and she returned it promptly to its peg. “More Sa-Tarna!” called a man, and the girls began, again, with the exception of the chastened Alcinoe, to serve. Conversation resumed about the board. Nothing of importance had occurred. “Kneel down, under the table, at my left knee,” I said to Alcinoe. She obeyed. She could not kneel straightly, given the height of the table. Bent over, she turned her head, and looked up at me. It was hard to read the expression in her eyes. It was something like astonishment, fear, and wonder, and perhaps something else. Paga was brought to me, and more bread, and a good larma, and another trencher, steaming and well-filled. She knelt docilely under the table, at my knee. The back of her thighs must have stung. There were tear stains on her cheeks. I took my time with the meal. I had little to do for another Ahn, when it would be my watch. “May I speak, Master?” she asked. “No,” I told her. Later, I took some Sa-Tarna from the table. “Open your mouth,” I told her. She looked up at me in wonder, and obeyed. I thrust the Sa-Tarna into her mouth. “Feed,” I said. Her mouth must have been dry. It took her some Ehn, partly choking, to down the bread. She had now been fed by hand, by my hand. Commonly this is done only between a master and his slave. She began to tremble. I took a final Paga, and nursed it. When I was finished I took her by the hair and pulled her from beneath the table, and held her, bent over, in common slave-leading position, at my left hip, and left the table. Shortly thereafter, after ascending several companionways, she at my hip, I arrived on the open deck. I put her before the second mast, and tied her hands before her. “You are tying me,” she whispered. I did not punish her for speaking without permission. I did not understand the awe, the gratitude, in her voice. I then lifted her hands up, crossed, and tied them over her head. Then, with several coils of ship’s rope, about her belly, I bound her back against the mast. “You have tied me, Master,” she whispered, squirming a little, helpless. Interestingly, she did not seem distraught, but, if anything, reassured. “Thank you for tying me, Master,” she said. “Master,” she said. “Yes?” I said. “I have always wanted to be tied by you,” she said, “even in Ar. I wanted you, even in Ar, to take me in hand and bind me, to make me helpless.” I glanced up at the foremast. “I must soon to my watch,” I said. I turned away. “Master!” she called. I turned about. “I am helpless, Master,” she said. “Will you not press your lips upon mine?” “Do you beg it?” I asked. She hesitated, and then she said, softly, piteously, “Yes, Master.” She leaned a little forward, closed her eyes, and pursed her lips. When she opened her eyes, I suspect I was already climbing the ratlines, ascending the foremast, to the ring and platform. I heard her cry out, “I hate you! I hate you!” “Do you wish to have a punishment tag wired to your collar?” I called to her. “No, Master!” she cried, frightened. “No, no, Master!” As I climbed further, I stopped, to look back at her. She was thrashing in the ropes. I had seen slaves in such a plight before. A touch can make them scream. The physicians had been right about her, and that had been long ago. She was a slave, ready to be harvested. The fellow whom I was relieving was now muchly beside me, descending the lines. “What is that?” he asked. “A slave,” I said, clinging to the lines beside him. “The weather tonight is likely to be nasty,” he had said. “Excellent,” I had said.
My watch would be over at the second Ahn.
The deck seemed muchly deserted. There would be the helmsman, and a bound slave, the stem-castle watch, and the deck watch, which was by two men, whose names I would soon discover.
There was another spattering of hail.
I heard a creaking, a straining, of the ratlines, to my right.
I doubted it was my relief. It was not yet the first Ahn.
I was unarmed.
“Who is there?” I called.
“Your relief,” I heard.
“Aeacus?” I called.
“No,” said the voice, “Leros.”
The voice was then closer.
Aeacus, of course, was not my anticipated relief. That had been a test on my part. I then realized that whoever was approaching had access, or his informant had access, to the watch order.
“Good,” I said.
But the voice was not that of Leros.
“The sign, the word,” I said, “friend Leros.”
“That is not necessary,” said the voice.
“It is required,” I said. “The tarn is angry.”
“The sleen is pleased,” said the voice, nearer now, in the darkness.
So, I thought, he who approached, or his informant, had not only access to the watch order, but to signs and countersigns, as well. Such are changed daily, sometimes more often. It might seem that such things, on the ship, in its isolation, would be pointless, but it was deemed not so. Since the mutiny the high military authorities on board, Lords Okimoto and Nishida, of the Pani, of whom I took Lord Okimoto to have priority, had increased security considerably. Passwords, and such, of course, are familiar in martial environments, at any time, but particularly at night in the field, in darkness, and so on. They can be used at gates, fords, bridges, and such. Where large numbers of men are involved they are particularly important, as one is not likely to know everyone. Access to storerooms and weapons rooms is often by sign and countersign. Even one well known, even a friend, after all, may not have authorization to enter or pass. It is not unknown for such signals to be used even in single holdings, if large enough; indeed, such holdings are sometimes labyrinthine. We used them, for example, in the Central Cylinder, in Ar, during the occupation.
I sensed a hand might have reached up, to the platform.
“May I ascend?” asked the voice.
It was not the voice of Leros.
“Certainly,” I said.
There is a moment when one climbs to the platform, if it is occupied, in which one is quite vulnerable.
As the voice had spoken clearly, there was no knife clenched between the teeth. The weapon then would have to be retrieved before it could be used, say, from a neck cord, a shoulder sheath, or such.
I could understand trepidation on the part of the climber, but only if he were uncertain of me, or thought me uncertain of him. Leros would never have asked such a question. It would not have occurred to him to do so. The mistake was tiny, but it was enough to assure his death.
By the time the stranger had got his feet under him and was able to stand, the knife would be in his hand.
“Give me your hand,” he said.
In this way I would be well located, well held.
He must have been reaching out, over the platform.
“Take instead,” I said, “my foot.”
“What?” he said.
I, clinging to the ring, with all the force in me, kicked out into the darkness.
I heard bone and face crack beneath my boot, and a weird cry, and heard the body strike the ratlines at least twice, before there was a splash below. At almost the same time I could sense vibrations in the ratlines and I knew there was another climber.
“Who is there?” I called.
There was no answer, which told me what I wanted to know. The knife would be clenched between the teeth.
“Man overboard!” I cried, loudly, down to the stem-castle watch, and then back to the helmsman.
He began to put about.
The more men I could bring to the deck the better.
I did not understand why the deck watch did not immediately sound the alarm bar.
I wrapped my cloak about my left arm.
I sensed the knife slash widely, wildly, almost at my ankles. I stumbled backward. A form lunged under the ring to the surface. I threw myself forward, against it. I felt the blade cut through the cloak, but then it was tangled in it, and I lifted my arm pushing the knife hand to the side, and clasped the wrist, and pressed the form to the side, and we grappled in the darkness. I clung to the knife wrist, with an oarsman’s grasp. A hand tore at my hair, pulling my head back, and then scratched across my face. I put my head down, and seized the body with my right arm, so his hand could not reach me, and thrust the body back, toward the ring, and pinned it against the ring, and pressed it back, and back. I heard the spinal column snap, and thrust the form over the ring, and, a long moment later, heard it strike the deck below. I could not understand why the alarm bar had not rung. I staggered back, panting, against the mast. The mast swung with the rolling of the ship, a surprising swell, perhaps from the helmsman’s work.
Almost at the same instant I sensed something pass my head, like a sudden, fierce whisper in the air.
I instantly threw myself to the platform, within the ring.
No bird so flies, not so swift, not so straight, so piercing the wind.
An instant after something new struck the mast, ringing on a metal brace, and caromed far off, over the side, abeam.
I would later discover a gouge on the brace, rather where my head, a moment before, might have stood.
Why did the alarm bar not ring?
To my relief I saw several men begin to emerge from the hatches, doubtless responsive to the ship’s change of motion. Some carried lamps, others lanterns.
It was then the alarm bar began to ring.
In the light of a lantern, below, some men crowding about, I could see the body on the deck.
I saw Tyrtaios pounding on the alarm bar.
“Ho,” called a voice from below, carrying upward, “noble Callias, do you do well?”
“Yes,” I called down.
“Praise the Priest-Kings,” said the voice.
It was Seremides.
Neither he nor Tyrtaios were armed with a crossbow. Such weapons had been perhaps cast overboard.
It was then I understood that Seremides and Tyrtaios were the deck watch.
“Launch a galley!” I called. “One is overboard!” I pointed ahead, the ship now brought about, to where I thought the first assailant had struck the water.
Within the Ahn, by one of two galleys, lanterns suspended on poles over the water, part of the body had been recovered. As I had heard no cry after the first moment of the descent, I suspected he had been dead when he had entered the water, perhaps from a broken neck. We were not clear, at that time, what had fed on the body.
Tyrtaios, below, charged that I had gratuitously killed my relief, but he was cautioned to silence by Seremides, who perhaps feared an inquiry.
By that time Leros had come to the open deck, and it was clear that neither assailant was my relief.
Below I saw the unmistakable figure of the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot.
Seremides drew away from him.
Lords Okimoto and Nishida appeared on deck.
Leros was sent aloft early, that I might be questioned. I knew neither assailant; they turned out to be two men of Lord Nishida’s retinue, neither of the Pani, Fabius and Telarion. I did not even know them. Later Tarl Cabot spoke to me. “There were five,” he said to me, “whom Lord Nishida suspected, and wished to keep close to him, convinced that one at least was a spy and one, perhaps the same, secretly of the Assassins. Two were slain in the northern forest, on the march to the Alexandra, by name Quintus and Lykourgos, and now two others, Fabius and Telarion, are gone.”
“There is a fifth,” I said.
“Yes,” said Cabot.
“Tyrtaios,” I said. I knew he was of the retinue of Lord Nishida.
“Yes,” said Cabot.
“You think he is a spy, or an Assassin?” I said.
“Quite possibly,” said Cabot.
“Why?” I asked.
“Perhaps I think he would look well in black,” said Cabot.
I did not respond.
“I examined his quarters,” said Cabot. “I discovered a small brush, and a tiny vial of black paint.”
“To paint the dagger,” I said.
“It would seem so,” he said.
“Then,” said I, “he is of the Assassins.”
“It would seem so,” said Cabot.
“You have informed Lord Nishida,” I said.
“Yes,” said Cabot.
“Surely, then, he will dismiss him,” I said.
“I think not,” said Cabot.
“Why not?” I asked.
“That is known only to Lord Nishida,” said Cabot.
“Perhaps he has need of an Assassin?”
“Perhaps,” said Cabot.
“Tyrtaios is interested in taking the ship,” I said.
“He will not move until it is practical,” said Cabot.
“Tyrtaios is dangerous,” I said.
“Yes,” said Cabot.
“He should be done away with,” I said.
“I do not think so,” said Cabot.
“Why not?” I said.
“At our destination,” said Cabot, “we may need every sword.”
At this point, Seremides approached, Tyrtaios at his back.
“I am pleased to see that you do well, noble Callias,” said Seremides. “We had feared you might have been injured. We cannot understand the apparent attack upon you, of which you have informed us.”
“I cannot account for it myself, noble Rutilius,” I said. “I did not know the men.”
“It is perhaps then a mistake of some sort, that they thought you another, an enemy, or such?”
“I think so,” I said, “noble Rutilius.”
“A most tragic misunderstanding,” said Seremides.
“Yes,” I said.
“At least, you are well, unhurt, and safe,” he said. “That is what is most important.”
“My thanks,” I said, “noble Rutilius.”
He, with Tyrtaios, withdrew.
“I knew not,” said Cabot, “the noble Rutilius of Ar was so solicitous of your welfare.”
“His name is not Rutilius,” I said.
“I know,” said the tarnsman.
“There were, I think,” I said, “quarrels, too. One struck a mast brace.”
“I am not surprised,” he said.
“Forgive me,” I said, “but I think I shall look in upon a slave.”
“Certainly,” said the tarnsman.
The slut had not cried out, had not attempted to warn me. So now let her find herself shuddering in abject terror beneath the stern gaze of Callias, Callias before her, a Callias very much alive.
To be sure, I could well understand why the bound slave would not have attempted to warn me of danger, even were she aware of it.
I knew, after all, her former identity.
I turned my attention to the second mast, and approached it, the tarnsman with me.
I expected to find her white with terror, as she must now realize I was still alive. To be sure, it is a rare slave who will meddle in the matters of masters. It is hers, is it not, as an animal, to await the outcome, and learn her disposition? To meddle may be to invite death. Is it not better for a slave to see little and know even less? As it is said, curiosity is not becoming in a kajira.
I was then before the slave.
“Interesting,” said the tarnsman.
The figure which earlier had been barely discernible from the platform and ring, and had been relatively still, for so long, was now struggling. I was much surprised. A lantern was lifted by a fellow. I could no longer detect her long, dark hair, where it had fallen loosely about her white tunic. Her head had been covered, wrapped about or hooded, with some light material, cloth, or canvas. She made tiny, futile noises, scarcely audible a yard or two from the mast. I unknotted the cord holding the sacking over her head, and thrust it up enough to see her mouth, only that. The packing had been thrust deep in her mouth, and bound in place, tightly, behind the back of her neck. I jerked the sacking, which was of canvas, back down, over her head.
She whimpered piteously, beggingly. Even when a woman is gagged, one can easily read such sounds.
“Are you going to leave her like that?” asked the tarnsman.
“She is a slave,” I said.
“Unhood her, ungag her,” said the tarnsman. “She may have seen something.”
I complied, and the girl turned her head aside, and blinked against the lantern. Then, she turned to face me, and lifted her head, her eyes half shut. “Oh, Master!” she breathed.
Her exclamation seemed one of unspeakable relief, of joy, of gratitude. It was almost as though the collar on her neck might not have been a public collar, say, that of the ship of Tersites, but, rather, a private collar, say, that of Callias of Jad.
I did not understand this.
The tarnsman seized her chin in his right hand, and lifted and turned it, so that she must look upon him. I gather the grip was painful.
“Speak,” he snarled. “What occurred here? Who was about? How did it happen? Speak, female, speak, woman!”
I was startled that he has spoken to her in terms of her sex, simply, regardless of her condition, that she was so obviously bond. It was clearly the voice of one of the master sex addressing one of the slave sex, bluntly, directly, intending to be told the truth. I suspected, this unsettling me, he would have spoken identically even were she free. It seemed incomprehensible to me, of course, that a free woman, for example, might be so addressed. But what was a free woman but a slave without a master? How stood the conventions of society, the habits, rules, customs, and such, against the biological facts of an uncontaminated nature? Surely he spoke to her in a way that went far beyond the trivia of tunics and collars, brands and chains. What do they do, such things, the collar, bracelets, and such, other than confirm her womanhood upon a female? To be sure, slaves, as free woman are not, are well advised to answer quickly and truthfully any queries of a free man. There are many ways to encourage speech in a reluctant slave. Indeed, as you know, in a court of law, the testimony of slaves is commonly taken under torture.
I saw that she was terrified of the tarnsman.
“Speak,” I said to her, “kajira.”
She cast me a grateful glance, grateful that I understood her helplessness, and terror, and that she was only a slave.
I was therein pleased, for it betokened to me that she before me now well understood her condition, that she was truly a slave, and only a slave.
This is a moment of truth, of understanding and insight, of submission, which few women in a collar ever forget.
“I saw nothing! I know nothing, Master!” she said. “It was dark. My head was down, my eyes were closed. They approached silently. I was suddenly started. I heard a tiny noise. My head was yanked up, by the hair. It hurt so! I saw two men! One from each side! Masked! I opened my mouth to scream, and a fistful of wadding was thrust into it, and I could scarcely whimper. This was secured in place, and something was pulled over my head, like a sack, and I could not see, and I felt a cord knotted at my throat, this securing the covering in place. I struggled. I was frantic. I was helpless. I could see nothing. I could not speak. I did not know what was transpiring. I know nothing, nothing, Masters! That is the truth, Masters! Be merciful to a slave! She is collared, she dares not lie, Masters!”
I looked to the tarnsman. “It is possible,” I said to the tarnsman, “that the slut knows nothing.”
“‘Slut’, Master?” asked the slave.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“It is possible,” said the tarnsman, “and likely. It is likely that these men would wish no witnesses to their act, even if the act were such that it might be condoned, or even hoped for, by the slave.”
“Oh, no, Master!” said the slave.
“Blackmail, amongst confederates, or conspirators,” said the tarnsman, “is always a possibility. Thus the fewer that witness a deed the better. That the slave was not slain may indicate that they find her of interest, presumably slave interest. That is understandable. She is not a poor piece of meat. I think she might sell well.”
The slave looked at him, startled, gratefully. Once she had regarded herself as too beautiful to be a slave; then she had come to realize that her beauty, while not negligible, was far exceeded by many slaves. This can be a very sobering experience for a woman, even one of great attractiveness, finding that her beauty, perhaps quite extraordinary for a free woman, may be quite average for a slave. For the first time she finds herself placed amongst, and ranked amongst, women of great interest to men, women even selected with this in mind. In so chastening a situation the female’s original complacency and arrogance is likely to be replaced by a hope that men, or some men, might find her at least similarly pleasing. Certainly she will try to be so. It might also be recalled that the slave had become even more beautiful after her collaring. This commonly occurs, and, doubtless, a number of reasons are involved, ranging from the physiological to the psychological, from the physical to the emotional.
“That it was done easily and efficiently,” said the tarnsman, “her neutralization, her removal from the game, from the board, so to speak, the straightforward gagging and hooding, suggests that they are proficient in such things, are perhaps slavers or raiders, or others, accustomed to the acquisition and management of women. This gives us some information. Also, that there were clearly two men involved is worth noting.”
“Do you know more, slave?” asked the tarnsman.
“No, Master,” she said.
“She is perhaps lying,” I said.
“No, no, Master!” said the slave.
“It is strange, is it not,” I said, “that the deck watch failed to note such intruders, and that the alarm bar did not ring until men were pouring onto the deck?”
“Do you think it strange?” asked the tarnsman.
I considered the deck watch.
“No,” I said.
“Nor I,” said he.
I undid the ropes which held the small wrists of the slave above her head, and then freed her of the belly ropes.
The hail had stopped, but the air was still moist.
Leros had now been on the platform and ring for several Ehn. He had had his cloak bundled on his back.
When freed, the slave, not dismissed, and in the presence of free men, went to her knees.
Her head was down.
This was appropriate.
Many are the beautiful symbolisms between masters and slaves.
How natural are such things.
And how perfectly they reflect categorical relationships, and absolute realities.
“Your tunic is soaked,” I said, “and your hair is bedraggled.”
“A slave fears she is not pleasing to masters,” she said.
“You are suitable on your knees, with your head down,” I said.
“May I lower it further, Master?” she asked.
“I do not understand,” I said.
I felt her lips on my boots.
“I am sorry if I displeased Master,” she said.
I was silent.
She, this woman, was at my feet. I recalled her from Ar. She, this slave, was at my feet. I recalled her from Ar.
“Thank you for punishing me, Master,” she said.
“It is nothing,” I said.
“It is late,” said Tarl Cabot. “She is to be returned to the Kasra area, is she not?”
“Yes,” I said.
“She was displeasing,” said the tarnsman.
“Yes,” I said.
“Shall I have a punishment tag brought,” asked the tarnsman, “and a thong?”
The punishment tag, as noted earlier, would be wired to the slave’s collar, her hands would be tied behind her back, and she must hurry to her keeping area, where discipline would be meted out by her keepers, the large women.
“What do you think, slave?” I asked her.
I recalled her former terror that this might be done to her. I gathered it was very unpleasant for a lovely slave, a slave such as she, well-curved and delicious, a man-pleasing slave, the sort that men wish to buy, the sort that men wish to own, the sort that men find attractive, and care for, an exquisite, feminine slave, to find herself at the mercy of the ill-tempered, hating, envious, jealous, unhappy, gross brutes likely to be found in charge of a keeping area.
“It will be done with me as masters please,” whispered the slave, head down, at my feet.
“It will be done with you as masters please,” I assured her, “have no fear, slave, but what would you like?”
“That it may be done with me as masters please,” she said.
This answer pleased me.
“You have come far in bondage,” I said.
“It is my hope to please my masters,” she said.
“You have been punished enough,” I said. “You may go.”
“Keep me,” she said. “I beg to please you!”
“Please me?” I said.
“Yes!” she said.
“How?” I asked. “In what way?”
“As a slave,” she said. “As the slave I am!”
“Do you know what you are saying?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, Master!”
“Speak,” I said.
“I beg attention,” she said.
“Attention?” I said. After all, why make things easy for a slave, particularly such a slave.
“You would make me speak, of these things, I, knowing who I once was?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Seize me, take me!” she wept, lifting her face to mine. “Put me to use! I beg it! Employ me as a means to your pleasure, a mere means! I ask nothing else, or further! I am collared! Behold me! I am a needful slave! Be kind! I beg! Put me to your pleasure! What am I for if not to please you? Put me to your pleasure, Master! Use me! I beg it!”
“And it was so,” I asked, “even from Ar?”
“Yes, Master,” she wept, putting her head down. “Even from Ar!”
I found this answer of interest.
“The deck is hard, cold, and wet,” said the tarnsman. “There is a large coil of rope nearby.”
The lantern was lifted a little higher, better illuminating what knelt at my feet, head down.
She did not now dare, her confession uttered, to raise her face to mine.
“Your use has not been given to me, slave girl,” I said.
“But you have tied me,” she said.
“As might any man,” I said.
She put her hands on my legs and looked up at me. I saw in the light of the lantern that her face was streaked with tears.
“Might not a slave find favor with Master?” she asked.
“Go,” I said.
“Master!” she begged.
“Must a command be repeated?” I inquired.
“No, Master,” she said, quickly. She then pressed her lips again, fervently, to my boots, and then rose to her feet, backed away, head down, and then turned and ran, weeping, from the lantern light, disappearing in the darkness.
“You well know how to handle a slave,” said the tarnsman.
I did not respond.
“The slut was quite ready,” said the tarnsman.
It is interesting to see how helpless slaves can be, like a blanket of heat and need. Much, I supposed had to do with the collar, with slavery itself.
Odd, I thought, how bondage can free them.
It is no wonder men put them in collars.
They belong in a collar. They want them. In the precincts of the collar they find themselves, fulfill themselves, and are whole.
“Her use is not mine,” I said.
I looked at the large coil of rope to the side.
“To be sure,” said the tarnsman, “it is scarcely the furs of love, spread on the floor at the foot of a master’s couch.”
As is well known, it is a mark of great favor for a slave to be permitted on the couch of a master.
If I owned the lovely Alcinoe, I doubted she would soon be there. Such a mark of favor is not easily purchased.
“She is a ship slave,” I said. “I do not own her.”
“It would be dangerous, as well,” he said, “for he who calls himself Rutilius of Ar finds her of interest.”
I had gathered that from long ago.
“I wonder what is his interest in her,” said the tarnsman.
“She is not without slave interest,” I said.
“She has grown in beauty,” said the tarnsman.
“That is common in the collar,” I said.
“True,” he said.
“It seems she has become a helplessly hot little slut,” he said.
“That, too, is common in the collar,” I said.
“True,” he said.
“If she were a free woman,” said the tarnsman, “I suspect she would purchase a collar, and kneel before you, begging you to make her your slave.”
I was silent.
Few free women can so conquer their pride. Slaves, on the other hand, are not permitted pride.
That is one of the attractions of a slave.
Free women often fear to be in a man’s arms, fearing what will become of them. Perhaps few understand the meaning of their restlessness, their irritations, their distractions, their turnings and thrashings in the night, or perhaps, somehow, they understand them only too well.
Many pillows have been dampened with the tears of free women.
Do they know the source of their tears?
Many are the cultural expectations imposed upon the free woman. Is she not more of a slave than a slave? Abundant are her limitations; narrow are the corridors permitted for her movements; stout are the bonds of convention wherein she is bound. Can she fail to sense the invisible ties which bind her? How natural, then, imbued by unquestioned prescription and expectation, for her to justify the walls within which she is imprisoned. How natural then her pride, her aloofness, her struggle to maintain the pretenses demanded of her. What is her will compared to the weight of society? Too, is it not easy to make a virtue of necessity, that ice should commend cold, and the stone its lack of feeling? How natural then that she should, with all innocence and conviction, often with a raging earnestness, praise the treachery which has been done to her, and struggle to betray herself, to deny herself to herself. How natural then that she should compete with her sisters in her imperviousness to desire, in her frigidity and inertness, in her estrangement from herself. How glorious is the free woman! She possesses a Home Stone, as a slave may not. But she is a woman, still, and that, however denied, is adamant. It continues to exist. Its hereditary coils reign in each living particle of her body. Truth, primitive and antique, remains true. Her nature is with her, for it is herself. Does she suspect at times that there is a slave masquerading within her robes? Does she not, at times, hear the whimpers, the cries, of the slave within her? Does she not long, at times, for the collar of a master, for the weight of his chains? Does she not know in her heart that she is his rightful slave?
“You did not call for the punishment tag,” said the tarnsman, “or the thong.”
“No,” I said.
I did not care for the large women. I thought discipline, if required, was best administered to a slave by a male. That is the natural way, and is far more meaningful to the slave. She is, after all, his. And he is, after all, her master.
Too, I thought the slave had been sufficiently punished.
I glanced upward to the platform and ring, on the foremast, where Leros now stood his watch. The light of the lantern carried only partway on the mast. I shuddered.
“I would be armed,” I said.
“You are not an officer,” he said, “and not all officers are armed.”
“I would be armed,” I said.
“Then so, too,” said he, “would a thousand others.”
“The platform and ring,” I said, “is muchly open. It is an insecure, fragile fortress.”
“Less insecure, less fragile, I fear,” said he, “than a hundred others, remote passageways, darkened corners, blind turnings.”
“Had I used the slave, and Rutilius heard of it,” I said, “he might have sought me out, openly, in rage.”
“Quite possibly,” said the tarnsman.
“And you would have been near?” I said.
“Possibly,” he said.
“I am bait?” I asked.
“Possibly,” he said.
“His name,” I said, “is not Rutilius. He is Seremides, former master of the Taurentians.”
“I know,” said the tarnsman. “I know him from Ar.”
“What is the bad blood between you?” I asked.
“It is not important,” he said. “It has to do with a woman.”
“What woman?” I asked.
“Talena, Talena of Ar,” he said.
“The Ubara!” I exclaimed.
“Once,” he said.
“Why is he here, on the ship?” I asked.
“I gather he thinks I know her whereabouts,” said the tarnsman, “that he might somehow find her through me.”
“For the bounty?” I said.
“Of course,” said the tarnsman. “And an amnesty for himself, for bringing her to Ar.”
“There would be riches and freedom for him,” I said, “and great jubilation in Ar, when she was publicly impaled.”
“It would be holiday,” he said.
“Do you know where she is?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “But I suspect Seremides does not believe me. I am, in a way, much pleased that he is on the ship, as here I may kill him, and, at the least, he will be unable to pursue and capture Talena, for the bounty.”
“You know the Ubara?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“You could recognize her?”
“Doubtless,” I said, “you would like to capture her and bring her shackled to the justice of Ar.”
The reward for her return to Ar was considerable, amounting to a dozen wealths, which might purchase a city or hire a hundred free companies.
“No,” he said, “I would have other plans for Talena.”
I shuddered at the tone of his voice.
I myself could recognize the Ubara, of course, but I did not think it judicious to bring this to the attention of the tarnsman.
“Where might be Talena?” I wondered.
“I do not know,” said the tarnsman.
“We have been long at sea,” I said. “By now any of a thousand hunters might have apprehended the Ubara. She may have perished naked and screaming months ago in Ar.”
“I think not,” said the tarnsman.
“Why do you think not?” I asked.
“It is late,” he said.
“I wish you well,” I said.
“Beware of Seremides,” said the tarnsman.
“I shall,” I said. “I wish you well.”
We turned about, to leave the open deck.
I doubted that I was the less in danger from Seremides, for having forgone the use of a slave. It might have been pleasant to fling her upon the coil of rope, head down, and thrust up her tunic, but one must concern oneself with discipline, and the ship. Too, her use was not mine.
Such things concern some men.
Not every man will untether another’s kaiila.
We had scarcely moved toward the port companionway leading under the stem castle when our progress was suddenly arrested by a cry from the height of the foremast.
“Ho!” cried Leros from above. “Ho! A light, a light! Ahead, ahead, a light!”
The bar sounded, struck twice.
Cabot and I hurried, followed by his lantern bearer, along the narrow port passageway about the stem castle, and stood at the bow. We heard others climb the steps to the stem-castle deck. We heard others hurrying about the starboard passageway about the stem castle, and were soon joined at the bow.
“Ahead, dead ahead!” called Leros, from above, his voice seemingly far away.
“There!” said Cabot, pointing.
Twice more the bar rang.
We could see the light now, even from the deck level.
“It is a ship!” cried a man.
“No!” said Lord Nishida, suddenly beside us. “It is too soon, too soon!”
At the same time, with a shift of the moist wind, a heavy, sweet odor emerged from the darkness.
“Turn about! Turn about!” cried Lord Nishida.
By now, given the ringing of the bar, one supposed that Aetius, and perhaps even Tersites, and the major officers quartered astern, closest to the helmsman, had come to the command deck, the stern-castle deck, whence orders might be most conveniently and immediately conveyed to the helmdeck, some feet below.
Lord Nishida turned about and began to hurry aft. Cabot and I, and the lantern bearer, followed him. We pressed our way through excited and curious men, in their crowds, come from below decks, rushed forward.
Save for the lanterns rushing about the deck, it was dark.
The odor became more pervasive.
I heard something brush the side of the hull.
In a few Ehn Lord Nishida was at the foot of the helm deck. There were dark figures on the stern-castle.
“Put about!” cried Lord Nishida to the stern-castle deck. “Put about! Put about!”
From the darkness above came the shrill voice of Tersites. “Forward!” it cried. “Forward!”
“Fools! Fools!” cried Lord Nishida.
He clambered to the helm deck and began to fight the helmsman for the helm.
Two mariners pulled him from the helm.
“Forward!” cried Tersites.
The wind turned, and was fair, swelling the mighty sails, and the great ship, like an unleashed sleen, leaped forward.
It was an Ahn later that the sails fell slack, and the ship ceased to move.
Once again the heavy, sweet odor was pervasive.
One could now, in the light of the dawn, see the color about, yellow and purple, the myriads of blossoms, many a foot in width, opening to the morning sun.
I now heard the voice of Aetius, above, frantic with concern.
“Put about! Put about!” he called to the helmsman.
“No!” screamed Tersites.
“We must put about, dear master!” cried Aetius.
“Never!” said Tersites.
“Take him below!” cried Aetius.
A mariner took the shipwright by the arm, and conducted him, that small, misshapen figure, protesting, struggling, from the stern-castle deck.
“Put about!” called Aetius, to the helmsman.
“I cannot!” he said. “I cannot!”
We Board an Unusual Ship; The Mystery of the Parsit is Solved; There is Evidence our Presence has been Noted
I looked about.
“It is an odd ship,” I said to Tarl Cabot.
We had clambered aboard the vessel, from a small ship’s boat, cutting through the masses of snarled, ropelike, blossomed vines which encircled it, covering it, almost obscuring it. It was one of several such derelicts we had noted, resting variously in the sea, a pasang or two apart. We did not know how many such vessels might lie trapped in this place, in this welter of tangled, blossoming growth which stretched far about us. At first, from several hundred yards away, we had thought them only inexplicable mounds in the sea, hills of flowers uncannily forced upward by the riot of growth, vines upon vines. Then we learned the tendrils had clasped and climbed, and covered the works of men. The odor of these enormous fields of growth, alive, rocking and swaying in the sea, with their ubiquitous, massive blossoms, yellow, and purple, which had struck me one night some weeks ago as so pervasive, striking, and unpleasant, was doubtless as physically present as ever, but, interestingly, one now scarcely noticed it, excepting with an effort of attention. The odor, in time, became a lulling odor, and, no longer noted, but invariably present, tended to produce a sense of lethargy.
“Not really,” said Cabot. “It is only different.”
It had a high stem-castle, and two fixed masts. It was a round ship, of sorts, a vessel not made for war. Surely there was no ram, no shearing blades, no sockets for fixing catapults or springals. It would move solely under sail. There were no oar decks. It was somewhat larger than a medium galley. What most struck me was the battening, the sail-reinforcing ribbing, to which clung the shreds of matting.
“I wonder how long it has it been here,” I said.
“It is hard to say,” said Cabot. “A hundred years, perhaps two hundred.”
“That is long,” I said.
“The hull,” he said, “is bored by ship worms, and rotted. The deck is split and the boards shrunk. Were it not for the clasp of the foliage, suspending her, she may have disappeared long ago.”
He punched downward with the heel of his sea boot and the board broke under the blow, revealing a brown, spongelike mass of fiber.
This was the first time I had been on one of the derelicts, but they were not unknown to many of our armsmen and mariners who had boarded them to loot the cabins and the dozens of small holds, or compartments, in each, which, at one time, though now half flooded, may have been watertight. The sea chests of many of our fellows were now heavy with pierced coins, pearls, and precious stones.
Few skeletons had been found on the derelicts, which suggested that men, perhaps in madness or desperation, had somehow fled these strange fields or perished in the sea.
The strange ships were flat-bottomed, and so could navigate rivers, perhaps by poling or towing, and shallow waters, as well as the sea. Several, on the other hand, possessed daggerboards, which, by means of a slot in the hull, might be raised or lowered, these, when lowered, providing greater stability in open water. But all, however fitted, had been arrested here, tangled in the growth.
One could almost walk upon the vines, but one could draw a small ship’s boat, or raft, through them, hoping eventually to reach free water.
The mystery of the parsit was solved, of course, as this wilderness of efflorescent plant life in the sea, floating like a vast park of life, drew myriads of small creatures, and these would draw the parsit, and the parsit would draw the shark, the grunt, and the unusual tharlarion.
So there was no reason to believe that we were near shore.
This growth, called the Vine Sea, is unanchored.
Lord Nishida’s and Lord Okimoto’s course, given to Aetius and Tersites, had intended to skirt the Vine Sea by a hundred pasangs, but the Vine Sea moves, obedient to wind and current, and it was apparently far beyond its usual haunts. Lord Nishida’s distress, weeks ago, at night, was occasioned by the perfume of the Vine Sea, which informed him that the ship had come upon it, he recognizing the full horror of its hazard. The obstinacy of Tersites, a fair wind, and a fortuitous canal opening in the vines had allowed the ship to proceed too far, in the darkness, and then, the wind failing, the Vine Sea had closed about her, tendrils reaching to her timbers. Men on ropes, in shifts, for days now, had scraped and tore away the tendrils which had begun to clutch at the hull, and sought to climb it, as Tur-Pah the Tur tree.
I brushed away insects, hovering about.
So the mystery of the parsit had been solved.
Most of us took it as well that the mystery of the light, that which Leros had first seen, from the platform and ring, was solved. That was seemingly solved on the second night. What had seemed a single blaze in the darkness, far off, was now attributed to the luminescence of a gigantic swarm of lamp flies, in their hundreds of thousands, of which swarms, we later learned, here in the Vine Sea, there were several. This sort of thing usually occurs when a ship is offshore, say a pasang or so, and in the vicinity of Bazi or Schendi.
I did not know why Tarl Cabot had come to this ship, as there were others. Why this ship and not another? I did know that he and Lord Nishida had surveyed it, from a ship’s boat, this morning, as they had others, on other mornings, with the glass of the Builders.
What was special about this ship?
Certainly it had already been looted, its four cabins and its many smaller holds, or compartments.
Aetius had kept Tersites sequestered in his cabin, fearing to let him be seen on deck. The crew, and the armsmen, might kill him. Always were they uneasy in the presence of the shipwright, fearing his eccentricities, the strangeness of his mind, the unpredictable and erratic exercises of his power, his officious negligence and scorn of customary precautions and ceremonies, his omission of traditional offerings, placations, and petitions, his pride, his insolence, his defiance, his seemingly gratuitous challenge to mighty Thassa, a challenge, as it were, to war, pitting his ship, a splendid artifact, but no more, against vast, deep, surgent, capricious, mighty Thassa. It was clearly his command which had sped the great ship forward in the darkness, despite the warnings of Lord Nishida, with the consequence that she was now trapped, mired in growth, bound fast in thick, living cordage, bound in the garden of the Vine Sea, surely one of the most dangerous and beautiful of Thassa’s gardens. Of what value were riches if one could not spend them, and one were to die in place, amidst heaps of treasure, the richest and poorest of men.
Cabot, carefully, began to climb one of the ship’s two masts. It was some forty feet in height, and surmounted by what I took, despite its unusual appearance, bowl-like, but with a grated cover, to be a ship’s lamp or lantern.
He soon attained the summit of the mast.
He was grinning. He gestured to me. “Come up!” he said.
I slowly made my way up the mast, hort by hort, and was then beside the tarnsman.
“Here,” he said, “are no lamp flies.” He rubbed his hand about the grating of the lamp, or lantern. His hand was dark with soot. He thrust up the grating on its hinge, and, clinging to the mast with one hand, wiped his other hand within the bowl, and his hand, withdrawn, was moist, and glistened where soot had been rubbed away. He held his hand out to me. I could smell oil, probably from tharlarion.
“It is fresh,” I said.
“Fresh enough,” he smiled.
“But the ship, I thought,” I said, “was a century or more old.”
“It is,” he said, “at least.”
“But this lamp,” I said, “has been fired, surely within the year.”
“When, do you think?” he asked.
“When Leros held the high watch,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. He then closed the hinged, gratelike lid on the lamp, and began to descend the mast. And I followed him.
We were soon again on the deck of the strange ship. Our small ship’s boat, with four oarsmen, was tied alongside.
I looked at the tarnsman.
“Lord Nishida was right,” he said.
“I do not understand,” I said.
I knew that the tarnsman and Lord Nishida had scouted several derelicts, surveying them with the glass of the Builders.
“Lord Nishida,” he said, “has lost the element of surprise.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
“We are expected,” said Tarl Cabot. “The lamp was set as a beacon, to lure us into the Vine Sea, where doubtless it is hoped we will die.”
“This is the end,” I said. “None escape from here. Note the derelicts. Many brave ships with their crews have perished in this place. There is no escape, there is no wind.”
“Yet,” said Cabot, “the beacon was lit, and those who set the trap are gone. There is thus an exit from this place.”
“Perhaps with small boats, with rafts, or such,” I said, “but then one is defenseless on Thassa, perhaps a thousand pasangs from land, perhaps more.”
I supposed, if Lord Nishida and the tarnsman were right, that a mother ship at the edge of the Vine Sea might have dispatched a small party to the derelict. What puzzled me was that such a ship had not been seen, even from the high watch. Perhaps, unlit, it had approached at night and set a small crew about the business of the lamp. Or perhaps we had enemies amongst us, forewarned, from months ago, even from Brundisium, or the northern forests, who would fail to report such a sighting. Had helmsmen failed to keep the charted course? The Vine Sea moves, like a vast garden in the sea, but perhaps it had not moved as much as had been thought.
“Think, Callias,” said Cabot. “Few bodies, on any derelict, have been found.”
“Most would have sought some sort of flight from the Vine Sea,” I said.
“I think so,” he said, “and certainly as supplies of fresh water grew scarce.”
“Much treasure was left behind,” I said.
“Perhaps,” said he, “much was taken, as well.”
“Would men not return for the rest?” I asked.
“It seems likely they failed to reach land,” he said.
“Then,” I said, “the Vine Sea is victorious, in the end.”
“The lighters of the beacon have come and gone,” he said.
“Why would they not loot the derelicts?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” said he, “some things interest them more, and, too, there is little hurry about such matters.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
“Our mariners, and armsmen,” he said, “have spent days here, accumulating treasure.”
“So?” I said.
“Would it not cost blood to deny them their gold?” asked Cabot.
I remembered the mutiny.
“I think so,” I said.
“Lord Nishida thinks we are being held in place,” he said, “whilst a fleet is moving toward us.”
“There is no escape from here,” I said, and I swept my hand toward the horizon.
“Clearly some have failed to escape,” said Cabot.
“There is no hope,” I said.
“Consider the derelicts you have seen,” said Cabot. “None is larger than a medium-class galley, and none is oared.”
“True,” I said. It seemed so to me, at any rate, from what I had seen.
“And the ships are merchant ships, apparently, and, one supposes, would be crewed accordingly, with complements sufficient to the vessel, and perhaps little beyond that.”
“So?” I said.
“I see no large ships here,” said Cabot. “A large ship, with many in the crew, could work the vines, even over days, or weeks, cutting a path. Too, a large ship, with the force of the wind in her sails, might tear herself loose.”
“I find that hard to believe,” I said.
“A fresh wind,” he said, “might clear the air.”
I noted, again, the perfume of the garden, so sweet, pervasive, and heavy. I wondered if it did not have its role to play in this strange place. I could see two other derelicts from where I stood, smothered in flowers. “The flowers are beautiful,” I said.
“And perhaps deadly,” said Cabot.
“A slow poison?” I said.
“Let us hope not,” he said.
Two men had thrown themselves from the bulwarks of the great ship, screaming, into the vines below.
Men had looted one another’s sea chests openly, and then died in the corridors and companionways.
Two warriors of the Pani, which groups had not participated in the looting, had slain one another, which, given the custom of their discipline, was unthinkable.
“We cannot wait here indefinitely,” said Cabot.
“We must try to break free?” I said.
“Why has it not been attempted?” asked Cabot.
“The looting, the danger?” I said.
“The looting was done, days ago,” said Cabot, “at least of the ships conveniently accessible.”
“The flowers?” I said.
“I think so,” said Cabot.
“They are beautiful,” I said.
“Yes,” said Cabot. “They are beautiful.” He then went to the rail, and lowered himself to the waiting ship’s boat, and I followed him.
The Tharlarion; Two Galleys are Lost; I Find Myself Alone with Seremides
Oars snapped, and the small galley, the large glistening body rising under it, tipped fearfully to port.
She was one of the six nested galleys, normally housed in the hull of the great ship.
Water poured over the bulwarks. I stood at the oar which I shared with a fellow from Turmus, Licinius Lysias.
The large body, rolling beside us in the water, was almost as large as the galley itself. It turned away from us suddenly, its arched spine high above the water, and buffeted the galley which lay to starboard. There a fellow, cursing, jabbed down at it with a spear. There was a snort of pain and the large form was gone. The blade of the spear was awash with blood.
That would bring the sharks lurking beneath the vines, which extended some yard or two beneath the water.
Our galley, and the other, rocked back to an even keel.
All six galleys were forward of the great ship, like a mountain behind us. From each galley there looped two stout ropes back to the ship.
Before us was a cloud of small ship’s boats, filled with oarsmen and armsmen, attacking the vines.
The sails of the great ship behind us hung loose, scarcely stirring.
Looking back I could see a tarn against the bright sky.
Eleven days now we had been at the oars.
With tarns we were muchly advantaged. Without them small boats would have had to scout the Vine Sea to find its nearest edge. It had not been visible from the foremast. Oddly enough we had had a considerable change in course, in seeking open water. Some said that the Vine Sea had shifted in its restlessness, extending its blossomed tentacles, and that what had been nearest was no longer nearest, and that a new tortuous route must be now devised before one might reach the open sea, but others said that sails had been seen afar, and it was that, and that alone, which had dictated our new course.
Two spare oars were set in place to starboard, and we transferred two oars, as well, from port to starboard, one of which was manned by myself and Licinius Lysias. I could see the galley to starboard, some yards away. It was captained by Seremides. I recalled my mates of the Metioche. He had returned none to the great ship. Our galley was captained by the warrior Pertinax, a friend, it seemed, of the commander of the tarn cavalry, Tarl Cabot. This Pertinax, with some others, was a student of the taciturn swordsman, Nodachi, of whom I knew little. I had seen him at the time of the mutiny. I had also seen him at times on the open deck, sitting cross-legged, immobile, staring forward, for long periods, an Ahn or two at a time. And then, sometimes, he would rise to his feet, remove his two curved blades from his sash, and engage unseen opponents. I thought him insane, but I would not have cared to meet him in the business of war.
“Pull, pull!” screamed Seremides, and I saw his knotted rope fall, again and again, amongst his oarsmen. I did not care for this. How was it that they did not rise up, did not object? They were not slaves, chained to their benches. They were free men. Why did they not rise up and attack him? Because, I supposed, he was Seremides. He may have wanted to be attacked, for it was long since his sword had tasted blood. It may have been thirsty for that sudden, bright, exhilarating draught. The thick ropes jerked tight, leading back to the great ship. He should coordinate his efforts with the draw of the companion galley, ours. Was he so importunate and impatient, or was he, rather, anxious to intimidate our captain, Pertinax, the friend of Tarl Cabot? Certainly there were few whom the sword of Seremides, former master of the Taurentians, could not render diffident and complaisant. All feared him, save perhaps Tarl Cabot. Seremides had requisitioned me for his crew, but Cabot had assigned me to that of his friend, Pertinax. Again and again, to my right, across the yards between the galleys, the rope fell. I am not sure that I would have accepted the blows of Seremides. And that, I supposed, was why he had requested that I be assigned to him, that I might rise up, attack him, and then be slain for insubordination. Well would he have been within the rights of his captaincy. Discipline demands that one endure and obey, but it is not always easy to do. I supposed I would have accepted the blows. Yes, I would have accepted the blows. I guessed that Seremides, who knew my fear of him, knew that, but, still, he would have derived some satisfaction in their administration. He had little to fear, given his sword, and his standing with Lord Okimoto.
Amongst the slashed, trailing vines between the galleys, sometimes entangling the oars, I saw, occasionally, the dorsal fin of a shark, briefly emergent, then whipping again beneath the water. Usually the fin disappears gracefully, slipping from sight, but the creature was excited. I recalled the tharlarion, struck earlier. There would linger ribbons of blood in the water. The shark of the Vine Sea, though nine-gilled like his cousins of the shorelines and tropics, is sinuous and eel-like, which, I suppose, facilitates its movements amongst the vines. Suddenly, ahead, some twenty yards, between the galleys and the numbers of ship’s boats, the gigantic body of the wounded tharlarion emerged, its vast body, neck, head, and wide paddlelike appendages running with water, bright in the sunlight. It bellowed with pain, and dived again. “Back oars!” cried Pertinax. We rocked in place. The galley of Seremides, too, paused. The waters seemed placid. The other galleys, too, farther to starboard, must have held their position, as the great ship behind us neither moved, nor was drawn to the side. “Oars inboard!” called Pertinax. We drew the large levers inward. This is sometimes done in battle, when shearing is imminent. It takes no more than four or five Ihn. The ropes leading back to the great ship, no longer taut, slipped into the water. The oars on the galley commanded by Seremides were similarly retracted. I wondered what horrors might be being enacted in the depths. Many blossoms floated on the surface, amongst the vines. The sea tharlarion, in its varieties, not other than its brethren of the land, breathes air. Like the sea sleen, on the other hand, it can remain submerged for several Ehn, whilst fishing. I stood by the bulwarks and looked down. I could see no shimmer of parsit near the surface. They had departed the area. The sunlight glistened on the water, amongst the streamers of cut vines, the floating blossoms. Four or five Ehn passed. By now I supposed the tharlarion, and its relentless pursuer, or pursuers, might be a pasang or more distant. Still I had seen no parsit beneath the water. “Out oars!” cried Seremides. “Wait!” called Pertinax. “Wait!” “Out oars!” cried Seremides, angrily, and, his rope falling amongst his oarsmen, the oars of his galley slid outward. We grasped our oars. “Hold!” said Pertinax. “Pull!” called Seremides, to starboard. “Wait!” Pertinax warned us. “Pull, pull!” said Seremides, and the ropes attached to his galley, leading back to the great ship, lifted, dripping, from the water. “Stop!” called Pertinax. “Move, fool!” called Seremides. “Move, slackard!” “Keep your distance!” cried Pertinax. Seremides’ galley began to move toward ours. “To port!” he called to us. “Out oars! Row! Move!” The galley of Seremides kept its original heading, dictated by its towing ropes, while we were still, towing ropes slack, now almost across his bow, rocking in the water. “Poles!” cried Pertinax, and men seized up the launching poles, used in thrusting a galley from a wharf, cushioning her approach to a wharf, holding her away from rocks, or such. It is customary that there be three such poles, as you of the port know, one for the bow, one amidships, one aft. “Back oars!” cried Seremides, alarmed. The two galleys grated against one another. I heard oars splinter. Our oaring was inboard. “Fool, fool!” screamed Seremides to Pertinax. Pertinax’s face went white and I saw his hand move to the hilt of his sword. But already the blade of Seremides was free of its sheath, and, his eyes alight with eagerness, he leaped aboard our galley. I rose at the bench and cried, though it might be insubordination, to Pertinax, “Do not unsheathe your blade!” He slammed the blade, half free, back in its sheath, looked at Seremides before him, unflinching, and said, “Welcome aboard, noble Rutilius.”
Seremides cried out with rage, looked about himself, saw that he might have to deal with twenty angry, violent men who would stand with their captain, and returned his weapon to its housing. “I see,” said he, “barbarian, that you are not only a fool and a slackard, but a coward, as well.”
“Barbarian I may be,” said Pertinax, “but I am neither fool nor slackard, and I trust, not a coward.”
“Tell your men to hold, to remain in place,” said Seremides, “and we will make test of the matter.”
Several others, as well as I, had risen from the benches.
“Hold!” said Pertinax.
“No!” cried more than one.
The hand of Pertinax went to his weapon.
Seremides grinned, stepped back, drew his blade, and set himself, easily, his body swaying a little, with the movement of the vessel. His galley scraped a little against ours. I saw no love for him across the rail.
I sensed a rising under my feet, something stirring, something approaching, from far below, water moving away from it. I do not think that either Seremides or Pertinax noted this.
“Defend yourself,” said Seremides. I had heard those words, sensed the eagerness in the voice before, more than a dozen times, in the early morning, in the dampness and cold, in a park, or in the Plaza of Tarns, long ago, in Ar. I sensed that the whole rationality of Seremides was now focused narrowly, exultantly, on the victim before him, that the ship, its discipline, Tarl Cabot, Lords Nishida and Okimoto, the apprehension of the former Lady Flavia of Ar, or even of the former Ubara, Talena, was as though they were not. I thought of the sleen whose hunt is done, who has the tabuk or verr cornered before him. What command could stay him, what consideration could distract him, what give pause to so single-minded and formidable a force of nature?
The blade of Pertinax was but half drawn when both galleys burst apart, leaping from one another, the gigantic body of the tharlarion rising between them, springing forty feet or more from the water, expelling a snorting burst of air, several of the eel-like sharks fastened in its flanks; it seemed oddly still for a moment, upright, at the height of its leap, and then fell back in the water, drenching us, half filling the galleys with water; I pulled rent vines from about me; blossoms were at my knees in the water. I felt a descent as of heated fog, and realized it was the air the creature had expelled, settling cloudlike about us. The thing had returned. How could that be? Surely it was a coincidence, that the great beast, lacerated, in its agony, running blood, had come back to this place. The long neck, yards in length, snakelike, lifted, and the small head swayed about, as though searching, with the single eye left. It had returned to the place where it had been first hurt. I could see the tails of sharks whipping against the water, trying to drive their jaws deeper into the beast’s flesh. Other fins were approaching, knifing through the blossoms. I heard a man scream on the galley of Seremides, and he poked upward with his spear. The small head on the great body, with its triangular jaws, with its rows of tiny, fine teeth, reached down, almost gracefully, and lifted the screaming fellow yards into the air. It then threw its gigantic, massive, glistening body, sharks clinging to it, over the gunwales of the galley of Seremides, pressing it under the waves, men leaping into the sea on either side. It then, dragging its burden of sharks, its victim still struggling in its jaws, dove, and the snap of that great tail, striking upward, tipped us, and then, striking downward, propelling that enormous bulk, clove our galley, and we were plunged into the water. The sea about us was red, and I spit out water. Within it was the taste of blood. I saw a fellow two yards away drawn beneath the water. “Ho!” I heard. “Ho!” The small ship’s boats had put about and were returning. The other galleys, too, loosing their towing ropes, would be soon at our side. I pulled myself half onto a nest of vines, half in the water, half not. A splintered oar floated past. “Here!” I heard. Men were being drawn into small boats. But they would be soon swamped. They clung to the gunwales of the ship’s boats, and armsmen and oarsmen struck down with tools and oars, to protect those in the water. I heard an oar count being called, over the water, and one of the towing galleys was near. I could see it in a bit then, with ship’s boats clustered about it, men being drawn aboard, from the boats, from the water. A dorsal fin moved smoothly by. I remained as still as possible. I was not bloodied. If one moves, one should move as smoothly as possible, not awkwardly, not hastily, not erratically, not as though one might be injured, or helpless.
Men swam toward the small boats, the nearest galley.
I saw more than one drawn beneath the surface. Fins were everywhere. I felt the mat of vines to which I clung turn, and begin to drift. The wreckage of the galley of Seremides seemed farther away now. I saw no sign of the galley of Pertinax. Soon, as I lay, I could no longer see the small boats, or any galleys. There is restlessness in the Vine Sea, as in any sea, and swells, and local currents, and the sea itself, tangled and beautiful, oppressive, and terrible, despite its vastness, moves from time to time, seasonably, predictably, even hundreds of pasangs, as might any object, large or small, afloat on Thassa, with her hundred moods and thousand currents.
I think most of my fellows had sought the small boats.
As noted, I could not now see them, as I was positioned, but I knew they were there. I could hear men in the distance. Were I able to stand I had little doubt I could see them, and certainly one or more galleys. Even as I lay still in my bed of vines and blossoms I could, turning my head, see the great ship, in the distance.
It was now quiet about me, save for the lapping of the water.
There seemed none about.
I was much alone.
I was not afraid of being left, or abandoned. I was afraid, rather, of what I knew was in the water.
“Ho, Callias!” I heard.
“Tal, Durbar!” I called.
I remembered him from the pumps, when, during the time of the great storms they had been manned twenty Ahn a day.
He was better situated than I, for he crouched on two nailed beams, which must have been from the hull of one of the two destroyed galleys.
He was some forty feet away.
There was other wreckage about.
Needless to say, I was much pleased to see him.
“You are in danger!” he called.
I considered swimming to join him.
A blossom floated by.
A fin glided past.
“Perhaps less here than there!” I said.
I was not eager to negotiate the water between us.
“As you will!” he said.
But I saw a swimmer clamber to his makeshift vessel. One end of the beams descended beneath the waves, under the weight of the newcomer. I did not think they would well bear the weight of two. Durbar turned about, cried once, and reeled from the beams, plunging into the water, his jacket red. Across the space between us I saw Seremides, his eyes on me. He did not have his sword, but there was a knife in his hand. He stood unsteadily on the narrow wreckage.
In the water Durbar, the water red about him, gasping, confused, extended his hand to Seremides, who did not accept his hand, perhaps fearing the loss of balance, but motioned him closer. When Durbar got his hands upon the beams Seremides kicked out, viciously, and Durbar, I think his neck was broken, slipped away, beneath the water.
Seremides stood on the beams, regarding me.
“Noble Callias,” said he, affably. “Approach.”
I remained where I was, and looked about. I saw no one near.
“That is an order!” said Seremides.
“Deliver it to another,” I said.
Seremides looked about, and then put the knife in his belt, and then, kneeling on the beams, pulled at some floating vinage, and his narrow vessel inched toward me. He tried to urge it toward me, too, with his body. He dipped his right arm into the water, and pushed back, against the water. Again his tiny bark approached me, a little. It was heavy, and not easily moved. I did not think he would risk throwing the knife. I suspected the turning currents, the natural eddies amongst the vines, might bring us together, sooner or later. It would be a matter of time.
I wondered how many men, if about, would welcome this opportunity to do away with Seremides.
But we seemed much alone.
The nearest galley, I conjectured, from the faint sounds I heard, men calling out, was two hundred yards distant. It would probably be encircled by small boats.
Much vinage was now about, as it had drifted back, tending to close the road which had been cut through it. Such things shift in the currents, closing gaps, being arrested only against more of its kind.
Seremides stood up and looked about.
Apparently he saw no one, at least nearby.
He then, eyes glinting, once more kneeling down, tried more earnestly, even rashly, even heedlessly, to force his way toward me.
I took it he wanted to reach me before others might note our position.
I did not think it wise for Seremides to splash at the side of his support.
There was still blood in the water, from the tharlarion, from some fellows taken by sharks, and, now, from Durbar.
Too, I had seen a fin glide by, but a moment ago.
Perhaps he, then in the water, had seen it, too.
The possible danger of his activity must have occurred to him, as he soon ceased to propel his craft in that perilous fashion.
The splashing, of course, had occurred.
Hopefully, it had been unnoted.
An occasional swell, lifting the circumambient vines and blossoms, moved his small vessel, and the raft of vinage to which I clung.
“Ho!” I called, half in water, half prostrate amongst the vines, unable to stand. “Help! Help!”
But none heard me.
“Swim to me,” coaxed Seremides. “Join me. It will be safe. I will not hurt you.”
We were now some ten or fifteen feet apart.
I felt something long, seven or eight feet in length, and rough, like a rasp, pass, moving beneath the water, against my leg.
I clutched the vinage.
“So,” smiled Seremides, “you are frightened.”
He removed his knife from his belt.
I did not think, again, he would risk throwing it.
He stood, unsteadily, on his support.
“The sea is my ally,” he said. “It will soon enable me to greet you.”
I said nothing. There seemed no one about.
His small bark drifted nearer, as did a number of vines and blossoms. So, too, it must have, Ehn earlier, when bearing Durbar.
“I have waited long for this,” said he, “noble Callias.”
There was then a swell of water, and I saw it lift his vessel two or three feet, and he cried out in triumph and I knew that, in its descent, sliding down the slope of that swell, it would be upon me, and I plunged beneath the water, dragged myself down, beneath the vines, swam what I could, some yards, and then, gasping, shaking my head, I emerged amongst clustered vines, some wrapped about my body, and legs, snakelike.
But I saw nothing of Seremides.
I was terrified to be in the water, as I knew what was there.
I knew he must be in the water, but I feared him the least of what might be about.
I forced myself down again and, as I could, circled back, and, after twice emerging amongst the vines, came to some open water, and felt wood, and drew myself, panting, wiping my eyes, onto the two fastened beams which had borne, in turn, Durbar, and Seremides, and now bore me.
I saw nothing of Seremides.
I stood, unsteadily, on the beams.
I could then see two of the four intact galleys in the distance and, several hundred yards away, the great ship itself.
I cried out and waved, but did not know if my presence was noted.
I was not overly concerned about being picked up, as I was sure the great ship was far from clear of the Vine Sea, and I had little doubt that there would be a thorough search for survivors, perhaps extended over two or three days. I had gathered that every man was valued, if only as a tool or beast of sorts, by the Pani, and I was sure that I could count on the patience, and diligence, of Tarl Cabot, and several others. I took them as good officers and honorable men. They would seek the best accounting possible.
“Help!” I heard. “Help!” The cry was weak, and yards away. At first I could not locate its source, but then I saw a hand lifted over the vines, and a head, lifted, briefly, which then slipped again from sight. Something was struggling, tangled in the vines. I did not know if the two beams on which I stood had moved muchly or not. I knew I was now in relatively open water, which suggested it was part of the road cut by the ship’s boats through the vines, though it was much narrower now than hitherto, given the eddies, and the drifting of the vegetation.
“Help!” I heard, and saw the head of Seremides emerge from the vines. “I am caught!” he cried. An arm flailed about, grasping at vines. It was possible he could be pulled under, as the vines beneath the surface shifted in the currents. In any event, it seemed he was tangled in the ropelike growth, and, apparently, could neither dive beneath it, should he wish to do so, nor swim through it.
“Help!” called Seremides. “Help!” He held out a hand to me, tangled in vines.
I stood unsteadily on the beams.
“All is forgiven!” cried Seremides. “I pledge friendship! I have power! I can do much for you! Help me! I will reward you! I will secure you promotion! When the ship is ours you will stand high! Gold, women! I will see that she who was once Flavia of Ar is given to you! Would she not be pleasing in your collar? When the voyage is done, take her to Ar for the bounty!”
“Pull yourself out, by the vines,” I said.
I was not anxious to approach him, and much vinage lay between us.
“I cannot!” he said. “By the Priest-Kings, by the Home Stone of Cos, save me!”
I crouched on my small craft and caught at vines, trying to pull the two nailed beams toward him.
“You agree!” he cried.
“I agree to nothing,” I said.
“Hurry!” he cried. “Hurry!”
My makeshift bark caught in the vines. I was then some twenty feet from him. I could make no further progress.
“It is safe,” he said. “Crawl on the vines. Draw me free!”
As the vines were thick there, it was possible, on one’s belly, half in the water, half out, to reach him.
He was an officer of the ship.
He stood high.
He was much my superior.
In the swell he must have lost his footing and plunged into the foliage, submerged, swam, came to the surface, and found himself feet away from the beams, snagged in the coiling vines.
“Help!” he said, reaching out.
I lowered myself from the nailed beams, and, half swimming, half crawling, muchly supported by the dense growth, came nigh.
“Closer!” he said.
I moved closer.
“Give me your hand!” he said, reaching out.
I extended my hand, but suddenly drew it back.
In a flash of thought I recalled Seremides, from a dozen times and places, images rushing upon me, a goblet lifted, a door opened, a hand gesturing, a pen in hand, signing an order, a sword, reddened, held over an adversary’s throat in the early morning.
“Your hand!” he demanded, angrily.
The hand extended to me, that it might grasp mine was his left hand. His right hand was under the water.
Seremides, former master of the Taurentians, was right-handed.
“Die, Sleen!” he cried, tearing himself upward, out of the vines, the right hand dripping with water, the sun flashing on the wet blade in its grasp.
I had not given him my hand. I had kept back, a little. That meant he must close the gap between us, must move toward me, and this, in the water, given the absence of footing, the presence of the foliage, could not be easily done. He was trying to scramble toward me, half in water, half out, over the raft of vegetation. The knife struck out at me twice, three times. I backed away as I could, slipping, half sinking through the vines, while he, similarly hampered, cursing, pursued me, foot by foot. I, backing away, suddenly slipped downward, through a gap in the vinage, and felt circles of vines about my legs and lower body, through which I had plunged. I was enmeshed. I reached about. I could obtain no purchase. I was held in place. “Noble Callias!” grinned Seremides, moving a hort closer. My only chance would be to grasp his knife wrist, and I thought there was little chance of that. Seremides would not be so foolish as to make a long strike, which might be blocked or intercepted. He would prepare carefully for the kill, feinting, darting, keeping the blade forward of my grasp, but slashing, striking, again and again, at the hand, from which he might sever fingers, or slash a wrist, disabling the hand. I would then, eventually, be as helpless as if bound. I did not think he would finish me quickly. I had seen him finish more than one man slowly, pleasantly. Some had begged to be done with.
“Ho!” we heard. “Is anyone there?”
Seremides turned white.
It must be a search party, in a small boat.
“Yes!” I called, loudly. “Here! Here!”
“Sleen!” hissed Seremides, and, his leisure vanished, he lunged forward, desperately, but the blow was short. He crawled closer and struck again. There was no leverage, no footing. He struck again. I reached for his wrist, but missed it. He struck again, and I managed to grasp his wrist, with two hands, and we turned in the water amidst the vines, struggling, thrashing about. “Here! Here!” I screamed, for there were men somewhere about. I suddenly sensed the blade was no longer in his right hand, and swept backward, water in my eyes, fending myself as I could. The knife cut through my tunic ripping it across the chest. I had not even seen it. Then I saw the knife was again in his right hand. I was then muchly on my back, where I had thrown myself backward, and my arms were tangled in the vines. I saw the glint of delight in his eyes, and saw the knife raised. I could not free my arms, either to block or intercept the blow. In a moment I might work myself free but the moment was not mine. In that moment a tethered tarsk could not have been more helpless. “Now, Sleen!” he whispered.
I saw the sky, a bright blue in the spring afternoon.
“Aiiii!” I heard, a sudden, startled, weird, hideous cry, and the knife arm, and the head, and the torso of Seremides suddenly disappeared beneath the water, which churned, rocking the mat of vines, lifting and scattering the broad blue and yellow blossoms amongst the foliage.
“Where are you?” called a voice.
“Here, here!” I said.
I was not thinking clearly.
It was a moment before I understood what had happened.
I saw Seremides emerge then from amidst the vines and blossoms. He was alive. He was some eleven feet away. He no longer held the knife. He grasped at the vines. I had never seen the eyes of a man look so. I had never seen such an expression on a human face, one of such horror.
“Callias!” he whispered, holding out a hand to me.
I made my way to him, a bit before he lost consciousness. I turned him on his back, and drew him through the water, and over the vines, to where I had departed the small vessel of nailed beams. Behind us there was a trail of blood, in the water, over the vines.
I drew him onto the makeshift vessel.
The shark had taken the left leg, from above the knee.
I heard the dip of oars in the water.
“Here!” I called, standing up, lifting my hand.
In moments I, and two oarsmen, had put Seremides in the ship’s boat.
“You have saved the life of Rutilius of Ar, well done,” said the rudderman.
“He is a high officer,” observed one of the oarsmen.
“You will be commended for this,” said another.
“Why did you not let him die?” asked an armsman.
“He will bleed to death,” said another armsman.
I tore away part of my tunic and thrust it against the part of the leg left.
“Let him die,” said a fellow.
“Put him overboard, kill him,” suggested an oarsman.
“Have you twine, rope, a belt?” I asked.
“Use this,” said the rudderman, tossing me a length of knotted rope, which bore some reddish stains.
“We found it floating nearby,” said an armsman.
I fastened the rope about the stump of the leg, and tightened it. The blood slowed, and then stopped.
“He needs care,” I said, “the attention of physicians.”
“Back to the ship,” said the rudderman.
“There is no hurry,” said an armsman.
“He is going to die,” said an oarsman, looking at the prostrate figure between the thwarts.
“No,” I said, “he is Seremides, he is strong.”
“He will wish he was dead,” said an oarsman.
“He is an officer,” said an armsman.
“No longer,” said another armsman. “There are no crippled officers.”
We began to make our way, largely through open water, to the great ship.
Seremides opened his eyes. They did not seem the eyes of the Seremides I knew. He looked up at me. “Do not hurt me,” he said.
Seremides; The Slave, Alcinoe
“Turgus commands a galley!” said the fellow to Seremides.
“Let me alone,” said Seremides.
Seremides supported himself with a narrow, sticklike crutch, perhaps a hort in width, at the top of which, fitted over the shaft, was a small, rounded crosspiece. This was under his arm, tight against his body. Lord Okimoto had found Seremides of use earlier in the voyage; his sword had been formidable, and he had muchly facilitated Lord Okimoto’s contacts with those of us not of the Pani. He was, in a way, a liaison between Lord Okimoto’s group and the mariners and armsmen not of the Pani. As we feared Seremides, so, too, we were concerned to be found pleasing by Lord Okimoto. Tyrtaios, who was of the retinue of Lord Nishida, had a somewhat similar role, but, if he were latently more dangerous than Seremides, he did not have the temper, and the character of Seremides, which had much to do with intimidation, humiliation, and the drawing of blood. If Seremides disliked you, or was thinking of killing you, it was reasonably clear; indeed, it pleased him that you might suspect such things; but with Tyrtaios, one could not be sure. One did not know. In its way, this rendered Tyrtaios more frightening. His view was long; he was patient; he seldom acted on the moment, but each action, one suspected, rather like the carving of a bow or the sharpening of a knife, had its contribution to some end in view. Seremides no longer wore the yellow livery of Lord Okimoto, for Lord Okimoto had dismissed him from his service. Seremides, now, had no master, and no men. He wore a short, brown, ragged tunic, a cast-off. Tyrtaios, who had been of the retinue of Lord Nishida, had now been requisitioned by Lord Okimoto to fulfill the role which had been that of Seremides. Accordingly, Tyrtaios was now of the retinue of Lord Okimoto, and no longer of that of Lord Nishida. There remained four nested galleys. Tyrtaios’ place with Lord Nishida had been taken by Turgus, an officer in the tarn cavalry, who had been given the command of one of the four remaining nested galleys. When called to flight, Turgus’ galley was to fall to Pertinax, and if the entire cavalry were put aflight, I was pleased that the galley’s command would fall to Philoctetes, a mariner of Cos, for whom I would be eager to draw oar.
We were now beyond the Vine Sea.
It had taken days to effect our escape, against the thickets of vines, and the renewal of growth.
Our tarn scouts had been invaluable, apprising us of the movements of that frightful garden in the sea, the circumambient, encroaching barricades of which might shift radically in days. That border which might lie within a dozen pasangs on one day might, as one sought it, given the shifts in wind and current, lie twenty or thirty pasangs away the next, and what had been further might now be nearer. The ropes of vines which entangled so many ships might extend their snares, as they would, but the great movements had their rhythms, and these, with tarns, could be tracked. Thus our sea road might be cut in a direction which seemed hopeless on a given day, given the tentacles of the garden, but, given the movements of the sea, might beckon on the next. The border, so to speak, as far off as it might be in any case, tended to move, and with some periodicity; it was thus sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. Charts, prepared on the basis of the reconnaissances of the tarn scouts, plotted these movements, and we moved toward the border, or edge, which, on the whole, was often closer than farther.
Even so it seemed unlikely we could have freed the great ship, as opposed to small boats, if we had not had an enormous complement of men, a small army, to work at the vines in our path, and cut them away from the ship. After the losses of the mutiny we fortunately had still better than two thousand men who might be applied to the work, some four hundred and fifty Pani, distributed between the commands of Lords Nishida and Okimoto, and some seventeen hundred mariners and armsmen, mostly armsmen.
If it were not for the tarn scouts and the complement of men at our disposal, it seems unlikely we could have effected the release of the great ship. On the final day, we heard the cry from the foremast, “The sea! The sea!” There was much cheering, from the small boats, from the towing galleys. We redoubled our efforts. Toward noon we saw tarnsmen returning to the great ship, hastily, almost frantically. There seemed agitation about. The grasping arms of the Vine Sea, from the north and the south, were drifting toward us. It had taken us longer than anticipated to reach this point. I remembered the signal, the beacon. Lord Nishida, I recalled, had feared the imminence of an enemy. It was at this point that I was suddenly aware of the movement of wind. “Ho!” cried men. The expansive blanket of odor, of the blossoms of the Vine Sea, with their clouds of insects, surely pervasive, yet seldom noticed for days, seemed suddenly rent. Briefly I drew in the first breath of the free air of Thassa which I had drawn since the night at the edge of the Vine Sea. Licinius Lysias, who had survived the sinking of the galleys of Seremides and Pertinax, rose at the bench, and pointed backward, toward the great ship. “See?” he cried. “Yes!” I said. The huge sails which had for so long lain slack from their yards, stirred. “Wind!” cried men about us. What a beautiful sight it was, to see the shaking, and then the lifting, and swelling, of those vast breadths of canvas. “Cast off the tow ropes!” we heard. The great ship was moving, like a mountain at sea. We went hard to port. The galleys, and the small boats, scattered, some being dragged over the vines. The great ship approached. Then it was abeam, and then off the bow. One of the small boats, tardy, caught in the vines, was crushed, and men leapt to the water, to be drawn aboard others of the cutting boats. The single, gigantic rudder of the ship of Tersites, was swathed with vines, but the wind drove her ahead. We saw yards of vines being torn from the sea. By evening the great ship was free of the Vine Sea and, sails furled, and sea hooks cast, she waited, a pasang west of the vines, the odor, and insects, while the numbers of ship’s boats, and the four galleys, rejoined her. By nightfall the small boats were tiered in the galley holds, and the galleys themselves, scraped clean of vines and clinging blossoms, were nested. The wind shifted to the south, and we could no longer smell the Vine Sea. Rather we felt the sharp, salted air of bright, vast, green Thassa, fresh and clean, once more in our nostrils, in our lungs, and blood. We were again alive. Behind us was the Vine Sea.
The summer solstice had now occurred.
It was the third week in the month of En’Var.
“Perhaps you remember me?” said one of the four fellows gathered about an uneasy Seremides on the open deck.
“No,” said Seremides, “no!”
“You are lying,” said the fellow, Tereus.
“No,” said Seremides, trying to turn away, but he was held in place.
Seremides was no longer armed, for he was no longer an officer. He did small things about the ship, in the pantries and kitchens.
“I am Tereus,” said the man. “I sat third oar on your galley. My back wears still the welts of your rope.”
“I was there, too,” said another man, Aeson.
“And I,” said the third, Thoas.
“And I,” said the fourth, Andros.
“I do not know you!” said Seremides. “I know none of you!”
Some slave girls had gathered about.
Surely they had business elsewhere.
I was nearby.
Tereus kicked the crutch out from under Seremides and he fell sprawling to the deck, and could not regain his balance.
There was laughter from the girls.
Seremides reached for the crutch, but Tereus kicked it away from him. He tried to crawl toward the crutch but was kicked back, and then, the four of them, with belts, and ropes, apparently brought for the purpose, began to belabor him, fiercely, he at their feet, and Seremides began to whimper, and moan, and he folded his body on the deck, drawing up his knees, and covered his head, and, under their repeated blows, began to shake and shudder. His body trembled, as if chilled. I saw blood through the back of his tunic. “Go away!” he begged. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Do not hurt me! Do not hurt me! Please, stop! Please, mercy!”
Some of the slave girls, there were six of them, clapped their hands with pleasure.
“Mighty Rutilius begs for mercy,” said Tereus.
“Rutilius, the scullion, weeps!” laughed Aeson, and Thoas and Andros joined in the merriment.
Muchly, too, were the slaves pleased.
How pleasant to see the once formidable Rutilius so discomfited.
Tereus, and his cohorts, resumed their beating.
“For the sake of the Priest-Kings,” I cried, at last, “it is enough.”
They looked up, desisting.
There were four of them.
“Be done with it,” I said.
“Perhaps you would like some of the same,” said Thoas, swinging his looped belt. He was sweating.
“It was you,” said Aeson, “who brought this wretch back.”
“Why,” said Tereus, “did you not leave him for the sharks?”
“He has been beaten enough,” I told them. “If you would beat someone find a whole man.”
“You are a whole man,” said Tereus.
“Better,” said Andros, “you had left him in the sea.”
“I advise you, dear Rutilius,” said Tereus, “not to be on the open deck after dark.”
Thoas delivered another kick, from which the bent, cringing, knotted body of Seremides recoiled. “Seek Thassa, sleen,” he said.
“It is enough,” I said to the men.
“Do you seek to interfere?” asked Tereus.
“It is enough,” I told him.
Tereus looked at me, and he, and his fellows, lifted their belts and ropes, and I prepared to defend myself.
But Tereus looked behind me.
“Yes,” he said, then, satisfied, contemptuously, “it is enough.”
The four then turned about and left. This had occurred in the vicinity of the second mast.
I sensed someone behind me, and I turned. The strange warrior, Nodachi, stood there.
Then he left.
I did not know how long he had been present.
The body of Seremides shook with tears.
“Stop it,” I said. “You are a man.”
Whereas Warriors, or men, might weep, as under the snake, which would draw tears from rocks, or weep as might larls in raging grief, if a city falls, a fellow is slain, or a Home Stone dishonored, this was unseemly. Did those on his galley, whom Seremides had so roundly abused, carry on so?
“Do not hurt me,” said Seremides.
Seremides, unarmed, no longer whole, clad in a cast-off tunic, cringing, might have been the sorriest beggar in the Metellan district, in Ar. So the dreaded master of the elite Taurentians had come to this?
I wondered if he would be any longer regarded as worth the impaling spear in Ar. Would it not embarrass the city to publicly expose so abominable and craven a wretch upon her lofty walls? Surely better the bow string in the darkness of a prison’s cellar.
“Hail, Rutilius, mighty master!” laughed Iole, first amongst the lingering slaves.
There was laughter from the girls.
The body of Seremides shook with weeping.
“You are a man,” I said to Seremides. “Be silent.”
“He is no longer a man!” scoffed Iole.
I wondered if this were so.
“Hail, Rutilius!” laughed another of the girls, Pyrrha.
I regarded the girls, angrily, and they instantly became subdued.
“Who amongst you dares to so speak the name of a free man?” I asked.
“None, Master,” whispered Iole, quickly.
“You are in the presence of a free man,” I informed them.
“Master?” said Thetis.
“First obeisance position!” I snapped.
Moaning, frightened, the six girls went instantly to first obeisance position, kneeling, their heads to the deck, the palms of their hands beside their head. I let them remain that way for a time, waiting to learn their fate.
“May I speak, Master?” whispered Iole.
I went to her and pulled her head up, by the hair. She tried to turn her head away, and down, but, by the hair, I, crouching, held it so that she must look at me. Her eyes were bright with fear, and tears.
“Yes,” I said.
“Forgive us, Master,” she said, “if we have been displeasing.”
“You have not been fully pleasing,” I said.
“Forgive us, Master!” begged Iole.
“Yes, Master,” said the others.
It is the duty of a slave to be fully pleasing, to the best of her ability, and it is for the master to judge of her ability.
“Be as you were,” I told Iole, releasing her, and she resumed first obeisance position. She trembled.
“It is no wonder we put you in collars,” I said.
“Yes, Master,” she whispered.
“I have a mind,” I said, “to send for punishment tags, wire them to your collars, and send you running, hands thonged behind you, to your keeping areas.”
In such a case the girl is expected to beg her keepers for discipline, that she may be improved. If she does not, the punishment is doubled, or trebled.
“Please, do not, Master,” begged Iole. “We are contrite!”
“Up,” I said, “go, be about your work.”
The six slaves sprang gratefully to their feet and fled from the open deck.
Tereus, and his fellows, had been neither reprimanded, nor punished. Why then should the lash be put to the vulnerable, bared backs and legs of slaves? Their guilt, if guilt it was, was less.
I recalled them.
How delightful they were, in their tiny tunics. How pleased I was that there were two sexes, and one that of the female. How utterly beautiful, and fascinating, is the human female, so utterly different from the male, such a delicious and perfect complement to him, and his needs, as he to her, and his to hers.
They make lovely slaves. And that, of course, is what they should be. Women require masters, as men require slaves. Women are lost without a master, and men forlorn without a slave.
It is the truth of nature.
I turned to face Seremides, crouching on the deck.
“You have not been under the snake,” I said.
He put his head down.
“Perhaps you should be put in a collar, and given to girls for their play,” I said.
“Do not hurt me,” he whispered.
“Where has Seremides gone?” I asked.
He looked about, frightened, for I had used his true name, and had spoken it aloud. Then he said, “I am he.”
“Perhaps you were always thus,” I said. “But before we could not see it. Before it was well concealed.”
“I was feared,” he said, tears in his eyes.
“Now,” I said, “you are the sport of slave girls.”
“Tyrtaios,” he said, suddenly, looking beyond me.
I had not noted the approach of Lord Okimoto’s new high officer.
“Tyrtaios,” said Seremides, plaintively, and put his hand out to him. “Tyrtaios, will you not help me? Have we not plans? Are we not equals? Are we not to share in all things? Are we not friends, allies?”
Tyrtaios continued on his way.
“I fear,” I said, “your succor, your allegiance, all that you could supply of profit or value to another, is now naught.”
As Tyrtaios made his way forward, he passed a slave girl, making her way aft, a small sa-tarna pannier on her back. The officers, as the men, eat in shifts, during designated watches, but the officers and the men do not eat together. The officers’ cabins are aft, some in the stern-castle itself.
Now that we were free of the Vine Sea, Tersites was occasionally seen, on the stern-castle deck. Aetius, however, discouraged his presence amongst the men.
When the girl had passed Tyrtaios she had averted her eyes and lowered her head, deferently, as befitted her status, slave. If he had addressed her, or placed himself before her, she would have knelt. The entire mien of the slave, behaviorally and verbally, is to make clear to herself and others her truth, that she is only a slave. She is to be docile, complaisant, submissive, and beautiful. A free woman may speak and behave as she wishes, a slave may not. When a free woman stands proudly she may do so as she wishes, independently, regally, even defiantly. When a slave stands proudly it is commonly to display her beauty before free men.
“Girl!” I said.
Frightened, the slave turned, catching sight of me, I think for the first time, and probably, too, the fallen Seremides.
I motioned her to me.
She seemed startled, and grateful, almost pathetically so, that I had deigned to note her. Ship slaves, in any event, aside from my personal knowledge of the slave, are often starved for attention, that of masters. It is very different from a private slave, who is likely to live a life closely intertwined with that of her master, one in which she is no stranger to his table and his furs, one in which she is frequently well apprised of the warmth of his arms and the weight of his chains. She is worked and used, prized and celebrated, day in and day out. She is his, in the fullest sense, desired, owned, and mastered. How could she respect a man who does not so desire her that he will be satisfied with nothing less than the owning of her? Is she truly so little thought of that he will not make her his, that he will not collar her? I had given the slave no notice, in weeks. But, too, aside from her delight at being recognized, and summoned, she seemed uneasy, even frightened, perhaps because the sa-tarna in the small pannier on her back might be warm, wrapped in napkins, and bound for an officers’ mess.
She suddenly caught sight of Seremides, helpless on the deck, unable to rise. I did not know if she had heard of his fate or not, but, I think, clearly, this was the first time she had seen him, since the Vine Sea. I was curious to see how she might act. I remembered her from Ar. I could well anticipate her relief, perhaps delight, to find the man she most feared so reduced, so miserable, so helpless.
Might she not shriek with triumph, and pour upon him with impunity her scorn?
But she seemed startled, uncertain, almost frightened.
“You know this man?” I asked her.
I was not sure she even recognized the handsome, proud, temperamental, dangerous Seremides in this cringing, abject creature half lying before her on the deck.
“Yes,” she whispered, “-Master.”
I thought she would have little to fear from him now. Certainly I had been freer on the ship since the Vine Sea. Indeed, it now seemed the crippled Seremides avoided me. Did he fear I might kill him?
The slave regarded the creature before her.
There was little chance now he would bring her to Ar, and arrange her delivery to Marlenus.
Too, there was little chance now, as far as I knew, that he could locate Talena, and bring her to Ar, thereby winning not only her bounty but his own amnesty.
“You are smiling!” cried Seremides.
“No, Master!” she said, and knelt.
If anything, I saw horror, and pity, in the frightened eyes of the slave.
“Girl,” I said.
She looked at me. I pointed to the crutch which had been kicked across the deck, out of the reach of Seremides. Left alone, I had little doubt he could drag himself to it, and, with it, perhaps clinging to the rail, rise to his feet.
Alcinoe rose, fetched the crutch, and returned to a place before Seremides, where she knelt and, head down, between her arms, lifted the crutch to him.
He seized the crutch.
I feared he would use it to strike the girl. He was still a strong man, and a harsh blow, as she knelt, might break her arm or shatter an elbow.
I held the crutch, and Seremides could not use it. I felt the wood move in my hand, as he tried to free it, but he could not do so.
“If you wish, kajira,” I said to the girl, “you may abuse him, scorn him, taunt him, beat him, speak to him and treat him however you may wish.”
She shook her head. “No, Master,” she said.
“You do not desire to do so?” I asked.
“I may not,” she said.
“You do not desire to do so?” I asked.
“No, Master,” she said.
I was pleased at this answer.
“Be about your business, kajira,” I said.
She rose up, backed away a little, and then hurried aft. I could see the white napkins in which the sa-tarna loaves were wrapped, through the wicker of the pannier.
“Sleen,” said Seremides, “you wanted her to abuse me!”
“No,” I said.
“You would have permitted it!” he said, angrily.
“No,” I said.
“You could have left me amongst the vines,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Why did you not let me die?” asked Seremides.
“You are of the ship,” I said.
I then left him, to hoist himself, by means of the crutch, to his feet. I gave him no help. I had no wish to demean him.
“Callias,” said Tarl Cabot, who came from forward.
“Commander,” I said.
“I want you on the foremast, every third watch,” he said.
“As you wish,” I said.
“We need good eyes, and alert fellows aloft,” he said.
“I will do my best, commander,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “I am informed by Lord Nishida that these are dangerous waters.”
I remembered the beacon.
“Yes, commander,” I said.
The Warning Ship; The Small Boats; Assassins; The Fleet of Lord Yamada
I let the glass of the Builders, in its sling, drop to my hip. “Ho!” I called down to the deck. “Ship! Ship, to the bow, starboard!”
Those on deck rushed to the starboard rail. I saw men moving about, too, on both the stem and stern castles. Officers were emerging from below decks, men, too. The bar, under its hammer, rang alert.
We had seen little that seemed dangerous in the last several days, despite the fears of Lord Nishida. Oddly, however, once or twice, we had noted a dark cloud in the sky, from which a dust of ash had coated sails and fallen to the deck. At the same time, the wind, fitfully, had seemed acrid, and breathing had been unpleasant.
Now, however, the sky was blue, the clouds white, the air clear. Thassa was serene, the wind gentle.
Orders had been issued from the stern castle, for the great ship heaved to. Shortly thereafter one of the nested galleys was being lowered to the water. An Ahn later I reported the galley had hoisted the green pennon.
The ship that I had seen was much like those lost amongst the serpentine entanglements of the Vine Sea.
It held no steady course, and was, as far as we could tell, until investigated, adrift.
The hoisting of the green pennon had been premature, a mistake that would not be repeated.
We would lose, in consequence, one of our four remaining galleys.
By the time the great ship drew near the drifting vessel, my watch was done, but I remained on deck. The galley was drawn up alongside the apparent derelict. From the starboard rail, given the height of the ship of Tersites, we could look down on both our galley and, higher, the deck of the seemingly unmanned ship.
“I do not like it,” said Tarl Cabot to Pertinax, the two of them some few feet from me.
“It is ugly,” said Pertinax.
The encountered ship had two masts, but it bore no sails. From each of the two yards there hung several bound bodies, suspended by the feet, whose throats, it seemed, from the condition of the deck below, had been cut, perhaps a moment before they were emplaced, dying. Similarly, several others were nailed, by hands and feet, to the masts, the deck, and bulwarks.
“Yes,” said Cabot to Pertinax, “ugly, indeed, but that is done. What I do not like, now, is what is not done.”
“I do not understand,” said Pertinax.
“I am not sure,” said Cabot. “It may be nothing.” He looked about, and saw me. “Callias,” he said, “summon Lord Nishida.”
“That will not be necessary,” said Lord Okimoto, who was nearby, Tyrtaios at his side.
“Lord?” said Cabot.
“Speak to the commander,” said Lord Okimoto to Tyrtaios.
“I am informed, commander, by Lord Okimoto,” said Tyrtaios, “that the ship, as seems obvious, is a warning ship, and that it is perhaps one of several. Further, you may have noted the scrolls which were hung amongst the bodies, and from the yards. They are identical. Some have been brought aboard. I cannot read the writing as it is in a strange script, but the message is in Gorean, and has been conveyed to me by his Excellency, Lord Okimoto. The scrolls allege that the bodies on the ship are those of criminals, men who were enemies of the shogun, men who conspired against him, who dared oppose his will, whose loyalty was suspect, who failed to pay their taxes, who tried to hide food, who failed to speak of him with sufficient reverence, such things.”
“I see,” said Cabot. “And who is this shogun?”
“The great lord, Yamada, our enemy,” said Lord Okimoto.
“I am uneasy,” said Cabot.
“You may speak to Tyrtaios,” said Lord Okimoto.
“I would consult with Lord Nishida,” said Cabot to Tyrtaios.
Tyrtaios looked to Lord Okimoto. “Of course,” said Lord Okimoto. He then turned about, and left, and, in a moment, was followed by Tyrtaios, who, I suspected, did not care to follow any man.
“There is danger here,” said Cabot to me.
I recalled the beacon.
Cabot looked over the rail, at the presumed derelict. “Was the ship examined?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Men went below decks. Else the green pennon would not have been flown.”
“Were any of the Pani?” asked Cabot.
“No,” I said. The launched galley had been manned by mariners, oared by armsmen.
“Summon Lord Nishida,” said Cabot to me.
“Lord Okimoto will not be pleased,” I said.
“Summon him,” said Cabot.
I turned about and hurried aft, below decks, where I found Lord Nishida, in his cabin, in meditation.
“Lord,” I said, softly, for he seemed utterly still, sitting on a woven mat, with his legs crossed.
Two contract women, as they are called, Sumomo and Hana, knelt nearby.
Though he had been absolutely still, at this tiny sound, my voice, he lifted his head, instantly alert.
“The commander of the tarn cavalry would speak with you,” I said. “We have come upon a ship, a strange ship, adrift, filled with bodies and scrolls.”
“Why was I not informed?” he asked.
I looked to the two women in the background, kneeling. The woman, Hana, looked at Sumomo, frightened. “Lord Nishida,” said Sumomo, “was in meditation.”
“Men have been about,” I said, “there has been noise, shouting, the bar was hammered, to signal an alert.”
“Lord Nishida was in meditation,” said Sumomo.
“I feared this,” said Lord Nishida, winding his sash about his widely sleeved robe, and thrusting two swords, both curved, a longer and a shorter, within the sash.
In an Ehn he was on the open deck, hurrying to the starboard rail, where he stood beside Cabot, his hands on the rail, looking over, past the galley, to the deck of the seeming derelict.
“The demon, Yamada,” he hissed.
“It is a warning ship, it seems,” said Cabot.
“I fear it is more than that,” said Lord Nishida. “Who has boarded that ship?”
“Mariners, armsmen,” said Cabot.
“None of my men, none of the men of Lord Okimoto?” said Lord Nishida.
“I do not think so,” said Cabot.
“Have you heard or seen anything unusual,” asked Lord Nishida, “a whistle, a flash of fire?”
“No,” said Cabot.
“There may be time,” said Lord Nishida. “Do not strike the bar. Call softly. Recall the galley, the men, instantly.”
“I do not understand,” said Pertinax.